The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Surrogates cover New Hampshire while candidates are elsewhere
MANCHESTER, N.H. — The Senate impeachment trial and looming Iowa caucuses might be dominating the political discussion right now but New Hampshire voters will cast the first 2020 primary ballots in less than two weeks.
The balancing act for the campaigns has resulted in a surge of campaign surrogates in the Granite State to make the case for their candidates. Aside from former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, no other top-tier candidates have held more than five public events in the state since the start of 2020.
Biden surrogates: Former Secretary of State John Kerry and former New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch have been heavy hitters for former Vice President Joe Biden as he makes his final case across Iowa.
Kerry fielded questions about Biden's name being mentioned during the impeachment trial while holding a meet and greet in Biden's Manchester, N.H. field office.
“The reason they're trying to use this Ukraine thing is purely to do a Benghazi, to do an email kind of thing,” Kerry said. “Just hammer and hammer and hammer and throw the mud, and you wait and see what happens tomorrow on the floor of the Senate with their defense.”
Lynch emphasized the importance of candidates and their supporters showing up and connecting with voters in New Hampshire.
“Voters expect the candidates to come up and look them in the eye, answer the tough questions, meet them in the living rooms,” Lynch told NBC News . “It doesn't happen in big states that's one of the big advantages of New Hampshire and why we've been so important for the whole nominating process.”
Warren surrogates: Actress and activist Ashley Judd, as well as Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy III have come in for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Judd connected with the neighboring senator’s humble Midwest roots and stressed that those parts of Warren are essential.
“We are going to tell them about her past, we are going to tell them about her family,” she told a small group of students at Dartmouth College. “We are going to tell them about her record in the Senate. You know, she can't do that right now because she's sitting there trying to impeach this crook.”
She continued, "“But we can be her legs, we can be her feet and we can be her surrogates in convincing folks who are still undecided as to why she should be our nominee for our party.”
Kennedy told NBC News that he’s been taking the time to share anecdotes about his former law professor.
“I think the stakes are pretty high for surrogates because they’re high for our country, regardless,” he said of representing Warren. “This election is going to probably be the most consequential one of my lifetime.”
Surrogates for Sanders: New Hampshire served as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' first win in 2016, and ice cream duo Ben & Jerry have been in New Hampshire to keep making the case that Sanders is voters' best bet.
Ben Cohen, of Ben & Jerry’s, had an interesting suggestion for students at New England College who might have “better things to do” on Feb. 11.
“Take your date to the polls. Take your date to the polls and do it in the booth. Do it in the booth for Bernie! Do it in the booth for Bernie! Do it in the booth for Bernie! Have a good time,” he said after scooping ice cream.
His counterpart, Jerry Greenfield, told NBC News he hopes to “get folks out to vote who don’t always vote.”
“Not me, us,” he said. “And in particular with him being in Washington it's an opportunity for all of Bernie supporters to be out doing more for him.”
Surrogates for Buttigieg: Newly-announced campaign co-chair for the Buttigieg campaign, N.H. Rep. Annie Kuster has been looking to excite undecideds to come out for Buttigieg in two weeks.
Kuster said she’s been involved in presidential campaigns in NH since she was 16 years old, and this is the highest level of undecided voters she has ever seen.
“We’ve never had anything like this. Usually, we’re in the home stretch, 16 days to go we know exactly who our voters are," Kuster said. "This is very different, you’re still in persuasion mode and then trying to make sure our voters get to the polls.”
Surrogates for Klobuchar: A slew of state elected officials have been holding "office hours" on behalf of the Minnesota senator as she splits time between the impeachment trial and campaigning in Iowa.
Doug Collins enters Georgia Senate race, setting off Republican battle
WASHINGTON — Georgia Rep. Doug Collins on Tuesday announced his bid to challenge Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler in November, a move that drew immediate condemnation from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the party-run organization dedicated to maintaining the Senate majority.
Loeffler was appointed by GOP Gov. Brian Kemp in December to fill the remaining term of Johnny Isakson, who had resigned because of health reasons. At the time of the appointment, Collins had drawn support from allies of President Donald Trump to be Kemp's choice.
Collins became a major defender of the president during the House impeachment hearings and said in announcing his Senate bid on Fox News that he still had "a lot of work left to do to help this president finish this impeachment out."
The NRSC's executive director, Kevin McLaughlin, said that he and the organization will fully support Loeffler's re-election effort.
