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Trump snubs John McCain during bill signing intended to honor him

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WASHINGTON — Congress wanted to honor the ailing Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. President Donald Trump did not.

In extended remarks during a visit to Fort Drum in upstate New York to sign the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 — this year’s version of an annual bill that sets defense policy — Trump chose not to mention the former prisoner of war and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman who is battling brain cancer. He even omitted McCain’s name when citing the title of the bill.

The two men have long been fierce critics of each other, with McCain calling Trump’s supporters “crazies” in 2015 and Trump retaliating by questioning whether McCain, who was subjected to torture in a Vietnamese prison camp, is really a “war hero” because “he was captured.”

The snub at Fort Drum, home to the combat aviation brigade of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, did not escape the notice of McCain’s allies.

“For those asking did I expect Trump to be an a—— today. No more than I expected it to be Monday,” Mark Salter, McCain’s longtime aide, wrote on Twitter.

McCain’s condition — dire enough that a recent HBO documentary on him was titled “John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls” — has not stopped Trump from deriding the Arizona senator at political rallies. Though Trump does not use his name, he tells crowds that he would have been able to repeal Obamacare if not for a thumbs-down sign from one senator — McCain.

The senator’s own statement included Trump’s name in the headline and in a preamble written by staff. But the words attributed to McCain did not.

“I’m very proud that the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 has been signed into law,” he said.

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Trump disputes Bolton bombshell book, tweets he ‘NEVER’ linked Biden investigation, Ukraine aid

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President Donald Trump tweeted on Monday that he “NEVER” told former national security adviser John Bolton that the hold on nearly $400 million in military aid was tied to investigations of Democrats, a claim Bolton has reportedly made in an upcoming book.

“I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens,” Trump wrote. “In fact, he never complained about this at the time of his very public termination. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book.”

“The Democrat controlled House never even asked John Bolton to testify,” Trump added, although the House did ask Bolton to testify but did not subpoena him. “It is up to them, not up to the Senate!”

Later on Monday, Trump told reporters, “Well, I haven’t seen a manuscript. But I can tell you nothing was ever said to John Bolton, but I have not seen a manuscript. I guess he’s writing a book, I have not seen it.”

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According to a manuscript of Bolton’s book, obtained by The New York Times and not seen by NBC News, Trump told Bolton in August that nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine would not be released until it provided all of the information it had in connection to the investigations of Democrats that the president sought. One month earlier, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden and Democrats.

Trump and allies have said the investigations and aid were not linked, though acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said late last year that the aid was linked to an investigation of so-called Ukrainian electoral interference in 2016. Mulvaney later walked back those remarks.

The Times report cited multiple sources familiar with Bolton’s account and the contents of his manuscript were described as roughly how the former national security adviser would testify before the Senate if called. At least four Republicans need to vote in favor of additional witness testimony for that to happen.

Speaking on “Fox & Friends,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham called Bolton’s reported assertions “just not true.”

“I think the timing of all of this is very, very suspect,” she said. “It’s very clear the president did nothing wrong. And then suddenly, this manuscript has magically appeared in the hands of The New York Times making very, very big claims.”

In the yet-to-be-published book, Bolton reportedly writes that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed a belief that Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani was acting on behalf of other private clients in Ukraine. Bolton also said he expressed concerns about Giuliani’s involvement in a shadow Ukraine policy to Attorney General William Barr after Trump’s July phone call.

Giuliani tweeted Monday in response to the Bolton book, tagging Fox Business host Lou Dobbs and saying there was “no way in the world” Trump would tie investigations and aid in a conversation with Bolton.

“It’s a shame that a man will sacrifice his integrity to make a few bucks on a book,” Giuliani added. “No wonder he accomplished so little as national security adviser.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tweeted that the “refusal of the Senate to call for” Bolton, “other relevant witnesses and documents is now even more indefensible.”

Trump has suggested he would block Bolton’s testimony. Speaking to reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last week, Trump said Bolton’s testimony would present “a national security problem.”



