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Are political handicappers giving Bernie Sanders a break?

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally at the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center on April 6, 2019 in Fairfield, Iowa.Scott Olson / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — If you consider Bernie Sanders to be the front-runner — or one of the front-runners — in the Democratic race for president, then isn’t he underperforming in the early states he easily won or essentially tied back in 2016?

A Monmouth poll of Iowa released on Thursday found Sanders in second place with support from 16 percent of likely caucus-goers. That’s behind Joe Biden (27 percent), but ahead of Pete Buttigieg (9 percent), Elizabeth Warren (7 percent), Kamala Harris (7 percent) and Beto O’Rourke (6 percent).

Reminder: In 2016, Sanders got 49.6 percent in Iowa — almost tying Hillary Clinton’s 49.9 percent.

A new St. Anselm/New Hampshire Institute of Politics poll also had Sanders at 16 percent in the Granite State. That’s behind Biden (23 percent), but ahead of Buttigieg (11 percent), Elizabeth Warren (9 percent), Harris (7 percent) and O’Rourke (6 percent).

Yet back in 2016, Sanders won a whopping 60 percent in New Hampshire in his race against Clinton.

Yes, the 2020 field is much larger than the one four years ago. Yes, it is still very early, with nearly 300 days to go until Iowa. And, yes, the Dem field is absolutely wide open.

But how do you know that the collective political press corps is still treating Sanders more as an insurgent rather than as a legitimate front-runner, despite his name ID and money?

Answer: There’s more attention on Buttigieg in third place at nearly 10 percent in both states, or on Biden leading before he’s announced a presidential bid, than on Sanders’ pedestrian numbers in states he already won or essentially tied.

Sanders still gets treated more as an insurgent than a front-runner, even when he is a front-runner.

How the fundraising game in 2020 has changed

Ahead of Monday’s filing deadline for the first fundraising quarter, there’s been a remarkable fundraising development in the Democratic Party over the last 12 years.

The Dems’ bundler model (whereby candidates race to get maxed-out checks from donors) has been replaced by the ActBlue model (where they hunt for small-dollar donors over the internet).

This transformation — at least for the first quarter — has resulted in less overall money.

In the first quarter of 2007, the Top 6 Dem candidates (Obama, Clinton, Edwards, Biden, Richardson, Dodd) raised a combined $85 million, led by Obama and Clinton at about $25 million each.

Yet in the first quarter of 2019, the Top 7 Dem candidates so far (Sanders, Harris, O’Rourke, Buttigieg, Warren, Klobuchar, Booker) have raised a combined $63 million.

But the transformation also has resulted in MANY MORE small donors, who can donate again. And again. And again.

In 2007, Obama had 104,000 donors (so $240 per donor!) and Clinton had just 60,000 (so $400!).

Yet in this first quarter, Sanders had 525,000 donors ($35 average), O’Rourke 163,000 ($58), Buttigieg 159,000 ($44), Harris 138,000 ($87) and Warren 135,000 ($44).

So we get the concerns by Democrats that the overall money appears to be down so far – especially when looking ahead to face President Trump in 2020.

But the other way to look at it is that the Dem candidates have armies of small-dollar donors, and they can get those big bundled checks at a later date.

The state of the Q1 race

And ahead of Monday’s deadline, here are the overall fundraising numbers for the 2020 Dem field in the first quarter (January 1 to March 31):

Total raised

  • Bernie Sanders: $18.2 million in 41 days
  • Kamala Harris: $12 million in 70 days
  • Beto O’Rourke: $9.4 million in 18 days
  • Pete Buttigieg: $7 million in 68 days
  • Elizabeth Warren: $6 million in 90 days
  • Amy Klobuchar: $5.2 million in 50 days
  • Cory Booker: $5 million-plus in 59 days
  • Total: $62.8 million

Total raised (average per day)

  • O’Rourke: $552K
  • Sanders: $444K
  • Harris: $171K
  • Klobuchar: $104K
  • Buttigieg: $103K
  • Booker: $85K+
  • Warren: $67K

2020 Vision: Another kickoff weekend

This weekend, we’ll see three different Democratic candidates hold kickoff rallies in their hometowns.

