The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
December Democratic debate stage remains static with new poll
WASHINGTON — Businessman Andrew Yang and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard have still not qualified for the December Democratic presidential debate after a new poll released just days before the qualifying deadline found them short of the debate's polling threshold.
Yang polled at 3 percent with Democratic voters and leaners in Monmouth University's new national poll, while Gabbard finished with less than 1 percent. Both candidates need one more poll of at least 4 percent in order to qualify for next week's contest.
To qualify for the Dec. 19 debate in California, candidates need to have raised money from at least 200,000 unique donors (and meet state-by-state requirements) as well as hit a polling threshold of either 4 percent in four sanctioned polls or 6 percent in two sanctioned, early-state polls.
Yang and Gabbard both say they've hit that donor threshold — which will be independently verified by the Democratic National Committee before they officially set the field. But both candidates are short one poll, and they have until Dec. 12 at 11:59 p.m. to qualify.
Gabbard has already signaled she won't participate in the debate whether she ends up qualifying or not.
The new Monmouth poll keeps the roster of likely debate participants static, and while billionaire Michael Bloomberg hit the threshold with 5 percent, he's not soliciting individual donations. That makes it impossible for him to participate in any debate unless the Democratic National Committee removes the unique-donor threshold for a future debate.
In that poll, former Vice President Joe Biden leads the field with 26 percent, followed by Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders at 21 percent, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 17 percent and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 8 percent.
Buttigieg campaign opens fundraisers to reporters, will release names of McKinsey clients
DES MOINES, Iowa — Pete Buttigieg’s campaign announced Monday that it will now open its fundraisers to the press and release a list of his campaign bundlers. A short while later, McKinsey and Company said in a statement to NBC News that it will allow the South Bend, Indiana, mayor to release the names of his clients from his time working at the worldwide consulting firm.
The announcements came after days of heightened scrutiny over Buttigieg’s closed door fundraisers and a nondisclosure agreement that has prevented him from naming which clients he worked for while at McKinsey from 2007-2010.
In a statement, campaign manager Mike Schmuhl wrote, “In a continued commitment to transparency, we are announcing today that our campaign will open fundraisers to reporters, and will release the names of people raising money for our campaign.”
Shortly after that, McKinsey and Co. responded to an NBC News request stating that the firm would allow Buttigieg to disclose who his clients were during his time at the firm. Buttigieg has been publicly calling on the company to release him from the NDA over the last several days.
A spokesman for the firm wrote in a statement, “After receiving permission from the relevant clients, we have informed Mayor Buttigieg that he may disclose the identity of the clients he served while at McKinsey from 2007 to 2010.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Buttigieg have spent the past few days jostling over the transparency of each other’s campaigns. Buttigieg has called on Warren to release tax returns from her time in the private sector and Warren challenged Buttigieg to open his fundraisers and disclose his McKinsey clients.
Sunday night, the Warren campaign released a case-by-case breakdown of how the senator was paid for her past legal work.
Schmuhl says Buttigieg’s fundraiser will be open to the press starting Wednesday and a list of the people who fundraise on his behalf will be released within the week. As for the list of his McKinsey clients, Buttigieg’s senior communications adviser Lis Smith tweeted that the campaign will “be releasing the list soon.”
Bloomberg is spending big on Facebook ads too
WASHINGTON — There's been a whole lot of coverage of billionaire Michael Bloomberg's massive television spending (almost $59 million so far) for his presidential campaign.
But he's also outpacing the field on Facebook too.
From Nov. 24 through Dec. 5, Bloomberg's campaign has spent $1.97 million on Facebook, according to the platform's ad tracking website.
That's more than fellow billionaire Tom Steyer, who's spent $1.3 million over that same period; Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who's spent about $400,000; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who's spent $382,000; and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who's spent $176,000.
President Trump's campaign has spent $667,000 over that period.
Recent Bloomberg ads include a big push promoting open field organizer jobs, pushing short biographical spots, touting his commitment to climate change, and re-upping clips of his initial campaign ads.
