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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

The voters who could decide the 2020 election

WASHINGTON — In the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 48 percent of registered voters say they are certain to vote against President Trump, and 34 percent say they’re certain to vote for him.

In the middle are 18 percent of voters who say they might vote either way depending on the Democratic nominee.

Who are these 18 percent of voters — given that Trump needs to win two-thirds of them to reach the national 46 percent he won in 2016, or four-in-five of them to get to 48 percent?

The NBC News/Wall Street Journal pollsters call them “squishy Republicans” or “nominal Republicans.” They’re disproportionately younger men who identify as independents or moderates.

President Trump’s job rating with them is 55 percent (compared to 44 percent overall in the poll), they favor Republicans by 20 points in congressional preference (versus the D+7 lead overall) and a plurality of them believe Trump did something wrong regarding Ukraine — but that it doesn’t rise to the level of impeachment.

So the name of the game for 2020 is Trump trying to win as many of these squishy/nominal Republicans as possible to assemble a winning coalition, or the eventual Democratic nominee cutting into enough of these voters to deny the president that coalition.

And how do these up-for-grabs view the Democratic contenders? Check out these numbers:

Mike Bloomberg is spending big in his presidential bid. Here’s how other self-funders fared.

WASHINGTON — Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has wasted no time putting his massive fortune to use in the race for the Democratic nomination. Worth an estimated $55 billion, the 2020 hopeful has already dwarfed his rivals by spending over $100 million on advertising since he announced his campaign just weeks ago. And Bloomberg is paying for it all himself — his website notably lacks a “donate” button, and he’s said he won’t seek any contributions.

Michael Bloomberg speaks about his plan for clean energy during a campaign event at the Blackwall Hitch restaurant in Alexandria, Va., on Dec. 13, 2019.Olivier Douliery / AFP - Getty Images

Though he may be the wealthiest candidate in history, he’s not the only billionaire or self-funder to try his hand at presidential politics, not even in 2020.

Among Democrats, Bloomberg joins Tom Steyer, a California hedge fund billionaire who has plowed $47 million into his own campaign, according to his latest FEC filings, and garnered just enough support for three coveted debate invitations. Another multimillionaire, former congressman John Delaney, has given more than $24 million to his campaign to much less success, rarely even reaching 1 percent in national polls.

The three are spending all that money to earn a chance at challenging yet another billionaire: Donald Trump. And while Trump’s reelection effort is a fundraising juggernaut, his 2016 campaign was powered in part by his own wealth, to the tune of $66.1 million in personal contributions and loans.

Though there have long been self-funders in presidential politics, it is notable that 2020 involves so many of them. “This is by no means new,” says Sheila Krumholz, the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics.  “As campaigns grow ever more expensive, this will continue to be a trend.”

Apart from the current president, those who have relied largely on their own wealth to win the presidency have historically come up empty-handed.

In 1992, Texas billionaire Ross Perot launched an independent bid for the White House and spent $64 million (that’s $118 million in 2020, adjusted for inflation) on his way to winning 19 percent of the popular vote, a modern record for independent candidates.

Perot famously bought 30-minute infomercials where he talked economic policy direct to camera from his desk, using charts and a pointer. During his Reform Party run four years later, Perot spent significantly less — $20 million inflation-adjusted — and saw his popular vote share decrease to just over 8 percent. 

The first time publisher Steve Forbes sought the Republican nomination, in 1996, he self-funded with an inflation-adjusted $61 million. But like his signature tax policy, his campaign fell flat. Time Magazine referred to it as “wacky, saturated with money and ultimately embarrassing to all concerned,” and he finished a distant third place with 11 percent of the total primary vote.

Undeterred, Forbes jumped back into the fray in 2000, and spent another $60 million to even meeker results: a handful of delegates and no primary victories.

