The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Ben Kamisar and Carrie Dann
19d ago / 4:52 PM UTC
Two moderate, swing-district Dems only two to buck party on impeachment rules vote
WASHINGTON — Just two Democratic House members crossed party lines Thursday to vote against the House's plan to move forward in its impeachment inquiry of President Trump.
The vast majority of House Democrats voted with their party on the measure that lays out the plan for public hearings, the inquiry's format and codifies rules for lawmakers and their staffs. Only Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Jeff Van Drew, D-N.J., defected, with Republicans all voting in opposition.
Independent Rep. Justin Amash, the Michigander who recently left the Republican Party voicing opposition to Trump, voted with the Democrats in favor of the measure.
In a statement, Peterson called the impeachment process "hopelessly partisan" and said he has "serious concerns with the way the closed-door depositions were run." He added that he wouldn't "make a decision on impeachment until all the facts have been presented.”
Van Drew said in a statement that he is worried the impeachment "inquiry will further divide the country tearing it apart at the seams and will ultimately fail in the Senate." But he admitted that now that the vote is behind him, he'll make a "judgment call based on all the evidence presented by these investigations."
Both Peterson and Van Drew represent congressional districts that voted for Trump in 2016. They both are among the few Democrats not supporting the impeachment push, but they could still face challenges in 2020 from the right.
Peterson's district is the most Trump-friendly district in the nation that is represented by a Democrat in Congress. And it's not even close.
Trump won Peterson’s Minnesota district by 30 points, 61 percent to 31 percent, in 2016. Peterson — known for his work on agriculture issues — has long defied Republican efforts to oust him since he was first elected in 1990.
Van Drew's southern New Jersey congressional district supported President Obama in 2012 by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent. But Trump won the district 50 percent to 46 percent. Despite that shift, Van Drew won the seat in 2018 after then-GOP Rep. Frank LoBiondo announced his retirement.
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19d ago / 2:22 PM UTC
Trump World Series television ad evokes al-Baghdadi raid
WASHINGTON — President Trump's re-election campaign dropped a new ad during last night's World Series that emphasizes the president's role in Saturday's raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The spot is similar to others the campaign has run, including many common themes across Trump ads—video of Trump at the southern border to tout his border security push, video of workers to promote the economic performance, and video of regular Trump campaign targets like Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former special counsel Robert Mueller.
But it also features a picture of Trump and top aides monitoring the raid in the Situation Room, video of an air strike and a picture of al-Baghdadi with an 'X' drawn over him.
"Obliterating ISIS—their caliphate destroyed, their terrorist leader dead. But the Democrats would rather focus on impeachment and phony investigations ignoring of real issues," a narrator says.
"But that's not stopping Donald Trump. He's no Mr. Nice Guy, but sometimes it takes a Donald Trump to change Washington. "
Trump's campaign has also run a series of Facebook ads since the Saturday night raid evoking the raid.
"Under the fierce leadership of our Commander-in-Chief, the radical ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead. Terrorists should never sleep soundly knowing that the U.S. will completely destroy them. Our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines are the very best, and thanks to their bravery and President Trump’s leadership, WE ARE KEEPING AMERICA SAFE!" one ad reads.
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Amanda Golden, Julia Jester and Vaughn Hillyard
20d ago / 1:06 AM UTC
Buttigieg becomes first major Democratic candidate to file for N.H. primary
CONCORD, N.H. — Pete Buttigieg on Wednesday became the first major presidential candidate to file for the first-in-the-nation primary ballot here in 2020, signing the official documents and handing over a $1,000 check to N.H. Secretary of State Bill Gardner.
As Buttigieg walked to the historic filing desk in Gardner’s office, cheering supporters lined up to greet the South Bend, Indiana mayor.
.@PeteButtigieg greeted by supporters and volunteers as he walks into the New Hampshire State House and heads down the hallway to the Secretary of State's office as the first major candidate to officially file to be on the ballot for the New Hampshire primary February 11, 2020 pic.twitter.com/rM2oENuVYm
From now until November 15, every 2020 presidential candidate must file with the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s office in order to appear on the state’s primary ballot in February. This cycle marks the 100th anniversary of the state's presidential primary.
Most are expected to appear in person for the time-honored tradition, but surrogates may file on behalf of the candidates themselves. For example, Vice President Mike Pence is slated to file for President Donald Trump next week.
Moments after he sealed his spot, Buttigieg was asked if he’s ready to be president.
"We better be,” he said. “I think we've demonstrated to the country that we're ready to do this. And it feels like a lot of people out there are too, which is exciting."
