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Former DCCC chairman to run for Senate in New Mexico

WASHINGTON —New Mexico Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Luján announced Monday that he's running for Senate, a move made fresh off the heels of his successful 2018 at the helm of the Democratic effort to win back the House. 

Luján jumped into the race in a video posted to social media, a move that had been expected since New Mexico Democratic Sen. Tom Udall announced his retirement last week. He put his success chairing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, as well as his roots in the state, front and center in his announcement.  

"We stood side-by-side as I led the effort to win back the House so we could lower prescription drug prices, lower health care costs, fight for clean air and clean water, restore voting rights and equal rights and build a brighter future for our kids," he said. 

"But to move forward, we've got to fix the Senate, where Mitch McConnell stands in the way of progress." 

Luján has been in Congress since 2009 and represents the Santa Fe area. He led the DCCC during the past two cycles and was tapped to be the assistant Speaker after the 2018 election. 

But he may not have the field all to himself, as other Democrats reportedly eye a bid. While Attorney General Hector Balderas announced Thursday he would not run, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver is seen as a possible candidate with statewide electoral experience. 

Luján also may end up running against one of the Democrats he helped to elevate to the House last year—New Mexico Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland tweeted last week that she's giving the race "a lot of thought and consideration," while some Democrats have pointed to fellow freshman New Mexico Rep. Xochitl Torres-Small as a possible candidate too. 

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2020 roundup: Terry McAuliffe won't run for president

WASHINGTON—The ever-expanding field of Democratic presidential hopefuls will not include former Virginia Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who announced Wednesday that he'll skip a White House bid. 

McAuliffe told CNN that while he could have beaten President Trump "like a rented Mule" he instead wanted to focus on helping Democrats in Virginia, where the two of the top three statewide officials admitted to appearing years ago in blackface and another is accused of sexual assault. 

The decision comes after months of speculation that the former governor and longtime Democratic fundraiser would jump in, sparked by his criticism of the party's embrace of "ideological populism." 

There are still a handful of other Democrats eyeing bids, most notably former Vice President Joe Biden, who would occupy the same moderate lane in which McAuliffe would have run. 

But with so many Democrats deciding to jump in, it's notable when one decides to sit on the sidelines. 

Keep reading on for more headlines from the 2020 trail you may have missed. 

  • Democratic candidates spent last month pushing for a release of the full Mueller report, so expect those calls to continue today as the redacted version is finally released. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand panned the attorney general's press conference as "propaganda," New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker accused Barr of trying to "spin" the Mueller report before its release and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted that "it's a disgrace to see an attorney general acting as if he's the personal attorney and publicist for the president."
  • California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris expressed "regret" over the "unintended consequences" of the truancy program she oversaw as state attorney general in a new interview with Pod Save America
  • South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg spoke with MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Thursday about the Mueller report, his decision to come out as gay, and how his campaign is going to boost support from minority voters. 
  • After Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders drew the attention of both the Democratic field and President Trump with his Fox News town hall this week, Politico reports Amy Klobuchar has booked a town hall with the network. NBC is also reporting that Buttigieg is in talks with Fox for a town hall as well. 
  • Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, the only Republican running against President Trump, tweeted that it is "essential" that Robert Mueller testifies in front of Congress about his report on Russian election interference.
Monica Alba

Trump campaign response strategy after Mueller report: “Vindication” over “exoneration”

WASHINGTON — With the highly-anticipated release of the Mueller report expected Thursday, the Trump campaign is ready to capitalize on the contents and has already determined a rebuttal strategy: a focus on “vindication” above all else. 

In the days following the release of Attorney General Bill Barr’s four-page summary, the president repeatedly touted “complete and total exoneration” — and his 2020 team followed suit with slick videos, tailored fundraising appeals and even new merchandise

Of the $30 million directly raised by the Trump campaign in the first three months of the year, $8.2 million came from contributions (of $200 or more) during the week after the Barr letter was released, which happened to coincide with the end of the fundraising quarter. 

But a strong indication the response may be a little different once more Mueller material is made public comes directly from their pre-emptive messaging. 

"We know that President Trump will — once again — be vindicated: no collusion and no obstruction," communications director Tim Murtaugh told NBC News, emphasizing vindication ahead of Thursday’s expected publication. "The tables should turn now, as it is time to investigate the liars who instigated the sham investigation in the first place."

The second part of that statement is also a preview of where the campaign plans to keep shifting the conversation to: the origins of the Russia probe itself, rather than the contents of the nearly 400-page document. 

