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Politics Chat: Trump And Biden Reach Final Stretch Of Their Presidential Campaigns

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

We are almost there, people. Just over a week until Election Day and a new reminder of just how unprecedented and unpredictable this campaign is. Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff is now in quarantine after testing positive for the coronavirus. That's on a weekend where a record number of Americans have also been confirmed positive. Let's check in now with our own Mara Liasson, NPR national political correspondent.

Good morning to you, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Marc Short is considered a close contact of the vice president's.

LIASSON: Yes, he is, and the White House said that the vice president and Mrs. Pence both tested negative. They're in good health. Pence - even though he is considered a close contact of Marc Short's, he's also classified as an essential employee, and the White House says he's going to keep on traveling, maintain his campaign schedule. Per the CDC guidelines, essential workers who have been exposed to COVID can continue to work if they monitor for symptoms and wear a mask at all times. We know that Short himself is quarantining.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. As we know, it can take some time, though, for there to be enough virus to show up on a test, so obviously, we're going to keep a close eye on this. But let's zoom out a little bit now and look at both campaigns. Where are the candidates going in these final days, and what does that tell us about the state of the race?

LIASSON: Well, it tells us a lot. Donald Trump was in North Carolina and Ohio and Wisconsin yesterday. North Carolina and Ohio aren't states that are usually considered battleground states. They're states that Republicans should be able to take for granted. Wisconsin - obviously a big, important swing state.

Joe Biden was in Pennsylvania, so it shows you that he's not taking his birth state for granted. That's a state that Donald Trump won last time. The Democrats want to get it back. And the Democrats are sending Barack Obama to campaign in Miami. They sent him there. That - he is the most popular person in the Democratic Party, and Florida is a state that Donald Trump has to win to get to 270 votes. So it shows you that Democrats are trying to at least force the Trump campaign to spend a lot more time and money in Florida.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. And there are a lot of statistics being passed around about how many votes have been cast already and by whom and how all that compares to 2016 and other elections, so I'm going to put this to you. What's your take on all those numbers?

LIASSON: The numbers are really interesting. Right now, 50 million votes have been cast so far. That's early voting and by-mail voting. That is a third of the total votes cast in 2016, so I would say we are on our way to a historically high turnout election. In Florida and in Texas, the votes cast so far are greater than the number of total votes cast for Donald Trump in those two states in 2016. We don't know by whom.

We also do know that a Tufts University study of young voters aged 18 to 29 in Florida, North Carolina and Michigan show that they are voting early by - in multiples of the numbers they voted four years ago. And, of course, we do know that young voters tend to split for Democrats 2-to-1. So it's hard to say what early voting means.

There was an early advantage for Democrats in the states that do report party ID, but now we're hearing from Florida that Republicans are turning out to vote early in numbers that could offset that advantage. And it's hard to draw conclusions about early voting because we don't know if it's a sign of greater turnout advantage or is a party just banking votes early that they would get anyway on Election Day?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. And speaking of big numbers, let's talk about money. I mean, we've seen just huge sums of money being paid out during this election. Is a cash advantage that - like the Democrats have as important as it used to be? And where are the candidates spending all that money?

LIASSON: A cash advantage is important. Money doesn't equal votes, but it really helps. And what's interesting about this year is that it is very unusual that an incumbent president, especially a Republican incumbent who - there are just more deep pockets on the Republican side - is being outraised and outspent by the Democrats.

Now, plenty of rich people are also giving to Joe Biden, but his average donation is $44. That's a sign of enthusiasm. He also has much more cash on hand right now than the Trump campaign. It shows you how much money the Trump campaign has kind of blown through. And we also know that big donors are now - on the Republican side are now sending their money to Senate races, not to Donald Trump. They're trying to build that firewall, and that's going to be - he's not going to be able to raise a lot of money in the last couple of days.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. You mentioned Senate races. There's a big race in South Carolina between Senator Lindsey Graham and his Democratic challenger, Jaime Harrison. Just briefly, what other big races are you watching?

LIASSON: Well, watching Maine and Colorado. Those are the two blue states won by Hillary Clinton where there's a Republican Senate incumbent up for reelection. In both those states, the Republican has been trailing. The next state I'm watching is Arizona - again, a Republican incumbent who's been polling behind the Democratic challenger. And then there are all sorts of sleeper races. South Carolina is one of them, as you mentioned - Alaska, Kansas. There's a lot of - I would say the Senate is a jump ball right now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Thank you so much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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