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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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Sanders press secretary walks back ‘heart attack’ comments on Bloomberg

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LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Sen. Bernie Sanders’ national press secretary walked back her false claim Wednesday morning that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg “suffered heart attacks in the past.” She later tweeted she “misspoke.”

“Rather, he underwent the same stent procedure as Bernie,” Briahna Joy Gray tweeted of Bloomberg. “Bernie released 3 detailed medical reports in December — just like the other candidates.”

The back-and-forth began when during a CNN town hall on Tuesday night, Sanders said that while he’s feeling good, he will not release additional medical records after suffering from a heart attack in October. Despite promising to post his medical records before the first primary contest, the Democratic front-runner in December instead released three letters from doctors stating he is in good health. 

“If you think I’m not in good health come on out with me on the campaign trail and I’ll let you introduce me to the three or four rallies a day that we do,” Sanders said on Tuesday. 

Bloomberg’s campaign manager, Kevin Sheekey quickly blasted Joy Gray’s original claim saying, “It’s completely false.” 

“Here’s what we know about Sen. Sanders: In October 2019, he had a medical incident in Las Vegas. He didn’t tell the public for days and the full details have never been released. Now his campaign staff is spreading lies about Mike Bloomberg,” Sheekey said in a statement. 

The increased scrutiny on Sanders’ health comes after a new NBC News/WSJ poll found that 57 percent of registered voters were uncomfortable with a candidate who’s had a heart attack in the past year, and 53 percent being uncomfortable with candidates older than 75. 

Bloomberg, who is 78-years-old like Sanders, has not yet released his medical records, instead released a letter from his doctor saying he’s in “outstanding health.” The two other septuagenarians in the race, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden, have also released letters from their doctors detailing their health statuses. 

A new Super PAC gets behind Amy Klobuchar ahead of Super Tuesday

LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Kitchen Table Conversations, a new political action committee supporting Amy Klobuchar, which filed with the FEC last Friday, is the first Super PAC to back the Minnesota senator’s candidacy.

Richard Carlbom, a partner at United Strategies LLC in Minnesota, is spearheading the effort and confirmed to NBC News that “the goal is to introduce Amy to Nevada, South Carolina and Super Tuesday states.” Carlbom told NBC News that he has not been in contact with Klobuchar’s campaign — it is against FEC regulations for campaigns to coordinate with super PACs. 

The PAC’s first ad, “Sacred,” focuses on the “sacred space” of time between a newborn and their mother, talking about Klobuchar’s experience being kicked out of the hospital after her daughter Abigail was born and how it fueled her entrance into politics — a story she shares often on the campaign trail.

According to Carlbom, the PAC has received enough commitments where they can place a seven figure investment in paid advertisements.

Back in October, the Klobuchar campaign said they didn’t want help from super PACs, and a Klobuchar spokesperson told NBC News that the campaign stands by that statement. Other candidates, like former Vice President Joe Biden and former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg are also being helped by super PACs. 

Carlbom said those who have joined the PAC effort are “individuals who believe in Amy’s message and believe in Amy as a president and want to make sure other votes get to know the same Amy we know.”

Trump counter-programs Dems with West Coast swing

WASHINGTON — As Democrats debate and compete for votes in Nevada this week, President Donald Trump won’t just be looming over the caucuses metaphorically — he’ll also be staying in Las Vegas throughout a jam-packed West Coast swing.  

The rare quadruple-state, four-day visit will be full of fundraisers, official White House events, and three back-to-back rallies, culminating with a large campaign event in Vegas on Friday afternoon, the day before final votes are cast there. 

The strategy to effectively shadow the Democratic presidential contest started in Iowa and New Hampshire earlier this month where Trump deployed dozens of surrogates and dominated local media by headlining rallies in Des Moines and Manchester that attracted thousands of supporters. 

But unlike in Iowa and New Hampshire, there is no GOP nominating contest in Nevada this year. The state party decided to cancel it in an effort to consolidate support for the president, working closely with the Republican National Committee to avoid any potential chaos at the convention in Charlotte this summer. 

Senior campaign officials continue to make the case that while Democrats battle it out in search of their eventual nominee — with the rise of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg complicating party unity on that side of the aisle — the president’s campaign can capitalize nine months out from the general election, with no significant primary challenger. 

Dry runs for November

The Trump campaign also has plenty of money and resources to conduct “dry runs” in these early states, enjoying $200 million in the bank heading into 2020 and raising more than $60 million in January. And the dress rehearsals in the Hawkeye and Granite States were largely successful, with turnout there exceeding recent incumbent presidents. 

Trump begins his journey out West with a stop in Southern California on Tuesday, hosting a meeting on the 2028 Olympics, followed by two high-dollar fundraisers in Beverly Hills. This comes after Trump held the most expensive re-elect dinner of his presidency in Palm Beach over the weekend, with couples paying $580,600 each to attend. 

On Wednesday, the president will travel to Rancho Mirage, Calif. for two additional fundraisers, and then deliver a speech on water access at an official White House event in Bakersfield. 

