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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

New poll: 54% support House's decision to open impeachment inquiry

A new poll from the Pew Research Center finds that a majority — 54 percent — of American adults approve of the House’s decision to begin an impeachment inquiry, while 44 percent disapprove.

The same poll found that a 58 percent majority says Trump definitely or probably has done things that are “grounds for impeachment.”

And it showed a lack of confidence in both parties when it comes to handling the impeachment inquiry. Fifty-seven percent say they are not confident that Republicans in Congress will be fair and reasonable during the inquiry, while 52 percent say the same of Democrats.

The Pew survey questioned a panel of respondents, which allows for re-asking the same questions to the same people at different points in time. Overall, nine percent of adults who opposed the impeachment proceedings early last month now approve of the House’s decision to open the inquiry.

Of that nine percent, 61 percent are Democrats or independents who lean toward the Democratic Party, while 32 percent are Republicans or independents who lean toward the Republican Party.

Club for Growth takes to airwaves to accuse Romney of disloyalty to Trump

WASHINGTON — The Club for Growth, the conservative outside group that's typically argued for lower taxes, is attacking Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney in a new television ad of being a "Democratic secret asset" hellbent on destroying President Trump with impeachment. 

"Slick, slippery, stealthy: Mitt Romney had us fooled," the ad's narrator says before showing footage of Romney during his 2012 presidential bid praising an endorsement from Trump.

"Now his cover's blown, exposed by news reports as a Democrat secret asset. Sources say Romney’s plotting to take down President Trump with impeachment. Tell Romney, quit colluding with Democrats on impeachment."

The group says the ad will air statewide in Utah on Fox News from Oct. 17 to Oct. 27. Data from media-tracking firm Advertising Analytics shows the group spent about $20,000 to run the ads. 

Romney has been increasingly vocal of the president in recent weeks, tweeting concerns about Trump's public calls for China and Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, and blasting the decision to withdraw American troops from the Turkish and Syrian border. 

The criticism has prompted Trump to attack Romney, calling for his impeachment. Senators cannot be impeached. 

Romney hasn't publicly said whether he supports the House's impeachment investigation or whether he'd vote to remove Trump from office if the Senate holds a formal trial. And while a recent Vanity Fair piece (referenced in the Club ad through a summary of the article written by Blaze Media) said Romney is trying to whip support for impeachment behind the scenes, sources familiar with Romney's thinking denied that report to NBC last week. 

The new ad marks the latest in the Club's major transformation as to its posture toward Trump. During the 2016 Republican presidential primary, the group ran attack ads that framed Trump as the one trying to fool Republican voters. 

"Trump wants us to think he's Mr. Tell It Like It Is. But he has a record, and it's very liberal. He really is just playing us for chumps," the 2015 spot said. 

David McIntosh, the president of Club for Growth, told "Meet the Press" in August that the anti-Trump 2015 ads came during the heat of a campaign when the group backed Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. 

"What we base our current position on is the results. President Trump has governed as a free-market conservative — cutting taxes, trying to get rid of Obamacare, deregulating the oil and energy industry, deregulating the internet. And it's working," he said. 

On D.C. “swamp tour,” a handful of Republican voters look to replace Trump

WASHINGTON — Last Thursday, just two miles from where House Democrats launched their impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump last month, a group of mostly lifelong Republican voters embarked on a bus tour of Trump’s so-called “swamp.” 

Representing a distinct minority of GOP loyalists who oppose the president, they were brought to the nation’s capital city by progressive groups to help shine a public spotlight on what they believe is a scandal-riddled administration.  

“You can't understand the Ukraine scandal without understanding all of the corruption that got us to this point, and that's what we're setting out to show on this bus today,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Institute, a Democratic-leaning group that co-sponsored the tour along with the Revolving Door Project.

Through word of mouth and online solicitation, Taylor’s group found eight vocally anti-Trump voters — including six Republicans — and invited them aboard. (The other two are unaffiliated with either major party.) The voters, whose flights from Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Texas were paid for by organizers, say they’re opposed to the president in 2020 and would support any Democrats who take him on in the general election.

