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Democrats Debate In Los Angeles

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here are the seven candidates who will stand on stage for the PBS NewsHour and Politico Democratic debate in Los Angeles tonight - Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyer, Andrew Yang. The many people who will be watching include Karen Finney, who has advised many Democrats over the years and is neutral for the moment. Good morning.

KAREN FINNEY: Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK, it's the day after impeachment. Do the Democrats on stage really want to discuss that?

FINNEY: Whether they do or not, they're going to have to. I think there'll be a number of questions about not just where they stand, but - how do you govern after a president who has been impeached? How do you bring the country back together? It's something that Joe Biden has been talking about from the beginning. I suspect it will be something that the others will have to talk about a little bit more.

INSKEEP: I want to note, I had an opportunity to be out in Virginia talking with voters last week. A very unscientific survey, but it seemed to me from this group of people that I talked to that committed Democrats were following impeachment; nobody else admitted to be closely following impeachment. Whether they were or weren't, they didn't want to talk about it.

FINNEY: Well, Law Works actually came out with an interesting poll this week that showed people - you're right. Mostly, it's Democrats who've been paying attention. Some people - others have kind of been tuning in and out because, let's be honest, it was a bit complicated to follow all the names and the dates...

INSKEEP: Sure.

FINNEY: ...And what have you. What I think is most relevant, though, for 2020 is that, you know, we have to remember that how you feel about Donald Trump and whether or not he should be president is not the same thing as whether or not you think he should be impeached.

INSKEEP: Right.

FINNEY: And I think we've been - too many folks have been looking at the impeachment number as a measure of what's going to happen, what people - how people will vote in the fall. And I just don't think you can compare the two.

INSKEEP: Is impeachment stealing oxygen from the candidates, and is the president continuing to steal oxygen from the candidates?

FINNEY: The president will always try to steal oxygen from everyone (laughter). So I think that - and, you know, look - to be perfectly honest, part of - you know, as you know, I worked for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Part of being able to run an effective campaign against Donald Trump is to be able to handle the fact that every day he will try to steal the oxygen and he will try to create some sort of distraction by tweet.

So hopefully, these candidates are learning about that process now because - so that whoever becomes the nominee will be prepared in the general election. I certainly think Joe Biden has had a chance to see what that feels like up close and in person. It is a distraction, although I think the candidates have done a fairly good job of trying to stay focused on the issues because they know, on the campaign trail, voters are talking to them about health care. They're talking to them about, you know, the issues that are affecting them every day, not impeachment as much.

INSKEEP: Let's note who's not on the debate stage tonight. Julian Castro is not there. Cory Booker is not there. Kamala Harris is not there, having dropped out of the race.

FINNEY: Right.

INSKEEP: This is getting to be a much, much whiter field than it appeared to be at the beginning. Are you surprised?

FINNEY: I'm not surprised, and I'll tell you why. You know, we've seen - since the beginning, I think the polls have been very consistent. And I was just looking at them again yesterday. Voters want someone - there's so much anxiety about how to beat Donald Trump. And, you know, I think for a lot of African American voters, there was - they felt the sort of backlash of folks saying, we have - we elected Obama, so the natural would be to then elect a Donald Trump.

And so unfortunately, I think, in this country, we have to deal with the fact that a white man is who most voters right now believe is the best person to take on Donald Trump. I think that's a - you know, that is a much longer conversation and one that I think we should all think about internally. But when I ask people whether or not they supported Kamala or Julian, you know, the people who were upset...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

FINNEY: ...That they weren't on stage, people said no. So I think that's the other side of it is, - if we believe that we - that having a diverse field is important, then everybody's got to be willing to support him.

INSKEEP: OK, this is a perilous argument.

FINNEY: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: But are you saying that it's, in some ways, a rational argument for someone to say, look - I'm not a racist, but some people are, and I want to beat Trump and so white guy?

FINNEY: Absolutely. Absolutely because a lot of how - I think a lot of the way people are thinking about this is, who do I think other people will vote for? I know how I would vote, but I'm not sure my neighbor would, right? So I think there's a lot of anxiety and kind of gaming it out. And that's part of what Elizabeth Warren is coming up against.

INSKEEP: Because she is - in addition to being a woman, she's pushing for big changes.

FINNEY: Yes.

INSKEEP: Do you think people are eager for big changes, besides getting rid of the president?

FINNEY: I don't know yet. And I think that's part of why we see so much volatility in the electorate. We see - you know, we've had reporters that - I've seen reporters say they've been at Warren events and there are Bernie people there, or there are Biden people there. I mean, I think people are definitely still, I like to call it, dating to figure out who they really want to support. I think people always want vision, and they always want to hear about big change, but ultimately, fear is driving a lot of this election.

INSKEEP: Karen, thanks for coming by.

FINNEY: Great to be with you.

INSKEEP: Karen Finney was an adviser to Hillary Clinton's campaign. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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