From there, he heads to Phoenix for a “Keep America Great” rally, before again returning to Las Vegas to spend the night. As Democratic candidates spin their performances at the next debate, hosted by NBC News, the president is expected to be at his self-branded hotel just down the road from the Strip.  

On Thursday morning, the president will speak at a “Hope for Prisoners” graduation ceremony at Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department headquarters. Later that evening, the president will stump in Colorado Springs, and again fly back to Vegas. 

The consecutive campaign events in Arizona and Colorado will also feature two vulnerable senators in key battleground states, Sens. Cory Gardner and Martha McSally respectively. Both supported the president throughout the impeachment trial and voted not to convict him. 

President Donald Trump greets supporters at a rally in Las Vegas on Sept. 20, 2018.Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images

Trump’s final event of the multi-day swing will be a rally at the Las Vegas Convention Center Friday afternoon, less than 24 hours before the caucuses there Saturday. 

While there is no clear measure of success for Trump in Nevada this week, he lost the state by only two and half percentage points to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Senior campaign officials say it’s not the top focus for expanding the map this cycle, but the Silver State is still considered a target. And holding rallies in all three states offers fresh voter data in those key states.  

The campaign also plans to offer various surrogate gatherings throughout the week ahead of the caucuses, including visits from Vice President Mike Pence and Donald Trump Jr. But aides acknowledge there’s nothing quite like the president’s physical presence in the region. 

“When Air Force One lands, there’s no better way to bracket and get your message out,” said Trump campaign spokesman Rick Gorka.

Over 26,000 vote early in Nevada caucuses

WASHINGTON — The Nevada Democratic Party announced Monday that more than 26,000 residents in the Silver State participated in the first two days of early voting ahead of the Saturday caucuses

The party tweeted that over “26,000 Nevadans participated in the first two days of the early voting process as of 9am PT Monday morning.”

According to the Nevada Democratic Party, over half of voters — 56 percent — who took part on Saturday were first time caucus-goers. Approximately 18,000 people voted on Saturday alone. 

“Nevada Democrats are showing up to make their voices heard,” the group tweeted.

The party released a memo to reporters last week outlining the early voting process occurring ahead of state’s caucuses on February 22. 

“From the beginning, NV Dems’ priority has been to execute the most accessible, expansive, and transparent caucus yet,” Alana Mounce, Nevada State Democratic Party Executive Director, stated in the memo originally sent to Nevada campaign staff last Monday.

The Nevada Democratic Party’s memo came after its sister organization in Iowa failed to release results from the caucuses on time citing technological problems and disparities in vote tallies. The chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, Troy Price, was forced to resign from his post following the debacle. 

Candidates battle in ad spending race ahead of Nevada caucuses

LAS VEGAS — Ahead of Saturday’s Nevada caucuses, Democratic candidates are in an ad spending race throughout the state until the February 22 contest.

Spending the most to hit the airwaves is billionaire and entrepreneur Tom Steyer according to Advertising Analytics. In last place among the candidates is Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., with a bill totaling less than a million dollars.

Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., shake hands as Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., look on prior to the start of the Democratic presidential primary debate on Feb. 7, 2020 in Manchester, N.H.Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

Despite the Independent Vermont senator’s visibility, Bernie Sanders is being targeted in several ads. After playing in Iowa with its Bernie-had-a-heart-attack ad but sitting out in New Hampshire, the anti-Bernie Sanders group, Democratic Majority for Israel, is back on the airwaves in Nevada, with a TV ad hitting Sanders for not releasing his medical records.

The ad features several voters stressing the need to vote Donald Trump out of office, claiming that Sanders is “not the guy” to do so. Another voter asks why the senator “won’t he release his medical records.”

Here’s where each candidate’s spending on TV and radio ads stands: 

  • Steyer: $14.0M
  • Sanders: $1.8M
  • Buttigieg: $1.2M
  • Warren: $1.2M
  • Biden: $1.1M
  • Trump: $859K
  • Klobuchar: $792K
  • Vote Vets (pro-Buttigieg PAC): $589K
  • Democratic Majority for Israel (anti-Sanders lobbying group): $461K
  • Vote Nurses Values (pro-Sanders union): $170K

Former New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, will not appear on the ballot in Nevada. He has until the end of the day Tuesday to qualify for the upcoming NBC News debate in Las Vegas. 

-Liz Brown-Kaiser contributed.

Klobuchar campaign releases first Spanish-language ad in Nevada

LAS VEGAS — Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s presidential campaign is airing its first Spanish language TV and radio ad in Nevada. This is the campaign’s third ad on the air in Nevada, and their only Spanish language ad to date.

The ad, titled ‘Bienestar,’ started airing on cable in the Las Vegas and Reno media markets on February 15, the first day of Nevada’s four-day early voting period, and the radio version of the ad is airing in the Las Vegas market. The ads will run through the Nevada Caucuses on February 22.

The campaign would not provide a cost for this Spanish ad buy individually, but said that it was separate from the original seven-figure ad buy for Nevada.

