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Former Democratic congressional candidate launches voting rights group

California Democrat Andrew Janz, one of the top House fundraisers of the 2018 cycle, is leveraging that political network into a new organization focused on voting rights. 

Janz's Voter Protection Project, which he announced Wednesday morning, will work both to help rally support ballot initiatives in the key electoral battlegrounds as well as to support candidates who share his views on the issue.

His priorities include: automatic voter registration, online voter registration, same day registration, expanding early voting and absentee voting, ensuring states devote enough resources to polling places, as well as re-enfranchising felons who have finished prison terms. 

“During my campaign for Congress it became very clear that our Democracy is at risk. It is facing a direct assault from President Trump, Devin Nunes and Republicans across this country who are actively trying to dismantle it,” Janz said in a statement. “We will fight back against every attack on our right to vote by leading the charge to make sure every American -- young Americans, people of color, and disenfranchised communities -- have the right to cast a ballot.” 

Janz, a Fresno County prosecutor, gained traction for his bid Nunes, then the head of the House Intelligence Committee. The Democrat was able to harness Democratic frustration with the way Nunes handled the committee's investigation into possible Russian collusion in the 2016 election.

Janz raised more than $9 million during the cycle, more than all but four House candidates (not including self-funders. But Nunes capitalized on the outsized interest on his race too, raising $12.6 million and defeating Janz by almost 6 percentage points. 

Now, the Democrat is hoping to lean on that fundraising network to help power his new group, one of the handful of Democratic-aligned groups looking to back candidates and ballot measures meant to expand voting access. 

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Bill de Blasio's 2020 campaign makes initial hires

WASHINGTON -- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is fleshing out the 2020 presidential campaign he launched last week with an initial group of advisers and staff shared with NBC News. 

Jon Paul Lupo, who has held senior posts in de Blasio’s City Hall, will serve as Senior Adviser and run day-to-day operations. 

Steve Jarding, a longtime Harvard Kennedy School lecturer and Democratic communications adviser who has worked overseas, will also hold the title Senior Adviser.

As will Jim Crounse, a Democratic direct mail consultant and de Blasio friend who has worked for Barack Obama among others.

New York Democratic fundraiser Mike Giaccio, who previously worked for New York gubernatorial candidates, will serve as Director of Finance.

And Olivia Lapeyrolerie, who worked as a spokesperson in the de Blasio administration, will serve as traveling press secretary. The firm Freedomland Media will head up video production.

Trump echoes familiar language in endorsing Pennsylvania House candidate

WASHINGTON—President Trump called on voters to turn out for Pennsylvania Republican Fred Keller in Tuesday's special election, calling the candidate “strong on Crime, Second Amendment, Military, Vets, and Healthcare.”

Keller is running to replace former Rep. Tom Marino, who resigned suddenly just weeks into the 2019 term, and is expected to carry the heavily-Republican district. 

If the language of Trump's endorsement sounds familiar, it’s because the President has used some form of that construction – strong on crime, second amendment, military, vets and healthcare – 64 times, going back to October 2017 to endorse over 40 candidates. This applies to a variety of candidates – from Congressional to gubernatorial.

He’s used the phrase “total endorsement” 26 times, “complete endorsement” 6 times and “strong endorsement” 3 times.

It’s notable that the President has not changed the issues or personalized the tweets for different candidates – only a few, like Ted Cruz who got an added “Beto is a Flake!”, had a unique spin in their endorsement tweet.

Some examples of Republican candidates who received a nod with that similar "Strong on Crime, Second Amendment, Military, Vets, and Healthcare" rhetoric include—North Carolina's Dan Bishop, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, Pennsylvania's John Chrin, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Nevada's Danny Tarkanian, then-Arizona Rep. Martha McSally, Ohio's Troy Balderson, now-Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and dozens more. 

—Ben Kamisar contributed 

Kentucky Democrats head to vote in contentious gubernatorial primary

WASHINGTON — Kentucky Democrats are heading to the polls Tuesday to crown a victor in a hard-fought gubernatorial primary with serious implications for November.

Public polling pegs Attorney General Andy Beshear the frontrunner over state Auditor Adam Edelen and state Rep. Rocky Adkins for the nomination. But Edelen and his allies have spent furiously in the hopes of defeating Beshear, the son of the state's last Democratic governor. 

Edelen's campaign has spent $2.1 million during the primary, dwarfing Beshear's $1.3 million and Adkins' $900,000, spending data from Advertising Analytics shows. And the pro-Edelen Kentuckians for a Better Future has dropped another $1 million into the race. 

The ad wars have gotten chippy, with Beshear and Edelen at the center of the fight. 

