Progress Iowa's Corn Feed preview: #ReadySetCorn

DES MOINES, Iowa — An Iowa summer wouldn’t be complete without presidential candidates and corn in an election year. Progress Iowa’s Corn Feed event in Cedar Rapids this weekend, the fifth annual event hosted by the Democratic issue-based advocacy group, will feature twelve presidential hopefuls.

“We imagine this is one of the bigger events with presidential candidates that’s free and open to the public,” Progress Iowa executive director Matt Sinovic told NBC News, “We want it to be as accessible as possible, and don’t want to price anyone out.”

The lineup: Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; former HUD Sec. Julián Castro; New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio; former Rep. John Delaney; former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; Washington Gov. Jay Inslee; Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Tim Ryan, D-Ohio and author Marianne Williamson.

Candidates will be given ten-minutes on stage to address the crowd. Sinovic calls the event a “good opportunity for grassroots activism” and told NBC News he hopes candidates will emphasize what they each stand for, encourage voters to get involved in issues that they may care about, and inspire attendees to “fight for the things that they believe in.”

The contenders will also have access to more than 1,000 voters who will mingle with candidates among photo booths, corn hole and other carnival games - Gov. Hickenlooper’s booth will reportedly have a giant Jenga game. Live music will supplement the outdoor ambiance as attendees mingle and visit informational booths set-up by community organizations as well as local and national campaigns.

Several campaigns that do not have candidates present to speak, like Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., will have booths on-site that are staffed by organizers.

Tickets are available for any of the seven vendors at the Newbo City Market, where each menu will feature at least one corn item. Sinovic estimates the event will bring in anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000 in fundraising for Progress Iowa.

Four presidential candidates pitch themselves to Iowa educators

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – Four Democratic presidential hopefuls pitched themselves to a room full of Iowa educators on Saturday.

Around 200 members of the Iowa State Education Association, the largest union in the Hawkeye state, gathered to hear remarks from former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. 

During his prepared remarks, Biden was the only candidate to acknowledge the teacher strikes that have taken place across the country.

“These walk outs are vital not just to make sure that you get paid fairly, or you get healthcare or your school safety although they're essential, many times, you're walking out and make sure students get greater resources,” Biden said.

Biden also emphasized the need to treat teachers with the “dignity,” they deserve. He promised them that if elected, “you’re never going to have a better partner in the white house than Jill and Joe Biden and that's the God's truth,” he said. “I give you my word on that.” 

Warren hit a similar note when it came to respecting teachers. 

"This is about respect,” Warren said. “And this is about reminding ourselves and our entire nation that the way we build a future is that we invest in every single one of our children.”

This wasn't the only moment of agreement between the candidates. Warren and Buttigieg also shared similar comments about for-profit charter schools. 

“Public school dollars should stay in public schools, period,” Warren said denouncing the use of tax dollars to fund for-profit charter schools. 

And Buttigieg continued that he didn't see a place in the U.S. for for-profit charter schools. 

"We all believe in innovation we all believe in keeping up and getting ready for the next steps. But that has to be done with educators, not to educators and that's one of many reasons why for profit charter schools have no place in the future," Buttigieg said. 

Both Buttigieg and Klobuchar spent a majority of their time on stage introducing themselves to the educators. Each candidate highlighted the multitude of additional responsibilities placed on teachers beyond their role as educators.

Klobuchar recalled a teacher she met while campaigning in Iowa who described dealing with students contemplating suicide.

“Not everyone in this room is qualified to be a psychiatrist or a psychologist,” Klobuchar said. “Yet, so many of you are on the front lines having to do that work.” 

Buttigieg echoed this sentiment saying that teachers are “expected to be counselors, mental health professionals, test administrators, and according to some are supposed to snap into action and become highly trained armed guards." He continued, "As if you don't have enough on your plate, practicing the craft of being professional educators,” he said.

The ISEA has not endorsed in the primary, while all four candidates have received endorsements from individual members. The union did not endorse in the 2016 primaries either. 

Bernie Sanders nabs endorsement from central Iowa Postal Workers union

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders received the endorsement of the American Postal Workers Union Local 44 in Central Iowa, the campaign announced Saturday. 

Mike Bates, president of APWU Local 44, called Sanders a “champion for postal workers.”

“He will fight for postal banking that would bring in revenue to the Postal Service and stop the legalized loan sharking of check into cash and payday loans that feed on the working poor,” Bates said in a statement. “He has our backs and we will have his back in this election. The DMI Area Local 44 of the American Postal Workers Union will do everything we can to elect Senator Bernie Sanders for President of the United States of America."