Klobuchar has acknowledged a need for her to build a broad coalition of support to win the nomination, especially among black and Hispanic voters and that effort includes raising her profile through ads like these.  

DNC announces debate qualification threshold for South Carolina

WASHINGTON — To qualify for the Democratic debate stage in South Carolina, candidates will need to have won at least one delegate in earlier primary contests or cross a polling threshold of 10 percent nationally in four polls or 12 percent in two polls in the Palmetto State, the Democratic National Committee announced Saturday.

The rules are barely changed from the qualification threshold the party set for next week’s debate in Las Vegas, hosted by NBC News and MSNBC. Those qualifications could help former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s make his first appearance on the stage.

Democratic presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren gather onstage before the start of the debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., on Feb. 7, 2020.Brendan McDermid / Reuters file

Candidates who won at least one delegate to the Democratic National Convention in either the New Hampshire and Iowa contests, or next Saturday’s caucuses in Nevada, will automatically qualify for the Feb. 25 debate in Charleston, which is hosted by CBS News and comes just before the state’s Feb. 29 primary.

According to the new thresholds, five candidates have already qualified for the debate stage: Former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Mass. Sen. Elizabeth Warren. 

Bloomberg, who skipped the first four early state contests, has not received a delegate yet and isn’t expected to receive on during next week’s Nevada caucuses. However, he has been polling above 10 percent in some recent surveys. He still needs one qualifying poll to make the Las Vegas debate stage.

The window to qualify next week’s Feb. 19 debate closes the night before the event, while the window to qualify for the South Carolina debate runs from Feb. 4, the day after the Iowa Caucuses, to Feb. 24, the day before the debate.

Bill de Blasio endorses Bernie Sanders in presidential bid

WASHINGTON — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio endorsed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for president on Friday.

“I am standing with Bernie because he stands with working families, and always has,” de Blasio said in a statement. “New Yorkers know all too well the damage caused by Donald Trump’s xenophobia, bigotry and recklessness, and Bernie is the candidate to take him on and take him down.”

de Blasio continued, “I have called for a bold, progressive agenda, and that’s exactly what Senator Sanders has championed for decades. I am proud to endorse a true progressive leader who will fight for working New Yorkers and families across the country.”

The endorsement comes after Sanders won the New Hampshire primary, and placed a strong second place in the Iowa caucuses. It also comes as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg gains national traction in several polls, and just needs one more qualifying poll to make the debate stage in Nevada. 

Bloomberg and de Blasio have had a fraught relationship since de Blasio ran for mayor. In 2014, when addressing reporters after the death of Eric Garner, de Blasio made reference to Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk policy, “Because for much of the previous 12 years, there was a growing tension and a growing disconnect between police and community all over our city. And that is not an acceptable state of affairs,” de Blasio said at the time. 

And when Bloomberg entered the presidential race in November, de Blasio said his mayoral tenure has been undoing Bloomberg’s policies. 

“This is a guy who really reinforced the status quo every chance he got in New York City,” de Blasio said in a ‘The Young Turks’ interview. “And I have spent literally six years undoing what Michael Bloomberg did.” 

de Blasio ended his nearly four month presidential bid in September. He is one of a few former presidential contenders in this cycle to endorse in the primary: Former Housing and Urban Development Sec. Julián Castro for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Mass. Rep. Seth Moulton and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan for former Vice President Joe Biden, and Joe Sestak for Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Amy Klobuchar launches ad campaign in South Carolina

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar will capitalize on her campaign’s momentum from New Hampshire in South Carolina as she launches her first broadcast television advertisement in the state two weeks before the “First in the South” primary.

The six-figure statewide ad buy, which will also be featured on cable and digital platforms, begins with a moment from the New Hampshire Democratic debate in which Klobuchar sharply criticized President Trump. 

“There is a complete lack of empathy in the guy in the White House right now,” Klobuchar said. “And I will bring that to you.” 

The ad features a montage of Klobuchar interacting with voters and American workers — and highlights her endorsement from The New York Times back in January, shared with Sen. Elizabeth Warren. 

“If you have trouble stretching your paycheck to pay for that rent, I know you and I will fight for you,” Klobuchar continues in the ad. “If you have trouble deciding if you’re going to pay for your child care or your long term care, I know you and I will fight for you. I would love your vote, and I would love the vote of America.”   

The campaign’s new ad buy comes after Klobuchar’s strong performance in the New Hampshire primary, where she placed third behind Sen. Bernie Sanders and former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg. In the roughly 12 hours after the polls closed in the state, Klobuchar raised over $2.5 million from supporters —boosting the campaign’s resources to make targeted outreach efforts in both Nevada and South Carolina. 

The ad buy also comes as Klobuchar continues to trail the other leading contenders in South Carolina, and among voters of color. South Carolina’s primary will take place on Feb. 29.  