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Trump-aligned non-profit brings anti-impeachment message to Michigan, Pennsylvania

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WASHINGTON — America First Policies, a non-profit advocacy group aligned with President Trump, is expanding its anti-impeachment advertising to the key general election swing states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, NBC has learned. 

AFP has booked more than $350,000 in television spending across the two states, data from Advertising Analytics shows. A spokeswoman with the group told NBC that in total, each state will see more than $200,000 in television spending, and when combined with a corresponding digital effort, the group plans to spend $500,000 across the two states. 

The new ads blast impeachment as a partisan and political act, calling on Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, as well as Michigan Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, to oppose removing the president. 

“For the radical left, this is really about one thing: winning the White House,” a narrator says in one ad. 

“The left’s impeachment scam, exposed. Instead of standing up for America and securing our borders, Bob Casey is standing with radicals.” 

Out of the three senators targeted by the new ads, Peters is the only one up for re-election this year (Casey and Stabenow both won a new term in 2018). The ads serve as a way to get the anti-impeachment message out into the bloodstream in states that will be pivotal to Trump’s re-election effort (both are states Trump narrowly won in 2016). 

The new ads will air starting on Tuesday, and come after the group dropped almost $400,000 on television ads targeting Sen. Doug Jones, R-Ala., on impeachment. Jones is considered one of the most vulnerable senators in 2020, having to defend his seat in a deep-red state. 

Elizabeth Warren picks up a slew of new progressive endorsements

WASHINGTON — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., gained endorsements from progressive thinkers and influencers on Monday even as she falls behind in polls to Bernie Sanders, underscoring an enduring divide within the movement in the final week before the Iowa caucuses.

The endorsements — rolled out by the pro-Warren groups Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Working Families Party, and Black Womxn — include well-known policy minds within liberal circles such as Heather McGhee of Demos, Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and Larry Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 19, 2020.Patrick Semansky / AP

The groups touted more than 75 new endorsements for Warren from current or former state and local officials, including Mayors Meghan Sahli-Wells of Culver City, California and Chris Taylor of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The list also included former congressmen Sander Levin of Michigan and Brad Miller of North Carolina.

Another notable name was Susheela Jayapal, who is the Multnomah County Commissioner in Oregon. Her sister, Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Pramila Jayapal, has endorsed Sanders for president.

“My choice has been between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. I voted for Bernie in 2016, and continue to admire and appreciate his fierce advocacy,” Susheela Jayapal said in a statement. “But 2020 is not 2016. In 2020, I’m with Warren. In 2020, more than ever, we need bold policy and advocacy — and we also need a president who can actually govern.”

Those endorsements, part of about 3,000 announced by the groups Monday, come at a critical moment for Warren who has lost ground in surveys and now trails Joe Biden and Sanders in national and early-state polls. Sanders has consolidated large swaths of the progressive community and jumped into the lead in recent polling in Iowa by the New York Times/Siena and New Hampshire by CNN and the University of New Hampshire.

One bright spot for Warren? She’s the top second-choice preference for voters in both surveys.

Moulton endorses Biden’s presidential bid

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa —Former Democratic presidential candidate and current Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential bid Monday morning, arguing he’s the right person to lead the country. 

Moulton announced his endorsement in a statement on Twitter that said he’s backing Biden given his decades of experience “serving the country, especially his eight years as vice president.” He went on to list several achievements of Biden’s career, including passing the Violence Against Women Act and the Affordable Care Act. 

The Afghanistan veteran’s statement also argued that Biden “will beat Donald Trump and unify our country after four years of the most reckless commander-in-chief in American history.” 

The endorsement is not too surprising given the personal relationship both men have. In the statement, Moulton points out that Biden “was the first person to hold a rally for me” when he launched his long-shot congressional bid in 2014. They have since become friends and Moulton considers him a mentor.

During an interview with NBC News last year, before Moulton launched his own presidential bid, Moulton said he’s “a huge fan of the vice president” and that he’s gone to Biden “multiple times” to ask for advice.   

Pete Buttigieg releases ‘closing’ Iowa ad

DES MOINES, Iowa — Pete Buttigieg is out with what his campaign is calling his “closing” TV ad in Iowa that will air statewide through caucus night, just one week from today.

In the ad, Buttigieg says that “It’s time to turn the page from a Washington experience paralyzed by the same old thinking, polarized by the same old fights, to a bold vision for the next generation.”

He addresses issues like corporate greed, “inaction” on climate change, and endless wars with photos of him campaigning across the state on screen. The former South Bend Mayor finishes off his closing ad saying that “We need to break from the old politics and unify this nation.”

The 30-second ad, “It’s Time,” is one of four ads the campaign is airing in Iowa ahead of the February 3 Caucus.

In a statement released by his campaign, Buttigieg is advertised as the “president who can rally this country around bold ideas for the next generation and achieve things that have never been done before.”

Democratic group targets vulnerable GOP senators on impeachment

WASHINGTON — Majority Forward, the not-for-profit group associated with the Democratic Senate Majority PAC, is launching a six-figure ad campaign on Monday targeting vulnerable Republican senators on impeachment. 

The two 30-second ads, which will run on digital and associated platforms like Hulu, will run in Arizona to target Sen. Martha McSally, Colorado to target Sen. Cory Gardner, Iowa to target Sen. Joni Ernst, Maine to target Sen. Susan Collins and North Carolina to target Sen. Thom Tillis.

The ads, entitled “Oath” and “Rigged”, focus on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s comments on coordinating with the White House during the impeachment trial, and the oath of impartiality that all senators took before the trial began.

The ad campaign marks the first full-throated effort by a Democratic group to run ads in support of impeachment and the trial. Prior to this, mostly only presidential candidates like philanthropist Tom Steyer and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg focused on the topic in ads

“Senate Republicans have broken their oath of impartiality and their promise to the American people by playing along with Mitch McConnell’s cover-up,” Senate Majority PAC president J.B. Poersch said in a statement. “By refusing to get the facts and demand a fair trial from the onset, Senate Republicans are putting party politics over principle. Our new ad campaign urges these vulnerable incumbents to do their jobs and demand a fair trial now.”

All five of the senators targeted are facing difficult reelection campaigns in 2020. While some of the senators, like Gardner and Collins, have chosen to take a more neutral approach when asked about calling witnesses to the trial or if the president’s conduct was appropriate, Tillis and Ernst have publicly sided with the president.

“I think it’s so ironic that [House impeachment managers] really hammered in their brief, ‘overwhelming’, I think they said that word 11 times in their brief, and yet we haven’t seen overwhelming evidence of an impeachable offense,” Ernst told NBC News on Friday. 

And Tillis shared a Twitter video last week where he called the trial a “sham”.

“They don’t have the information, it’s a sham impeachment,” Tillis said. “It’s a waste of America’s time, and people in North Carolina are getting tired of it.” 

McSally, who lost her Senate bid in 2018 and was then appointed to her seat, wouldn’t say in an interview on Fox News if she would vote for witnesses or not. Instead she said she wanted a “fair trial.” 

In the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, 66 percent of Americans said they wanted witnesses called in the Senate trial. 

Buttigieg goes on the offensive as Sanders pulls ahead in the polls

DES MOINES, Iowa — With Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., pulling ahead in the latest early state and national polls, fellow Democratic hopeful and former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is sending a message to his supporters that Sanders must be stopped. 

The Buttigieg campaign sent an email to their followers on Saturday asking them to donate to the campaign in order to stop Sanders’ surge.

“Right now, Bernie’s campaign is out-raising and out-spending us,” the email states. “If this continues, there’s a good chance he wins the Iowa Caucuses.” 

Hours later Buttigieg’s Deputy Campaign Manager, Hari Sevugan, followed up with an email saying that if Sanders wins the nomination, Democrats will lose in 2020.

