The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Biden gets backing from trio of swing-district Democrats
DAVENPORT, Iowa — A trio of swing-district Democrats and military veterans are endorsing Joe Biden, arguing that his presence at the top of the ticket gives the party its best chance for victory.
Two of the three — Rep. Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania and Elaine Luria of Virginia — were first elected in the 2018 blue wave, taking back Republican-held seats. The third, Rep. Conor Lamb won a hard-fought special election victory in his Western Pennsylvania district in early 2018 and then unseated a GOP incumbent in the fall after court-ordered redistricting.
Their backing comes as Biden has increasingly pressed his case to voters that he presents the best chance of leading the party to victory up and down the ticket in November. Biden spent the weekend in Iowa campaigning with another freshman Democrat, Rep. Abby Finkenauer, who carried a Trump district in 2018.
“There are candidates that worry me in terms their ability to win Pennsylvania and their ability to win the support of working and middle class voters. I think Vice President Biden can,” Lamb said in an interview. “People know him and know he has a record of achievement. That doesn’t get swept aside easily.”
The Democrats’ all cited Biden’s foreign policy experience as another key factor in their endorsement, especially amid escalating tensions with Iran after the U.S. strike targeting Iranian Major Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Luria served in the Navy, Houlihan the Air Force and Lamb in the Marines before running for office.
Luria said foreign policy is always a major concern in her district, home to the Norfolk Navy Shipyard, a major point of departure for U.S. aircraft carriers, and NATO’s Joint Force Command.
“People here really pay close attention to that because that’s their husband, their wife, their neighbor, their child that’s in harm’s way,” Luria told NBC News. “We need someone like Joe Biden who can reset our position on the world stage, regain respect with our allies and step in on day one with the experience he has as vice president and go to work.”
"Congressional candidates in seats that allow Democrats to retain our majority in the House will not have to spend precious resources running away from the top of the ticket’s unpopular and unworkable Medicare for All plan," Biden campaign manager Greg Schultz wrote in a memo about the endorsements Sunday. "Local candidates who rely on Independent and some Republican votes to win will have a top of the ticket that represents strong, steady, stable leadership at home and abroad, strengthening the Democratic brand in the non-metropolitan regions of the country. That is why we are seeing vulnerable, frontline members increasingly supporting Joe Biden’s candidacy.”
Bernie Sanders dings Congress on abdicating war authority, pushes for legislation on military funding
DUBUQUE, IA — Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., dinged Congress for abdicating its war power authority during a town hall in Iowa on Saturday.
"For too many years, Congress under Republican administrations and under Democratic administrations has abdicated its constitutional responsibility, it is time for Congress to take that responsibility back," Sanders said. "If Congress wants to go to war, and I will vote against that, but if Congress wants to go to war, let Congress have the guts to vote for war."
Sanders comments come on the heels of President Donald Trump authorizing an airstrike in Iraq that killed a top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani on Wednesday. On Saturday, Sanders called Trump's actions a "dangerous escalation" that could lead to another war in the Middle East.
While in Iowa, the Democratic presidential candidate also pushed for Congress to vote on new legislation he plans to introduce with California Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, which would block any funding for military action with Iran without Congressional approval.
"When I return to Washington next week," Sanders said, "I believe the first course of action is for the Congress to take immediate steps to restrain president Trump from plunging our nation into yet another endless war."
Biden says Trump administration unprepared for "risk" of Middle East escalation
DUBUQUE, Iowa — Joe Biden Friday accused President Trump of “an enormous escalation” of the threat of war in the Persian Gulf after he launched a surprise strike targeting a top Iranian commander, while pressing the case to Democrats that the next president must be someone who doesn’t need “on the job training.”
The former vice president, speaking in Iowa one month before the state’s leadoff caucuses, seized on a fresh foreign policy crisis to reinforce some of his principal critiques of Trump’s leadership and play up his decades of foreign policy experience.
“The threat to American lives and interests in the region and around the world are enormous. The risk of nuclear proliferation is real and the possibility that ISIS will regenerate in the region has increased, and the prospects of direct conflict with Iran is greater than it has ever been,” he said. “The question is do Donald Trump and his administration have a strategy for what comes next?”