The pro-Edelen Kentuckians for a Better Future has spent more than a half-million dollars on an ad attacking Beshear for donors that supported his attorney general bid, attempting to link him to the opioid epidemic through those donations, and needling Beshear over a former aide's conviction for bribery.

The group also aired a spot that highlighted Beshear's work defending the Boy Scouts from abuse claims, but that was pulled off the air after just two days after Edelen's spokesman told the Lexington Herald-Leader it should be taken down. 

Edelen has amplified some of those attacks in one of his closing argument spots, and focused its resources on a spot where the candidate introduces viewers to his folksy farmer father to contrast his family with Beshear's famous father. 

Beshear's ads have partly tried to look past the primary with attacks on Republican Gov. Matt Bevin's record on health care. But he's taken to the airwaves to push back against the attacks, calling them "shameful and false" and criticizing the negative campaigning

Atkins has largely stayed out of the brawl, particularly on the airwaves, and has leaned on his legislative experience.

Both Beshear and Edelen received big endorsements in the race's final days — the former from the pro-abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America and the latter from The Courier-Journal, one of the state's premiere papers. 

The general election will be one of the most interesting of the 2019 cycle.  

Despite the Republican lean in the state (President Trump won by almost 30 percentage points in 2016), two of the last four governors were Democrats who were reelected to serve a second term. 

Even though he's outperformed polls before, polling shows Bevin is one of the more unpopular governors in America. 

NBC and MSNBC announce 2020 presidential campaign 'embeds'

WASHINGTON—The new class of NBC and MSNBC embeds is here and they're about to crisscross the country to cover one of the largest fields in modern presidential history. 

The 10 embeds will be regular contributors across NBC and MSNBC—they will report on air, write stories and become familiar faces on the MTP Blog as well, providing readers with their observations and insights from the campaign trail. 

Be sure to follow the NBC News 2020 embeds list on Twitter to be sure to never miss an update. 

 

Harris narrowly outspent Trump last week on Facebook

WASHINGTON — Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., narrowly outspent the presidential field in Facebook ads last week, new data from the platform's political ad tracker shows. 

The Californian's campaign spent $94,443 between May 12 and May 18, primarily on ads criticizing the anti-abortion rights legislation being passed in state legislatures around the country, as well as general ads promoting her candidacy and fundraising organization. 

Nipping at her campaign's heels was President Trump's reelection campaign, which spent $94,159 last week. Most of those ads were either a contest to receive a signed "Make America Great Again" hat from Trump or an "official 2019 Trump Executive membership Card."

Former Vice President Joe Biden finished a close third in weekly Facebook spending with $92,555. His ads included donation appeals from his wife, list-building and fundraising efforts aimed at drawing a contrast with Trump and promoting Biden's rally in Philadelphia last Saturday. 

Following those candidates were Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren ($84,257 spent last week), New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand ($83,055) and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet ($77,536).

Sanders: I’ll fight to ban private charter schools

ASHEVILLE, N.C. —  For-profit charter schools will become a thing of the past, and public funds for the expansion of public charters will be frozen until a national audit is completed, according to  a plan released by Vermont senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Friday. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., plans to roll out his complete education plan on Saturday, the 65th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision. On Friday, the campaign revealed a plank: significant reining in of charter schools. 

A campaign release says Sanders will fight to ban for-profit charter schools outright, and support and NAACP plan to place a moratorium on publican funds for charter school expansion until a state-by-state audit can be conducted to determine the impact of charter school growth around the country. 

Progressives have taken aim at charter schools in recent years for what they see as their siphoning off of funding for traditional public schools, and for the relative lack of accountability and oversight some receive. 

“Few charter schools have lived up to their promise," The Sanders campaign release reads.  "Instead, billionaires like DeVos and the Waltons, together with private equity and hedge fund executives, have bankrolled their expansion and poured tens of millions into school board and other local elections with the hope of privatizing public schools. Charter schools are led by unaccountable, private bodies, and their growth has drained funding from the public school system.”

Warren calls for federal laws to protect women's right to choose

WASHINGTON — Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., issued a call Friday for Congress to pass federal laws protecting access for women to reproductive care — including abortions — in the wake of a spate of state laws that ban or restrict the practice.

"Our democracy should not be held hostage by right-wing courts," the Democratic presidential candidate writes in a Medium post, "and women should not have to hope that Brett Kavanaugh and Donald Trump’s Supreme Court will respect the law."

