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Bullock web ad highlights reason for his late entry into the presidential race

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock Wednesday released a new digital ad highlighting his decision to not enter the race until after passing legislation to re-authorize Medicaid expansion in the state, a move that will likely help cost him a spot on the first debate stage in just two weeks.

Bullock has struggled to meet the criteria set by the Democratic National Committee to qualify for the debate, having entered the race just one month ago, on May 14, due to Montana’s legislative session.

“You won’t see Governor Steve Bullock at the first debate, and I’m the reason why,” says Montana resident Madison Johnson in the web ad, which campaign spokeswoman Galia Slayen said will be targeted at Iowa voters online.

In the ad, Johnson says Bullock’s signature on legislation that re-authorized Medicaid expansion in the state “saved her healthcare.”  Bullock signed the legislation on May 9.

In an interview last week, Bullock told NBC News, “If I had to decide between campaigning for 100,000 donors or getting 100,000 people healthcare, that’s the easiest decision I’ve ever had to make.”

“I’m sorry Steve got started too late to make the first debate, but I’m asking for your help to get him on the stage this fall,” Johnson says in the ad.

The May 14 entry left him with less than a month to qualify for this month’s debate, which is hosted by NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo.

According to rules established by the DNC, candidates can qualify either by finishing with at least 1 percent in three sanctioned polls by different organizations or by the same organization of different geographic areas. They can also qualify through a secondary avenue requiring 65,000 unique donors, but a candidates’ polling average is more important since it serves as a tiebreaker and Bullock has struggled in that area during his campaign's first month. The second debate will follow the same requirements as the first.

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Buttigieg on concerns about sexuality and electability: Americans 'will not discriminate'

WASHINGTON — South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg downplayed the possibility that voters might be concerned about his sexuality, arguing Sunday that being gay will not hurt his standing with socially conservative voters. 

Some faith leaders have raised concerns about whether Buttigieg's sexuality could hurt his ability to gain traction, particularly among the more socially conservative black voters that make up a significant portion of the Democratic primary vote in the South. 

But during a Sunday interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," Buttigieg noted that he won re-election by an overwhelming margin after he came out as gay in 2015 and said his experience combating "exclusion" helps him sympathize with a large swath of voters. 

"We have an opportunity to reach into our own distinctive identities and use them to build bridges. To reach out to people different from us, knowing that anybody who has been on short end of an equation of exclusion has a way to sympathize with people who've had different experiences with exclusion in this country," he said. 

"People, if you give them the chance, will evaluate you based on what you aim to do. What the results are, what the policies are. And I have every confidence that American voters, especially Democratic voters, will not discriminate when the opportunity comes up to choose the right leader for the future."

Watch the full interview from Buttigieg, who is running to be the first gay president in American history, in the video below. 

Harris gets South Carolina grassroots support

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Former Richland County councilwoman Bernice Scott and her “Reckoning Crew” of community activists announced Thursday they are backing Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., in the state’s presidential primary.

In 2016, the grassroots group of volunteers — largely comprised of African American women — worked to help propel Hillary Clinton to victory over Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., in the state by going door-to-door, speaking to voters in the most rural parts of South Carolina.

Harris trails both former Vice President Joe Biden and Sanders in recent polling, and the endorsement could help the senator build momentum and secure the votes of African Americans, the largest group of Democratic primary voters in many southern states.

Scott is the grandmother of Jalisa Washington-Price, the Harris campaign’s South Carolina state director, but Scott said she and her “Reckoning Crew” made the decision after a careful process of elimination.

“Jalisa will tell you, ‘Meemaw’s got her own mind,’” Scott told NBC News. “My group is here to serve. And I saw that in her. I saw her ability to make you feel like you’ve known her all her life. And that’s a comfortable feeling.”

Harris has visited South Carolina seven times since launching her campaign—and has held more events in the state than any other 2020 candidate.

This weekend, four of her fellow contenders — Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Beto O'Rourke — will all make stops in Charleston to highlight their own economic policies specific to the African American community.

Activist Lawrence Lessig was once a presidential candidate, now he's interviewing them

WASHINGTON — Lawrence Lessig has a twinge of regret about not joining the massive field of candidates in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, so he’s doing the next best thing — starting a podcast to interview and cajole them to support his agenda of political reforms.

The prominent Harvard Law School professor and political activist briefly ran for president in 2016, an experience that he describes as both “the worst of times” and “the coolest thing I've ever done.”