The bus was also packed with reporters, and it made stops at the Trump International Hotel, the Ukrainian Embassy, the Environmental Protection Agency and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home. At each of the 14 “corruption landmarks,” organizers said conflicts of interest and allegations of backroom deals have made the swamp Trump promised to drain “even murkier.”

Participants on this one-time trip said they were shocked to learn that Trump’s current choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, used to be a top coal lobbyist.

“It’s as if you had sued the department to then become the department head,” said Cheryl Rutledge Lindstrom, a registered Republican from Ocala, Fla., who participated in the tour. 

The voters say tales from the swamp, among other reasons, have forced them to draw a line between Trump’s brand of conservatism and the Republican Party they have supported for decades.

The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll underscores this divide between supporters of Trump and supporters of the Republican Party, with 91 percent of “Trump Republicans” saying there isn’t enough evidence to hold an impeachment inquiry, compared with just 58 percent of “party Republicans” who agree.

“We haven’t changed,” said Mary Miner, a registered Republican from Humboldt, Iowa. "The party has."

Miner and her husband, Wayne, have voted straight-ticket Republican in most elections. Wayne voted for Nixon, Reagan, both Bushes, McCain and Romney — but said he’s switching to the Democratic nominee in 2020.

Steve Anderson, a lifelong Republican voter from Wheaton, Ill., also said he will vote for whomever the Democrats nominate next year.

“Whether I agree with their policies or not matters to some extent. But right now, I don’t think we can argue about policy,” Anderson said. “I think no matter who is running, if Donald Trump is still on the ballot, we need to replace Donald Trump because he is an existential threat to our system.”

Mary and Wayne said they are looking for a candidate who is free of the corruption underscored by the swamp tour. For Mary, Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren fits the bill. Wayne hasn’t decided on a candidate but said he likes Democrats Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris.

“It just makes me sick, the amount of corruption we have,” Wayne said. “Everyone who points fingers is pointing three [fingers] back at themselves, and it’s a scary thing to think about.”

The couple said they hope to use what they learned on the tour as “ammunition” for converting Trump supporters ahead of 2020, but Anderson predicts success will be few and far between.

“The level of corruption is endemic through this administration at a scale we’ve never seen, but it’s not going to flip any Trump voters, because they already know,” Anderson said. “And they don’t care.”

What we learned from third quarter fundraising reports

WASHINGTON — With all eyes focused on Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate, the candidates released their third-quarter fundraising reports yesterday evening too. 

Many had already pushed out some top-line numbers meant to display their campaigns in the best light, but the massive paper reports offer an objective look at the health of these campaigns with just a few months to go before voting begins. 

From left, candidates Tulsi Gabbard, Tom Steyer, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang, Beto O'Rourke, Amy Klobuchar and Julian Castro stand together at the start of the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on Oct. 15, 2019.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Here are some of the takeaways from the NBC Political Unit:  

Burn rates tell important stories

A candidate’s burn rate (the amount spent divided by the amount raised) is one key metric used to read a fundraising report. Generally, a campaign wants to be taking in more money than it’s putting out, but it’s possible that a heavy investment now can pay off later, especially if a candidate is sitting on a war chest that can allow them to take on a heavy bill in the short term. 

That’s what former Vice President Joe Biden appears to be hoping for — his campaign burned through almost $17.7 million last quarter, bringing in $15.7 million for a burn rate of 112 percent. 

He has enough in the bank, almost $9 million, to cushion that spending rate. But Biden was the only one of the top-four polling candidates (Biden, Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg) whose cash on hand dropped from the beginning of the fundraising quarter. 

Sanders leads the pack with $33.7 million on hand, followed by Warren's $25.7 million and Buttigieg's 23.4 million. 

Biden was far from the only candidate with a high burn rate. Every candidate except Sanders, Warren, businessman Andrew Yang, Buttigieg, and author Marianne Williamson spent more than they brought in, and Buttigieg and Williamson’s burn rates were both about 95 percent. 

That includes some heavy proportional spending other candidates, who are either trying to snag a spot on the November debate stage or remain relevant and viable as the distance between the tiers of candidates increases.  

