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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Buttigieg unveils plan to target health care inequities

COLUMBIA, S.C. — With heath care continuing to be one of the key issues in the 2020 Democratic presidential race, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg is out with a new plan focused on addressing inequality in the system.

The plan, titled, “Health Equity and Justice in America,” comes amid a Buttigieg campaign swing through the south, where the mayor has met with several groups to discuss the issue.

Reverend William Barber introduces Pete Buttigieg during Sunday morning service at Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, N.C., on Dec. 1, 2019.Logan Cyrus / AFP - Getty Images

The policy places a heavy emphasis on measures that can be taken to ensure equity in health before someone reaches a hospital or clinic by addressing what Buttigieg calls, “structural barriers.”

“Most of our health outcomes are determined by what happens outside a clinic or hospital: by where we can live, what we can eat, and what jobs we have access to,” the plan states.

Buttigieg plans to adopt a “Health in All Policies” approach to policy implementation, establishing Offices of Health Equity and Justice within key federal agencies including Housing and Urban Development, Education, and Justice, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The candidate aims to empower local public health departments by creating a Public Health Infrastructure Fund that would funnel more resources into communities with the most need. Under his plan the federal government would contribute $500 million increasing annually until the $4 billion a year gap between current spending and existing needs is met. Individual states would be required to match these funds on a sliding scale based on the median income of a given state.

A Buttigieg administration would require federally funded health programs to collect and monitor data related to healthcare quality, cost, and outcomes for specific demographics based on, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The administration would then use that data to award financial incentives based on measured equitable outcomes.

Within his first 100 days Buttigieg says he will launch a National Health Equity Strategy Task Force. In addition, he promises to invest in finding cures to diseases that disproportionately impact minority communities, in part by mandating that federally-funded research trials include diverse samples of people and communities.

This latest healthcare addendum comes months after the release of over-arching Buttigieg’s Medicare For All Who Want It policy which was announced in September.

Leading progressive groups endorse Rep. Henry Cuellar primary challenger

WASHINGTON — A coalition of prominent progressive groups has endorsed Jessica Cisneros, a 26-year-old immigration lawyer who is trying to unseat Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar in a Democratic primary, NBC News has learned.

The Democratic primary fight, in a sprawling congressional district that extends south from the San Antonio suburbs down to Loredo on the border with Mexico, is quickly becoming one of the hottest flash-points in the party’s ideological civil war.

Democrats like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley have endorsed Cisneros, the latter two veterans of their own high-profile primary victories against entrenched incumbent Democrats last year. 

The latest show of support for Cisneros, who once briefly worked for Cuellar, shows major institutional players on the left are increasingly willing to buck tradition by going against a sitting lawmaker. 

The new coalition of groups supporting Cisneros Tuesday includes some of the leading reproductive rights groups in the country -- Planned Parenthood Action and NARAL Pro-Choice America -- along with the political arm of the deep-pocked environmental group League of Conservation Voters, the liberal pro-Israel group J Street, and the grassroots organizing group MoveOn.

“I'm proud to stand alongside so many incredible organizations leading the fight against the Trump administration’s hatred and bigotry,” Cisneros said in a statement shared with NBC News.

Cuellar, who first won his seat in 2004 after emerging from a nasty Democratic primary, has come under fire from the left for numerous votes and positions that critics say do not represent his heavily-Democratic, majority-Hispanic district. 

Cuellar, for instance, is one of just a tiny handful of House Democrats who has received an A rating from the National Rifle Association. He also voted with Republicans against so-called sanctuary cities, local jurisdictions that refuse to work with federal authorities to deport undocumented immigrants. 

And he's also taken votes against expanding abortion rights, including in support of the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal spending on abortion services. 

“As anti-choice politicians continue to wage an all-out assault on the right to access abortion, it’s crucial that Democrats stand united in their commitment to reproductive freedom,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement. “Henry Cuellar’s record speaks for itself-- from his support for the discriminatory Hyde Amendment to extreme bans on abortion, he has made it clear just how dangerously out-of-touch he is.” 

Alexis McGill Johnson, the acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, added in a statement that Cisneros is “committed to protecting people’s rights and has pledged to defend her constituents against attacks on those rights and freedoms.”

But Cuellar spokesperson Colin Strother told NBC News his boss is focused on his local constituents, not a national advocacy group and the opinion of “people from outside the district, who don’t know the district, and who can’t vote in the district.” 

“It’s unfortunate that so many of these so-called progressive groups are focused on some kind of a purification ritual that does nothing other than feed their ego and their donor base,” Strother added.

Cueller’s district has little risk of falling into Republican hands in 2020. It voted for Hillary Clinton over President Donald Trump by 20 percentage points in 2016. But some Democrats have warned that primary battles, even in safe districts, will distract the party from preserving its hard-won House majority next year.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the official campaign arm of House Democrats, is anticipating more primary challenges to incumbent lawmakers in safe blue districts after Ocasio-Cortez’s upset victory last year, and has vowed to stop working with any vendors who work with insurgent candidates. 

For Democratic presidential hopefuls, the early bids have caught the worms

WASHINGTON — If there’s been one lesson to the 2020 Democratic presidential race, it’s been this one: The early birds have gotten the worm – at least when it comes to the attention needed to garner support in the polls and qualify for the debates.

That’s especially true after the recent exits by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (who announced his presidential bid on May 14) and former Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa. (who announced on June 23).

Bullock qualified to participate in just one debate, while Sestak never got to make a single debate stage.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock speaks at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines on Aug. 8, 2019.John Locher / AP

Indeed, excluding the newest entrants (Michael Bloomberg and Deval Patrick), of the 12 Democratic candidates who jumped into the 2020 race AFTER February, only three still remain – former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and billionaire Tom Steyer.

By contrast, of the 12 candidates who got into the race BEFORE March 1, all but one is still in the contest.

That one exception? Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

Take a look at the list of Democratic candidates this cycle, ordered by the latest to enter, to see how few of the latest entries are still in the race: 

  • Michael Bloomberg (who announced on Nov. 24)
  • Deval Patrick (who announced on Nov. 14)
  • Tom Steyer (who announced on July 9)
  • Former Rep. Joe Sestak (who announced on June 23) EXITED on Dec. 1
  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (who announced on May 16) EXITED on Sept. 20
  • Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (who announced on May 14) EXITED on Dec. 2
  • Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo (who announced on May 2)
  • Former VP Joe Biden (who announced on April 25)
  • Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass (who announced on April 22) EXITED on Aug. 23
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif. (who announced on April 8) EXITED on July 8
  • Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio (who announced on April 4) EXITED on Oct. 24
  • Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke (who announced on March 14) EXITED Nov. 1
  • Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (who announced on March 4) EXITED on Aug. 15
  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (who announced March 1) EXITED on Aug. 21
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (who announced on Feb. 19)
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (who announced on Feb. 10)
  • Marianne Williamson (who filed her candidacy on Feb. 5)
  • Sen. Cory Booker (who announced on Feb. 1)
  • South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (who formed an exploratory committee on Jan 23, formally announced on April 14)
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (who announced on Jan. 21)
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (who formed an exploratory committee on Jan. 15, formally announced on March 17) EXITED on Aug. 28
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (who announced her decision to run on Jan. 11)
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (who formed an exploratory committee on Dec. 31, formally announced on Feb. 9)
  • Former San Antonio Mayor and HUD Secretary Julian Castro (who formed an exploratory committee on Dec. 12, formally on Jan. 12)
  • Andrew Yang (who filed his candidacy on Nov. 6, 2017)
  • Former Maryland Congressman John Delaney (who announced his presidential bid back on July 28, 2017!)

Gavin Newsom endorses Christy Smith for former Rep. Katie Hill's seat

WASHINGTON — California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday endorsed California Assemblywoman Christy Smith in the special House election to fill former Rep. Katie Hill’s seat.

"We need Christy Smith in Congress. She's proven herself as an effective leader for the people she represents," Newsom said in a statement first made available to NBC News.

"From addressing our increasing wildfire threat to investing more in our public schools, creating middle class jobs, making healthcare more accessible and affordable to combating our climate crisis and enhancing emergency response — Christy has shown that she knows how to bring people together to solve problems and get things done."

Hill, who defeated a GOP incumbent to win the 25th District seat in 2018, resigned in October amid an ethics investigation into allegations she had an affair with a staffer. 

California uses a jungle-primary system, which pits all candidates against each other in a primary regardless of party. If no candidate wins a majority of the vote, the top two move on to a runoff.  

The special election primary, which will be held on March 3, is already crowded on both sides of the aisle. 

Cenk Uygur, the progressive commentator and co-founder of The Young Turks announced his bid for the seat in late November.

The Young Turks, a widely-viewed progressive media site, regularly spars with establishment Democrats and the party structure. Smith meanwhile has earned a steady stream of establishment Democratic endorsements like 12 members of California’s congressional delegation, the International Association of Fire Fighters and the California League of Conservation Voters. 

Presidential candidate and California Sen. Kamala Harris endorsed Smith in October, and Hill endorsed Smith in November

While Uygur could take up the progressive lane in the race, he's come under fire for alleged misogynistic and homophobic comments he made in the early 2000s. Uygur has since apologized for the comments. 

On the Republican side, former Rep. Stephen Knight, who held the seat until Hill flipped the district, is vying to win it back, and former aide to President Trump's 2016 campaign George Papadopoulos also announced. President Trump has not commented on Papadopoulos' run, and he hasn't endorsed Knight. However it's Marine Mike Garcia who has earned theendorsement former California Republican Gov. Pete Wilson. 

Smith’s Assembly district encompasses 58 percent of the 25th District, and Smith won her election by 5,000 votes in 2018, flipping it from GOP control for the first time since 1978 (Hill became the first Democrat to win the congressional seat since 1990). 

The Cook Political Report rated this seat as a “lean Democratic” in the 2020 general election race, even though the seat is currently vacant. 

If no candidate hits the 50 percent mark in the March 3 primary, the top two will advance to a general election on May 12. 

The special election decides who serves out the rest of Hill's unexpired term, through next year. Voters will also choose a candidate to succeed Hill in 2021 in a separate election on the same ballot

Klobuchar on Bloomberg: It cannot be all about money

WASHINGTON — Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., took a swipe at billionaire Democratic presidential hopefuls Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer during a Sunday appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” arguing that their self-funded candidacies send a bad message about money in politics. 

“I'm never going to be able to compete with two billionaires. That is true. I'm not going to be able to buy this $30 million ad buy,” she said on Sunday’s “Meet the Press” on NBC. “It cannot be all about money or rich people would be running and winning in every Senate race in the country. That's not what happens.”

Steyer has been in the race since July, and spent more than $46 million of his own money on his bid through the end of September. And while Bloomberg jumped in last week, he’s already booked $52 million in television advertising time alone.

While Klobuchar praised Bloomberg’s record — he’s also spent his millions championing Democratic priorities like preventing gun violence and climate change — she criticized his decision to jump into the race and the calculus that the party might need a savior as Democrats jockey for position in their primary. .

“It is more about money in politics for me. I have admiration for the work that he's done, but I don't buy this argument that you get in because you say, ‘Oh, everyone else sucks,’” she said.

“I think we have strong candidates. I don't think that any of the polling or the numbers show that people are dissatisfied with all their candidates. They're just trying to pick the right one.”

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