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Analysis Of The Presidential Campaigns' Highs And Lows

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's recap the electoral map. As we see it at npr.org, neither Donald Trump nor Joe Biden has 270 electoral votes, the number needed to win. Joe Biden has made one significant gain - winning Arizona, a state that Republicans had won for a generation. Donald Trump has overperformed the polls and held onto key states like Florida and Texas. Other states, including Midwest states like Michigan and Wisconsin, remain undecided.

So there is so much to discuss here. And we're going to discuss at least some of it with some regular guests, Republican strategist Scott Jennings and Democratic strategist Karen Finney. Good morning to you both.

KAREN FINNEY: Good morning.

SCOTT JENNINGS: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Scott, I want to begin with you. Trump did do better than the polls would have suggested in Florida. He seemed to be trailing a bit and instead won rather easily.

JENNINGS: Yeah. Florida, like a lot of other states, the rural areas - the Election Day turnout for Republicans really did materialize for Donald Trump. So a couple of things stick out to me. No. 1 it's apparently still very hard for the pollsters to capture the energy for Donald Trump and Republicans in places with significant rural areas. And No. 2, the Trump campaign's investment in a traditional field program - door-knocking, voter registration, et cetera - appears to have really paid off in a number of states - Florida included.

INSKEEP: I'm glad you mentioned that Democrats held off on the door-knocking for a while because of the pandemic, Karen Finney. What do you make of how close this is, how much closer the race is than the polls would have suggested?

FINNEY: Well, two things - one, having gone through 2016, I was always wary of the polls and believed that there - we would see that surge that Scott was just talking about in Trump voters. We saw it in 2016. There was no reason to think we wouldn't see it again. But the other thing is, look; I think it's close because we're a divided country. We - whereas in so many places across the country, we know that Democrats did very well, also, with voter outreach and registration and voter contact through, you know, nontraditional means, like texting and phone banking. So I think you saw, you know, both sides really turned out in pretty strong numbers. And, again, I think it shows what a divided country we are.

INSKEEP: Really remarkable turnout - and we want to emphasize again, we are analyzing a race whose results are incomplete. Neither candidate has 270 electoral votes. It would appear that millions of votes are uncounted. So that's the backdrop to talk about what the candidates have made of this. As we're hearing elsewhere in the program, Joe Biden made a statement in which he urged patience. He didn't claim he had won, but he said that he thought he was going to win. President Trump made a much more unusual statement in which he made false claims that he believed he had won and that - went through an analysis of the states and so forth and even said he was taking it to the Supreme Court. What do each of you make of those statements? Karen, you can go first.

FINNEY: Well, it's exactly what he's been telegraphing for months he was - the plan was, in fact. Not surprising that he wants to get it to the Supreme Court. We know that was or we - certainly it was reported that that may have been part of the impetus for installing Amy Coney Barrett so quickly, to make sure that there was a Supreme Court that he believed would be in his favor. At the same time, I think, you know, Biden's message was very important. We do need to make sure that every vote is counted in this very unprecedented year. And, you know, well, it's 2020, and a lot of things have happened in 2020 that we didn't expect. And so I know the Biden team is well-prepared to make sure to meet every challenge and make sure every vote is counted. And I think we've got many of the American people behind him on that.

INSKEEP: Scott Jennings, what did you think of these statements?

JENNINGS: Well, No. 1, hearing them both made me thankful of the decentralized nature of how we administer elections in this country. I've heard some people over the years argue for a more federalized electoral system. This is exactly why we have a decentralized state- and local-based system, so that no one actor - in this case, a president or a presidential candidate - can have too much influence over it. And it doesn't really matter what Joe Biden says or what Donald Trump says because secretaries of state, county clerks - these are the people who ultimately have the responsibility to count the votes.

And so, you know, all this talk about the Supreme Court and litigation - I think it's all very premature until we see what the vote counts are. You know, courts can't just step in and say, we decree that this happened. You know, there have to be specific claims and specific issues that that come up before anything like that could occur. So I'm, today, this morning, Steve, most thankful for the fact that we have clerks and secretaries of state and not a federal (laughter) electoral system because I think it gives me more confidence in the overall system.

INSKEEP: You are stating a fact, Scott Jennings. And that is a reason that we can have some confidence in the results. And even if there was a problem in one precinct or one state, it could get controversial as it did in 2000 in Florida. But most of the country we're going to have confidence in, and maybe all of the country we're going to have confidence in. You also correctly note, we don't know of any legal basis for any court claim that would go to the Supreme Court.

Let me ask you, though, Scott Jennings, about what you think the attitude is of congressional leaders. You have, of course, have been close to Mitch McConnell. Do you have in your mind a circumstance in which congressional Republicans would stick with the president if he claimed fraud and a circumstance in which they would say, no, we're not going there?

JENNINGS: Well, I think congressional leaders would follow the law and follow any process or procedure that is prescribed by the law. And so if we get into a situation where there's litigation and there's a legal remedy for some matter, I think they would be willing to follow a course as long as it's prescribed by law. I don't think congressional leaders would be willing to go down any rabbit hole that seems to be outside of what would be normally prescribed avenues to cure issues that have come up.

And so - and right now, obviously, as you correctly note, we - there's so much we don't know in so many states that I think they're probably today going to take the posture of, well, let's get some more votes counted, and then let's talk about what would happen next. But, no, I don't think any congressional leader, Steve, is going to go down an extrajudicial or, you know, sort of unknown process here just because the president asked them to. I think they're going to want to follow the law.

INSKEEP: OK. Karen Finney and Scott Jennings, it's always a pleasure talking with you both. And perhaps we'll have a chance to check in with you again. Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF GRMMR.126'S "FATAL ERROR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.