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MTP Rundown Blog: Latest news, analysis and data driving the political discussion

Smart political reporting and analysis, including data points, interesting national trends, short updates and more from the NBC News political unit.

The Rundown

Ben Kamisar

How the potentially massive Democratic 2020 field is shaping up

There are two near certainties about the 2020 Democratic presidential field—it's going to be overwhelmingly large and it's going to start to come together way faster than in other cycles. 

Two candidates are already in the race (Maryland Rep. John Delaney jumped in more than a year ago), and Julián Castro dipped more than just a toe in the water this week by announcing an exploratory committee and that he'll announce his final decision in January. 

At least a handful of additional candidates are expected to announce sometime after the holiday season, allowing them to take full advantage of 2019's first fundraising quarter. 

With so many candidates to keep track of, here's the latest news from the dozens of candidates considering bids, and their timelines for making a decision where they've expressed a timeframe. 


  • Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) — While Bennet has stayed out of the presidential spotlight, Colorado Public Radio reported that he’s seriously considering a bid, according to three people who spoke with Bennet about a potential candidacy.
  • Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) — Booker traveled to New Hampshire again this month, a state he’s prioritized politically, where he told WMUR that he will take the holidays to decide whether he’ll run.
  • Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) — Brown told New York Magazine that he and his wife have been “pretty overwhelmed by the number of people” that reached out telling him to consider running for president. 
  • Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) — Casey told NBC News last month “We’ll see what happens” when asked twice if he plans to run for president.
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) — Gillibrand might be playing the long, long game, releasing a children’s book just days after the 2018 elections. But as far as wooing Americans who are eligible to vote in 2020, Gillibrand has kept up her public profile and made repeated assurances she’s considering a bid. 
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) — After concerns that Harris might lose her slot on the Senate Judiciary Committee thanks to seniority, Democrats struck a deal to keep her on the panel, giving her critical visibility as she weighs a 2020 bid. She told MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski during a December interview that she’ll decide over the holidays as well.
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) — Former Vice President Walter Mondale, a Minnesota political icon, told the New York Times he wants her to run, as her questioning of now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh gained her more national notoriety.
  • Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) — Merkley, who has been eyeing staff in Iowa and New Hampshire, tweeted last week he’s fine with there being no changes to the current state law that bars him from running for president and reelection on the same ballot. So all that’s left is for him to decide which office to run for.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) — Sanders told New York Magazine last month that “if it turns out that I am the best candidate to beat Donald Trump, then I will probably run.” And his 2016 campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, told the Associated Press that Sanders’s success in 2016 will help them build a “much bigger campaign if he runs again.”
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) — As Politico reported this week, Warren is quietly building out a robust effort for a potential presidential bid. But she’s also had to battle some rough headlines too, specifically some second-guessing to her.

Governors, mayors and House members

  • Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) – Bullock visited Nevada this past month, as Democratic Sen. Jon Tester had to walk back a declaration that Bullock would run for Senate in 2020.
  • Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-IN) – The former Democratic National Committee chairman candidate will speak in Iowa for the Progress Iowa Holiday Party and has said he’ll make a decision on running by the end of the year.
  • Rep. John Delaney (D-MD)—One of the two official Democratic candidates, Delaney continues to crisscross Iowa.
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)—Gabbard telegraphed a potential bid with comments during her recent trip to New Hampshire, and the Daily Beast reported she’s looking at staff.
  • Mayor Eric Garcetti (D-CA)—Garcetti expects to decide in the next few months, arguing his would-be campaign would include three planks: national unity, “winning the future” and “getting sh** done.”
  • Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO)—Hickenlooper hasn’t been shy about his interest in a gig, telling CNN this week he’s “probably 63, 64 percent” of the way to jumping in.
  • Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA)—Inslee told The Hill he’s “actively considering” running and recently, unsuccessfully, rallied supporters to oppose West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s elevation to ranking member of the Senate energy committee.
  • Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX)—As our own Mark Murray wrote this week, “O’Rourke’s decision on 2020 might be the biggest shoe to drop on the Dem field.”
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) —Swalwell will also speak at the Progress Iowa event as he continues to travel to both Iowa and New Hampshire.


