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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Booker plans six-figure ad buy, early state sprint to make debate stage

MANCHESTER, NH – New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker’s campaign is in an all-out sprint to qualify for the December debate, per a memo from his campaign manager, Addissu Demissie.

With the upcoming Dec. 12 deadline to qualify for the next Democratic debate looming, the campaign announced a six-figure ad buy featuring Booker’s first radio and digital ads, coupled with reorienting its early state strategy “to become a targeted voter persuasion effort aimed at attaining the debate polling threshold.”

Booker's campaign says it has raised $1 million since last week's MSNBC-Washington Post debate, which helped the campaign eclipse the 200,000 unique donor threshold to put Booker on the road toward qualifying for the next debate. 

Sen. Cory Booker speaks at a Democratic presidential debate in Houston on Sept. 12, 2019.Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images file

To qualify for the December debate in California, which will be posted by PBS Newshour and Politico, candidates need to hit that unique donor threshold as well as a polling threshold — either hitting 4 percent in four national or state polls (from different pollsters) or 6 percent in two polls of the early states: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

While Booker has the fundraising, he's so far failed to hit 4 percent in any qualifying poll. 

In the memo, Demissie outlined a strategic shift from courting small-dollar donors to reaching the DNC-approved poll numbers needed, citing four percent in four polls as the “likeliest path.”

“While we don’t have Michael Bloomberg or even Tom Steyer money, we are pouring what we have into paid persuasion thanks to the surge that came in after the debate and no longer having to spend precious resources on new donor acquisition aimed at hitting the 200,000 threshold,” he wrote, waiving at the billionaire Democrats who are spending their personal wealth on their campaigns. 

“Cory 2020 isn’t leaving poll qualification up to margins or error or fate,” Demissie added. “We know the most important thing we can do for Cory Booker right now is to ensure that every dollar spent, every volunteer shift booked, every waking moment our campaign staff spends in the next two weeks is geared toward persuading voters that Cory should be their first choice in this contest.”

As for early state resources on the ground, the campaign plans to use “both traditional methods and new organizing tools” in a poll-focused, targeted voter persuasion effort. And Demissie wrote that the campaign will reorient its on-the-ground organizers in early states to "become a targeted voter persuasion effort aimed at attaining the debate polling threshold."

Demissie noted the campaign still needs to raise more money to place its first TV ad buys, which would be in South Carolina and Iowa, where airwaves are crowded and Steyer alone has spent more than $7 million.

Campaigning in New Hampshire over the weekend, Booker talked to reporters about the need to keep pushing ahead.

“The high percentage of people that are signing commitments to support us, volunteering for our campaign, we need to keep the momentum – fundraising is a big issue for us,” he said. “We've seen billionaires just go on our TVs and bump up their polling numbers. I don't have that kind of personal resources, I'm depending on the people.”

Democratic candidates accuse Bloomberg of trying to buy nomination

ANKENY, Iowa — As Michael Bloomberg hit the trail on the first day of his Democratic primary campaign, his fellow primary contenders didn't shy away from taking hits at the billionaire's massive ad buys.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who rarely comments on other candidates, starting off her remarks at a community event here Monday afternoon by addressing Bloomberg's expensive foray.

"Michael Bloomberg is making a bet about democracy in 2020: he doesn't need people, he only needs bags and bags of money. I think Michael Bloomberg is wrong and that's what we need to prove in this election," Warren said.

"If you get out and knock on a thousand doors, he'll just spend another $37 million dollars to flood the airwaves and that's how he plans to buy a nomination in the Democratic Party,” Warren added.

Warren, who often critiques billionaires' opposition to her wealth tax when addressing voters, leaned into that sentiment Monday, arguing that her wealth tax is a recognition that the wealthy built their fortunes "at least in part using workers all of us helped pay to educate."

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., also criticized Bloomberg during an event in Salem, New Hampshire, accusing the former New York City mayor of using his billions to "buy the United States government."

"I understand the power of the 1 percent. I mean you're seeing that right now literally with Mayor Bloomberg who has decided to use part of his $55 billion not to buy a yacht, not to buy another home, not to buy a fancy car, but to buy the United States government," Sanders said.

