O'Rourke: I am 'not disappointed' after slide at the polls

WASHINGTON — Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke said Sunday that he's not "disappointed' with his presidential campaign after a recent slide at the polls. 

After reaching the double-digits in some polls around his presidential launch, O'Rourke hasn't eclipsed 5 percent in a national poll in a month, according to RealClearPolitics.

But during his Sunday interview on "Meet the Press," O'Rourke cautioned that the Democratic presidential nomination is a marathon, not a sprint, and that he's focused on running his campaign and winning traction with voters. 

"I'm not disappointed. I mean, I knew this was going to be tough. This is perhaps one of the hardest things that, that one can do, but there are so many extraordinary people," he said.

"These volunteers who are showing up knocking on doors, making phone calls for us. The folks that I meet in town hall meetings all over this country who meet this moment with the urgency that it demands whether it is gun violence, whether it is making sure that women's reproductive rights are protected, or guaranteeing that we confront the greatest challenge we have ever faced in climate and make the generations that follow us proud because we freed ourselves on our dependence on fossil fuels, embrace renewable energy and led not just this country but the world to ensure that we don't warm this planet another two degrees."

"These are the important conversations that we're going to have and we won't be able to accomplish this in just one media cycle or in a couple of months."

Watch the full interview with O'Rourke below.  

Over 26,000 vote early in Nevada caucuses

WASHINGTON — The Nevada Democratic Party announced Monday that more than 26,000 residents in the Silver State participated in the first two days of early voting ahead of the Saturday caucuses

The party tweeted that over "26,000 Nevadans participated in the first two days of the early voting process as of 9am PT Monday morning."

According to the Nevada Democratic Party, over half of voters — 56 percent — who took part on Saturday were first time caucus-goers. Approximately 18,000 people voted on Saturday alone. 

"Nevada Democrats are showing up to make their voices heard," the group tweeted.

The party released a memo to reporters last week outlining the early voting process occurring ahead of state’s caucuses on February 22. 

“From the beginning, NV Dems’ priority has been to execute the most accessible, expansive, and transparent caucus yet,'' Alana Mounce, Nevada State Democratic Party Executive Director, stated in the memo originally sent to Nevada campaign staff last Monday.

The Nevada Democratic Party's memo came after its sister organization in Iowa failed to release results from the caucuses on time citing technological problems and disparities in vote tallies. The chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, Troy Price, was forced to resign from his post following the debacle. 

Candidates battle in ad spending race ahead of Nevada caucuses

LAS VEGAS — Ahead of Saturday’s Nevada caucuses, Democratic candidates are in an ad spending race throughout the state until the February 22 contest.

Spending the most to hit the airwaves is billionaire and entrepreneur Tom Steyer according to Advertising Analytics. In last place among the candidates is Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., with a bill totaling less than a million dollars.

Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., shake hands as Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., look on prior to the start of the Democratic presidential primary debate on Feb. 7, 2020 in Manchester, N.H.Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

Despite the Independent Vermont senator's visibility, Bernie Sanders is being targeted in several ads. After playing in Iowa with its Bernie-had-a-heart-attack ad but sitting out in New Hampshire, the anti-Bernie Sanders group, Democratic Majority for Israel, is back on the airwaves in Nevada, with a TV ad hitting Sanders for not releasing his medical records.

The ad features several voters stressing the need to vote Donald Trump out of office, claiming that Sanders is "not the guy" to do so. Another voter asks why the senator "won't he release his medical records."

Here's where each candidate's spending on TV and radio ads stands: 

  • Steyer: $14.0M
  • Sanders: $1.8M
  • Buttigieg: $1.2M
  • Warren: $1.2M
  • Biden: $1.1M
  • Trump: $859K
  • Klobuchar: $792K
  • Vote Vets (pro-Buttigieg PAC): $589K
  • Democratic Majority for Israel (anti-Sanders lobbying group): $461K
  • Vote Nurses Values (pro-Sanders union): $170K

Former New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, will not appear on the ballot in Nevada. He has until the end of the day Tuesday to qualify for the upcoming NBC News debate in Las Vegas. 

-Liz Brown-Kaiser contributed.

Klobuchar campaign releases first Spanish-language ad in Nevada

LAS VEGAS — Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s presidential campaign is airing its first Spanish language TV and radio ad in Nevada. This is the campaign’s third ad on the air in Nevada, and their only Spanish language ad to date.

