Announcer: Listener-supported WNYC Studios. [music]
President Donald Trump: My fellow Americans, tonight, with a heart full of gratitude and boundless optimism, I profoundly accept this nomination for president of the United States. [applause] [music]
Amy Walter: It's politics with Amy Walter on The Takeaway. Week two of political conventions in the time of COVID has come to a close. This week, it was Republicans who made their case, and it went something like this, "The economy is roaring."
Lawrence Alan Kudlow: Right now, our economic health is coming back. With emergency spending and tax cuts, Americans are going back to work. There's a housing boom. There's an auto boom, a manufacturing boom, a consumer spending boom.
Amy: Of course, we know there's still double-digit unemployment. "The threat of coronavirus is receding and will soon be eradicated."
Trump: We will have a safe and effective vaccine this year, and together, we will crush the virus. [applause]
Amy: More than 180,000 people have died from the coronavirus and that number keeps rising. Nevertheless, on Thursday night, President Trump spoke to an audience of more than 1,000 people, packed tightly together, most without masks on the South Lawn of the White House. For the first time in history, a President used the White House for a purely political purpose, but much as he came into office, Donald Trump continues to run as an outsider and an agitator.
Ivanka Trump: Donald Trump did not come to Washington to win praise from the Beltway elites. Donald Trump came to Washington for one reason and one reason alone to make America great again.
Amy: The one thing Biden and Trump do agree on, however-
President Trump: This is the most important election in the history of our country.
Joe Biden: All elections are important, but we know in our bones, this one is more consequential.
Amy: With President Trump trailing Joe Biden in the polls, will this convention have been enough to give him a needed boost? What can the vision laid out by the GOP this week tell us about what to expect for the rest of the campaign?
Toluse: Hi, this is Toluse Olorunnipa, White House reporter with The Washington Post.
Elaina: Hi, I'm Elaina Plott. I'm a national political reporter with The New York Times.
Tim: My name is Tim Alberta. I'm the chief political correspondent for Politico.
Amy: I started by getting Toluse's reaction to the President's Thursday speech.
Toluse: The classic Trump, in some ways. He talks about his accomplishments. He went on the attack against his opponent. It was long. It was a bit rambling. He had a couple of off the cuff comments, which were a little strange, at some points. I think that the scenery of it all was really what stuck with me. This is you have the President in front of the White House, in front of the people's house, with a big Trump-Pence sign out there, hundreds of people packed on the South Lawn as if we're not in the middle of a pandemic, very few people wearing masks. The President talking mostly about how great his accomplishments have been over the past three and a half years and slamming his political opponent, talking a little bit about the coronavirus, but making it more of an afterthought than the biggest issue that's going to determine what people decide in this election. I think people within the Trump's campaign and within his orbit are trying to change that narrative. They don't want the pandemic to be what people vote on. They don't want that to be what decides this election, whereas, people in Joe Biden's camp, do want that to be the top issue, and they do think that the President's mishandling of the virus is essentially what's going to allow Joe Biden to waltz into office after November. You'd really got a picture of two different cases for who should be elected in 2020. He deserves four more years based on what he's done over the past three and a half years with a footnote of the pandemic, not really being a focus, and then, pushing against Joe Biden's argument, which is that Joe Biden says he will return the country to normalcy, restore the soul of America, bring back a sense of calm in the nation. President Trump instead painted a picture of dystopia under Joe Biden, saying that you will not be safe in Joe Biden's America.
Amy: Tim, I was thinking, I think many of us were thinking that this would be a speech that looked more like what we are used to hearing from Donald Trump at his rallies, off the cuff, maybe a little more full-throated, a lot of asides, a lot of opportunities to rile up the crowd. This, to me, felt certainly much more like a traditional political speech. It almost read like a state of the union. What did you think about it, and why do you think he chose to do that?
Tim: I think the goal here, as was the overarching goal of the entire Republican Convention, was to make Trump in some way more palatable, not to the base of the party because Republicans know that those voters aren't going anywhere and don't need to be convinced, don't need to be persuaded, but that there are millions and millions of Americans who, believe it or not, are still on the fence and don't quite know what to do come November, don't quite know how to process these two nominees and their parties. The idea from the Republican Party's perspective here was to present, not only Trump as less threatening, less menacing, less racist, less obnoxious than popular perception would have him being, and also, to present Joe Biden as far more threatening, far more menacing than the Democrats would paint him out to be, hence, the allusion to the Trojan Horse time and time and time again.