Biden puts gun control front and center in new ads

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden will put his career accomplishments on gun safety issues front and center as he kicks off a make-or-break stretch for his candidacy in Nevada, sharpening a contrast with one rival and heading off a similar push from another.

The Biden campaign is launching a pair of new ads on broadcast television in Nevada that amplify Biden’s argument that he is the only Democrat running or president who has taken on the gun lobby and won.

The first ad begins with the names Newtown, Parkland and Las Vegas — communities that saw some of the most horrific mass shootings in the past decade to note that gun violence “is tearing at the soul of this nation.” The ad details Biden’s work on the Brady Bill and assault weapons ban, and vows that Biden “will beat the NRA again” as president.

The second ad features a montage of Biden interacting with children on the campaign trail, saying that while they may not know his record on the issue in detail, “They just need to know protecting them from gun violence is what Joe Biden cares about most.”

The push comes on the second anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Fla. that took 17 lives. The shooting in Parkland followed just months after the murder of 59 concert-goers on the Las Vegas strip by a lone gunman.

In a statement marking the Parkland anniversary, Biden blamed the lack of any meaningful national gun reforms since then on “cowardice — political cowardice from the very people who should be fighting the hardest to protect us but instead are picking the side of gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association.”

The statement is an implicit swipe at Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. At the Democratic debate in New Hampshire, Biden called Sanders’ vote to shield gun manufacturers from liability “the biggest mistake” of his career. Sanders noted in the debate that he now has a D- rating from the NRA, and that “the world has changed and my views have changed” on the issue.

While the issue was not one that moved New Hampshire voters, the Biden campaign sees gun safety reform as a significant one for Nevada voters, who recently supported a ballot initiative to strengthen background checks. In addition to the new seven-figure TV buy, Biden is expected to discuss gun issues in his first public event since Tuesday in Henderson, Nev. Friday night.   

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who helped bankroll a major gun safety push in the 2018 midterms, has also showcased his record on guns in his national advertising blitz. Bloomberg, though, is not competing in the Nevada caucuses.  

Buttigieg is relying on grassroots movement in California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — With just 18 days until the California primary on Super Tuesday, former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is heavily relying on momentum and a “badass grassroots organizing program,” as one aide called it, to build support in the state.

But Buttigieg has yet to spend any dollars on TV ads in the state, while former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have blanketed the airwaves, despite having raised more than $80 million over the last year. Instead, the campaign contends it has fortified a volunteer network throughout each of the state’s congressional districts and is now actively moving more organizing staff into the state to help mobilize those volunteer operations.

He does not have a single endorsement from any one of California’s 45 Democratic members of Congress. Sen. Dianne Feinstein backed former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris has yet to weigh in since her own exit from the presidential race. The state’s Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis announced her endorsement of Buttigieg on Thursday ahead of his Sacramento town hall on Friday. 

Pete Buttigieg speaks at a Get Out the Vote rally at Elm Street Middle School on Feb. 9, 2020 in Nashua, N.H.Win McNamee / Getty Images

Prior to the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, campaign officials dismissed the need to have invested in a robust staff in California or other Super Tuesday states, suggesting, instead, that they would utilize campaign resources on ad buys and rely on the momentum that they’d garner from strong showings in the early states. 

Last September, the Buttigieg campaign secured 2016 Democratic nominee Sec. Hillary Clinton’s 2016 California state director to play the same role for its own Golden State effort. Because California awards its delegates on a proportional basis, the strategic targeting of the millions of Californians will be key, but more difficult, with the vastness of the state — more than 10 media markets and 53 congressional districts.

On Super Tuesday, the state will proportionally award its 416 delegates, with 273 of its delegates determined by results in each congressional district — dividing delegates proportionally among each candidate based on the outcome in that district. The other 144 delegates will be apportioned proportionally based on candidates’ statewide performance. 

California will then send 54 additional delegates — also known as automatic delegates — to the convention. These delegates, mostly party leaders and elected officials, are not required to vote for any one particular candidate, and they will only be able to vote at the convention should the nominating process head to a contested convention and a second ballot vote is required.

In California, voters can register and change party affiliation on Election Day at their polling place, which prompts a potential increase in more moderate and conservative voters to take part in the Democratic primary process. There are more than 9 million registered Democrats in California, and an additional 5.2 million Independent voters. While Buttigieg focused heavily on rural counties in Iowa, he will also likely need to rely on burgeoning support from the more affluent, college-educated voters of California, including from parts of Orange County and San Diego. 

But the Buttigieg campaign hopes that their good showings in Iowa and N.H. will impact the early vote in California — California counties began mailing voters their mail-in ballots on the day of the Iowa contest.

California will also, however, require that he expand his support among voters of color. 

The Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan public policy research center in the state, reported last year that its survey of the state’s electorate showed that about half of likely Democratic voters are white, while Latinos form 24 percent of the party’s electorate, Asian-Americans account for 12 percent and African-American voters make up 10 percent. Buttigieg has suffered to build support outside of his mostly white coalition.

