NPR's Tamara Keith Talks Politics Ahead Ohio's Primary

NPR's Tamara Keith (Photo: Tom Kise)
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Ohio often plays a special role in presidential election years, but this year’s primary seems to be garnering even more attention.  Ohio Governor John Kasich is looking for a big win on his home turf, and Democrats Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are hoping the Buckeye State voters will help push either candidate ahead.

Late last week, NPR White House Correspondent Tamara Keith stopped in to talk politics.  But ideastream's Tony Ganzer began asking her thoughts on Cleveland…she worked here for a short time in 2009, and spent nearly a year working in Columbus.

KEITH: “It’s a different town, and I keep seeing little things where I’m like ‘wow, that wasn’t here before,’ or the airport is very much under construction at the moment, but it, you know, it’s getting ready for prime time because [of] the Republican National Convention.  It’s exciting times.”

GANZER: “You spent time as a Congressional reporter, and then White House reporter.  How does that inform, kind of, you working this campaign beat?  Have you heard rhetoric change from Congress, to White House, and now the campaigns?”

KEITH: “What’s really interesting—well, I don’t know if it’s interesting, but covering the campaign is almost like being on vacation compared to covering the White House or Congress.  And what I mean is you don’t have to really dig into the complexities of policy covering a campaign because sadly the candidates don’t really get into the complexities.  Because campaigns, especially this campaign, just it’s not about complexity, it’s about message, it’s about feel.  And so, you know, when I wake up in the morning going out on the campaign trail there’s not a big risk that I’m going to have to understand what’s going on with the Houthis in Yemen.  But when I go to work at the White House, there’s a pretty big risk that there’s something like that that I’m going to have to figure out in not very much time.  The other thing that’s just unbelievably awesome about covering a campaign is people, real people, voters.  Covering the White House, especially, but Congress, too, you spend all of your time talking to politicians and staff, and you’re inside that Beltway bubble, and I feel like I can breathe when I’m outside of the bubble…”

GANZER: “...that’s interesting...”

KEITH: “...and talking to people about their lives, and what’s motivating them, and why is somebody going to vote for Bernie Sanders, or Donald Trump, or Hillary Clinton?  There are very real things happening in their lives that are driving that decision, and I love hearing about that.”

GANZER: “And there’s a difference between retail politics that you see out on the campaign trail, and then in Congress.  I know Robert Siegel had a story about Ohioans going to New Hampshire to talk to John Kasich, which I thought was so funny, because it’s a totally different dynamic when you’re out on the trail.”

KEITH: “Yeah, to a lesser extent with Hillary Clinton because she’s always had that Secret Service protection, so reporters don’t really get that access, but real people do, even with Hillary Clinton who is more closed off than some other candidates.  When you’re running for president, especially in those early states like New Hampshire, and Iowa, and to some extent South Carolina, it is your job as a presidential candidate to talk to people, and that means that regular, normal people are getting access to these candidates to these candidates, and they’re telling these candidates about their concerns, and you can hear it breaking through in the way the candidates talk.  Some of it is very much like people are props, and they wind up in stump speeches, but some of it you can genuinely see the experiences these candidates had talking to people rub off on their campaigns. Probably the clearest example of that is the opioid crisis, which is here in Ohio, but it’s also the number one issue in New Hampshire, and it became an issue in the campaign.  It never would have been on any of these candidates’ radar otherwise.”

GANZER: “Coming into Tuesday for Ohio, there’s always a spotlight here, but because there are so many make or break moments, that it seems like maybe Tuesday’s even more important than usual.  Do you think so?”

KEITH: “I think so.  Especially on the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders winning in Michigan last week, it was a giant upset, it was a big surprise.  Hillary Clinton was up by double-digits, she’s up by double-digits here, but there is a very open question as to how that’s how it will wind up, or if it’ll look more like Michigan.  So on the Democratic side, this state could help Bernie Sanders prove he has legs.  And on the Republican side, your governor, John Kasich, I mean this is one of those states that will determine whether Donald Trump can be stopped; whether the Republican party, the establishment, whether there’s any way that they will get a grip on this primary.”


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