Pete Buttigieg talks about his challenges attracting support from black voters

CONCORD, N.H. – In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Democratic presidential candidate South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg discussed his campaign's outreach to black voters after an internal campaign memo detailed concerns over the campaign's ability to reach out to the black community, and whether Buttigieg's sexual orientation is an issue for those voters in states like South Carolina.

Buttigieg told NBC News that while "homophobia is a problem" but "it’s unfair to suggest that homophobia is only an issue in the black community, when really it’s an issue in America." 

While Buttigieg has jumped toward the top of recent national polls, and polls in Iowa, a Monmouth University poll released a few weeks ago saw Buttigieg polling at only 3 percent in South Carolina among likely Democratic voters in the state. When likely Democratic black voters in South Carolina were polled, that support fell to 1 percent. 

Don Blankenship announces bid for Constitution Party's presidential nomination

WASHINGTON — Remember Don Blankenship? The ex-coal magnate turned West Virginia Senate Republican candidate who drew the ire of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with his derisive television ads? 

He's back, and running for the presidential nomination for the Constitution Party.

Blankenship announced his bid in a statement Monday morning, noting it comes on Veterans Day "in recognition of America's veterans." 

The statement says Blankenship is "attempting to be the first person ever to become an occupant of the White House after having been in the 'big house'" — a reference to the one year he served in prison for a mine safety violation. He claims he was "falsely convicted." 

Blankenship emerged on the national political stage during his 2018 bid for Senate, which pit him against then-Republican Rep. Evan Jenkins and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey in a tense primary. 

With many Republicans concerned about his ability to compete against Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, the party adopted an 'Anyone but Blankenship' policy, with McConnell, Trump and their allies leading the charge. 

That effort prompted Blankenship to furiously push back against those attacks, and launch a series of controversial ads, including one that called McConnell "Cocaine Mitch" and his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, a "China person." 

Blankenship ultimately lost, and sued the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Donald Trump Jr., a fact he points to in his announcement speech. 

Even if Blankenship wins the Constitution Party's nomination, he'll have extremely long odds as a third-party candidate. But he spent $4 million of his own money during his Senate bid. So he could be a wildcard if he decides to spend significant dollars.

Buttigieg rolls out plan to reform the VA on Veteran's Day

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — As a veteran, Pete Buttigieg knows first-hand the challenges of coming home after serving in war. Buttigieg’s service as an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserves, including a six-month deployment to Afghanistan in 2014, is something he mentions regularly on the campaign trail when contrasting himself with President Donald Trump.

On Veteran’s Day, the South Bend, Indiana mayor is releasing his plan to reform the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. 

“When you put your right hand up and make a promise to give everything to your country, the promise America makes is to remember you, respect your service, and care for you and your family,” his plan says. “That promise lasts long after you hang up your uniform. It lasts a lifetime.”

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at campaign town hall meeting at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H. on Oct. 25, 2019.Brian Snyder / Reuters

Buttigieg joins other 2020 candidates who are fanning out on Veteran’s Day to spotlight their ideas for improving the notoriously troubled U.S. system for caring for veterans after their service. Past presidents who have tried to reform Veterans Affairs have found that progress is slow to come.

Sen. Kamala Harris will also be out on the trail Monday holding veteran-related events. Sen. Bernie Sanders released his own plan for the VA. And Sen. Elizabeth Warren released her plan in the last few days.

Buttigieg’s plan seeks to fully fund the VA and streamline access to its services. It also calls for an end to veteran homelessness and the decriminalization of mental health issues across the board.

“It's clear we have to do better if we want to see more people getting access to the care that they need,” he said to reporters aboard the bus.

Among the field of 2020 candidates vying for the presidency, Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, are the only Democrats left in the race who have served in the military. While Buttigieg says the VA isn’t his primary health care provider, he recognizes the challenges of what he calls a “convoluted” process. 

“We have a system of veteran service officers in counties whose job is it to help people navigate and to advocate for people and really fight for them as they are battling bureaucracy,” he said to reporters on the bus tour. “And those folks do really good work, but it shouldn't be so hard.”

The plan calls for the establishment of a White House coordinator who would work across both Veterran Affairs and the Department of Defense to standardize intake procedures and allow record sharing between the two entities. Buttigieg hopes these reforms would alleviate the challenge of having to track down medical records when transitioning from active duty to veteran status. 

