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Biden muses about possible 2020 bid in latest appearance

Former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden continues to make no secrets about his flirtations with a 2020 presidential bid, and argued the point on Monday night during a book tour stop in Montana. 

NBC News's Mike Memoli has a full report on the appearance here, but here are a few key quotes: 

  • "I think I’m the most qualified person in the country to be president. The issues that we face as a country today are the issues that I’ve worked on my whole life — the plight of the middle class and foreign policy."
  • "My family and I need to decide as a unit whether we’re ready — we do everything as a family."
  • "I may be a gaffe machine, but my God, what a wonderful thing compared to a guy who can’t tell the truth."

It's true that as a former Senate committee chairman, two-time presidential candidate and vice president, he has more experience in politics than virtually anyone eyeing a bid. But as Democrats saw in 2016, that designation doesn't necessarily guarantee a candidate the presidency. 

Teachers union survey finds support for teaching about racism in middle and high schools

A majority of parents think that middle and high school students should learn about critical race theory and white privilege in school, according to a new poll commissioned by the American Federation of Teachers and released Tuesday. 

The poll, which surveyed 1,308 registered voters who are also parents on behalf of the teachers union, found that 71 percent supported teaching middle and high schoolers about the extent of racism in America today, 61 percent supported teaching critical race theory and 58 percent supported lessons on systemic racism and white privilege. A majority also supported teaching about gender identity, sex education and the “values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

The poll found less support for teaching these topics to elementary school students, with just under half of respondents in favor of lessons on critical race theory, systemic racism and white privilege for younger children. 

The poll did not provide respondents with a definition of critical race theory or ask how they defined it. It is an academic concept typically taught in graduate-level college courses that evaluates ways that racism is perpetuated by laws, policies and institutions in American society, but conservatives have appropriated the term to refer to discussions and initiatives around race that they believe are too progressive. 

Previous polling by Fox News, Yahoo! News and universities has found significant portions of the American public do not know what critical race theory is. Rancor over race-related lessons in schools has already become a major issue in state legislatures this year.

Parents also indicated in the AFT poll that they largely felt confident in how public schools have handled the Covid-19 pandemic. Only 22 percent said they believe their child’s school moved too quickly to go back to in-person instruction, and nearly three-quarters favored requiring students and teachers to wear masks in school.

The respondents were evenly split between those who identified as Democrats and Republicans, both at 42 percent. The poll had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

Fight over campaign-finance law adds to contentious GOP primary

In Georgia’s highly competitive GOP gubernatorial primary between incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp and challenger David Perdue, one organization has bombarded Perdue with almost $1 million worth of TV ads.

“That’s David Perdue — putting China and himself first, Georgia and Georgia families last,” goes one of the ads.

The group behind the advertisements is Georgians First Leadership Committee. 

It’s able to coordinate with Kemp, raise unlimited funds from donors and solicit contributions during the state’s legislative session.

It has campaign-finance-reform advocates crying foul and Perdue launching a lawsuit in response.

And it was created by a bill Kemp signed into law last May, allowing only incumbents serving in leadership roles — like governor and lieutenant governor — and party nominees to form these types of committees.

That means that since July, Kemp has been able to raise unlimited funds with virtually no restrictions through his leadership committee. Meanwhile, Perdue (who is challenging Kemp) and Stacey Abrams (the frontrunner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination) have been locked out of forming these leadership committees, and locked into state campaign contribution limits.

Only after they win their respective primary contests in May will Perdue and Abrams be authorized to form such leadership committees.

“What it means is that those who are in power can raise lots of money,” said Paul Herrnson, a professor of political science at the University of Connecticut and an expert on campaign-finance issues.

“And those who are not — can't.”

An uneven playing field?

Since incumbents are the only ones able to form leadership committees before the primary elections under the Georgia law, they can tap unlimited funding sources others don’t have access to until much later in the election cycle, activists and campaign-finance experts argue.

“This is a problem because it puts more money into the hands of incumbents … and those incumbents in Georgia generally are Republicans,” said Aunna Dennis, the executive director of Common Cause Georgia.

Plus, these leadership committees have no contribution limits. By contrast, principal campaign committees in the race for Georgia’s governor have $7,600 contribution limits.

“That is a huge problem for democracy,” Paul S. Ryan, the vice president of policy and litigation for Common Cause, said. 

Another oft-cited ethical concern with this new law is that the leadership committees are allowed to collect money during the legislative session, something that was previously strictly prohibited.