Tom Steyer, a fellow billionaire and Democratic candidate, told NBC News Monday that Bloomberg shouldn't be in the race if he won't commit to a wealth tax, as he has. 

"Inequality is such a critical and dangerous part of our society now. So for somebody like him or like me, who's been particularly lucky in America and has, you know, generated a lot of wealth, I think it's particularly important to address specifically the inequality of income and wealth," Steyer said. 

At his event in Norfolk, Virginia, Monday, Bloomberg responded the charges he's buying his way into the race. 

“For years I've been using my resources for the things that matter to me. I was lucky enough to build a successful company, it has been very successful and I've used all of it to give back to help America… So I'm now in the race, I'm fully committed to defeating Donald Trump,” Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg is spending $31 million to run television ads this week in the largest television buy in campaign history, according to the trackers at Advertising Analytics. 

In its two, 60-second biographic spots, which are already airing, Bloomberg's campaign touts his record on consensus Democratic issues like preventing climate change, pushing for gun violence reform, creating jobs and supporting affordable housing. 

—Ali Vitali, Ryan Beals, Gary Grumbach, Priscilla Thompson and Maura Barrett contributed

'An absolute disaster': Sanders blasts MLB over proposed minor league cuts

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on Monday denounced Major League Baseball's plan to shutter more than 40 minor league teams as an "absolute disaster" and suggested Congress and the Trump administration "seriously rethink and reconsider" the league's anti-trust exemption.

"I am writing to urge you and the owners of Major League Baseball franchises not to eliminate any of the 42 Minor League Baseball clubs that have been put on the chopping block. Shutting down 25 percent of Minor League Baseball teams, as you have proposed, would be an absolute disaster for baseball fans, workers and communities throughout the country," Sanders, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, wrote in a letter to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. "Not only would your extreme proposal destroy thousands of jobs and devastate local economies, it would be terrible for baseball."

"Over 41 million fans went to see a Minor League Baseball game last year — over a million more than the previous year," Sanders added. "Depriving American families in small and mid-sized towns the only opportunity they have to see a live baseball game with future big league players at a reasonable price is both unwise and unnecessary."

Earlier this month, The New York Times detailed 42 minor league teams with which that MLB could soon sever ties, mostly at the lower levels of the minor league system. The league has said that the proposal is part of a broader plan to improve conditions in their affiliated minor leagues, including raising player pay, improving transportation and cutting down on a demanding travel schedule. However, the plan would also drastically cut the number of minor league players MLB has to pay.

MLB did not immediately respond to NBC News' request for comment.

Last week, more than 100 members of Congress signed a letter to Manfred calling on MLB to reconsider the plan, which they said "would undermine the health of the minor league system that undergirds talent development and encourages fan loyalty."

"If this is the type of attitude that Major League Baseball and its owners have then I think it’s time for Congress and the executive branch to seriously rethink and reconsider all of the benefits it has bestowed to the league including, but not limited to, its anti-trust exemption," Sanders wrote Monday.

Baseball has long played a role in the Vermont senator's politics. Sanders told Yahoo News earlier this year that the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn for Los Angeles in 1958 taught him "what the power of money is about."

Bloomberg ads blanket the airwaves in record-breaking buy

WASHINGTON — Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's stunning advertising buy has begun, with spots promoting his new Democratic presidential bid popping up on the airwaves Monday. 

Michael Bloomberg speaks at a gun control advocacy event on Feb. 26, 2019, in Las Vegas.John Locher / AP

Bloomberg is spending $31 million this week in the largest weekly ad buy ever, according to the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics. The buy eclipses even one from then-President Barack Obama, who spent $24.9 million in a single week during his 2012 re-election. 

So far, Bloomberg is running two similar bio spots that tout his rise from the middle class to becoming one of the world's wealthiest businessmen. 

The ads praise Bloomberg's terms as New York City mayor, pointing to his affordable housing and job creation records. They also mention Bloomberg's push to create a group combating gun violence, as well as how he's "stood up to the coal lobby and this administration to protect this planet from climate change."

One of the spots closes with an early attempt to define the billionaire's last-minute candidacy. The ad pitches Bloomberg as the Democrat who can beat the current occupant of the Oval Office, touting consensus issues that are popular among Democrats but more pragmatic than some of the steps being offered by more progressive candidates.

