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The State Of The 2020 Presidential Race

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, HOST:

Still no deal between the White House and congressional leaders or among congressional leaders themselves on a new coronavirus economic relief package. That's the headline out of Washington today as talks continue on Capitol Hill.

Meanwhile, we're now just a little more than three months away from November 3 and Election Day. And with the virus now extraordinarily widespread throughout the country, to quote the Trump administration's coronavirus coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, there's a lot at stake in these elections. So we want to begin the program today by checking in on the 2020 presidential race. And who better to do that with than NPR's senior political editor and correspondent, Domenico Montanaro?

Domenico, welcome.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, David.

FOLKENFLIK: First, let's talk about the big picture. How are the relief talks in Washington, and I guess more generally the pandemic, affecting the race between President Trump and his presumptive Democratic opponent, Joe Biden?

MONTANARO: Well, I mean, the big picture is that Biden has the advantage. I mean, if the election were held today, right now, it would certainly - the edge would go to him. And that's mostly because of Trump's handling of coronavirus and race relations. Majorities disapprove of Trump on both items. And he's, you know, also been pretty hands-off on these talks for a new relief package, leaving it to his chief of staff and treasury secretary.

But his chief of staff today said they're not close in the near term on a deal, and that's bad news for millions of Americans seeing unemployment benefits run out as well as a moratorium on evictions in federally-backed housing expiring. So, you know, this comes as the U.S. saw its steepest drop in GDP this week, almost 33% - never been seen since the U.S. began tracking that data after World War II.

FOLKENFLIK: Trump beat the odds last time even when he was kind of written off. What makes that different today?

MONTANARO: Well, I mean, there's a few differences. One, Biden is closer to or above 50% in a lot more states than Hillary Clinton was in 2016. Secondly, and I think more importantly, liberals are less likely to underestimate Trump this time. I think Trump is the factor - and people are probably less likely to register protest votes like you saw in some of those upper Midwest states that were so critical.

Biden is doing much better than Clinton in polling with seniors and voters in the suburbs, and those are both crucial groups. And that's not only huge for the popular vote but also in key states like Florida and Arizona with seniors and in those - like I was saying, those former blue wall states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Trump, of course, certainly has a solid base behind him. He's got a lot of enthusiasm. His campaign thinks the polls are underestimating GOP support. And even in places Biden is leading, people are saying that their neighbors they think are less likely to be supportive of Trump publicly and that he'll do better once they get into the privacy of a voting booth.

FOLKENFLIK: Could be a big week for the former vice president. We hear he may announce sometime soon his running mate. He signaled it will be a woman, that it's likely to be a woman of color. These picks typically tend not to affect the race much. Still, do you think this announcement might give him a boost?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, there are lots of signs pointing to a Black woman in particular being in the finals for the running - I mean, for running for VP. You know, I think that's been particularly important because of the protests we've seen against racism across the country. You know, look - people don't vote for the vice president. They vote for the person at the top of the ticket.

FOLKENFLIK: Top of the ticket.

MONTANARO: But, you know, Biden - given Biden's age, he's going to have to pick someone who people want to see is going to be ready on day one. And he also feels like he needs to fire up progressives, so it's going to be interesting to see what the mix is.

FOLKENFLIK: And lastly, I want to talk about something the president said this past week. He received a lot of pushback after suggesting he could delay the election, which he doesn't have the authority to do, and also cast doubts on voting by mail, alleging without evidence that it would result in widespread fraud. Now, the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, was asked about that this morning on CBS's "Face The Nation." Here's some of what he had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

MARK MEADOWS: So he has not looked at delaying any election. What we will do is if we try to transform this and start mailing in ballots all across the country, all 50 states, what we will see is a delay because they're just not equipped to handle it.

FOLKENFLIK: Domenico, we've got about 30 seconds left. Is this intended as a distraction, a strategy? State officials say this may undermine trust in the election system itself.

MONTANARO: Yeah, I'm not sure there is a strategy coming out of the White House on this. I think the president himself has been trying to raise questions about mail-in voting, and that's because he's behind in the polls and it wouldn't be surprising that he tries to say that he was robbed. You know, he's setting up something like he did in 2016 about whether he'd accept the outcome if he were to lose.

FOLKENFLIK: That's NPR's senior political editor and correspondent, Domenico Montanaro.

Thanks, Domenico.

MONTANARO: Hey, you're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.