West Virginia Democrat looks to score big upset in Trump country
FAYETTEVILLE, W.V. – Richard Ojeda embraces his reputation as a fighter. Sometimes, in very real ways.
While walking through a giant crowd at the recent "Bridge Day" festival in this part of southern West Virginia, his interview with NBC News was photo-bombed by supporters of his opponent, Carol Miller.
Ojeda wasn't having it.
"Hey, please go tell her lets debate!" he shouted, and verbal back-and-forth ensued.
"You guys don't wanna talk and the person you're representing don't wanna talk" Ojeda continued. "I'll debate her in a Wendy's parking lot, right now, any time!"
"God Bless America, vote for who you want to!" Miller's supporter shouted back.
"That's right, and you're welcome. You're welcome. Enjoy the freedoms that I fought for," he roared, adding, "Airborne!" the exclamation he uses as a greeting, and to punctuate his sentences.
He returned to the crowd, and to the interview. "Every once in a while it's just gotta happen," he said.
That willingness to go into battle against anyone is part of what's made Ojeda such a political force here.
In the "Trumpiest" district (the president won it by 49 points in 2016) in the "Trumpiest" state in the entire country (Trump won by 42 points), Democrats see a possible opportunity to pick up a Republican seat with the brash, tattooed, populist Ojeda, the former Army paratrooper and current state senator who gained notoriety as the face of the recent West Virginia teacher strike.
West Virginia's 3rd congressional district is an open seat this year, vacated by GOP Rep. Evan Jenkins's unsuccessful senatorial bid.
The district is well situated in Trump Country, and even Ojeda voted for Trump. But he now says he regrets it, suggesting that the results he wanted haven't materialized.
"Trump became president and I was very proud of the fact that the coal industry picked up," Ojeda explained. "We've got coal trains moving. They're full of coal. I give him a thumbs up on that. But what else? What about all those jobs that they were supposed to bring from overseas to here, because guess what? Not everybody here's coal miners. We need more than that. We are West Virginia. We need something. Can we get broadband? No Fortune 500 company is going to come here. What are they going to go back in time?"
Trump himself has dubbed Ojeda "stone cold crazy" and endorsed Miller, Ojeda's opponent, who declined repeated requests to be interviewed.
After jumping to an early lead in public polls here, Ojeda has seen his support erode in West Virginia- in part thanks to repeated visits to the state by President Trump, and to a barrage of negative ads highlighting his split from the president.
All three public polls of the race conducted in October had Miller ahead, two showing her lead outside the margin of error.
Walking around "Bridge Day," it's clear Ojeda isn't your stereotypical local candidate for Congress. He handed out business cards with his personal cell phone number and weathered both hollers of support and jeers from onlookers. He could hardly move without requests for selfies.
While it's that populist persona that took off during the teacher's strike and launched Ojeda into a minor cult figure in the area, he's also focused on fighting his political battles on numerous other fronts, including the opioid epidemic that's ravaging his state, promoting medical cannabis, and other economic and union issues.
Ojeda insists that all of this - his local celebrity status and his quest for higher political office - wasn't planned. Instead, he told an undecided voter from Oak Hill he was motivated to run after returning home from service because he was "sickened" by politicians.
Biden tweets video on anniversary of being picked as Obama's running mate
DES MOINES, Iowa – Ahead of the 11-year anniversary of then-Sen. Barack Obama asking then-Sen. Joe Biden to be his vice presidential running mate Friday, Biden's presidential campaign has released a one-minute video on Twitter to commemorate the significance of the moment.
The video opens with President Obama telling Vice President Biden that he was the “first decision I made, and it was the best.”
A narrator’s booming voice then says “It was a relationship forged in fire,” before recounting the numerous legislative achievements the pair was able to pass after inheriting “a world in crisis.”
“Now we’re facing a different crisis,” the narrator says before the video shows white nationalists chanting “Jews will not replace us” and attendees at a Trump rally chanting “Send her back,” in reference to Muslim Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.,who was born in Somalia.
