Moulton to lay out foreign policy vision in 2020 trial balloon

Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton is wading back into the 2020 presidential conversation Tuesday with a foreign policy speech that seeks a contrast with President Trump and advocates for new thinking about defense spending and alliances.

During a Tuesday morning speech at the Brookings Institution, Moulton will argue his time in the Marines shaped both his approach to foreign policy and his prescription for how America should move on after Trump. 

“When your old house gets damaged by a bad renter, or—in this case—a terrible President, you don’t just restore it to look like it was built in 1950; you renovate,” he plans to tell the audience, according to excerpts obtained by NBC News ahead of the address.

“You don’t just rebuild—you build something new.”

Moulton plans to call for “next-generation thinking” in three areas: arms, arms control and alliances.

On arms, the congressman wants to see a shift in investments away from older, less nimble weapons like aircraft carriers and toward investment in newer technology like cyber weaponry, as well as autonomous and hypersonic weapons, with modern arms control agreements to match.

He also plans to spend significant time discussing alliances, criticizing Trump's approach to the relationships with allies. While he'll call for a "re-strengthening" of NATO, he will also call to consider a new approach to alliances, floating a "'Pacific NATO' to counter China."

“Just as we’re not going to counter Russia’s amazingly successful work at undermining democratic elections by simply refurbishing our nuclear arsenal, we need to re-think the strategic role and purpose of NATO. Now is the opportunity, presented to us ironically by this Administration, to renovate and strengthen it for a new world,” he will say.

Moulton will also criticize the prospect of pulling out of Syria “without any plan” and ignoring climate change, which he labels a “national security” threat. On the Middle East, the Iraq veteran wants to see Congress take back power to authorize “clear and achievable missions” that will make plans for withdrawal more transparent.

The heavy emphasis on foreign policy comes one day after a Buzzfeed News interview where Moulton admitted that he’s “thinking about running for president” and going to take a “very serious look at it.”

The Bay Stater had a strong midterm cycle, where he was able to show some fundraising prowess and help a more than a dozen of his endorsed candidates, many veterans or former national security officials themselves, win congressional races.

But he faced some high-profile blowback in the party when he unsuccessfully helped to lead a group of Democrats who opposed California Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s bid for Speaker of the House. While Pelosi ultimately agreed to a term-limit deal and Moulton won some praise about his push for new blood in leadership, the insurgents never found a candidate to oppose Pelosi and Moulton has faced some criticism for helping to lead the charge against Pelosi.

Now openly his presidential trial-balloon phase, Moulton's speech positions him in the foreign-policy lane of the blossoming Democratic primary, one where the clearest fit right now is former Vice President Joe Biden, the former Senate Committee on Foreign Relations chairman who is still weighing a bid.

But it’s unclear how voters will prioritize foreign policy in choosing a candidate—October NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that just 8 percent of registered voters said foreign policy was either their first or second-most important issue going into the 2018 midterms. And so far, the Democratic primary debate has largely focused on domestic issues.

Cory Booker pushes need for diverse coalition in 2020 race

DES MOINES, IA — Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., warned Democrats in a speech Thursday that the struggles of minority candidates are "a problem" that could hurt the party's ability to engage the voters it needs to defeat President Trump in 2020. 

Praising California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, who dropped out of the presidential primary this week, Booker argued that the issue goes deeper than just one candidate. 

“It is a problem that we now have an overall campaign for the 2020 presidency that has more billionaires in it than black people,” Booker said during one of his first more formal speeches Des Moines Thursday morning.

“This is not about one candidate. It is about the diverse coalition that is necessary to beat Donald Trump."

“That is the story of how we beat bullies and bigots and demagogues and the powerful, the so-called powerful in every generation. It's the story of America," he added. 

The audience cheered on Booker as he echoed a famous Martin Luther King Jr. quote, modernizing the context to his typical message of unity. 

“We're all in this together; injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Booker said. “In America, there is not a black destiny or a white destiny or rural destiny and a suburban destiny, there is one American destiny.”

While Harris had qualified for this month's debate, her departure means that the six candidates who have already qualified are all white. 

Booker is the top-polling black candidate in the race right now — Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick recently entered the race, but has so far gained little traction — but he's still on the outside looking into the December debate. He's hit the party's donor threshold, but still needs to hit 4 percent in four qualifying polls or 6 percent in two qualifying early-state polls.

Businessman Andrew Yang and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard are each one poll away from qualifying, while the rest of the field has a long way to go.  

