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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Biden raises $22.7 million in final quarter of 2019

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Powered by a surge of online donations that the campaign attributes in part to stepped-up attacks from President Donald Trump, former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign posted its strongest fundraising quarter to date. 

Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden announced in a new video posted on Twitter Thursday that they have raised $22.7 million in the fourth fundraising quarter, which is still less when compared to some of his rivals, but is a significant sum compared nonetheless. 

 

As in previous quarters, Biden finds himself trailing behind Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has raised an impressive $34.5 million at the end of the fundraising cycle. Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg also raised more than Biden, hauling in $24.7 million. 

But the numbers are a boost from the $15.7 million he raised last quarter, which left the campaign with only $8.9 million on hand after spending on internal resources, TV and digital ads across the early primary states.

In the second quarter of 2019, Biden raised $21.5 million, raising the most of any Democratic candidate per day in that quarter in which he launched his bid. 

His slow fundraising between July, August and September brought into question whether the Biden campaign could sustain itself throughout the primary, concerns that contributed to former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg jumping into the race. It also motivated Biden donors to mobilize a Super PAC to support the former vice president.

Senior campaign advisers had forecasted stronger numbers this quarter in part thanks to President Donald Trump’s continued attacks against Biden throughout the House impeachment investigation. 

Those advisers also say that they’ve also seen former bundlers for California Sen. Kamala Harris and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke join them since those candidates dropped out of the race.

Biden has held a total of 114 fundraisers in 2019. Late last month, the campaign announced the names of 230 bundlers who have raised more than $25,000 for Biden since he launched his campaign in late April of 2019.

Biden scores endorsement from Iowa Rep. Finkenauer

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer Thursday became the first Democratic member of Iowa's congressional delegation to endorse a candidate in the party's presidential contest, throwing her support behind former Vice President Joe Biden.

Finkenauer, who is one of three of the state's Democratic members of Congress, is expected to join Biden on the trail as he kicks off the new year campaigning in her Eastern Iowa district. And the endorsement comes after a long, shared political history between the two.

She worked on Biden’s 2008 presidential campaign as a volunteer coordinator and was the lone Iowa Democratic candidate in 2018 to receive Biden's endorsement. Biden even appeared at a rally with Finkenauer during the closing weeks of that campaign which ended in her victory over incumbent Republican Rep. Rod Blum. 

Finkenauer represents the 1st district of Iowa, which is most of the northeast corner of the state — including Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Cedar Falls and Dubuque.  The district covers 20 counties with a high concentration of working-class voters. Fifteen of those supported Obama by double digits in 2008 and 2012, but swung to Donald Trump in 2016.

The Biden campaign noted in its announcement that the only Democratic members of Congress from any of the first four Democratic presidential nominating states who have endorsed in the presidential primary have backed Biden — Finkenauer and Nevada Rep. Dina Titus.

Biden is planning to hit 10 counties in Iowa over the next five days. 

—Marianna Sotomayor contributed

Corey Lewandowski won't run for Senate in New Hampshire

MANCHESTER, N.H. — After months of speculation, President Trump's former 2016 campaign manager  Corey Lewandowski announced Tuesday he will not be running for Senate in New Hampshire to challenge Democrat incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

Lewandowski wrote in a tweet that while he would forgo a run, his priorities remained his family and re-electing President Trump. 

Lewandowski added that he plans to endorse in the N.H. Republican primary, which so far includes Bryant “Corky” Messner, retired Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc, and former state Speaker of the House Bill O’Brien.

Lewandowski had been having conversations with local Republican leaders about a potential run, several officials told NBC News. Multiple sources said Lewandowski would have been a “formidable” candidate had he challenged Shaheen.

Just last week, Lewandowski told local station WMUR that key factors were pointing him to run, including recent meetings with President Trump and Senate leadership.

“I've got a young family, I want to make sure I can spend time with them,” he said. “We've talked about this a lot now. I was in Washington last week with the president both Friday of last week and then Monday of this week, talking again. I talked with Senate leadership about this race to understand the resources that would be available to take on a two-term incumbent U.S. senator, looked at her voting record, realized that she no longer aligns with the values of New Hampshire, all these things are pointing us in the right direction."

The New Hampshire Democratic Party reacted to Lewandowski's announcement shortly after his initial tweet.

“While Messner, Bolduc, and O'Brien tear each other down in the contentious primary Lewandowski has left behind, Senator Shaheen will continue working across the aisle for New Hampshire, leading efforts to lower prescription drug costs and making sure veterans and their families get the benefits they deserve," said NHDP spokesman Josh Marcus-Blank. 

The New Hampshire Republican Party did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bennet launching campaign's first New Hampshire television ad

WEST LEBANON, N.H. — Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet is launching his presidential campaign's first New Hampshire television ad aimed at contrasting him with President Donald Trump. 

In the new one-minute spot, Bennet talks to the camera to argue that he's "the opposite of Trump," pitching himself as the candidate who can bridge the political divide and get results on issues like health care. 

Bennet’s campaign announced last week they need to raise $700,000 by Jan. 16 of next year to have the resources to compete in New Hampshire, including for the launch of his new ad. It says as of Friday the campaign has raised just over $165,000 toward that goal, so it will now put $60,000 into TV and digital this week. 

The campaign told NBC News it will increase its ad buy over the coming weeks as it continues to raise, and they intend to reach a six-figure buy, and that it needs to raise more to keep the ad on the air in the coming weeks. 

“Voters are asking one question in this election: Who can beat Donald Trump?” campaign spokesperson Shannon Beckham said in a statement.

“To beat Trump, we need the opposite of Trump, and Michael represents that in every way. People who are exhausted by the daily circus in the White House are looking for a candidate who will return things back to normal and start to make progress for their families."

The ad buy comes on the heels of Bennet announcing he would hold 50 town halls in New Hampshire in the final 10 weeks leading up to the state’s primary. His current tally is at 21 town halls, and with an impending impeachment trial in the Senate, the logistics of the rest are to be determined.

“I just know that New Hampshire hasn't made up its mind yet and that's why I'm here,” Bennet told reporters last week in Peterborough, NH. “I think our states are very similar and the politics are similar, and I'm hoping to do well here.”

Bennet is set to return to New Hampshire for a seven-day trip starting December 30, including hosting a first event of 2020 at 12:01 AM on January 1st.

Amy Klobuchar to hit 99th and final Iowa county on presidential campaign

ESTHERVILLE, IA — Sen. Amy Klobuchar is set to visit her 99th county in Iowa on Friday morning, completing her quest to hit every county in the state during her presidential bid. 

She’s the only presidential candidate who qualified for last month's debate stage to accomplish the feat (the only other candidate to complete the full tour is John Delaney, who’s been campaigning since 2017.)

Friday’s swing includes stops in Emmet, Kossuth and Humboldt counties - which all voted for President Trump in the 2016 general election - before heading to Des Moines to celebrate the completion of the full tour.

Emulating her habit of visiting all of her home state of Minnesota’s 87 counties, Klobuchar has emphasized the importance of meeting people in their communities on the campaign trail, touting her ability to appeal to moderate Democrats, Independents and Republicans.

Friday’s final three counties come after Klobuchar embarked on a busy four-day, 27 county bus tour last weekend. She passed through the southern edge of the state before swing up through northwest Iowa - historically conservative pockets of the state.

With just over a month until Iowa’s caucus, Klobuchar has seen her standing in the polls improve. In last month's Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa poll, she was the first choice for 6 percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers, good for fifth place. She also finished in fifth place (with 5 percent) in Monmouth University's November poll of likely Iowa caucusgoers. 

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.