Biden said no American mourns the loss of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, leader of Iran’s Quds force, and that it was right to bring him to justice. But he contrasted the assassination of an official within a sovereign government with strikes against other top terrorist targets, saying Trump’s provocative action puts the U.S. potentially “on the brink of greater conflict with the Middle East.”
“Unfortunately, nothing we have seen from this administration over the past three years suggests that they are prepared to deal with the very real risk we now confront. And there's no doubt the risks are greater today because of the actions Donald Trump has taken, walking away from diplomacy, walking away from international agreements, relying on force,” he said.
Biden said Thursday’s strike was the latest in a string of “dubious” actions that have unnecessarily ratcheted up tensions in the region, including decision to unilaterally withdraw from the nuclear agreement struck by the Obama administration along with top Western allies.
The Trump administration “said the goal of maximum pressure was to deter regional aggression, negotiate a better nuclear deal. Thus far, they have badly failed on both accounts,” he said. “Now the administration has said the goal of killing Soleimani was to deter future attacks by Iran. But the action almost certainly will have the opposite impact.”
Biden was to have spent Friday touting the new endorsement of Iowa Rep. Abby Finkenauer, who joined him in person for the first time and will campaign with him through the weekend. But the situation in Iraq gave him a chance to underscore a key element of his closing pitch to voters — the gravity of the job for whomever replaces Trump.
The next president is going to inherit “a nation that is divided and a world in disarray. This is not a time for on the job training,” he said.
Klobuchar campaign raised $11.4 million in final quarter of 2019
DES MOINES, Iowa — Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., announced Friday that her presidential campaign raised $11.4 million in the fourth quarter of 2019, more than double than the $4.8 million she raised in the previous quarter last year.
The campaign noted that their donations came from 145,126 individual donors and the average contribution was $32.
“It's the best quarter we've ever had. And that's a good thing, including way back to when we started before so many people were in the race," Klobuchar said during an event in Iowa on Thursday.
"So we feel good about it. I never thought I would match some of the front-runners who have, you know, long list going way back who've run for president before,” Klobuchar said.
The fourth quarter ended on Dec. 31, but candidates are not required to disclose their fundraising numbers until the filing deadline on Jan. 31.
Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders has announced the largest fundraising number so far, pulling in $34.5 million dollars, with former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg bringing in $24.7 million. Like Klobuchar, the fourth quarter was also former Vice President Joe Biden’s largest haul. The Biden campaign announced they raised $22.7 million. Klobuchar’s totals round out the top six fundraisers so far, falling behind Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s $21.2 million and businessman Andrew Yang’s $16.5 million.
Warren reports $21 million raised in fourth quarter
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Elizabeth Warren's campaign raised just over $21 million in the final quarter of 2019, her campaign said Friday.
The haul puts the Massachusetts senator in the ballpark of her fellow Democratic presidential competitors — and frequent names in the top tier of the primary — Pete Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden, who raised $24.7 and $22.7 million, respectively. However, they're all well behind Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on this metric, who topped the field again this quarter, hauling in more than $34 million.
This latest round of fundraising for the Massachusetts senator is less than the $24.6 million her campaign raised int he third quarter and comes as she's lagged in some polls, especially in the all-important early state of Iowa.
Warren's average donation was $23 from more than 443,000 donors, according to her campaign. Of the $21.2 million raised, the campaign said $1.5 million came in on the last day of 2019 alone. Several days before the close of the quarter, the campaign said it was falling short of its $20 million fundraising goal, asking for donations to help them get there. The campaign did not disclose its cash-on-hand.
In an email to supporters, campaign manager Roger Lau once again highlighted the campaign's strategy of not doing closed door fundraisers or raising money with bundlers and donors. Warren regularly talks about this strategy on the trail, and on the debate stage, using it as a cudgel against Buttigieg during the December Democratic debate — specifically attacking him for a fundraiser he held in a wine cave.
“I'm deeply grateful to every single person who contributed to my campaign. I didn't spend one single minute selling access to my time. To millionaires and billionaires. I did this grassroots all across the country and I'm proud of the grassroots army that we are building,” Warren told reporters Thursday, after a town hall in Concord, New Hampshire.
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.