On Tuesday, one year out from the 2020 presidential election, NBC’s Today show fretted over polls showing some of the Democratic frontrunners struggling to defeat President Trump in several key battleground states. The discussion focused on concerns that Democrats were “overconfident” about their electoral chances and even “distracted by all the impeachment” efforts against Trump.
“And a new poll is the talk of the political world this morning, it shows head-to-head match-ups between President Trump and three Democratic frontrunners in key battleground states,” Guthrie informed viewers. “The President keeping it competitive, that’s the bottom line,” she added.
After analyst Steve Kornacki broke down the results, showing tight contests in six crucial states, Guthrie turned to political analyst and former Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill: “I mean, is this a wake-up call for Democrats. Do you think there’s been some overconfidence here?”
The former Missouri senator has made a habit out of warning 2020 Democrats not to go too far left.
Guthrie argued that there was a “battle for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party” with “progressive candidates versus more centrist candidates or moderate candidates.” It’s not clear which liberal candidates in the Democratic primary Guthrie thought were “centrist” or “moderate.”
7:09 AM ET
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: With impeachment as the backdrop, we’re exactly one year out from Election Day in the 2020 presidential race, the President’s campaign strategy on full display last night in Kentucky: play to the base and rip Democrats over impeachment.
DONALD TRUMP: The Democrats’ outrageous conduct has created an angry majority that will vote the do-nothing Democrats the hell out of office soon.
GUTHRIE: And a new poll is the talk of the political world this morning, it shows head-to-head match-ups between President Trump and three Democratic frontrunners in key battleground states. The President keeping it competitive, that’s the bottom line.
And here to break it all down, NBC’s political correspondent Steve Kornacki and our NBC political analyst, former Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill. Nice to see you both.
Let’s talk quickly about the poll numbers. Joe Biden does the best against Trump. I mean, that’s the upshot when you look at these six battleground states, followed by Sanders. And then when you look at Warren, she struggles, and in only one of these battleground states does she actually prevail in this head-to-head match-up. What do you make of that and why are these battlegrounds so important?
STEVE KORNACKI: Yeah, the six states here, put us in some context, Trump went six for six in these states in 2016. If Democrats are gonna win back the presidency, probably the math can be a little funny, they probably need to win three of these. So you’ve got Biden leading in four of them right now, Sanders in three, Warren in one. The big difference between them right there is white working class voters. The common thread between these six states, they have an abundance of white working class voters, especially in those rust belt states – Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin – that we’ve talked so much about. And simply put, in that polling right now, Biden is doing better with working white class voters, particularly than Elizabeth Warren is.
GUTHRIE: You’re our polling guru, a lot of people feel like they’ve been seeing these polls, they see approval ratings of Donald Trump, they see national polls that show him behind many of these frontrunners, and then you get these battleground polls that tell a much different story. Why does it matter?
KORNACKI: Yeah, well, I mean, 2016 I think was a similar story because everybody was looking at the national polls. In the national polls, Trump never led the national polls. And I think one of the reasons there was so much confidence that Hillary Clinton was gonna win going into Election Day was if you looked at Pennsylvania, if you looked at Wisconsin, if you looked at Michigan, you saw something different, but nationally it was telling a different story.
GUTHRIE: Let me turn to Senator McCaskill, who’s listening to this as a former Democratic senator. I mean, is this a wake-up call for Democrats. Do you think there’s been some overconfidence here?
CLAIRE MCCASKILL: Absolutely. I think that everyone needs to remember that the way we win the presidency is not a national poll, it is state by state by state. And the voters who voted for Barack Obama and Donald Trump, that’s who they should be focused on, that’s – those crossover voters. And they’re in abundance in these states and they have not made up their mind yet, they are a little worried about some of the extreme positions taken by a lot of the primary candidates.
GUTHRIE: Well, that’s what I was gonna ask you. I mean, you know, your background is, I think, as a centrist and a moderate, you won in a red state, in Missouri. But the kind of battle for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party that’s happening in the primary has to do with progressive candidates versus more centrist candidates or moderate candidates, and what does that poll have to say on that issue?
MCCASKILL: It says that we have got to remember that there’s nothing evil about the middle of America, either geographically or in terms of ideology. And we’ve got to focus on the practical things that matter to people’s families. They are not as worried about whether or not they’re gonna have a Medicare-for-all as they are whether or not that can afford their medicine. So I think these candidates – and frankly, we’re a little distracted by all the impeachment. These candidates need to get back to the – what I call the kitchen table issues for American families and reassure them that they can make change happen. Not just pie-in-the-sky ideas that are really unrealistic, but stuff that can get across the finish line.
GUTHRIE: Let’s talk about one thing that comes clear in this poll that we’re talking about, Steve, which is in 2018, Trump voters who voted Democrat in the midterm, now tell these pollsters, “We’re sticking with Trump for 2020.”
GUTHRIE: So a lot of Democrats felt pretty confident because the 2018, you know, rushed in a tide of Democrats into the House. But those folks are now saying, “But we’re still with Trump.”
KORNACKI: Right, two-thirds of them say they are ready to vote for Donald Trump again, even after going for Democrats in the congressional elections. This is one of the great mysteries of modern American politics. We saw it with Barack Obama, terrible midterm, his voters came back in 2012. We saw it with Bill Clinton, terrible midterm, voters came back. There is a warning sign here for Democrats that the same thing could be preparing to happen with Donald Trump.
GUTHRIE: Well, it’s really fascinating, we’re just getting started, the starting gun, one year out. Thank you so much, Steve Kornacki, Senator McCaskill, appreciate it. We’re going to have a lot more in our next half hour, including a real interesting conversation with voters who supported the President in 2016. Just ahead, how they feel about his time in office, the impeachment investigation, and the race this time around.