Before closing, the video reminds viewers that Obama once called Biden “the best vice president America has ever had,” as the Biden campaign subtly stresses that the endorsement makes Biden “ the president we need now.”
The constant embrace of the popular former vice president has been followed with criticism by Biden’s opponents who have attacked him for invoking popular parts of Obama’s record at times when it’s convenient to him.
Hickenlooper announces Senate bid week after ending presidential candidacy
WASHINGTON — Former Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper is jumping into the state's pivotal Senate race, he announced Thursday in a new video.
Filmed in a pool hall, Hickenlooper criticizes Washington Republicans for playing "games" on health care and public lands, lumping Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, his would-be opponent, in with those Republicans he's criticizing.
"I don’t think Cory Gardner understands that the games he’s playing with Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are hurting the people of Colorado," he says in the ad.
Hickenlooper instantly becomes the highest-profile politician in the crowded field of Democrats vying for the right to take on Gardner. The race is one of the top opportunities for Democrats in their bid to regain control of the U.S. Senate as Gardner will have to run on a ballot with President Trump, who lost the state by 5 percentage points in 2016.
But despite his resume, and poll numbers showing he'd be the favorite to win the primary, it's doesn't appear that Democrats will clear the field for him.
In a statement last week responding to speculation Hickenlooper would switch to the Senate race, Democratic state Sen. Angela Williams criticized Hickenlooper for "working and campaigning against bold, progressive solutions" and warning "this won't be a coronation."
And former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff told local news outlets he wouldn't drop out if Hickenlooper jumped in either.
The decision to run for Senate comes one week after Hickenlooper ended his presidential bid, where he struggled to find support both from donors and at the polls.
During that bid, he repeatedly brushed aside the idea of running for Senate.
"If the Senate is so good, how come all those Senators are trying to get out?" he quipped during an interview at Washington's National Press Club in June.
"The Senate just doesn't attract me at this point."
Republicans are pointing to those types of comments in response to Hickenlooper's announcement.
“John Hickenlooper is desperate to redeem himself after flopping on the national stage, but we think he said it best just a few months ago: he is ‘not cut out’ for the Senate,'" National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesperson Joanna Rodriguez said in a statement.
"This crowded Senate field has been in a race to the left and Hickenlooper’s quixotic presidential bid did not do him any favors in proving he can compete in any race in 2020.”
Hickenlooper addresses that criticism in his announcement video, arguing that he feels a sense of urgency to remain in elected politics.
"Look, I’m a straight shooter. I’ve always said Washington was a lousy place for a guy like me who wants to get things done — but this is no time to walk away from the table," he says.
"I know changing Washington is hard, but I want to give it a shot. I’m not done fighting for the people of Colorado.
GOP gubernatorial candidate argues gender is binary in new ad
WASHINGTON — Republican Rep. Ralph Abraham, who is running in Louisiana's upcoming gubernatorial election, is out with a new television ad Thursday morning that takes aim at both run-of-the-mill political issues like the size of government and the culture wars over issues like gender identification.
The new spot, which will run as part of the campaign's already announced $2 million television buy, includes Abraham speaking directly to camera as he lists off his "truth."
"Life begins at conception, government is too big, our taxes are too high," he says in the ad.
"President Trump is doing a great job. Facts matter more than feelings. The Second Amendment is self-explanatory. And as a doctor, I can assure you, there are only two genders."
Abraham's spot exemplifies the strategy that many pro-Trump Republican candidates are pursuing and emulating from the president himself — a mix of typical conservative arguments about the economy and the government mixed in with a focus on controversial cultural issues.
The congressman is looking to knock off incumbent Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in the conservative-leaning state. He's the highest-profile elected official running against Bel Edwards, but is also jockeying with Republican businessman Eddie Rispone, who is relying in part on his on wealth for his bid.
The two men will face off, along with a crowded field, in the state's jungle primary on Oct. 12. If no candidate wins a majority of the vote, the top two candidates will move onto a one-on-one election on Nov. 16.