Amy: Right. That seems the question, Tim, is do you think that after all this time, after three and a half years and people's opinions of Donald Trump pretty well settled by now, that there's anyone with room to have a different opinion about who Donald Trump is versus who Joe Biden is or maybe what some of the issues are? You know what I mean? Trying to change the image that people have of Donald Trump seems quite frankly to be a challenge at this point.
Tim: It's true that perceptions of Trump and also of Biden are pretty well hardened at this point. Although, I would say that probably the one person who could have changed or to some degree helped change or soften or challenge some of the popular perceptions of Donald Trump is Donald Trump. I thought it was interesting that we heard any number of speakers at this Republican Convention nod to this bull in a China shop mentality that the President has and excuse it or justify it by saying, "Look, if you want to make an omelet, you got to break a few eggs, and this guy breaks a few eggs, but he does it because he loves this country, and he wants to keep you safe." I think that there are diminishing returns on that argument when it comes from other people. What I thought was most notable from the President's 6000-word, 1 hour and 11-minute speech last night was the thing he didn't say, was that he never himself took the opportunity to exhibit any self-awareness or even any humility or introspection and even slip in a single line that says, "You know what, once in a while, maybe my passion gets the better of me, maybe my willingness to fight goes a little too far, but you should know that every tweet I send, even the ones that I wish I could take back, they all come from a place of fierce patriotism and wanting to do what's best for this country." I do wonder if a line like that might have been able to penetrate that hardened perception that so many voters have of him because when you talk to moderates, you talk to independence, Amy, there are a lot of people out there who were, if not for the President's behavior, they would have a much easier time voting for him.
Amy: Elaina, that brings a great transition to what I wanted to talk to you about. You heard a lot from this RNC about-- First of all, things are getting a whole lot better but that violence in the cities is getting a lot worse, and it's the Democrats fault because these are Democratic-run cities, and also, this is what Joe Biden's America would look like. I know you have been in and talking with a lot of these suburban swing voters and there's a thought that this law and order message could really work with them. I'm curious to get your thoughts on that and what your reporting has told you about that.
Elaina: Yes, Amy, I was recently in Arizona in Maricopa County, specifically, which covers Phoenix and which accounts for about 60% of votes in most elections in Arizona. It's a county that really does rely on that suburban women voter to dictate what the top-line results look like election after election. It's also a county that has gone consistently for Republicans pretty much by at least 10 points. Donald Trump has not done especially well there in 2016. He won by just three points when Romney in 2012 had won by 11 maybe. One thing I heard over and over from people there is that a law and order message or rather a message about public safety could actually have returns for Trump but only up to a point. At this point, suburban women, as much as the Trump campaign and throughout the convention would rather you think of this election only in a pre-pandemic paradigm of sorts, people really are dealing with the reality of what the coronavirus has scrambled their lives to look like. The top two things I heard over and over from women were that their concerns were related to coronavirus, and within that context, education. A crime centered message, again, could work there. There was certainly some resonance with that in the voters I spoke to but only up to a point. You might remember, Amy, the Trump campaign recently ran, or Toluse, a pretty dystopian ad featuring an elderly white woman who received a call or rather, I believe, she was in the midst of a home invasion. She calls 911 and the line essentially went to an answering machine, the implication being of course that there's no more police force in Joe Biden's America. It was pretty dark and a focus group of Arizona voters, no less, showed pretty quickly that even female voters who classified themselves as leaning toward Trump saying that that seemed very far from reality, that it seemed overdone, and in the words of one, even seemed insulting. I do think there's a ceiling to the effectiveness.
Amy: That's really interesting what you're saying too about this contrast, with Democrats seem to focus, if you're thinking about a message for these kinds of voters, I'm not just saying just women but certainly with the emphasis on women, they spoke just a lot on schools and the reality of childcare and what it's like in this era as a way to try to get these voters to their side, whereas, Republicans really focused on your cities are going to be overrun with blood and violence. Is that the fairway to think about how they're trying to get those voters?