The 2000s saw several very wealthy men run for president: John Kerry in 2004, Mitt Romney in 2008 and 2012, and Jon Huntsman in 2012. Of the three, Romney in 2008 was the most prolific self-funder, spending $54 million in 2019 dollars, over a third of his total campaign expenditure (in 2012 he stopped self-funding). Kerry gave his campaign almost $9 million in 2019 dollars, but fundraised several hundred million more. And Huntsman loaned his campaign over $5 million, more than he raised from donors. None of the three became president.

Can Bloomberg overcome history? While he’s been successful at “buying himself a head start,” Krumholz cautions that for billionaires, “the money represents a shortcut around the hard slog of campaigning, but generally not to victory.”

Michael Bloomberg releases first part of health care plan

LOS ANGELES — Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg rolled out the contours of his health care plan on Thursday, adding his voice to the issue that has defined, and vexed, the Democratic primary field all year.

Bloomberg's proposal would be a “Medicare-like” public option — which places him in step with other “moderate’ candidates in the 2020 Democratic field, like former Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor of South Bend, Ind. Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet. The proposal also aims to bolster the Affordable Care Act, expand coverage and cut costs of prescription drugs and health care prices. 

Michael Bloomberg waits to address a news conference after launching his presidential bid in Norfolk, Va., on Nov. 25, 2019.Joshua Roberts / Reuters file

The two-page plan, which Bloomberg is promoting over several campaign stops in Tennessee, is the first of a two-part health care plan. The second part will focus on public health and be released in the new year, according to the Bloomberg campaign.

Several Democrats in the 2020 field prescribe a public option as either their end goal or, in the case of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, as part of a longer-term process to get to a Medicare For All system. Bloomberg, however, does not intend for Medicare for All to be the goal.

On a campaign-hosted call with reporters before the plan’s release and Bloomberg aides were clear that a public option was not a stepping stone to Medicare for All, emphasizing the realities of Congress as a key reason why.

“We’re going for a more achievable approach,” one aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the plan.

Aides were also clear that Bloomberg’s plan, like those of other moderates, envisions a continued role for private insurance. The campaign referred to Americans being able to keep plans they were promised.

“We’re not trying to completely rock the boat and get everyone off the plan if they like it," an aide said. 

Bloomberg proposes capping out-of-network charges at 200 percent of Medicare rates, in order to keep health care prices down. To lower the cost of prescription drugs, Bloomberg plans to empower the Health and Human Services Secretary to negotiate prices with pharmaceuticals.

The plan also seeks to expand coverage and subsidies, in addition to creating the public option. The campaign said it hasn't yet gotten a formal estimate of what the price tag will be for the entire plan, but informally puts the cost at $1.5 trillion to create the public option and expand subsidies. The campaign believes that by capping out of network charges and negotiating drug costs, the total cost could be brought to to $1 trillion. 

Donald Glover to endorse Andrew Yang, co-host Los Angeles event

WASHINGTON — Actor Donald Glover, also known by his musical stage name Childish Gambino, will endorse 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang on Thursday in Los Angeles at a joint event they're calling  “The 46 Campaign.”

The collaboration campaign event takes place just hours before Yang is expected to take the debate stage at Loyola Marymount University in L.A. for the final Democratic presidential primary debate of 2019.

Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang speaks to the press in the Spin Room following the fifth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia on November 20, 2019.NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP - Getty Images

He will be joined on-stage by former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and billionaire activist Tom Steyer. Yang was the last candidate to qualify under the Democratic National Committee's thresholds and will be the only candidate of color on the debate stage.

“The 46 Campaign” is expected to sell collaboration merchandise in “limited quantities,” according to Glover’s Instagram story, with all proceeds going towards to the Yang campaign. Glover also noted there will not be any music at the event. 

S.Y. Lee, Yang's national press secretary, confirmed to NBC News that Glover will endorse at the event, and that the merchandise on sale will include sweatshirts, hats and posters. 

In addition to being a Golden Globe-winning actor and influential rapper, Glover has become increasingly political in his music and art in recent years. Under the stage name Childish Gambino, Glover broke onto the national political stage upon the May 2018 release of his award-winning song, “This is America.”