The current $16 billion project designed to do just that has hit major snags and delays in the past two years. A Buttigieg administration would aim to execute the project in a way that is human-centered and easy for veterans to navigate.

In addition to providing grants to community veteran organizations working to end the stigma around mental illness and addiction Buttigieg plans to expand access to Veteran Treatment Court which funnel’s vets into rehabilitation centers rather than prison. The wide-ranging plan also includes reforms aimed at addressing discrimination and challenges faced by women, people of color, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ+ community who serve.

On Monday, Buttigieg will commemorate Veteran’s Day by attending a ceremony at the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen, NH followed by a Veteran’s Day address at the Rochester Opera House in Rochester, NH to wrap up his four-day bus tour across the state.

Sanders releases $62 billion plan to revitalize the VA

CHARLES CITY, Iowa — Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on Monday released a $62 billion plan to revitalize the Veterans Affairs Administration that proposes, among other things, to repair, modernize and rebuild the infrastructure of the VA to provide “cutting-edge health care services” to veterans.

The plan, released on Veteran's Day, also pledges to fill nearly 50,000 vacancies at the VA within his first year in office. Sanders also proposes a simplification of the claims process, so veterans receive compensation in a timely manner, “without bureaucratic red tape,” the campaign says.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., center, smiles after filing to be listed on the New Hampshire primary ballot on Oct. 31, 2019, at the Secretary of State's office in Concord, N.H.Charles Krupa / AP

Much of the plan focuses on making sure veterans who deserve care, get it. Sanders says he plans to reform what the campaign calls “harmful VA regulations” that restrict access to care and benefits based on type of military discharge. The plan also calls for Veterans to be Able to use the “full complement” of benefits offered in the G.I. Bill.

The campaign released a video Monday, featuring Sanders senior advisors Warren Gunnels and Jeff Weaver, and late Republican Sen. John McCain. The video, titled “Keeping our promises” focuses on Sanders’ and McCain’s bipartisan work to enact the Veterans' Access,  Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, a bill that authorized 27 new facilities for the VA, and provided billions to hire doctors and nurses.

Sherrod Brown reiterates he isn't running for president, says he's happy with Dem field

WASHINGTON — Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said Sunday that he doesn't share the "hand-wringing anguish that my fellow Democrats have” about the state of the Democratic presidential field, reiterating that he's not interested in running for the office himself. 

Brown, who briefly flirted with a presidential bid this year, addressed the state of the race during a Sunday interview on NBC's "Meet the Press." 

"It's genetic that Democrats wring their hands about presidential candidates. I mean, we always do that. I think it's a good field. I think we're going to beat Trump," he said. 

"I go back to the promises this president's made. He makes promises to farmers and then he chooses the oil industry over family farmers in western Ohio. And I think that is eating away at his support." 

On the question of whether he'd consider changing his mind and running, Brown said he's never had a "big desire to be president of the United States."

"I love what I'm doing and I just didn't have the huge ambition you need to be president of the United States," he said. 

But while he wouldn't discuss the strategies of specific candidates, he shared general advice as to how he thinks the field should position itself. He argued that Democrats have to do "do better" in talking to working-class voters, and that the candidates should focus on trying to strengthen ObamaCare rather than replacing it with a new program like Medicare for All. 

"Democrats want to get to universal coverage. Republicans want to take it away. That should be where we all go as a team, as Democrats, on all of this," Brown said. 

Biden campaign memo says Kentucky, Virginia results help Biden case

CONCORD, N.H. — The Biden campaign is pointing to recent Democratic wins in Kentucky and Virginia as evidence that their message of building on the Affordable Care Act is a winning one for Democrats across the country, warning that Medicare for All would be an “unaffordable liability."

In a memo obtained exclusively by NBC News, Biden campaign senior strategist Mike Donilon and pollster John Anzalone said the off-year election wins by Democrats in Republican and swing states were “major proof points that Joe Biden’s health care plan and message are the right formula with which Democrats can retake the White House."

The Biden officials say Kentucky specifically offered a real template for Democratic candidates. Apparent gubernatorial winner Democrat Andy Beshear's message targeted Republican Gov. Matt Bevin for undercutting the state’s successful Obamacare exchange and Medicaid expansion. Bevin borrowed from the Trump playbook of “disproven conspiracy theories” and an appeal from the president himself, the Biden officials laid out. 