Pete Buttigieg’s latest ad buy is aimed at college students
DES MOINES, Iowa — If you’re not a paid subscriber on Spotify or Pandora you know the feeling when you’re listening to a playlist and all of a sudden an ad pops up. Now, one voice you could hear in between songs is South Bend Mayor and presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg.
Thursday, the campaign launched two 30-second ads aimed at college students heading back to school in New Hampshire and Iowa. The campaign tells NBC news the ads are aimed at meeting voters where they are.
In one ad, titled “Back to Normal,” Buttigieg implores the listener to, “ask yourself how a guy like Donald Trump ever got within cheating distance of the Oval Office.” The mayor goes on to stress the importance that Democrats not be the party of “back to normal.”
The second ad, “A Moment,” strikes a similar tone. “We are never going to be able to fix what is broken in Washington by recycling the same arguments and politicians that have dominated our politics for as long as I've been alive,” Buttigieg says. This ad centers on issues, that younger generations are most impacted by including school shootings and climate change.
Both ads end with Buttigieg delivering a definitive line, “We've got to do something completely different.”
This messaging which has been a hallmark of Buttigieg’s stump speech on the campaign trail, will now be streamed directly into voter’s ears.
If listeners choose to click on the ads, they’ll be directed to the campaign website’s “issues” page, which features the mayor’s latest policy proposals and key platforms.
This comes as many candidates in the presidential race, including Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, are beginning to ramp up ad buys in key early states.
The Buttigieg campaign declined to comment on how much the ads cost and how long they are expected to run.
RNC outraises DNC in July
WASHINGTON — The Republican National Committee significantly outraised the Democratic National Committee last month as the Republicans continue to expand their cash advantage over their rivals.
The RNC raised $20.8 million in July, a little less than 40 percent of that ($8 million) from small donations of $200 or less. By comparison, the DNC brought in $7.7 million, with 35 percent of that ($2.7 million) from small donations.
The GOP spent $17.7 million over the month while the DNC spent $7.9 million.
The fundraising disparity echoes the trend that's existed since the start of the year — the RNC has outraised the DNC in 2019 by a little more than $66 million. And it ended the month with $47 million in the bank compared to $9 million for the DNC.
That's in no small part thanks to the power of incumbency. Having the sitting president is a major cash boon (and President Trump does particularly well with small donors) as supporters are able to rally around the president as a focal point while Democratic donors are torn between a crowded field of candidates.
But while the RNC is helping the president's reelection efforts with its cash advantage, there's a lot of money being raised on the Democratic presidential side right now too. Democrats are hopeful that fundraising and enthusiasm will translate to the eventual nominee.
And the Democrats are still seeing strong fundraising at the congressional committees. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee outraised the National Republican Congressional Committee last month, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee narrowly outraised its GOP counterpart, the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Campaign advertising heats up in key early states
WASHINGTON — The television ad wars are kicking into another gear as more Democratic presidential candidates seek to flood the airwaves ahead of the next round of debates.
Some are spending big in the hopes of securing a spot on the stage, while others are looking to cement their status in the field.
Billionaire Tom Steyer is an example of the former. On Tuesday, he reserved $525,000 worth of television time in just two days across the four early voting states (in the Boston, Cedar Rapids, Charleston, Columbia, Greenville, Des Moines, Las Vegas, Quad Cities, Reno, and Sioux City markets). A few hours later, he bought another $87,400 on cable.
Steyer needs just one more poll of at least 2 percent to qualify for the September debates, but the deadline to qualify is just a week away.
New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who currently needs more polls and donors to make the September debate stage, reserved more than $170,000 in television time since Monday. Her campaign also started running a new ad this week in Iowa and the Boston (read: New Hampshire) television markets that plays up her commitment to nominate pro-choice judges and her support for "Medicare-for-All."
