The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
RGA hits Michigan governor ahead of SOTU rebuttal
WASHINGTON — The Republican Governors Association launched a digital ad campaign Tuesday targeting Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who will deliver the Democratic Party’s response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address tonight.
According to a statement from the RGA released Tuesday, the initiative will call attention to Whitmer’s “broken promises and tanking approval rating.”
The ads are set to air on Facebook and Instagram around the Michigan State Capitol and in the Lansing area — where Whitmer will rebut Trump from a local high school.
One of the ads, titled “Broken Roads, Broken Promises,” includes media coverage accusing Whitmer of failing to fulfill her primary campaign promise best captured by the slogan: “Fix the damn roads.”
About one-minute long, the ad highlights the Michigan Governor’s decision to veto infrastructure funding for Michigan totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. It also features unflattering polling depicting her approval rating on the decline.
Whitmer has said she vetoed that funding because it was only a short-term fix and that she’s focused on achieving a “a real, long-term funding solution that will actually fix the damn roads. “
President Trump even makes an appearance, criticizing Whitmer at a rally in her home state in December.
“I understand she’s not fixing those potholes,” the president says on screen.
When Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, announced the Democrats’ selection of Whitmer to represent the party following the State of the Union, he boasted about her action on issues that the RGA scrutinizes in its ads.
"Governor Whitmer's dedication to Michiganders is a model for public servants everywhere," he said. "Whether it's pledging to 'Fix the Damn Roads' or investing in climate solutions, Governor Whitmer's vision for the future is exactly what this country needs, and I'm thrilled she is giving the Democratic response."
In its statement, the RGA also singled out “Whitmer’s attempt to get back on track in her recent State of the State address,” which faced blow back after experts determined that her new transportation plan would “saddle future generations with debt and fail to fix the majority of roads in the state.”
Communications Director of the RGA, Amelia Chassé Alcivar, said Tuesday that Whitmer’s failure to make substantive progress on her campaign pledge is “no joke” for Michigan residents “still driving on the crumbling roads she promised to fix.”
The spokeswoman also stressed that Michiganders need their governor “to do her damn job.”
The ad campaign announcement came around the same time that Whitmer held a press conference outlining her plan to rebut President Trump.
"When I stay tethered to the dinner table issues I know it resonates with people all across our country," the governor said.
Bloomberg: 'No question' that Trump is 'worried about me'
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says there’s “no question” that President Donald Trump fears running against him in a general election, after a feud between the two New Yorkers escalated over the weekend.
In an exclusive interview with NBC News in California, Bloomberg looked past his Democratic rivals who are competing in the Iowa caucuses on Monday, insisting his own future in the race won’t be affected by results of the caucuses. Instead, Bloomberg said he’s “running against Donald Trump.”
“I think there’s no question that he’s worried about me, because otherwise he wouldn’t respond,” Bloomberg says. “Donald doesn’t want to run against me because he knows I’ve taken him on, and every time, I’ve beaten him. I’m trying to tell the public what I did and what I will do and not get into a silly contest. He can’t run on his record.”
Bloomberg’s comments come as the gloves have come off in Bloomberg’s growing rivalry with Trump, who took to Twitter over the weekend to insult Bloomberg over his height — claiming, without evidence, that Bloomberg was arranging to stand on a box during an upcoming debate. That led Bloomberg’s campaign to push back, calling Trump “pathological liar” and asserting that the campaign is now on a “wartime footing” with the Republican president. Trump and Bloomberg also aired dueling ads during the Super Bowl on Sunday at a cost of some $11 million.
With his numbers starting to climb in national polls, Bloomberg has sought to portray himself as above the fray of the Democratic primary and primed to defeat the president, which Democratic primary voters have widely said is the top quality they’re seeking in their nominee. That argument has gained fresh attention amid signs of a surge by Sen. Bernie Sanders, who more moderate Democrats have said they fear may be too liberal to win over centrist voters needed to defeat the president.