"Does anyone think Andy Beshear would have beaten Matt Bevin running on Medicare for All?,” the officials wrote. "Because of the grave stakes of 2020 – with implications not only for policy but for who we are as a country – it would be a profound mistake for our party to sacrifice the high ground on the ACA by running on undoing Obamacare, outlawing private health insurance and kicking almost 160 million people off employer-sponsored health insurance, and raising taxes on the middle class."

The memo continued, "Democrats re-took the House by running on protecting the ACA, and now that message has delivered full control of the Virginia state government and even the governor’s mansion in a Trump stronghold. And if this model succeeds in states as challenging for Democrats as Kentucky, it can absolutely gain us the necessary ground to re-take more competitive battleground states, and that is exactly what Joe Biden — more so than any other Democrat running — is poised to do."

The Biden campaign amped up its attacks against Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., ever since Warren said the former vice president was “running in the wrong primary” for not backing the progressive Medicare for All. Biden responded this week by calling that “my way or the highway“ response “representative of an elitism that working and middle class people do not share."

Biden said Friday that he wasn’t referring to “Warren as being an elitist.”

“I said the American people out there, they understand what's going on, and they don't like being instructed on what they should believe and what they don't believe."

Tom Steyer campaign aide resigns following accusations of payments for endorsements

DES MOINES, Iowa — Tom Steyer’s Iowa political director, Pat Murphy, has resigned in the wake of reports that he offered campaign contributions to local politicians in exchange for endorsing the billionaire's presidential candidacy.

"After the conclusion of an investigation alleging improper communications with elected officials in Iowa, Pat Murphy has offered his resignation from the campaign effective immediately," Steyer campaign manager Heather Hargreaves said in a statement Friday evening.   

“Our campaign policy is clear that we will not engage in this kind of activity, or any kind of communication that could be perceived as improper."

2020 Democratic Presidential hopeful US billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer speaks on-stage during the Democratic National Committee's summer meeting in San Francisco on Aug. 23, 2019.Josh Edelson / AFP - Getty Images

In an interview with MSNBC earlier Friday, Steyer said such payments would not have been authorized by the campaign.

“Nothing like that has ever been authorized. Nothing like that ever would be authorized,” Steyer said, noting that he found out about the allegations “through the airwaves.”

While paying for endorsements is not strictly illegal, the action could violate campaign finance laws, if the payments were not disclosed. The Steyer campaign highlighted their policy that they would “not engage in this kind of activity, and anyone who does is not speaking for the campaign or does not know our policy.”

Earlier Friday morning, following a public endorsement from state Rep. Russell Ott, Steyer answered questions a media availability in St. Matthews, S.C., where he reinforced the message that his campaign was working to “make sure we understand exactly what happened.”

“I can promise you we'll deal with the highest, we will make sure this campaign is run with the highest standards of integrity,” Steyer said.

In Iowa, Steyer has received just one endorsement, from former state Rep. Roger Thomas. Thomas confirmed to NBC News that he was never offered money in exchange for his support, and said, “I can positively assure you that I did not receive any compensation from Mr. Steyer or anyone involved in his campaign.”

The resignation of Murphy comes after one of Steyer’s South Carolina deputy state director, Dwane Sims, quit after it was discovered that he used access he had previously been granted while working for the South Carolina Democratic Party to download data about rival Sen. Kamala Harris' campaign.

“What I do know for sure is nothing, no information was ever used,” Steyer said at the same media availability Friday, adding that he called Harris and “left a message to say I'm sorry.” 

Joe Biden files for New Hampshire primary, clarifies comments on Elizabeth Warren

CONCORD, N.H. — Former Vice President Joe Biden officially filed for the New Hampshire primary Friday — marking the third time he has done so in his political career. 

Besides filing for himself in 2007, the second time he ran for president, Biden filed on behalf of then-President Barack Obama in his 2012 reelection bid. Biden ended his first presidential campaign in 1988 before filing for the New Hampshire primary. 

Speaking to reporters afterward, Biden reacted to the news of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg preparing to enter the 2020 contest. 

“I welcome him to the race,” he said.

“Michael's a solid guy, and let's see where it goes," Biden continued. "I have no problem with him getting in the race and in terms of he's running because of me, last polls I looked at I'm pretty far ahead." 

He also clarified his criticism of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., saying his "elitist" comments were in response to her assertion he should run in another primary because he disagrees with her, rather than an attack on her personally.

“I wasn't referring to Elizabeth Warren as being elitist,” he said. “I said the American people out there, they understand what's going on, and they don't like being instructed on what they should believe and what they don't believe."

"They're pretty darn smart," Biden continued, "they know what's at stake. And so I was referring to the fact that you can't label the American public if they disagree with you as somehow just dead wrong. That's not how a democracy functions.”

“I'm not saying she's out of touch. What I'm saying is, the way to approach politics today to get things done is not to question peoples' motives,” Biden added.

When asked Biden whether he would testify if he were called to in the House's impeachment inquiry, Biden deflected, saying, “this is about Donald Trump, not about me."

“Let's focus on the problem here. The question is, did the President of the United States violate the Constitution — and did he profit from his office? I've given 21 years of my tax returns. Take a look at 'em. I'd like to see one year of his. One year. He should be quiet otherwise.”

Before filing his official paperwork for the primary, Biden carried on the tradition of stopping by the state house gift shop. There, he signed a campaign poster and guest book.

Looking up at a pin board with presidential campaign bumper stickers and buttons since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Biden said “so many friends up there,” and singularly pointed out a photo of the late Sen. John McCain. 

While in the state house, Biden walked through throngs of supporters beating drums to amplify his recent critique against Trump — that Biden would “beat him like a drum” if he becomes the Democratic nominee. 

The hallways were also lined with Biden’s loyal support case, fire fighters from the International Association of Fire Fighters. 

Jill Biden joined him for his post-filing rally on the state house lawn, where he was introduced by endorser and former New Hampshire Governor John Lynch.

Biden emphasized a message of unity to the energetic crowd.

“Literally the character of our nation is on the ballot, it's about who we are as a country,” said Biden. “We can overcome these four years. It's gonna be hard, we're gonna need somebody who's gonna be able to pull the county together and reunite the world. But it's within our reach.”

 

Vice President Mike Pence files Trump's name for New Hampshire primary ballot

CONCORD, N.H. — Vice President Mike Pence traveled to New Hampshire Thursday to file the official paperwork to put President Donald Trump's candidacy on the first-in-the-nation primary ballot. Upon his arrival in New Hampshire, Pence was greeted by Gov. Chris Sununu, R-N.H., and was later greeted by cheers of "four more years" by the crowd gathered outside outside the state house. 

Hundreds of supporters lined the hallway inside as Pence made his way toward Secretary of State Bill Gardner's office and, in accordance with tradition, stopped at the state house gift shop to sign the guest book. Pence also stopped briefly to address supporters.

“Today I'll add the president's name to the ballot here in the New Hampshire Republican primary,” he said. “We're going to be here in New Hampshire, we're going to be traveling all over the country because I have to tell you, you look over the past three years, despite incredible opposition by the Democrats and their allies in the media, we have delivered.”

“In a very real sense, under President Donald Trump's leadership we've made America great again,” Pence said to loud applause from the crowd. “To keep America great, New Hampshire, we need four more years!”

He then shook hands and took pictures with many of the people at the state house. He made a point to stop and kneel to speak to a World War II veteran who was in wheelchair, with a balloon attached to it that said “100,” to mark his age.

Once Pence walked into the office, packed with press for the official signing, he was met by Gardner. After signing the official paperwork on behalf of the president, he wrote on the commemorative poster, "Here’s to four more years of President Trump in the White House.”

Pence was joined at the signing by Trump campaign New Hampshire co-chairs Fred Doucette, Al Baldasaro and Lou Gargiulo, as well as President Trump’s first campaign manager in 2016 and New Hampshire resident Corey Lewandowski.

NBC News has reported that Lewandowski is mulling a senate run in New Hampshire and he told NBC News Thursday that he will decide whether or not he will run by the end of the year, adding, “if I run, I win.”

Pence took four questions from local reporters on his interactions with Ukrainian President  Volodymyr Zelensky — which are subject to the House of Representative's impeachment probe, and if he’d campaign for former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ senate run in Alabama. Pence said, “We’ll let the people of Alabama make that decision."

Pence also reacted to reports that the anonymous author of The New York Times op-ed and an upcoming book claimed in his book that senior officials believed Pence would support the use of the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office. 