"Now he's taking on [Trump] to rebuild a country and restore faith in the dream that defines us, where the wealthy will pay more in taxes and the middle class get their fair share. Everyone without health insurance can get it, and everyone who likes theirs keep it," the ad's narrator says. 

Check out both ads here and here. 

Bennet hears about health care affordability from family in crisis

MANCHESTER, N.H. — What was originally intended to be a morning of knocking on doors on behalf of a presidential candidate turned into a surprising and powerful encounter about the costs of health care.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., led a canvassing kickoff here Sunday morning for volunteers who were knocking on doors on his behalf. Following a training session and brief remarks that Bennet gave to the group, NBC News was invited to follow Bennet along.

In his second house visit of the day, Bennet and his wife, Susan, met Julie and Shane Rondeau who shared the details of their difficult health issues and talked about how their situation is impacting their family. 

Shane, 36, is confined to a wheelchair due to his battle with a brain stem tumor and Julie, 35, revealed that she had been recently diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis — both health crises coming within six months of one another.

The couple have two young children — a son Sebastian, who was playing video games inside, age 6, and a daughter, 12, who was not home at the time. Bennet and Susan joined Julie and Shane in their living room, along with their dog, a brown lab puppy named Chewbacca.

“A lot has changed,” Julie said about the aftermath of their health struggles.

Shane told Bennet that he initially thought he was going to be the one taking care of Julie when she was diagnosed. Then he got sick himself. A week before Shane's surgery to remove his brain tumor, the tumor hemorrhaged, which greatly complicated his condition.  Julie also shared that her daughter has been struggling with depression in light of all of the family's medical issues, even being hospitalized for it recently.

Julie told the Democratic presidential candidate that health care is their key issue for the election. She commented that she’s had good experiences using her private insurance plan through her work as an IT engineer, noting that it has helped with making their home more handicap accessible and paying for some of Shane’s outpatient rehabilitations.

Julie also shared that they are now relying on social security for some of Shane’s medical costs, and that they cannot afford to get a service dog to help Shane when she's working so they are enrolling their dog, Chewbacca, to learn.

Bennet listened to Julie explain that the couple does not qualify for Medicaid since they are technically considered upper-middle class and that she is weighing options of draining her retirement account to create to be able to off-set some of the health care costs.

Bennet responded by saying that when he worked to help pass the Affordable Care Act, he felt there needed to be a public option. He said that if he were elected, he would push for that expansion as well.

“It just makes sense to do that and create it as an alternative,” Bennet said to the couple.

Bennet and his wife spent roughly a half hour visiting with the couple. He told the couple that he’s heard a lot of stories in the 15 years he’s worked in public life as a school superintendent and in the Senate but “you guys are bearing something here that nobody else I’ve ever met has had to.” He added, what the couple is “both facing in terms of medical conditions, with your age, with your kids, it’s a lot for anybody.”

Kamala Harris tells Iowa voters she's 'not a socialist'

WASHINGTON, IA – Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., continued to try and stake out a middle ground for herself in Iowa on Saturday. While speaking with potential caucus-goers, Harris told voters she's "not trying to start a revolution" and she's "not a socialist." 

Harris has spent a substantial amount of time in Iowa since October when she laid off dozens of staffers, shifted field staff from other early primary states to the Hawkeye state. Her campaign manager Juan Rodriguez said Harris is going "all in on Iowa," but in the most recent Iowa poll, Harris is polling at 2 percent. 

Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack endorses Joe Biden

WASHINGTON – Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, D-Iowa, and his wife Christie Vilsack endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden in his presidential run on Saturday. 

Vilsack announced the endorsement in a USA TODAY op-ed, writing, "While some may argue that Joe Biden’s lifetime of public service is a draw-back, I see it as a strength. I see a well-defined candidate, who has withstood the test of time," Vilsack wrote. "I believe a majority of Americans will find that Joe Biden is the person best prepared and best positioned to heal the divisions within our country and to end the 'disorder' of the last 3 years." 