  • Michael Bloomberg—The former New York City mayor has mused about potentially selling his business if he runs, and traveled to Iowa to talk climate change.
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden—After a high-profile stretch campaigning and crisscrossing the country during his book tour, Biden is expected to powwow with his family over the holidays about whether he should run for president again, according to the Associated Press.
  • Julian Castro—The former Housing and Urban Development secretary announced Wednesday he’s exploring a presidential bid and will announce his ultimate decision in January.
  • Eric Holder—Another former Obama cabinet member, Holder booked a February trip to Iowa as he continues to speak out on criminal justice issues.
  • John Kerry—A third Obama administration veteran and the 2004 Democratic nominee, Kerry has publicly mulled a bid but emphasized earlier this month that he thinks “I doubt I’ll run for office again.”
  • Richard Ojeda---Ojeda jumped into the race shortly after his failed congressional bid in West Virginia, running on an anti-corruption plank.
  • Tom Steyer—The liberal billionaire traveled to South Carolina this month for an event, and has posted jobs for key staff in early presidential primary states on LinkedIn.

Tom Steyer posts LinkedIn ad for staff in key 2020 states

Liberal billionaire Tom Steyer is looking to hire experienced political operatives in early presidential nominating states, his spokesperson confirmed, taking him one big step closer to a potential 2020 presidential bid.

Steyer, one of the largest donors in the Democratic Party and its most outspoken advocate of impeaching President Donald Trump, posted an anonymous job listing on LinkedIn last week looking for state directors in New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. Those states vote in the Democratic presidential primary process just after Iowa.

Spokesperson Aleigha Cavalier confirmed to NBC News the posting by a "high profile political campaign based on the West Coast" is indeed Steyer's, as first reported by BuzzFeed, but said the San Franciscan has not yet made up his mind about 2020.

"As Tom has said publicly -- he is considering how he can have the most impact in 2020 and our team is exploring staffing options should he decide to move forward with a run. Tom has not made a final decision and any discussions with potential staff are preliminary," Cavalier said.

Steyer is hardly alone among potential 2020 candidates in reaching out to potential staffers, even though most campaigns do not yet officially exist. Likely candidates often select employees on a conditional basis so that, should they decide to formally get in the race, they can have top staffers in place from the start.

Steyer's posting suggests that he's looking to enter the crowded 2020 field with a robust campaign with a presence in all four early states, a luxury that he can afford thanks to his personal wealth. Other candidates will likely start out with smaller footprint in one or two states before expanding to others later in the process.

Ben Kamisar

Castro the latest Democrat to wade into presidential race with exploratory committee announcement

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro's decision to formally explore a presidential bid brings the number of Democrats officially dipping their toes into the 2020 to three. 

Castro announced his decision to start an exploratory committee in a YouTube video on Wednesday—check out Alex Seitz-Wald's report for more details on that.

He plans to make a formal announcement about his 2020 plans on Jan. 12, 2019 in his home state of Texas. 

The former cabinet official under President Obama has long been seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party and one of its more prominent Latinos. During the 2018 cycle, he launched a political action committee to support Democratic candidates, donating to mostly first-time candidates. 

He was vetted by 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as a possible vice presidential pick, but she ultimately chose Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine. 

But he has limited executive experience, which includes his stint at HUD and his position as San Antonio mayor, and will likely have to battle it out in a Democratic presidential campaign that could include dozens of candidates. 

Castro also took a pass running for statewide office in Texas in 2018 – with the Senate race ultimately catapulting fellow Democrat Beto O’Rourke into the spotlight despite his defeat, and O’Rourke could very well run for president in 2020.

Castro's move is the closest any high-profile Democratic candidate has publicly come to announcing a bid, even as dozens of other Democrats are making moves behind the scenes. 

Under federal campaign finance laws, a possible candidate is allowed to "test the waters" for a bid without having to register as an official candidate or begin to file campaign finance disclosures. In that exploratory phase, candidates can raise money, poll, travel or make other moves meant to suss out whether they should run. 

But once they start either referring to themselves as a candidate or start raising money in earnest for a full-fledged campaign, they have to file with the Federal Election Commission. 

Maryland Democratic Rep. John Delaney and West Virginia's Richard Ojeda, who recently lost a high-profile congressional bid are the only two active Democratic candidates. 

Ben Kamisar

2020 Democrats are already building nest eggs for potential presidential bids

It may not be the sexiest part about running for president, but you can't have a winning campaign without a steady stream of cash. 

Some candidates can leverage their existing donor base or their own deep pockets for an instant infusion of cash. But for other, less known, presidential hopefuls, they have to find a way to keep their campaign funded if they want to have room to run. 

Recent campaigns by once lesser-known Democrats like Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke show that it's possible to build a fundraising juggernaut from scratch in a matter of months. But it doesn't hurt to have a cushion of a few million dollars to hit the ground running and take the pressure off in the early weeks and months. 

So while the first quarter of 2019 will be the real kickoff to the 2020 fundraising circuit, many possible presidential hopefuls spent the last cycle quietly amassing funds that could be immediately used to run for president. That’s because any money raised into a candidate’s House or Senate campaign account can be transferred directly into that same candidate’s presidential account if they decide to run, as long as they follow individual donation limits and other campaign finance laws.  

Here's a breakdown of much money the field of possible Democratic presidential candidates closed the 2018 cycle with, according to Federal Election Commission reports through Nov. 26. 

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren—$12.5 million

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand—$10.5 million

Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders—$8.8 million

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar—$4.4 million

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker—$4.1 million

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard—$2.1 million

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown—$1.8 million

California Sen. Kamala Harris—$1.7 million

California Rep. Eric Swalwell—$1.7 million

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley—$1.6 million

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey—$603,000

Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke—$477,000

Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan—$166,000

Maryland Rep. John Delaney—$78,000

West Virginia state Sen.  Richard Ojeda—$42,375

Ben Kamisar

Harris to keep high-profile Judiciary Committee post

California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris will retain her spot on the Senate Judiciary Committee next year, keeping her on the high-profile committee ahead of a possible presidential bid in 2020.

Democrats were concerned that Harris could lose her post after Republicans won two more seats in the body during the 2018 elections. Harris has the lowest seniority on the committee, so her spot could have been on the chopping block.

But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Tuesday that Harris would keep her spot. 

"As a former prosecutor, [Harris] has strived every day for a more fair judicial system for all Americans. I’m proud that we successfully fought to keep her seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee," he tweeted. 

A source familiar with the negotiations confirmed to NBC News that keeping Harris on the committee was a priority for Schumer and that Republicans will gain a seat on it in exchange.

That means that Republicans will have a two-vote majority on the body instead of the one-vote edge they had this past Congress. 

Harris has been a vocal member of the committee since she joined it in 2017, and she's been able to leverage the spot to increased recognition and visibility during high profile issues like the recent confirmation hearings for now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. 

--Leigh Ann Caldwell contributed.

Ben Kamisar

North Carolina GOP chair: New congressional election 'likely' if latest allegations are true

A top North Carolina Republican official said Tuesday that a new election would "likely" be needed in the state's 9th Congressional District if new claims that Bladen County officials gave unnamed people improper, early access to early voting totals is true. 

The accusation is the latest in mounting claims of malfeasance in the congressional race, where Republican Mark Harris had appeared to defeat Democrat Dan McCready. But the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement refused to certify the results and kept investigating instead. 

Last week, the state election board released a copy of the election results tape  printed at Bladen County's only in-person early vote location. Those preliminary results were tabulated the Saturday before the election, which violates state election law. 

In an affidavit dated November 29 and distributed to media by North Carolina Democratic Party and other sources,an individual named Agnes Willis alleges that the tape “was run after the polls closed, and was viewed by officials at the one-stop site who were not [poll] Judges."  

Willis, identified as a precinct worker by the Charlotte Observer, doesn’t name or describe the “officials” whom she claimed viewed the partial results data.

The election results tape document itself includes a signature for “Agnes Willis,” one of three signatures under a statement certifying the incomplete results as “a true and accurate account of the election held November 6, 2018.”  Willis’ affidavit does not address that detail. 

Robin Hayes, the chairman of the state Republican Party, blasted the potential leak of election data in a new statement that points to a new story in the Charlotte Observer, which includes the affidavit. 

"We are extremely concerned that early voting totals may have been leaked in Bladen County as reported by The Charlotte ObserverThis action by election officials would be a fundamental violation of the sense of fair play, honesty, and integrity that the Republican Party stands for," Hayes said. 

"The people involved in this must be held accountable and should it be true, this fact alone would likely require a new election. Accessing early vote totals before the overall results are final can clearly give an unfair advantage to one candidate over the other."

In the statement, Hayes went onto argue that if there ultimately is a new election in the district, that the state election board should take control of election operations in Bladen County. 