“Bernie performs the worst against Trump amongst all major candidates,” Sevugan writes citing the latest New York Times/Siena College poll. Sevugan continues, “In short, we risk nominating a candidate who cannot beat Donald Trump in November. And that’s a risk we can’t take.”

In sharp contrast to the emails sent to supporters, Buttigieg was reluctant to address Sanders by name when asked if the senator’s candidacy was too risky to defeat Trump.

“I believe that we should be very mindful that one of the worst risks we can take at a time like this is to recycle the same Washington style political warfare that brought us to this point,” Buttigieg said. “If we believe it’s important to win, and I sure do, then the best thing we could do is put forward a candidate who offers something new, something different.”

Shortly after Buttigieg made those comments, supporters received another message from the campaign this time via text. Echoing earlier emails suggesting that Sanders won’t beat Trump, the message included a graphic showing Sanders losing to Trump by 6 percentage points.

This comes as support for Sanders has ticked up and recent polling and Buttigieg aims to bolster his pitch as the candidate best positioned to beat Trump. Both Sanders and Buttigieg are campaign in Iowa this weekend, with only days until the first-in-the-nation caucus on Feb. 3.

Klobuchar on Democratic primary: ‘I should be leading the ticket’

WASHINGTON — Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar appealed to Democratic primary voters on Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” arguing that her mix of pragmatism and legislative success is what the party needs to defeat President Trump in November. 

While Klobuchar said she’s “ready to support the winner” of the Democratic Party’s nominating fight, she pointed to recent Democratic victories in purple and red states to argue that she fits the profile of a successful nominee. 

Just eight days before the pivotal Iowa caucus, she also took a swipe at Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has seen his stock improve in a handful of recent polls and has taken more incoming in recent days from his Democratic rivals. 

“I think Senator Sanders’ idea of kicking 149 million Americans off their current health insurance is wrong. That’s why I don’t think he should be leading the ticket,” she said, referring to Sanders’ push for Medicare for All, which would ultimately replace private insurance with a government-run system. 

“I think I should be leading the ticket because my ideas are much more in sync with bold ways of getting things done, taking on the pharmaceutical companies, nonprofit public option, having an education plan that actually matches our economy, and the experience of getting things done. I’m the only one in the Senate running left on that stage that has passed over 100 bills as the lead Democrat. That matters to people right now.”

Biden surrogates hope to take attention away from Sanders dispute in Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa — With a little over a week until the Iowa caucuses, surrogates for former Vice President Joe Biden want voters to focus on Biden’s electability argument, rather than his ongoing policy debate on Social Security with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. 

In an email exclusively obtained by NBC News, four Hawkeye state Biden endorsers reminded supporters and Iowa politicos to dismiss “falsehoods” spread about Biden’s Social Security record circulating in negative posts by Sanders’ campaign. They claim that the Sanders campaign is currently “spending hundreds of thousands of dollars” against Biden, a tactic also employed by President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.

“There is no surer way to reelect Donald Trump than by letting Bernie Sanders get away with these false attacks and negative tactics,” Bruce Koeppl, the former director of Iowa AARP, wrote in an email. “The attacks of Bernie Sanders, his campaign, and his supporters on Joe Biden only help one person: Donald Trump.”

The letter comes as Biden and Sanders continue to face off on Social Security, a political he-said-he-said that started last Saturday when Biden demanded an apology from Sanders and his aides for spreading supposed out-of-context videos of Biden. While Sanders did apologize to Biden earlier this week, it was specifically for a Sanders supporter and staffer saying Biden has a “corruption problem.” 

The Biden-Sanders back-and-forth has strengthened as Sanders climbs in state and national polls. For Biden supporters like Koepple, former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack, Iowa Building and Construction Trades Council president Bill Gerhard and Liveable Communities advocate Kent Sovern, it’s time for action. 

“It’s time for the caucus-goers of Iowa to tell Senator Sanders that we’re not going to put up with his malarkey – or his negative attacks,” the group said in a note to Biden supporters. 

The Biden campaign has tried to elevate Biden’s electability argument this week: They posted a Twitter video, and emphasized in a fundraising email, that Democratic infighting will only help elect Trump, and that Biden is still the most electable candidate.