Campaign officials acknowledge it is quite difficult to predict and execute a coordinated reaction before knowing the extent of the findings. But over the last week, as Trump allies brace for previously unknown and potentially unflattering details in the report, the president has not used the word “exonerate” once and instead has seized on “no collusion” and "no obstruction!"

It’s unclear whether or not Trump has actually been advised to highlight vindication as a more accurate description now that the two-year investigation, which he deemed a “witch hunt hoax,” has wrapped up.

In his summary, Barr cited the special counsel's work, saying it explicitly concluded that there was no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russians to influence the 2016 election. But he was far less definitive on the question of obstruction.

“While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” Mueller writes in his report, according to a quote in Barr’s letter. 

2020 roundup: Gillibrand supports challenger to anti-abortion rights House Dem

WASHINGTON—New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is backing the Illinois Democrat who is running once again to dethrone one of the party's last remaining anti-abortion rights lawmakers. 

After an event in Chicago on Tuesday, Gillibrand and Democrat Marie Newman took to Twitter to give each other mutual endorsements. 

Newman fell short in her 2018 challenge against Lipinski by just a few thousand votes in the first high-profile primary fight of the calendar.

A slew of prominent progressive activists and politicians rallied around Newman during that race because of her support for abortion rights, in contrast to Lipinski's views on the issue. But House Democratic leaders rallied behind the incumbent, and a super PAC with ties to the centrist 'No Labels' spent heavily to boost Lipinski. 

So with an early endorsement of Newman, Gillibrand is looking to send a message about her support for abortion rights and willingness to take on an entrenched politician over the issue. 

There's a lot more news coming out of the 2020 trail, so click here for more from the campaign world. 

  • Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, the newly-minted presidential candidate, told CNN on Wednesday that he supports Medicare for All as an "aspirational goal."  But he added that "I would not take anybody's private insurance away."
  • President Trump is handicapping the Democratic presidential primary, tweeting that he thinks it'll come down to "Crazy Bernie Sanders vs. Sleepy Joe Biden."
  • South Bend Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg downplayed the hecklers that have interrupted his recent campaign events, arguing that it's a "barometer of success." 
  • While FEC deadline day was Monday, there's still a whole lot of interesting information buried in fundraising reports. Check out yesterday's blog post that focuses on the durability of the Democratic candidates' donor base for more. 
  • After releasing his tax returns this week, former Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke defended his charitable giving by arguing he donated more than he specifically itemized on his returns. 
  • The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Georgia Rep. Lucy McBath's campaign refused to accept a contribution from Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, who has been the recent target of criticism from the president after controversial remarks about America's relationship with Israel drew a rebuke from leaders of her own party. 

A deeper dive into the health of Democratic candidates' donor bases

WASHINGTON—Topline fundraising numbers have dominated the discussion about the Democratic presidential candidates' first-quarter fundraising haul. 

You can read more about those top-lines in today's First Read

But some deeper digging sheds important light on the durability of the candidates' donor bases. 

Small-dollar hauls

Small-dollar donors are the new must-have campaign accessory for Democrats after Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (and President Trump) changed the game in 2016. 

These donors are important because they can be repeatedly tapped throughout the campaign, allowing a candidate to raise quick cash without working to expand its donor base. 

Unsurprisingly, Sanders led the pack of major Democratic candidates with this metric by raising more than $15 million in donations under $200. That accounted for about 84 percent of his total haul.  

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has sworn off high-dollar fundraisers, raised about 70 percent of her total from small-donors too. 

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke also raised about 60 percent of their first-quarter hauls from small donations. 

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker raised about 15 percent of their donations from those small contributions. And former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper raised just nine percent from small donations. 

Maxed-out donors

The flip side of the small-dollar coin are maxed-out donors — those who donate the federal maximum donation of $2,800 a cycle (primaries and general elections count as separate cycles). 

The wealthiest donors are a great way to infuse cash into a campaign. But they can't donate again. 

Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney and Hickenlooper both raised a majority of their money from maxed-out donors (Delaney largely self-funded his campaign).

But Warren raised about two percent of her money from maxed-out donors, a sign that she'll be able to dip back into the well repeatedly. 

Sanders, California Sen. Kamala Harris and Buttigieg also raised less than 20 percent of their dollars from max-out donors. That's a big deal, especially because they finished the quarter in first, second and fourth respectively in total contributions.

General election money

Some candidates are already raising a significant amount of general election money that they can't use unless they win the primary, but that they're including in their top-line numbers already.