Buttigieg has made few stops in California open to the public — instead heavily fundraising in the state. He has raised more than 20 percent of his money from donors in California, per The Center for Responsive Politics

And it doesn’t seem Buttigieg is changing that plan. With limited time left ahead of March 3, Buttigieg will make two more California private fundraising stops on Friday in the greater Bay Area.



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Sturgeon FURY: SNP blasts Government’s new immigration rules ‘disastrous and devastating!'

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NICOLA STURGEON has launched yet another scathing attack against the UK Government, raging planned new immigration rules are “disastrous” and will be “devastating” for Scotland’s economy.

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Sanders and Buttigieg campaigns request partial recanvass of some Iowa caucus precincts

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, are officially calling for a partial recanvassing of the results of last week’s Iowa caucuses, claiming they found discrepancies in the party’s official results that hurt their campaigns.  

The state party announced Sunday that Buttigieg had won 14 national convention delegates from what it said was a narrow victory in the Iowa caucuses. Sanders received 12 delegates; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren won eight delegates; former Vice President Joe Biden secured six delegates; and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar won one delegate. 

But while those results were based on the party’s revised results, the NBC News Decision Desk has not called the race for any candidate or issued its own delegate allocation after a series of delays and inconsistencies surfaced in the days following the caucuses

The Sanders campaign says it wants the Iowa Democratic Party to recanvass 25 precincts and three satellite caucuses, arguing that there are errors in the data that could flip a national delegate to Sanders. 

“Our volunteers and supporters worked too hard, and too many people participated for the first time to have the results depend on calculations that even the party admits are incorrect,” Sanders senior adviser Jeff Weaver said in a statement.

“Once the recanvass and a subsequent recount are completed in these precincts, we feel confident we will be awarded the extra national delegate our volunteers and grassroots donors earned.” 

The Buttigieg campaign requested a recanvass in 66 precincts and the in-state satellite caucuses in what a campaign aide told NBC News was in direct response to Sanders’ request. 

In a letter sent to Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price, the Buttigieg campaign contends this recanvass would result in a net gain of 14 State Delegate Equivalents for Buttigieg. A campaign aide notes that the Sanders’ campaign recanvass request would at most result in a net gain of fewer than six SDEs.

New Hampshire leaders stay on the sidelines ahead of primary

WASHINGTON — Less than 24 hours before the New Hampshire primary, the only member of Congress from the state who is endorsing a presidential candidate is Democratic Rep. Ann Kuster.

Kuster, who has represented New Hampshire’s second district since 2013, announced her endorsement of former South Bend Mayor, Pete Buttigieg, on January 15.

Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg visits The Works Cafe with Rep. Annie Kuster in Concord, N.H., on Jan. 17, 2020.Elizabeth Frantz / Reuters file

“With our country so consumed by division, @PeteButtigieg is the leader who can finally turn the page on the Trump presidency and bring our nation together,” Kuster tweeted that day. “He has the courage to break from the past to lead us to a better future — I’m excited to endorse him to be our next president.”

Buttigieg shortly after thanked Kuster for her backing, writing in a statement that amid a time of dysfunction in Washington, Kuster has united constituents and “spent her career delivering results for New Hampshire families.” 

The congresswoman co-chairs the campaign and has hit the trail with Buttigieg. 

No other national politicians from the state have yet to formally support a 2020 presidential candidacy for the first-in-the-nation primary. The Granite State’s lack of endorsements also stands in contrast with the number of Iowan endorsements issued ahead of last week’s caucuses.

Three out of four congressional districts in Iowa are represented by Democrats and all of them announced endorsements of 2020 Democrats prior to the February 3 caucus in the state.

Democratic Reps. Abby Finkaneur and Cindy Axne of IA-01 and IA-03 respectively endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden in January. David Loebsack of the Hawkeye State’s second district endorsed Buttigieg the same month.

Sanders, Buttigieg raised more money online in N.H. than rest of Democratic field

WASHINGTON — Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg sit at the top of the polls in New Hampshire one day before the state’s primary. And new data shows they raised more money online from the state last year than the rest of the Democratic presidential field. 

Sanders raised the most New Hampshire online dollars of any candidate in 2019 through the Democratic online-fundraising platform ActBlue. He raised $727,410 from Granite Staters through the platform, which handles virtually all online donations for Democratic candidates, an NBC News analysis shows. 

Buttigieg finished 2019 in a clear second place for New Hampshire online donors, significantly behind Sanders but also well above his other competitors. He raised almost $510,370 through the platform. 

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren raised $344,600 through ActBlue from voters in her neighboring state, followed by former Vice President Joe Biden’s $253,380, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s $190,000 and businessman Andrew Yang’s 147,610.  

That order — Sanders at the top, followed by Buttigieg then Warren then Biden then Klobuchar then Yang — mirrors the ActBlue fundraising results from Iowa. It’s also almost exactly how the candidates finished in the state’s caucus last week, according to the state Democratic Party’s results, with Sanders and Buttigieg locked in a virtual tie, followed by Warren, then Biden and Klobuchar. 

