IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Meet the Press 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.
Image: Illustration of photos depicting voters on line, voting booths, the Capitol, the White House and raised hands.
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Trio of Senate candidates stare down history as they look to rebound from high-profile House losses

WASHINGTON — In early 2017, still reeling from the election of Donald Trump and facing Republican dominance on Capitol Hill, Democrats across the country turned their lonely eyes to a 30-year-old documentary filmmaker from the Atlanta suburbs named Jon Ossoff. 

Ossoff was running for Congress in a special election in a traditionally Republican district, but Democrats were hopeful that a growing suburban backlash against the president could lead to an upset. Ossoff’s candidacy became a liberal cause célèbre, but despite raising a record $31 million, he lost the election by 3 percent.

After passing on another House run in 2018, Ossoff is now aiming higher, challenging incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue in 2020.

TUCKER, GA - JUNE 20: Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff speaks with volunteers and supporters in a campaign office on Election Day for Georgia's 6th Congressional District on June 20, 2017 in Tucker, Georgia. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Ossoff is the third high-profile House loser from the 2018 cycle to pivot to the Senate. MJ Hegar, whose viral ad highlighting her military service helped her raise $5 million, lost a narrow race to incumbent Rep. John Carter in Texas’s 31st District and is now running against Sen. John Cornyn. And Amy McGrath, a former Marine pilot who also raised millions from a viral ad campaign during her unsuccessful campaign in Kentucky’s 6th District, is now challenging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

All three — despite their losses — became stars of the midterms by taking once-solid-red districts to nail-biting finishes.

Now they’re looking to use that star power to accomplish something few have done in the past 40 years: parlay a losing House bid into a winning Senate one.

History is not on their side, and the political odds appear to be long, too. All three candidates are running in states Trump won handily in 2016.

But as Dave Wasserman, House Editor for The Cook Political Report and an NBC contributor, notes, “The route to Congress is changing quite rapidly, and voters are looking for nonpoliticians at a higher rate than ever.”

Since 1978, 246 people have won a Senate seat for first time (Dan Coats, Frank Lautenberg, Kent Conrad, and Slade Gorton were all elected as “freshmen” twice during this period). Of those, 111 were already members of the House of Representatives; another 30 were state governors. 

According to an NBC News analysis, only nine were able to do what Ossoff, Hegar, and McGrath are attempting. And none have done it as quickly – just one election cycle after a House loss.

Of the nine, John Kerry, D-Mass., Joe Lieberman , then a Democrat from Connecticut, Paul Coverdell, R-Ga., and Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Texas, attained statewide or nationally prominent posts after their initial losses, providing springboards for eventual Senate runs.

Only five people since 1978 have lost a House race and then won a Senate race without holding a statewide elected office or national post in the interim. Three of them, Republicans John East of North Carolina, Mack Mattingly of Georgia and Frank Murkowski of Alaska won their Senate races in the Republican wave year of 1980 after losing House elections in the 60s and 70s.

Peter Fitzgerald, an Illinois State Senator, lost a Republican House primary in 1994, but in 1998 he defeated incumbent Senator Carol Moseley Braun. Fitzgerald served just one term in the US Senate before retiring.

The man who replaced him is the fifth of these cases; also an Illinois state senator at the time. He suffered a bruising House primary defeat in 2000 and returned to the state legislature before a successful U.S. Senate run four years later.

His name was Barack Obama.

It remains to be seen if Ossoff, Hegar, or McGrath can replicate Fitzgerald’s success, let alone Obama’s. All three have nationwide donor lists, broad name recognition, and substantial organization from their previous runs.

But the three Democrats face daunting odds attempting to unseat Republican incumbents in red states, especially during a presidential election year.

The three, Wasserman notes, “are betting big, and it’s too early to say whether 2020 as favorable for Democrats as 2018. They ran in a pretty good year and lost.”

And if they fall short again?

“If you lose two races in two years,” Wasserman says, “it’s a sign you should probably take some time off before reentering the political area.”

Joe Biden picks up three Congressional endorsements

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden picked up three congressional endorsements for his presidential campaign today from Reps. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., and Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo.  Biden now has 16 endorsements from members of the House of Representatives, which is the same amount as Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. 