The ad, titled ‘Bienestar,’ started airing on cable in the Las Vegas and Reno media markets on February 15, the first day of Nevada’s four-day early voting period, and the radio version of the ad is airing in the Las Vegas market. The ads will run through the Nevada Caucuses on February 22.

The campaign would not provide a cost for this Spanish ad buy individually, but said that it was separate from the original seven-figure ad buy for Nevada.

Klobuchar has acknowledged a need for her to build a broad coalition of support to win the nomination, especially among black and Hispanic voters and that effort includes raising her profile through ads like these.  

DNC announces debate qualification threshold for South Carolina

WASHINGTON — To qualify for the Democratic debate stage in South Carolina, candidates will need to have won at least one delegate in earlier primary contests or cross a polling threshold of 10 percent nationally in four polls or 12 percent in two polls in the Palmetto State, the Democratic National Committee announced Saturday.

The rules are barely changed from the qualification threshold the party set for next week's debate in Las Vegas, hosted by NBC News and MSNBC. Those qualifications could help former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's make his first appearance on the stage.

Democratic presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren gather onstage before the start of the debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., on Feb. 7, 2020.Brendan McDermid / Reuters file

Candidates who won at least one delegate to the Democratic National Convention in either the New Hampshire and Iowa contests, or next Saturday's caucuses in Nevada, will automatically qualify for the Feb. 25 debate in Charleston, which is hosted by CBS News and comes just before the state's Feb. 29 primary.

According to the new thresholds, five candidates have already qualified for the debate stage: Former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Mass. Sen. Elizabeth Warren. 

Bloomberg, who skipped the first four early state contests, has not received a delegate yet and isn't expected to receive on during next week's Nevada caucuses. However, he has been polling above 10 percent in some recent surveys. He still needs one qualifying poll to make the Las Vegas debate stage.

The window to qualify next week's Feb. 19 debate closes the night before the event, while the window to qualify for the South Carolina debate runs from Feb. 4, the day after the Iowa Caucuses, to Feb. 24, the day before the debate.

Bill de Blasio endorses Bernie Sanders in presidential bid

WASHINGTON — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio endorsed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for president on Friday.

"I am standing with Bernie because he stands with working families, and always has," de Blasio said in a statement. "New Yorkers know all too well the damage caused by Donald Trump's xenophobia, bigotry and recklessness, and Bernie is the candidate to take him on and take him down."

de Blasio continued, "I have called for a bold, progressive agenda, and that's exactly what Senator Sanders has championed for decades. I am proud to endorse a true progressive leader who will fight for working New Yorkers and families across the country."

The endorsement comes after Sanders won the New Hampshire primary, and placed a strong second place in the Iowa caucuses. It also comes as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg gains national traction in several polls, and just needs one more qualifying poll to make the debate stage in Nevada. 

Bloomberg and de Blasio have had a fraught relationship since de Blasio ran for mayor. In 2014, when addressing reporters after the death of Eric Garner, de Blasio made reference to Bloomberg's stop-and-frisk policy, "Because for much of the previous 12 years, there was a growing tension and a growing disconnect between police and community all over our city. And that is not an acceptable state of affairs," de Blasio said at the time. 

And when Bloomberg entered the presidential race in November, de Blasio said his mayoral tenure has been undoing Bloomberg's policies. 

"This is a guy who really reinforced the status quo every chance he got in New York City," de Blasio said in a 'The Young Turks' interview. "And I have spent literally six years undoing what Michael Bloomberg did." 

de Blasio ended his nearly four month presidential bid in September. He is one of a few former presidential contenders in this cycle to endorse in the primary: Former Housing and Urban Development Sec. Julián Castro for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Mass. Rep. Seth Moulton and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan for former Vice President Joe Biden, and Joe Sestak for Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Amy Klobuchar launches ad campaign in South Carolina

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar will capitalize on her campaign's momentum from New Hampshire in South Carolina as she launches her first broadcast television advertisement in the state two weeks before the “First in the South” primary.

The six-figure statewide ad buy, which will also be featured on cable and digital platforms, begins with a moment from the New Hampshire Democratic debate in which Klobuchar sharply criticized President Trump. 

