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Guest Host: Sasha-Ann Simons
Virginia is still feeling the effects of last year’s blue wave that swept the General Assembly. On March 3, residents of the commonwealth head back to their polling places. And Democrats face a big decision on the ballot: Which presidential candidate will they vote for in the primary?
Tune in to our preview of Virginia’s Super Tuesday elections.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
SASHA-ANN SIMONSYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show. I'm Sasha-Ann Simons sitting in for Kojo. Welcome. Later in the hour we'll look at how Maryland and Virginia are commemorating people of color in statues and portraits in the capitals, but first, in just one week Virginia and 13 other states will vote in Super Tuesday primary elections. How will the Democratic candidates stack up? Joining me with a preview of next week's elections in the Commonwealth are Martin Austermuhle and Daniella Cheslow. They are Politics Reporters for WAMU. Welcome back Martin and Daniella.
MARTIN AUSTERMUHLEThanks for having us. Hi.
DANIELLA CHESLOWGood to be here.
SIMONSDaniella, I'll start with you. One week to go, of course, remind us what's on the ballot.
CHESLOWThis primary, Sasha is just for Democratic candidates for president. And the polls are going to be open from 6:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. on Super Tuesday. That's March 3rd. Today is the deadline for absentee ballots if you want to request one. And I think it's important to note it's an open primary. So some people have said in the past Republicans and Democrats have switched parties on primary day just to cause mischief in the rival camp.
SIMONSAbsolutely. Daniella, how does Virginia compare to the other Super Tuesday states? Break that down for us.
CHESLOWSasha, Virginia is small.
CHESLOWThere is 99 delegates here. There's almost 2,000 at the July Convention, but Virginia is still an important player.
SIMONSSmall but mighty.
CHESLOWYes. Since we're right outside the Beltway it's very easy for candidates to come here and campaign. And the wins in Virginia are very visible, because we've got national media in Washington. So they can easily just make a detour into Fairfax or Arlington or Alexandria and broadcast on the rallies that are happening. Plus I think this year people are really looking at Virginia's Democratic Party because the party just flipped control of the General Assembly back in November. So it's got new power, new influence and that means it's got a strong voice.
SIMONSMartin, what do we know about how the candidates are polling so far? I know I saw something recently about Sanders possibly being on the top. Is that true?
AUSTERMUHLEYou did see that. So last week Monmouth University in New Jersey released -- and they're very good at polling.
SIMONSSo they're accurate.
AUSTERMUHLESo they're good at this.
AUSTERMUHLESo, yeah, they put a poll about the state of the race in Virginia. And what was fascinating about it is that they found both Senator Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg, Former Mayor of New York City, kind of neck and neck at about 22 percent. And Former Vice President Joe Biden was trailing just by a couple points behind that. And after that it dropped off quickly. I mean, basically it looked like a three way race between Bloomberg, Sanders and Biden. And that's -- well, first of all, very good news for I mean, Sanders.
AUSTERMUHLESenator Sanders is on a bit of a role. Now he did very well in New Hampshire. Obviously did very well in Nevada. More recently he did well in Iowa. And he is expected to do well, I think, expected to do well in South Carolina. I'm not going to predict. But the point being is that Virginia is the state that he lost pretty badly to Hillary Clinton in 2016. So the fact that he's now basically a front runner alongside Michael Bloomberg.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd also there was good news for Michael Bloomberg, who jumped in the race 10 weeks and has been best known for spending a ton of money on the race. And it seems to be paying dividends, because a lot of Virginia's or at least, you know, a chunk of them seem to like him or seem to say that they would vote for him in the primary.
SIMONSAnd we'll get more into that money in just a second. Daniella, we talk about this, you know, small but mighty state here. Tell us what the candidates have been actually doing over the past few weeks to get that support in the Commonwealth.
CHESLOWThey have been hitting the ground. Elizabeth Warren drew about 4,000 people in Arlington. Pete Buttigieg held a town hall over the weekend at Washington Liberty High School. I went over there and he talked about how, you know, he wants to raise the minimum wage, lower the cost of health care, make it easier to unionize. These sound a lot like Bernie Sanders talking points. But Pete Buttigieg was saying he wanted to mobilize and not polarize. Bernie Sanders himself is coming through over the weekend. Michael Bloomberg was just in Richmond for the Democratic Gala. So people are putting in the leg work here. They are sending out tons of emails. They're opening their offices and they're buying up lots of ads.
SIMONSSo is this working, though, and I'm thinking specifically of people of color because you've been looking into how people of color in Virginia are thinking about voting in the election. Tell us what you found.