"You know when those rumors came out a few years ago I dismissed them then. I never heard any discussion in my entire tenure as vice president about the 25th Amendment," Pence said. 

Andrew Yang releases first TV ad in Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa — Entrepreneur Andrew Yang Thursday became the latest Democratic presidential candidate to hit the airwaves in Iowa, releasing his first TV ad that highlights his connections to the Obama administration and emphasizes his ability to take on industries like big tech and health care.

The one-minute ad, titled “New Way Forward,” opens with scenic shots of waves crashing against rocks and views of the San Francisco bridge as a narrator says, “The son of immigrants who came here seeking the American dream — Andrew Yang.” The ad ends on an image of him and his wife, Evelyn.

 

The 60-second ad touts Yang’s record as a businessman and his connections to the Obama administration, “President Obama named Andrew a champion of change, and his ideas are a blueprint for a new way forward,” the narrator says as photos of Yang meeting with the former president flash across the screen.  

The rhythm of the music takes a slightly darker tone as the ad turns to Yang’s plans for taking on Wall Street, big drug companies, and polluters before declaring, “Andrew Yang: parent, patriot — not a politician.” 

The campaign says it is spending more than $1 million to air the ad across the first-in-the-nation caucus state. 

Notably, the ad does not verbally mention Yang’s signature Freedom Dividend plan to give every adult American $1,000 a month, but displays the text “Universal Basic Income” text over a clip of Yang addressing a rally: “We have to rewrite the rules of the 21st century so that they work for us.” 

Of the candidates still in the race, Yang is the 11th Democratic hopeful to release television ads in Iowa this election cycle.  

Yang wasn't in the state during the month of October but did visit on Nov. 1 for the state party's Liberty and Justice dinner. He has instead been spending significant time in New Hampshire and holding rallies in major cities nationwide. The ads, which will run across broadcast channels, allow Yang to reach caucus voters even when he’s not in the state. 

“This is a significant media buy across the state of Iowa,” said Yang senior adviser Mark Longabaugh in the release. “Democratic voters will see Andrew Yang's message multiple times over the next week, learning about his credentials, family and unique plan to move our country 'a new way forward.’” 

The ad is the campaign’s first produced by Devine, Mulvey, and Longabaugh, the media consulting firm and longtime Bernie Sanders advisers who split with the Sanders campaign earlier this year

In latest polls, Yang has 3 percent support in Iowa, 5 percent in New Hampshire, and 3 percent nationally. Yang appears to have qualified for the November date, but has not yet met the polling threshold for the December debate.

Amy Klobuchar shuts down women candidates not being "likable"

ROCHESTER, N.H. — After filing to appear on the Democratic primary ballot in New Hampshire Wednesday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., appeared at a town hall even where she was asked the "likability" factor and how it could impact the candidates. 

The question was asked in reference to a new New York Times/Siena College poll in which some respondents said they'd support a male candidate over a female candidate when the two people's ideologies were similar, which was also featured on an episode of The New York Times’ podcast "The Daily" earlier this week.

Klobuchar responded by focusing on the three female senators in the race, saying that herself, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris have all had tough jobs that show they know how to lead in different ways.

"We have all had tough jobs, okay. Tough jobs. And really good tough jobs that show we know how to lead," Klobuchar said. "You have to make tough decisions and that's the truth, and it has haunted all three of us in different ways but I think overall, this is the interesting part, we wouldn't be on that debate stage and where we are running for president if we hadn't been tough enough to have those jobs." 

She added, “So I am just like, seriously, this is not a measure we use with men and so I find all of us quite likeable.”

Klobuchar went on to add that the women senators in the presidential race don’t agree on everything, just like men, but that their differences are policy-centered. 

“We finally have these women out there and yeah, we don't agree on everything — big surprise —just like men don't,” she said. 

Policy differences aside, Klobuchar said it's a positive development that there are so many women running for president this time around and reminisced on what it was like when Hillary Clinton sought the presidency in 2016. 

"I cannot even imagine how that felt for her on election night and how everyone felt in this room, but what I do know is she actually did break the glass ceiling because  of the fact that we have so many women that are in leadership now." 

“Does it make me mad sometimes? Yes, yes it does. And I think experience should be valued,” Klobuchar closed. “I'm just hoping and betting that they are going to connect that experience and ability, not just with a man, but with a woman. Then I win."