The anthem and its accompanying music video, which trended as the No. 1 song in the United States for three weeks, depicts stark political themes including gun violence, police brutality and the experience of being black in the United States. “This is America” went on to win four Grammy Awards that year. 

Yang has garnered a few celebrity endorsements or donations to his campaign, including actor Nicolas Cage, musician Rivers Cuomo, actor Noah Centineo, investor Sam Altman and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

Booker ad to air during Thursday's debate

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Sen. Cory Booker. D-N.J. will not be on tonight’s debate stage, but viewers watching CNN in select markets will see the presidential candidate in his first television ad of the election cycle.

“How long are these things, 30 seconds? Are you sure we can afford this?” Booker jokes in the ad. “You're only gonna see this ad once because I'm not a billionaire. I won't be on tonight's debate stage, but that's okay because I'm going to win this election anyway. This election isn't about who can spend the most, or who slings the most mud. It's about the people.”

The 30-second spot, “Together,” will air during CNN’s simulcast of the debate in 22 markets, including the first four early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina and in major metropolitan areas such as New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC.

The cable ad buy is the first part of a half-million dollar investment in television and digital ads, originally planned solely for Iowa. It comes during what campaign manager Addisu Demissie indicated will be the best fundraising quarter yet for the campaign — Booker has raised more than $3 million since the last democratic debate.

On Saturday, Booker led the 2020 Democratic field in calling on the DNC to ease qualification thresholds for future debates.

Booker has 2 percent support in the latest NBC News/WSJ national poll released Thursday.

Collins' decision to seek re-election puts her in middle of fight for Senate control

WASHINGTON — Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins announced Wednesday she's running for re-election, a decision setting up one of the most competitive Senate races of the 2020 cycle. 

Collins announced her decision in a letter where she framed herself as a "centrist who still believes in getting things done through compromise, collegiality, and bipartisanship."

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, speaks to journalists while walking to the Senate floor on Jan. 24, 2019.Melina Mara / The Washington Post/Getty Images file

“I promised the people of Maine a decision this fall on whether I would seek reelection.  The fundamental question I had to ask myself in making my decision was this: in today’s polarized political environment, is there still a role for a centrist who believes in getting things done through compromise, collegiality, and bipartisanship? she asked. 

“I have concluded that the answer to this question is “yes,” and I will, therefore, seek the honor of continuing to serve as Maine’s United States Senator."

The decision was not a big surprise, as Collins’s campaign has already spent $1.2 million on television ads and raised almost $5.7 million so far this cycle (through September). But the Republican hadn’t officially confirmed her intentions until Wednesday.

Collins is a Senate mainstay, serving in the body since the 1996 election. But this reelection could be the toughest in her political career. 

Democrats see a narrow path toward taking the Senate in 2020, which would almost certainly include defeating Collins and could make her seat one that decides the body's balance of power. Many believe Collins is at a uniquely vulnerable point in her political career thanks in part to President Trump's languishing approval rating as well as her decision to vote in favor of Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation.

And she'll also be right at the center of the impeachment battle as a pivotal vote in any Senate trial deciding whether to remove Trump from office. 

That's why there's been an uncharacteristically huge amount of television spending (almost $7 million) in the race already, with Democrats outspending Republicans $4.3 million to $2.7 million. 

The Democrats' top candidate is state House Speaker Sara Gideon, but she faces a primary challenge from progressive Betsy Sweet, the former head of the Maine Women's Lobby. 

Joe Biden releases medical assessment, described as 'healthy, vigorous'

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump may call Joe Biden “sleepy,” but the former vice president’s physician states that the 77-year-old is in good health and nowhere near slowing down.

Dr. Kevin O’Connor of The George Washington University released a three-page medical summary of Biden's health on Tuesday at the request of his patient, in which he described Biden as a “healthy, vigorous, 77-year-old male, who is fit to successfully execute the duties of the Presidency to include those as Chief Executive, Head of State and Commander in Chief.”