Steyer’s self-funding haul 

Billionaire businessman Tom Steyer’s campaign had been a bit of an enigma up until now — since he announced his campaign in July, he didn’t have to file a quarterly fundraising report until Tuesday. 

But now that he’s opened up his books, one thing is clear: Steyer’s personal wealth is the driving force of his campaign, and it’s driving a massive engine. 

Steyer contributed $47.6 million of his personal wealth to his campaign, helping him to spend $47 million overall last quarter. He raised just $2,047,432.86 from individuals, more than only fellow-self-funder John Delaney (the former Maryland congressman), and Ryan. 

That spending has proven to be a game-changer for Steyer, who made his first debate appearance Tuesday night after failing to qualify for the first three Democratic debates. And he’s already qualified for the next debate in November.

His third-quarter FEC filing tells a story of a campaign without wide support, but with a candidate who has enough money to single-handedly carry his campaign for as long as he wants. 

This kind of personal contribution to the campaign drove some of his Democratic opponents to cry foul. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke said Steyer “succeeded in buying his way” onto the stage. And New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said Steyer’s wealth “has helped him gain in the polls like no one else.” But this seems to be a personal investment and strategy Steyer is happy to continue.   

So how much of this money has Steyer burned through? With the total amount raised, Steyer’s burn rate is pretty in line with the rest of the field at 94.72 percent. But what’s his burn rate when only accounting for the cash he’s brought in from individuals? 2,424 percent.  

Boots on the ground

If a big burn rate is the sign of a campaign investment, then it’s important to figure out where that money is going. 

Each of the four top polling candidates prioritized building out their staff this cycle, as Biden, Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg all increased their staff since the end of the second quarter.

Buttigieg essentially tripled his staff — last quarter he had about 130 payrolled staff, but he has almost 450 now.  Sanders and Warren, who already had a large staff, doubled the number of people on their payroll to about 560 and 610 members, respectively.

Harris, who has fallen out of the top-polling group, still grew her staff to just over 300 members from about 160. 

One big surprise in staff growth: Andrew Yang. 

Yang had just about 20 people on the payroll at the end of June. While his organization still trails behind higher-polling candidates, he more than tripled his staff and it’s grown to over 70. Yang’s a long way off from the larger campaigns, but he closed the third quarter with a big fundraising increase, a low burn rate and a relatively big investment in staff. 

So where does this leave Biden? While he has a high burn rate and less cash on hand than the beginning of the quarter, his staff numbers doubled. Biden has about 450 staff on the payroll, compared to the about 190 he reported last quarter. 

Only four campaigns didn’t significantly increase their payrolled staff: Castro, O’Rourke, Delaney and Ryan. 

O’Rourke and Castro still have about 130 and 40 payrolled staff respectively, while Delaney has about 50 and Ryan just five.

Castro and O’Rourke have both made the donation threshold for the next debate, but haven’t met the polling measure.

Leading gun control group warns candidates 'mandatory buybacks could be dangerous' politically

One of the nation's leading gun-control groups is warning presidential candidates that mandatory gun buybacks are not especially popular, even as that debate percolates within the Democratic field. 

A memo sent to the 2020 Democratic campaigns by Giffords, an advocacy group named after former Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was shot in 2011, warned that "Democratic candidates for president benefit among primary voters by focusing on background checks and extreme risk protection orders, not the mandatory buyback of assault weapons." 

The memo, from Giffords' political director Joanna Belanger, was sent Friday and shared new polling data commissioned by the group.

"When primary voters are presented with a series of hypothetical profiles for candidates, they overwhelmingly prefer a Democrat who focuses on background checks to one who simply mentions guns or one who focuses on mandatory gun buybacks," the memo, which has since been made public, continued. "Voter skepticism about mandatory buybacks is fueled by the belief that we need to focus on solutions that are proven to work and have broad agreement across party lines."

The group's pollster, Global Strategy Group, added in polling summary: "Supporting background checks is the key to winning over persuadable voters whereas mandatory buybacks could be dangerous."

Mandatory buybacks drew virtually no support from any major gun safety groups or national Democrats until recently, when presidential candidates like former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke embraced the concept and raised its profile. 

The policy would not only ban assault weapons but take the extra step of requiring gun owners to sell existing assault weapons back to the government. “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47," O'Rourke said in the last Democratic debate.

Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J. and Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said they too support mandatory buybacks, while Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana has criticized the idea.

In an interview with NBC News, Giffords Executive Director Peter Ambler stressed the unity in the 2020 Democratic field around major gun issues, saying the disagreement on buybacks "is a side story playing out at the margins."

But he added that Democrats will be best able to take on the National Rifle Association if they remain united around consensus issues like background checks and red flag laws.

"Something that candidates should take note of is that what voters want, even in the primary, is not for candidates to do the most extreme thing just for the sake of doing the most extreme thing," Ambler said.

Established gun safety groups, like Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety, have still largely backed alternative approaches, but at least one major new player in the debate has come out for mandatory buybacks.

March For Our Lives, the gun safety movement launched with student survivors of the Parkland shooting, made it a part of their comprehensive policy plan in August. The group co-hosted a candidate forum on gun safety issues last month with Giffords, which was broadcast on MSNBC. 

Democrats get punchy ahead of debate

WASHINGTON — It's time for another Democratic debate, and the candidates have already been laying the groundwork in the days leading up to Tuesday's big event.

Recent days have been filled with candidates taking shots at their rivals as they look for a shot of momentum. 

Here are a few of the more notable examples: 

Buttigieg takes on all comers

South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg has been criticizing several of his fellow candidates. He hit Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren's decision to shy away from big-dollar fundraisers for her campaign (but not for the party), telling Snapchat's "Good Luck America" that Democrats can't win with "pocket change."

His campaign is also taking on Warren and Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders for their support for Medicare-for-All, which Buttigieg has referred to as a "my-way-or-the-highway" approach, with a new digital ad that contrasts his plan with theirs. 

And he's been at the center of a spat over former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke's plan for mandatory buybacks of certain semi-automatic weapons. 

O'Rourke has been criticizing Buttigieg for not supporting his plan, saying during a gun violence town hall sponsored by MSNBC that the mayor is someone who is "worried about the polls and want[s] to triangulate or talk to the consultants or listen to the focus groups."

Buttigieg swiped back during the Snapchat interview, calling O'Rourke's plan confiscation. But that prompted criticism from both Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

Candidates pile on O'Rourke over church and state

O'Rourke sparked a kerfuffle last week when he told CNN that churches and religious organizations should lose their tax-exempt status for opposing same-sex marriage. 

Buttigieg told CNN on Sunday that O'Rourke's idea would "deepen the divisions" on the issue and Massachusetts Warren's campaign put out a statement Monday disagreeing with O'Rourke, but not mentioning him by name. 

O'Rourke and his campaign have since walked away from those comments, and he now says his main concern was about discrimination by institutions providing public services. 

Read more from NBC's Benjy Sarlin on the blog

Sanders knocks Warren on capitalism

There's fighting along the left flank too, with Sanders knocking Warren during a recent ABC interview. 

When asked why candidates should choose him over his fellow Medicare-for-All, big-money blasting progressive, Sanders responded by arguing that "Elizabeth, as you know, has said that she's a capitalist through her bones. I'm not," adding that the "greed and corruption" in the country requires a fundamentally different approach. 

—Benjy Sarlin, Melissa Holzberg, Ali Vitali, Ben Pu and Deepa Shivaram contributed

Tom Steyer gets his first shot to make a second impression

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Democratic presidential hopeful Tom Steyer will get his first shot on the national debate stage Tuesday, alongside 11 other contenders. His face has been seen on TV screens in living rooms across the country, thanks to an about $20 million ad campaign aimed at boosting his own bid, on top of a series of ads aimed at impeaching President Trump prior to his announcement. 

But now Steyer is hoping voters will re-imagine his billionaire persona and see him as an “outsider” far removed from the world of Washington D.C.

“It's an unusual thing for people, to meet somebody who's described as a billionaire,” Steyer said. “Let me tell you who I think I am, because I think people don't really understand that.”

