Joe Biden Up In Post-Debate Polls : The NPR Politics Podcast The president's sickness has dragged the pandemic back to the center of the presidential campaign, despite the looming Supreme Court fight. And Joe Biden's lead is stable or perhaps slightly up from where it was before the presidential debate last week.

This episode: political reporter Danielle Kurtzleben, White House reporter Juana Summers, and senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro.

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Joe Biden Up In Post-Debate Polls

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Joe Biden Up In Post-Debate Polls

Joe Biden Up In Post-Debate Polls

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MACKENZIE: Hi. This is Mackenzie (ph) from Irvine, Calif. I am standing outside my bedroom, where I'm about to put down my phone, walk in and take the first-ever remotely administered California Bar Exam. This episode was recorded at...


2:11 p.m. on October 6.

MACKENZIE: Things may have changed by the time you hear it. OK, here's the show.


DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: That is a stressful thing to do - passing the bar exam - at any time, especially right now in 2020.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: I cannot imagine doing that from my house.

KURTZLEBEN: Yup, same (laughter). Well, Godspeed. And in the meantime, hi. It is the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

I'm Danielle Kurtzleben. I cover politics.

SUMMERS: I'm Juana Summers. I'm covering the White House.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

KURTZLEBEN: OK. Let's kick things off today with a little bit of news. An update on the president's health - we have a statement from the White House physician, Sean Conley. It was released just this afternoon. That statement said that President Donald Trump is stable and, quote, "reports no symptoms." So the president says he's fine. And beyond that, we have more news. We have these first post-debate polls that have started to come out, and those polls have been good news for Joe Biden. Domenico, I know you've been digging into these. Tell us what you're seeing.

MONTANARO: Yeah, I'm not a huge fan of, like, those snap polls, the ones that tell you who won a debate, like, right away. You know, you try to...


MONTANARO: ...Sort of pay attention to the trend on those. And the trend had said that Joe Biden was seen as the person who won the debate. But what we've seen in polls after that - good polls showing Joe Biden now with a double-digit lead. The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll - which is widely seen by pollsters as the gold standard because it's conducted by a Republican firm and a Democratic firm - had Joe Biden up 53-39, which is not a good number...


MONTANARO: ...For President Trump to be at - at 39 - but tells me that there's a lot of soft Trump voters who didn't like what they saw in that debate. They may eventually come around and come back to President Trump. But right now, it's not a good place for him to start at a month to go before the election. And then, you know, I was on a poll call with our pollsters, and we were wondering if this NBC/Wall Street Journal poll was an outlier. And CNN comes out with a poll today showing Joe Biden up 57-41. I can't remember the last time I've seen a candidate at 57 in the polls any time recently. So clearly, the trend has been - after this debate, Joe Biden's getting a little bit of a bump. It's been a rough 10 days for President Trump, and that's showing up in surveys.

KURTZLEBEN: I mean, to the extent that this is a bump from that debate from last week, do those bumps from debates - do they tend to be durable? Are they usually short-lived? Do they last a while?

MONTANARO: You know, sometimes, they're durable and they last and set in a narrative, and sometimes, they don't. Most of the time, there will be tightening just before Election Day. Again, I don't think President Trump's real number or his Election Day number is going to be at 39%. That's likely - he's going to likely gain back some of those people who are open to his message. But it's a lot of work that he's going to have to do between now and then.

And not to mention - you know, let's remember. National polls are not what decide the election. But what we have seen repeatedly over and over again is not just national polls but in state after state - and I'm talking about red states - for example places like Kansas, Nebraska, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alaska, Montana, where the floor has been raised with Joe Biden, where he looks like he's probably on track to get more in the popular vote than Hillary Clinton did, win that by a wider margin - it's still a very close race in a lot of the swing states that will determine the electoral college - places like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio. But all of them are trending or have trended in Joe Biden's direction, aside from, say, Florida, which has started to tighten considerably in the last month and a half.

KURTZLEBEN: Now, Juana, I want to turn to you because, of course, there's been plenty of news since that debate that we're talking about, the big news, of course, being that President Trump was diagnosed with coronavirus. He went into the hospital. He has now come out of the hospital at Walter Reed just outside of Washington, D.C. I'm curious what you see in how the president's illness and how he has talked about it and tweeted about it - how do you think that that could shape his image politically going forward?