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event in Nashua, N.H., on Dec. 8, 2019.Cheryl Senter / AP

There is no new notable change in Biden’s medical history based on previous medical records released during his time as vice president. Biden survived two brain aneurysms in the late 1980s — one did not rupture. And while the condition was later complicated by subsequent deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, O'Connor states there are currently no serious threats to Biden’s health and medical conditions from his past are currently under control.

Biden is taking blood thinners and medication for acid reflux, cholesterol and seasonal allergies. Dr. John Torres, an NBC News medical correspondent, notes that acid reflux can occasionally cause a hoarse voice, which has become noticeable at times on the campaign trail. 

O’Connor has been Biden’s primary physician since 2009, and also released the results of Biden's most recent physical exam, which showed him to be in stable health. Notably, his doctor points out that Biden’s good health can be attributed to his decision not to smoke, drink and commitment to working out “at least five days per week.”

Critics of the former vice president’s age often suggest the septuagenarian is mentally and physically too old to be president, however, O'Connor makes no mention of any mental deficiencies, stating that Biden’s last physical showed his that his “cranial nerves and vestibular function are normal.”

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, two of the other septuagenarian Democratic candidates, have also released medical assessments. Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders has not yet released his. 

Biden has also had his gallbladder removed and has been preemptively treated for non-cancerous polyps and skin abrasions in recent years.

 

Klobuchar to open fundraisers up to press

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., will be opening up her future presidential campaign fundraisers to press starting Wednesday, her campaign tells NBC News.

Amid tensions and a growing debate over fundraising transparency among Democratic primary contenders, Klobuchar is joining candidates South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who recently decided to open up their fundraisers to press.

Amy Klobuchar speaks to moderator Craig Melvin at the Gun Safety Forum in Las Vegas on Oct. 2, 2019.Gabe Ginsberg / for MSNBC

Former Vice President Joe Biden has been doing so with a pooled press system from the beginning of his campaign. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who has made a central campaign talking point her rejection of high-dollar fundraisers, held her first campaign fundraiser in the Los Angeles area last week. While Warren did not attend in person the event was made open to press. Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders does not hold fundraisers for his campaign.

Klobuchar’s campaign confirms to NBC News that they will disclose bundlers for campaign donations on her behalf, but provided no details on the timing.

For all future fundraising events, Klobuchar’s campaign will utilize a pool system for a single reporter to attend and cover fundraising events. The campaign will then distribute the pool report at the conclusion of the event.  

Klobuchar’s first fundraiser open to the press will be Wednesday in Los Angeles ahead of Thursday’s debate.

Biden campaign responds to impeachment vote in new TV ad

Former Vice President Joe Biden 's presidential campaign is out with a new TV ad ahead of Wednesday's House vote to impeach President Donald Trump, a spot that refers to the 2020 election as a fight for America's soul. 

The one-minute cable TV ad, called “Soul of America,” will air in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina through Thursday and rebukes Trump by embracing former Vice President Joe Biden’s core message about the need to unite and restore the country’s soul. The ad buy is part of the campaign’s $6 million paid media expense in the first four early primary states.

The ad features clips of Biden’s first blistering speech against Trump delivered early this summer in Burlington, Iowa, where he strongly assailed Trump for having “no moral leadership” or interest in uniting the country. In that same speech, he went on to accuse Trump of trying to lead “with a toxic tongue” that has “publicly and unapologetically embraced the political strategy of hate, racism and division.”

The ad hinges on the reminder Biden often delivers on the campaign trail about restoring the soul of America: that America has never lived up to its ideal written by Thomas Jefferson in the preamble of the Constitution, but it has never flat-out abandoned it as Trump has.

It starkly contrasts the achievements America has made despite centuries of slavery and racism, which Biden points out took true leadership to try and stamp out such malice. The ad shows famous moments in African American history before quickly pivoting to images of Trump and the flashpoints that have happened under his watch like Charlottesville.