Elizabeth Warren releases detailed breakdown of income from legal work
CHARLESTON, S.C. — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., released a case-by-case breakdown of how much she was paid for her past legal work Sunday night, totaling just under $2 million over more than 30 years and capping off a days-long back-and-forth over transparency with 2020 rival, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
The Warren campaign broke down the fifty-plus cases by Warren’s role on them, with her ranging from acting as counsel, to working as a mediator. Many of the cases for which she wrote amicus briefs, for instance, were done pro bono.
While the Buttigieg team has been calling on Warren to release her tax returns for this period of time but Warren’s campaign countered Sunday that tax returns wouldn’t get to the income question that Buttigieg’s camp is seeking — those returns don’t itemize the sources of income, for instance. Warren’s team adds that about half of this information was available in public records, but they worked to include more beyond that. Most cases are accounted for in here.
“Any candidate who refuses to provide basic details about his or her own record and refuses to allow voters or the press to understand who is buying access to their time and what they are getting in return will be seen by voters as part of the same business-as-usual politics that voters have consistently rejected,” Warren Communications Director Kristen Orthman said in a statement.
Biden's campaign touts success of 'No Malarkey' Iowa bus tour
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Joe Biden's campaign is touting its successes from the former vice president's “No Malarkey” bus tour through Iowa, saying it helped to solidify support in this key early state where he has seen his poll numbers slip in recent months.
In a congratulatory email obtained by NBC News, Deputy Campaign Manager Pete Kavanaugh told staff that Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden met with more than 3,300 caucus-goers over 19 stops throughout the state. Biden held several meet and greets with voters on the week-long trip, a recently new campaign strategy they believe leverages his strength in one-on-one interactions with voters.
“In a state that prizes — and rewards — the personal interactions that come with retail politics, there’s simply no one better at it than Joe Biden and this week we saw why,” Kavanaugh writes.
Looking beyond the campaign trail, the campaign also noted that their digital video showing world leaders laughing at President Donald Trump during the NATO meeting became the campaign’s most watched social media video with 12 million views across platforms.
Citing growing enthusiasm, Kavanaugh adds that the campaign is confident that Biden is “uniquely positioned to compete — and meet the delegate thresholds — in all 1,678 precincts across the state."
Iowans NBC News spoke with over the past week were genuinely pleased to see Biden visit mid-sized and rural towns throughout the state that he had not previously visited. However, it’s remains unclear if Biden’s visit will help convince Iowans to support him over the current frontrunner in the Hawkeye State, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Kathleen Delate, an agriculture professor at Iowa State University thanked Biden for making the trip to Ames, Iowa, but suggested that his arrival could be a little too late now that Buttigieg is the “shiny new thing” drawing attention because he has stumped in Iowa more often than Biden.
Biden denied her premise that he has not spent much time in Iowa, saying that he has already traveled over 10,000 miles throughout his 15trips in the state. He said he’ll make up for lost time for jumping into the race later than most candidates, emphasizing his deep belief that winning the state is a recognition of “democracy beginning in Iowa.”
Kavanaugh told staff that there’s still a lot of ground to cover in Iowa, predicting that the race will come down to the final days leading to the February 3rd caucuses.
“There are 58 short days until February 3rd, and a lot of work to do. Let’s go win this thing."
Bennet doubles down on pitch for moderates in New Hampshire
CONCORD, N.H. — A new strategy memo from Sen. Michael Bennet’s, D-Colo., presidential campaign to supporters and donors spells out how his campaign will place a greater emphasis on New Hampshire leading up to the primary in February where the race remains fluid and independent or unaffiliated voters make up the biggest part of the electorate.
The memo, exclusively obtained by NBC News, highlights Bennet’s push for a moderate message in a field crowded with progressive proposals.
“The ideological candidates will likely wash out — as they historically tend to do — when voters truly consider which candidate can realistically win in a general election,” the memo says.