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden smiles as he holds a campaign rally at Los Angeles Trade Technical College in Los Angeles Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019.Damian Dovarganes / AP

Vilsack's endorsement is Biden's highest-profile Iowa endorsement yet, and comes a week before Biden embarks on an eight-day bus tour of Iowa.

Biden has slipped in recent Iowa polls as South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has surged. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has also climbed in the Iowa polls. The newest Iowa poll, from Iowa State University, found Biden in fourth place with 12 percent support – Buttigieg holds a 14-point lead over the former vice president with 26 percent. 

After Biden first announced his presidential campaign in April, he traveled to Iowa and told the crowd, " No one is going to work harder to get the support and trust of the Iowa folks than I am this campaign," and, "Ninety-nine counties, here I come!" But Biden has struggled to keep that strong presence. 

Back in September, Biden aides said it wasn't necessary for Biden to win Iowa, but that the first in the nation caucus would be "critical." 

After serving two terms as governor of Iowa, Vilsack worked in the Obama administration with Biden as the secretary of agriculture. In his endorsement, Vilsack touches on the central point of Biden's campaign: electability.

Former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during a house party at former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's house on July 15, 2019, in Waukee, Iowa.Charlie Neibergall / AP

"The most obvious point to make in selecting a nominee is electability. No leader can change the direction of a country or improve people’s lives if he or she can’t win the election. Given the highest possible stakes in this election, electability has an enhanced role in deciding who the nominee should be," Vilsack said. 

Vilsack went on to commend others running for president for writing "extensive, comprehensive and thoughtful plans" in rural areas. 

Michael Bloomberg makes multi-million ad buy in major March primary markets

WASHINGTON — While former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg hasn't formally announced a run for president, his emerging/inevitable/actual presidential campaign has bought advertising time in dozens of TV markets at a cost of $8.5 million and counting, according to ad-tracking data from Advertising Analytics.

On Thursday, Bloomberg filed federal papers officially declaring himself a candidate in the race. He has already filed to appear on two state primary ballots: Alabama and Arkansas.

The top markets in his ad buys all have later primary dates, so if Bloomberg formally announces a run, his focus may be on states that current 2020 candidates aren't spending a ton of time in as of now. 

The ads from his new buy are set to start airing on Nov. 25. The biggest buys are in the following markets: 

  • Los Angeles (California—– March 3 primary): $1.2 million
  • Chicago (Illinois – March 17 primary): $863,000
  • Houston (Texas– March 3 primary): $630,000
  • Dallas-Ft Worth (Texas– March 3 primary): $611,000
  • New York (April 28 primary): $550,000

 

Amy Klobuchar adds staff in Nevada, other early primary states

MANCHESTER, N.H. — After a well-received debate performance on Wednesday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., is staffing up. The campaign announced two new hires in Nevada — both of whom came from former Rep. Beto O'Rourke's, D-Texas, presidential campaign.

O'Rourke ended his campaign last month.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar speaks during the U.S. Democratic presidential candidates debate in Atlanta on Nov. 20, 2019.Brendan McDermid / Reuters

The campaign named Marina Negroponte as the new Nevada state director. Negroponte held the same position for O'Rourke's campaign. Cameron “C.H.” Miller joined as Nevada political director — also a position Miller held for O'Rourke. 

“Our number one focus is building a strong grassroots operation to win — and win big — in 2020,” Justin Buoen, Klobuchar's campaign manager, said in a statement. “As our momentum continues to grow following Amy’s stand-out debate performance this week, the Amy for America campaign is excited to announce two new, key hires in the state of Nevada. Marina and C.H. bring extensive experience to the team and will help us share Amy’s unifying message and optimistic agenda with caucus-goers across Nevada.”

Klobuchar’s campaign told NBC News that these are the first of new hires they will be making as they ramp up in early primary states. The campaign is doubling offices in Iowa and adding staff in New Hampshire. More hires are expected in South Carolina in the coming weeks. 

Klobuchar has been rising in Iowa polls, but has consistently polled low in Nevada. The most recent Nevada poll, conducted by Fox News, has Klobuchar at 2 percent, and she peaked in a Nevada Independent poll earlier this month at 3 percent in the state. 

While only the Democratic National Committee can verify which candidates officially qualify for each debate, Klobuchar has passed the donation and polling thresholds to appear at the December debate

Kamala Harris calls Pete Buttigieg "naive" for comparing black, LGBTQ struggles

ATLANTA —  At a breakfast Thursday morning for black women activists in Atlanta, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., called South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg "naive" for comparing the struggles of black Americans to those in the LGBTQ community during the Democratic primary debate Wednesday night. 

“What he did on the stage, it's just not productive,” Harris said to the room of about 200 mostly black women, after explaining that “those of us who've been involved in civil rights for a long time, we know that it is important that we not compare struggles.”

NBC News asked Buttigieg to respond to Harris calling him “naïve” for drawing parallels between being black and being gay. Buttigieg replied that he was not trying to parallel the two experiences. 

“There’s no equating those two experiences. And some people, by the way, live at the intersection of those two experiences," Buttigieg said. "Last night I shared some of my sources for motivation, includes my personal experience, my governing experience and my personal faith.”

The back-and-forth began because of a debate question directed at Harris regarding a stock photo of a Kenyan woman the Buttigieg campaign used while promoting the mayor's Douglass Plan — Buttigieg has since apologized for its use. The plan is aimed at empowering black communities.

During the debate, Harris answered the question by saying some in the Democratic Party have taken the black community’s vote for granted which Buttigieg agreed with. The mayor went on to say that while he has not experienced racial discrimination, he knows the feeling of being an outsider because of his sexuality. 

“While I do not have the experience of ever having been discriminated against because of the color of my skin, I do have the experience of sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own country,” Buttigieg said.

In an interview Wednesday night, Harris called comparing the struggles of marginalized groups “misguided." 

“So we’re going to now say that my pain is worse than your pain? We had 400 years of slavery in this country. We had years of lynching," Harris said. "We also have our LGBTQ brothers and sisters who still, under the law, do not have full equality. These are all injustices, but to start comparing one group’s pain to the other is misguided."  

 

Joe Biden launches first bus tour in Iowa

ATLANTA — Former Vice President Joe Biden will embark on an eight day “No Malarkey” Iowa bus tour later this month, where he will be traveling to meet caucus-goers in 18 counties throughout the key early state.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden smiles as he holds a campaign rally at Los Angeles Trade Technical College in Los Angeles Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019.Damian Dovarganes / AP

When he kicks off the bus tour, Biden will have already visited the Hawkeye State 15 times, including an upcoming trip this week. The tour's "No Malarkey" title is a reference to a catchphrase Biden has become known for using when calling out inconsistencies. The campaign is touting that he will be stressing “no malarkey” while he crisscrosses the state in the hope that more Iowans see his “honest, upfront and authentic” core.

Biden famously used the term during the 2012 vice presidential debate when then-Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., discussed cuts to defense spending. 

“When it comes to protecting health care, rebuilding the middle class, and defeating Donald Trump, Joe will continue laying out a clear vision about how he will deliver results for working families,” campaign manager Greg Schultz said.

The bus tour comes roughly two months before Iowans go before the first-in-the-nation caucuses and as polls have shown him losing substantial ground in the state. The campaign has argued that Biden does not need to win Iowa to become the nominee, but the attempt to barnstorm the state shows their ramped up emphasis to win over caucus-goers before the primary contest heads to friendlier Biden territory like South Carolina. 

Five other presidential candidates have held bus tours in the state, but Biden’s eight day stretch is slated to be the longest on-the-bus presence for a candidate. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s and Sen. Kamala Harris’, D-Calif., bus tours won them a flurry of press stories, but only Buttigieg has seen a significant rise in the polls since he drove through the state.

Prior to losing ground in the state, Biden discussed the importance of Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucus status, declining to support ideas from Democrats who believe they can clinch the nomination without competing in Iowa and New Hampshire. 

“You are the key to the kingdom. You got to go through this gate, I really mean this,” Biden told Iowans in Prole, Iowa back in August. “I'm going to work as hard as I can to try and convince you. I'm among many qualified people, I'm the best qualified people, person for this job.”

The cross-state tour of the Hawkeye State will begin on Nov. 30 in Council Bluffs and end on Dec. 7 in Cedar Rapids.