“If we give Donald Trump four more years, this will not be the country envisioned by Washington. This will not be the nation bound together by Lincoln. This will not be the nation lifted up by Roosevelt or inspired by Kennedy,” Biden reminds. “It will not be the nation that Barack Obama proves bends towards justice.”

Though the ad never mentions the word impeachment, it makes clear on Biden’s belief that the most important and reliable place to remove Trump from office is in the ballot box next November.

“We can’t and I will not let this man be reelected President of the United States of America,” the ad ends.

New Klobuchar Iowa ad emphasizes her roots

DES MOINES, Iowa — Amy Klobuchar's campaign has released a new television ad touting her Midwestern roots and her “record of bringing people together.” The six-figure ad buy comes right before the next presidential debate on Thursday and will air in across multiple markets in Iowa. 

The Minnesota senator chose to target President Trump directly, saying, “If we don’t stop Donald Trump this time, shame on us. Americans deserve a President who has their back, who isn’t afraid to take on powerful forces, who has a record of bringing people together. And most importantly, who gets things done.” 

“I know what it takes to win in the Midwest,” Klobuchar adds, reiterating a point Iowans hear often in her stump speech. “It’s not flyover country to me — it’s home.” 

The ad is in line with the Minnesota senator's message on the campaign trail, where she frequently draws contrasts between her own beliefs and Trump’s policies in her attempt to cast herself as a natural opponent to the president.  

“We come from a country where no matter where you come from or who you know or where you worship or who you love that you can make it in the United States of America,” Klobuchar said at a recent event in Dubuque, Iowa. “And that's really where we begin because we have a president right now who tries to shatter those dreams. He tries to shatter those dreams every single morning when he goes after immigrants, when he goes after people of color, when he goes after people that he doesn't agree with.” 

Klobuchar, who frequently jokes that she can see Iowa from her Minnesota porch, will embark on a four-day bus tour through Iowa, vowing to hit 27 counties by the tour’s end. The campaign claims she will have hit 96 counties by the tour’s conclusion — leaving her only three short of hitting all of Iowa’s 99 counties.  

Klobuchar appears to have solidified her spot in fifth place in Iowa following the last two debates. In recent Iowa-specific polls, she garnered 10 percent in Emerson’s latest poll and 6 percent in the famed Iowa Des Moines Register poll in November.

Buttigieg ad takes on Trump by not talking 'Trump'

DES MOINES, Iowa — Pete Buttigieg's campaign is out with a new television ad highlighting his strategy for taking on President Donald Trump, but viewers shouldn’t expect to hear the president’s name or even see him in the 30-second spot — and for Buttigieg, that’s the point.

The ad, titled “Talk About You,” opens with a graphic that reads, “Pete Buttigieg, speaking about Donald Trump,” and that three seconds is the only time Trump is mentioned by name. Throughout the rest of the ad, the president is simply referred to as “him.”

“What it's really going to take is denying him the power to change the subject,” Buttigieg says on screen as he’s speaks to a group of voters. “The more we're talking about him, the less we're talking about you,” he says as voters nod in agreement. 

Buttigieg promises the room full of people that he will, “keep our focus on what matters most, and have the discipline to make sure the conversation stays there too.” 

The ad will run statewide in Iowa beginning on Tuesday. 

While it may be focused on Trump, the ad also seeks to draw a clear distinction between Buttigieg’s approach to taking on the president and that of his opponents for the Democratic nomination. 

Some candidates have released ads that feature Trump prominently, including Former Vice President Joe Biden’s ad titled, “Laughed At.” Senator Bernie Sanders’ first TV ad of this election cycle titled, “Fights for Us,” also includes a clip of the president. 

That Buttigieg’s ad doesn't mention the president directly is no accident. A statement by the campaign announcing the ad states, “The ad highlights how Pete would take on Donald Trump by focusing on the issues that are impacting people every day — rather than keeping the focus on Donald Trump.”