Per tradition, Buttigieg then took questions from local media before visiting the state house gift shop, where he signed campaign merchandise to contribute to the locale’s collection of presidential campaign memorabilia.
On his way out, Buttigieg crossed paths with a 4th grade class at the state house for a field trip and heard from students who said they hoped he would win the White House, with one student even seizing the moment in front of the cameras to “make a statement” and declaring he would want President Buttigieg to end world hunger. Buttigieg applauded the remarks before being hugged by a few of the students.
In an interview with NBC News, Buttigieg argued that voters should trust him on foreign policy, even over more experienced candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden.
"Around the world is people from new generations stepping up in leadership, many of them elected under the age of 40 as I would be,” he said. “I'm thinking about the President of France, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, the new leader of El Salvador. Leaders from a new generation around the world shaping the future of geopolitics in a way that's going to be responsive to the 21st century."
During a brief rally outside the state house Wednesday, Buttigieg embraced the moment.
“We’ve been at it for a good year or so, but this — this feels different,” he told the couple hundred supporters gathered for the occasion. “We are officially a candidate in the New Hampshire primary for president of the United States.”
He reiterated the sentiment at his last event of the day at a town hall in Peterborough.
“There's something about putting your name on that sheet of paper that reminds you that you are part of a tradition, that you are part of something bigger than even the 2020 presidential election,” Buttigieg said, “although it's hard to think of something much bigger in terms of consequence than what is about to happen in this country.”
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Deepa Shivaram and Vaughn Hillyard
20d ago / 8:41 PM UTC
Harris cuts staff and shifts focus to Iowa amid slump at polls
WASHINGTON — California Sen. Kamala Harris' presidential campaign is laying off "several dozen" staffers, moving field staff to Iowa and slashing pay to top campaign hands amid her recent decline in the polls.
Harris' campaign made the announcements in a memo released Wednesday from Juan Rodriguez, the campaign manager.
In that memo, Rodriguez announced that the campaign will "reduce the size of our headquarters staff" in Baltimore while also shifting field staff from Baltimore, New Hampshire, Nevada and California to go "all in on Iowa."
The campaign’s South Carolina operation will remain unchanged.
“There are multiple ways to assess and move forward, and to ensure we’re incredibly competitive in Iowa, not only with a robust organizing campaign — we have more than 100 staff in the state and that’s not changing — and to make sure we have a strong paid media presence in those last days when people are marking their decision, and that requires tough decisions,” Harris campaign communications director Lily Adams told NBC News.
Harris, who joked at the end of last month that she was “moving to Iowa,” has spent 15 days in the Hawkeye State, making five trips there in October. The campaign memo also said Harris would be spending Thanksgiving there.
“She is determined to earn the support of every caucus goer she can in the next 96 days,” the memo said.
Rodriguez also wrote that he and all of the campaign's consultants will take pay cuts, and they will "trim and renegotiate contracts."
Harris raised just under $12 million in the last quarter, but her fundraising efforts have put her behind frontrunners like Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg. She spent almost $3 million more than her campaign took in during that quarter, which stretched from July through September. And she ended the quarter with $10.5 million in the bank and held $911,000 in debt.
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20d ago / 7:10 PM UTC
Pro-Biden super PAC officially launches, calling for country to 'unite'
MAQUOKETA, IOWA —A new super PAC aimed at boosting Joe Biden’s candidacy launched Wednesday focused on a key plank of the former vice president’s platform: unifying the country at a time of division.
The new Unite The Country PAC debuted with a 60-second video featuring Biden in his own words appealing to bring the nation together and professing his optimism for the country’s future.
“It’s time to unite the country. Are you in?” the spot concludes.
The primary goal of the new organization, though, is to provide a much-needed financial shot in the arm for the fragile Democratic frontrunner, whose fundraising pass has lagged even as his campaign has continued to spend heavily. Biden allies argue that no other Democratic candidate is facing incoming fire both within his party and from President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign.
In a statement announcing its formation, the super PAC said it will focus its efforts “on communicating to voters why Joe Biden is not only the best choice to defeat Trump in 2020, but is also the best candidate to restore honor and integrity to the White House and our nation on day one.”
“We know Joe Biden is the best candidate to defeat the President, but so does Donald Trump. We will not sit idly by while Trump spreads lies about a man who has served this country with honor and dignity,” said Steve Schale, a strategist for Unite the Country Strategist said.
Biden had personally disavowed the support of any outside super PAC even before launching his candidacy in April. But as supporters of the former vice president have expressed renewed concern about his ability to finance a long-term campaign, particularly with the GOP apparatus already training its significant war chest on him, his campaign relented, saying in a statement that “it is not surprising that those who are dedicated to defeating Donald Trump are organizing in every way permitted by current law to bring an end to his disastrous presidency.”