Elaina: There was also, I would say, from watching the DNC, more than acknowledgment again that when talking about the challenges of education, the need to fund education, it was usually, if not always, within the context of the challenges being posed right now by the coronavirus. This week, when we heard Republican speakers even nod to education, it was certainly not a huge theme. It was always about school choice. It's a message that we could have heard in the 2016 convention, in the 2012 convention. It really did seem somewhat divorced from the reality of what most moms and dads, of course, are actually thinking about right now in the context of schooling for their children.
Amy: Toluse, I want to talk about the roadmap that the RNC put forward and what you think the next 60 or so days will look like. One thing I was really struck by is the way that the President and Republicans portray Joe Biden. On the one hand, he's this creature of Washington, but he's also a Trojan Horse for socialism. Those seem to be really conflicted messages.
Toluse: They'd been struggling for the last five or six months, since Joe Biden essentially confirmed that he was going to be the nominee, to define Joe Biden. They had come into this year saying that they were going to spend the spring and the summer defining whoever the Democratic nominee would be, and they've really struggled. They tried to cast Joe Biden as some puppet of China. At one point, they tried to focus on his mental capabilities. They tried to focus on his son and call him corrupt. None of it really stuck to Joe Biden. Now, it seems like they're settling on this argument, which I do expect we'll hear over the next several weeks, that Joe Biden is a weak person who will be a vessel for the radical left, that he won't be too weak to stand up to the extremes of his party, and that he will allow the most extreme voices within the Democratic Party to run his administration, that he's going to be a Trojan Horse who can't lead the party to some sort of moderation. You heard the President talk about that last night. You did not hear him talking as much about Joe Biden being sleepy or slow or losing his mental faculties. After Joe Biden's performance last week, during the conventions, in some of his recent interviews, they don't want to lower the bar so much ahead of these debates to make it seem like all Joe Biden would need to do is show up and seem competent, which he did last week during his acceptance speech. They're trying to move away from that. They're trying to focus on a different argument. They've got less than 10 weeks to do it and to make it stick, but it does seem like that's going to be their argument heading into the fall and heading into the final stretch of this campaign.
Amy: Tim, you have written a lot about and continue to write a lot about the future of the Republican Party, and I'm wondering what you thought that this convention told us about where the Republican Party is headed and post-Trump, who some of its potential leaders are-- I mean, there were a lot of speakers this week. I can't give you the percentage, but it seemed like majority of them were people who currently work in the White House or somehow related to Donald Trump versus rising stars from across the country.
Tim: I thought that was striking. I would say that the other part that really stood out is that the people who were able to speak, the Tom Cottons and the Mike Pompeos of the world, I didn't really hear any serious vision casting from those people. I would even lump Nikki Haley in with that group. Much of what they were doing was designed to help the President get across the finish line this November, but there was very little even implicit language that was designed to not necessarily turn the chapter on the Trump era because that would feel pretty inappropriate, obviously, at his party's convention, but even to look beyond November and say, "Look, you know, this is a country that faces massive structural challenges, economic and geopolitical and otherwise, and here are the things that we, as Republicans, are fighting for and looking ahead, looking around the corner at." That, to me, was sort of a missed opportunity, especially for somebody like a Nikki Haley. Obviously, there's always going to be this fine line when you're speaking at a convention to not get too self-promotional and to make sure that the things you're saying are in service of the party's nominee, and that's all the more so true at a Trump convention because the President does not like to be upstaged.
Amy: Elaina, I want to end here with you and talking about the one thing that we hear a lot from the President, at least on his Twitter account, but we didn't hear about during the convention or in the President's speech was the issue of voting and vote by mail, and the President, of course, continues to attack the integrity of that. It was noticeable that he didn't talk about this. What do you think this portends for the fall campaign? Was this just because this was an official speech and we should expect him to keep attacking it, or do you think maybe this is a sign that he's going to let up on that line of attack?
