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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Klobuchar holds first N.H. tele-town hall amidst impeachment

WASHINGTON — Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., held her first New Hampshire tele-town hall while in Washington, D.C. this morning for the impeachment trial. In the forty-minute call, Klobuchar made the case for her candidacy and discussed her experiences campaigning across ten counties of the Granite State.

After ticking through her presidential agenda, Klobuchar indirectly called out her fellow presidential candidate, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who recently announced a major ad buy set to air during the Super Bowl on Sunday.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar boards her campaign bus after a stop in Humboldt, Iowa, on Dec. 27, 2019.Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

“It's not always the richest candidate,” she said. “[A]nd no you won't be seeing my ad in the Super Bowl but you will know that I'll be out there in my green bus, getting votes the right way.”

She also said on the call that she “can’t think of a better group of people right now" than those in New Hampshire who understand that it’s not always the most famous candidate who is best to lead the ticket.

Klobuchar plugged her two newspaper endorsements from the N.H. Union Leader and Keene Sentinel, and added that voters in New Hampshire and other early voting states “have this obligation ... a history of picking people ... that maybe other people didn't think we're going to win.”

According to the Klobuchar campaign, over eight thousand people were on the call.

Voters on the call asked a range of questions about the candidate’s plans for tackling climate change and how she’ll protect Social Security.

Klobuchar was also pressed on how she’ll unify the country after Trump’s presidency and responded that she’ll be transparent and truthful. 

“I also think the first day after I got elected I would start calling every governor in this nation, Democrat or Republican to get their ideas, I would work with leadership in both houses ... and then act on it,” she said. 

The penultimate question of the tele-town hall was about the impeachment trial, to which Klobuchar responded that she was heading to the Senate right after the tele-town hall ahead of a potential vote on witnesses. 

Klobuchar’s closing pitch was that she’s not just making an anecdotal plea for support but rather, that facts matter in New Hampshire.

While she wishes she could be in the state, she underscored that she must fulfill her constitutional duty as a senator to act as a juror in the impeachment hearing

“My ask of you is to run for me, to help me, to make sure that I don't lose ground or lose time,” she said, “because I have been doing my important work.”

-Liz Brown-Kaiser contributed.

McConnell opponent Amy McGrath endorses Joe Biden

BURLINGTON, Iowa — Former Vice President Joe Biden often tells his audiences that the best way to beat Republicans — in the White House and in Congress — is at the polls. And he now has the endorsement of another Democratic candidate trying to do just that. 

Amy McGrath, a Marine combat veteran and rising star in Democratic politics, is the favored Democratic candidate challenging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for Senate in Kentucky and announced her endorsement of Biden on Friday.

McGrath said she’s backing Biden because she believes he will bring back “honor and integrity” to the White House. Moreover, she cites Biden’s ongoing commitment to the working class in Kentucky as an example of how Biden could unite the entire country.

Joe Biden and democratic congressional candidate Amy McGrath shake hands during a campaign event in Owingsville, Ky., on Oct. 12, 2018.Bryan Woolston / AP file

“While some Democrats believe the challenges we face as a nation demand revolutionary action, others — like me — believe the best path forward is to start by unifying our country and delivering results for American families,” McGrath said in a campaign release.

McGrath is facing a tough race against McConnell, who is slightly out-raising her in the race. Her endorsement echoes what many first-term House Democratic candidates are stressing when making their pitch to voters for supporting Biden: they need a candidate at the top of the ticket that appeals to Republicans, independents and Democrats alike to help them win their races.

Biden is making that same pitch for himself on the trail. 

"One of the reasons why I am running is to take back the United States Senate. We are not going to get a whole lot done if we don't not only win the presidency [but] if we are not able to go out and win back the Senate," Biden said in Iowa on Sunday. "That depends a lot on the top of the ticket." 

McGrath's endorsement for Biden is not surprising — Biden stumped for McGrath during the 2018 midterms when she ran for the House. While she lost her race for Congress, many other moderate candidates were able to flip GOP seats.

Biden touted her endorsement at his event in Burlington, Iowa Friday, pointing out how sharp she is as a candidate to go against McConnell.