The allegation is just part of the election fraud allegations that have roiled the race and threatened to invalidate the results. Investigators are also looking into the ballot harvesting efforts of a man named Leslie McCrae Dowless, whose associates have been accused of improperly handling absentee ballots. 

Dowless was hired as a contractor by the consulting firm that worked for Harris. That connection has prompted state Democratic leaders to call on Harris to give a full accounting of what he knew about the allegations dogging Dowless. 

"McCrae Dowless has a long history of conducting absentee ballot fraud that was well documented. Yet Mark Harris still hired him,” North Carolina state Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said at a news conference in Raleigh Tuesday. “And now Harris refuses to answer several questions about their relationship.”

Mark Murray

A Beto 2020 candidacy is starting to look very, very possible

One of the most significant developments in the emerging Democratic presidential race is how Democrat Beto O’Rourke appears to be dipping his toes in the 2020 waters – and we’re not talking about a ‘20 Senate bid against Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Consider what we’ve learned about O’Rourke in the past week:

  • He met with Barack Obama in November, as the Washington Post reported.
  • He's speaking with Mindy Myers, who was Elizabeth Warren's campaign manager in 2012 and who ran the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee this past cycle.
  • And he met with Al Sharpton and had a call with Andrew Gillum, as NBC's Garrett Haake and Mike Memoli write. "One source, granted anonymity to describe a private conversation, said [O'Rourke and Gillum] discussed their mutual preference that someone 'young and unapologetically progressive' lead the Democratic Party going forward."

So yeah, Beto exploring a possible presidential bid is starting to look very real for 2020.

And maybe more than that, whether he runs or not appears to have frozen the Dem field, especially when it comes to staffing.

Think about that: O’Rourke’s decision on 2020 might be the biggest shoe to drop on the Dem field.

North Carolina Board of Elections says it may not finish investigation by Dec. 21

The North Carolina State Board of Elections has indicated that it may not be able to conclude its investigation into alleged election fraud in the state by their previously planned deadline of December 21.

In a letter obtained from a public records request, the board wrote: "The agency’s efforts to finalize its investigation into allegations of fraudulent activity affecting absentee ballots has involved numerous interviews and subpoenas issued to various organizations. Counsel for subpoenaed parties have begun submitting responsive records, but they have uniformly indicated additional time is needed for review and production of additional materials. It may be that their delays in production will lengthen the timeframe initially contemplated by the State Board." 

“Agency staff are working diligently to compile a thorough investigative record on which the State Board will ultimately ensure ‘that an election is determined without taint of fraud or corruption and without irregularities that may have changed the result of an election,’” the board wrote, citing the state’s statute mandating the investigation.  

The board is investigating alleged election fraud impacting the congressional race of Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready, as well as two local races, in the state’s ninth congressional district. Harris is the unofficial leader in the race by 905 votes.

New Census data show mixed bag for Trump's reelection chances

Last week's release of population data from the U.S. Census had some good and bad news for President Donald Trump with 2020 approaching.

Nationally, the counties that made up Donald Trump’s base in 2016 lag behind those that voted for Hillary Clinton in population growth, according to the new 5-year American Communities Survey. But look closer at the numbers, and they suggest some rays of light for Trump in the states that mater.

In the new data, 2,600 counties that voted for Trump in 2016 added about 1.79 million more voting-age people in the last two years. Meanwhile, the roughly 500 counties that voted for Clinton added 2.72 million people.

Those data certainly follow the familiar national narrative out of 2016. Donald Trump had a problem because he won in places that are small, largely rural and growing more slowly than the nation as a whole.

So, advantage Clinton, right? It’s not that easy. Look at the states where the final margin was close in 2016 and that put Trump over the top on the electoral map: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

  • In Michigan the eight counties that voted for Clinton have added 23,512 people 18-or-older. But the 75 counties that voted for Trump have added 39,206. That’s an edge of 15,694 for Trump counties.
  • In Wisconsin, the 12 counties that voted for Clinton have added 17,438 18-or-older people, but the Trump counties have added 19,271. That’s an 1,833-person edge for Trump counties.
  • In Pennsylvania, Clinton counties actually hold the edge, 44,350 new 18-or-older people versus 2,363 for Trump counties – a 41,987 Clinton advantage. 

If Trump were to hold everything else and just lose Pennsylvania, he would still win reelection. Michigan and Wisconsin would be enough.