Joe Biden speaks at the New Hampshire Democratic Party state convention in Manchester on Sept. 7, 2019.Gretchen Ertl / Reuters file

Butterfield and Cleaver's endorsements, both former chairs of the Congressional Black Caucus, come days after the latest NBC News/WSJ poll showed Biden has a 30-point plus lead among African American Democratic primary voters. Biden's polling at 49 percent in that group, while the next highest-polling candidate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., sits at 13 percent. While Biden's been criticized on his civil rights record, Butterfield noted Biden's commitment to civil rights in his endorsement.

"Civil rights brought Joe Biden into the fight, and I know he’ll continue that fight – the fight for equality and the opportunity for economic success. That’s why I proudly endorse Joe Biden for President of the United States," Butterfield said. 

Crist served as governor of Florida as a Republican but switched his party registration to Independent before leaving office. He now serves as a Democratic congressman whose district went for President Trump in 2016, but previously supported President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. 

All three Congressmen expressed Biden’s experienced leadership in bringing consensus on numerous issues as a reason why they’re endorsing him. 

The Biden camp's endorsement release highlighted that these three endorsements followed Rep. Vincente González, D-Texas, flipping his endorsement from former HUD Secretary Julián Castro to Biden after the last Democratic debate.

Harris campaign vows "strong top three" Iowa finish, announces doubling of Iowa staff

WASHINGTON — Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign announced on Thursday a doubling of staff in Iowa and a commitment that the candidate would spend “about half of October” in the state to ensure the California senator finishes in the top-three on caucus night next February.

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks during the New Hampshire Democratic Party Convention at the SNHU Arena on Sept. 7, 2019 in Manchester, N.H.Scott Eisen / Getty Images

“We want to make sure that we have a strong top-three finish,” said Juan Rodriguez, Harris’ campaign manager, on a call with reporters on Thursday morning. “I think that will kind of continue to give us a slingshot to go into that early primary state calendar and then make sure that we’re also competitive heading into Super Tuesday.”

A new NBC/WSJ national poll of Democratic voters released this week showed the California senator slumping to fifth place with just 5 percent of voter support —down 8 points from July.  

Rodriguez said the campaign will double its number of Iowa organizers to 110, increasing her total staff to 131 in the Hawkeye State, while also opening up 10 additional field offices.

After a noticeably quiet summer on the campaign trail, Harris’ team said the candidate will visit the state every week in October. The California senator focused much of her summer on holding campaign fundraisers, a move her campaign defended on the call. 

“I feel really good about what we’ve been able to do in decisions about how we’ve built up this campaign to really kick it into high gear in the fourth quarter,” Rodriguez said.

Lily Adams, Harris’ communications director, noted on the call that success in the Iowa caucus on February 3 is “incredibly important to demonstrating electability and viability going forward.”

“It’s important that we make that commitment,” Adams said. She noted the need for the campaign to “demonstrate to Iowa that we’re going to put in the work.”

She asserted that Harris will visit South Carolina “multiple times” in October as well and that the “emphasis on Iowa” does not mean the campaign is pulling back resources from the other early states. 

Adams acknowledged that the campaign expects to see “bouncy polls ahead” but noted that the polling support for candidates in the final months ahead of the caucus has historically fluctuated, pointing to polling figures leading up to the 2004, 2008 and 2016 Democratic caucuses.

“We certainly saw a sugar high after that first debate,” she said, continuing: “I don’t think any of us thought we were going to bounce up and stay there for the rest of our lives.”

When asked by reporters on the call about the candidate’s messaging strategy in the final four months before Iowa, the Harris campaign said the senator will continue to focus her ire on the policies of President Trump and contrast them with policy objectives that are intended to appeal to a broad swath of the electorate. 

The senator, however, scaled back her criticisms of the party’s frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden, in the September debate after taking particular aim during the first debate over his past statements on busing and school segregation. Adams said that Harris will “respectfully” draw contrasts in the future with the rest of the field where needed.

“You’ve got to define what you’re for and against vis a vis the other candidates you’re seeing in this race,” Adams said. “And I think she’s going to respectfully do that.”