He didn't make the Democratic debate stage last time, but thinks he would this year under new Democratic National Committee rules that prioritize small donors. "I kind of regret that in February when they announced the rules, I wasn't in a position to spin it up and try to run," he said during an interview over iced tea in Washington this week.

So instead, he’s using his new podcast to go deep with candidates on campaign finance reform, voting rights, gerrymandering and more, and to push what he calls "POTUS 1” — a play on the name of a similar bill House Democrats’ passed this year called HR1.

Lessig argues a future Democratic president should prioritize political reform before health care, climate change, immigration, or anything else, “because it makes everything else easier.”

The first episode of his podcast, sponsored by his group Equal Citizens, launches this week with an interview with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., whom Lessig praised as “better than I was” for her “democracy dollars” idea to give every American $600 to donate to candidates they support.

He’s not too impressed yet with the details put forward by the rest of the field, including his former Harvard Law colleague Elizabeth Warren, nor does he have much sympathy for the longshot candidates in the race, even though he once was one.

"I look at some of these candidates and I’m wondering why they’re running,” he said, saying he ran to advance a clear set of policy ideas, while some candidates today seem in it for themselves. “It’s like a vanity show.”

Buttigieg calls for 'Douglass Plan' to boost economic prosperity for African Americans

WASHINGTON — Pete Buttigieg is calling for a “new Marshall Plan” to create economic prosperity for African Americans, as he seeks to address his biggest vulnerability in the 2020 race: his struggle appealing to black voters who play a critical role in the Democratic primary. 

Naming it “the Douglass Plan” after abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass, Buttigieg is calling for reducing the number of Americans incarcerated by half. He also says he would triple the number of entrepreneurs from underserved areas and particularly entrepreneurs of color within 10 years, which he says would create 3 million jobs and $660 billion in new wealth for black communities. 

Buttigieg also wants to reform credit scoring in the U.S., increase access to credit, expand the number of successful small businesses in black communities and increase the rate of federal contracts that go to minority and women-owned firms from 5 percent to 25 percent. 

“Replacing racist policies with neutral ones will not be enough to deliver equality. We must actively work to reverse these harm,” Buttigieg says in an op-ed laying out the plan in the Charleston Chronicle. Buttigieg will emphasize the plan during a visit this weekend to Charleston, South Carolina, for the Black Economic Alliance forum. 

The plan, which Buttigieg says should rival in scope the Marshall Plan that invested in Europe after WWII, appears to represent his initial attempt at a proposal on reparations for slavery. 

In recent days, Buttigieg has said he would create a commission to figure out the best way to do reparations, noting that he supports the idea of reparations, but not as a cash check. Rather, he supports a program to address long-term structural inequities that linger from the era of slavery. 

Buttigieg is still struggling mightily to attract minorities to his campaign, and particularly in South Carolina, where a recent poll did not show him registering at all among black voters. His rallies and events remain very racially homogeneous, including a foreign policy speech in Bloomington, Indiana, on Tuesday that was attended mostly by white attendees.

Harris proposes executive actions to help Dreamers

WASHINGTON — Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. Wednesday released a new proposal to give Dreamers and other immigrants a pathway to citizenship through targeted executive action if elected president. Harris’ plan would break down the barriers Dreamers face in applying for permanent residency status and reinstate and expand DACA.

Harris’ executive actions would strike down obstacles such as the clause in current immigration law that bars Dreamers from applying for a Green Card if they have “accept[ed] unauthorized employment.” Instead, Harris’ Secretary of Homeland Security will grant work status authorization to DACA recipients retroactively. Another executive action would clarify that being brought to the U.S. as a child means Dreamers were not able to keep lawful status “through no fault of [their] own.”

The campaign estimates these executive actions would ease the pathway to citizenship for more than two million Dreamers.

“Every day in the life of a Dreamer who fears deportation is a long day. Dreamers cannot afford to sit around and wait for Congress to get its act together. Their lives are on the line,” Harris said in a statement. “These young people are just as American as I am, and they deserve a president who will fight for them from day one.”

Harris’ proposal would also go beyond DACA and create a deferred action program for the parents of citizens or green-card holders and other law-abiding immigrants with "strong ties to their communities." The program will be administered on a case-by-case basis but military service, time spent as a resident of the U.S. and whether the individual has family members who benefit from deferred action will be considered. 