On Saturday, Cory Booker has his in Newark, N.J. And on Sunday, Pete Buttigieg has his in South Bend, Ind., and Eric Swalwell goes in California.

The question we have for Buttigieg: He gives good quotes and interviews. Can he give a good rally, too?

On the campaign trail

Friday: Amy Klobuchar, Jay Inslee and John Hickenlooper are all in Iowa… Elizabeth Warren stumps in New Hampshire… Beto O’Rourke and Eric Swalwell are in South Carolina… And Bernie Sanders begins his Midwest swing in Wisconsin.

Saturday: Cory Booker has his hometown kickoff in Newark… Hickenlooper remains in Iowa… Warren stays in New Hampshire… Ditto O’Rourke in South Carolina… And Bernie Sanders hits Indiana and Michigan.

Sunday: Pete Buttigieg has his hometown kickoff in South Bend, Ind… As does Swalwell in Dublin, Calif…. O’Rourke remains in South Carolina… Inslee and John Delany campaign in New Hampshire… And Julian Castro hits Iowa.

Tweet of the day

The Lid: State of play

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we did a deep dive into those new Dem polls in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 59 percent.

Fifty-nine percent.

That’s the share of Americans who say they don't have confidence in the wisdom of the American public when it comes to making political decisions, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

It’s not exactly breaking news. Americans’ faith in our collective political wisdom has mostly been dropping since at least the mid-1990s.

But here’s the thing that caught our eye.

Before Trump’s election, Republicans and Democrats were pretty much aligned in their increasingly pessimistic views about the electorate.

But after Trump won, the share of Republicans who said they had faith in the public’s political smarts jumped from 35 percent to 54 percent.

And now, post-2018 midterms, that’s coming back down to Earth — now back to 43 percent.

ICYMI: This week’s overlooked stories

Purge at DHS! Barr on Capitol Hill! Bernie Sanders reintroduces his Medicare for All bill (and is a millionaire)! Those are the stories that dominated this week.

But don’t miss these overlooked stories via NBC’s Kyle Stewart, which would have received much more attention in other eras:

  1. Trump’s sister retires, negating judicial ethics complaints
  2. Trump admin wants to make asylum harder by putting border agents in charge
  3. Inside the Russian effort to target Sanders supporters — and help elect Trump

And here are today’s news clips you shouldn’t miss…

It looks like Herman Cain doesn’t have enough support for confirmation to a Fed seat.

Trump says he considered his daughter Ivanka to head the World Bank “because she’s very good with numbers.”

Former Obama counsel Gregory Craig has been indicted.

A new indictment alleges that Michael Avenatti embezzled millions from a paraplegic client’s settlement.

Pete Buttigieg and Mike Pence? It’s “complicated,” the AP writes.

Trump agenda: Steve Bannon vs. the Pope

Steve Bannon is taking his game to the Vatican.

Fed chair Jerome Powell is trying to keep his distance from the president.

Dem agenda: Chuck Schumer and the filibuster

Chuck Schumer isn’t promising to keep the filibuster in place if Democrats win a Senate majority.

Critics are gearing up to challenge a new Ohio ‘heartbeat’ abortion bill in court.

The health insurance industry is trying to convince Democrats to back away from Medicare-for-All.

2020: Joe Manchin backs Susan Collins

Stacey Abrams says that not beating Trump — but instead “winning America” — is the key to 2020 success.

Kamala Harris says she owns a gun “for personal safety.”

The Wall Street Journal has a big look at how reparations are now on the table for 2020.

POLITICO looks at how Elizabeth Warren used to be a Republican.

Here’s a look at those new polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, via Ben Kamisar.

Joe Manchin has endorsed Susan Collins for reelection.