About 10 percent of the money that Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and former HUD Sec. Julián Castro raised from donors this past cycle was earmarked for the general election. Klobuchar raised more than any other candidate with about $570,000. 

'Performance is better than promise' — Biden eulogizes South Carolina's Hollings

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden made his first 2020 cycle trip to an early voting state Tuesday, eulogizing late South Carolina Sen. Fritz Hollings for his deep commitment to the state and advocacy for its neediest citizens.

Biden, who served alongside Hollings for most of his 36 years in the Senate, recalled that Palmetto State icon was chairman of the Democratic Senate campaign committee when he launched a long-shot bid against a popular Republican incumbent in Delaware in 1972.

"He ended up taking a chance on me," Biden said. "He saw something in me that I wasn't sure existed. But he believed in me. I can say without fear of contradiction that that made me believe more in myself."

Biden praised Hollings' bridge-building political style, both as a governor and then as a senator. "He knew how to get things done," Biden said. "He knew how to build coalitions. He even knew how to get along with Strom when he needed to."

Strom Thurmond was a Dixiecrat-turned-Republican senator from South Carolina and the oldest living senator until his retirement at the age of 100. Biden also delivered his eulogy in 2003, something that already has drawn attention as approaches the Democratic primary contest.

Biden focused his remarks Tuesday on Hollings, especially praising him for seeking to address systemic poverty and hunger in rural areas. He also quoted Hollings in a potential allusion to his future candidacy.

"What a man will do in public office is best told by what he’s done. Performance is better than promise," he said.

Yang leads Democratic presidential candidates in Facebook spending for past week

WASHINGTON — Entrepreneur Andrew Yang led the field of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates in money spent on Facebook advertisements for the second week in a row.

Yang spent $154,840 on ads from April 7 to April 13, trailing only President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, which spent $161,285.

Yang spent $157,230  the previous week, the most of any presidential candidate of either party, according to Facebook’s publicly available political ad archive.

Many of Yang’s recent ads were used to promote events he was holding in cities such as Boston and Atlanta last week. The ads often mentioned Venture for America, the nonprofit Yang started.

Yang’s ads also highlighted his support for a universal basic income as a response to the threat of artificial intelligence.

Following Yang in last week’s spending was Julián Castro, former San Antonio mayor and housing secretary under President Obama, who spent $137,162. Castro's ads focused primarily on fundraising to secure a spot in the Democratic debates, saying “my spot on that stage isn’t guaranteed unless I reach 65,000 donors.”

One way candidates can qualify for the debate is if they raise money from 65,000 unique donors as well as from 200 unique donors in at least 20 states. 

Rounding out the top five Democratic spenders were Sen. Elizabeth Warren ($67,275), Marianne Williamson ($64,634), and Sen. Amy Klobuchar ($48,379).

President Trump has dominated Facebook spending this year, buying ads through both his official campaign committee, Donald J. Trump for President Inc., and the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a joint effort of the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee.

Many of Trump’s ads last week focused on themes such as the Mueller Report, the southern border wall, and the news media. There were often requests for donations with phrases such as “DONATE NOW to show you want to FINISH THE WALL!”

Facebook started the political ad archive in May 2018 to increase transparency and “to help prevent abuse, especially during elections.”

All election-related and issues ads must now be labeled with who paid for the ad. Facebook users can see how much a campaign spent on an ad and how many people saw it.

Inslee on immigration: 'We are not afraid of diversity'

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential hopeful and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee criticized President Trump's suggestion of sending detained immigrants to so-called sanctuary cities, accusing Trump of trying to promote "bombastic chaos."

Inslee told NBC's "Meet the Press" that the plan won't work because those in sanctuary cities, which are typically Democratic-leaning areas, will be ready with open arms. 

"You can’t threaten somebody with something they aren’t afraid of and we are not afraid of diversity in the state of Washington.”

"We relish it, it is the basis of our economic and cultural success," he said, adding that the state has a long history of accepting refugees. 

Biden and Sanders sitting atop Iowa, New Hampshire polls as Buttigieg vaults to third

WASHINGTON —Former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders are in first and second place respectively in two new polls of Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats, with South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg riding his newfound notoriety into third place in both states. 

In Saint Anselm University's New Hampshire poll, Biden leads with 23 percent, followed by Sanders' 16 percent and Buttigieg's 11 percent.

No other candidate hits double digits, with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in fourth place with 8.7 percent and California Sen. Kamala Harris and former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke with 6.8 and 6.4 percent respectively.

In Monmouth University's Iowa poll, Biden has 27 percent support, followed by Sanders' 16 percent, Buttigieg's 9 percent and then Harris and Warren, who are tied at 7 percent. 