Elaina: It's really hard to understand the extent to which any of this will portend anything before the fall, so much, of course, not just within the context of Trump but just within politics and media today exist within a vacuum, just is something that a lot of people forget tomorrow. It certainly wouldn't surprise me if we saw Donald Trump go on a Twitter rant about the perils of vote by mail tomorrow or even this evening. I would say, though, there was something of a glimmer of restraint, not just to me on the part of the President but on the part of the Trump campaign and the Republican apparatus writ large, that you'll recall that not only did any speaker resist any detour into all the things we've heard sounded off about voting by mail and absentee balloting and whatnot, but also even Rudy Giuliani, there was no mention whatsoever of Ukraine, which is what of course he and the President once thought would be their greatest secret weapon against, at the time, aspiring presidential nominee. I do think that there was something of a sobering effect to the convention, in that sense, that there have been lines of attack delivered by this party that just have not been resonating with voters whatsoever, and perhaps, one of the few times in the past four years, Donald Trump and his cohorts seemed to get that message. That, of course-- We have to be careful about trying to extrapolate from it and suggest what it might mean from now until November because a lot could happen on Trump's Twitter feed alone in the next week that could make voters forget that any of the more resoundingly and positive and needle-moving moments of this week never happened.
Amy: Well, Elaina, Tim, Toluse, thank you all so much for joining me.
Elaina: Thank you so much, Amy.
Tim: Thanks, Amy. [music]
Amy: For the last two weeks, each party laid out its governing agenda and priorities, but as always, we wanted to hear you, so we asked what you thought the visions of America presented at both the DNC and the RNC, and if you thought one was better or more effective. Here's what you had to say.
Lisa: This is Lisa from Murray, Kentucky. Both conventions had highs and lows. What disturbs me the most is the message that both parties sent out. If the other party wins, life as we know it is over. What a choice.
Nicole: Hi, my name is Nicole. I am calling from Windsor, Colorado. I feel that they both prioritize us versus them. I think both the right and the left are playing a very, very dangerous game. There's been no room left for reconciliation no matter who wins, and this is really disturbing.
Martha: This is Martha from St. Louis. I was impressed by the DNC and impressed with their unified resolve night after night. The RNC annoyed me, and that I was taught not to lie, and all I heard was lie, lie, lie, one after another.
Jess: My name is Jess, and I'm calling from Salem, Mass. I was really impressed with the Democratic Convention last week. I was thrilled about the unity and anti-racism message. The Republican Convention this week has been a huge disappointment. I'm a former Republican and decided to switch because of Trump and Trump only, but also because I don't believe that the rest of the Republicans should've stood behind him.
Caller 5: The Republican Convention fit in with my values on freedom. I believe in individual freedom. I think that we do need to get back on track.
Justin Block: My name is Justin Block. I live in Los Angeles, California. DNC was hopeful, and everyone there said they would listen to American citizens, whereas, the RNC was filled with hate, fear, and longing for a world that stopped existing generations ago.
John: This is John from Highland Park. Between the DNC and RNC, my personal opinion is I appreciate the RNC's position a little more. Both parties are always going to demagogue the other, but my primary issue, I deem it as important to me is economy, and for the Republicans, I prefer entrepreneurial, free market, capitalist approach.
Steve Rich: Pretty stark. DNC warned over democracy slipping away to fascism, RNC about one under attack by socialism. From my point of view, Democrats have it right. Steve Rich, Margaretville, New York.
Lisa: I think the contrast was pretty stark. To me, the DNC came across as dark, depressing, disorganized, and really poorly produced, despite, I know the pandemic created unconventional convention, whereas, the RNC has been powerful, positive, very professionally produced, and patriotic. Thank you. This is Lisa from Bergen County, New Jersey.
Derek Val: I believe the DNC was full of facts that's very realistic and authentic. The RNC was is nothing but a bizarre set of lies and deceit. This is not the way we want to America to be. As the DNC will be the better choice because they actually proposed and stated the realness that needs to happen in this moment. Derek Val, Louisville, Kentucky.
Caller 11: I really tried to watch Mike Pence's speech with an open mind even though I'm a Democrat. I wanted to see if there were some nuggets that I could pick up from it. I was so disappointed to have him mention the riots in Kenosha without even mentioning Jacob Blake. I felt like that was a real miss.