“This woman knows how to shoot. this woman knows how to play,” he said.

Vulnerable Republican senators deal with challengers at home on impeachment

WASHINGTON — On Friday, the Senate will vote on whether to subpoena witnesses and documents in the impeachment trial of President Trump. This has left a handful of vulnerable Republican senators stuck between toeing the party line in the trial and dealing with attacks on the campaign trail in their home states. 

Some Republicans like Maine's Susan Collins and Utah's Mitt Romney, have said they'll vote for witnesses. But at least three vulnerable members, like Colorado's Cory Gardner, Arizona's Martha McSally and North Carolina's Thom Tillis reportedly feel that allowing witnesses could hurt them in their primaries

Here’s how the challengers to some of 2020's most vulnerable Republicans are talking about impeachment: 

Iowa

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst caused headlines when she rhetorically pondered if the impeachment trial would affect former Vice President Joe Biden's chances at the Iowa caucuses.  

Her likely opponent, Theresa Greenfield, has remained quiet on the issue of impeachment since November, when her campaign noted that “It’s wrong, plain and simple, for any president to pressure a foreign government to investigate a political opponent.” 

But this week on Twitter Greenfield chided the senator for her comments on Biden, and is now fundraising off them.

Maine

In order to flip the Senate, Democrats probably need to win in Maine against Collins. Her challenger, Sara Gideon, seized on Collins’ seeming indecision regarding witnesses — Collins voted against witnesses at the outset of the trial, but by the end of opening arguments said she would vote for witnesses. Gideon responded on Twitter saying, "You can't say you are for witnesses, and yet vote time and time again with Mitch McConnell." 

North Carolina 

While some Republicans have tried to find a middle ground during the hearings, Tillis has made clear that he intends to vote to acquit President Trump.  His Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee-endorsed challenger, Cal Cunningham, has said that that a fair trial "includes witnesses." 

Arizona

McSally caused a media stir by calling a reporter a "liberal hack" for asking her about witnesses, and later tweeted that she did not want to hear from witnesses. Her chief opponent, astronaut Mark Kelly, has stayed away from the impeachment issue as well.

However, Kelly did take a veiled swipe at the president and McSally by releasing a statement that said his “campaign won’t ask for or accept any assistance from a foreign government. That’s an easy decision because it’s against the law." 

Colorado

While Gardner is an official "no" on witnesses, his likely opponent in Colorado, former Gov. John Hickenlooper, supported the president's impeachment and has repeatedly stressed the need for witness testimony, saying that without it, the trial would be “a sham.”  

Georgia

Sen. David Perdue will likely face either former congressional candidate Jon Ossoff or former Columbus, Ga. Mayor Teresa Tomlinson. Tomlinson is a supporter of the president's removal and called out Perdue for not “even pretending to be” a fair juror.

While Ossoff tweeted in September that “If Trump pressured a foreign power to smear his political opponent, dangling security assistance as leverage, he should be impeached,” he has not weighed in on the president's impeachment since. 

 

Andrew Yang chokes up as Iowa campaign winds down

WATERLOO, Iowa — Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang became visibly emotional while talking about his time in Iowa when campaigning in Dubuque, Iowa Thursday. 

“I've been coming to Iowa for almost two years,” Yang said. “I started coming in Spring of 2018, I have to say I loved campaigning here, you all have been beautiful to me and my family.” 

“I'm really glad that you all are going to determine the future of our country,” Yang added, his voice cracking.

Yang then placed his head in one of his hands and cried while the audience applauded, with some shouting out “Thank you, Andrew!” 

It’s rare to see presidential candidates getting emotional as they campaign across the country. Yang most recently became deeply emotional at a gun control forum in Des Moines, Iowa last summer, after being asked how he would address unintentional shootings by children as president. 

“I have a six and three-year-old boy, and I was imagining ...” Yang said at the forum, putting his head in one hand as he cried. “I was imagining it was one of them that got shot and the other saw it.”

Yang is currently on a 17-day bus tour through Iowa. With the Iowa caucuses looming right around the corner, Yang has been in a full-on sprint to speak to as many voters as he can before February 3rd. 