“The shortsightedness in this decision is stunning. Doug Collins’ selfishness will hurt David Perdue, Kelly Loeffler and President Trump. Not to mention the people of Georgia who stand to bear the burden of it for years to come," McLaughlin said in a statement (Perdue, also a Republican, is Georgia's other senator). "All he has done is put two Senate seats, multiple House seats and Georgia’s 16 electoral votes in play."
In a tweet on Wednesday, Collins called McLaughlin's statement "fake news" from "the head of a Washington-based group whose bylaws require him to support all incumbents, even unelected ones."
But it wasn't only national Republican groups that argued against Collins' choice. The Senate Leadership Fund, aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the move "selfish."
"It’s so selfish of Doug Collins to be promoting himself when President Trump needs a unified team and Senator Loeffler is such a warrior for the president," fund president Steven Law said. "As we've said before, Senator Loeffler is an outsider like Trump, not just another D.C. politician. We’ll have her back if she needs us."
Since joining the Senate, Loeffler has defended the president during the impeachment hearings and attacked those she felt were not. On Monday, Loeffler called out Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, on Twitter after he re-established his openness to hearing from witnesses in the impeachment trial.
Three Democrats have announced that they are running to fill the last two years of Isakson's term: Tamara Johnson-Shealey, Matt Lieberman and Richard Dien Winfield.
The primary is May 19, and potential candidates have until March 6 to file. The winner on Nov. 3 will have to run for re-election in 2022.
Klobuchar might not be viable at many Iowa caucus sites. Where will her supporters go?
URBANDALE, Iowa — Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., is depending on success in the Iowa caucus next week.
Her Democratic presidential campaign has seen a surge in the state in recent weeks (her campaign calls it “Klomentum”), with even some polls showing her at or near double-digit support in Iowa. In the latest Monmouth University poll in the Hawkeye State, released on Wednesday, Klobuchar registered at 10 percent support.
While that shows a growth in her support, it could still mean that she may not hit the crucial 15 percent viability threshold in many caucuses, and possibly statewide.
Whether or not she can surpass that mark will be crucial both to her success and to the fortunes of other candidates.
The Iowa caucus doles out its delegates proportionally both by congressional district and based on the statewide results. In order to be considered "viable" at a precinct and win delegates, a candidate must reach 15 percent support at each individual precinct caucus site (there are 1,679 total in Iowa this cycle).
If a candidate doesn’t reach viability after the caucusgoers make their initial picks (in what's called first alignment), supporters have the option to move to one of the viable groups (that's called realignment).
So if Klobuchar fails to hit viability in a number of precinct caucuses, her supporters' second choices could be instrumental in another candidate’s success.
The only thing is, her supporters aren’t necessarily rallying around the same second choice.
NBC News spoke with various Klobuchar supporters across Iowa in recent days to get an idea of where her support might shift if she does fall short of viability on caucus night.
Nancy Davis of Urbandale, a registered Republican until a couple of weeks ago who plans to caucus for Klobuchar, doesn't have a clear second choice.
“That’s my problem. I like Elizabeth Warren but I think she’s a little harsh. She’s got these edges to her. But when you have Biden and Bernie, they’re too old. I like Pete but I don’t know that he could sustain a national campaign either. If I’m going to do a second choice, I’m gonna have to really sit and think about it," she said.
Sue Amosson of West Des Moines is leaning towards Klobuchar, but Elizabeth Warren is her back-up. “I do know strong women sometimes are not liked. White men are always regarded as more intelligent, I think that if a woman if strong and goes after what she believes in, she’s not liked. It’s crazy," Amosson said.
Bill and Mary Turner of Muscatine are planning to caucus for Klobuchar but their back-up is Tom Steyer. “We love Klobuchar’s Midwest sensibility. In my mind, both Klobuchar and Steyer are non-traditional politicians," Bill Turner said.
"Amy knows how to work across the aisle and if there’s undecided voters who don’t want an insider then Tom’s the guy. But Amy knows how to get things done."
Neither of them have a plan if neither candidate is viable.
Cherie Post Dargan of Waterloo told NBC that Klobuchar is a good choice because having a woman in the White House would ensure progress on “education, pragmatic childcare, education, job training, how we turn this country around rebuilding infrastructure.”
On her second choice: “I am not opposed to Elizabeth Warren. I really admire Pete Buttigieg. And I really hope whoever is the candidate that they think long and hard about who their running mate will be; I really liked Kamala Harris. This field was an embarrassment of riches.”
Dargan caucused for Joe Biden in 2008.
Andrew Turner in Des Moines is a former Booker supporter who’s now committed to caucus for Klobuchar, citing her ability to win in conservative districts. His second choice: Biden. Why? “Because he’s not a small-town mayor from a town of maybe 20,000 people.”