These data don’t prove anything, of course. The candidates and issue environment for 2020 is unknown and unknowable. And there is nothing saying the new potential voters in these counties lean one way or the other.

But the numbers serve as a reminder that the Democratic advantage in the growing urban areas of the United States doesn’t necessarily manifest itself at the state level, where electoral politics play out.

Ben Kamisar

McCready wants more answers from Harris about election fraud allegations in North Carolina 9

As allegations of election fraud continue to roil North Carolina's 9th Congressional District, Democrat Dan McCready is calling on Republican Mark Harris to give a more thorough public accounting of what his campaign knew about the man at the center of the accusations. 

McCready appeared to have narrowly lost his race against Harris until the allegations of impropriety arose. Now, investigators are looking into the handling of absentee ballots and have not named a winner.

Speaking on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," the Democrat said he wants to hear more from Harris outside the brief statement he issued Friday afternoon. 

"The responsibility lies with Mark Harris. You know, this went to the top of his campaign," McCready said. 

"So this is much bigger than one election. This really goes to what our country is all about, what our democracy is all about. That’s why it's so important that Mark Harris end his silence."

There's been increasing scrutiny mounting on the GOP effort in the district since the state board of elections refused to certify the election results late last month. 

Since then, the state board named Leslie McCrae Dowless as a person of interest as it investigates possible mishandling of absentee ballots. Dowless was hired as an independent contractor by a consulting firm that played a key part in Harris's congressional bid. 

Harris addressed the controversy in a message on Twitter on Friday where he said he'd cooperate fully with the investigation, and support a new election if "this investigation finds proof of illegal activity on either side, to such a level that it could have changed the outcome of the election." 

But McCready has tried to keep the pressure on Harris in recent days, calling for a more robust public accounting of his relationship with Dowless. 

Ben Kamisar

Rand Paul wavers on Trump's attorney general nominee

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul said Sunday he is not committed to supporting President Trump's attorney general nominee, raising concerns that could complicate the White House's path forward. 

Democratic opposition to Trump's choice of William Barr, the former attorney general under former President George H.W. Bush, is already growing based on concerns about his possible oversight over the special counsel investigation. 

But Paul's potential opposition centers on different issues, specifically how Barr's vision for the Justice Department could clash with his libertarian views. 

During Sunday's broadcast of "Meet the Press" on NBC, Paul noted Barr's support for the Patriot Act, the post-9/11 law that expanded surveillance and detention powers of the executive branch, as well as civil asset forfeiture, where the government seizes property of accused criminals. 

"I haven't made a decision about him, but I cant tell you — the first things I've learned about him being for more surveillance of Americans is very, very troubling," Paul said. 

Trump announced he would be nominating Barr on Friday, ending more than a month of uncertainty about the Justice Department's top post that began when the president fired former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in November, the day after Election Day. 

Matthew Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney who has been critical of the special counsel's investigation into allegations Russia colluded with members of the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, has been serving as acting attorney general since Sessions's departure. 

While the Senate confirmed him to lead the Justice Department in 1991 without much fanfare, Barr's upcoming confirmation battle is expected to be substantially tougher.

Democrats, including those on the Senate Judiciary Committee that will be handling his confirmation, have already raised concerns about Barr's ability to be impartial about the president's legal woes. And there's been some bipartisan concern about Barr's support for expanding presidential powers. 

Maine Independent Sen. Angus King, who caucuses with the Democrats, said that he's in a "wait and see" mode on Barr, but that Barr's potential relationship with the special counsel investigation will be a key for Democrats weighing whether to support him. 

"His hearings will be very important and I would be surprised if the Senate confirms and individual who doesn't commit to protecting the integrity of special counsel [Robert] Mueller. I think that's going to be a kind of litmus test for any nominee for attorney general," King said. 

With Congress adjourning in just a few weeks, and with Trump having not yet officially nominated Barr, his confirmation will likely be handled by the next Congress. 

The GOP will have a bit more wiggle room for internal opposition next year after it secured a 53 seat majority in the 2018 elections. 

If every Democratic senator opposes Barr, Republicans could stand to lose four lawmakers' votes because Vice President Pence casts a vote in the case of a tie. 

Ben Kamisar

Incoming Wisconsin Governor: GOP bill to strip power from Democrats a 'hot mess'

Wisconsin Democratic Governor-elect Tony Evers warned Republican Gov. Scott Walker that his reputation would be tarnished if he fails to veto legislation by the lame-duck GOP state legislature that's aimed at stripping powers from the incoming governor.

