The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Marianne Williamson cuts entire campaign staff
NEW YORK — Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson has laid off the remainder of her campaign staff, two sources confirmed to NBC News on Thursday.
Williamson’s former campaign manager Patricia Ewing and former New Hampshire state director Paul Hodes confirmed the layoffs, first reported by WMUR, to NBC News, citing financial issues. As of Tuesday, the campaign had no staffers, although it's unclear how many staffers Williamson had before the decision was made.
The best-selling author and spiritual advisor struggled to gain traction in national polls despite nearly a year of campaigning in early voting states.
At its height, the campaign had 45 staffers focused on the four early-voting states. In the third quarter of 2019, the campaign raised more than $3 million, a rise from fundraising totals of $1.5 million in both the first and second quarters of last year. Williamson has not released fourth-quarter financial details yet, which are due at the end of the month.
When asked by NBC News whether or not Williamson would stay in the race through the Iowa Caucuses, Ewing only said “she might -- she’s thinking about it.”
In an email to supporters Thursday evening, Williamson wrote, "we've had a wonderful team, and I am deeply grateful for their energy and talents. But as of today, we cannot afford a traditional campaign staff."
"I am not suspending my candidacy, however," she continued. "A campaign not having a huge war chest should not be what determines its fate."
End-of-year fundraising reports still hold plenty of unanswered questions
WASHINGTON — The start of the new year means a whole batch of campaign finance data, and presidential candidates are already selectively releasing numbers to paint their campaigns in the best light.
We already know that President Trump's reelection campaign raised a staggering $46 million in the last three months of 2019, that Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and businessman Andrew Yang shattered their own personal fundraising records with $34.5 million and $16.5 million respectively. And we know that former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden netted $24.7 million and $22.7 million, respectively.
But since the campaigns don't have to release their full, official fundraising reports until the end of this month, we only know what they want us to know.
Once filed, those official reports will give us one more important glimpse under their financial hoods shortly before the Iowa caucus.
Here are some big questions about those fundraising reports from NBC News' Political Unit.
Will the top Democrats match Trump in cash on hand?
It's tough to compare fundraising between the Democratic candidates and Trump's reelection for a whole host of reasons, including the size of the Democratic field, the role being played by each party committee and how early things still are in the Democratic nominating calendar.
But there's one thing that's clear — the combined Trump/GOP effort is raising money at a historic clip, one that will both give Republicans an early advantage and put pressure on the eventual Democratic nominee to quickly match it.
One big question is whether the top-four polling Democrats can match Trump's cash on hand.
As of Sept. 30, Sanders ($33.7 million), Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren ($25.7 million), Buttigieg ($23.4 million) and former Vice President Joe Biden ($9 million) had a combined $91.8 million banked. Trump's campaign had $83.2 million, although it will also benefit from the Republican National Committee's massive cash advantage over the Democratic National Committee.
The Trump campaign says it closed 2019 with $102 million on hand.
The Democratic cash-on-hand numbers will also be helpful for intraparty comparisons too, as to whether Biden can quell concerns about his cash reserves being markedly lower than his competitions; whether Buttigieg's big investments have left a dent in his bank account; and whether Warren's stagnant polling has prompted any change in spending.
How dire was Kamala Harris' cash situation when she dropped out?
When California Sen. Kamala Harris suspended her campaign last month, she blamed the decision on a recognition that her campaign "lacked the financial resources to continue."
But since her shuttered campaign will still have to file its end-of-the-year report, we'll get to see how dire the situation really was.
As we wrote at the time, Harris' began 2019 as one of the better-fundraising candidates, and her staff size ballooned as the campaign tried to take advantage of her early momentum. But just months later, her campaign started slashing staff and cutting ad spending before ultimately shuttering altogether.
So her forthcoming filing will paint a clearer picture of what Harris saw when she made the decision to close up shop.
How much is Bloomberg spending?
If billionaire Tom Steyer made a splash earlier this year with his largely self-financed bid, then former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg set off a tidal wave.
Steyer has spent $67.4 million on television and radio ads since he jumped in in July. Bloomberg has almost doubled that ($120.9 million) in the six weeks since he launched his campaign, according to Advertising Analytics.
That's an unprecedented sum, more than every other candidate including Steyer combined.
While we know about Bloomberg's massive ad spending, we don't know how much he's spent on other important pieces of his campaign, the staffing and on-the-ground work that makes or breaks a campaign.
So look for his report to shed light on just how massive the Bloomberg investment really is.
Are the struggling candidates running out of steam?
There's an old adage about the life and death of a campaign: "A candidate doesn't drop out because they run out of ideas, they drop out because they run out of money."
That's another reason why these forthcoming reports will be interesting — to shed light on other candidates who are struggling to stay afloat.
It's likely that former Housing Sec. Julián Castro's end-of-year report could add some context to why he decided to close his doors less than two days after the books closed on 2019. And the reports will also show what resources candidates like Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard had to begin the year.
—Carrie Dann, Mark Murray and Melissa Holzberg contributed
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.