New Iowa poll shows Biden in the lead, but half of voters open to changing their minds
WASHINGTON — With only five days to go until the Iowa caucuses, a new Monmouth University poll shows a tight caucus race among five candidates with former Vice President Joe Biden slightly ahead.
The poll, released Wednesday, shows Biden leading among likely Democratic caucus-goers with 23 percent support. But Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg's support falls within in the margin of error with 21 and 16 percent respectively. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, with 15 percent support, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, at 10 percent, round out the top five.
However, only 47 percent of voters said they were "firmly" decided on their candidate while 53 percent of likely caucus-goers saying they are at least somewhat open to changing their allegiance on Feb. 3. And that could benefit Warren, who was the top second choice candidate, with 19 percent of voters saying they'd pick her after their first choice.
While second choices may not mean much in primary states, in a caucus state like Iowa that could help Warren if any of those supporters' first choices don't meet the viability requirements on the first alignment of a caucus.
For Biden, this poll shows some more strength than other recent Iowa polls. A New York Times/Siena College poll last week showed him in third place in Iowa — behind Sanders and Buttigieg. And the last Des Moines Register/CNN poll in the state, from earlier this month, showed him in fourth place with Sanders leading the pack and followed by Warren and Buttigieg.
This poll also documents Klobuchar's climbing strength in the state. While she has just 10 percent in this poll, her jump to double-digit support could matter on caucus night where most viability requirements to make it pass the first round are 15 percent. If Klobuchar makes the viability threshold in early rounds, that could hurt other moderate candidates like Biden who may have hoped to pick up Klobuchar supporters in later rounds.
The Iowa caucuses take place on Monday, Feb. 3.
New Iowa ad questions Bernie Sanders' electability, references his heart attack
DES MOINES, Iowa — A Democratic pro-Israel group will start running a television ad here Wednesday hitting Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders that references his heart attack and argues the Vermont independent senator is unelectable against President Donald Trump.
The almost $700,000 advertising campaign, from the PAC associated with the group Democratic Majority for Israel, comes as Sanders has surged in Iowa days before Monday's first-in-the-nation caucuses. Sanders' strong standing in the polls has concerned some more moderate Democrats.
The ad features testimonials from Iowans saying they’re worried about Sanders’ ability to beat Trump, including one woman who references his heart attack.
“I like Bernie, I think he has great ideas, but Michigan, Pennsylvania, Iowa — they’re just not going to vote for a socialist,” says one man in the ad. "I just don't think Bernie can beat Trump."
“I do have some concerns about Bernie Sanders’ health, considering he did have a heart attack,” says a woman.
Democratic Majority for Israel’s president and CEO, longtime Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, told NBC News that the group is concerned both with Sanders’ ability to beat Trump and his views on Israel. Mellman is a longtime Democratic Party pollster who has worked for a variety of lawmakers, including former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
“We looked at the data and saw that he did have a possibility of getting the nomination and we thought that would be a big mistake,” Mellman said of Sanders. “It’s vitally important to defeat Donald Trump and we think Bernie Sanders is not equipped to do that.”
Mellman said the group had been working on the ad for a “couple of weeks” and insisted it’s not part of any new coordinated effort to stop Sanders.
“We have not spoken with, coordinated, discussed this with anybody,” he said. “There may be some effort out there, but I don’t know anything about it if there is.”
The ad is one of the first direct negative TV spots of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, which has been marked by unusual hesitancy among Democrats to go after each other.
Sanders addressed the "political establishment" that is "running attack ads against us in Iowa" in a new video posted to Twitter Tuesday night.
"The big money interests can run all the negative ads they want, but it's not going to work,” Sanders said in the direct-to-camera message. “Our opponents, they have endless amounts of money. But we have the people and our grassroots movement will prevail.”
—Gary Grumbach contributed.
Candidates have already begun spending on TV in Super Tuesday states
WASHINGTON — The early-state sprint is less than a week away, but while candidates have to survive (or thrive in) Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, those states dole out just a handful of delegates candidates need to secure the Democratic presidential nomination.
Those four states combined dole out under 4 percent of the race's total pledged delegates, while just one week later, 34 percent of the race's pledged delegates are at stake in contests across 14 states (plus American Samoa and Democrats Abroad).
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is unsurprisingly already blanketing those states with television ads — he's spent more than $88 million so far on TV and radio ads in those Super Tuesday states, according to data from Advertising Analytics as of the morning of Jan. 28.
A handful of other Democratic candidates have already spent significant dollars on TV and radio ads in those states as well.