“Voters continue to struggle to find a standard-bearer who inspires confidence in their ability to win against Trump and lead the country forward,” the memo adds. “Will the always-sensible voters of Iowa and New Hampshire, with electability front of mind, nominate an electorally untested small town mayor; a senator from a coastal blue state who puts ideology over progress; or a past generation of leadership?”
“I don't think the democrats are going to beat Donald Trump with a bunch of empty promises of free stuff,” Bennet told NBC News after an event in Concord, NH earlier today, singling out Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. as fitting into that criticism.
Despite currently polling in low single digits in the state, Bennet insists that his positions and what he presents as a candidate will ultimately impress New Hampshire voters. Earlier today, Bennet launched a digital ad to announce that he would be holding 50 New Hampshire town halls in the 10 weeks leading up to the primary as he kicked off a five-day swing in the state — an ambitious schedule that could be modified if Bennet has to attend impeachment hearings in January, his campaign said.
Multiple noteworthy New Hampshire political figures told NBC News that they like Bennet, and his more moderate positions compared to some of the other Democratic candidates, but aren’t quite willing or able to throw their support behind him due to skepticism of his ability to beat out the current four-way split of frontrunners in the state.
“We, of course, recognize our current standing in the race,” the memo adds, “though we are within the margin of error of many candidates who are better known — and, in recent weeks, polls have shown us tied or ahead of half the candidates who were on the recent debate stage. “
“I think there's a lot of skepticism among people in New Hampshire about whether or not the four front runners could actually beat Donald Trump,” Bennet said. “And that's good for me because I think I can beat Donald Trump."
Bennet is not the only candidate looking at New Hampshire as an opportunity to break through. In recent weeks, businessman Andrew Yang has expanded his New Hampshire operation to 30 staffers and eight offices in the state, a 9th opening later this month. Similarly, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is in the midst of a two-week swing through the Granite State, even renting houses to accommodate her and her team during the trip.
“Iowa remains important to our effort,” the memo said. “We believe our support in Iowa will shift significantly only after Bennet’s position is elevated nationally, so we are focusing our resources accordingly.”
The memo details tangibly how Bennet plans to woo Granite States leading up to voting day, by undertaking aggressive digital and mail programs that target “soft Democrats and undeclared voters” who participate in Democratic primaries to invite them to town halls and further introduce them to Bennet as a candidate.
“My objective is to make sure that I've stayed here until people in New Hampshire started making up their minds and I think that's only beginning right now in New Hampshire,” Bennet said. “I'm just going to keep pounding the truth into this campaign. That's what we have to do.”
Independent Alaska Senate candidate looks to beat the odds
WASHINGTON — Al Gross is a political neophyte. By trade, he’s a fisherman and orthopedic surgeon who says he once killed a grizzly bear that was sneaking up on him.
Now, he’s trying to take down even bigger game, looking to oust Alaska incumbent Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan in 2020, and doing so as an independent. If Gross succeeds, he'll be the fourth senator to be first elected as an independent.
Since 1913, only 17 senators served while not a member of one of the two major parties. Of those, only 8 were technically "independents." The others have served as members of minor parties — Progressive, Farmer-Labor and Conservative — or have loosely aligned with a major party, styling themselves "Independent Democrats". For example, Washington's Miles Poindexter and Wisconsin’s Robert La Follette, Jr. they both left the both left the Republican Party to joined the more liberal splinter group, the progressives. Eventually both men rejoined the Republican Party.
Most U.S. senators who have been elected and served as independents were first elected within the two-party structure, but later left their parties over ideological disagreements.
Take Nebraska’s George Norrisand Oregon’s Wayne Morse. They were both elected as Republicans but were far more left-leaning than their colleagues. Norris served five terms as a Republican in the House and then another four terms as a Republican in the Senate. But he supported President Franklin Delano Rooselvelt's New Deal and won his final term in 1936 as an independent.
Morse, elected in 1944, often clashed with his party on labor issues and disaffiliated in 1952. For two years he served as an independent but was left without a side in the Senate to sit on, so he once put a folding chair in the chamber's center aisle. In 1955 he became a Democrat and served for another two terms.
