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News Brief: Democratic Debate, Voter Spotlight, Coronavirus Warning


South Carolina's primary is on Saturday. And then three days later, it's Super Tuesday. And people in 14 states will vote.


Yeah. We are getting into that season. So the Democratic presidential candidates last night had this chaotic debate in Charleston, S.C. Let's listen to them from CBS News here.


PETE BUTTIGIEG: Let's talk about it...


AMY KLOBUCHAR: If we spend the next four months tearing our party apart, we're going to watch Donald Trump spend the next four years tearing our country apart.

GREENE: Wow. That all made sense, right? So did this latest debate, in some way, alter the course of the Democratic primary?

KING: NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid is on the line from South Carolina. Good morning, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So that was a lot (laughter) last night. We had suspected that the other candidates would go after Bernie Sanders, and they did. He's the front-runner. What did it look like?

KHALID: Well, you're right. It was a lot - a lot of bickering and a lot of shouting and a lot of ire directed at Bernie Sanders. Right off the bat, Elizabeth Warren for the first time really tried to draw distinctions between herself and Sanders while also stressing their similar policy ideas. And she cited her ability to get things done.


ELIZABETH WARREN: Bernie and I both want to see universal health care. But Bernie's plan doesn't explain how to get there, doesn't show how we're going to get enough allies into it and doesn't show enough about how we're going to pay for it. I dug in, I did the work and then Bernie's team trashed me for it. We need a president who is going to dig in, do the hard work and actually get it done. Progressives have got one shot.

KHALID: And then we also saw that recent comments by Sanders to "60 Minutes" also came up. That put Sanders a bit on the defensive. In that interview, he had criticized Fidel Castro's authoritarian regime but also did praise the government's literacy programs, you know, suggesting that there were some positive benefits that occurred there. And Sanders says that this is something that President Obama also cited about Cuba and tried to stress that he was, again, opposed to authoritarianism.

But it was hard for him to sort of praise some of these social welfare programs as well as also drawing a kind of nuanced distinction around authoritarianism. And it's not clear, I will say, though, that all these attacks against Sanders were particularly effective. But it was clear that the candidates realize that he's the front-runner. And he was targeted more than he had been in any previous debate.

KING: So the stakes are high for him. The stakes are also possibly even higher for Joe Biden - right? - because he's been saying, I am going to win South Carolina. I'm going to win big. What's his campaign saying after the debate?

KHALID: Well, they are projecting confidence. But onstage, there was a clear sense to me that Biden felt a sense of urgency, you know? He was asking to speak, trying to get more time and indicating, I think, that this week is really important for him, and in part because Biden has banked his campaign on the theory that he would do better here because a majority of Democratic voters are African American.

KING: And, in fact, race came up big in the debate last night, right?

KHALID: That's right. And a lot of the discussion started with Mike Bloomberg and some of the controversies around his stop-and-frisk program - that's a policing strategy that was under the mayor of New York City that disproportionately targeted minorities. And, you know, when Pete Buttigieg was asked about the policy, he tried to make this larger point about the diversity of the candidates. To me, it was clear that the candidates knew their audience. You know, they were tailoring their answers to what they thought black voters wanted to hear. So you had multiple candidates name-drop James Clyburn. He's the prominent black congressman from South Carolina. At one point near the end, it seemed that Joe Biden was essentially offering a promise that he would appoint a black woman to the Supreme Court. It's an indication that black voters are really important here in South Carolina.

KING: Asma Khalid, thanks so much.

KHALID: You're welcome.


KING: All right. Back to Super Tuesday, a big day, March 3. People in 14 states will go out and vote.

GREENE: That's right. And NPR this election year has chosen to focus on some key places around the country. We are asking where voters are - where they are on the issues, the candidates or just where they are - because your community really can shape your political views.

KING: Our co-host, Steve Inskeep, is kicking off this series in Charlotte, N.C. Hey, Steve.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: Hey there, Noel. Hi, David.

KING: Why'd you end up in Charlotte?

INSKEEP: It's in a Super Tuesday state, North Carolina. It's also the city, Charlotte is, where they're going to hold the Republican convention this summer. And then this fall, North Carolina is almost certain to be one of the swing states. And it's a big state. It's twice the size of South Carolina, for example. So this is a state that's going to be in the news all year.

KING: OK. So you have been out hitting the pavement, talking to people. How does the election look from Charlotte?

INSKEEP: The first thing to note is that this is a really prosperous city. It's a banking city. The skyline of this city amazes you. If you've never been here before, on your way in from the airport, it just takes your breath away. But a lot of people here, Noel, feel that they don't share equally in that prosperity. A study a few years ago found that Charlotte is the least upwardly mobile major city. Some residents experience the growth here as gentrification that pushes them aside.