Bernie Sanders sits down for an interview on TODAY.Nathan Congleton / TODAY

The endorsement, voted upon by the more than 700 members of the union this week, is one of more than 130 individual Iowa union worker endorsements already announced in support of Sanders this cycle. 

In thanking the union for their support, Sanders pivoted to Pres. Donald Trump. “Donald Trump wants to privatize the Postal Service and threaten over 630,000 jobs. That absolutely cannot happen,” said Sen. Sanders. “I’m proud to stand together with the postal workers of Local 44 as we fight to strengthen USPS, protect jobs and allow post offices to provide basic banking services.”

Sanders has a plan for postal workers that would allow the Postal Service to provide basic financial services and other consumer products and services. 

“Post offices would offer basic checking and savings accounts, debit cards, direct deposit, online banking services, and low-interest, small dollar loans,” Sanders’ plan states. “It would end the racial disparities in access to banking and access to credit, while also stopping financial institutions from reaping massive fees off the poor and underserved.” 

“The post office guarantees to deliver your mail in snow and rain, in heat and in gloom of night. It delivers your mail whether you live in a city skyscraper or down a long country road. It can do the same for banking,” he writes.

In 2018, Sanders wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin outlining his plans. In the letter, he detailed that he would allow the Postal Service to recover $50 billion in overpayments it made to its retirement program, end the price cap on stamps which is, according to Sanders, costing the system two billion dollars a year and reinstate overnight delivery and speed up service standards.

Democratic National Committee releases New Hampshire debate qualifications

WASHINGTON — The Democratic National Committee released the latest polling, donor and pledged delegate thresholds for the Feb. 7 Democratic primary debate in New Hampshire on Friday. 

The DNC will offer to pathways for candidates to make the debate stage in February — one mirrors the qualifications for the January debate in Iowa: Candidates must reach 5 percent in four qualifying polls or 7 percent in two qualifying polls conducted in state polls conducted in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, plus have fundraising from 225,000 unique donors and a minimum of 1,000 unique donors per state. 

In this Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019 photo, the stage for the Democratic presidential primary debate is shown before Wednesday's debate in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)John Amis / AP

Polls must be released between Dec. 13 and Feb. 6 to count, and all the candidates who participated in the January debate have met the new polling threshold: former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and philanthropist Tom Steyer.  

Candidates can also qualify through the pledged delegate pathway. If a candidate finishes the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3 with one pledged delegate they will automatically make the debate stage. 

The debate in New Hampshire is one of three debates schedule in February — candidates will also participate in debates in Nevada and South Carolina ahead of those states' nominating contests. 

County to County: Milwaukee Democrats talk about the importance of 2020

WASHINGTON — If a Democratic presidential candidate is going to win back Wisconsin in 2020, he or she is going to need to turn out the vote in Milwaukee, home to the state’s largest African-American population. That’s something the Democrats failed badly at in 2016.

President Donald Trump wound up winning Wisconsin by less than 23,000 votes in 2016 and Milwaukee produced 51,000 fewer votes in that election than it did in 2012.

What are those voters thinking as the calendar flips to 2020? NBC News' "Meet the Press" convened a roundtable of five African-American voters in Milwaukee as part of its year-long "County to County" project following five key counties in five swing states that we believe will decide the 2020 election.

The voters here have a common set of answers about what happened four years ago. Some say that they feel the Democratic Party was taking them for granted. Some say their community has suffered for years economically under Republican and Democratic administrations and they wonder what difference their votes make. And others say they weren’t particularly excited about Democrat Hillary Clinton and they didn’t believe Trump would win.

Regardless, they all say the last election showed how crucial their vote is and the power they’ll hold in their hands this fall.

More important, the story of these voters in 2020 is about more than Milwaukee or Wisconsin. Across the upper Midwest, the states that won Trump the election are full of similar communities where African-American turnout will be crucial. Places like Wayne (Detroit) and Genesee counties (Flint) in Michigan, and Cuyahoga (Cleveland) and Hamilton (Cincinnati) counties in Ohio.

In each of those counties, the same Milwaukee pattern was visible. They are counties with large African-American populations that produced fewer votes in 2016 than they did in 2012. They will be key to Democratic hopes in 2020.

Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer spend nearly $300 million combined in TV and radio ads

WASHINGTON — Former New York City Michael Bloomberg and philanthropist Tom Steyer have now spent nearly $300 million combined on TV and radio ads of Friday, according to ad-spending data from Advertising Analytics. And the two Democratic billionaires and presidential candidates plan to spend millions more in future ad buys through Super Tuesday.