Fellow billionaire and philanthropist Tom Steyer has spent $9.3 million in ads in California and $35,000 in Maine.
Businessman Andrew Yang has spent $82,000 in Maine and $142,000 in Vermont.
Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has spent $73,000 in California, $42,000 in Maine and $46,000 in Texas.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has spent $5,000 in Maine.
Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders has spent $389,000 in Vermont.
And former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg spent $112,000 in Vermont.
A lot can change during the early-state shuffle, where historically candidacies are made or broken. And candidates have plenty of time to iron out their Super Tuesday media strategies (especially when they're currently putting a premium on success in the early states).
But so far, Bloomberg has another $3.2 million booked in Super Tuesday states and Steyer has another $2 million booked in California, while Gabbard, Warren, Sanders and Yang each have a small chunk of advertising dollars booked in Super Tuesday states.
Klobuchar: Voters should 'evaluate' Bloomberg on debate stage
WASHINGTON — Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Tuesday that she's open to seeing former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg join the Democratic Party's presidential debate stage so that voters will have a way to see how he stacks up against the rest of the field.
Bloomberg has spent more than $200 million of his personal wealth on campaign ads blanketing the country, but his decision not to take individual donations means he can't meet the Democratic Party's debate thresholds, which include raising money from a certain number of unique donors.
There are increasing concerns from Democrats that dynamic has allowed Bloomberg to get a sort of free pass where he doesn't have to confront his Democratic rivals on the debate stage.
"I’d be fine with him being on the debate stage, because I think that instead of just putting your money out there, he’s actually gotta be on the stage and be able to go back and forth so that voters can evaluate him in that way," she said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
"Certainly, being on the debate stage for me and making every single benchmark put in front of me has been helpful, because then people get to know me, they can see that I’m tough enough to take on Donald Trump, and they can see how I respond with other people on a stage, and I think that would be really important."
Bidens ask voters to 'imagine' a world without Trump in ads before Iowa
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Just days ahead of the Iowa caucuses, former Vice President Joe Biden is asking voters here to imagine the progress they can make together if President Donald Trump is removed from office in his latest television ad.
In the 30-second ad titled “Imagine,” Biden tells viewers to think about all of the reforms within reach if Trump is not re-elected, listing Democratic priorities like improving health care, tackling climate change and passing gun reform laws.
“What we imagine today you can make reality, but first we need to beat Donald Trump. Then there will be no limit to what we can do,” Biden says.
His wife, Dr. Jill Biden, echoes a similar sentiment in her own 15-second YouTube ad, “Future,” where she asks voters to picture a world where they don’t wake up to a “late night tweet storm” from the president.
“Imagine waking up and the news isn’t about a late night tweet storm and when they show the president, they don’t turn the channel because it’s someone who can bring this country together,” she says.
She goes on to point out that this reality is possible under her husband's leadership.
The Biden campaign has launched more than 10 ads in the Hawkeye State that have largely focused on Biden’s electability and readiness argument — that he is the candidate who has the domestic and foreign policy experience to assume the presidency on day one and can carry key battleground states to beat Trump.
The campaign has also reminded voters of the backing Biden has from the Democratic Party’s sole uniter, former President Barack Obama, in an ad quoting Obama giving Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The ads are a final culmination of the $4 million the campaign devoted to paid media in the state. The former Vice President’s latest ad will play alongside “Threat,” another ad the campaign debuted last week, airing in the top five Iowa markets through caucus day.
They will also play statewide on Hulu, according to the campaign.
Unite the Country, the Super PAC supporting Biden’s candidacy, has also launched numerous ads across the Iowa airwaves in the last several months.
Warren releases plan to combat epidemics like coronavirus
WASHINGTON — As focus on the coronavirus intensifies, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is releasing a new plan on how to prevent the transmission of infectious diseases and better prepare for global outbreaks.
Her in-depth agenda focuses on fully funding global health agencies, investing in the development of vaccines and ensuring that health departments and hospitals are prepared to handle potential outbreaks.
“The best way to beat a pandemic is to prevent it from starting in the first place,” Warren’s plan says, “As president, I will work to build the foundations that help us catch infectious diseases before they spread.”
Though Warren does not specify where the funding would come from, a large portion of her plan revolves around funding organizations that would strengthen global health infrastructure. She specifically mentions fully funding the Centers for Disease Control, USAID and the Global Health Security Agenda, which involves 50 countries.