The board of the new Super PAC includes a number of veteran Democratic strategists and longtime Biden allies. Schale was a top official in President Obama’s campaigns in the key battleground state of Florida, and also played a role with an organization that sought to draft Biden into the 2016 race.
Schale told NBC News the focus of the PAC’s efforts would be making an affirmative case for Biden.
"We are here to talk about Joe Biden, and defend him from the unprecedented attacks from Trump, not to attack other Democrats,” he said.
The organization’s board will be chaired by Mark Doyle, a former Biden aide and nonprofit CEO. Fellow Biden alumnus John MacNeil will serve as secretary, and Larry Rasky, who worked on Biden’s 1988 and 2008 campaigns, will serve as Treasurer.
Julianna Smoot, the deputy campaign manager for Obama’s 2012 campaign and the 2008 national finance director, will also play a key role.
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20d ago / 5:05 PM UTC
Trump campaign launches $1 million anti-impeachment television campaign
WASHINGTON — President Trump's re-election campaign is out with a new television spot blasting impeachment as a "scam" and a "bunch of bull," as the president looks to sway public opinion in key Democratic primary states as well as some swing states pivotal to his own 2020 bid.
The campaign started airing the ad Wednesday morning, shortly after the campaign booked $1.15 million in time across Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C. from Oct. 30 through Nov. 5, according to spending data from Advertising Analytics.
The breakdown: $400,000 of that total is booked for Nevada, $387,000 is booked for Pennsylvania, $257,000 is booked for Iowa, $64,000 is booked in Boston (which covers most of New Hampshire) and $42,600 is booked in Washington D.C.
In the spot, a smattering of speakers take turns lambasting impeachment in a variety of settings—at home, in offices, and on factory floors.
"Impeachment is a scam."
Impeachment is a bunch of bull."
"Impeachment is a joke."
"It’s a partisan witch hunt."
"They can’t get over the fact that Donald Trump won. The Democrats are trying to overturn the election. Ignore how we voted. Donald Trump is an excellent president. Over 6 million new jobs. My job is here, not China. My paycheck is bigger. Black and Hispanic women are finally gaining. Donald Trump is my president."
In a phone interview with NBC News Tuesday night Wahls said that, for him, the biggest themes of this race are both understanding how President Donald Trump won in 2016 and how Democrats can beat him in 2020. “I think Senator Warren offers the clearest explanation on both of those two points,” he said.
He described the Massachusetts senator as “infectiously optimistic about the future of the country."
"So many people want to feel good about politics again," he said, "and she makes you feel good about politics again.”
The Iowa state senator representing parts of Eastern Iowa met Warren in May, and the two have stayed in touch throughout the campaign. But he also cites a “personal connection” to the candidate in his endorsement reasoning: they’re both policy wonks.
Other 2020 candidates have appeared with Wahls over the course of this 2020 campaign. Over the summer, several Democratic presidential hopefuls — including South Ben Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar — appeared at a fundraiser for him.
Yes, late-breaking and undecided voters do exist — and matter
WASHINGTON — In today’s highly polarized political times, you might think that undecided, late-breaking voters are an extinct species — akin to the passenger pigeon and the Dodo bird.
But ahead of this November’s gubernatorial races in Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi, the Democratic Governors Association believes they certainly exist.
And the organization has built a polling model to measure how these late-moving voters might break on Election Day, as well as to determine how to target these voters and spend its final resources.
“Attitudes aren’t fixed,” said Nick Gourevitch, partner and managing directorof the Global Strategy Group, who was one of the lead Democratic pollsters who created this model for the DGA.
How the DGA model compared to actual results
Adjusting for late-breaking voter movement.
Source: Democratic Governors Association Graphic: Andrew Williams / NBC News
“It is enough to make a difference in some places,” he added.
The DGA and its pollsters developed this model after Kentucky’s surprising gubernatorial result four years ago, when Democratic internal polls — as well as the public ones — showed Democrat Jack Conway with a small but consistent lead.
But Republican Matt Bevin won that contest — by nearly 9 points.
After Bevin’s victory, the DGA’s pollsters conducted a post-election panel survey with respondents from previous polling, and they discovered two things.
One, the undecided voters broke overwhelmingly for Bevin, the Republican.
And two, a sizable number of Conway voters in their polling defected to Bevin and the GOP.
After further studying this kind of late movement in the 2016 gubernatorial races of Indiana, Missouri, Montana and West Virginia, the DGA and its pollsters built a statistical model to better predict how these late-breaking voters can affect races.
