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With a Biden-Trump rematch expected, we take stock of the presidential race

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

President Biden and former President Donald Trump are expected to hit the magic number of delegates later tonight. That's thanks to primaries in Georgia, Mississippi and Washington state. Hawaii is also voting on the Republican side. And so a Biden-Trump rematch will be, well, officially official. Let's take stock, then, of what this presidential election will be about and the strengths and weaknesses of both men with NPR's senior political editor and correspondent, Domenico Montanaro. Hey, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there, Rob.

SCHMITZ: So this is not a fight for primary voters anymore. So how are they going to pitch themselves? What are they campaigning on now?

MONTANARO: Well, Biden, during his State of the Union address, stressed that he and Trump had very different visions for the country, and they are very different. I mean, Biden is campaigning on democracy and freedom at home and abroad, codifying Roe to again protect abortion rights, standing up for countries like Ukraine to fend off authoritarianism as well as lowering prescription drug prices and making the wealthy pay what he calls their fair share. Trump, on the other hand, has laid out a dark image of the country, focusing on immigration. He's running against Biden's economy. And abroad, he wants less U.S. involvement.

SCHMITZ: So when we talk about voters, there's a candidate's base and then the movable middle. How much does each man appeal to that middle, and how important is that political middle?

MONTANARO: Well, there's an argument that, with the country as divided as it is, this is a base election. I'd argue that it's both base - the core supporters - and persuading voters in the middle to get them over the finish line. So, yes, they're still very important. For Biden, he's at odds with some of the more extreme ideas from his party's more liberal wing, which he believes helps him, like rejecting socialism, calling himself a capitalist, starting to talk tougher about securing the southern border. And, of course, he's aligned himself with Israel, which has caused him real problems, though, on his left flank. In Georgia just this weekend, he faced a protester at his rally there, and you can hear the man at one point call him Genocide Joe.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Before I begin, I want to say thank you...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: What are you going to do, Genocide Joe? Tens of thousands of Palestinians...

BIDEN: Whoa, whoa, whoa.

MONTANARO: So the crowd then shouts the protester down with chants of four more years, and then Biden responds like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: Look. I don't resent his passion. There's a lot of Palestinians who are being unfairly victimized.

MONTANARO: But this really signifies just how much work he has to do on both ends of the spectrum. The left isn't thrilled. Independents, though, also give him low approval ratings, and there have been persistent questions about his age and fitness for office. Biden helped his case with his forceful State of the Union address, and he hopes to be able to continue that momentum and the country to move on to talk about his differences with Trump instead of his age.

SCHMITZ: OK, so you lay out how Biden is trying to walk this fine line, but what about Trump?

MONTANARO: Yeah, Trump isn't doing much differently than he's done before - hot immigration rhetoric, hyperbolic insults, continuing to flirt with authoritarianism like praising strongmen, including Hungary's Viktor Orban, whom Trump met with last week. He embraces the idea, Trump, of a strongman in charge, saying this of Orban in January.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: He's a very great leader, very strong man. Some people don't like him because he's too strong. It's nice to have a strong man running your country, but he...

MONTANARO: Looking to a general election, Trump has criticized restrictive six-week abortion bans. He said that he wants to protect Social Security, and he knows that the country is war-weary. But some of these are just tough cases for Trump to make because he's responsible for the justices who overturned Roe, and he's opened himself up to attacks just this week on potential entitlement cuts. And remember; his brand of candidates have really struggled in the last three election cycles in swing areas, where Trump is just not popular at all.

SCHMITZ: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks, Domenico.

MONTANARO: You got it. 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.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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