During a conversation with reporters after the event, Booker expressed that a successful candidate needs to engage African American, Latinx, and Asian American voters. 

“We need to make sure that we have a person that can inspire a coalition,” he said, “where everybody feels energized and excited. And if you can’t do that, please get out of this race.”

And he expressed frustration with polling, noting that he’s often just one percentage point from reaching qualifying polls for the debate stage (which equates to just a handful of people) and expressed that the success of a campaign shouldn’t be based on “a 400 person sample size and three people,” but that the national press should be looking at his energy on the ground in Iowa.

John Kerry endorses Joe Biden's presidential bid

WASHINGTON — Former Secretary of State and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry is throwing his support behind former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential bid.

Kerry praised Biden in a statement released by the Biden campaign on Thursday, where he said "there’s never been a time more urgent for leadership at home."

“I believe Joe Biden is the President our country desperately needs right now, not because I’ve known Joe so long, but because I know Joe so well. I’ve never before seen the world more in need of someone who on day one can begin the incredibly hard work of putting back together the world Donald Trump has smashed apart," he wrote. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a town hall in South Carolina on Nov. 21, 2019.Sean Rayford / Getty Images file

"Joe is uniquely the person running for president who can beat Donald Trump and get to work on day one at home and in the world with no time to waste."

Kerry will campaign with Biden on Friday in Iowa and then travel with the former vice president to New Hampshire on Sunday. 

The endorsement comes as Biden has amplified his qualifications to be commander-in-chief given his extensive experience in foreign policy. On Wednesday, his campaign released a video hitting President Trump on foreign policy and arguing "the world is laughing at President Trump." 

Kerry has a long history with Biden — both not only served together in the Obama administration, but in the Senate, both on the Foreign Relations Committee. When Biden left the Senate to join the White House, Kerry succeeded him as the chairman of that committee.

With his deep relationships on Capitol Hill, Biden is outpacing his Democratic peers in endorsements from sitting lawmakers too. He's backed by 22 congressional representatives, five senators and three sitting governors — more of each category, and more endorsements in total, than any other candidate in the race. 

Buttigieg is up in the polls, but lagging in endorsements

WASHINGTON — While South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg has won a few notable endorsements in recent days (from progressive veterans group Vote Vets and a few former Obama administration officials), he’s so far struggled to gain support from prominent members of his party.

Buttigieg has picked up endorsements from just three House Democrats, and no U.S. senators or governors have publicly said they stand behind him. For months, Virginia Rep. Don Beyer was Buttigieg’s lone congressional endorsement – until last week, when Indiana Rep. Peter Visclosky and New York Rep. Kathleen Rice backed the mayor for the Democratic nomination.

Democratic Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speaks in Fairfield, Iowa on Aug. 15, 2019.Alex Edelman / AFP - Getty Images

After surging in Iowa and New Hampshire polls, Buttigieg is now among the top four contenders in the crowded primary race, but his fellow frontrunners have continually outpaced him in endorsements.

Former Vice President Joe Biden leads the field, with 30 total endorsements from House members, senators and governors, according to NBC News’ tally of FiveThirtyEight’s endorsement tracker. Meanwhile, the other members of the Top 4 – Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders – clock in at 12 and six major endorsements, respectively.

Before she dropped out of the race Tuesday, California Sen. Kamala Harris had racked up 19 major endorsements, putting her in second place. With 13 endorsements, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker actually leads both Warren and Sanders.

The only candidates who made the board but have fewer congressional endorsements than Buttigieg are former U.S. Housing Secretary Julian Castro and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney – with two apiece.

Here’s how Buttigieg’s endorsements stack up against those of his competitors:

Pete Buttigieg

3 Representatives

0 Senators

0 Governors

 

Joe Biden

22 Representatives

5 Senators

3 Governors

 

Cory Booker

11 Representatives

1 Senator

1 Governor

 

Elizabeth Warren

11 Representatives

1 Senator

0 Governor

 

Amy Klobuchar

4 Representatives

1 Senator

1 Governor

 

Bernie Sanders

5 Representatives

1 Senator

0 Governor

 

Julian Castro

2 Representatives

0 Senators

0 Governors

 

John Delaney

2 Representatives

0 Senators

0 Governors

Biden video chides Trump after NATO leaders' hot mic moment

WASHINGTON — Almost as soon as President Trump returned from his overseas trip, Joe Biden tweeted out a new video pointing to Wednesday's hot-mic moment with NATO leaders to argue that the world isn't taking Trump seriously.  