Amy: Keep the calls coming, 877-8-MY-TAKE is the number, or you can tweet us @TheTakeaway. [music] When it comes to the economy, the President likes to boast that the stock market is booming. While that might be true, the economic recovery is anything but even. Many industries continue to struggle and tourism is a prime example. Cities and states that are dependent on tourism dollars and the workers who power those industries are still suffering in the wake of the pandemic, places like Las Vegas. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, visitors to the city have cratered. Last month, the number was down -61% from where it was in July of 2019. At its peak, in April, there was a nearly complete absence of visitors at -97% the previous year's number. Activity on The Strip has all the ground to a halt.
Angelica Garcia: My name is Angelica Garcia and I work at the Rio Hotel. I've been there 19 years. I'm a Starbucks barista there.
Amy: Angelica is a member of the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 in Las Vegas. She's worked at the Rio Hotel for 19 years but was laid off when things began shutting down.
Angelica: This year has been very sad because I haven't been back to work yet since March, just waiting to be called back and just losing hope because it's been so long. It's almost six months and don't know when I'm going to be called to go back, don't know when it's going to open. I see very few conventions coming to town. Actually, there's no conventions. They're all canceling little by little. I just get worried about my job, when I would be able to come back.
Amy: Are you getting any sort of compensation at all while you have been unable to work through the Rio or through the Culinary Union?
Angelica: Well, just unemployment. I'm just going to rely on that right now.
Amy: What are they telling you, either the casino or the Culinary Union?
Angelica: No, they're not saying anything about opening soon. They don't know when the Rio is going to open. They have no idea.
Amy: This must be really hard economically for you to have been out of work now for all these months.
Angelica: Yes, it has, and I don't know how it is everywhere or where you live, but here, it's very hard because this is the main income for us. We depend on the travelers, and now, I guess people are not coming, so we're like, "Okay, what do we do now?" I feel worried.
Amy: I don't know if you've been hearing this, but a lot of folks are pointing to how well the stock market is doing and the White House is saying the recovery is going great and by the next quarter or by next year, the economy is going to be back off and rocketing. I'm wondering how that sounds to you and if that seems realistic.
Angelica: No, it's not going to come back soon because they're going to have to come up with some vaccine. Everybody has to try it first and see if it works. It just seems like it's going to take a while actually. It seems like it's going to take a long time to get back, so people could feel safe again to be out in public.
Amy: How do you think Las Vegas is going to make it? As you said, it is a city that depends on conventions and travelers and vacationers. What's going to happen do you think?
Angelica: I want to be optimistic, but I just don't know. To tell you the truth, I really don't even know what's going to happen. That's what's making me feel stressed out and worried and very, very like depressed sometimes because of like, "What am I going to do? What's my future going to be like for me and my family?" It's scary.
Amy: Angelica, this is going to go out to-- People are going to be listening from all over the country. I'm wondering if you can just tell folks anything that you think we should know about what it's like trying to live and work in Las Vegas during the middle of this coronavirus.
Angelica: Well, to try to work here is very difficult because I'm sure that there's going to be a lot of people that want to go to the casinos, but they have to follow all those directives and social distancing and all that. Then, I'm sure people don't want to come. They want to come because I know they're excited to come, but there's just a limit of how many people could be in the casino at one time, and they have to limit that. People should come, but just come like with masks on and protection. That's all-- I just wish they would come and not be scared. There's no reason to be scared. It's just everybody has to have protection like a mask or whatever they feel safe wearing, that way we can come back to work and they can call us back to work.
Amy: Angelica Garcia is a member of the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 in Las Vegas. The economy consistently ranks top among issues important to voters, and this election is no different. A recent Pew poll found that nearly 80% of voters say the economy will be very important to them in making their decision about who to vote for. The two parties have presented very different opinions on the state of that economy. Last week, Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, argued the economy can't recover until we get a handle on the coronavirus.
Joe Biden: We will never get our economy back on track. We will never get our kids safely back in schools. We'll never have our lives back until we deal with this virus.
Amy: This week, Republicans painted a picture of an economy that's roaring back and we'll be firing on all cylinders by next year. Meanwhile, we continue to get mixed messages about the real state of the American economy, so to help give us that reality check on the state of the economy and its prospects for 2021, I'm joined by Heather Long, an economics correspondent at The Washington Post. Heather, welcome back to the show.
Heather Long: Great to be here.