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Bullock web ad highlights reason for his late entry into the presidential race

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock Wednesday released a new digital ad highlighting his decision to not enter the race until after passing legislation to re-authorize Medicaid expansion in the state, a move that will likely help cost him a spot on the first debate stage in just two weeks.

Bullock has struggled to meet the criteria set by the Democratic National Committee to qualify for the debate, having entered the race just one month ago, on May 14, due to Montana’s legislative session.

“You won’t see Governor Steve Bullock at the first debate, and I’m the reason why,” says Montana resident Madison Johnson in the web ad, which campaign spokeswoman Galia Slayen said will be targeted at Iowa voters online.

In the ad, Johnson says Bullock’s signature on legislation that re-authorized Medicaid expansion in the state “saved her healthcare.”  Bullock signed the legislation on May 9.

In an interview last week, Bullock told NBC News, “If I had to decide between campaigning for 100,000 donors or getting 100,000 people healthcare, that’s the easiest decision I’ve ever had to make.”

“I’m sorry Steve got started too late to make the first debate, but I’m asking for your help to get him on the stage this fall,” Johnson says in the ad.

The May 14 entry left him with less than a month to qualify for this month’s debate, which is hosted by NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo.

According to rules established by the DNC, candidates can qualify either by finishing with at least 1 percent in three sanctioned polls by different organizations or by the same organization of different geographic areas. They can also qualify through a secondary avenue requiring 65,000 unique donors, but a candidates’ polling average is more important since it serves as a tiebreaker and Bullock has struggled in that area during his campaign's first month. The second debate will follow the same requirements as the first.

Democratic presidential candidates to join striking workers in early nominating states

California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, former Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg will join striking fast-food workers this week as they seek to support efforts to organize labor and raise the minimum wage to $15.

The three will join events organized by Fight for $15 and a Union, the group started by striking fast-food workers in 2012.

Harris will join striking workers in Las Vegas, while O’Rourke and Buttigieg head to Charleston, South Carolina. Both states hold early presidential nominating contests and their campaigns were eager to note their support.

"I have fought with organized labor throughout my career and I'm proud to stand in solidarity with the working women and men fighting for the wages and benefits they deserve here in Nevada,” Harris said in a statement to NBC News.

Buttigieg spokesperson Chris Meagher pointed to a campaign video the candidate made endorsing the movement, as well as the fact the campaign is paying its interns $15 per hour.

And the O’Rourke campaign said the candidate is "proud to stand with South Carolina's workers" and that "we need to confront that inequality today by ensuring that every workplace is free of sexual harassment and violence and that every worker can earn enough to support themselves and their families."

The trio is not the first group of Democratic presidential candidates to hit the picket lines with striking workers — New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, and Sen. Bernie Sanders have all done so in recent weeks. And New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker called into a strike line. 

Virtually all of the Democratic presidential candidates support a minimum wage hike to $15. But Service Employees International Union International President Mary Kay Henry told NBC that no one candidate has separated themselves from the pack on labor issues in her view because most haven't fleshed out specific plans on how they'll support workers' rights.

Terrence Wise, a fast-food worker and organizer from Kansas City, Mo., said that the effort was an important chance for workers to keep the pressure up on politicians to stay committed to their issues.

“I’ve worked two, three jobs, and I’ve been homeless while I’ve had a job. It doesn’t make sense to live like that in the richest nation on Earth,” he said.

“I don’t think elected leaders on either side of the aisle are there yet, but we have to help them get there.” 

Gillibrand campaign says it hit 65,000 donors after heavy Facebook push

WASHINGTON — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's, D-N.Y., campaign said Monday that it hit the 65,000 unique donor threshold to help her shore up her spot on this months' debate stage, a mark the campaign reached after spending heavily on Facebook ads this past week. 

Gillibrand's campaign spent more than $200,000 on Facebook ads between June 2 and June 8, according to the platform's "Ad Library."

Many of those ads were explicit appeals asking donors to help her hit the threshold set to qualify for the Democratic National Committee's first round of debates, which will be hosted by NBC/MSNBC/Telemundo on June 26 and June 27. 

Her campaign announced Monday that it hit the unique donor threshold in an email to supporters

Debate participants can also qualify by averaging 1 percent in three sanctioned polls. But by hitting both thresholds, candidates can shore up their positioning in case more than 20 candidates qualify, because the party has said it will prioritize candidates who hit both thresholds. 