Tom Steyer listens during a town hall event in Ankeny, Iowa, on Jan. 9, 2019.Daniel Acker / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

What people may not understand, according to Steyer, is that he doesn’t travel in private planes — in fact he flies commercial “100 percent” of the time — and gold faucets aren’t a staple in his bathroom. Steyer argues that his work with environmental advocacy group Next Gen America and other grassroots organizations puts him at odds with the wealthy class to which he belongs.

“I actually have a record for 10 years of organizing people against those elites,” Steyer said. “Do I think I'm not lucky? You know, extraordinarily lucky and have advantages? No, I do. But take a look about how I’ve used it.”

Even so, the candidate at times seems disconnected from issues impacting average Americans.

At a house party in Iowa, the key first in the nation caucus state, one elderly man asked the candidate about robocalls that often target senior citizens. In the scenario, a caller, claiming to be an official from the IRS, tells the person on the line that he or she owes the government money. Upon hearing this, Steyer raised his eyebrows in shock, responding “Is that right?” The rest of the attendees nodded in agreement, pointing out that the caller was a fraud.

“Oh, it’s a scam?” Steyer asked, “I didn’t know that.”

Legislative efforts have been underway in both the House and Senate to crack down on robocalls for years, after the Federal Trade Commission received more than 3.7 robocall complaints in 2018 alone — but Steyer seemed unfamiliar with the issue.

At another event, a voter from western Iowa expressed concern about the impacts of ethanol waivers. The waivers, issued by the Trump administration, allow oil companies to opt-out of blending ethanol into their fuel, thus eliminating demand for the bushels of corn that Iowa farmers produce for this purpose. This comes amid a trade war that's also affecting local farmers’ bottom line.

As the potential caucus-goer described the waivers as “turning it all upside down,” Steyer interrupted. “What are the oil waivers? I’m not familiar. What exactly does that refer to?” asked the man running for president, who touts that he’s been organizing in Iowa for the past seven years.

Steyer doesn’t deny that he faces a learning curve. “There are things in this world that I don’t know,” he said.

Despite his lack of knowledge on the intricacies of some issues, Steyer argues that is less important than listening to voters' concerns and being able to respond in real-time.

“When someone explains that to me? Do I have a framework for thinking about what I think about that? Yes,” Steyer said.

The next morning, while answering questions from caucus-goers, he’d clearly done his homework. Steyer spun an inquiry about agriculture and trade into questioning the President’s move to issue waivers to 81 ethanol plants, “Does he know anything about ethanol? Here’s a guy that doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

The disconnect could become concerning for voters as they consider which candidate to support in the caucuses because some doubt that Steyer will be able to expand beyond the issues that he’s invested in.

“He already had Next Gen out doing advocacy for the environment, and then he decided to say [Trump] is a fraud. He riled up his Next Gen audience, so he already has that support cooked in, and that’s what you’re seeing right now,” Tony Currin of Johnson County told NBC News. 

Others, including 68-year-old Al McGaffin a retired teacher in Iowa who attended a meet-and-greet with the candidate, say Steyer has no problem connecting with audiences and would bring a fresh perspective to the presidency.

“His expertise, his ability to understand economics, his ability to understand people and the world, I think he can handle it, I think he’s got the experience,” McGaffin said.

Still, Steyer acknowledges he still has much to learn.

“You don't start at the finish line. The process is super important. You’ve got to think about the processes being a learning experience,” Steyer said. “And that learning experience is important and not threatening.”

“I'll try and say what I think try to be myself and try to present myself as a different candidate from everybody else, which is true, and try and be straightforward about it.” Steyer said. “It's really introducing myself and honestly, that's how I see it.”

Andrew Yang wants tech companies to pay users for their personal data

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Presidential candidate Andrew Yang wants your data to be just that: yours.

As a presidential candidate, Yang recently released a proposal establishing data as a property right, meaning users should have control over their personal data — and get paid for it.

“Right now we have this lack of data dignity, there's a tyranny of the tech companies and then we're just looking up and hoping for the best. We can change that,” Yang told NBC News. “And there is more value to be generated if we buy in and accept because right now a lot of the data that's getting sold and resold is anonymous.” 

The idea, he argues, would benefit companies because if users were compensated for their data — from jogging routes to dining preferences — then they would provide more information. The burden would then be on companies to share with each user how they are using, reselling and profiting from that data.

“Right now technology companies are selling and reselling our data and we're none the wiser,” said Yang. “We're seeing none of that value. At this point, our data is worth more than oil. And if that's the case, then we should be benefiting from it, not just the companies.” 

“It's our data, it's our value, it's our property and getting us a share of that value will be an immense game changer for many, many Americans,” he added. “It's not just about the money though, it's about the control, it's about the autonomy, it's about the agency. It's our data, we should know what's happening to it, and we should be able to change our preferences.”

Yang views this “data dividend” as a supplement to or part of his signature proposal, the freedom dividend, in which the government would pay each adult citizen $1,000 a month.

Asked what his idea would look like in practice, with companies like Facebook paying users for information shared, Yang said “that’s the fun part.”

“We have to find out how they're monetizing our information and then get a fair share of that,” he said. “Right now it's difficult to determine precisely because we don't know what they're doing with our information.”

Recently, Gigi Sohn, a former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) special counsel under President Obama criticized Yang’s plan, arguing, “it’s impractical and I also think it will only lead to more litigation.”

Asked if his idea would lead to more privacy problems rather than fewer, Yang told NBC News his idea is not unique, citing the European Union’s approach to data protection rules and the recently passed California Consumer Privacy Act.

“If it was on the companies, where we owed them money, then we know there'd be absolutely no issue,” he said. “But because they are taking our data and profiting from it, that it’s somehow an administrative burden? It really doesn't make any sense.”

O’Rourke clarifies position on churches and same-sex marriage as 2020 rivals weigh in

WASHINGTON —Beto O’Rourke clarified his stance on LGBTQ rights and religious institutions as some 2020 Democratic rivals distanced themselves from comments he made last Thursday in which he appeared to back ending tax-exempt status for churches that oppose same-sex marriage. O’Rourke and his staff have since said that was not his intended position.  

Elizabeth Warren’s spokeswoman Saloni Sharma put out a statement on Monday disavowing the concept of denying tax-exempt status to churches over marriage rights. 

"Elizabeth will stand shoulder to shoulder with the LGBTQ+ community until every person is empowered and able to live their life without fear of discrimination and violence,” the campaign statement said. “Religious institutions in America have long been free to determine their own beliefs and practices, and she does not think we should require them to conduct same-sex marriages in order to maintain their tax exempt status." 

On Sunday, South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg criticized O’Rourke’s stance on CNN, suggesting his rival had perhaps misunderstood the implications of his remarks and that his position would “deepen the divisions that we’re already experiencing at a moment when we’re actually seeing more and more people motivated, often by compassion and by people they love, moving in the right direction on LGBTQ rights.” 

President Trump also invoked O’Rourke’s comments over the weekend, calling him a “wacko” in a speech to the Values Voters Summit.

However, O’Rourke has since ruled out ending tax-exempt status for churches that refuse to endorse or perform same-sex marriage, with the candidate and his staff saying on Sunday and Monday that they would not look to influence religious doctrine, but instead target specific instances of potential discrimination by religiously affiliated institutions. 

“To be specific, the way that you practice your religion or your faith within that mosque or that temple or synagogue or church, that is your business, and not the government's business,” O’Rourke said on MSNBC on Sunday. “But when you are providing services in the public sphere, say, higher education, or health care, or adoption services, and you discriminate or deny equal treatment under the law based on someone's skin color or ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation, then we have a problem.”

In the same interview, O’Rourke mentioned a 1983 Supreme Court ruling against Bob Jones University that ruled the religiously affiliated school could be stripped of its tax-exempt status for discriminating on the basis of race. He suggested the Equality Act, a House-passed bill backed by Democratic leadership that would extend civil rights protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, would clarify that similar types of discrimination were against the law. 

The initial exchange on Thursday with CNN’s Don Lemon at a forum sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign appeared to go further: O’Rourke was asked whether churches and other religious organizations should “lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage” and answered in the affirmative.

“Yes,” O’Rourke said. “There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone, or any institution, any organization in America, that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us. And so as president, we are going to make that a priority, and we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.”

The courts are still sorting out the limits of religious exemptions and LGBTQ protections.