Amy: All right. Heather, we heard from the Republicans this week about the economy and things are going to be great. We're going to get all these jobs back. We're on track. Can you help give us some context? Where are we with this economy?
Heather: Well, we're basically halfback, if you will. We've got about 40% of the jobs back, and that's where most of the pain is. It's alarming that we still see over a million people filing new unemployment claims each week. You would expect that if we're really in a recovery, like the President is saying, then, people like Angelica that you just had on from Vegas should be able to be working again. Obviously, a lot of people are not working again. We have 27 million Americans who are still receiving unemployment payments here in August. I'd like to call this the K-shaped recovery. I know people are like, "Is it a V? Is it a W? Is it U? Is it a backward smoosh?" The easiest way to think about it is a K, and we're in that phase where the top half of America, broadly speaking, is doing pretty well. The 50% of Americans that own stocks, we got the stock market back at record highs. We have just over 60% of Americans who own homes, home values, home sales are booming. Home values are back at record highs. Those people at the top who were able to work from home, they didn't lose as many jobs and their jobs have generally come back a lot faster. The flip side is just like Angelica you had on from Vegas, the bottom 50%. They don't own stocks, they don't own their homes, they're renters, and we know the low-wage hospitality jobs have been hit the hardest, these people do not have their jobs back. They're the ones who've lost these unemployment benefits and are really nervous.
Amy: Let's talk about what Joe Biden has put forward. Of course, he said, we got to get this virus under control to get those sorts of people like Angelica back to work. At the same time, I heard a lot of criticism for the fact that he didn't really offer a stronger explanation of how he was going to ultimately improve economic circumstances for some of these families like Angelica's.
Heather: Yes, I think you hit it on the head. I thought his strongest line, in Biden's speech was, "We'll not only build it back, we'll build it back better." He was trying to say, "I can do a better job of building a more inclusive economy," that's going to help that bottom half of the K that we were just talking about in this recovery. I also got a lot of text messages from friends in Pennsylvania, and people I keep in touch with, voters in Michigan, and the other swing states, and they said, "I'm still left after the end of this speech, not knowing what he's actually going to do." Whereas, President Trump, last night, not a lot of policy details that's not his forte, but you certainly knew at the end of Trump's speech that he's going to hit those three things again, cut taxes, harder on China and trade, and more deregulation, including in the energy industry. What is that three-point equivalent for Biden? I think it's there. He's got lots of great policy papers, but he hasn't fully articulated it in that boom, boom, boom bullet point way.
Amy: One of the things, Heather, you do such a really great job of covering is the inequity that is being compounded by this recession. I'm wondering, what you think this is going to look like even a year from now if indeed we have this K that is there? What is this going to mean for our economy? Is this stable?
Heather Long: Certainly, given the lot of unrest we're seeing right now, the answer is no, it's not stable. In particular, what we can see from the recovery that's happening, if you want to call it a recovery, is white people's jobs are coming back, by and large. The jobs that aren't coming back, Hispanic women and Black men and Black women. They were hit hardest in the spring, and their jobs so far have been very slow to come back. Yes, you could easily be sitting here a year from now and see a very, very wide divergence between what white America looks like and what non-white America looks like.
Amy: Finally, we still are having a debate in Washington about a final package. It's unclear if we will get another stimulus package. What do you think that would mean for these last couple of months of the quarter of this year to not have a stimulus package go out?
Heather: There's no doubt we're starting to see rising evictions and we're starting to see true suffering come back. We had a front-page story on The Post today about this. I think it's a huge mistake for President Trump not to sign another relief bill.
Amy: Do we assume that that's going to happen then by the end of the fall or before they leave Washington for the campaign trail?
Heather: Amy, I think we'll get a bill. The question is, is it going to be enough? It sounds like the bill is getting hacked smaller and smaller at a time when we should err on the side of doing too much to help people, not supposed to not enough.
Amy: Heather Long, thank you once again for helping us understand this very complicated world we live in.
Heather: Take care.