SUMMERS: Yeah, I think that's one of the most interesting things about this next chapter of this election season is - the fact is we've never really seen anything quite like this before. But I can tell you that the White House and the president and his allies have really worked to project the president's strength. During the course of that multiday stay at Walter Reed after his positive test for COVID-19, we saw the president's allies and his staffers at the White House sending out photos of him hard at work inside Walter Reed. The president himself recorded a number of videos projecting strength and calm. They really want to send the message that he was hard at work, that he was in control and despite the fact that he is being treated and has been treated for this virus that has left more than 200,000 Americans dead, that he's got things handled. And I think even more notably is what we saw when President Trump returned to the White House last night. He came out. He saluted Marine One. He took off his mask, and he walked inside. And then later, he released a video in which he made the point that the American people should not let the coronavirus take over their lives.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And one thing that's for certain - don't let it dominate you. Don't be afraid of it. You're going to beat it. We have the best medical equipment. We have the best medicines, all developed recently.

SUMMERS: He suggests that he felt better than he had 20 years prior. He said that, you know, perhaps he may even be immune to this. So it's clear that he wants to focus on recovery and the path forward and the fact that he, again, is downplaying this virus and thinks that people should not let it consume them.

KURTZLEBEN: So that whole thing of him downplaying the virus, taking off his mask - correct me if I'm wrong, Domenico, but polls have shown that voters in recent weeks have said that they trust Joe Biden a bit more than Trump to handle the coronavirus. Do we have any reason to think that how he's acting about his diagnosis could change that one way or the other?

MONTANARO: Well, we've repeatedly seen in our poll and in others that people would rather have Joe Biden handle the pandemic than President Trump. And there was a CNN poll out this week that asked if they think President Trump has acted responsibly or irresponsibly in handling the risk of coronavirus infection to the people who've been around him recently. And 63%, almost two-thirds, said that he's been acting irresponsibly. And a huge number that I keep looking at is people who are 65-plus - people in that age group who are affected by this - and 66% of them are saying that the president has acted irresponsibly when it comes to this. And, you know, that is a group - seniors are a group that President Trump won in 2016. Seniors, independents, suburban voters - all groups he won who have appeared to abandon him over the last several months, in particular because of his handling of the coronavirus.

KURTZLEBEN: You know, I'm wondering how President Trump's coronavirus diagnosis factors into the rest of this campaign because Amy Coney Barrett, his nominee for that Supreme Court seat, had been front and center. Now coronavirus sure seems like it is. Is this just going to crowd everything out going forward?

SUMMERS: Yeah. Danielle, I think that's still one of the things we don't quite know. Obviously, the story of coronavirus - not just the president's individual diagnosis - is one of the biggest economic and societal and political stories of our time. But the fact of the matter is we don't yet know in what capacity and when we will see the president himself out campaigning again. The White House physician Sean Conley said, you know, as far as travel goes, we'll see. There's no date yet out there in which he will be back out on the road, doing those rallies that we know that he enjoys doing and loves to do but that he has received some criticism for given the public health environment.

But we do know that Senate Republicans want to move on and continue with the confirmation for Judge Barrett. And, you know, it's clear that with that big Rose Garden ceremony that the president and the White House wanted to focus on that. And that was a huge deliverable that he was showing his base and conservatives in nominating her for the seat on the court. But now kind of that narrative has been muddled, particularly after we saw a number of people who were involved in that ceremony then, of course, be diagnosed positively with coronavirus.

KURTZLEBEN: All right. Well, let's leave it there. Let's take a quick break. And when we come back, we are going to talk more, this time about the upcoming vice presidential debate.

And we're back, and we are going to talk about tomorrow's vice presidential debate. Vice presidential debates - of course, they tend to be overshadowed by the big presidential ones. But with this news about the president's health, the seconds in command will be getting plenty of attention and scrutiny. So let's start with the big question. How do we think Trump's coronavirus diagnosis is going to play into this?