The Sanders campaign responded in a similar video, continuing to highlight comments Biden made on the Senate floor about Social Security.

In an interview with NBC News affiliate WIS10, Biden said that candidates picking apart statements from “35 years” ago may be acting in “desperation.” 

Bernie Sanders faces heat from allies for Joe Rogan endorsement

DES MOINES, Iowa — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is under fire from some progressives for touting an endorsement from Joe Rogan, a popular but controversial podcaster and comedian.

Rogan, a former mixed martial arts announcer with unconventional political views hosts one of the most-listened-to podcasts on Stitcher, an on-demand podcast app. This week, he said on his show that he’ll probably vote for Sanders because the Vermont senator has been “insanely consistent his entire life.”

Sanders’ campaign highlighted the apparent endorsement Friday, prompting a backlash from some liberals who pointed out that Rogan has a history of making inflammatory comments about LGBTQ people, feminists, and other minority groups, along with flirting with conspiracy theories about former President Obama’s birthplace.

“Bernie Sanders has run a campaign unabashedly supportive of the rights of LGBTQ people. Rogan, however, has attacked transgender people, gay men, women, people of color and countless marginalized  groups at every opportunity,” Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ advocacy group in the country, said in a statement.

The group added that it was “disappointing that the Sanders campaign has accepted and promoted the endorsement” and called on the Democratic presidential candidate to “reconsider” it.

The progressive group MoveOn.org, which backed Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid, went even further, calling on Sanders to “apologize” for touting the endorsement. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden appeared take a veiled shot at Sanders for accepting the endorsement, saying in a tweet Saturday, “There is no room for compromise when it comes to basic human rights.”

Sanders allies have defended the campaign’s decision to accept the endorsement, arguing Rogan’s is a powerful voice who reaches millions of Americans on the margins of politics who might otherwise vote for President Donald Trump or give up on the political system entirely.

“The goal of our campaign is to build a multi-racial, multi-generational movement that is large enough to defeat Donald Trump and the powerful special interests whose greed and corruption is the root cause of the outrageous inequality in America,” said the campaign’s national press secretary Briahna Joy Gray. “Sharing a big tent requires including those who do not share every one of our beliefs, while always making clear that we will never compromise our values. The truth is that by standing together in solidarity, we share the values of love and respect  that will move us in the direction of a more humane, more equal world.”

Bernie Sanders leads new Iowa poll, but race is still a jump ball

WASHINGTON — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders took the lead in the latest New York Times/Siena College poll of likely Iowa caucus goers released Saturday. The poll shows Sanders taking 25 percent of first-choice support, which is up from the 19 percent support he garnered in the last New York Times/Siena poll released in November. 

The poll found that support for former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and for former Vice President Joe Biden remained consistent from November — the two received 18 and 17 percent support respectively in both polls. However, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren slipped to fourth place with 15 percent support in the new poll. In November’s New York Times/Siena survey, Warren led the field with 22 percent. 

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at the Brown & Black Forum at the Iowa Events Center, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa.Andrew Harnik / AP

And Sen. Amy Klobuchar doubled her support in the last two months in this poll. She is 8 percent of potential caucus-goers’ first-choice candidate in the newly released poll, up from 4 percent in November. The survey comes after a string of well-received debate performances, and receiving part of the New York Times’ editorial board’s presidential endorsement. 

The race in Iowa remains highly fluid, with the poll finding that 40 percent of those polled said they could still be persuaded to caucus for a different candidate than the one they listed as their first choice.

And what these caucus-goers are looking for in a candidate is still split: 42 percent of voters said they want a candidate who “brings politics in Washington back to normal”, while 51 percent want a candidate who “promises fundamental systematic change.” Those are the competing messages of progressives like Sanders and Warren, and moderates like Biden. While the progressives may tilt the scale on that question, 55 percent of voters said they want a candidate who is “more moderate” than other Democrats, while only 38 percent said they want someone who is “more liberal” than most Democrats. 