However, Iowa’s results have been marred by concerns about accuracy and the NBC News Decision Desk has not called a winner or allocating any delegates as a result of the caucuses at this time. 

ActBlue is the primary online fundraising tool that candidates use to accept donations. Fundraising totals through ActBlue don’t include offline donations, like checks sent to campaigns directly.  

Klobuchar releases new ad ahead of New Hampshire primary

KEENE, N.H. — Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., is making her final pitch to New Hampshire voters the day before the first-in-the-nation primary with the release of a new closing ad airing on cable, digital and radio.

The ad, “Empathy,” includes excerpts of Klobuchar’s closing debate statement on the stage. The senator’s debate performance has widely been viewed as strong fueling additional interest in her candidacy and sparking significant fundraising totaling about $3 million. 

“There is a complete lack of empathy in this guy in the White House right now, and I will bring that to you,” Klobuchar says in the new ad. “If you have trouble stretching your paycheck to pay for that rent, I know you, and I will fight for you. If you have trouble deciding if you’re going to pay for your childcare or your long term care, I know you and I will fight for you. Please, New Hampshire, I would love your vote, and I would love the vote of America.”

It’s a message and sentiment Klobuchar often emulates on the campaign trail, especially in the final days while campaigning in the Granite State.

Recent polling has suggested Klobuchar is in or near third place in New Hampshire, a state where there are still many undecided voters and high independent and undeclared electorate counts. 

The Minnesota candidate has also received endorsements from the only statewide newspaper in New Hampshire, The Union Leader, and two other papers in the state, The Keene Sentinel,and Seacoast Media Group

Steyer to skip primary night in New Hampshire

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Billionaire Tom Steyer will be skipping New Hampshire primary night to campaign in the more diverse early states of Nevada and South Carolina, his campaign confirms to NBC News.

In lieu of spending election day in the Granite State, he will kick off a bus tour in Reno, NV.

“Like he said on the debate stage, Democrats have to build a national, diverse coalition in order to defeat Donald Trump in November,” his spokesman Jake Lewis said in a statement. “So Tom stopped in Nevada the day after the Iowa caucuses and will be traveling to South Carolina today then on to Reno on the 11th for his bus tour across Nevada because these states are critically important to his strategy to build that broad coalition Democrats need to beat Donald Trump.”

His South Carolina trip had been previously announced but the campaign had not made his plans for Tuesday public until today.

Steyer spent the last five days in New Hampshire, but has only held 32 public events across seven trips to the first-in-the-nation primary state.

Sanders on his medical records: I ‘released as much’ as ‘any other candidate’

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who had a heart attack last year, said Sunday that his campaign has released “as much” medical information as other candidates.

Sanders argued on “Meet the Press” that his rigorous campaign schedule stands out among his fellow Democratic presidential hopefuls as proof of his good health, but that once you start releasing medical records, “it never ends.” 

“We have released as much documentation, I think, as any other candidate,” Sanders said. 

“You can start releasing medical records, it never ends. We have released a substantive part.” 

He added that his doctors have confirmed “that I am in good health. I am in good health.”

Sanders had previously told reporters last September that releasing medical records is “the right thing to do.” 

“The American people have the right to know whether the person they’re going to be voting for president is healthy, and we will certainly release our medical records before the primaries, certainly before the first votes are cast,” he said at the time.

The Vermont senator released three letters from doctors at the end of last year, which concluded he was “more than fit enough” to be president. The letters included some test results as well as more explanation of Sanders’ heart attack and his recovery.

Klobuchar campaign announces it’s raised $2 million after debate performance

DURHAM, N.H. — Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar is capitalizing on a strong performance in Friday night’s Democratic debate. According to the campaign on Saturday, Klobuchar has raised $2 million since the debate ended. The campaign said that this is the best fundraising haul for the team after any of the debates. 

“With proven grassroots support, Amy continues to outperform expectations and punch above her weight,” Klobuchar’s campaign manager Justin Buoen said in a statement. “Following her debate performance, we’ve raised $2 million and have seen an outpouring of donations from all 50 states which will allow us to compete in New Hampshire and beyond.”

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At an event in Durham, N.H. on Saturday, Klobuchar leaned into her debate performance telling rally-goers that it’s important to her to get to know the voters in each state. 

“I had an opportunity last night to address the people of New Hampshire. I think that I was the one that mentioned New Hampshire the most,” Klobuchar said. “Maybe that is because I realize there’s a primary coming up, and I also think it is part of being a good president and being a good elected official. That you represent the people that you see and you get to know the issues and what matters to them. That is what driven me so much in my work in public service.”

Klobuchar has received praise for her debate performances in the past, as well, but those performances haven’t always helped her in polls. In the latest poll out of the Granite State, Klobuchar registered at just 5 percent support. 

Biden hits Buttigieg on experience in new video

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign released an aggressive new video against former Pete Buttigieg on Saturday, contrasting his record on major national issues with the smaller-scale accomplishments of the former mayor of South Bend, Ind.