“There is a complete lack of empathy in the guy in the White House right now,” Klobuchar said. “And I will bring that to you.” 

The ad features a montage of Klobuchar interacting with voters and American workers — and highlights her endorsement from The New York Times back in January, shared with Sen. Elizabeth Warren. 

“If you have trouble stretching your paycheck to pay for that rent, I know you and I will fight for you,” Klobuchar continues in the ad. “If you have trouble deciding if you’re going to pay for your child care or your long term care, I know you and I will fight for you. I would love your vote, and I would love the vote of America.”   

The campaign’s new ad buy comes after Klobuchar’s strong performance in the New Hampshire primary, where she placed third behind Sen. Bernie Sanders and former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg. In the roughly 12 hours after the polls closed in the state, Klobuchar raised over $2.5 million from supporters —boosting the campaign’s resources to make targeted outreach efforts in both Nevada and South Carolina. 

The ad buy also comes as Klobuchar continues to trail the other leading contenders in South Carolina, and among voters of color. South Carolina's primary will take place on Feb. 29.  

Biden puts gun control front and center in new ads

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden will put his career accomplishments on gun safety issues front and center as he kicks off a make-or-break stretch for his candidacy in Nevada, sharpening a contrast with one rival and heading off a similar push from another.

The Biden campaign is launching a pair of new ads on broadcast television in Nevada that amplify Biden’s argument that he is the only Democrat running or president who has taken on the gun lobby and won.

The first ad begins with the names Newtown, Parkland and Las Vegas — communities that saw some of the most horrific mass shootings in the past decade to note that gun violence “is tearing at the soul of this nation.” The ad details Biden’s work on the Brady Bill and assault weapons ban, and vows that Biden “will beat the NRA again” as president.

The second ad features a montage of Biden interacting with children on the campaign trail, saying that while they may not know his record on the issue in detail, “They just need to know protecting them from gun violence is what Joe Biden cares about most.”

The push comes on the second anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Fla. that took 17 lives. The shooting in Parkland followed just months after the murder of 59 concert-goers on the Las Vegas strip by a lone gunman.

In a statement marking the Parkland anniversary, Biden blamed the lack of any meaningful national gun reforms since then on “cowardice — political cowardice from the very people who should be fighting the hardest to protect us but instead are picking the side of gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association.”

The statement is an implicit swipe at Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. At the Democratic debate in New Hampshire, Biden called Sanders’ vote to shield gun manufacturers from liability “the biggest mistake” of his career. Sanders noted in the debate that he now has a D- rating from the NRA, and that “the world has changed and my views have changed” on the issue.

While the issue was not one that moved New Hampshire voters, the Biden campaign sees gun safety reform as a significant one for Nevada voters, who recently supported a ballot initiative to strengthen background checks. In addition to the new seven-figure TV buy, Biden is expected to discuss gun issues in his first public event since Tuesday in Henderson, Nev. Friday night.   

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who helped bankroll a major gun safety push in the 2018 midterms, has also showcased his record on guns in his national advertising blitz. Bloomberg, though, is not competing in the Nevada caucuses.  

Buttigieg is relying on grassroots movement in California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — With just 18 days until the California primary on Super Tuesday, former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is heavily relying on momentum and a “badass grassroots organizing program,” as one aide called it, to build support in the state.

But Buttigieg has yet to spend any dollars on TV ads in the state, while former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have blanketed the airwaves, despite having raised more than $80 million over the last year. Instead, the campaign contends it has fortified a volunteer network throughout each of the state’s congressional districts and is now actively moving more organizing staff into the state to help mobilize those volunteer operations.

He does not have a single endorsement from any one of California’s 45 Democratic members of Congress. Sen. Dianne Feinstein backed former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris has yet to weigh in since her own exit from the presidential race. The state’s Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis announced her endorsement of Buttigieg on Thursday ahead of his Sacramento town hall on Friday. 

Pete Buttigieg speaks at a Get Out the Vote rally at Elm Street Middle School on Feb. 9, 2020 in Nashua, N.H.Win McNamee / Getty Images

Prior to the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, campaign officials dismissed the need to have invested in a robust staff in California or other Super Tuesday states, suggesting, instead, that they would utilize campaign resources on ad buys and rely on the momentum that they’d garner from strong showings in the early states. 