SUMMERS: I think it's going to be a huge topic of conversation. We've heard from Vice President Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on the campaign trail, and they have pointed out again and again that this is a crisis that has been mismanaged by the Trump and Pence administration. And I think the fact that now we've seen the president himself diagnosed with coronavirus, hospitalized for coronavirus and then coming out and, according to many Democrats, downplaying the impacts of coronavirus - we would expect to see that handling a huge topic in this debate, particularly because of the fact that Vice President Pence is the head of coronavirus response, that task force within the White House. So I think we would expect to see Sen. Harris bring that up and, of course, Vice President Pence talk about that work as well.

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, clearly, it's the elephant in the room in this debate. And I think Juana is exactly right. The fact that Pence is in charge of the White House coronavirus task force, he's going to essentially become a spokesman here. And he's not the kind of person who kind of runs over moderators and does the same kind of antics that President Trump does. But more broadly, you know, Vice President Pence is going to have to defend the entirety of the administration's record, you know, not just on coronavirus but on other topics as well - something President Trump didn't do much of in that first debate.

KURTZLEBEN: Well, and we should say there's already been some conflict between the two camps in the run up to this debate because there are some new precautions this week. Most notably, there's going to be a plexiglass shield separating Kamala Harris from Mike Pence. The Harris-Biden campaign argued for that shield. The Pence-Trump team has been dismissive, shall we say. But having that shield - it strikes me - it's about protection. But the fact that Harris and Biden - that they asked for it - that sends a message in and of itself, right?

SUMMERS: Yeah, it absolutely does. And I think this is one of the big contrasts you've seen between how these two tickets have campaigned. You know, the Biden-Harris ticket has campaigned - you know, you frequently see both of these candidates wearing masks. If you're a reporter who has traveled with them in the press pool, we are often seated in these circular areas. We are required to go through health screenings and separated from one another and keep our distance from the candidate, whereas when President Trump and Vice President Pence have campaigned, you've seen them go out and have rallies, often with a number of people. Not a lot of social distancing - there have been no masks. So I think this is a safety measure that you're seeing in this plexiglass that has been requested, but it's also a statement about safety and the priorities of the Democratic ticket. They're sending a message with this as well, I think.

KURTZLEBEN: What will you guys be watching for tomorrow?

SUMMERS: So I think one of the biggest things that I'm going to be watching for is how Sen. Harris translates the style and the prosecutorial skill that she has shown throughout her career - and most notably during her Senate career - onto a debate stage. You know, she is someone who is well-regarded for her abilities as a cross-examiner, something that we've seen - notably, I think back to the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh as well as some notable clashes with folks like William Barr, the attorney general; Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general. And those are all things that have created these viral, sensational moments that led people - even those who didn't support her as a presidential candidate during the primary - to say they looked forward to seeing her on a debate stage, potentially against President Trump himself.

But these aren't the same skills, and the debate stage is not a courtroom. So I'm really curious to see how that translates and how she fares in this environment where she'll be standing up for the entirety of the ticket and forced to - I would expect she'll be forced to defend charges from Republicans and from Vice President Pence that she and Joe Biden are running on a socialist ticket and running as the champions of the radical left.

MONTANARO: I totally agree with that, and I think that progressives who have been frustrated with Biden's sometimes uneven public speaking appearances have been really waiting for this moment. I mean, they think that Harris, who's 20 years younger than - more than 20 years younger than Biden, can deliver a better rhetorical punch. But that, of course, sets a bar for her, right? I mean, stylistically, you know, she did have some trouble in some of the debates. She had some good moments in the debates, obviously. What she struggled most with was having a clear and consistent message. Well, now Biden's message has to be her message.

And as Juana was talking about, you know, Pence trying to push her to say that she's a socialist or radical lefty - she's going to have to be able to sort of pivot away from that to go back to Biden's message even though her core is to sort of fight Pence on that notion and make a moral argument. So it's going to be really interesting to see how she walks that line.

KURTZLEBEN: All right. Well, we're just going to have to leave it there. Of course, tomorrow we will be here, covering that debate. And I'm sure we will be podcasting afterwards. Until then, I am Danielle Kurtzleben. I cover politics.

SUMMERS: I'm Juana Summers. I cover the White House.

MONTANARO: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent.

KURTZLEBEN: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.


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