“My kids love it here,” Yang said in Dubuque. “They came in the summer, they've been here this past week. One, they love daddy's bus, ‘cause now daddy's got a huge bus.”

“My boys don't really understand what I'm doing,” Yang added. “Just told them daddy has a really big deadline on Monday.” 

Yang has had 78 events in January alone, according to the Des Moines Register’s candidate tracker, dramatically outpacing candidates like Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who have spent most of the past two weeks in Washington, D.C. during the impeachment trial. 

But even former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigeg and former Vice President Joe Biden couldn’t keep pace with Yang this month. Buttigieg had 48 and Biden had 31 events. 

In the latest Des Moines Register Iowa poll, Yang was polling at 5 percent among likely 2020 Democratic caucus goers. 

Bloomberg nabs endorsement from Utah's lone Democratic congressman

DAVENPORT, Iowa — Rep. Ben McAdams, Utah's lone Democratic member of Congress, is throwing his support behind Mike Bloomberg’s presidential bid the campaign announced Friday morning, arguing that the former New York City mayor is the candidate best positioned to heal a divided country and move beyond partisan politics.

McAdams marks Bloomberg’s sixth congressional endorsement in a span of six weeks and might help the former mayor bolster his appeal as a consensus candidate who can win over independents and disaffected Trump voters.

Michael Bloomberg speaks at the U.S. Conference of Mayors' Winter Meeting in Washington on Jan. 22, 2020.Patrick Semansky / AP

McAdams, a former Salt Lake City mayor, defeated Republican incumbent Mia Love in a tight race during the 2018 midterms and represents one of reddest districts held by a Democrat. 

President Trump carried Utah’s fourth congressional district by nearly seven percentage points in 2016.

During his House campaign, McAdams touted himself as a moderate Democrat — someone who would work across the aisle and focus on the issues.

In Bloomberg, the congressman said he sees a leader with familiar values and a similar aim. “Washington is full of people who talk.”

“Our country is desperately in need of a doer like Mike who puts people ahead of politics,” he said in a Bloomberg campaign release.  

"I'm honored to have the support of Congressman McAdams, a former mayor who understands the importance of getting things done," Bloomberg said. "In Utah and in Congress, he's led on the issues critical to this election, taking action to create jobs, improve education, and expand access to affordable health care for every American. I'm looking forward to working with him to bring people together and rebuild America."  

Casting aside the early-state strategy of his fellow 2020 contenders, Bloomberg has made a play — and also significant investments — in swing areas across the Midwest and in states like Texas, Florida and North Carolina. 

Despite Bloomberg's late entrance into the race, and not competing in the traditional early states, he’s made gains in national polls and has spent more than $230 million on television and radio ads so far.

Bloomberg, with help from leaders like McAdams, hopes this “Blue Wall” strategy pays off on Super Tuesday, when a large number of delegates are up for grabs in 14 states, including Utah.

Buttigieg seeks contrast with Biden and Sanders ahead of Iowa caucuses

DECORAH, Iowa — With four days until the Iowa Caucus and closing arguments setting in, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg is directly contrasting himself with other top Democratic contenders. He went after Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., by name Thursday arguing that it’s time for both men to make way for a new approach to governing, presenting himself as a clear alternative to potential caucus goers in the room.

Biden has suggested in the past that now is not the time for voters to take a risk on someone new. And Buttigieg took aim at those remarks. “The biggest risk we could take with a very important election coming up is to look to the same Washington playbook and recycle the same arguments and expect that to work against a president like Donald Trump who is new in kind,” he said calling on the crowd to help him “turn the page.” 

Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at a campaign event in Buena Vista University in Iowa on Jan. 25, 2020.John Locher / AP

The candidate hit Sanders for his, “go all the way here and nothing else counts” approach to politics as ineffective for getting things done and cautioned against focusing on disputes of the past without an eye toward the future.

“This is no time to get caught up in reliving arguments from before,” he said. “The less 2020 resembles 2016 in our party, the better.”

In recent weeks, Sanders and Biden have sparred over Iraq war votes and Social Security. Buttigieg characterized the arguments between the two veteran lawmakers as backwards facing relics of the past.