Warren's plea for Congress to act on the issue comes as several states have placed restrictions on women's reproductive health, severely limited access to abortion. This week in Alabama, Republican governor Kay Ivey signed into law a GOP-passed bill banning abortion and criminalizing providers. Earlier this month, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, also a Republican, made law a bill that outlawed abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected — which can be as early as six weeks and before many women even know they're pregnant.

The Alabama law is meant to trigger a challenge to the protections of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade opinion — something Warren hopes to render moot with the passage of federal laws codifying the right to choose.

"Federal laws that ensure real access to birth control and abortion care for all women," her post reads. "Federal laws that will stand no matter what the Supreme Court does."

Warren is among the national Democrats advocating for repealing the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits women from receiving abortions from federally funded healthcare programs, like Medicaid and the VA. She also attacked the Trump administration for its rollbacks of Title X funding for family planning and its reinstatement of the gag rule

Buttigieg unveils wide-ranging policy positions

CHICAGO — After months of mounting criticism for lacking policy specifics, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has finally fleshed out his position on 27 different issues with a new issues page on his website, divided among the three major themes of his campaign: democracy, security and freedom.

The South Bend, Indiana, mayor is staking out a new position in favor of creating a nationwide gun licensing system, or registry. This puts Buttigieg in line with Cory Booker’s proposal and among the most liberal positions on gun control in the Democratic race. Previously, Buttigieg had been criticized by gun control advocates for being too soft on guns or being wishy-washy.

Buttigieg is also taking a stronger position than before on marijuana reform, saying the U.S. should legalize marijuana. Until now, he had said the U.S. needed to move in that direction, but had not outright said marijuana should be legalized.

But Buttigieg is taking a less-declarative position on reparations for slavery, a potent issue for the progressive base, saying only that he wants to “create a commission to propose reparations policies.”

You can see his full issues page here and here are some brief highlights:

  • College: Middle-income families at public colleges will pay zero tuition.
  • Gender pay gap: Large companies must publicly disclose their pay gap.
  • Federal abortion funding: Repeal the Hyde amendment.
  • LGBT rights: Pass the Equality Act.
  • Minimum wage: Raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
  • Voting rights: Introduce automatic voter registration, expand early voting.
  • Climate change: Implement a Green New Deal, commit to the Paris Agreement.
  • D.C. and Puerto Rico: DC’s House member and 2 senators should have voting power. Puerto Rico should have statehood if its people want it, and immediate representation in the Electoral College.
  • Electoral reform: Replace the Electoral College with a national popular vote.
  • Immigration: Comprehensive immigration reform including a pathway to citizenship for “immigrants living, working, paying taxes, and contributing to our American story, including DREAMers.”
  • Court reform: Create a bipartisan reform commission to recommend structural improvements to depoliticize the federal judiciary.

Ryan: I would "most definitely" have a Roe v. Wade litmus test for judges

WASHINGTON—Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, told MTP Daily on Thursday that if elected president, he would only appoint judges who support abortion rights. 

When asked Thursday whether he'd have a litmus test for his judicial nominees centered on their support for upholding the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, Ryan replied: "Yeah, I would."

"Most definitely. This is not something to be messed with," he said. 

"At this moment in history, people can try to dance around it--I will have someone who will protect Roe v. Wade, no question about it."

Ryan is not the first candidate to make this pledge—New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand made the same promise earlier this month, after a bill was passed in Georgia restricting abortion rights, and other candidates have called for the court to protect Roe v. Wade in light of the new anti-abortion rights laws passed in states like Georgia. 

But Ryan initially joined Congress as a pro-life Democrat, shifting left on the issue over the years.

2020 roundup: de Blasio makes his case

WASHINGTON—New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is now running for president, taking aim at President Trump. 

Bestowing on the president a Trumpian nickname of "Con Don," de Blasio told reporters Thursday that his experience makes him best suited to take down the incumbent president even if he's currently at the back of the primary polls. 

 "We need to get more unified. But that’s only going to happen in truth if we confront Donald Trump because he’s been the well-spring of so much of it," he said. 

"it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.  I’ve been in so many elections where the first polls had me way way back. I’ve won ten elections in a row, I haven’t lost an election."

Read more on de Blasio's announcement and read on for more from the trail. 

  • Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren announced a Defense Department ethics plan that includes: a four-year cooling-off period before certain Department officials could move to "giant contractors;" a similar four-year ban on former generals lobbying the Defense Department; limitations on the stocks that Defense Department employees can hold, and subjecting defense contractors to FOIA. Read more here
  • President Trump's annual financial disclosure shows that the revenue of his Florida Mar-a-Lago property went down while other Trump businesses had mixed results. 
  • Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams spoke to MSNBC on Thursday, reiterating that she's not shutting the door on a potential presidential bid.