Warren’s plan addresses fighting epidemics on a global level, but she also ties in a commitment to stop infectious diseases, like Hep C and HIV, in the United States. Earlier in her campaign, Warren released a plan to make PrEP, an HIV prevention drug more affordable and accessible. The plan drew attention from a now high profile endorser, Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness, who recently introduced Warren in Iowa.
In Washington, Warren plans to restore a position in White House leadership on health security, one that was originally part of the Obama administration that Trump then removed. She also will create a “swear jar” policy for when drug companies break the law — and the funding from that will go to the NIH to expand development of vaccines and treatments and study of infectious diseases.
Of note, Warren makes a point to mention the importance of spreading factual information and countering misinformation in the process of combating global outbreaks. She says she will work with the private sector on this issue.
“Science will once again be in charge at the CDC,” the plan says.
The focus on science also ties into Warren’s portion of the plan that tackles the crossover between climate change and disease outbreak. Her plan folds in portions of her previously released plans on climate and adds in a focus on preventing spread of disease after natural disasters.
Warren ends her plan by specifically mentioning the coronavirus, as a reminder of the importance of investing in public health institutions.
“Diseases like coronavirus remind us why we need robust international institutions, strong investments in public health, and a government that is prepared to jump into action at a moment's notice,” Warren says in her plan, “When we prepare and effectively collaborate to address common threats that don’t stop at borders, the international community can stop these diseases in their tracks.”
The death toll from the disease has now risen to 106 people.
Amy Klobuchar drops final Iowa ads, six days until caucus
DES MOINES, Iowa — Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., is in Washington, D.C. for the Senate impeachment trial, but her face will be on Iowa airwaves by way of two final TV ads launching Tuesday — just six days before Iowans go to their caucus sites.
“Iowa, it’s time to choose,” one of the ads, “99,” opens before pivoting to highlight Klobuchar’s endorsement from the Quad City Times along with the co-New York Times endorsement that commends her “Midwestern charisma and grit.” “99” seeks to convince viewers that she can unite the party, and “perhaps,” the country — proven by her commitment to visit all of Iowa’s 99 counties.
The second ad, “It’s About You,” features Klobuchar hitting Trump off the bat. “We have a president who thinks everything is about him," she says. "His tweets, his golf course, his ego.”
“But I think the job is about you,” Klobuchar adds as she ticks through common issues that come up on the campaign trail like healthcare, education, and security. “I’ll be a President who restores decency to the White House and gets things done for you.”
Klobuchar’s ability to physically campaign in the state has hit a speed-bump due to the impeachment trial, so these ads combined with tele-town halls are possibly the only access caucus goers will get to the senator until the impeachment trial is wrapped.
At her final campaign event of six over the past weekend, Klobuchar took photos with various Iowa staffers, joking that she might not be able to come back before caucus — a nod to newly surfaced revelations from former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s book that may give Democrats more substance behind their push for witnesses at the trial. If witnesses were to be called, the trial schedule could directly interfere with the caucuses.
Most recent Iowa-specific polls have placed Klobuchar in fifth place, but an Emerson poll released Sunday evening shows Klobuchar in third place with 13 percent, behind Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., with 30 percent and former Vice President Joe Biden with 21 percent.
Biden leverages Trump's attacks to win over Iowa voters
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — With the Iowa Caucus one week out, Joe Biden reminded voters in the state that they should support him because he’s taken on the most heat from President Trump.
“There's a reason why this man is on trial. The reason he's on trial is because he does not want to run against me,” Biden said. “I hope I've demonstrated I can take a punch. And if I'm the nominee, he's going to understand what punches mean.”
The former Vice President focused primarily on health care, gun reform, and climate change while speaking to the 200-person crowd at the University of Northern Iowa.
On the issue of health care, Biden reignited attacks against his progressive opponents along with Medicare for All, which he called a “catchy idea” that takes too long to implement.
“Well there's an old expression in the long run we'll all be dead,” he added.
Biden said that some of his rivals have failed to tell the truth about how much their plans cost because the prospect of higher taxes “scares the living devil out of people."
“I show how I pay for everything in my campaign,” he said.
Addressing the issues he vows to reform, Biden pointed out that first “we’ve got to beat Donald Trump” to get any of that done.
Biden also touted his electability against President Trump, selling himself as the candidate most likely to beat him because of his support among minorities and across partisan lines.
Having that support, Biden argues, is key to unseating Trump and helping down-ballot Democratic candidates.
He even suggested that if a candidate cannot garner significant support from minority groups, they should not become the nominee.
“I don't believe you can win a nomination in this party and more importantly, I don't believe you should win the nomination in this party unless you can demonstrate … substantial support from each and every one of those communities," he said. "That's what is needed."