Perhaps the most notable recent example of a consequential Senate independent was Vermont Republican Jim Jeffords. After two terms in the Senate, he broke with Republicans in 2001 over the party's lack of support for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. When he chose to be an independent who caucused with Democrats, he gave the Democrats a 51-49 majority in the chamber.
If Gross succeeds in his independent bid, he'll join the ranks of South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Maine Sen. Angus King who all won their first senate election as independents. However, Thurmond, a well-known segregationist who had previously ran for president as an independent, won his first senate campaign by waging a write-in campaign in protest of Democratic state officials who didn't hold a primary in a special election. He promised to caucus with Democrats if elected. He later served as both a Democrat and then a Republican.
Gross' trajectory could mirror Sanders' in his first Senate win in 2006. Sanders won but declined the Democratic nomination, so he only had to run against the Republican candidate. Gross has already won the endorsement of the Alaska Democratic Party and the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
While Gross out-raised Sullivan in the last quarter, he faces an uphill climb in the conservative state. But, if another independent senator can join the Senate's ranks, Alaska may be the place to do it. The state has an unusually high tolerance for unorthodox political arrangements. Alaskans elected an independent governor in 2014, and the state’s lower house is currently controlled by a bipartisan coalition and an independent speaker.
In 2010 the state was the site of only the third successful write-in Senate campaign in history, when Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski eked out a victory in the three-person general election with less than 40 percent of the vote. Six years later, she won another term with under 45 percent in an election that saw four candidates with double-digit vote counts.
If there’s anywhere Al Gross can make history, it might just be there.
Warren releases health records from yearly physical
PETERBOROUGH, N.H. — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., released the results of her latest yearly physical Friday, along with a letter from her longtime doctor stating that the Massachusetts senator is in “excellent health” and “there are no medical conditions or health problems that would keep her from fulfilling the duties of the President of the United States.”
In addition to the letter from Dr. Beverly Woo, Warren’s campaign released results of blood work and routine lab tests. Dr. Woo points out that the 70 year-old's only medical condition is hypothyroidism, common in millions of Americans. The results are from Warren’s latest physical — done earlier this year, in January.
While Warren’s clean bill of health may help reassure voters about her transparency and physical condition, it’s also likely to re-ignite calls for her fellow septuagenarian contenders to release their own health-related materials.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, 77, has promised to release his medical records to the public “before there’s a first vote.” Asked back in September about concerns of his acuity, Biden replied: “What the hell concerns?” before asking the reporter who made the inquiry if he wanted to wrestle.
“I mean there’s no reason for me not to release my medical records,” Biden said at the time.
Senator Bernie Sanders, 78, suffered a heart attack in October and has similarly promised to release his medical records at some point. “I want to make it comprehensive,” he told the Associated Press in late October. “The answer is I will, probably by the end of the year.” Sanders’ campaign manager later specified that the Independent Vermont senator would release his medical records by the end of December.
During his 2016 bid, Sanders did release a letter from his doctor that deemed him “in overall very good health.”
Cory Booker pushes need for diverse coalition in 2020 race
DES MOINES, IA — Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., warned Democrats in a speech Thursday that the struggles of minority candidates are "a problem" that could hurt the party's ability to engage the voters it needs to defeat President Trump in 2020.
Praising California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, who dropped out of the presidential primary this week, Booker argued that the issue goes deeper than just one candidate.
“It is a problem that we now have an overall campaign for the 2020 presidency that has more billionaires in it than black people,” Booker said during one of his first more formal speeches Des Moines Thursday morning.
“This is not about one candidate. It is about the diverse coalition that is necessary to beat Donald Trump."
“That is the story of how we beat bullies and bigots and demagogues and the powerful, the so-called powerful in every generation. It's the story of America," he added.
The audience cheered on Booker as he echoed a famous Martin Luther King Jr. quote, modernizing the context to his typical message of unity.