However, the two candidates aren't quite fighting for TV time. Steyer has largely concentrated his spending in the four earlier nominating states like Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, while Bloomberg's campaign has focused on states that don't vote until closer to or on Super Tuesday.

Bloomberg's campaign has previously said their strategy is to focus on Super Tuesday contests, and not compete in any of the four early states.

Here are the numbers through Friday, Jan. 17:

National ad-spending numbers 

  • Bloomberg: $190.2 million (with future ad spending at $220.6 million through Super Tuesday)
  • Steyer: $106.4 million
  • Sanders: $12.2 million
  • Buttigieg: $11.8 million
  • Yang: $7.9 million
  • Trump: $5.7 million
  • Warren: $4.5 million
  • Klobuchar: $3.2 million
  • Biden: $3.2 million

Iowa ad spending 

  • Steyer: $13.2 million
  • Buttigieg: $8.4 million
  • Sanders: $7.8 million
  • Yang: $5.4 million
  • Warren: $4.2 million
  • Biden: $3.2 million
  • Klobuchar: $2.5 million

New Hampshire ad spending 

  • Steyer: $15.6 million
  • Sanders: $3.8 million
  • Bloomberg: $3.3 million
  • Yang: $2.4 million
  • Buttigieg: $2.0 million 

Nevada ad spending 

  • Steyer: $10.8 million
  • Trump: $859,000
  • Sanders: $165,000
  • Buttigieg: $94,000 

South Carolina ad spending 

  • Steyer: $14.8 million
  • Buttigieg: $1.1 million
  • Bloomberg: $966,000
  • Trump: $549,000

Pete Buttigieg's endorsement town hall interrupted by climate protesters

CONCORD, N.H. — Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg was interrupted by protesters during a town hall in New Hampshire on Friday where he received an endorsement from New Hampshire Rep. Annie Kuster. The protesters were a group of climate activists against the former South Bend, Indiana mayor's ties to the fossil fuel industry.

Roughly two dozen protesters interrupted Buttigieg during his remarks in Concord, N.H., holding signs with the Buttigieg campaign’s colors of yellow and blue and writing with a matching font, that read “Pete takes money from fossil fuel billionaires.”

They sang and chanted causing a significant interruption of Buttigieg's event. The protesters, according to their distribution materials, aim to hold presidential candidates accountable on their connections to the fossil fuel industry. 

Buttigieg at first tried to listen to the group's protests, and interjected to say, “I see some inaccurate information going up here so let's dispatch with that real quick. I've taken the fossil fuel pledge and I am determined to bring about solutions on climate change.” 

“I can't make out your song, but we definitely want the same things,” Buttigieg continued as the protesters continued to shout. He then tried to get back to his rehearsed remarks. 

“Now, are we ready to do what it's actually going to take to come together and solve these problems?” Buttigieg said to the audience with cheers in response. “Will we turn on one another or will we unite to tackle the issues we face as a country?”

The group has interrupted other candidates at New Hampshire events, including former Vice President Joe Biden in October in Manchester. 

“Remember, if you care about solving these problems, if you care about fixing the economy, if you care about fixing our climate, we know what we are up against and  it is not each other,” Buttigieg added. “Who's with me on making sure that tackling climate is not another partisan political battlefield? But something that we all rally around as a national project? We got a lot of work to do. We better be ready to do it together.”

The protesters escorted themselves out of the venue after their disruption.

One of the protesters told NBC News that the group protested Buttigieg because he accepted campaign donations from Craig Hall, who owns an oil company and was at Buttigieg's "wine cave" fundraiser in California last month.

“My reaction is that I have a climate policy that's going to get us carbon neutral by the middle of the century and starts on day one with aggressive action,” Buttigieg told reporters after the event. "As the youngest candidate running for president, I will be personally impacted by America's success or failure in dealing with the climate issue. So I respect the issues that they're raising. I share the goal of making sure that we deal with this and I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure we can.”

Fight for $15 campaign and the SEIU launch joint campaign effort in Michigan, Wisconsin

DES MOINES, Iowa — The Fight for $15 campaign and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), will launch a major door-knocking operation this weekend targeting minority voters in parts of Michigan and Wisconsin that saw drops in voter turnout in the 2016 election. 

The partnership intends to put “tens of millions of dollars" behind the effort through Election Day, targeting 690,000 specific doors in Michigans’s Detroit, Oakland County, Saginaw and Flint areas, and another 750,000 doors in Wisconsin’s Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha neighborhoods. It will also run digital ads and build out a text-message program and is expected to continue through November. 

