First Read: Reboot Time for the 2016 Establishment Candidates

Image: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign stop at the Quad City Federation of Labor's Salute to Labor Chicken Fry in Hampton, Illinois
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign stop at the Quad City Federation of Labor's Salute to Labor Chicken Fry in Hampton, Illinois September 7, 2015. REUTERS/Brian C. FrankBRIAN FRANK / Reuters

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By Mark Murray, Chuck Todd and Carrie Dann

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

It’s reboot time for the establishment 2016 frontrunners

Our new NBC/Marist polls of Iowa and New Hampshire underscore how BAD the summer was for the establishment frontrunners in the presidential race. In Iowa, Hillary Clinton’s lead is down to 11 points from 29 (!!!) in April, and she’s now trailing Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire. Both Jeb Bush and Scott Walker have gone from double-digit support in the two states to single digits now. And Marco Rubio is at 4% in Iowa and just 3% in New Hampshire. So while today’s New York Times story is about the reboot for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, all of the other onetime frontrunners need reboots, too.

  • Hillary Clinton: As she looks to change the storyline from her emails and declining poll numbers, Clinton is emphasizing women’s issues and her foreign-policy record (see her Iran speech this week);
  • Jeb Bush: Per NBC’s Jordan Frasier, he’s going up with TV ads in New Hampshire, and the Super PAC Right to Rise is going up as well. And he’s unveiling his tax plan on Wednesday;
  • Scott Walker: “Feeling the urgency of an ever more difficult campaign, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is heading to Eureka College — alma mater of his idol Ronald Reagan — on Thursday to launch a blistering attack on Washington politics and lay out how he would set in motion his potential presidency,” the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel writes;
  • Marco Rubio: It’s time to start translating his high ceiling into actual support.

Hillary can’t truly reboot for another month-- until after Benghazi committee testimony

Yet for Clinton, what has to scare her campaign is that it has spent more than $2 million in TV ads in Iowa and New Hampshire, and that money hasn’t seemed to help. Another thing: When authenticity matters so much in American politics, you don’t signal to a major newspaper that your candidate is going to be more authentic. (Come on.) But here is the reality for Clinton: She isn’t going to be able to truly reboot her campaign until after the first Democratic debate (Oct. 13) and her testimony before the House Benghazi committee (Oct. 22). Until those things happen, these kinds of stories -- “Second Review Says Classified Information Was in Hillary Clinton’s Email” -- is going interrupt the best laid of plans. So the Clinton campaign needs to fasten its seatbelts for another rocky month. They just need to hope that things don’t get worse.

If he wants to win and help his party, Biden has to decide ASAP

During his Labor Day event in Pittsburgh yesterday, Vice President Biden gave no clues about his 2016 intentions. “Biden gave no hints at his thinking on a potential run, using his brief remarks only to rail against attacks on union workers and reaffirm the importance of union rights. A small contingent of union members erupted into chants of, ‘Run, Joe Run!’ after he finished his speech,” NBC’s Alex Jaffe wrote. And last Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Biden could take until the fall to make up his mind. But as we’ve said before, if Biden wants to win, he needs to announce ASAP, because he has to start raising the $50 million to $100 million needed to be competitive in the Democratic primary -- as well as to prepare to fight back against the $1 billion that will be spent by GOP groups to topple the eventual Democratic nominee. So if Biden is truly serious about winning, he’s got to get into the race in the next couple of weeks. The longer he waits, though, the more this becomes about not wanting to close the door on his political career and his lifelong dream: the presidency.

Biden is pulling from both Clinton and Sanders

One other Biden-related point to make: In our NBC/Marist polls, Biden is pulling from BOTH Clinton and Sanders -- not just Clinton, as the conventional wisdom has suggested. In Iowa, Hillary’s lead is 11 points – with or without Biden in the race. And in New Hampshire, Sanders leads by 11 points without Biden and 9 points with him in the race.

Congress is baaacck

As NBC’s Alex Moe and Frank Thorp report, Congress is back after a mostly quiet August recess -- and it has only 12 legislative days to get these things done:

  • Deal with the Iran deal
  • Fund the government starting Oct. 1
  • Welcome the Pope on Sept. 24.

As the New York Times puts it, “[L]awmakers have scheduled a mere 12 legislative days to find a bipartisan compromise to keep the government open, vote on one of the most contentious foreign policy matters in a generation, reconcile the future of funding for Planned Parenthood and roll out the red carpet — and a few thousand folding chairs — to greet Pope Francis. What could go wrong?” Indeed, congressional budget expert Stan Collender now puts the odds of a government shutdown at 67%!!!!

Powell backs Iran deal

Speaking of the Iran deal, Colin Powell became the latest supporter the Obama administration picked up over the weekend. (Worth asking: If you’re a former secretary of state and you haven’t officially announced your position -- we’re looking at you, Condi Rice and James Baker -- we take that as support?) Per NBC’s Frank Thorp’s count, 38 Senate Democrats support the Iran deal, which is above what’s needed to thwart a veto override and which is three away from Democrats being able to filibuster a resolution of disapproval.

Measuring the fav/unfav numbers from our NBC/Marist polls


Among Democrats:

  • Biden: 74%-17% (+57)
  • Sanders: 65%-14% (+51)
  • Clinton: 67%-27% (+40)

Among Republicans:

  • Walker: 52%-17% (+35)
  • Trump: 58%-33% (+25)
  • Bush: 49%-37% (+12)

Among all voters

  • Sanders: 36%-29% (+7)
  • Biden: 42%-44% (-2)
  • Walker: 29%-31% (-2)
  • Bush: 36%-48% (-12)
  • Trump: 36%-55% (-19)
  • Clinton: 32%-61% (-29)

New Hampshire

Among Democrats:

  • Sanders: 79%-9% (+70)
  • Biden: 76%-17% (+59)
  • Clinton 69%-27% (+42)

Among Republicans:

  • Walker: 48%-12% (+36)
  • Trump: 56%-39% (+17)
  • Bush: 49%-38% (+11)

Among all voters

  • Sanders: 46%-33% (+13)
  • Biden: 46%-43% (+3)
  • Walker: 24%-32% (-8)
  • Bush: 34%-51% (-17)
  • Clinton: 36%-60% (-24)
  • Trump: 34%-59% (-25)

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