The video includes footage from a Wednesday hot-mic moment with NATO leaders like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron referencing Trump's long press conferences, as well as 2018 footage of the United Nations General Assembly laughing after Trump touted his achievements. 

“The world sees Trump for what he is — insincere, ill-informed, corrupt, dangerously incompetent and incapable, in my view, of world leadership,” Biden says in the video.

“And if we give Donald Trump four more years, we’ll have a great deal of difficulty of ever being able to recover America’s standing in the world and our capacity to bring nations together.”

The ad closes with pictures of Biden, as the words "We need a leader the world respects" flash on the screen. 

Shortly after the Biden campaign released the video, Trump's campaign said in a tweet that: "Of course the leaders of foreign countries wish Joe Biden were president — they'd love to continue ripping off our country!"

Reporter's Notebook: President Trump's scrapped NATO press conference

LONDON — President Donald Trump’s oversees travels are never short on unscripted moments. But the president's decision to scrap a scheduled press conference, after NATO meetings ended, with reporters waiting in the room for it to start was a surprising move, even for Trump.

Early in the morning Wednesday, dozens of reporters were bused out by the White House to the location of the NATO gatherings being held more than an hour from London to attend the event.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and President Donald Trump attend the annual NATO Leaders Meeting at the Grove Hotel in Watford, Britain Dec. 4, 2019.Jeremy Selwyn / Reuters

Two hours before the press conference was scheduled to start, television crews were in place and dozens of reporters were seated in the room where the event would be held when the president, unprompted, suggested he might not have a press conference.

“We will go directly back, I think we have done plenty of press conferences unless you’re demanding a press conference, but I think we’ve answered plenty of questions,” President Trump told the traveling press pool, the small group of reporters that travel with him, during a photo opportunity with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Trump had spent about two hours over the course of the previous day taking questions from the press pool. But that small group consisting of about 13 journalists is no substitute for the full White House press corp which includes hundreds of reporters from a range of media outlets.

The president’s remark about the press conference set off mass confusion for the next hour among White House staff, both with the president and with the press, who didn’t know whether he was serious about the change of plans. Reporters were sent scrambling to figure out what was happening and sources were unreachable.

Even after Trump had suggested the press conference was off, NATO staff on-site and security continued to prepare for the president’s arrival, at one point setting up a rope line for additional security in front of the stage where he was set to speak.

It wasn’t until the president tweeted an hour later that reporters and staff were told by the president the event was off. At the time, dozens of reporters were seated in the room where it was to be held and others were waiting at a media center for staff to escort them over.

Following the scrapped press conference, Trump was also overheard mocking what he expected the media’s reaction to be during the same meeting where Trump complimented himself on his jab at Trudeau. 

“Oh. And then you know what they’ll say?” Trump said. “‘He didn’t do a press conference! He didn’t do a press conference!’” 

As Trump was preparing to leave, other leaders, including Macron and Trudeau, held their own press conferences — giving them a moment to look presidential on the world stage that Trump had denied himself of. 

Sally Bronston contributed. 

Joe Biden says he'd consider Kamala Harris for VP pick

AMES, Iowa — Former Vice President Joe Biden has often said on the campaign trail that he would prefer to pick a woman as his vice presidential pick — on Wednesday he went a step further and said former 2020 competitor Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., would be on his list to consider. 

“Of course I would. Look Senator Harris has the capacity to be anything she wants to be. I mean it sincerely. I talked to her yesterday,” he said. “She's solid, she can be president someday herself, she can be vice president, she could go on to be a Supreme Court justice, she could be attorney general. I mean she has enormous capability.”

Biden and Harris' relationship became more strained after Harris attacked Biden on his position on busing during the first Democratic debate in June. The pair first met when Biden’s late son Beau was attorney general of Delaware and Harris held the same position in California. 

On Wednesday, Biden indicated he has moved past that moment. 

“I’m not good at keeping hard feelings,” he said while boarding his ‘No Malarkey’ bus.

 

Swelling staff size and shrinking media spending predated Harris' exit from presidential race

WASHINGTON — When California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris suspended her campaign on Tuesday, she made it clear she felt her cash-strapped organization could no longer support a bid for president. 

"Over the last few days, I’ve come to one of the hardest decisions of my life. So here’s the deal, guys. My campaign for president simply does not have the financial resources to continue — and the financial resources we need to continue," she said in a video posted to Twitter.

"I’m not a billionaire. I can’t fund my own campaign. And as the campaign has gone on, it has become harder and harder to raise the money we need to compete. 