“This is 2020 and we've got, not only to learn the lessons of the war in Iraq, but to make sure we don't get sucked into a war with Iran,” he said.

Buttigieg himself has previously criticized Biden’s “judgment” because of the former Vice President’s vote in favor of the Iraq war. He said that the conversation taking place around the issue now is different.

“My point is that we can't get bogged down or caught in those arguments without a view toward the future,” the former mayor explained. “The next president’s going to face questions and challenges that are different in kind from what ... has been litigated and argued about in the 1990s.”

On disagreements over Social Security, he noted that "Donald Trump is threatening Social Security, and announcing cuts to Medicaid today."

Buttigieg said he felt the need to call his competitors out because he sought to guarantee a “clear understanding of the different paths that we offer" ahead of the last days before the caucus.

“This is a moment in particular where I think the stakes of the election are coming into focus and the differences in how each of us believe we can win and govern are also coming into focus,” he said.

As for alienating voters by going after fellow contenders days before the caucus, Buttigieg isn’t worried. “We’re competing,” he said expressing his desire to “make sure that that choice is as clear as possible, going into these final days.”

Trump campaign previews Super Bowl ads

DES MOINES, Iowa — President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign previewed the first of two Super Bowl ads on Thursday, making the argument that the country is “stronger, safer and more prosperous” under the current administration.

“America demanded change and change is what we got,” the spot opens, with a dramatic narrator and images of the president campaigning nationwide. The commercial touts wage growth, low unemployment and promises that “the best is yet to come.”

The ad, "Stronger, Safer, More Prosperous," doesn’t mention other candidates in the race and features news clips on the strong economy. The other 30-second ad won’t be seen until it actually airs during the highly-viewed game on Sunday.

“Just as the Super Bowl crowns the greatest football team, nothing says ‘winning’ like President Donald Trump and his stellar record of accomplishment for all Americans,” said Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale.

Trump will be in Iowa for his own re-election rally Thursday night ahead of a significant push from his campaign which will include surrogates on the ground in the Hawkeye State through next week's caucuses.

Earlier in the day, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s campaign released a 60-second spot focused on gun control that, like the president's ad, will hit the airwaves during the Super Bowl

The dueling advertisements will mark the first time presidential campaigns have bought airtime during a Super Bowl, though the Trump campaign is quick to point out that they were first to reach out to the broadcaster, FOX, last fall and reserved the slot in December. Weeks after that, the Bloomberg team followed suit.

Iowa ad spending ticks up in the last week before caucuses

DES MOINES, Iowa — Ad spending in Iowa is ramping up just five days out from the caucuses. Democratic Majority for Israel, a group that campaigns against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, is spending $681,000 against Sanders in Iowa in the final week of the race (Jan. 28 to Feb. 3), according to data from Advertising Analytics. 

The ad the group is airing in heavy rotation — it was on air twice within 15 minutes on local TV in Iowa — features a woman speaking to the camera saying, "I do have some concerns about Bernie Sanders’ health considering he just had a heart attack." After recovering from his heart attack, Sanders released a letter from his doctors declaring him "in good health" and "more than fit" enough to be president. 

Just a few days out from the Iowa caucuses, here is all of the ad spending in the final week of the race: Here is  (Jan. 28 to Feb. 3):

From Jan. 28 to Feb. 3 

  • Steyer: $1.4 million
  • Sanders: $1.2 million
  • Unite the Country (pro-Biden Super PAC): $992,000
  • Warren: $947,000
  • Buttigieg: $854,000
  • Klobuchar: $767,000
  • Democratic Majority for Israel: $681,000
  • Yang: $613,000
  • Biden: $530,000
  • Bloomberg: $51,000
  • Club for Growth: $34,000
  • Florida Sen. Rick Scott: $19,000
  • Delaney: $19,000

SOURCE: Advertising Analytics

Bloomberg unveils Super Bowl ad on gun violence

DES MOINES, Iowa — Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's multimillion-dollar Super Bowl ad touts his record on preventing gun violence, evoking the story of a mother whose son was shot and killed at just 20 years old. 