“Up until this point … you couldn’t raise money [during the session],” said Charles Bullock, a professor of political science at the University of Georgia.

“The idea was that you wouldn't have a situation where a lobbyist writes you a big check just before a vote on something which is dear to the heart of that lobbyist,” he added.

Kemp’s legal team pushes back against this concern, arguing in recent legal filings that leadership committees accepting contributions during the legislative session actually levels the playing field during the legislative session, so that incumbents can keep up with challengers’ levels of fundraising. 

“Challengers like Perdue may fundraise year-round, while incumbents are prohibited from fundraising for a substantial part of the year— the portion directly leading up to the primary election,” Kemp’s lawyers wrote.

But in a lawsuit challenging the law, Perdue’s campaign contends that the Supreme Court has previously ruled that imposing different campaign limits on two candidates running for the same office is unconstitutional. 

Perdue’s campaign also echoes the argument from campaign-finance-reform advocates: The law disadvantages challengers and allows for the appearance of corruption during the legislative session.

Yet Kemp’s lawyers counter that Perdue’s standing as a former U.S. senator, his personal wealth and his endorsement from former President Donald Trump precludes him from any competitive disadvantage he claims he has against Kemp and the Georgians First Leadership Committee.

Kemp’s office declined to comment to NBC News.

Voting rights, election integrity rank among top issues in NBC News poll

Voting rights and election issues have dominated the headlines in recent weeks, and they have also been top-of-mind for voters, according to the latest national NBC News poll.

Twenty-five percent of all adults surveyed in the poll listed “voting rights and election integrity” among the issues they consider the most important facing the country. The only issues that ranked higher were jobs and the economy, which was a key issue for a combined 42 percent of respondents, and the coronavirus, which 29 percent chose as a top issue. 

The January survey was the first time pollsters included “voting rights and election integrity” as an option in the range of issues, which also included the cost of living, border security and immigration and climate change.

“It performed higher than I expected,” said Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican firm that conducted the poll along with the Democratic firm Hart Research Associates.

McInturff added that the response “lets you know that it's become a national issue.”  

The poll was conducted from Jan. 14 -18, just as Democrats tried to move forward on sweeping election legislation, which may have contributed to its higher rank among the top issues.  

The survey also revealed a stark partisan divide: Respondents were asked which issue — voting rights or election integrity — was more important. 

Sixty-seven percent of Democrats said voting rights were more important, versus 75 percent of Republicans who said election integrity.

Former President Donald Trump’s repeated lies about the 2020 election have also taken hold with his core supporters. Eighty-three percent of Republicans who said election integrity was more important also considered themselves supporters of Trump more than the Republican Party.

The NBC News poll, which surveyed 1,000 adults, including 650 who could be reached only by cell phone, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Cuellar launches new ad after FBI raid: "I'll never stop fighting for South Texas"

Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar is out with a new ad just days after the FBI searched his home and campaign office — a spot that makes no reference to the investigation but frames Cuellar as a mainstay in the district who will "never stop fighting for South Texas."

The ad, released both in English and Spanish, features Cuellar talking about how he achieved the "American Dream," working his way through school as the son of migrant workers. 

"I know the American dream can grow here, with good schools, affordable health care and better pay," Cuellar says in the ad

"This land gave my family a chance. That's why I'll never stop fighting for South Texas." 

Cuellar was already facing a tough primary challenge from Jessica Cisneros, the immigration lawyer who narrowly lost to him last cycle. But last week's FBI raid, which reportedly has to do with an investigation into Azerbaijan and U.S. businessmen, has injected uncertainty into the race ahead of the March 1 primary. 

The congressman's office has said that he "will fully cooperate in any investigation" and is committed to ensuring that justice and the law are upheld.”

Cisneros issued a statement last week saying the campaign is "closely watching" the developments but "in the meantime, we are focused on our campaign to deliver change to South Texas families and will not be making any additional comments at this time.” 

DNC emphasizes organizing, litigation as party regroups on voting rights fight

With a sweeping federal election overhaul stalled in the Senate, the Democratic Party is underscoring voter education and organizing efforts with a promise to "invest more than ever" ahead of critical midterm contests.

The Democratic National Committee, in a memo obtained first by NBC News, detailed past and ongoing voter protection work, litigation, and organizing infrastructure as a model of what they say has been successful in past years as the party regroups for a cycle in which many states have undergone changes to its voting rules since the 2020 presidential election.