Part of the model is based on a simple question: would voters consider supporting the other candidate or is their choice locked in? The answers allow them to predict if particular voters might defect from their stated choice.
And for undecided voters, the model uses information from the voter file, plus answers on other polling questions, to determine how they might break.
A year later, the late-breaking model pretty much nailed the results in Virginia’s 2017 gubernatorial race, which Democrat Ralph Northam ultimately won.
The Democrats’ final internal pre-election tracking poll showed Northam with a 5-point lead over Republican Ed Gillespie, with a combined 8 percent saying they were undecided or supporting a third-party candidate.
When the late-breaking model was added to those numbers, Northam’s lead over Gillespie grew to 11 points, 55 percent to 44 percent.
He ended up winning by 9 points, 54 percent to 45 percent.
The model also closely reflected the results of last year’s gubernatorial races in Georgia, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Maine and New Mexico.
The takeaway? Undecided and late-breaking voters do matter.
That was evident from the 2016 exit polls (when Trump overwhelmingly won voters who decided in the last week in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida), as well as the exit polls in 2018 (when Democrats won late-deciding voters by 6 points).
And it’s evident from the Democrats’ polling model in their gubernatorial races, says Gourevitch, the Democratic pollster.
“It’s definitely been helpful to us in terms of … knowing the range of possibilities and outcomes,” he said.
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Monica Alba and Stephanie Ruhle
20d ago / 5:07 PM UTC
'Math to the madness:' Why the Trump campaign’s viral merchandise is actually priceless
“By the way, what ever happened to Hunter? Where the hell is he?!” Trump asked the arena, referring to former Vice President Joe Biden’s eldest son, amid the controversy that launched an impeachment inquiry into the president and his dealings with Ukraine. “Hey fellas, I have an idea for a new T-shirt.”
Minutes later, the suggestion became a $25 reality. Before the event was over, the campaign website had a “LIMITED edition” piece of merchandise “while supplies last!” featuring the presidential query: “WHERE’S HUNTER?”
But the goal wasn’t just to sell thousands of inflammatory t-shirts. More valuable than any dollars brought in, according to aides, is the voter data associated with each item the campaign sells.
For months, the Trump campaign has been capitalizing on controversial events to attract and study donors, many of whom had never given to the 2020 team before. Critics have mocked the gimmicky sales but the campaign may be getting the last laugh.
“President Trump is a master of branding and marketing and his campaign is an extension of that. We try to reflect the President’s ability to cut through political correctness and seize on the news cycle,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said.
When plastic straw bans started to spread across the country, campaign manager Brad Parscale saw an opportunity to monetize.
“Liberal paper straws don’t work. STAND WITH PRESIDENT TRUMP and buy your pack of recyclable straws today,” an advertisement read. So far, the $15 packs of the Trump-branded straws have raised nearly $1 million for the campaign, making them the best-sellers of this kind of viral marketing machine.
That’s more than 60,000 orders, 40 percent of which were placed by new donors, according to a senior campaign official, meaning access to new voters and all sorts of information about them.
In September, after a hurricane map was altered with a black Sharpie to include Alabama, the Trump campaign decided to sell its own kind of thick black markers. For $15, supporters would get 5 fine-tip pens to “set the record straight!” for themselves, featuring — of course — the president’s gold autograph. Those haven’t sold as well as the straws, netting around $50,000, but it helped the campaign crystallize its strategy for converting outrage into retail information.
Last week, after Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said those with concern over political influence in the president’s foreign policy should “get over it,” the campaign seized on the phrasing and designed t-shirts with Trump’s signature hairdo over the letter “o.”
Buy the official Trump marker, which is different than every other marker on the market, because this one has the special ability to drive @CNN and the rest of the fake news crazy! #KeepMarkersGreathttps://t.co/eakgICM0LR
All of those examples show the lengths to which the campaign has cashed in on the culture war.
They have also been extremely beneficial for the data operation, according to a senior campaign official, who said the information gleaned from the thousands of transactions is invaluable.
Though the total amounts from these sales is a tiny fraction of the $125 million brought in by the president’s whole re-election effort last quarter, the one-two punch of effective political messaging and data collection also helps the campaign identify potential groups and demographics to better target between now and Election Day.
Obtaining phone numbers, emails and physical addresses in this volume, with this ease, is essentially gold for any presidential campaign.
Capitalizing on the “smartest dumb ideas” is also a way to identify the most loyal supporters and then seek out others who may share their key characteristics or online habits, said one digital marketing expert who asked not to be identified because they are consulting with political campaigns.