Now, our colleague, Sarah McCammon, is part of our team of reporters who will be talking to voters here throughout the election year. And she spoke with Maya Wells (ph), who's a college student here. And she wants radical change in both domestic and foreign policy. And she said that means she can only vote - only vote at all - if the Democratic nominee is one particular candidate. Let's listen.

MAYA WELLS: It really depends. If it's Bernie Sanders, absolutely. But if it's Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg; Buttigieg, Steyer; Steyer - what have you - it really depends what their stances are on foreign policy because I've had it.

INSKEEP: You can hear her there just not even caring to pronounce the names of the other candidates...

KING: Yeah.

INSKEEP: There's a dilemma here for Democrats who feel they really have to defeat President Trump no matter who's nominated. And the dilemma is apparent when you listen to a different view in a more prosperous, more suburban area of Charlotte, which is where our team found Colleen Willis (ph). She's a mother of two, and says she would vote for anybody to get Trump out - or rather almost anybody.

COLLEEN WILLIS: I would vote for Trump over Bernie. He's about the only one who would - maybe Warren as well. If Warren or Bernie are the Democratic ticket, I'll vote for Trump. Otherwise, I'll vote Democratic.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Our colleague Steve Harrison of WFAE here in Charlotte spoke with Willis. He then went back and spoke with her again the next day. And she said, on reflection, maybe she could vote for Bernie Sanders, she's that opposed to the president. And there could be a lot riding on that agonizing personal decision, which is one of the subtleties we hope to capture by the way we're doing this series. We mean to linger in this city for days at a time. We mean to come again later, circle back to voters we'd met before and get a fuller picture of where voters are.

KING: And just really quickly, you did speak to conservative residents here as well, right?

INSKEEP: Yeah, absolutely. As you head to the edges of the metro area, people get a lot more conservative. And they're voting much more often on what we'd think of as cultural issues - things like abortion and guns, and just the differences between attitudes and generations.

KING: OK. Steve Inskeep in Charlotte, N.C. That's the city we're adopting as we launch the project Where Voters Are. Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: Glad to do it.


KING: Public health officials say that the coronavirus will spread in this country. It's just a matter of when.

GREENE: That's right. Here is Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar yesterday.


ALEX AZAR: The immediate risk to the general American public remains low. But as we have warned, that has the potential to change quickly.

GREENE: Now, we should say, San Francisco's mayor has declared a local state of emergency yesterday. This is just the latest effort by local authorities in the U.S. preparing to take on this virus. But when a coronavirus outbreak does occur in the United States, what is containment going to look like?

KING: NPR global health correspondent Jason Beaubien is in Hong Kong this morning. Hi, Jason.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

KING: OK. So you've been looking at the whole world here even though you're in Hong Kong. Let me start by asking you...


KING: ...Why U.S. officials are now saying that the virus is definitely going to spread in the United States.

BEAUBIEN: Look, we've got millions of people who fly into the U.S. every week from all over the world. So when you start getting these large outbreaks abroad, and it's hitting all of these different countries, it is inevitable that you're going to get cases showing up in the United States. In other countries that have responded well, they've identified cases when they come in. They've identified people with possible exposure. They've isolated them. They've kept it from spreading. And they've managed to manage this well. Singapore is a good example of that.

KING: Hong Kong is also a good example, that's part of the reason you're there. The number of infections...


KING: ...Is low even though it shares a border with China. So has Hong Kong figured out something that Iran and Italy and South Korea have not?

BEAUBIEN: Well, Hong Kong was hit really hard by SARS in 2003. And people here remember SARS. And they are willing to take measures to combat this one to keep it from turning into a SARS. Almost everyone on the street is wearing a mask. People don't shake hands. Schools are closed. I was just talking with Keiji Fukuda. He was one of the top people at the World Health Organization during the West Africa Ebola outbreak. And he now heads the School of Public Health here at the University of Hong Kong.

KEIJI FUKUDA: I think Hong Kong is an excellent example of why we can think that these methods work. Just a few miles away, across the border, we have much larger numbers of cases. And yet in Hong Kong, we see that over the past five weeks, six weeks or so, the number of cases has remained remarkably small.

BEAUBIEN: He notes that the measures that Hong Kong is taking are not easy. More than 10,000 people are in various forms of quarantine here right now. But Hong Kong, despite having dozens of cases pop up in its hospitals, you have not had sustained transmission in the community like you've seen in some other places.

KING: Jason, here in the U.S., should we be prepared for quarantines and schools and businesses closing?

BEAUBIEN: I think that's probably going to be a possibility. You're definitely going to have more quarantines that are going to be needed as cases show up. And you're also going to have to have local health departments getting out there and tracking down people. It's going to be a big effort.

KING: OK. NPR's Jason Beaubien. Jason, thanks so much.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

KING: And just some news from this morning as we continue to track the virus. The first U.S. service member has tested positive for coronavirus in South Korea. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.
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