"It's around Scott Walker's legacy—he has the opportunity to change this and actually validate the will of the people that voted on Nov. 6," Evers said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"The entire thing is a mess, a hot mess, and I believe he should veto the entire package"

Evers's frustration centers on the decision by Badger State Republicans to respond to a Democratic sweep of top statewide offices by crafting legislation to strip power from Evers and incoming Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul specifically. 

Among other changes, the bills would prevent the governor from scrapping the state's Medicaid work requirements, hamper his ability to withdraw from lawsuits like the one challenging the Affordable Care Act, limit gubernatorial appointments to an economic board, and require legislative sign-off for the governor to make changes to certain programs and for the attorney general to settle certain lawsuits. 

The bill would also limit early voting in the state. A previous attempt to cut early voting was found unconstitutional in federal court, so the legislature is trying again with a slightly more expansive approach. 

While he admitted that calling the move a "coup" might be "strong," Evers agreed with Democratic criticism that the effort is a partisan power grab done in direct response to Republicans losing those top statewide offices. He repeatedly argued that the legislature wouldn't be pushing these laws if Walker won re-election.

But Republican lawmakers have brushed aside any criticism, arguing that the legislature simply wants to correct the balance of power in the state government. 

A similar effort is occurring in Michigan, where Republican lawmakers are also scrambling to limit the power of state executives before Democrats are sworn in to replace the state's governor- and secretary of state-elect. 

Vaughn Hillyard

Karen Pence stays away from politics to focus on her initiatives

Heading into her third year as second lady, Karen Pence says she will continue to focus on and expand the art therapy initiative she launched upon moving to Washington, telling NBC News that she wants to “elevate the profession” as she travels domestically and abroad alongside the vice president. 

“It’s an opportunity to make the most of these four years and make a difference wherever I can as Second Lady,” Pence said about her efforts in an interview with NBC News on a recent trip alongside Vice President Pence to Singapore.

“A lot of people don’t understand it. They think it’s arts and crafts, or therapeutic art, or it feels great to get the paints out. But it’s more of a mental health profession, and I wanted to elevate that profession and make people more aware.”

Over the last two years, Pence has frequented trips with the vice president, often separating herself from his work on the ground and, instead, visiting hospitals or military units with her staff to engage in art therapy programs and talk with service members and their spouses.

Last month, while in Tokyo, the second lady helped announce a new art therapy program grant out of the U.S. embassy in Japan after initially visiting the country in April 2017, when she met Cheryl Okubo, a U.S. citizen and permanent resident of Japan. As part of the announcement, Okubo, a board-certified art therapist, will launch the two-year pilot art therapy program at Tsukuba University, the first of its kind in the country.

As Karen Pence publicly focuses her attention on these initiatives, she has keenly separated herself from the political fray since moving to the Naval Observatory, declining to weigh in, publicly, on major policy efforts of the administration or controversies.

When asked by NBC News about President Trump’s numerous offensive statements about particular women, including the characterization of some as crazy and as having low IQ, Karen Pence sidestepped characterizing the president’s comments, but said the public should know that Trump “does feel very strongly about the role that women can play, especially in politics.” She noted Trump’s deference during the campaign to one of her daughters, Charlotte Pence, asking for her opinion on issues the then-campaign should address concerning millenial women.

“I don’t usually get involved in what the president does and what he says,” Karen Pence responded. “I think the American people elected him to be their president, and so I stay away. He certainly doesn’t need to ask me for my advice. But I do think -- one thing I do know about the president is that he does feel very strongly about the role that women can play, especially in politics.”

She continued: “This president does care about women. He cares about issues that are dear to them.”

NBC News

Tweet the Press: Leigh Ann Caldwell discusses election fraud allegations in North Carolina

This week on "Tweet the Press," NBC News Capitol Hill reporter Leigh Ann Caldwell joined us from North Carolina's 9th Congressional District, where election fraud allegations have roiled the district. 

There, Republican Mark Harris appeared to have edged out Democrat Dan McCready by just 905 votes.

But the state election board has refused to certify the election after concerns about irregularities related to absentee ballots. 

That decision has thrown the race into uncertainty, without a clear answer to what will happen next

Much of the scrutiny is centered on Bladen County, a rural county where Harris won the absentee votes by a significant margin. Nonpartisan analysts have raised questions about the absentee margin there. 