Buttigieg unveils health plan, calls it 'glide path' to Medicare for All

WASHINGTON — Democrat Pete Buttigieg is unveiling his long-awaited health care plan that aims to move millions of Americans into government-run health care without imposing it on all Americans all at once — a middle ground that Buttigieg hopes will draw a clear contrast with the "Medicare for All" approach. 

The South Bend, Ind. mayor and presidential candidate described his plan as a "glide path to Medicare for All" in an interview with NBC News. 

Democratic Presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg speaks during a campaign event in Muscatine, Iowa, on August 14, 2019.Alex Edelman / AFP - Getty Images file

While Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., propose eliminating private insurance in one fell swoop, Buttigieg wants the government to introduce a public plan that would be so competitive that Americans will ultimately choose voluntarily to abandon insurance companies.

"Freedom is one of the main themes of this campaign. And I do think commanding Americans to abandon the coverage they've got is inconsistent with our commitment to freedom," Buttigieg said. 

He said unlike his rivals' "Medicare for All" proposal, his plan allows for as long a transition period as necessary to get the public option up and running well, a concern highlighted by the disastrous rollout of the HealthCare.Gov online insurance marketplace during the Obama administration.

Buttigieg said leaving the current system intact while any unforeseen kinks in the public option are ironed out would be "far less traumatic" than putting the entire country in government-run health care all at once.

Buttigieg's plan hews closely to the proposal backed by former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic primary's front-runner. But their plans differ over how Americans would get enrolled in the new public plan and what subsidies would be available to help them pay for it.

Under Buttigieg's proposal, Americans would again be effectively required to maintain some type of health insurance, a requirement put in place by President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act but nullified by the Trump administration.

Americans whose incomes are so low that they're eligible for free coverage through Medicaid or the public option would be automatically enrolled, along with those eligible for "an affordable insurance option," although Buttigieg's plan doesn't explicitly define what constitutes affordable. Those Americans could opt out of the public option if they have private insurance, and even those with employer-provided insurance could choose to use the public option instead.

Those who aren't automatically enrolled and lack insurance would later be "retroactively enrolled" in the public plan. Buttigieg said they'd have to pay back premiums for the time they were uninsured if they get sick and need coverage.

But critics have long argued that allowing people to wait until they're sick to get insurance drives up health care costs because there are fewer healthier people — who cost less to insure — to pay into the system.

Buttigieg would also expand subsidies to help pay for premiums — currently limited to people whose incomes are less than four times the federal poverty level. Under his plan, Americans could buy into a "gold-level" public option at a premium capped at 8.5 percent of their income.

"This plan is not moderate by historical standards, but it certainly is moderate compared to Medicare for All," said Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies health care policy. "It goes well beyond the Affordable Care Act in providing help paying for healthcare to a much larger number of people and taking significant steps to control costs."

As Buttigieg works to break into the top tier in the crowded Democratic race, his critiques of his competitors and their plans have become increasingly sharp and direct in recent weeks. An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll this week found Buttigieg in fourth place at 7 percent, far behind Biden at 31 percent, Warren at 25 percent and Sanders at 14 percent.

In Facebook ads taking aim at Sanders and Warren over health care, Buttigieg has argued their vision would "dictate" a public option to Americans and "risk further polarizing them."

And although Warren and Sanders cite statistics showing Americans support Medicare for All, Buttigieg says in the NBC News interview that a closer look reveals that what the majority are thinking of when they hear "Medicare for All" is actually closer to his plan, not those of the two senators.

The Buttigieg plan also cracks down on exorbitant costs insurance companies charge for providers who are out-of-network by capping their reimbursement rates at double the rate that Medicare pays. It would also aim to end "surprise bills" that result when patients go to an in-network hospital but are unknowingly treated by an out-of-network provider working there.

Benjy Sarlin contributed

Pence taps former DHS press aide as new press secretary

WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence has hired Katie Waldman to be his new press secretary, NBC News has learned.

Waldman, who is currently communications director for Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., previously served as the public defender of the Trump administration’s policy of family separations as deputy press secretary at the Department of Homeland Security.

She begins her new position on October 1.

“She’s got extensive experience and she’ll be a great fit in our office,” said Marc Short, Pence's chief of staff. “She’s shown she has the mettle to handle intense environments.”

Vice President Mike Pence speaks about the creation of Space Force at the Pentagon on Aug. 9, 2018.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images file

Waldman, 27, will replace Alyssa Farah who left earlier this month to be a spokeswoman at the Department of Defense.

Waldman is an aggressive and sometimes polarizing communicator but has proven to be a loyal advocate for the Trump administration and its policies.

During her nearly two-year stint at DHS, she was given the agency’s immigration portfolio and empowered to be the lead spokesperson. She consistently defended the administration’s policy of “zero tolerance” that led to the separation of thousands of children from their parents after crossing the southern border.

That experience has proven that she is battle-tested several allies of Waldman told NBC News. 

“She impressed a lot of people in the administration with her work in DHS and on the immigration portfolio in the height of media interest,” said a former DHS official who worked closely with her and is not authorized to speak publicly in a new position.

Waldman will be reporting directly to Short. She’ll be the on-the-record spokesperson for the vice president during a critical time as the president and vice president head into an election year.

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who hired Waldman as his first press secretary after he won election to the Senate in 2014, said that Waldman is one of the hardest workers he’s ever met.

“She has a very strong personality,” Daines said. “She has incredible work ethic.”

A senior administration official who used to work at DHS with Waldman said that her experience working for the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, two senators and the administration gives her a wide variety of experience.

And, the official added, “she’s pro-Trump and that checks all the boxes.”

Joe Kennedy to announce Massachusetts Senate primary bid against incumbent Ed Markey

WASHINGTON — Rep Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., will announce this weekend that he is launching a bid for the U.S. Senate, setting up a primary challenge to a fellow Democrat, incumbent Sen. Ed Markey, a source familiar with the decision confirms to NBC News.

The source added that Kennedy will announce the bid to supporters during a breakfast at East Boston Social Centers. 

The Boston Globe first reported Kennedy's decision. 

Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., smiles on Capitol Hill on July 26, 2017 in Washington.Jacquelyn Martin / AP file

Kennedy's entry into the race had been long rumored, and the congressman himself previously acknowledged that he was considering a challenge to Markey.

The primary will pit the 38-year-old Kennedy, the fourth-term congressman who's part of one of America's most famous political dynasties, against the 73-year-old Markey, who first joined Congress as a member of the House in 1976. 

A recent poll by Suffolk University and the Boston Globe found that Kennedy would lead Markey by more than 8 points in a field of five primary candidates, and by 14 in a head-to-head primary matchup. 

But Markey has won endorsements in recent weeks from both Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, two prominent progressives.

Booker releases new labor plan as auto strike continues

MANCHESTER, NH — Presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., is out with a new labor plan pegged to the ongoing auto strikes, a proposal that calls for empowering workers to take collective action, restructuring laws to help workers in the gig economy, enacting a slew of worker protections and overhauling America's tax laws. 

Citing the ongoing United Automobile Workers strikes, Booker said in a statement that he "learned the power of collective action from my grandfather who was an assembly line worker and UAW union rep in Detroit."

“He showed me how, when workers stick together, injustices can be corrected and real progress can be made," he said.

"That’s something I’ve carried with me my whole life — and today, as I stand with workers who are fighting for fairer wages and better benefits across the country, I’m outlining how my administration will ensure that our economy leaves no one behind.”

Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) speaks to a crowd at Emanuel AME Church on Aug. 7, 2019 in Charleston, S.C.Sean Rayford / Getty Images file

His campaign proposal relies heavily on passing existing legislation and argues for his previously announced Rise Credit, which expands on the Earned Income Tax Credit by providing up to $4,000 to working Americans making less than $90,000 a year, including students and family caregivers as workers, and implementing automatic tax filings.

Notably, Booker’s signature Worker Dividend Act, a bill he sponsored in the Senate, would shift the balance of power from shareholders to workers by forcing corporations to share profits from stock buybacks with their employees.