The video follows Biden’s remarks at the Democratic debate on Friday and on the campaign trail where he has said it’s a risk for the Democratic Party to nominate someone who’s only elected experience is mayor of a small city. On Saturday, he noted that South Bend’s population is smaller than Manchester — New Hampshire’s largest city.

The campaign’s new attack video says that while Biden helped pass the Affordable Care Act and the 2009 stimulus bill, Buttigieg “installed decorative lights under bridges giving citizens of South Bend colorfully illuminated rivers,” and “revitalized the sidewalks of downtown South Bend by laying out decorative brick.”

The video also more seriously targets Buttigieg for firing the city’s first African American police chief. 

Following the video’s online debut, Biden hit Buttigieg directly at a rallying event in Manchester. He told the crowd that for as much as Buttigieg touts how Democrats tend to pick new, underdog candidates as their nominee, he fails to mention that every nominee has won based on support from the African American community in which Buttigieg lacks support.

Buttigieg campaign spokesperson Chris Meagher responded to the ad, saying, “while Washington politics trivializes what goes on in communities like South Bend, South Bend residents who now have better jobs, rising income, and new life in their city don’t think their lives are a Washington politician’s punchline.“

“The vice president’s decision to run this ad speaks more to where he currently stands in this race than it does about Pete’s perspective as a mayor and veteran,” Meaher said.

New Hampshire officials anticipate high turnout, clean reporting for election

MANCHESTER, NH — New Hampshire’s chief election’s officer, Secretary of State Bill Gardner, says he is anticipating a record turnout on Tuesday’s primary, predicting there will be 420,000 ballots cast, including 292,000 cast specifically in the Democratic primary. 

“This would be the most votes cast in a presidential primary when an incumbent is running for re-election,” a statement from Gardner’s office said.  

Not only could this be the highest turnout election that Gardner has seen, it will also be the 100th anniversary of the New Hampshire primary, and state officials are working to ensure that it goes off without a hitch. 

Secretary of State of New Hampshire Bill Gardner (center) addresses the audience during the second meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College on September 12, 2017 in Goffstown, New Hampshire.Kayana Szymczak / for NBC News

Gardner, Gov. Chris Sununu and Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald were among state officials who tried to assuage concerns that Tuesday’s primary will have any of the chaos that consumed the Iowa caucuses. Sununu pointed to the integrity of the paper ballots during the press conference. 

“When our citizens cast their ballot, they know their vote will be counted correctly with integrity, and on time,” Sununu said.

N.H. officials are also putting into place several security mechanisms to assure the public of that integrity: there will be an Election Day hotline staffed with a team of attorneys ready to respond to issues, and every town will be visited by a polling place inspector from the Department of Justice, including midnight voting towns which is a new addition this year. 

“This is not a 100 year tradition as much as I think we see it as 100 year responsibility of getting it right,” Sununu said, applauding state officials for ensuring transparency and reliability in the process for years and even decades. “Not just the state, but the nation and even the eyes of the world do look upon New Hampshire and trust New Hampshire to lead the nation to get it right every single time.”

The primary’s results are expected to be known around 9:30 p.m. on election night, according to Gardner. At each location, moderators will read the ballot results out loud, the county’s clerk will write down the results and return envelopes to one of 36 counting locations statewide. At 5 a.m. Wednesday morning, officers will pick up the envelopes and deliver them directly to the Secretary of State’s office by 7 a.m.

Given inconsistencies in the Iowa caucuses surrounding an app that was used, officials assured that optical scanner devices used to count ballots are not connected to the internet, and instead rely on manually secured memory cards, an issue that Gardner says distinguishes New Hampshire from Iowa.

“We don’t have apps that deal with voting or tallying the votes,” Gardner said.

And as to why teams of attorneys may be needed, MacDonald said it is so issues can be resolved “collaboratively.” 

“To the extent that any issues do arise on election day — it has been our experience that they can be resolved cooperatively, collaboratively working with local election officials,” MacDonald said. 

New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said he is fully confident that Tuesday’s primary will be done and counted cleanly. 

“We’ve had 100 years without an issue,” Buckley said. “We have 100 percent confidence our local election officials along with our state officials will make sure everything runs perfectly.”

Sanders hits Buttigieg for billionaire support ahead of New Hampshire primary

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., went after Pete Buttigieg Friday for the former South Bend mayor’s support from big-money donors at the final New Hampshire Institute of Politics’ “Politics & Eggs” event of the cycle.

Sanders singled out Buttigieg and billionaire candidates Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg in the same breath while speaking to the crowd at Saint Anselm College, reading a series of newspaper headlines like Forbes’ “Pete Buttigieg has most exclusive billionaire donors than any Democrat” and The Hill’s “Pete Buttigieg tops billionaire donor list,” among others.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg at the Democratic presidential primary debate on Jan. 14, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa.Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

“I like Pete Buttigieg, nice guy,” Sanders said to awkward laughs in the room. “But we are in a moment where billionaires control not only our economy but our political life.”