CHESLOWSo it's good that you mention voters of color, because in Northern Virginia especially has seen a really big population boom in recent years. Some counties like Fairfax have 31 percent foreign born. That's an addition to 20 percent of the state being African American. So if you're a Democrat you want to court those candidates, you need to craft your message. What I've heard one consultant, Ameshia Cross, she's a longtime Democratic strategist, a veteran of the Obama administration, she said she's seen this year campaigns are elevating to their highest levels of staff people of color.
CHESLOWSo Joe Biden's Virginia Director that's Fernando Mercado, he's Bolivian born, but he's also been around Ralph Northam and other prominent Democrats for years. Michael Bloomberg has hired a Peruvian American as his spokesman in Virginia. Bernie Sanders has as his co-chair Elizabeth Guzman. She is one of the first Latina women elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. So you're seeing people at a very high level. And Ameshia Cross that strategist said it's a particularly good time for black women in these candidacies. And Alencia Johnson who is a Virginia native, she's the National Outreach Director for Elizabeth Warren.
SIMONSBlack women have made the difference in some other states. So they're definitely watching that demographic. Now, Daniella, speaking of the Virginia politicians, tell us who they are actually supporting, like who do they think can actually beat President Trump?
CHESLOW"E" all of the above, I mean, they're endorsing everybody.
CHESLOWAnd I get these emails from the candidates every week saying, well, look at this state senator, look at this delegate, and it's good for them on the individual; but it means that the field is really splintered. You see that on every level from the big donors to the voters of color to the politicians. So, for example, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus members have endorsed Bloomberg, Sanders -- sorry, Bloomberg, Warren and Biden. You see Delegate Mark Keam he has endorsed Pete Buttigieg. You see, even Michael Bloomberg he's got a number of very prominent endorsees. But he's got some maybe unexpected turns.
CHESLOWFor example, he had a lot of money coming in to the 2019 elections here in Virginia. His money helped to propel a lot of Democrats to their wins that helped flip the General Assembly. One of the people who benefited from that was Dan Helmer in Fairfax. Everywhere I went along his campaign the women from Moms Demand Action were there. They're connected to Bloomberg's Every Town for Gun Safety. You might expect that Dan Helmer would endorse Bloomberg. However, he's gone for Buttigieg. They're both young war veterans.
CHESLOWYes. So I think it's been a real competition because honestly a lot of these democrats are speaking about similar values, similar plans. And I think that there's just tinkering at the margins.
SIMONSAnd so speaking of Bloomberg, someone, who isn't taking any donations, Martin, I know you've done some coverage recently for WAMU. Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, you looked into how he could fair in Virginia. What did you find?
AUSTERMUHLEWell, this is a good state for him in the grand scheme of things, Virginia, though it has turned blue both presidentially and locally. It's still a relatively moderate state. And especially Northern Virginia is very moderate. Again, won for Clinton in 2016. So this is a good place for Bloomberg who is quote, unquote one of the moderate candidates. He's spent a fair amount of money here. He's relatively well known. I mean, a lot of the money that he spent in 2019 and in years past supporting Democratic candidates and causes in local races has gone a long ways. I mean, I talked to voters that support him. And they said, the one reason I support him is because he puts his money where his mouth is, and it's a lot of money.
AUSTERMUHLELiterally. Especially for gun control causes, for climate change and that sort of stuff, so it's a good place for him. And Super Tuesday is his official entry into the race. I mean, he's been a candidate; but he skipped the first four contests, and this is his big hoorah. This is like if he can get, you know, say a couple dozen delegates that's a good, you know, it's good progress for him in Virginia.
SIMONSAnd D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has endorsed him, of course.
SIMONSTell us how much -- how mush sway does that actually have that endorsement. I'm thinking locally and I'm thinking nationally. She's not that well known across the country. So how does that work out?
AUSTERMUHLENo she's not. But the one thing Bloomberg has done over the last couple of months is he's kind of like vacuumed up endorsements from mayors across the country, black, white, big cities, small cities alike.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd I think that there's two ways to look at it. People say, he's a former mayor. So they kind of mayors understand how to speak to each other and understand. They have a shared experience about what it's like to govern. But also Bloomberg's philanthropies and foundations have given a lot of money to cities including the District. Now for Mayor Bowser, of course, it's true. She's not all that well known, but she's one of his national campaign co-chairs. But I think it helps him because she can show up. She's been to North Carolina, South Carolina. She's been to Illinois. I think she went to Michigan.
AUSTERMUHLEShe can show up and she is a black woman, young, mayor of a big city and she can speak on his behalf and that addresses a lot of his -- like a lot of things his getting criticized for which is, well, you know, you're a rich white guy of a city where there's a lot of stop and frisk and other things that can be problematic for minority communities.
SIMONSAnother possibly billionaire president.
AUSTERMUHLEYeah, exactly. Well, he might -- I mean, there's question over whether he'd be the only billionaire. That was the joke he made is that he's actually a billionaire, but either way.