The election board is slated to meet sometime this month to dig deeper into the allegations. And meanwhile, the Charlotte Observer editorial board wrote Wednesday that there should be a new election entirely

That would include a redo of the Republican primary, where Harris defeated incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger. 

Read more from Leigh Ann below about the various twists and turns, as well as the timeline for the next steps. 

New Hampshire secretary of state survives challenge, reelected to 22nd term

Overcoming his most serious challenge in decades, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner was narrowly elected to a 22nd term to the post that oversees the nation’s first presidential primary.

Gardner, 70, was reelected on the second ballot during a joint session of the New Hampshire legislature Wednesday, defeating fellow Democrat Colin Van Ostern, 209 to 205 in the second round of voting.

Gardner was actually an underdog heading into the vote. The 39-year-old Van Ostern announced he would challenge Gardner earlier this year and raised more than $200,000 for his campaign, according to the Associated Press. He hoped to seize on growing discontent in his party with Gardner over his support of GOP-backed voting laws, but more significantly, Gardner’s decision to serve on President Trump’s “voter fraud” commission in 2017. A straw poll among Democrats in the New Hampshire House last month was lopsided in Van Ostern’s favor.

But Gardner and several longtime allies in both parties made a furious last-minute bid to keep him in office, a case largely based on his ability to protect New Hampshire’s first in the nation status and his reputation for non-partisan handling of the office.

There was some unexpected drama in the voting. Despite only two candidates being on the ballot, the initial vote failed to produce a winner. Gardner initially received 208 votes, Van Ostern 207, with one ballot listed as “scatter.” The rules – which came to be the source of some debate – require a majority of ballots cast-plus one to win, meaning Gardner was initially one vote shy of staying in office.

As secretary of state since 1976, Gardner has not only been singularly empowered to decide when the presidential primary will be, but also has overseen the process in which candidates for president file to get on the ballot.

Gardner has welcomed many candidates to his office when they came to file in person, including future President Obama in 2007, future President Trump in 2015, and Hillary Clinton four times – twice when she filed for her husband, and twice when she filed for herself.

Deval Patrick to announce he will not run for president in 2020

Deval Patrick, the former Democratic governor of Massachusetts and a longtime ally of former President Barack Obama, has told friends and advisers he is not planning to run for president and will soon formally announce his decision, a source familiar with his thinking told NBC News.

Patrick has been weighing a 2020 White House bid for months and received encouragement from top former aides to Obama and other national Democrats. His advisers formed a PAC this summer help him explore re-entering politics and to promote Democrats running in this year’s midterm elections.

Some thought Patrick, one of the most prominent African-Americans in the Democratic Party, could be a strong contender for his party's 2020 nomination, in part since the nominating process favors a candidate of color given the prominence of southern states with large black populations early in the primary calendar. 

But Patrick, who has worked for Bain Capital since leaving office in 2015, also publicly voiced concern that he could stand out in such a crowded field as 2020 is shaping up to be.

Politico first reported Patrick's plans

“It’s hard to see how you even get noticed in such a big, broad field without being shrill, sensational or a celebrity -- and I’m none of those things and I’m never going to be any of those things,” Patrick told David Axelrod, a former advisor to both him and Obama, for an interview on his podcast in September.

Patrick grew up in difficult circumstances on the South Side of Chicago, but a scholarship to a prestigious prep school near Boston, Milton Academy, helped set his life on a course that led to Harvard, Bain, and two terms as Massachusetts’ first African-American governor.

Ben Kamisar

2020 roundup: Avenatti says no to presidential bid

After months of publicly teasing a presidential bid, Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for porn actress Stormy Daniels, says he'll skip a 2020 run

Avenatti made the announcement on Twitter, citing his family, even as he's spent the past few months gearing up for a bid. He had traveled to Iowa, created a political action committee and laid out his argument for why Democrats needed his brand of politicking to defeat Trump. 

The decision comes after a rough stretch for the lawyer, who was arrested after allegations of domestic violence (which he's denied) and criticized by Daniels for filing a defamation lawsuit against Trump that she claims was done without her agreement. 

But while the sun may be setting on "Avenatti 2020," there are dozens of other Democrats who are just gearing up. One of them is Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has made no secret about his interest in a potential bid. 

As he considers his options, some of his allies are looking to urge him to move forward. 