There had been signs as of late that Harris' campaign was struggling — she cut staff this fall as her campaign sought to reset by shifting many of its resources to Iowa, and a recent New York Times story cited interviews with "more than 50 current and former campaign staff members and allies" to paint a picture of a floundering operation. 

While finances are likely a piece of a larger puzzle (and we won't see Harris' fourth-quarter books until early next year), a look through campaign spending reports sheds light on what Harris meant when she pointed the finger at a dwindling bank account. 

Harris jumped into the race as one of the best-funded and highest-polling candidates, an early frontrunner in the months before it was certain that former Vice President Joe Biden would enter the race.

She spent the first three months of her campaign in third place in the RealClearPolitics polling average and raised more money from individuals ($12 million) than any other candidate except Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders in the first quarter of 2019. 

Harris kept up that pace with a robust fundraising schedule, one that kept her from pivotal early states for significant stretches. 

And at her campaign's nadir (after her viral clash with Biden on the June debate stage on the issue of race and busing), she flirted with that second-place spot behind Biden. 

That marquee moment helped to fill the campaign's coffers — she raised almost $2 million during just the day after the June debate. And the campaign used those resources to massively expand the number of salaried staff from about 160 by the end of June to about 315 by the end of October, according to an NBC News analysis of FEC reports. 

But such a massive staff can be a strain on resources, as indicated by the Harris campaign's late October announcement that it was cutting staff in order to "effectively compete with the top campaigns and make the necessary investments in the critical final 100 days to the caucus," as campaign manager Juan Rodriguez said in a memo

Another sign of Harris' struggle could be seen in her media spending. 

The campaign spent just $562,000 on TV and radio advertising over her entire campaign, millions behind the likes of Biden, Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who had at one point been fighting with Harris for a top polling spot. 

In fact, her campaign hadn't run a television advertisement since Sept. 6, according to media-tracker Advertising Analytics. 

And the situation on Facebook was dire too. She spent just $32,000 for ads on the platform since early October, virtually disappearing from the platform in her campaign's final weeks. By comparison, billionaire Tom Steyer spent $4.3 million over that span, while Buttigieg and Warren both spent more than $800,000. 

Outside allies were moving to give the California senator reinforcements — the pro-Harris super PAC People Standing Strong booked more than $500,000 in pro-Harris ads Tuesday morning. 

But by Tuesday afternoon, with their candidate officially out of the race, the group began cancelling those buys.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp taps Kelly Loeffler to fill Sen. Isakson's seat

WASHINGTON — Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp Wednesday tapped business executive Kelly Loeffler as his pick to fill outgoing Sen. Johnny Isakson's seat, angering some of the President Trump's allies who were hoping Kemp would choose Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., instead. 

Last week, Kemp called attacks on his pick "absolutely absurd" and that he would only pick a candidate who was "100% supportive" of president Trump. 

Fox News host and close ally of the president Sean Hannity this week described Loeffler as a "RINO", or Republican In Name Only" while asking why Kemp would appoint Loeffler over Collins who has been a strong defender of the president throughout the impeachment hearings.

Loeffler, however, seems poised to introduce herself as a strong supporter of the president.

In a prepared statement on the appointment, first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Loeffler will say, "I’m a lifelong conservative. Pro-Second Amendment. Pro-military. Pro-wall. And pro-Trump." Loeffler has never run for office or served in government. 

Collins has not closed the door on running for the seat in 2020 against Loeffler, telling reporters in November he has heard from those "encouraging" him to run for statewide office and he is "strongly" listening. 

Loeffler will be only the second female senator from Georgia. The first, Rebecca Latimer Felton, was the first woman to occupy a seat in the Senate but served for just one day. 

Senate Republicans have welcomed the pick. Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement, "Ms. Loeffler has an impressive record in business and community leadership. I am confident she is well prepared to continue Sen. Isakson’s historic legacy of advocating for veterans, strengthening our national defense, and fighting for middle-class families." 

And the campaign arm of the Senate Republicans, the National Republican Senatorial Committee said Loeffler was a "phenomenal pick."

"Her business acumen and leadership gives Georgia a unique and valuable voice in the U.S. Senate who can help President Trump and our Republican majority continue to bolster a record-breaking economy, strengthen our military and confirm Constitutionalist judges," the NRSC said in a statement. 

The president has not yet weighed in on the appointment. Isakson is leaving his seat at the end of the month due to health concerns, and Loeffler will be up for reelection next November. 