SIMONSThat is true. Daniella, the ones that are fundraising, who's leading?
CHESLOWRight now I looked at the FEC latest numbers. Buttigieg has $1.4 million. Biden has $1.4 million. Sanders has about $700,000. It's the Federal Election Commission. I think it's noteworthy that when you look at a map of where candidates' strong supporters live, Buttigieg has a big stronghold out in Indiana as well. This is Biden's strongest place. And I think the fact that he's not more ahead of Buttigieg is a real problem for him.
CHESLOWAnd I have a story that I heard from one person. He started a PAC, a super political action committee to advance Asian American and Pacific Islanders. And the guy who started this PACK said that his PAC endorsed Biden. He went out to Nevada to rally for Biden. But then when I looked at this donor's FEC records he also had donated the maximum amount to Amy Klobuchar. I said, what happened? He said, well, I happen to like a bunch of them. So you're seeing again that indecision.
SIMONSWow, and speaking of Klobuchar. Jane from Vienna emails us. She says, "I'm eager to see how Amy Klobuchar fairs in Virginia. On a shoestring grass roots budget, her campaign has relied heavily on an earned media strategy resulting in 12 major news media endorsements. She's honest and she likes and respects people of all political parties. As the home of the final state to ratify the ERA, Virginia women are ready for a realistic and respectable woman to lead the country." Sound like anything you guys have been hearing in your reporting?
AUSTERMUHLEWell, I think the one thing that's interesting about that is Klobuchar, who is polling -- again the Monmouth poll put her at about nine percent. That was just above Elizabeth Warren at five percent. So you have the two women in the race are polling worst. But I think that the challenge for Klobuchar is that she's one of these quote, unquote moderate candidates. Again, appeals well in Virginia, but when you have so many quote, unquote moderate candidates like Pete Buttigieg like Klobuchar, like Biden, like Bloomberg, they're just splitting the vote three or four ways. And that's essentially giving you the situation where Sanders is a front runner, because he's just like the go-to progressive whereas there is four go-to moderates that are splitting up those votes.
SIMONSCat from Fairfax is on the line. I want to make sure I get this call in. Hi, Cat.
CATHi. How are you?
SIMONSGood. You're on the line. What's your question or comment?
CATMy comment is I'm definitely voting in the primary on Tuesday. And I never thought I'd say this, but I am still not sure who I'm going to vote for. And so I'd love to hear from other viewers, because I think we all want to make our vote count and help what we can do to make a change. But it's very tolling because everything is so splintered.
SIMONSAbsolutely. Thank you, Cat for that. It sounds like there's a running theme, Daniella.
CHESLOWAbsolutely. I was in Arlington talking to people, who had lined up for hours to go see Pete Buttigieg speak. And I asked them, who are you supporting? And they had that same agony of indecision. Even the people who were giving up their Sunday afternoon, they said, well, we wanted to hear him speak. Maybe he'll change our mind.
CHESLOWI will say the one place I did not hear that same level of indecision was at an office party opening for Bernie Sanders in Alexandria. He wasn't there, but 200 volunteers so the most devoted among his supporters were there. And they were just so excited to vote for him. They felt like even though he got crushed in 2016 in Virginia this year after four years under the Trump campaign where immigrants and people of color might have felt that they were at disadvantaged by his policies, they felt Bernie Sanders had a new opening and they were passionate.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd I think we should note that the polling actually shows that the caller is not alone. Only about 25 percent of voters, who were polled said that they are set on their choice.
SIMONSOnly 25 percent.
SIMONSOh, wow. That's low.
AUSTERMUHLEThat means three in four Virginias who are potentially going to vote are up in the air, are willing to change their minds, and have another week to go.
SIMONSMartin, on that note, Maryland and D.C. have their primaries after Super Tuesday. When are they? And tell us what we should know about them real quick.
AUSTERMUHLESo Maryland is in April. The District is in June. The one thing that I will mention now and since I'm talking about polls, Maryland -- there was a poll from Goucher College that came out today in Maryland and it said that, again, like Virginia you've got this kind of split at the top. You have Sanders, Biden and Bloomberg all within spitting distance of each other. But, again, you have that dynamic where Biden and Bloomberg, you know, the quote, unquote moderate candidates are splitting the vote against Sanders. So again, Sanders, who also lost Maryland in 2016 could come through, could take Virginia, could take Maryland. The District I think is way down the road. It's tougher to see where things are going to go there, and if Mayor Bowser's endorsement has any impact on Bloomberg doing well here.
SIMONSThese seven days cannot come soon enough.
SIMONSThere is so much to watch here. Martin Austermuhle and Daniella Cheslow are Politics Reporters for WAMU. Thanks for stopping by.
AUSTERMUHLEThanks for having us.
SIMONSWe'll return after a short break. Stay tuned.
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