In the last seven days, Gillibrand's campaign spent almost twice as much on Facebook advertising as Sen. Cory Boooker, D-N.J., whose campaign spent about $119,000 as the next largest advertiser.

Still,, Gillibrand's total was less than half that of President Trump's campaign, which spent more than $500,000 between its official campaign organization and its joint fundraising committee with the Republican National Committee. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign spent $110,000 over the same period, followed by Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders' campaign, which spent $102,000. 

New Hampshire takes center stage for candidates this week

MANCHESTER, N.H. — After a weekend of 2020 presidential politics dominated by candidate visits to Iowa, it's New Hampshire's turn to get the attention this week. 

Seven Democratic contenders will make their way to the Granite State, kicking off with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., visiting Monday. On Tuesday, Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, will be in the state, followed by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday, entrepreneur Andrew Yang on Thursday and Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Friday. 

These candidates will make their pitches to New Hampshire voters at events like political forums, house parties, meet-and-greets and fundraisers (there will even be a celebrity appearance from actress Connie Britton as she joins Gillibrand for a fundraiser for young Democrats).

During the Politics & Eggs breakfast Monday morning at Saint Anselm’s Institute of Politics in Manchester, Klobuchar spoke at length about her ideas for the future and specifically how she planned to pay for them — including her plans related to infrastructure, broadband, education, pharmaceutical  prices, healthcare and climate.

She also had criticism for President Trump on policy and for his rhetoric and demeanor. She also took five audience questions on tariffs, social  security, climate, mental health, and tax reform.

At a Town Hall with Energysource employees in Manchester, Moulton spoke about his service in Iraq and how it applies directly to the kind of leadership called for as Commander in Chief. He took questions from attendees on subjects ranging from trade to how he tries to stand out in crowded Democratic field and Russia’s influence in American politics.  

All of the candidates visiting this week except Warren and Klobuchar were at 1% or below in the most recent New Hampshire poll, which was taken over a month ago. 

Democratic National Committee launches college fellowship program to train organizers for 2020

WASHINGTON —The Democratic National Committee is launching the first round of its "Organizing Corps," a multi-million dollar program it says will ultimately train 1,000 college juniors as organizers for the party's eventual nominee in key swing states. 

There are 300 students in the first group across Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—all states Democrats lost in 2016 where they say they can win in 2020. After a week-long training session in Atlanta, which starts Monday, the students will embed with their respective state parties for another seven weeks. 

The DNC's plan is to train 1,000 student organizers before the party chooses its presidential nominee, growing the crop of potential young talent within the party for the eventual nominee to call upon when staffing up. 

"It could be a while until we know who the nominee is. Trying to ramp up from a staff of X to often 50X is often very difficult," DNC Chairman Tom Perez told NBC News. 

"Having a universe of 1,000 people ready to go — that is lightning in a bottle." 

More than three-quarters of the first wave of students are students of color, a reality that reflects the dual charge facing Democrats as they look to recover from an upset in 2016, when Census data shows black and Hispanic voting rates fell from 2012. 

That cycle, Perez admitted, Democrats "weren't building those authentic relationships with voters." 

Rachel Haltom-Irwin, Organizing Corps' executive director, highlighted that diversity, arguing that it will help organizers be more effective, especially since most of them either go to school or live in the states in which they're working. 

Perez argued that the party's success in Wisconsin in 2018, flipping the governor's mansion and holding Sen. Tammy Baldwin's seat, was a function of an emphasis on learning the lessons from 2016 and focusing more on homegrown organizing that reflected communities better. 

The fight for minority voters is hardly taking place in a vacuum — President Trump's allies have pointed to low minority unemployment rates and the White House's role in the criminal justice reform bill that passed last year as proof points of their ability to connect with black voters. 

Brad Parscale, Trump's campaign manager, recently told RealClearPolitics that their own data show educating black voters on the White House's support for the recent, bipartisan criminal justice reform law significantly increased their support for Trump during 1,200 recent door-knocks. 

Perez panned team Trump's attempts to woo minority voters, accusing the "far right" of using a "classic voter suppression tactic" when promoting the push to have minorities "#WalkAway" from the Democratic Party. 

"They will try to obfuscate, they will try to peddle fake news," Perez said of Republicans. 

"We want to make sure they hear directly from us who is fighting for them, who has their back, and who has the knife in their back."