The Iowa caucuses are on Feb. 3, and the Des Moines Register, a top newspaper in the state, will be announcing its presidential endorsement on Saturday night. 

Iowa youth engagement ticks up ahead of Iowa caucuses, survey shows

WASHINGTON — Young voter turnout in the Iowa caucuses could surge from 2016 numbers, according to a new poll of young Iowans from CIRCLE-Tisch College and Suffolk University.

The new poll, released Friday, shows that 35 percent of Iowans between 18 and 29-years old say they are “extremely likely” to caucus on Feb. 3. In 2016, it’s estimated that only 11 percent of Iowans in this age range attended a caucus. 

Thirty-nine percent of young Iowans who are registered as Democrats or identify as Democrats plan to caucus for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren trails in second for the youth vote with 19 percent, followed by former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 14 percent. Only 7 percent of young Iowans said they planned to caucus for former Vice President Joe Biden. 

Attendees listen as Democratic presidential candidate, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a campaign event on Jan. 15, 2020, in Newton, Iowa.Patrick Semansky / AP

While there’s always been talk about the impact of the youth vote in elections, this uptick in engagement could be from mobilization. According to this poll, 72 percent of young people in Iowa youth say they have been personally contacted and asked to support a candidate or a party. This eschews traditional thought that engagement efforts are focused on more reliable voting groups. 

Carolyn DeWitt, the president and executive director of Rock the Vote — a nonpartisan, non-profit group dedicated to upping political engagement of young people — said political candidates and parties tend to focus “their investments and their outreach to those voters they deem are going to be reliable voters who will turn out, and so, the reality is that they are not doing outreach to young voters.” 

DeWitt continued, “We have been seeing a huge increase in youth activism, engagement, and civic participation. In 2018, we saw a 50 percent jump from 2014 numbers in voter turnout.”

Since the 2018 election, according to DeWitt, nearly 9 million people turned 18 and became eligible to vote — which expands a voting electorate that tends to skew Democratic. 

“Youth have the incredible power to decide this election, not just at the presidential level but down the ballot as well,” Dewitt said. “Between millennials and voting eligible Gen-Z, they comprise 40 percent of American voters. If they show up and who they decide to vote for will determine the outcomes.” 



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Democrats grapple with Bernie surge in Iowa

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DES MOINES, Iowa — The greatest trick Bernie Sanders ever played was convincing the world the chance he could win didn’t exist.

The independent senator from Vermont has been running for president for the better part of five years, but some Democrats are only just now, a week out from the first contest in the 2020 presidential primary season, beginning to come to grips with the fact that he could actually win the nomination.

“Suddenly, we have the Democratic establishment very nervous about this campaign. We got Wall Street nervous,” Sanders told a crowd of roughly 1,100 Sunday night in Sioux City. “They’re starting to think, could this really happen?”

“We are their worst nightmare,” he added.

Next Monday’s caucuses remain a toss-up, according to the polls. But Sanders has taken the lead in several recent surveys of Iowa and New Hampshire and continues to be the field’s best fundraiser — without having faced the same intensity of incoming fire as some other candidates, like fellow progressive Elizabeth Warren.

A Sanders win would turn the Democratic Party upside down, much as Donald Trump’s victory did for the GOP in 2016. But how could virtually no one see Sanders coming when he nearly overturned the party establishment four years ago when he came within a whisker of winning Iowa?

“They’ve always wanted to discount or dismiss him, but they do so at their own peril,” Hugh Espey, executive director of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, which first brought Sanders to Iowa in 2014. “It’s staring them right in the race.”

For most of the 2020 primary, everyone from Wall Street to K Street viewed Warren, a senator from Massachusetts, as the more formidable contender, leading to a storm of scrutiny when she was surging in the polls last year.

Given Sanders’ lackluster poll numbers then, moderate Democrats and Republicans often built him up to use as a cudgel against Warren, especially when she was struggling to explain how she’d pay for “Medicare for All.”