Pete Buttigieg earns endorsement from VoteVets PAC

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg Wednesday received the endorsement of the progressive VoteVets PAC.

“The number one priority has to be beating Donald Trump,” said Jon Soltz, chair of VoteVets. “We need a candidate who will win. Bar none, Pete gives us the best shot at doing just that. It is time to rally around him, and stop the walking, talking national security threat that is Donald Trump.”  

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg holds a town hall event in Creston, Iowa on Nov. 25, 2019.Scott Morgan / Reuters

Soltz went on to say that a veteran like Buttigieg gives Democrats the best shot to win in 2020 because, "Veterans can win voters in the purple and red areas of the country that other Democrats cannot." 

The only other veteran in the Democratic contest is Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. 

This endorsement means Buttigieg now has the support of a Super PAC behind him to help fund his campaign. Of the four top polling candidates, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is the only one who does not have an outside organization in a position to spend money on her behalf.

VoteVets will immediately cut a maximum donation check to Pete 2020, according to the press release, and will utilize its social media networks and email list to support the campaign’s message.

“Further plans to energize veterans and military families across the country will be unveiled as the campaign moves ahead,” the group said in the statement.

Last month, Buttigieg told NBC News he would not take “corporate PAC money.”

“I also think it is really important that there be transparency in terms of people understanding who your supporters are which the reporting system creates but is why dark money is such a problem when you are looking at what goes on at the Super PACs,” he added.

However in October, Buttigieg said in an interview with Snapchat that he didn't endorse Warren's plan to refuse any money from high-dollar donors in a general election. 

"We're not going to beat [President Trump] with pocket change.” Buttigieg said. “I think you need the full spectrum of support in order to compete, especially if we want to go against someone like Donald Trump."

Pete Buttigieg looks to win over black voters during Carolina swing

ORANGEBURG, S.C. — Presidential hopeful South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg dismissed his low polling figures among nonwhite voters as a consequence of being “new on the scene,"  to a room of predominantly black South Carolinians on Tuesday.

“I know that as somebody who is new on the scene I got to earn that trust. We have to have those conversations. We got to share our own city's story where we have had the good, the bad and the in-between in terms of the life of our own city," Buttigieg said. 

Buttigieg is leading polls in Iowa and hovering near the top of polls in New Hampshire. But in South Carolina, he's struggling to gain traction. On Tuesday, he finished a three-day swing through the Carolinas, in an effort to expand his reach. 

Buttigieg, like other contenders in the Democratic race are struggling to gain traction with African-American voters. In a Quinnipiac national poll released last week, former Vice President Joe Biden maintained a large lead with black voters with 43 percent support, while Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was in second with only 11 percent. Buttigieg garnered just 4 percent support among black voters. 

While speaking to a a group in Allendale County, S.C., where three-quarters of the population is African-American, Buttigieg wasn't the first speaker attendees wanted to engaged with. Willa Jennings, the county party chairwoman, directed the group’s opening question to Buttigieg’s guest at the meeting: South Bend Councilwoman Sharon McBride.

“Could you tell us some of the things that Mayor Pete has done in South Bend to benefit the citizens in your city?” Jennings queried. "We go out and vote in full force, but everybody forget about us and they don't come back anymore."

McBride asserted that Buttigieg pushed to increase the city’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, initiated a study on disparities in the cities among women and minorities, and pressed for increased investments in city housing infrastructure.

Jennings, taking the microphone back, then turned to Buttigieg: “I hear a lot about you don't have support from African Americans. I just want to know why you don't have that support, and where did they get—where did the news media get that idea from that you don't have support?”

Buttigieg acknowledged, in part, that he was one of the candidates at “five percent or less” among black voters in the “last poll.” He followed, “But I don't think that's permanent."

Earlier in the day, Buttigieg stopped at a farm owned by Sophia Bowman in Canadys, S.C. After her meeting Buttigieg, Bowman said that she is inclined to vote for the mayor. She said it reminded her of seeing Bill Clinton in 1992. She noted they both "spoke with clarity.” 

“If other South Carolinians get to hear him, I think he’s got a chance,” Bowman rationalized. “Priming the pump. Us, here in the South, [we are] regular people. It takes awhile for us to like you.” 

But some younger voters say they are looking for more from Buttigieg’s efforts to build a closer relationship with communities of color. 

During a visit to South Carolina State University, a historically black university, Charles Patton a 22-year-old senior pulled the mayor aside about an answer Buttigieg gave during the November debate in which he referenced his experience as a gay man when asked about the systemic oppression communities of color have endured.