Meanwhile, Republicans and many religious organizations are opposed to new civil rights legislation that they fear could force religious schools, charities, and hospitals to take actions they believe violate their faith. But O’Rourke seems to be getting closer to mainstream Democratic and activist territory now, rather than carving out a new position entirely.

Big ad spending disparity helps Rispone win second slot in LA gov runoff

WASHINGTON — Businessman Eddie Rispone is the GOP's standard-bearer in the Lousiana governor's race after Republicans kept incumbent Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards under 50 percent on Saturday. And Rispone punched that ticket thanks in no small part to a massive spending edge over Republican Rep. Ralph Abraham. 

Edwards was the clear leader (no other major Democrat was running in the "jungle primary," which pits the whole field against each other regardless of political party) with 47 percent of the vote. Rispone finished with 27 percent, followed by Abraham's 24 percent. 

Eddie Rispone speaks at the Louisiana GOP Unity Rally in Kenner on Oct. 5, 2019.Sophia Germer / The Advocate via AP

Rispone's camp spent $8.1 million ahead of Saturday's "jungle primary," about as much as Edwards' campaign did and significantly more than the $2 million spent by Abraham. And a healthy chunk of that money went to blistering attacks on Edwards, particularly in the final days. 

Out of the $672,000 Rispone spent in the final seven days of the race, more than a third of that was spent on attack ads targeting Abraham, according to data from the media-tracking firm Advertising Analytics. 

Abraham, by comparison, tried to frame himself as above the fray in the final days. His campaign ran $157,000 worth of ads down that same stretch, the vast majority on a spot that framed him as the candidate who "rose above it all" despite the "noise and negative campaigning." 

If the Democrat had won the majority of votes on Saturday, he'd win re-election outright. But instead, he now has to face Rispone in a runoff next month. 

Look for some serious spending to come in this race as Republicans and Democrats furiously face off in the battle for one of the few red-state gubernatorial seats held by a Democrat. 

Sanders campaign co-chair: Heart attack makes senator's commitment to Medicare for All personal

DOVER, NH — As Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) takes time off to recover from his recent heart attack, his surrogates have been out on the trail in full swing. This weekend, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream fame held five campaign events across the first-in-the-nation primary state, opening field offices and kicking off Green New Deal canvassing with ice cream scoops and energetic speeches. 

Cohen, one of Sanders’ four national campaign co-chairs, told a crowd at the campaign’s Dover, New Hampshire field office that Sanders “health-wise is doing great.”

“His people are trying to hold him back, telling him, ‘you ought to rest up for a bit,’ but the plan is that he’s going to be in the debate on Tuesday and after that he’s going to be hitting trail full steam ahead,” he said to dozens of supporters as they sampled Americone Dream and Cherry Garcia ice cream, two of Ben & Jerrys’ signature flavors.

In a one-on-one interview, Cohen said Sanders has always believed health care is a human right and “he feels it more than ever now.”

“He is raring to go, he just can’t wait to get back on the trail,” he told NBC News. “He is more committed than ever to Medicare for All, he realizes that if somebody who didn’t have decent health insurance was in the position that he was in, they’d be saddled with medical debt, medical bankruptcy, for the crime of having a heart problem.”

According to Cohen, the mood of the campaign is an upbeat, revitalized one. Sanders returns to the trail on Saturday with a rally in Long Island City, NY.   

“It was kind of like a rallying call — people are more psyched, more motivated than ever,” said Cohen. “There’s a real sense that it’s not about him, it’s about us, and that we all need to rise to the occasion because this is the only presidential candidate in my lifetime who has ever had such a progressive, such a view in favor of regular everyday people.”

To him, voter concerns about Sanders’ health are exaggerated, especially since the Vermont senator has always been active.

“Personally, I had quadruple bypass open-heart surgery. That’s a big thing. This guy had a couple of little stents put in. That is not a big thing,” he said.

“I go out on the campaign trail with the guy, I’m out there three days, and I gotta go home and recuperate and he just keeps on going,” Cohen added.

“He was in good shape before this, I think he’s going to be in better shape because now that he’s got his arteries unclogged, he’s got the energy to go out there and unclog all the corruption in our government.”