Former Housing Sec. Julián Castro also put $51,000 toward television advertising in Iowa this week as he searched for his final poll to secure a spot on the debate stage. But after his campaign learned he qualified with a 2 percent finish in CNN's new poll released Tuesday, his campaign shortened the buy and cut $11,000 from it.
The other big television spending this week came from former Vice President Joe Biden, who launched his first television ad of the cycle in Iowa as part of a $500,000 buy from Aug. 20 through Sept. 9.
That's a big buy, at least at this point in the cycle. But it also puts Steyer's massive spending in perspective, since the billionaire is spending more across just two days this week than Biden is for the next two weeks.
Read more about Biden's ad, which leans heavily on his general-election argument, from NBC's Mariana Sotomayor on the blog.
And to round out the television spending so far this week, California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris' campaign reserved $28,500 in television time in Iowa from Aug. 22 through Aug. 28.
Joe Biden launches first Iowa TV ad
DES MOINES, Iowa — Joe Biden's presidential campaign launched its first television advertisements across the state of Iowa Tuesday morning, coinciding with former vice president's sixth visit to the first-in-the-nation-caucus state since announcing his candidacy for president.
The one-minute ad titled “Bones,” opens by quickly showing faces of Americans diverse in age and race as the narrator says “We all know in our bones this election is different.”
As the narrator points out that the “stakes are higher” and “threats more serious” than ever before, the ad quickly turns to show white supremacists carrying torches the night before the 2017 Unite the Right clashes in Charlottesville, Va., a flashpoint that Biden repeatedly mentions as a moment that heavily influenced his run for president.
“We have to beat Donald Trump,” the narrator says before Biden appears on the screen. “And all the polls agree Joe Biden is the strongest Democrat to do the job. No one is more qualified.”
Biden, who frequently references his close personal and working relationship with President Barack Obama, is shown alongside his former boss in the ad as the narrator reminds the audience of landmark legislation and progress both men achieved as partners in the administration.
“Now, Joe Biden is running for president with a plan for America’s future. To build on Obamacare, not scrap it. To make a record investment in America’s schools, to lead the world on climate, to rebuild our alliances.”
The narrator then adds that Biden would “restore the soul of the nation battered by an erratic, vicious, bullying president.”
In what could be a glimpse into a possible campaign slogan, the ad ends with a quick description of Biden’s political strengths: “Strong. Steady. Stable Leadership. Biden. President.”
The ad will target voters living in the largest media markets of the state for several weeks, according to the campaign, including Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Quad Cities and Sioux City.
According to ad spending data from Advertising Analytics, Biden's campaign has reserved about $500,000 in television time in Iowa from Aug. 20 to Sept. 9, with the bulk of the money being spent in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.
Ben Kamisar contributed.
Tom Steyer pauses campaign for jury duty
NEW YORK — In the United States, one civic duty calls upon candidates and constituents alike: jury duty.
Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer announced he would step off the campaign trail this week to report for jury duty in San Francisco. The billionaire businessman will be on standby for the weeklong summons, and will report to the courthouse for selection if called.
Steyer was a late addition to the 2020 race for president, announcing his candidacy in July. Despite that later entry, the candidate said in a tweet it was important that he take time off the trail to fulfill his “civic obligation.”
“I believe I could have postponed it, but I believe that it’s every American’s civic duty to serve on a jury,” Steyer said in an interview with NBC News. “It’s a choice about values. Do you believe that you’re above the responsibilities of everyday citizens or not.”
Steyer told NBC News that he thinks jury duty, like voting, is an essential and positive aspect of democracy that makes “this country strong.”
Earlier this summer, another 2020 hopeful took time away from the campaign. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., reported for jury duty in July. Booker tweeted a video from the Newark courthouse declaring it “the best jury room in all of America.”
Elizabeth Warren tells Native American forum she's 'sorry' for ancestry flap
SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Sen. Elizabeth Warren led off her much-anticipated appearance at the Frank LaMere Native American Forum by saying “I’m sorry.”
