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Looking Ahead To 2020 In Nevada With NPR's Don Gonyea

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Bree Zender
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NPR National Political Correspondent Don Gonyea speaks to a crowd at the University of Nevada, Reno's Knowledge Center.

Come this November, the general election will be just a year away. Looking ahead, KUNR's Paul Boger sat down with NPR National Political Correspondent Don Gonyea, who is in Reno this week, to break down what we can make of this process so far.

BOGER: In your professional opinion, what do you make of the 2020 race thus far?

GONYEA: It feels like we're so deep into it, but the voting is still... let's do the math. We're four months away from Iowa, which puts roughly five months away from you guys here. There is such a long road to go. But in this era of  Donald Trump, a president who ignores all of the norms of governing and of politics and of running for office, he's had this huge affect on what happens on the other side because so much of the focus, when you talk to voters, is on beating him.

I covered George W. Bush, and I can certainly tell you that at this point in 2004, Democrats certainly talked about beating George W. Bush, and they wanted somebody who would beat George W. Bush. But it wasn't, like, the overriding thing that you hear over and over, and it doesn't mean that people aren't picking their favorite candidate and getting on board.

I am talking to, for example, Bernie Sanders supporters this time who, four years ago, were just hopping mad that their guy was getting a raw deal. Now they will say to me, without me even asking, 'But, you know, if Bernie doesn't make it, you know, I think I could support Warren or Biden or Harris.' I mean, they've got a couple of other choices, and, again, these are all anecdotal conversations I have. All of that makes it really hard to get a handle on where this going.

We just live in a very kind of uncertain time, and that goes for the politics, too. 

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Credit Bree Zender
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Gonyea in conversation with KUNR's Paul Boger on Wednesday night.

BOGER: I'm sure to further complicate matters, having 20 Democrats--it was 27 just a few weeks ago--but having so many Democrats running for the same position... have we ever seen that number in a primary race in recent history?

GONYEA: We have not. We have not, but it's one of those things that both Trump and the nature of our politics, where social media, getting viral moments, reaching out to voters on their phones and everything else, makes more and more people say, 'What the heck? I'm going to give this a shot. There may be lightning [that] will strike.'

We have a lot of candidates who are looking at it that way, and true lightning hasn't really struck for any of them yet, but some of them are doing better than we might have anticipated in the beginning. And then you suddenly get to 27, which is the high. 

BOGER: Last week, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was in Northern Nevada, and he essentially said that the Trump campaign is really going to try and push for the Silver State next year. In 2016, Trump lost Nevada by 2.5 points. In 2018, Republicans got pretty hammered statewide. What do you think the president needs to do to turn the tide here?

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Credit Bree Zender
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Gonyea smiled as he took a moment to remember his colleague, Cokie Roberts, at an event at UNR on Wednesday. Roberts died Tuesday morning at age 75.

GONYEA: Well, the trend is going the other way, the wrong way, for him here, if you look at the past few elections. The unions are such an important part of the turnout efforts in the state. That's a big task for them to reverse it.

Now, incumbant presidents always talk about flipping states that were close that they lost last time, so much of the focus in this election has been on that inside straight that Trump ran in the upper Midwest with Wisconsin, with Michigan, and with Pennsylvania. He needs to win those three states again. He's not polling that well in some of those places, so they have reason to be concerned about those places, but they look at the map, and they look at Nevada; they look at Minnesota; they look at some of these places that they lost narrowly, and they go, 'Hey, if we can get our message out there, if we can flip those places, then we can afford to lose a Wisconsin or a Michigan or a Pennsylvania.'

Paul Boger is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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