Amy: Heather Long is an economics correspondent for The Washington Post. [music]
Amy: In 2018, former defense department analyst Elissa Slotkin flipped the seat from red to blue in a suburban Michigan district that President Trump had carried by seven points. She touts extensive grassroots organizing for her success, including the 200,000 doors her team knocked on that year. This time around, the restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic have made it impossible for her to reuse that 2018 playbook. This week, I spoke with Congresswoman Slotkin about how she plans on making her case to voters now that the pandemic has curtailed traditional campaigning. This conversation is part of our continued look at campaigning during a pandemic.
Elissa Slotkin: By the time mid-May rolled around, we were already frankly reimagining and re-envisioning what the campaign was going to look like. I really feel like a major reason I won in a Republican district was because we knocked 200,000 doors and sent 300,000 texts and made a million phone calls and just had a huge number of, in particular, first-time volunteers. What was important about that is those personal connections, those personal relationships that were happening neighbor to neighbor on people's front doors, where they would talk about why they were supporting me and convince a lot of people. I've had people come up to me saying, "I wasn't going to vote for you, but then, I had a neighbor come up to my house and knock doors." We were trying to re-envision and reimagine, but also, maintain that personal connection. We've just started doing a ton of these outdoor events. We have about 50 people in person. We bring the chairs and socially distance. We take people's temperature. We give them a QR code for contact tracing. The event is, yes, built for those 50 people, but it's in their community, and also, at the same time, being live-streamed to another 250 who are watching. We're doing contactless canvassing. Basically, instead of knocking on the door and having to meet a stranger who might not want to be anywhere near someone else, we designed these giant sticky notes that you can personalize and write a little personal note to the person inside without actually knocking on the door and asking for them to come out. We're also doing the equivalent of throwing spaghetti against the wall and testing new things and innovating. We're going to double down on gas pump video screens because people are still getting gas. We're experimenting with advertising on the top of pizza boxes because everybody's getting carry out. We're trying new things, seeing if they work, if not, we chuck them, and if they do work, then we double down. It's very new.
Amy: Is it harder than for you to get a feel for what is animating voters in your district and the issues that they care about if you're not able to like literally stand in a line at your local grocery store and just grab people as they come out?
Elissa: We're one of the only campaigns, certainly, in the State of Michigan, who are actually doing lots and lots of events and in-person events, careful and responsible in-person, events for that very reason. We literally set up orange cones at the end of those events that are like a rope line where people can wait and talk to me, socially distanced, six-feet apart, so that I can hear them talk about prescription drugs and the price of insulin, or I can hear them talk about their concerns around the economy and certain sectors of the economy that haven't been able to open up. Those kind of lines, socially distanced lines are very, very important to me.
Amy: Again, do you feel like what we're talking about in DC, and certainly, the media, that constant coverage on COVID, is what people in your district are talking about nonstop, or is there something else that really is sitting there that is just not getting covered?
Elissa: The dual crises of public health and the economy are what most people are talking about. The intersection of healthcare should not be missed. It's hard to see this many people losing their jobs and being laid off and not understand that that means people are losing their healthcare. It's hard to see that we're going through a public health challenge and not talk about how desperately people need good coverage that they can afford right now.
Amy: Let's also talk about the fact that Michigan State is in your district, are they coming back, and if they are doing online, and obviously, as you said, you can't really go on campus and do the same organizing you would with students, how worried are you that that group of voters may not be as engaged in this election?
Elissa: Yes, well, Michigan State University did make the decision to go all online. While I'm in strong support of the decision, I mean the president of MSU is a doctor and a medical researcher by training, he really is leading with public health in the front of his decision making, which I really respect, it's hard to ignore that the difference that will make in our race. I won by about 13,000 votes last cycle, and we think about 7,000 of them were Michigan State students. You can imagine-- I think anyone running for office, if half your win number isn't coming back, potentially, it gets your attention. Again, we knew that this could be a possibility. We had started really targeting, frankly, graduating high school seniors. All summer, we've had 18 high school interns work and all they do all day long is register their high school friends to vote. We're going to target the students that are living still in East Lansing, like they've rented an apartment, they're staying around campus even though they're not going to campus every day. Then, we've just got to work harder to find those votes in other places.
Amy: Let's also talk about your district itself, as you pointed out, is district that Trump carried. You flipped it in 2018, suburban district. It's also the kind of district it seems that the President is talking about when he warned suburban housewives that all the violence that you're seeing in places like Portland and Seattle and now Kenosha are going to make their way to your backyard. Tell me how that's playing in your district, and does it make it harder for you and your presidential nominee, Joe Biden, in a district like yours?