Rolling Stone reports that a group of Sanders's 2016 campaign staffers are starting "Organizing for Bernie," a group meant to draft Sanders into running again.

Draft groups help to mobilize supporters to help a candidate if they flip the switch and start running. Supporters of 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton started "Ready for Hillary" shortly after the 2012 presidential election to promote her likely bid.

But candidates sometimes let their draft committees down, like when former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden chose not to run for president and left his supporters and their "Draft Biden" committee without a candidate. 

Ben Kamisar

Biden muses about possible 2020 bid in latest appearance

Former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden continues to make no secrets about his flirtations with a 2020 presidential bid, and argued the point on Monday night during a book tour stop in Montana. 

NBC News's Mike Memoli has a full report on the appearance here, but here are a few key quotes: 

  • "I think I’m the most qualified person in the country to be president. The issues that we face as a country today are the issues that I’ve worked on my whole life — the plight of the middle class and foreign policy."
  • "My family and I need to decide as a unit whether we’re ready — we do everything as a family."
  • "I may be a gaffe machine, but my God, what a wonderful thing compared to a guy who can’t tell the truth."

It's true that as a former Senate committee chairman, two-time presidential candidate and vice president, he has more experience in politics than virtually anyone eyeing a bid. But as Democrats saw in 2016, that designation doesn't necessarily guarantee a candidate the presidency. 

GOP state lawmakers in Wisconsin, Michigan look to curb power of incoming Democratic officeholders

Less than a month after key statewide losses, Republican legislators in Wisconsin and Michigan are taking steps to strip the powers of the incoming Democrats.

In Wisconsin, state lawmakers held a hearing Monday on their package of efforts to weaken Governor-elect Tony Evers — who beat Republican Scott Walker in November, 49.6 percent to 48.4 percent. Per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, those proposals include: 

  • making it difficult for incoming Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and incoming Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul to withdraw from the GOP lawsuit challenging Obamacare
  • eliminating Evers’ ability to choose a leader of the state’s Economic Development Corporation
  • limiting early voting in elections (a similar effort was found unconstitutional in 2016)
  • moving the state’s 2020 presidential primary from April to March, to potentially reduce the turnout for a state Supreme Court contest set for April
  • requiring Evers to get permission from state lawmakers to ban guns in the state Capitol.

In Michigan, the Detroit Free Press reports that the lame-duck Republican legislature has introduced bills that would transfer some powers from the attorney general or governor's office to the legislature and remove the secretary of state's office from overseeing the state's campaign finance laws in favor of a six-person commission appointed by the governor with nominees chosen by state parties. 

In both states, Democrats are decrying the moves as last-minute power grabs with partisan intent, even as Republicans claim their lame-duck efforts are about good governance. 

It's not the first time Republican legislators worked to curb the powers of an incoming Democratic administration—Republicans in North Carolina introduced a series of bills in the 2016 lame duck before Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper took power that shifted the balance of power toward the GOP-controlled legislature.

Ben Kamisar

John Kennedy decides not to run for Lousiana governor

In a surprise twist, Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy said will not run for governor in 2019, a move that deprives the GOP of another top recruit in the red-leaning state.

Kennedy announced his decision to forego a bid to dethrone Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in a statement Monday morning.

"I love being in the United States Senate. I will not be a candidate for governor in 2019," he said.

"I hope someone runs for governor who understands that Louisiana state government does not have to be a big, slow, dumb, wasteful, sometimes corrupt, spend-money-like-it-was-ditchwater, anti-taxpayer, top down institution. I love Louisiana as much as I love my country, and the people of my state deserve a state government as good as they are.”

The good news for Bel Edwards deals another blow to Republicans looking to flip the seat—both Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry and GOP Rep. Steve Scalise said in November that they weren’t interested in running.Kennedy had been seen as the highest-profile Republican still weighing a bid in a red state that President Trump won by about 20 points in 2016. So the decision opens up a clear path for another candidate like GOP Rep Ralph Abraham, who told the Monroe News Star last month that he’s leaning toward a bid.

Republicans have been looking forward to challenging Bel Edwards ever since his upset win in 2015 over Republican Sen. David Vitter, who had been seen as the clear favorite until he the relitigation of his prostitution scandal turned his campaign upside-down.

Whoever does decide to run against Bel Edwards will dive into the jungle primary, where all of the candidates face off in an open primary in October. The top two candidates, regardless of party, will move onto the general-election round on Nov. 16.