“At least Bernie’s being honest here,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said at the Democratic primary debate in October, while joining others on stage in criticizing Warren.

Billionaires like former Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein and investor Leon Cooperman also trained their fire primarily on Warren, not Sanders, presumably assuming, like so many others, that Sanders’ time had passed and that he would soon hand off the baton of the progressive movement he started to Warren.

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“None of his opponents have attacked him,” said Ian Sams, a Democratic operative who has now gone two rounds against Sanders — as a campaign aide to Clinton in the last election, and to Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., in this one. “There had been a supposition all last year from media and the political class that there’s no way Bernie way could win, which was a pretty faulty assumption.”

The attacks worked to weaken Warren, but left Sanders relatively unscathed.

Now, some moderate Democrats feel the need to sound the alarm and try to wake supporters up to the fact that Sanders is not a mere protest candidate, but a real threat to win the nomination and, they argue, potentially cost Democrats the election against Trump.

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“Bernie Sanders could be the nominee of our party,” Pete Buttigieg’s campaign alerted supporters in an email. “Bernie’s campaign is out-raising and out-spending us. If this continues, there’s a good chance he wins the Iowa caucuses.”

The tone of the warning, which was repeated in a second email and follow-up text message to supporters, was jarring in a campaign where candidates have rarely gone after each other by name.

Asked by NBC News if he was worried that Democrats were underestimating Sanders’ appeal, Buttigieg said, “It’s a terrible mistake to not take any candidate seriously.”

Klobuchar suggested that nominating Sanders could hurt down-ballot Democrats. “I do not come from a state that is as blue as Vermont,” she told reporters in Ames. “I have been able to get those votes and bring them in. And so I think a lot of people have talking points about how they can do this. I actually have the receipts.”

Matt Bennett, the vice president of the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way, which has agitated against Sanders and his philosophy for years, said many political insiders have a Sanders-size “blind spot.”

“We issued a warning a year ago that Sanders could win the nomination and would likely lose to Trump. And we’ve been the only ones really taking the fight to him,” Bennett said.

“It’s past time for other Democrats to come off the sidelines and for the media to start doing its job to vet a serious contender for the nomination,” he added. “We simply can’t stand by while there’s a threat that Democrats could nominate a guy who would hand such nuclear-level ammunition to the Trump campaign.”

Voters at events for moderate candidates this weekend expressed concern about Sanders’ potential nomination, though all said they would vote for him in the general election.

“It’s going to be hard for him to pull in people in the middle,” Todd Darson, who is deciding between Biden and Buttigieg, said of Sanders. “That’s what scares me the most.’

Anything could happen in the Feb. 3 caucuses, and Iowa Democratic insiders say it’s just as likely that former Vice President Joe Biden could win the caucuses and then quickly consolidate the nomination as it is likely that Sanders could win Iowa.

But Sanders, on a whirlwind tour of Iowa this weekend during a break from his jury duty in the Senate’s impeachment trial, relished the fear that he said he has been striking in his enemies.

“They’re looking at recent polls in New Hampshire and in Iowa, and they’re saying, ‘Oh my God, Sanders can win!'” the senator told a packed auditorium in Ames.

Sanders’ allies say the political and media elites miss his strength because they have a blind spot for candidates whose message is aimed at working-class voters, including Sanders, but also Biden, whose durability has surprised many, and Trump.

“The establishment has underestimated him because the Beltway fails to grasp how much support there is for the principle that every American should have basic health care, basic education and the opportunity for a good paying job,” Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., a co-chair of Sanders’ campaign, told NBC News.

So far, a “Stop Sanders” effort has not emerged, but one still could — and Sanders allies say they now have a target on their backs.

“Things are going to get crazy,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who has endorsed Sanders and become one of his top surrogates, told volunteers at a field office opening in Ankeny, Iowa.

Michael Moore, the documentary filmmaker, who joined Sanders as a warm-up act on his most recent Iowa swing, told supporters in Ames that “the rich” are going to start panicking.

“The knives are out,” Moore said.

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