Last September, the Buttigieg campaign secured 2016 Democratic nominee Sec. Hillary Clinton’s 2016 California state director to play the same role for its own Golden State effort. Because California awards its delegates on a proportional basis, the strategic targeting of the millions of Californians will be key, but more difficult, with the vastness of the state — more than 10 media markets and 53 congressional districts.

On Super Tuesday, the state will proportionally award its 416 delegates, with 273 of its delegates determined by results in each congressional district — dividing delegates proportionally among each candidate based on the outcome in that district. The other 144 delegates will be apportioned proportionally based on candidates' statewide performance. 

California will then send 54 additional delegates — also known as automatic delegates — to the convention. These delegates, mostly party leaders and elected officials, are not required to vote for any one particular candidate, and they will only be able to vote at the convention should the nominating process head to a contested convention and a second ballot vote is required.

In California, voters can register and change party affiliation on Election Day at their polling place, which prompts a potential increase in more moderate and conservative voters to take part in the Democratic primary process. There are more than 9 million registered Democrats in California, and an additional 5.2 million Independent voters. While Buttigieg focused heavily on rural counties in Iowa, he will also likely need to rely on burgeoning support from the more affluent, college-educated voters of California, including from parts of Orange County and San Diego. 

But the Buttigieg campaign hopes that their good showings in Iowa and N.H. will impact the early vote in California — California counties began mailing voters their mail-in ballots on the day of the Iowa contest.

California will also, however, require that he expand his support among voters of color. 

The Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan public policy research center in the state, reported last year that its survey of the state’s electorate showed that about half of likely Democratic voters are white, while Latinos form 24 percent of the party’s electorate, Asian-Americans account for 12 percent and African-American voters make up 10 percent. Buttigieg has suffered to build support outside of his mostly white coalition.

Buttigieg has made few stops in California open to the public — instead heavily fundraising in the state. He has raised more than 20 percent of his money from donors in California, per The Center for Responsive Politics

And it doesn't seem Buttigieg is changing that plan. With limited time left ahead of March 3, Buttigieg will make two more California private fundraising stops on Friday in the greater Bay Area.

Bloomberg catches up to Warren in congressional endorsements

WASHINGTON — Less than three months since he declared his 2020 candidacy, Michael Bloomberg is tied in major endorsements with Senator Elizabeth Warren, who officially joined the presidential race over a year ago. 

In an NBC News tally of endorsements from members of Congress and governors, both Bloomberg and Warren have a total of 14 endorsements. The two are tied for second place behind Joe Biden with 47 and ahead of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., with just eight.

Mike Bloomberg speaks at a campaign event in Raleigh, N.C., on Feb. 13, 2020.Jonathan Drake / Reuters

Bloomberg, who has yet to participate in a Democratic debate or be on the ballot in Iowa or New Hampshire, has seen a recent surge in endorsements allowing him to tie with the Massachusetts senator.

Warren had a weaker than anticipated performance in the two early states, placing third in the Iowa Caucus and failing to earn any delegates in New Hampshire. 

Since the first-in-the-nation primary on Tuesday, Bloomberg has racked up four endorsements, totaling eight this month. Notably, two Congressional Black Caucus members — Democratic Reps. Lucy McBath of Georgia and Gregory Meeks of New York — voiced their support for Bloomberg this week. 

Warren on the other hand, hasn’t received an endorsement from a member of Congress since Rep. Joaquin Castro, TX-20, formally backed her on January 14. Before that, the last time Warren was endorsed was July, 2019. 

Warren’s endorsements stem from her home state and some of the most progressive members of Congress. While she has no gubernatorial endorsements, her fellow Massachusetts Senate Democrat, Ed Markey, supports her candidacy.

Bloomberg has yet to receive the formal backing of any senator but is endorsed by Rhode Island’s Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo. He has also garnered the support of moderate Democratic House members serving in former Trump districts like Rep. Max Rose in New York and Rep. Mikie Sherrill in New Jersey.

Tom Steyer's wife moves to South Carolina ahead of primary

WASHINGTON — The wife of presidential candidate and entrepreneur, Tom Steyer, moved to South Carolina this weekend to campaign for her husband ahead of the upcoming primary in the state on February 29. 