Other highlights from Booker’s proposal include:

  • Strengthening collective bargaining and protect workers at the federal, state and local levels through legislation such as the PRO Act (protects rights to organize unions and strikes and bans “right to work” laws), Workplace Democracy Act, and Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act.
  • Preventing misclassification among gig economy workers by shoring up regulations about when workers can be classified as independent contractors
  • Supporting efforts that allow workers from multiple employers to organize across industries, and also expand workforce training to include local sectoral programs
  • Ensuring federal funds and contracts support companies that provide adequate benefits, respect unions and pay at least $15 an hour
  • Fighting for a $15 minimum wage and closing the gender pay gap by passing his co-sponsored Raise the Wage Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act
  • Prohibiting mandatory arbitration clauses through the Restoring Justice for Workers Act
  • Providing guaranteed paid family leave for taking care of relatives by passing the FAMILY Act
  • Protecting workers from all types of discrimination and harassment through the pro-LGBT Equality Act, Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, and Be HEARD Act
  • Investing federal dollars in affordable childcare by building on the Child Care for Working Families Act
  • Giving all Americans an opportunity to work by passing his Federal Jobs Guarantee Development Act
  • Restructuring the American tax code by repealing the 2017 GOP tax bill, raising the rate for long-term capital games, adding an annual long-term investment tax for the wealthiest Americans, implementing a “deferral charge” for shifting investments, and closing loopholes that Booker says advantage the wealthiest households

Booker argues his tax reforms could raise as much as $2 trillion over ten years.

His plan also cites the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights and Fairness for Farm Workers Acts and Fair Chance Act to ensure fairness for disadvantaged workers from communities of color and the formerly incarcerated, respectively.

Earlier this week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren nabbed the endorsement of the Working Families Party, a labor-focused progressive group that supported Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016.

ACLU dings Joe Biden in new radio ads

WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union is pressuring Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden to clarify his positions on civil rights with a new ad campaign in the early primary state of South Carolina. 

The group is spending what it tells NBC News is "low six-figure" to run the ad on African-American radio stations in Charleston and Columbia. It follows digital ads and mailers the ACLU has already sent to 100,000 South Carolina voters asking, “Where is Joe Biden on civil rights?” 

The campaign is a response to the former vice president failing to respond to an ACLU effort asking all the 2020 candidates where they stand on civil liberties. 

"Most candidates in the recent debate answered our questions, but Joe Biden did not," the ad's narrator says. "You heard right, Joe Biden passed on a chance to make clear where he stands on voting rights, on criminal justice reform, on police misconduct. We asked how he would address the unnecessary use of force by police.... No response. Voters deserve to know. Does Joe Biden support rights for all?"

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former Housing Secretary Julián Castro have also been hit with digital ads from the group for failing to respond, but Biden is a more valuable target given his standing in the polls.

Ronnie Newman, the national political director for the ACLU, said members of his group want "clear, on the record" assurances from every candidate they would use "the full weight" of the presidency to protect civil liberties. 

“This push is not about the narrow question of whether presidential candidates have returned the ACLU questionnaire, but instead about the broader, more fundamental question of whether candidates -- including Joe Biden -- will commit to prioritizing civil liberties and civil rights in their campaigns and eventually, in their presidency," Newman said. 

The ACLU has traditionally not involved itself much in elections, but has been looking to expand its reach outside the courtroom after receiving a flood of donations in the early days of Donald Trump's presidency and retooling itself for a more polarized world.

South Carolina, which will be the fourth state to vote in next year's primaries, is key to Biden's prospects and its Democratic electorate is expected to be majority-African American. 

The Biden campaign pointed NBC News to Jim Felder, a prominent civil rights activist with the NAACP and South Carolina Voter Education Project, who defended the former vice president and questioned why the ACLU was getting involved in a Democratic primary.

"Joe Biden, in my book, is number one on civil rights throughout the years," said Felder, who is supporting Biden. "I don't know of any situation where Joe Biden has been against civil rights."

Felder said he's supported and donated to the ACLU in the past, but that the attack on Biden "just floors me," adding that he had not seen the group be particularly active in South Carolina in recent years. "And why are they getting involved in the presidential race? To jump on candidates like this seems to be a little stretch outside what they typically do," he said.

UPDATED: This post was updated to include a comment from a Biden surrogate. 

As Harris falters, campaign and allies mull next steps

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., once viewed as a top-tier contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, has lost considerable ground in the crowded field while other candidates are picking up steam.

With just over four months left until Iowa’s leadoff caucuses, Harris has fallen to five percent support in the latest NBC/WSJ poll released Tuesday, putting her in fifth place behind former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

It’s a precipitous drop for the former California attorney general, who entered the presidential race with a huge rally in her hometown of Oakland last January. She jumped to prominence after the first nationally televised Democratic debate in June, where she called out Biden, the field’s front-runner, over his past statements on public school busing.

Harris has faded since then. Her second debate performance, in July, was panned as she defended her record as a prosecutor and worked to explain her position on healthcare reform. She did little to bounce in the third debate earlier this month, casting much of her attention toward President Trump.

And she’s had a light campaign schedule this summer.

When Harris returns to Iowa this weekend for the Polk County Democrats’ Steak Fry, it’ll be her first trip to the state in over a month. She’s visited just 18 of Iowa’s 99 counties so far. 

It’s been more than two months since her last visit to South Carolina, where Harris, who is African American, is counting on a robust showing among black voters who make up the majority of the state’s Democratic primary voters.  

And Harris has been in New Hampshire just once in the last two months.

An attendee takes a picture with Senator Kamala Harris during the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. Annual Pink Ice Gala in Columbia, South Carolina, on Jan. 25, 2019.Elijah Nouvelage / Bloomberg via Getty Images

By comparison, Biden has campaigned actively in the early contest states. Since August 1, the former vice president has been to Iowa three times, New Hampshire twice and South Carolina twice. He’s also been to 21 of Iowa’s 99 counties, despite having entered the race in April, three months after Harris.

And through the summer, Warren has held well-attended rallies in St. Paul, Seattle, Oakland, Austin and New York City.

Harris, however, has spent much of the summer on a fundraising spree. She held fundraising events in Chicago and New York City last weekend, skipping a major labor summit in Philadelphia on Tuesday to raise money in the Baltimore area instead.

Harris advisers say the candidate will continue to prioritize fundraising ahead of the Sept. 30 third-quarter fundraising deadline. The California senator raised $12 million in the second quarter, less than Biden, Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg. 

With falling poll numbers and a sparse campaign schedule, Harris is in need of a healthy fundraising haul to sustain a robust operation heading into the winter.

Campaign spokesman Ian Sams told NBC the campaign wants to “make sure we have the nest egg to be competitive and viable through March” and insisted the candidate will be “on the trail a lot more” come October.

“We’re not playing to win a summer news cycle in the off-year,” Sams said. “We’re playing to win an election. We’re aiming to peak at the turn of the year when we’re approaching votes – and we’re built to do that.”

“Horse-race polling be damned,” he added.

But part of Harris’ struggles comes down to voters’ lack of familiarity with the third-year California senator. 

In the new NBC/WSJ poll, 15 percent of Democratic primary voters said they didn't know her name. By comparison, just 7 percent said that about Warren, and 1 percent said that about Biden and Sanders.

Austin Healy, a 31-year-old Texan who voted for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the state’s 2016 primary, attended an early September campaign rally for Warren in Austin that drew thousands. He told NBC News that he “originally liked [Harris] in the beginning” but followed: “I don’t really know what she stands for – there’s not really a clear message for me.”

Harris, an Oakland native who first served as San Francisco’s District Attorney before becoming California’s attorney general, has also struggled to change perceptions about her time in law enforcement.

It’s a point of frustration for Lateefah Simon, a long-time mentee of Harris who said she was “yelling at the TV” while watching the third debate, imploring Harris to tell the stories that define her record as a progressive prosecutor.

 

Sen. Kamala Harris from California speaks during the 2020 Democratic presidential debate in Houston on Sept. 12, 2019.Mike Blake / Reuters

Simon, who now works on criminal justice reform in California, says Harris needs to “tell it raw” and invoke her personal experiences.

Simon recalls a moment when Harris, then a district attorney, was comforting a mother whose daughter had been killed. When the victim’s mother came into Harris’ office sobbing after the killer’s trial, Harris got down on her knees with her.

“I’m here with you. Look at me. I’m here with you,” Harris had said, their foreheads touching, Simon recounted.

“I have watched her not tell these stories,” Simon recalls. “Why don’t you talk about Claire? You hired me. Why don’t you tell that story?”

Deb Mesloh, a longtime Harris friend and campaign adviser, told NBC News that she has learned to never doubt Harris because she’s shown resilience in tough elections for her district attorney and attorney general posts.  But Mesloh acknowledged the scale of running for president limits the opportunities for Harris to make personal connections with voters.