The polls show Biden and Sanders as the only candidates with universal name identification in both states, with Warren sporting near-perfect name identification in her neighboring state of New Hampshire. 

While Biden's favorable rating dipped almost 10 percent in New Hampshire since St. Anselm's February poll, he's still sporting the best net-favorable rating in both polls. 

Sanders is viewed favorably by two-thirds of likely voters in both the New Hampshire and Iowa polls. But he has the highest unfavorable rating, 26 percent, in the Iowa poll, and trails Warren for the highest unfavorable rating in the New Hampshire poll. 

The Vermont senator finished second behind Democrat Hillary Clinton by a razor-thin margin in the 2016 Iowa caucuses, while he won the 2016 New Hampshire primary by more than 22 points. 

Monmouth's poll also found that 49 percent of likely caucus-goers feel it's "very important" that their party's nominee supports "Medicare for All," while 31 percent feel the same way about support for the Green New Deal. 

That poll is also the third poll considered under the Democratic National Committee's debate qualifications where former Maryland Rep. John Delaney and entrepreneur Andrew Yang reached at least 1 percent. Candidates can either qualify by hitting the 1 percent mark in three qualifying polls or hitting a grassroots fundraising threshold.

But since the party will use tiebreakers to winnow down the debate participants if more than 20 candidates qualify, they are not assured to be on stage for the party's first debate in June. 

Monmouth polled 351 likely caucusgoers between April 4 and April 9 and its poll has a margin-of-error of 5.2 percent. Saint Anselm polled 326 likely voters between April 3 and April 8 and the poll has a error margin of 5.4 percent. 

How smart is the American electorate? Your answer might depend on your party

WASHINGTON — When most politicians ask for your vote, they often say something about how they put their faith in the wisdom of the American people.  

But most American voters … don’t.

A new poll from the Pew Research Center finds that six-in-ten Americans say they don’t have much faith in the public to make wise decisions when it comes to politics.

That’s not exactly new. A Pew poll in March of 2018 found a similar number, and confidence in the political wisdom of the public has mostly been on the decline since the mid-1990s. The last time the survey found a majority of Americans feeling upbeat about the decision-making of their fellow voters was in January of 2007, after Democrats walloped the party of a deeply unpopular George W. Bush in the 2006 midterm elections.

But what might be most surprising is how the two parties have shifted since the 2016 election.

While Republicans and Democrats were generally aligned in their declining faith in the public’s political savvy between 1997 and March of 2016, Trump’s election prompted a skyrocketing of confidence in the public from GOP voters, who witnessed the stunning victory of their once-dismissed nominee.

Between March 2016 and March 2018, Republicans who said they had confidence in the public’s political smarts jumped from 35 percent to 54 percent.

Democrats, interestingly, didn’t see a dramatic corresponding decline in confidence over the same period of time.

The latest poll out today from Pew, though, finds that the GOP’s newfound enthusiasm for the prudence of America’s voters has waned since the 2018 midterms. In the wake of an election that gave House Democrats their biggest victory since Watergate, Republicans’ faith in their fellow voters fell back to Earth — at 43 percent.

 

Graphic via Pew Research Center

Trump tweets inaccurate Fox Business graphic on his approval rating

WASHINGTON — In a tweet Thursday morning, Trump screenshotted a poll graphic from the Fox Business Network that appeared to show his “soaring approval,” with his overall approval rating — it said — at 55 percent and his approval on the economy at 58 percent.

The problem? The graphic was half wrong.  

The Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service Battleground Poll cited in the graphic did, in fact, find his approval rating on the ECONOMY at 58 percent.

But his overall approval rating in the poll was just 43 percent. His disapproval rating stands at 52 percent.

Fifty-five percent was actually Trump’s UNFAVORABLE rating in a separate question.

You can see the full Georgetown poll here.

** UPDATE: Fox Business Network issued a correction for the erroneous graphic on air after the president's tweet. 

What was said on air: "It’s been a quite start to the day for President Trump, though he did send out a tweet this morning from the Lou Dobbs show last night on Fox Business. That tweet featured a poll that was not entirely accurate, which Fox Business would like to correct.  According to a poll from Georgetown University, 58 percent of respondents approved of the president’s handling of the economy. That portion of the graphic was right. However, the graphic also showed that 55 percent of the respondents approve of the president, that number is not correct. The 55 percent number was those who have an unfavorable impression of President Trump.”

Here's the original tweet from Trump that contains the error: