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Politics In The News: Terrorism Becomes Major Campaign Issue


Now let's talk about the politics of the fight against extremist groups, the politics of it. We're joined, as we are most Mondays, by Cokie Roberts. Cokie, good morning.


INSKEEP: Got to mention, an ABC News-Washington Post poll , 75 percent of people are paying close attention to the presidential race, which is amazing...

ROBERTS: Right (laughter).

INSKEEP: In the year before the election. Many people are focused on terrorism because of the news. What does that mean, first for the Republican candidates?

ROBERTS: Well, it means that Donald Trump is still the front-runner by a sizable margin in the polls, both that one and another one by Fox News, with Ben Carson still coming in second. So the two outsiders attract still more than half of the Republican primary voters, even after these attacks. Now, you might expect voters would look at what's happening around the world and decide they needed someone with experience to deal with foreign policy. But there's so much unhappiness with the man who's in the White House right now on this issue of both handling terrorists and refugees, that - that voters seem to be thinking experience doesn't count. And most Republicans say they trust Trump more than his opponents to deal with the issue. Now, his bellicose statements seem to reinforce that. He says he would bomb the bleep out of ISIL. He said he would bring back water-boarding. He's kept up his anti-Muslim rhetoric, talking about keeping mosques under surveillance, repeating a story that's been refuted many times, Steve, that Arabs cheered when the twin towers collapsed.


ROBERTS: All those accusations, no matter how much they're knocked down as inaccurate, seem to be working for him.

INSKEEP: Well, what about on the Democratic side, where Hillary Clinton, of course, has been leading Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley by wide margins?

ROBERTS: Well, again, you'd think that as the former secretary of state, that voters would be more comfortable with her when there's a terrorist threat. And she does seem to attract trust on the issue. But the people who care most about that issue like what they're hearing from Trump. There are a couple of interesting dynamics here, Steve. We've seen in the past that national security issues like terrorism can be problematic, both for Democrats as a party but especially for female candidates. Now, we've never had a woman candidate who's as battle-tested as Hillary Clinton on foreign policy. But that could still be a problem for her. And Donald Trump is clearly trying to exploit that. He says repeatedly he doesn't think Clinton has the strength and stamina to be president. Those are just code words for woman. The little lady can't hack it. So the question is whether that works. And it could. Now, she is fighting back. She has separated herself from the president, sounding tougher on dealing with terrorism, saying that the goal is not to deter or detain ISIL but to defeat and destroy it.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about something else here, Cokie Roberts. There was an election over the weekend in your home state, Louisiana - very red state. But a Democrat won the governor's race, State Representative John Bel Edwards defeating a sitting Republican senator, David Vitter. What happened there?

ROBERTS: Well, the race was mainly about David Vitter and his connection with prostitutes. But John Bel Edwards is an anti-abortion, pro-gun, former military man from a family of sheriffs. But - so he was - he was a unique Democrat in - in a lot of ways. But he did also embrace some Democratic positions, expanding Medicaid for the - those who are uninsured and raising the minimum wage. And that is something that the current governor, Bobby Jindal, who is very unpopular in the state, refused to do. And so it's - it's going to be interesting to see if those positions are something of a path for winning back traditional Southern Democrats or whether this was just an absolutely singular race about David Vitter and his problems. I think it's going to take another couple of elections, frankly, Steve, for us to be able to know whether there's any kind of trend there at all.

INSKEEP: OK. Thanks very much, as always. That's Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Mondays. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cokie Roberts was one of the 'Founding Mothers' of NPR who helped make that network one of the premier sources of news and information in this country. She served as a congressional correspondent at NPR for more than 10 years and later appeared as a commentator on Morning Edition. In addition to her work for NPR, Roberts was a political commentator for ABC News, providing analysis for all network news programming.