“We're all in this together; injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Booker said. “In America, there is not a black destiny or a white destiny or rural destiny and a suburban destiny, there is one American destiny.”
While Harris had qualified for this month's debate, her departure means that the six candidates who have already qualified are all white.
Booker is the top-polling black candidate in the race right now — Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick recently entered the race, but has so far gained little traction — but he's still on the outside looking into the December debate. He's hit the party's donor threshold, but still needs to hit 4 percent in four qualifying polls or 6 percent in two qualifying early-state polls.
Businessman Andrew Yang and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard are each one poll away from qualifying, while the rest of the field has a long way to go.
During a conversation with reporters after the event, Booker expressed that a successful candidate needs to engage African American, Latinx, and Asian American voters.
“We need to make sure that we have a person that can inspire a coalition,” he said, “where everybody feels energized and excited. And if you can’t do that, please get out of this race.”
And he expressed frustration with polling, noting that he’s often just one percentage point from reaching qualifying polls for the debate stage (which equates to just a handful of people) and expressed that the success of a campaign shouldn’t be based on “a 400 person sample size and three people,” but that the national press should be looking at his energy on the ground in Iowa.
John Kerry endorses Joe Biden's presidential bid
WASHINGTON — Former Secretary of State and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry is throwing his support behind former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential bid.
Kerry praised Biden in a statement released by the Biden campaign on Thursday, where he said "there’s never been a time more urgent for leadership at home."
“I believe Joe Biden is the President our country desperately needs right now, not because I’ve known Joe so long, but because I know Joe so well. I’ve never before seen the world more in need of someone who on day one can begin the incredibly hard work of putting back together the world Donald Trump has smashed apart," he wrote.
"Joe is uniquely the person running for president who can beat Donald Trump and get to work on day one at home and in the world with no time to waste."
Kerry will campaign with Biden on Friday in Iowa and then travel with the former vice president to New Hampshire on Sunday.
The endorsement comes as Biden has amplified his qualifications to be commander-in-chief given his extensive experience in foreign policy. On Wednesday, his campaign released a video hitting President Trump on foreign policy and arguing "the world is laughing at President Trump."
Kerry has a long history with Biden — both not only served together in the Obama administration, but in the Senate, both on the Foreign Relations Committee. When Biden left the Senate to join the White House, Kerry succeeded him as the chairman of that committee.
With his deep relationships on Capitol Hill, Biden is outpacing his Democratic peers in endorsements from sitting lawmakers too. He's backed by 22 congressional representatives, five senators and three sitting governors — more of each category, and more endorsements in total, than any other candidate in the race.
Buttigieg is up in the polls, but lagging in endorsements
WASHINGTON — While South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg has won a few notable endorsements in recent days (from progressive veterans group Vote Vets and a few former Obama administration officials), he’s so far struggled to gain support from prominent members of his party.
Buttigieg has picked up endorsements from just three House Democrats, and no U.S. senators or governors have publicly said they stand behind him. For months, Virginia Rep. Don Beyer was Buttigieg’s lone congressional endorsement – until last week, when Indiana Rep. Peter Visclosky and New York Rep. Kathleen Rice backed the mayor for the Democratic nomination.
After surging in Iowa and New Hampshire polls, Buttigieg is now among the top four contenders in the crowded primary race, but his fellow frontrunners have continually outpaced him in endorsements.
Former Vice President Joe Biden leads the field, with 30 total endorsements from House members, senators and governors, according to NBC News’ tally of FiveThirtyEight’s endorsement tracker. Meanwhile, the other members of the Top 4 – Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders – clock in at 12 and six major endorsements, respectively.
Before she dropped out of the race Tuesday, California Sen. Kamala Harris had racked up 19 major endorsements, putting her in second place. With 13 endorsements, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker actually leads both Warren and Sanders.
The only candidates who made the board but have fewer congressional endorsements than Buttigieg are former U.S. Housing Secretary Julian Castro and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney – with two apiece.
Here’s how Buttigieg’s endorsements stack up against those of his competitors: