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: The Meet The Press Live Blog Illustration
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE

The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Happy Thanksgiving: Here's who's led past presidential primaries by Thanksgiving weekend

WASHINGTON — As the presidential election calendar turns to Thanksgiving (and with almost two months to go before Iowa's February caucus), former Vice President Joe Biden holds the lead in national polls right now. 

There's still a lot of time left for candidates to flip the script, and national polls don't perfectly capture the dynamics in the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, the first states to hold presidential nominating contests. But the national polls do provide a snapshot at how the candidates are resonating with the broader Democratic primary electorate. 

Biden's RealClearPolitics average has him at 29.3 percent nationally as of Nov. 26, a nine-point lead over Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders' 19.5 percent. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is close behind with 18 percent, but then there's a significant drop-off with the rest of the field. 

South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is at 8 percent, followed by California Sen. Kamala Harris' 4 percent, businessman Andrew Yang's 3 percent and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard's 2 percent (former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's average is 2 percent, but he's hardly been included in polls since he launched his surprise bid late last week). 

The set and ten podiums for the U.S. Democratic presidential candidates debate are seen the day before the debate at the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta on Nov. 19, 2019.rendan McDermid / Reuters

Here are what the national RealClearPolitics averages looked like in some previous cycles at this point in the calendar, Nov. 26 of the year before Election Day. 

2016

GOP primary

The writing was already on the wall in the GOP primary by Nov. 26, 2015, with then-candidate Donald Trump and his 27.5 percent a significant lead over Dr. Ben Carson's 19.8 percent. 

At that point, Trump's hold on the GOP primary electorate was only getting stronger, while Carson quickly declined toward the middle of the pack. 

Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, were locked in a tight race for third behind them, with 12.5 percent and 11.3 percent respectively. 

Then came former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his 5.5 percent, followed by businesswoman Carly Fiorina's 3.5 percent and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's 3.3 percent. 

Democratic primary

The 2016 Democratic primary was a two-person race almost the whole way through, and it particularly was by the end of November 2015. 

By Nov. 26, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton averaged 55.8 percent of the Democratic primary electorate, according to the RCP average. While Sanders' momentum was building at that point, he still trailed significantly with 30.2 percent. 

2012

Republican primary

With the Iowa caucus just a month out (the caucus used to be in January), eventual nominee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was locked in a tight battle with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Romney averaged 23.8 percent of the GOP national vote, compared to Romney's 21.3 percent. 

Herman Cain followed at third place with 15.5 percent, but his candidacy was on the down-swing too and he ultimately dropped out less than two weeks later. 

Two Texans, former Rep. Ron Paul and then-Gov. Rick Perry, were tied at 8 percent. 

And former Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann was averaging 4.8 percent. 

2008

Republican primary

The man at the top of the polls by Nov. 26, 2008 is a familiar face for those following the 2020 elections—former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. 

Giuliani averaged 28 percent about a month before the January Iowa caucus, almost double that of the second-place candidate Fred Thompson, the former actor and Tennessee senator. 

Romney, making his first presidential bid, followed at 12.7 percent. And eventual nominee, the late former Arizona Sen. John McCain, sat at just 12.2 percent. 

Democratic primary

Just like in 2016, Clinton had a commanding lead over the field by the Thanksgiving season, as it looked like she would cruise to the nomination. Her 42.7 percent average was significantly ahead of her next 2020 rival, then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and his 23 percent. 

Harris announces endorsements from 100 Iowa teachers

WAUKEE, Iowa — As Kamala Harris prepares to spend the Thanksgiving holiday on the campaign trail in Iowa, her campaign is unveiling 100 new endorsements from teachers around the Hawkeye state to coincide with the launch of “Iowa Teachers for Kamala” on Wednesday. 

“I am honored to have the support of teachers from across Iowa and grateful every day for the work they do to help raise our children,” Harris said in a release. “Educators here in Iowa and across the country have made me a better candidate and I’m grateful to have them on my team.”

Harris’ first campaign policy rollout focused on increasing teacher pay by an average of $13,500, and she often pledges on the trail that one of her first actions as president would be to “say thank you and goodbye to Betsy DeVos” — often met with large applause — adding that teachers “don’t want a gun, they want a raise!”

In a recent push to invest both her time and resources in Iowa, Harris has restructured her stump speech to include various points of “justice” that are on the ballot. “Educational justice” is one on that list and she focuses on teacher pay disparities, noting the fact that many teachers end up working multiple jobs. She also talks about her pledge to take executive action to implement an assault weapons ban within her first 100 days as president as part of her fight for increased school safety. 

The educators endorsing Harris teach a wide variety of subjects and grades across the state. The California senator has spent a significant amount of time in Iowa in recent months in an effort to revamp a floundering campaign, but still only registered at 3% in the most recent Des Moines Register/CNN Iowa poll.  

Buttigieg reacts to critical article panning his 2011 comments on minority kids and education

DENISON, IA — After his first event Tuesday, South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg distanced himself from his 2011 comments about the lack of educational role models in "lower-income, minority neighborhoods," comments highlighted in a recent, scathing article in "The Root." 

The article blasted Buttigieg over his words that surfaced on Twitter last week. The post on "The Root" subsequently prompted a profane hashtag about the mayor that corresponded with the headline of the piece.

In the clip from a 2011 South Bend forum, Buttigieg talks about kids from “lower-income, minority neighborhoods” who haven’t seen education work and who don’t have “someone they know personally who testifies to the value of education.” 

"Kids need to see evidence that education is going to work for them," Buttigieg said at the time. 

"A lot of kids, especially in the lower-income, minority neighborhoods who literally just haven’t seen it work. There isn’t somebody they know personally who testifies to the value of education."

Michael Harriot, the author of the story in "The Root," criticized Buttigieg's for those comments, pointing to issues like the funding disparities that exist between predominately white schools and majority-minority schools, the pay gap for minority workers, and inequality of access to things like technology and advanced classes. 

Responding to the article on Tuesday, Buttigieg, said that “some of the characterization of me personally is unfair,” but that what he said in the clip “does not reflect the totality of my understanding then, and certainly now, about the obstacles that students of color face in our system today.” 

He added that he sees how his remarks could be viewed as “validating a narrative that sometimes blames the victim for the consequences of systemic racism,” and largely agrees with the author’s perspective. 

Buttigieg said he spoke to Harriot this morning about the concerns raised in the article. The mayor acknowledged “the advantages and privileges that I have had, not through any great wealth but certainly through education, through the advantages that come with being white and being male,” which is part of why he wants to make a difference by running for president. 

Buttigieg has struggled to gain traction at the polls with black voters, who are overwhelmingly supporting former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign.

His fellow 2020 Democratic hopeful, California Sen. Kamala Harris, criticized him last week for briefly using a stock photo of a person from Kenya in the release of his plan to help black Americans.

When Buttigieg was confronted with that criticism on last week's debate stage, he said: "I welcome the challenge of connecting with black voters in America who don't yet know me."

Pete Buttigieg speaks as Elizabeth Warren listens during the Democratic presidential debate in Atlanta on Nov. 20, 2019.Alex Wong / Getty Images

"As mayor of a city that is racially diverse and largely low income, for eight years, I have lived and breathed the successes and struggles of a community where far too many people live with the consequences of racial inequity that has built-up over centuries but been compounded by policies and decisions from within living memory," he went on. 

"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, turning on the news and seeing my own rights come up for debate, and seeing my rights expanded by a coalition of people like me and people not at all like me, working side by side, shoulder to shoulder, making it possible for me to be standing here."

With Bloomberg blanketing airwaves, here's what the ad war looks like in early states

WASHINGTON — Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is blanketing the airwaves with his historic $30 million-plus television buy, looking to bring his candidacy to voters across the country. 

While Bloomberg is currently planning to skip the early states that are historically the path to the nomination, his 2020 Democratic primary rivals are keeping their eyes on Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, which hold the first nominating contests on the calendar. 

As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday, here is the ad-spending race (TV, radio) in those early nominating states from candidates who have spent at least $10,000 as of Nov. 26, according to Advertising Analytics. 

Iowa

Tom Steyer: $7.8 million

Pete Buttigieg: $2.5 million

Bernie Sanders: $2.4 million

Michael Bennet: $1.1 million

Joe Biden: $840,000

Amy Klobuchar: $650,000

Kamala Harris: $560,000 

John Delaney: $492,000

Tulsi Gabbard: $252,000

Elizabeth Warren: $94,000

Julián Castro: $32,000

Steve Bullock: $18,000

New Hampshire

Steyer: $8.1 million

Klobuchar: $600,000

Gabbard: $230,000 

John Delaney: $130,000

Joe Sestak: $108,000

Nevada

Steyer: $5.7 million 

South Carolina

Steyer: $7.2 million

Gabbard: $305,000

Ben Kamisar contributed

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.