Voting rights advocates have long argued that these organizing and state-level voter education and litigation efforts, which are costly, are not enough. Still, without Congress passing federal legislation, Democrats have few other options to counter the dozens of mostly Republican-led restrictive laws. Republicans control the majority of state legislatures and much of the redistricting process that will help decide future state legislature control, too.

“Our goal is simple: to invest more than ever before to help Americans overcome Republican obstacles to voting while we continue to fight back in courts and at the polls,” wrote Reyna Walters-Morgan, the DNC's director of voter protection and civic engagement, in the memo.

The DNC said they’ll build on the “I Will Vote” initiative, a longstanding effort that was expanded into voter education, protection and registration in 2020. Some of the DNC’s initial $20 million midterm investment — which was announced in April 2021 — will be spent on “dozens” of voter protection staff in states including Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin, according to the memo.

The DNC also plans to use data tools to monitor everything from voter rolls to issues at the polls, as they work to detect problematic voter roll purges or other problems at polling sites, the memo said, while also boosting state parties.

For example, in Michigan, the national party is helping the state party oppose a legislative maneuver that would use a ballot petition to circumvent the Democratic governor’s veto on voting rights, the memo notes. The national party in particular helped fund legal costs related to the state level certification of the language that could appear on the ballot petition, and said they plan to continue to boost the state party's work.

Meet the Midterms: New Biden voters in Georgia ‘turned off’ by GOP election fraud claims

Today's MTP Daily aired live from Georgia, a state that is chock full of just about every storyline that will help play a role in shaping the 2022 midterms. 

Watch the video below to hear from a panel of voters — all chose President Joe Biden in 2020 after either voting third-party or for President Donald Trump in 2016 — discuss the impact of Trump's repeated false claims he won the election, as well as how that plays into their perspective moving forward. 

McBath gets two endorsements in Georgia’s redistricting face-off between Democratic members

Two high-profile Democratic political groups are backing Rep. Lucy McBath in her primary against fellow congresswoman Carolyn Bourdeaux in Georgia’s member-on-member, post-redistricting matchup.  

The Congressional Black Caucus's political arm, CBCPAC, tweeted its official support for McBath's re-election early Wednesday. And the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund later announced its endorsement of McBath, who has advocated for gun legislation reform since her 17-year-old son Jordan Davis was shot and killed in 2012. 

McBath, who currently represents Georgia's 6th U.S. House District, and Bourdeaux, from the 7th District, are facing off in the state's newly drawn 7th Congressional District ahead of the November general election after maps were re-drawn in Georgia.

Everytown for Gun Safety in its statement backing McBath also announced its support for Rep. Marie Newman (D-Ill.) over fellow Democratic Rep. Sean Casten in Illinois’ newly drawn 6th Congressional District. Like McBath and Bourdeaux, Newman and Casten were forced into competing against each other after new House District maps were crafted in the redistricting process.

“The gun safety movement has grown into a national force because volunteers like Representatives Lucy McBath and Marie Newman are willing to do whatever it takes to keep their communities safe, including leading the fight on Capitol Hill,” Everytown for Gun Safety President John Feinblatt said. “Representatives McBath and Newman can count on the support of Everytown, just as we have counted on their unflinching leadership when it comes to advancing life-saving laws.”

 

The organization vowed to provide financial support to both McBath and Newman in their contests along with a "grassroots army of Moms Demand Action volunteers supporting them, knocking on doors, making calls and talking with their friends, families and neighbors." McBath and Newman are former volunteers for Moms Demand Action — a leg of Everytown — the group stated.

 

Everytown previously endorsed both Bourdeaux and Casten in their 2020 elections. Neither of their campaigns immediately responded to a request for comment. 

Arizona Senator Kelly will back filibuster change for voting bills

Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., announced Wednesday he will vote to change the Senate’s filibuster rules for voting legislation even as both the rules change and the underlying Democratic push to pass landmark elections bills appear doomed

Kelly, who had long avoided taking a firm position on reforming the filibuster until Democratic leadership decided to take a vote on the issue, announced his decision in a statement where he decried the “dysfunctional” Senate. 

“If campaign finance and voting rights reforms are blocked again this week, I will support the proposed changes to pass them with a majority vote. Protecting the vote-by-mail system used by a majority of Arizonans and getting dark money out of our elections is too important to let fall victim to Washington dysfunction,” he said. 

The plan by Senate Democrats is their latest attempt to pass a sweeping voting and elections bill by sidestepping the filibuster, a 60-vote threshold to debate legislation. Most Democrats want to change the rule to allow senators to only block voting bills while they're speaking on the floor. But Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., oppose altering the filibuster, robbing Democrats of the votes needed to actually change the rule. 

Republicans have been trying to play Kelly off of his Democratic colleague, Sinema, on the issue of the filibuster for months, running ads using Sinema to frame Kelly as not independent enough to represent a state President Joe Biden won by just 10,000 votes. But Kelly’s been in a squeeze on the issue, as much of the Democratic base has been adamant that their party do whatever it takes to pass its voting legislation, attacking Sinema for defending the filibuster

Kelly is a top Republican target in 2022 after winning a special election in 2020 to serve out the final two years of the late GOP Sen. John McCain’s term. That year, he defeated former GOP Rep. Martha McSally by 2 percentage points. Kelly is running for a full term this year. 

Multiple Republicans are competing for their party’s nomination, including Attorney General Mark Brnovich, energy executive Jim Lamon, and Blake Masters, who runs billionaire Peter Thiel’s investment firm and foundation. 

—Garrett Haake contributed reporting.

Two more House Democrats are retiring

After two more retirements on Tuesday, the number of House Democrats not seeking re-election in 2022 has hit 28 ahead of this year's midterms. 

Eleven-term Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., and five-term Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., announced their plans to retire on Tuesday. 

In a video shared on Twitter, Langevin said retiring will "allow me to be closer to home." He said he will "always be most proud" of his vote for the Affordable Care Act. Langevin also published an op-ed in The Providence Journal explaining his decision. 

McNerney said in a statement he "will keep working for the people of my district throughout the remainder of my term and look forward to new opportunities to continue to serve." 

Twenty House Democrats are retiring at the end of the year, while eight are running for a different office. By comparison, six Republicans are retiring and seven are running for a different office. 

Alex Lasry, Democratic Senate candidate in Wisconsin, launches major TV ad buy

Democratic Senate candidate and billionaire Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry is launching a more than $1 million TV ad buy with more to come in digital and mailings, the Lasry campaign said Tuesday.

This is the largest primary spending by a candidate in the Wisconsin Senate primary race of 2022 so far. It’s a testament to Lasry’s willingness to tap his personal fortune to run in what will be one of the most watched Senate races in America. 

The rotation of ads, first provided to NBC News, offer a glimpse into the issues that could shape the race, such as inflation and the supply chain crunch. They are all issues where the president is faltering nationally but Lasry promises to address back home — and argues he already has. 

“Here’s an idea. If we build things here in America, we won’t have supply chain issues anymore. That’s exactly how we built the Bucks arena,” Lasry says of the Bucks, which claimed the 2021 NBA title.  

But Lasry also ties GOP incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson to former President Donald Trump on the issue of voting rights and his campaign says that obstructionist Republicans are squarely to blame for the state of the economy.  

Wisconsin Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes is leading the Democratic primary in early polling and has already garnered high-profile endorsements including from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and the powerful Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.

GOP primary ads flood Pennsylvania airwaves

A trio of wealthy candidates have launched new TV ads in recent days as they compete in Pennsylvania's GOP Senate primary.

Celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, former hedge fund executive David McCormick and former ambassador Carla Sands have spent a combined $7 million so far on ads, according to AdImpact data.They’ve already booked another $2.8 million in future ads, with more likely on the way.

McCormick, who announced his campaign Thursday morning, has two new spots — one declaring he’s running and another featuring two of his high school buddies to head off attacks on his residency. Oz and Sands have faced similar criticisms over their recent returns to Pennsylvania to run for the state’s open Senate seat. 

One of Oz’s latest ads shows the candidate describing himself as a “conservative outsider” who “can’t be bought.” Sands is also up on the airwaves with an ad focused on illegal immigration.

And American Leadership Action, a super PAC supporting Oz, launched a new TV ad knocking McCormick’s work on Wall Street.

The Senate primary features more Republican hopefuls, including Philadelphia attorney George Bochetto, who also jumped into the race this week; conservative commentator Kathy Barnette; and real estate developer Jeff Bartos, who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2018.

The race to replace retiring Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., is expected to be one of the most expensive and competitive Senate contests this year. President Joe Biden won the Keystone State by just 1 percentage point in 2020 and former President Donald Trump won the state by the same margin in 2016.

Multiple candidates are also competing for the Democratic nomination, including Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Rep. Conor Lamb, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta and Val Arkoosh, who chairs the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners.

Ben Kamisar contributed to this report.