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Politics chat: What it'll take to win 2024

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

More protests last night in Tel Aviv.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUM BEAT)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

RASCOE: There were tens of thousands of people, some chanting elections now, others angry that the government has failed to secure the return of more than 100 hostages held exactly six months since Hamas attacked Israel. The militant group killed about 1,200 people. Israel's response has since left Gaza in ruins. In a moment, a Palestinian reflects on the state of the war. We begin this hour with NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, here to talk about another story that's preoccupying Americans - the presidential election. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Let's talk money. It takes a lot to run for president, and it seems the money is now rolling in. Both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are actively fundraising, and millions of dollars are being brought in with these events. What are Biden and Trump's hauls looking like these days?

LIASSON: Well, President Biden has about $192 million on hand. That compares to Trump, who has about 93 million on hand. Trump is trying to catch up. He had a fundraiser last night that his campaign says raised about $50 million. So a cash advantage is still with the Democrats, but having more money is no guarantee of victory. Remember, in 2016, Hillary Clinton raised and spent much more than Trump, and she didn't win. You don't have to have more money than your opponent. You just need to have enough money to run your campaign.

RASCOE: Nebraska made some news last week, and not news former President Trump was hoping for. The state's legislature - legislators blocked an effort to award its five electoral votes as winner takes all, which is how most states do it. Mara, like, why is this significant?

LIASSON: It's significant because it's a story about Electoral College math. There's been a loss of population in some of the blue wall states, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Those are the things that used to be Democrats' guarantee of victory if they won all three. Because they lost population, they lost an electoral college vote, so the Democrats have to look elsewhere.

Nebraska is one of just two states - Maine is the other - that doesn't award its electors on a winner-take-all basis. They do it by congressional district, and there's a congressional district around Omaha that went for Biden in 2020. Trump wanted Nebraska to stop this system and give their Electoral College votes to the person who got the plurality or the majority of the statewide vote, but Nebraska's legislators denied him that.

RASCOE: Al Gore and Hillary Clinton could probably tell us a thing or two about winning the popular vote and losing the Electoral College, which is why all of these electoral votes matter so much. And with another tight race and two unpopular candidates, it seems like there's a chance this could happen again, right?

LIASSON: That's right. Look. In the United States, we don't elect our presidents by popular vote. Sometimes the person who gets fewer votes ends up as president. It's not how we elect any other offices in the United States, but the Electoral College is something that gives Republicans an advantage. People don't care much about it unless it diverges from the popular vote, which it's done two times in the last 20 years, as you just mentioned. And if it happens too many more times, people could really lose faith in a system that just doesn't seem fair.

You know, every state gets two electoral votes and then a vote for every congressional district. That means that a single person's vote in a less-populated state like Wyoming has more weight than a vote in California. So this is a real problem for Democrats because small-population rural states, red states, get an advantage.

RASCOE: And tight races also mean third-party candidates have a bit of sway. There have been some developments on this. First, the group No Labels said it's sitting out this year. They wanted to run a centrist candidate but couldn't seem to find one. Why not?

LIASSON: Everyone they asked refused. Democrats put tremendous pressure on the people they were courting. Democrats are convinced that any third-party candidate helps Trump win the White House, so they're relieved about the No Labels decision, but they still have plenty to worry about.

RASCOE: But what about Robert F. Kennedy Jr? It seems like there's still some concerns about him, I guess maybe from both parties.

LIASSON: Both parties - some polls show that he pulls a little bit from Trump. He shares a lot of the opinions on vaccines with Republican voters. He's praised the January 6 rioters. He said he might pardon them. But most polls show that he pulls from Biden, and that is why Democrats are spending tremendous amount of time and effort telling voters that voting for any third-party candidate is the same thing as voting for Trump.

RASCOE: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe
Ayesha Rascoe is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and the Saturday episodes of Up First. As host of the morning news magazine, she interviews news makers, entertainers, politicians and more about the stories that everyone is talking about or that everyone should be talking about.
Mara Liasson
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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