In the 2016 presidential election, now-President Donald Trump won Michigan over Hillary Clinton by just 11,000 votes, and about 23,000 votes in Wisconsin

“We know Midwestern states like Wisconsin and my home state of Michigan are key to winning in 2020. Working people will be critical to reaching that goal, particularly black and brown communities that have too often been left behind by national politics,” said Mary Kay Henry, the president of the SEIU. “They’re going to swing the election by getting out, hitting the streets, knocking on doors and lifting up issues like wages, inequality, health care and the right for all workers to join together in a union.”

Just this week — ten months out from the general election — Milwaukee was the focus of both the national Democratic and Republican parties' attention. Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez and local Democrats engaged in a round table with local leaders in a predominately-black neighborhood of Milwaukee on Thursday. And on Tuesday night, President Trump held a campaign rally just two blocks from where the Democratic Party will hold its national convention this summer.

The partnership between Fight for $15 and SEIU produced a similar program ahead of the midterm elections. Both states elected Democratic governors in 2018. 

Michigan and Wisconsin have received heightened attention from political operatives and activists on the left after the 2016 race. While counties like Macomb in Michigan, made up of predominately-white voters, flipped in Trump’s favor in 2016 and saw a significant increase in voter turnout, the states’ more diverse counties, like Wayne County, saw a drop-off in voters from 2012 to 2016.

The SEIU's national organization has not endorsed in the 2020 Democratic primary, but the New Hampshire chapter endorsed Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders last week. The Fight for $15 campaign has said it will not endorse in the primary election. 

Bennet campaign says it's hit fundraising goal to stay competitive in N.H.

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Senator Michael Bennet’s presidential campaign announced Friday that the Colorado senator has hit a self-imposed fundraising goal of $700,000 over the last month, giving the campaign enough resources to compete in first-in-the-nation primary here in just 25 days.

The campaign said that Thursday, the final day of this push, was the best fundraising day for the campaign since September 2019. 

Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bennet in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on June 9, 2019.Charlie Neibergall / AP file

“Surpassing our fundraising goal last night is another confirmation of our campaign’s momentum — from key endorsements to growing support in New Hampshire,” said Bennet spokesperson Shannon Beckham. “We’re building the ground game we need to carry Michael to a top three finish on primary night.”

The campaign says that they will be expanding its “Opposite of Trump” ad buy today, adding that hitting this goal followed a few days of critical momentum, especially with endorsements.

Bennet announced last month that he was going all in on New Hampshire for his candidacy and even launched his first TV ad in the state. The campaign says that hitting the fundraising goal means they they will now invest more resources into further expanding their TV and digital ad program.

“Voters watched the debate this week and felt less sure than ever that the front-runners could beat Trump or unite the country to make progress for middle-class families,” Beckham added. “The surge we saw in donations on the final day of the push is further proof that Americans are looking for a president like Michael Bennet, who has the experience and agenda to take on Trump and start governing the country again.”  

New Biden ads highlight Obama's praise from Medal of Freedom award

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — As two of his chief rivals spar over each other’s credibility, Joe Biden’s campaign is reminding voters of the ultimate tribute he earned from President Obama, as a “a resilient and loyal and humble servant.” 

As it did in the earliest days of his candidacy, the Biden campaign is promoting the glowing tribute Obama offered as he awarded his vice president the Presidential Medal of Freedom, two years ago this week. The 30-second video will target Iowans visiting YouTube starting Friday.

The campaign says it is pushing this message onto the digital streaming platform at a time when they expect traffic to be higher as the NFL’s conference championship games approach. Visitors to the YouTube homepage will see the video prominently on the masthead; a 60-second version will also be launched as an auto-play video before other videos.

The video highlights Obama’s praise for Biden’s character, as a parent and Gold Star parent. It closes with Obama saying, “the best part is he’s nowhere close to finished” — a comment made long before either he or Biden could have anticipated how the 2020 field would take shape.

Biden has shown little hesitation to invoke Obama’s name on the campaign trail. But his campaign has been careful not to use the president’s image and voice as freely. Advisers have kept an open line of communication with president's team to ensure that any messaging that invokes their time in the White House together does not go beyond what Obama would consider fair use, or suggest an endorsement that Obama has not offered.

Democratic group pledges millions for state legislative wins

WASHINGTON — The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), the official organization dedicated to electing Democrats to state legislatures around the country, committed Thursday to spending $50 million to help the party get an edge ahead of key redistricting battles of 2021.

That spending will be part of its “Flip Everything” campaign, which the DLCC announced Thursday during a press briefing in Washington D.C. 

While the group has a vast range of targeted states, its map also includes presidential battleground states like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Texas, and Arizona.