The ad, set to air during Sunday's Super Bowl, cost $11 million to run, according to data from the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics. President Trump's campaign is also slated to run a Super Bowl ad as well. 

In Bloomberg's ad, Calandrian Simpson Kemp tells the emotional story of the 2013 death of her son, George Kemp Jr. She then praises Bloomberg for his role in starting Moms Demand Action, a grassroots gun violence prevention group under Bloomberg's umbrella organization Everytown for Gun Safety. 

"I heard Mike Bloomberg speak, he's been in this fight for so long," Simpson Kemp says in the ad. 

"When I heard Mike was stepping into the ring, I thought, 'Now we have a dog in the fight.'"

Bloomberg's work on gun violence is one of his main selling points to a Democratic primary electorate, and it's something that the campaign says it will focus on in the coming days. 

Along with the release of the ad, the Bloomberg campaign says it's going to keep highlighting the stories of gun violence survivors and will launch a multistate bus tour ahead of February's National Gun Violence Survivors Week. 

“I chose to devote the entire 60-second ad to gun safety because it matters to communities across the country and it will be a top priority for me as president,” Bloomberg said in a statement. 

“Calandrian’s story is a powerful reminder of the urgency of this issue and the failure of Washington to address it."

The eye-popping cost of the ad emphasizes how Bloomberg's significant personal wealth is a game changer for his presidential bid — he's already spent hundreds of millions more on ads than his Democratic presidential rivals. 

Bloomberg has also leveraged his relationships with mayors throughout the country during his presidential bid — his campaign announced an endorsement Thursday from Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, who mentioned Bloomberg's record on gun violence prevention in announcing her endorsement in a statement provided to The Washington Post

Liz Brown-Kaiser contributed. 

Biden to pre-empt Trump rally with speech and ad on ‘character’

DES MOINES, Iowa — Former Vice President Joe Biden is set to take on President Donald Trump ahead of the president's rally in Iowa Thursday, pointing out key differences between their leadership styles as he attempts to look ahead to a possible general election match-up.

During a morning speech in Waukee, Biden is expected to expand on remarks he has already debuted in his final trip through Iowa ahead of the caucuses, stressing to Iowans the urgent need to caucus for a candidate capable of defeating Trump because the country’s “character is on the ballot.”

Biden will repeat how he “doesn’t believe” America is the “dark, angry nation” Trump has made it seem with decisions like family separation, building walls or “embraces White supremacist and hate groups.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Brown & Black Forum at the Iowa Events Center on Jan. 20, 2020, in Des Moines.Andrew Harnik / AP

In a week where impeachment is dominating headlines, the speech is an effort by Biden to rise above the developments in Washington including efforts by Republicans to ensure him in ongoing proceedings. The campaign is signaling that his remarks will be “inspirational and hopeful” in hopes to showing Democrats a broader and more comprehensive critique of Trump.

“Trump desperately wants to impact the outcome of the Democratic primary, dropping into Iowa a few days before the caucus to spread a message of division, discord, and hate,” the Biden campaign said in a statement previewing Thursday’s speech. “Trump has been trying to prevent Biden from getting the nomination since the moment the VP got into the race, getting himself impeached by the House and tried in the Senate in the process.” 

Thus far the Biden campaign and the candidate have largely stayed away from responding directly to minute-by-minute developments in the Senate impeachment trial in an attempt to avoid tit-for-tat spats. But in his closing argument, just four days before the start of the primary voting season, the campaign is signaling they are ready to make this about Biden versus Trump. 

In conjunction with his Waukee speech, the Biden campaign will amplify its message about restoring America’s character in a one minute TV ad that will air across all five top media markets throughout the day. 

 

The ad stresses how precious a decision it is to choose the right president because the White House and the Oval Office is where a leader’s “character is revealed.”

“But it’s in life where your character is formed,” the narrator says as it flashes pictures of Biden’s hometown, his family and events that have shaped his life.  

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. 

Actress and activist Ashley Judd campaigns for Elizabeth Warren in Lebanon, N.H. on Jan. 24, 2020.Preston Ehrler / Echoes Wire / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

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.