This strategy is a huge part of Parscale’s larger approach to collecting and using data. And it's a clear sign that the campaign is more focused on dominating in the digital arena than even four years ago.
Harvesting this kind of information demonstrates there is a “math to the madness” of these quick-turnaround items, according to the marketing expert.
The tchotchkes are easy and cheap to produce (all “Made in the USA”), while delivering nuanced insight into thousands of the president’s most ardent supporters, who would be critical to a potential second term victory.
The campaign can also cross-reference the information they gather from voter scores at the Republican National Committee and try to identify how many times they’ve voted in the past, for whom, and how.
Before he was elected, the president considered himself a master marketer. Perhaps the best example of this skill set is the now-iconic, signature red “Make America Great Again” hat. To date, the Trump campaign says it has sold more than a million of them, for a grand total of $25 million.
And beyond the viral, news cycle-driven merchandise, the campaign also has consistently targeted the president’s political opponents in its apparel and accessories available for sale on the website.
Just this week, the campaign unveiled special Halloween-themed items that feature House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Rep. Jerry Nadler. D-N.Y., as witches, with a superhero-type Trump flying through the air over Washington D.C. The image is a play on the movie poster for “Hocus Pocus,” with the Trump team playfully labeling the line: “HOAXUS POCUS — Stop the Witch-Hunt!”
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22d ago / 6:55 PM UTC
Steyer's TV ad spending in 2020 race reaches $30 million
WASHINGTON — Wealthy Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer has now spent nearly $30 million in TV and radio advertisements, according to ad-spending data as of Oct. 28 from Advertising Analytics.
Steyer’s spending over the airwaves is seven times greater than the second-biggest advertiser in the presidential race (President Trump’s re-election campaign) and 15 times greater than his nearest Democratic rival (South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg).
Almost all of Steyer’s spending has been targeted in the early nominating states – $7.1 million in Iowa, $7 million in New Hampshire, $5 million in Nevada and $6.3 million in South Carolina – as the Democratic National Committee has used early-state and national polls to set the qualifications for upcoming debates.
So far, Steyer is one of nine Democrats who have qualified for the next debate, on Nov. 20 in Georgia.
The top overall advertisers, as of Oct. 28
Steyer: $29.7 million
Trump: $4.0 million
Buttigieg: $2.0 million
Sanders: $1.7 million
The top spenders in Iowa
Steyer: $7.1 million
Buttigieg: $2.0 million
Sanders: $1.7 million
The top spenders in New Hampshire
Steyer: $7.0 million
The top spenders in Nevada
Steyer: $5.0 million
The top spenders in South Carolina
Steyer: $6.3 million
SOURCE: Advertising Analytics
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Vaughn Hillyard, Alexandra Bacallao and Ryan Beals
22d ago / 5:31 PM UTC
Buttigieg and Castro open to conditioning Israel aid money to restricting settlement expansion
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Former Housing Sec. Julián Castro and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg on Monday suggested an openness to using U.S. aid as leverage to press Israel to halt its settlement expansion in the West Bank.
The two were among a handful of Democratic presidential contenders who spoke at a conference hosted by the liberal Jewish advocacy group J Street in Washington.
“We have a responsibility, and by the way we have mechanisms to do this, to ensure that U.S. taxpayer support to Israel does not get turned into U.S. taxpayer support for a move like annexation,” Buttigieg said from the stage, adding: “The problem of course with annexation is that it is incompatible with a two-state solution, and I believe ultimately moving in that direction represents moving away from peace.”
In an interview with NBC at the conference, Castro echoed Buttigieg, saying, “I would not take off the table the option of conditioning our aid on Israel not annexing the West Bank.”
Castro, however, said his focus would be to first work with the new Democratic presidential administration in 2021 to “get this [U.S.-Israel] relationship back on track and to work toward a two-state solution and stop any kind of effort to unilaterally annex the West Bank.”
The former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development also criticized the leading role that Jared Kushner, the White House senior adviser and son-in-law of President Trump, is playing in Middle East peace talks.
“I wish, though, that this president were more serious and that he would send somebody over there that actually has a track record and experience of being able to help achieve stability and peace,” Castro told NBC, adding that the White House’s peace negotiating “doesn't seem serious.”
America has been a stalwart ally of Israel, sending the country vital military and economic aid. Some U.S. politicians have bristled at Israel's decision to build settlements in the West Bank, arguing the construction in areas that go beyond the nation's initial borders could hamper peace negotiations in the region. But defenders of those settlements believe Israel is well within its rights to build on land Israel now controls after wars in the region.