Elissa: The pictures in the media have been played over and over of these violent protests in other places. To be honest, in Michigan, we've had relatively low, very low levels of violent protests. What I'm counting on is that the voters are smarter than we give them credit for. In my suburban parts of my district, Rochester, Rochester Hills, Suburban Detroit, we had peaceful protests by largely students, young people, their parents, they went right through the downtown areas there, they were protesting systemic racism in largely white communities, and of course, they were not violent. They didn't destroy any property. I believe that voters understand that the fear-mongering is just that and not what's actually happening in their communities, and if anything, I was just deeply heartened to see how many of my white majority communities did have peaceful protests, small communities, where it's a bold statement to do that. I was really proud. I know that that is going to be something we see throughout the election. We're seeing it already in my own election, that amplification of that fear, but I have more faith in the voters than maybe the other side of the aisle does.
Amy: Do you address it head-on? Are you getting asked questions directly about what Democrats need to do to talk about this?
Elissa: I get asked quite a bit where I stand on the whole talking point of defunding the police, and I say over and over and over that I do not support defunding the police. Some of the things that we want to change about some of the police forces out there require training and may require more resources. That doesn't mean I'm not willing to have a conversation about prioritization of resources and rewarding good behavior, but I do not support defunding the police. I am asked to say that over and over because some people have this knee-jerk reaction or assumption that everybody does support that. There's this caricature of Democrats out there, this really cartoonish description, and every Republican that I know who's running in a tight race is using that cartoon or using that caricature and trying to run against that cartoon character. I keep reminding certainly my opponent, "You're running against Elissa Slotkin. You're not running against the squad as they always like to say. You're not running against Speaker Pelosi. You're running against Elissa Slotkin."
Amy: One last question for you. Michigan is one of a number of states that is sending out absentee ballot applications to every registered voter, what do you think that's going to mean for your race?
Elissa: We're expecting up to potentially 4 million absentee votes in our general election, way more than we've ever had. What we saw in our primary, at least, is that many, many more of those voters are Democrats because of the way that the President has made the real mistake of advocating or promoting this idea that there's something wrong with absentee voting. We're going to see really record absentee votes, and I think that that's a good thing. Our Secretary of State is fantastic, and she is doing everything she can to get as many people to vote as possible.
Amy: Well, Congresswoman Slotkin, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me about this.
Elissa: Of course.
Amy: Stay safe out there.
Elissa: Of course, anytime.
Amy: Take care.
Elissa: Thank you. You too. Bye now.
Amy: Here's another thing for me. After hours and hours and hours of speeches and videos and musical interludes, the 2020 conventions are finally done. Will they have a meaningful impact on the election outcome? Probably not. The kinds of people who watch them have long been settled on their choice for November, but we do know that these events can give us some idea of what the two candidates will prioritize on the campaign trail for the next couple of months. Joe Biden wants to make this a referendum on Donald Trump, period. He's not selling a policy vision for 2021 as much as he's selling the promise of a personality transplant at the White House. Trump, like most incumbents, takes credit for the good stuff that happened on his watch, and as for the bad stuff, like a pandemic that is still killing thousands and preventing our lives from returning to normal, the President would rather not address it. Instead, he's gambling that by this fall, the virus and its impact will have lessened and that swing voters will be more worried about out of control mob violence headed to their cities. Given how chaotic these past few months have been, it's easy to forget that since the beginning of the year, opinions of this President and the matchup between these two candidates has been incredibly stable. The race is far from over, but President Trump starts this fall as an underdog. His path to victory is to convince enough voters that even as they are living through incredible chaos and uncertainty today, a Biden presidency would produce even more. That's all for us today. Our senior producer is Amber Hall. Patricia Yacob is our associate producer. Polly Irungu is our digital editor. David Gebel is our executive assistant. Jake Howard is our director and sound designer. Debbie Daughtry is our board op. Vince Fairchild is our director and engineer. Our executive producer is Lee Hill. Tanzina Vega is back with you on Monday. I'll see you next week. Thanks much for listening. It's politics with Amy Walter on The Takeaway.
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