“Sometimes when you speak I hear what you say when you talk about your experience as a gay man and how you got the right to marry and all those things, but it comes across as you comparing struggles,” Patton said.

Later, Patton told NBC News, "When you compare struggles, you're almost erasing the struggle or, or the experience of being black in America and you almost diminish it because, yes, you are gay, but you're still a white man in America, and he knows that."

The Buttigieg campaign launched a $2 million ad buy across South Carolina on Tuesday intended to juice up voters’ familiarity with the mayor. The latest Quinnipiac poll out of the state showed that 47 percent of South Carolina voters are still not familiar enough with Buttigieg to form an opinion.

That extends outside of South Carolina, too.

In neighboring North Carolina, where voters will weigh in on Super Tuesday, Almertia Williams, a consistent voter, told NBC News this summer that she was eyeing the candidacies of Biden and California Sen. Kamala Harris. When NBC News asked about Buttigieg she said she "did not" know he was running. 

“You got to show up, and you got to show up in places that maybe haven’t heard from campaigns for awhile,” Buttigieg told NBC News after a Sunday church service in North Carolina. “We take the opportunity and that obligation seriously. And you’ll continue to see that from us.”

NBC's Matt Wargo contributed. 

Incoming Dem chair on the 2020 gov races: “I think we’re going to have a good year”

WASHINGTON — The upcoming elections in 2020 will bring us the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, the general-election presidential contest and the battle for control of Congress.

It also will feature 11 contests for governor in states like New Hampshire, Vermont, Montana and Washington.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, the incoming chair of the Democratic Governors Association, says he’s bullish about his party’s chances in next year’s gubernatorial contests, building upon Democrats’ successes in 2017 (when Murphy won his race), in 2018 (when Democrats picked up seven governorships) and in 2019 (when they won in Kentucky and Louisiana).

“I think we’re going to have a good year,” Murphy said in an interview with NBC News on Monday afternoon.

“I think it’s a combination of outstanding candidates, speaking to the kitchen-table issues that folks care about,” he added in explaining Democrats’ recent successful campaigns. “I think it’s a statement also that governors have never mattered more.”

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation in January mandating that the state's schools include instruction on the contributions of LGBTQ people and people with disabilities.Julio Cortez / AP

“So with all of the craziness that’s going on in Washington, governors are not only where the progress is being made in an affirmative, positive sense. But they’re also the last line of defense.”

Asked to reconcile those kitchen-table issues with his party’s impeachment proceedings against President Trump in Washington, Murphy said that Democrats and their candidates can do both at the same time.

 “I am proud of the process that [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi initiated on this impeachment track,” he stated.

“By the same token, I’m the governor of New Jersey. So let me get back to moving the needle on stuff that I know I can move the needle on.”

 Asked about Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who suspended his presidential campaign on Monday and can't run for an additional gubernatorial term thanks to term limits, Murphy said he’s surprised that a Democratic governor – either current or former – hasn’t “caught fire” in the 2020 presidential race.

“On both sides of the aisle, there’s a long history of governors who have gone on to be president or vice president, and I’m a little surprised that a governor on our side hasn’t caught fire,” Murphy noted.

“But having said that, we have extraordinary candidates. We have an extraordinary field.”

 Murphy has endorsed fellow Garden State politician and Sen. Cory Booker in the 2020 presidential race.

 “I came out of the blocks on day one for Cory Booker … and I’m staying with Cory as long as Cory is in,” he said. “But I’m going to be for whoever the Democratic nominee is going to be, period.”

The marquee gubernatorial contests of 2020 will be in North Carolina (where Dem Gov. Roy Cooper is running for re-election), in Montana (with the race to replace Bullock), in New Hampshire (where GOP Gov. Chris Sununu is running for re-election) and in Vermont (where GOP Gov. Phil Scott is running for re-election).

While Murphy and the DGA are bullish about their prospects in 2020, officials at the Republican Governors Association counter that Republicans are defending governorships in GOP-friendly states like Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Utah and West Virginia.

They also point out that New Hampshire’s Sununu and Vermont’s Scott won office in 2016 (when Hillary Clinton carried those blue states) and in 2018 (in a strong Democratic cycle).

 And the RGA believes Montana is theirs for the taking, given Trump’s 20-point win the state in 2016.

 “We feel very bullish about flipping Montana,” Dave Rexrode, the RGA’s executive director, told NBC News.