Sanders also mused about a general election against President Trump, saying that he has read that “some of his advisors tell him that I will be the toughest candidate for him to run against.”

The senator faced the reality that turnout in Iowa — where he and Buttigieg remain essentially tied amid questions about the accuracy of the vote count — was not what his campaign had hoped for but pointed out some positives. 

“The Iowa caucus is behind us and while the voter turnout is not as high as I would have liked, you know what did happen? We saw a 30 percent increase in young people under 29 voting,” Sanders said. “If we’re gonna defeat Trump, we need a huge increase in young people’s participation in the political process.”

He added that his campaign needs to reach out to “some of Trump’s working class supporters and make it clear that they understand the fraud that he is.”

Sanders was asked about criticism that his candidacy is similar to that of Britain’s Jeremy Corbyn, a left-wing candidate who lost badly in last month’s elections there, and whether he was concerned that could foreshadow what happens in the United States in 2020. 

Sanders responded that while Trump will be a difficult opponent to run against, he believes that having the largest voter turnout in history will be key for Democrats.

“I think we are the candidate,” Sanders added. “We are a multi-generational, multi-racial campaign that has the capability of reaching out to communities all across this country, bringing them into the political process to defeat Trump.”

The New Hampshire Institute of Politics’ “Politics & Eggs” is sponsored by companies such as Comcast, Bank of America and Eversource Energy — in other words, the entities Sanders consistently attacks.

The room’s walls were plastered with the groups’ signage and many audience members present work for the companies. This was not a typical crowd for a Sanders event. Instead of the usual chants of “Bernie, Bernie!,” Sanders was met with polite applause. 

Sanders and Buttigieg will both attend ABC News’ presidential debate tonight. 

-Liz Brown-Kaiser contributed.

Democratic group says congressional fundraising dominance isn’t trickling down-ballot

WASHINGTON — Forward Majority, a Democratic super PAC focused on helping the party win control of state legislatures, is warning that Democrats’ congressional fundraising dominance isn’t trickling down to key state legislative races.

In a memo outlining a recent analysis of 2019 fourth quarter fundraising numbers circulated by the group last week, Forward Majority notes that “Democrats are being significantly out-raised by Republicans in the most competitive” state legislative campaigns.

Beto O’Rourke campaigns with Texas State Representative candidate Dr. Eliz Markowitz in Katy on Jan. 11, 2020.Annie Mulligan / for NBC News

Although congressional Democrats “have been clobbering their Republican opponents,” candidates further down the ballot are struggling. 

Data from other groups support these claims. 

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), which aims to reclaim the chamber majority, brought in $60 million in 2019 and reported record-breaking numbers surpassing the GOP in the fourth quarter of 2019.

On the House side, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) raised $125 million in 2019 — $40 million more than its GOP rival organization. About three quarters of that cash came from moderate Democrats’ campaigns in Trump districts.

That’s not the case in state legislative races even in Arizona, Florida, and Texas, which are in the national spotlight as 2020 congressional and presidential candidates focus on the states. 

In Florida, Republicans outpaced Democrats in the fourth quarter by a whopping six-to-one margin in areas Democrats hope to pick up. In 2019, Republicans raised over $3.5 million across Florida House targets while Democrats gained only half a million. 

The GOP more than doubled Democrats’ earnings in key State House races in Texas, raking in over $2 million last year. 

In Arizona, where both the State House and State Senate are up for grabs, Democrats only raised 38 percent of the GOP’s haul in target races — about $650 thousand compared to $1.7 million in 2019. 

Forward Majority says that the discrepancy between Democratic fundraising at the national level versus the state level has led to different election outcomes, pointing to 2018 results as proof. 

The PAC launched a $10 million initiative, “Roadmap 2020,” in January to transfer power from Republicans to Democrats in the three competitive sunbelt states plus North Carolina.

2020 pick-ups are particularly important for state Democrats because the congressional redistricting process, a responsibility of state legislatures, begins in 2021 following the release of this year’s census.

Forward Majority’s communications director, Ben Wexler-Waite told NBC News Wednesday that the PAC will spend “where we believe establishing legislative majorities will upend Republicans’ ability to rig the national electoral playing field.” 

Demonstrators gather outside the Supreme Court during oral arguments on a partisan gerrymandering case on Oct. 3, 2017.Olivier Douliery / Getty Images file

States like Texas and Florida, Wexler-Waite said, matter for redistricting because they’re gerrymandered and set to gain new congressional seats after the census. The next redistricting process begins in about a decade. 

“At this critical moment in history, it’s never been more important for Democrats to fight back,” the spokesman noted. 

Pieter Brower, a regional press secretary for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) — the official organization dedicated to electing Democrats to state legislatures — told NBC News Thursday that it’s not surprising that Republicans are ahead in fundraising though his group is making strides for Democrats. 

“It’s no secret that Republicans have deep-pocketed donors at their disposal,” Brower said. “Looking at a tough district and deciding that there’s no way we can win becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“We’re going on complete offense this year,” he added. 



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