Kat Taylor resigned from her position as the CEO of a California-based bank and relocated to South Carolina where she’s renting a house for the remainder of Steyer’s 2020 campaign. Taylor will also hit the trail in Super Tuesday states.

Tom Steyer participates in the sixth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season in Los Angeles on Dec. 19, 2019.Frederic J. Brown / AFP - Getty Images file

“I’ve always been in support of my husband, because of that I came to Columbia to show my full support,” Taylor said in a statement to the Associated Press on Tuesday.

Taylor said that when the two took their wedding vows, they “made a commitment to leave everything on the table in a fight for a better world.”

Tiffiany Vaughn Jones, Steyer's South Carolina Communications Director, told NBC News Wednesday that Taylor wants to take on a more active role in the campaign. The two plan to focus on improving both air and water quality, increasing access to affordable health care and housing, generating jobs, and creating a better future for young voters while on the trail. 

Vaughn Jones said that the 2020 race is clearly "wide open and the primary is now shifting to states that dramatically favor our campaign."

"Our continued surge in South Carolina and Nevada demonstrates that Tom is the only candidate who is building the diverse coalition that will beat Donald Trump in November," she said. 

South Carolina is widely considered the first diverse state of the primary cycle and a place where Democrats are competing to win over the black vote. The demographic makes up about two-thirds of the party's electorate in the state.

Steyer has repeatedly emphasized throughout his time on the trail the importance of the minority vote, stating at Friday’s debate hosted by ABC News that, “We have not said one word tonight about race. Not one word.”

Taylor will also address racial issues while campaigning for her husband. She kicked off her time in South Carolina by hosting college students to discuss Steyer’s plans for increasing funding for historically black colleges and universities Tuesday afternoon.

Up to this point in his candidacy, Steyer surpasses the Democratic field in total spending, coming in second after Michael Bloomberg. In just the last seven months, he has spent $14 million on ads and recruited about 100 new staffers and additional volunteers in South Carolina alone. 

Other candidates like Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have argued that the billionaire is buying his way through the race.

Bloomberg gets endorsed by two CBC members

DES MOINES, Iowa — Stacey Plaskett, a Democratic representative to Congress from the U.S. Virgin Islands and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., are endorsing former Michael Bloomberg's presidential campaign.  

Plaskett, who had backed Sen. Kamala Harris until the California senator ended her White House bid, says she is backing Bloomberg in order to “bring the fight to Donald Trump.” 

Michael Bloomberg speaks at a campaign event on Feb. 5, 2020, in Providence, R.I.David Goldman / AP file

Plaskett worked with Bloomberg after Superstorm Sandy hit the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2012, and said in a statement that the former New York City mayor “not only has the policies to bring equality and wealth creation to communities of color and economic development to keep us competitive in the world, he’s not afraid to fight.”  

McBath cited Bloomberg's "unmatched record in gun violence prevention" as a primary reason for her decision.  "Nobody running for president has done more for the gun violence prevention movement than Mike," she said in a statement. "I am proud to stand with him in this race, and work with him when he is in the White House to keep our communities safe.”

This comes after a new national Quinnipiac poll showed Bloomberg with the support of 22 percent of black Democratic primary voters, eating away at former Vice President Joe Biden’s support among the demographic. Shortly after that poll was released, video and audio clips resurfaced online in which Bloomberg defends his controversial “Stop and Frisk” policy during his time as mayor, clips re-circulated by a supporter of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. A Bloomberg official says the campaign was aware of at least one of the recordings and was braced for them to surface as a major issue at some point in the campaign. 

One of the recordings, verified by NBC News, is audio from a 2015 Aspen Institute appearance, in which Bloomberg said, “you can just Xerox [copy]” the description of male minorities aged 16-25 and hand it to police. He also said, “We put all the cops in the minority neighborhoods. Yes, that’s true. Why do you do it? Because that’s where all the crime is.” 

As the Trump campaign widely circulated the videos as well on Monday, Bloomberg spent the morning meeting with over 20 African American faith leaders in New York City. The leaders released a statement following the meeting, reading, “[Bloomberg] expressed regret over his past insensitivity regarding policies like stop and frisk and showed a continued interest in restorative justice. To be clear: None of us believe that Mike Bloomberg is a racist. Actions speak louder than words, and Mike has a long record of fighting for equality, civil rights, and criminal justice reform.”