“What I’d love to see is for her to continue to share her personal story and for her to continue to talk about her life history and the things that inform her leadership and connect with voters in a one-on-one sense so they get to know her,” Mesloh said.

Sams, the Harris campaign spokesman, said the campaign knows it is working up against candidates, namely Biden, Sanders and Warren, who had built-in national reputations before declaring their presidential bids.

“Voters need to understand who you are. They need to understand why you’re running,” Sams said. “The three people atop the polls have been well known nationally for a long time and have strong brands...all the others of us who have not been national figures before have to do even more to tell people what we’re about and get it to stick.”

Michael Bennet targets Iowa Caucus-goers with new TV ad

DES MOINES, IA — Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., is the latest candidate to hit TV screens in Iowa with two 30-second ads titled, “Most,” and “Truth. Bennet failed to qualify for the September debate stage and is still struggling to meet the October threshold. The campaign hopes the new ads will introduce potential caucus-goers to the candidate.

“Not enough people have had the chance to meet him or learn what drives him,” campaign spokeswoman Shannon Beckham said. “These ads show who Michael is and how he’s different from other candidates.”

The combined ad buys will ultimately hit a seven-figure spend across TV and digital platforms, according to the campaign. Ad-buy trackers show that the initial TV buys cost the campaign nearly $200,000 with more investment to come over the next several weeks in Iowa, and other early states like New Hampshire. 

That's a significant investment considering Bennet’s campaign ended the second quarter with only $2.2 million in the bank, per FEC filings. In contrast, Tom Steyer has already spent $4.5 million on the air in Iowa, while Joe Biden’s invested $688,000, with Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris trailing closely behind with $635,000 and $562,000 investments, respectively. 

In the ad titled “Most,” Bennet discusses how he’s dedicated his political career to “tackling tough problems,” including jobs, education and immigration reform to make Washington “work for the people again.” Bennet closes the ad focusing on health care saying, “As president, I’ll get everyone covered with a public option or keeping the health plans they already have.”

Bennet has separated himself from the more progressive wing of the Democratic candidates by opposing Medicare for All plans.

Health care  is also the central focus of Bennet's second ad, "Truth." The ad starts with a narrator talking about  how Bennet “pounds truth into the campaign.” 

“The truth is a health care plan that starts by kicking people off their coverage makes no sense,” Bennet says in the ad. “Before we go and blow up everything let’s try this.”

“This” is Bennet’s "Medicare X Plan,” which would allow people to keep their current health care plan or buy into a public option.

Iowans will remember a push in ad spending by former Democratic candidate Kirsten Gillibrand earlier this summer before she ultimately dropped out of the race after failing to qualify for the September debates. 

Bennet’s ads will broadcast in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, in addition to CNN and MSNBC.

Elizabeth Warren's anti-corruption speech highlights

NEW YORK — Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., laid out her new anti-corruption proposal in a speech at  Washington Square Park last night.

The speech attracted an audience of 20,000, according to Warren’s campaign.

Here are some highlights of her speech: 

Government corruption has caused "extinction of species", "children slaughtered by assault weapons" and "crippling student loan debt"

Standing in the shadows of one of the U.S.'s most expensive universities, New York University, Warren said that she "has a plan" to root out corruption in government. She blamed that "corruption" for why the government hasn't done enough to stop the ballooning student loan debt, climate change and gun control. 

"Corporate lawyers" as federal judge appointees rule "against vulnerable people" 

Warren lambasted corporate lawyers who make their way to the federal judiciary and rule in "favor of corporations". And she said that "right-wing groups have spent millions of dollars" to ram through unqualified nominees.

As Warren said in the last Democratic presidential debate, she practiced law "for about 45 minutes" before becoming a law professor. 

Warren: "We're here because of some hard-working women" 

At the top of Warren's remarks, she addressed the role that women have played in the fight against corruption, using the devastating Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 to make a point about systemic corruption. 

"For years, across the city, women factory workers and their allies had been sounding the alarm about dangerous and squalid conditions—fighting for shorter hours and higher pay," she said, before adding that "the fat profits were making New York’s factory owners rich.

"Take any big problem we have in America today and you don’t have to dig very deep to see the same system at work."