According to DLCC President, Jessica Post, “there’s so much power on the line” when it comes to statewide elections. 

“The states are our first line of defense against Donald Trump,” Post said. “The states serve as a firewall against the administration’s policies.”  

The stakes are high for this year’s elections specifically because in many states, the legislatures play a key role in drawing the district maps for the next decade of elections. Republicans gained 675 state legislative seats in the 2010 midterm elections, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which put Republicans in strong shape when maps were drawn in 2011.  

The DLCC has helped Democrats win majorities in 10 state legislative chambers since President Trump was elected — flipping a total of 436 seats from Republicans, including wins in 425 districts that the president won in 2016. The organization hopes to bring another 10 state chambers under Democratic control in 2020. 

Post credits Democrats’ previous successes in part to the DLCC’s improved infrastructure, candidate recruitment, and voter outreach. She also noted that financial investments have soared with the DLCC on track to spend an unprecedented $50 million this cycle.

Looking forward to 2020, Post said the DLCC will continue to invest time, money, and staff into these targeted states and pointed to state Democrats’ 2019 victory in Virginia where the General Assembly began its latest session under total Democratic control for the first time in 25 years.

Virginia — Post’s “favorite new Democratic trifecta” — received an early $1 million investment from the DLCC and had its own embedded political staffer. The DLCC plans to embed more staff in battleground states in 2020. 

Post said that the DLCC is also using “high profile allies” to its advantage on the campaign trail.

In a Texas State House special election on January 28 — a race receiving national attention — former presidential candidates Beto O’Rourke and Julián Castro are campaigning for Democrat Eliz Markowitz.

Post said it would be “earth shattering” if Markowitz wins this seat. 

On the 2020 presidential election, Post said the DLCC continues to work with several presidential candidates including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg.

“We obviously will beat Donald Trump in 2020,” Post said. “We have to do that but there’s been huge progress in states.”

New grant fund looks to power gender parity in elected office

WASHINGTON — Panorama Global, a nonprofit group, is sponsoring recruitment and training programs for women running for elected office across the country. 

The Ascend Fund, announced on Tuesday, is the latest venture for Panorama Global to get involved in gender parity in elected offices. The group received its seed money from Melinda Gates’ investment and incubation company Pivotal Ventures. 

Chief executive officer and founder Gabrielle Fitzgerald told NBC News that the fund is one of their “biggest and most prominent” grants yet, and is actively looking to work with nonpartisan and nonprofit organizations that recruit and train women to run for office. 

“There are barriers that exist that make it hard for women to run for office,” Fitzgerald said. “It requires you to be away from home, and oftentimes today, women are still the primary caregivers.” 

Fitzgerald continued that aside from systematic barriers that preclude women from running, the lack of female candidates creates a pipeline problem for possible recruits. 

“It’s not just training that women need to declare candidacy for office, it’s also encouragement,” Fitzgerald said. 

Two groups have already received three-year grants: New American Leaders and Vote Run Lead. New American Leaders focuses on recruiting and training people of color, immigrants and refugees to run for state legislatures. While they work with both men and women, they will only use money from The Ascend Fund on programming for women. 

“Our programs start at the point of entry, recruitment and training," founder and president of New American Leaders Sayu Bhojwani said. 

According to Bhojwani, because of New American Leaders' designation as a 501(c)(3), the group cannot provide support once someone has formally entered a race. 

Bhojwani clarified that the Ascend Fund and partners at Panorama Global “will not be involved in designing the programs” at New American Leaders, the partnership “is an opportunity to identify ongoing problems” in recruiting and training women for office. 

Vote Run Lead works with women across the country and also specializes in recruiting and training women to run for state legislatures. 

Vote Run Lead founder and CEO Erin Vilardi said that the Ascend Fund will act as an “accelerator” for programs the group had already been planning to enact. 

“We are going as fast as we can to keep up with demand for women raising their hand [to run],” Vilardi said. 

Vilardi continued that this grant will help push against assumptions that ventures supporting “women in politics is fully funded,” or that it’s “a demand problem.”

“Gender equity is really possible,” Vilardi said. “Really at this point, it’s about the resources.” 

Vilardi said the additional funding will allow Vote Run Lead to work more to support women who have already won office, and not just help get them there. 

According to Fitzgerald, because the groups being selected, and the fund money, are coming from nonpartisan actors, it allows the focus to be going state-by-state to achieve gender parity in state legislatures.

“Obviously different parties have different priorities and quotas for how they think about their recruitment,” Fitzgerald said. “But they don’t have an overall strategy for what we’re describing.”