“Like anyone who's been honest with themselves, I know that I have made mistakes,” she said, alluding to the year-ago dust up over her DNA test and Native American ancestry that loomed over the early weeks of her 2020 presidential campaign.
“I am sorry for a harm I have caused. I have listened and I have learned a lot and I am grateful for the many conversations that we've had together. It is a great honor to be able to partner with Indian Country and that's what I've tried to do as a senator and that's what I promise I will do as President of the United States of America.”
In bringing the issue up herself, Warren was able to handle it on her own terms, while then pivoting to the thing she’s now known best for: talking about her various plans.
Tribal leaders and event organizers told NBC News before the event that the DNA flap didn’t give them pause about Warren’s candidacy. But her apology Monday highlighted a difference between Warren and President Donald Trump, who rarely, if ever, apologizes.
Biden, Warren and Sanders see popularity wane amid 2020 presidential campaign
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., all have seen their popularity slide over the past 20 months, a drop that coincides with their entry into the Democratic presidential primary.
Between the January 2018 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll and the new poll released Sunday, all three have seen their popularity slide to varying degrees.
All ended up underwater, with negative sentiment higher than positive sentiment among American adults.
Biden has fallen the furthest — he's seen a net 32 percentage-point rating (54 percent positive and 22 percent negative) slide to a net rating of negative 4 percentage points (34 percent view him positively now while 38 percent view him negatively).
Sanders' net-popularity also dropped by double digits (17 points), from 44 percent positive and 30 percent negative in 2017 to 37 percent positive, 40 percent negative now.
Warren's popularity hardly moved by comparison, but a once-slightly positive rating now sits in negative territory. In 2018, 30 percent of adults viewed her positively and 28 percent viewed her negatively. Now, those numbers are at 31 percent positive and 32 percent negative.
The phenomenon of politicians seeing their public image slide when they run for higher office is far from new—while former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton enjoyed strong support while at the State Department, her ratings crashed down to Earth when she decided to run for president in 2016.
All three Democratic candidates have better net ratings than the man they hope to run against in 2020. The new poll found President Donald Trump with a 39 percent positive rating and a 53 percent negative rating.
The president and those three Democrats were the only candidates included in the poll.
A deeper look at the numbers reinforce the significant demographic differences between the Trump base and that of the Democratic candidates.
Trump has a booming, net-positive rating from white, non-college men of 45 points and a net 4-point positive rating from white, non-college women. But he's underwater with white, college-educated men by 7 points, and with white, college-educated women by a whopping 46 points.
Among white voters, the Democrats are most popular among white, college-educated women and least popular with white, non-college educated men.
All three Democrats sport double-digit, net-positive popularity ratings among non-white voters, compared to a dismal negative 55 percentage point net rating for Trump. Biden, Sanders and Warren all score virtually the same with African-American voters despite that voting bloc's heavy preference for Biden in Democratic primary horse-race polls.
In the pivotal Rust Belt — home to key general election states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio (as well as Indiana) — Trump's rating sits 12 points underwater. Warren is 5 points underwater while Biden's rating is even and Sanders' is positive by 2 points.
The poll also tested two interest groups that have been in the news lately — Planned Parenthood and the National Rifle Association.
Fifty-two percent of adults have a positive view of Planned Parenthood, compared to the 27 percent who have a negative view of the group.
By comparison, 40 percent view the NRA positively, while 41 percent view it negatively.
The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted Aug. 10-14 of 1,000 adults – more than half reached by cell phone – and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.
Elizabeth Warren's heritage flap re-emerges ahead of native American forum
SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Time may really heal all wounds — even those that are self-inflicted and political in nature.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s, D-Mass., controversial rollout of a DNA test regarding her Native American ancestry marred the early weeks of her presidential campaign. But more than half a year later, Warren is now surging in the polls, known not for the early error but instead as the candidate "with a plan for that."
It's those plans that Warren will be pushing ahead of a Monday appearance in Sioux Falls, Iowa for a candidate forum focused on Native American issues. Several tribal leaders invited to the forum told NBC News they are unfazed about the DNA test dust-up, while acknowledging it probably could have been handled more deftly.
But even as Warren has worked to quell concerns about her ability to face off (and win) against President Donald Trump, the Native American forum and the mere suggestion of the issue shows that the controversy can swiftly come back the fore. And that's even without President Donald Trump hyping the issue.
Still, asked if the moment gave pause about Warren's candidacy, Aaron Payment, the chairperson of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians, said "absolutely not." Payment — who says he has met with Warren both as a candidate, most recently when she attended a gathering of tribal leaders in Detroit, and in the years preceding her 2020 campaign — pointed to the fact that she never claimed to be a member of a tribe.
"Unfortunately, she allowed herself to get sucked in when the president started disparaging her and demeaning American Indians in general," Payment said. "Hindsight is always 20/20. Maybe there might've been a different way to" go at Trump on the issue.
W. Ron Allen, Tribal Chair of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, lamented the politicization of Warren's heritage but said the Massachusetts senator may have "made a mistake of over-defending her heritage."
Noting that "fighting back" is in Warren's nature, Allen then brought up Trump: "When Trump does his thing, just shut up. Don't give him any energy because he feeds off that stuff."
President Trump's "thing" with Warren has long been to attack her with the slur Pocahontas; something he and his surrogates continue to do on Twitter and in other forums.
Warren was born in Oklahoma and has said that stories of her Native American ancestry were part of family lore. She identified as Native American on some official forms — something political foes have weaponized against her in the past — but a 2018 Boston Globe review found that it did not play a role in her professional advancement.
At Democratic campaign events across the country most voters seem to have put the DNA test to the back of their minds — or at least found other, more positive hallmarks of Warren's candidacy to focus on. At Warren's events, she is rarely pressed on the heritage issue. During a town hall in Jefferson, Iowa last week, a Native American woman of the Rosebud Sioux tribe prefaced her question to Warren by telling the candidate "you are all native to me!"
But, in a crowded field of candidates, voters are also taking note of potential negative attributes.
"They do all have something that has made me go ‘oh, my gosh,'" 39-year-old Jessica Wiederspan told NBC News in Oskaloosa, Iowa. "With Elizabeth, it was the Native American issue."
"It’s a concern for me about something Trump can use against her," Wiederspan said, "to distract from the bigger issues and from all of his problems and all of her good ideas. I also don’t think it was handled very sensitively, you know, but what I’ve seen is nobody’s perfect."
To other voters, Trump will be Trump — regardless of who the Democratic nominee is.
At a Warren event in Franconia, New Hampshire voter Nancy Strand said the president will find a way to disparage any eventual nominee.
"Whoever wins this Democratic nomination, [Trump] is going to slur," she concluded. "If he picks that for her, I don't think most of us care. He's going to do it no matter what."
It's not just Trump, though.
While the issue has been largely out of the conversation with voters on the campaign trail, it has reared its head in other places. Like during a tense May interview on "The Breakfast Club" podcast, where co-host Charlamagne The God said Warren was "kind of like the original Rachel Dolezal," a white woman who claimed to be black.
"This is what I learned from my family," Warren responded about her claims of heritage. In the interview, she also said "I'm not a person of color. I'm not a citizen of a tribe. And tribal citizenship is an important distinction -- and not something I am."
Based on nearly half a dozen conversations with tribal leaders and event organizers, Monday's forum is expected to hinge on the issues. A Warren aide told NBC the senator looked forward to talking policy Monday in Iowa — and that's what tribal leaders told NBC they wanted to hear about from Warren, and the other candidates attending.
As for the controversy?
"Everybody I've talked to, I haven’t seen any concern," event organizer OJ Semans of Four Directions, Inc. told NBC in the days leading up to the forum. "Sure, there's gonna be somebody somewhere that has a problem but that's just the way it is. I look at what she's done for Indian country. That’s the most important part for me”
Priscilla Thompson and Benjamin Pu contributed.