In the interview, Bloomberg said he plans to stay in the race even if a candidate like former Vice President Joe Biden emerges as a clear front-runner out of Iowa and New Hampshire, which hold the first and second primary contests.
“I'm not running against Joe Biden, or Bernie Sanders, or Elizabeth Warren, I'm running against Donald Trump and whether they win in one of these states or both of these states or not, it just doesn't influence what I'm going to do,” Bloomberg said.
After entering the race too late to compete in the earliest states, Bloomberg has mounted an unconventional campaign focused on the delegate-rich states that vote later in the calendar, as well as on general-election battlegrounds that will be key to deciding the next president.
So as the other Democrats converge on Iowa on Monday for the caucuses, Bloomberg is in California, which kicks off its early and mail-in voting periods this week.
The stakes are high: California has 10 times the number of delegates as Iowa in the Democratic primary nominating contest. More Democrats are expected to vote early in California than in the Iowa caucuses in total.
In the interview, Bloomberg also lamented the all-but-certain acquittal of Trump in the impeachment trial, where closing arguments are taking place in Washington on Monday ahead of an expected final vote on Wednesday.
“It’s a disgrace, no question about that,” he said, adding that the whole Republican Party was contributing to it. “I don’t like impeachment, but there’s so much evidence we had to do it. I’m not a senator, but I’d vote to convict.”
He added: “It’s obvious they’re going to let him off the hook and the public will have its chance on November 3.”
Iowa will test whether Steyer's spending strategy works
DES MOINES, Iowa — With voting set to start in the 2020 Democratic presidential contests, billionaire Tom Steyer is about to face a critical test: whether the prodigious spending that has thus far buoyed his candidacy will win over enough voters to propel it into the next phase of the contest.
The 62-year old former hedge fund manager is also sharpening his message, casting himself as an uncompromising progressive in hopes of capitalizing on the distaste and discomfort a distinct coalition of voters feel toward the political establishment. But Steyer, well behind in most polls both nationally and in early voting states, needs to turn out more than just a handful of voters tired of the political system.
By portraying himself as a leader with experience outside the Beltway, Steyer, in the final to sprint through Iowa and other early states, aims to turn out voters who don’t always participate in elections — highlighting his investment in commonly overlooked communities.
He’s also contrasting himself with other 2020 contenders like former Vice President Joe Biden who are leaning into their willingness to work across the aisle if elected — touting their relationships with Republicans. Steyer argues that the other side isn’t interested in compromise.
“There’s no point in talking to someone who refuses to talk,” Steyer recently told a group of voters in Clinton, Iowa, referencing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Have you seen any give? Did he ever compromise with Barack Obama?”
It’s a message that seems to be resonating voters who say they are fed up with the political system in Washington. One voter at a recent town hall in Burlington, Iowa said he’d never caucused before but liked Steyer because he wasn’t a political insider.
On his last bus tour through Iowa, Steyer drew in larger crowds. More than 120 voters showed up to the Clinton town hall — double the number the campaign expected — and a few of his audiences have topped Biden’s in size.
In Iowa, where Steyer has spent nearly $16 million on TV and radio ads, the campaign has focused on barnstorming corners of the state not traditionally considered Democratic strongholds — like Storm Lake, where Steyer is one of only four candidates with an operating field office.
And it’s not just where or who the campaign is targeting but about the message to these voters, too.
Steyer regularly highlights the need for congressional term limits on the trail. He also touts his investments in rural communities and his long history of fighting climate change.
“There’s something about Tom and his message — being that outsider on traditional messaging — that appeals to rural Iowans,” Ben Gerdes, Steyer’s senior press secretary, told NBC News.
Looking past Iowa, Steyer has rapidly staffed up in South Carolina. With 92 paid staffers, his presence is the largest in the state —and roughly double that of Biden’s. Formerly incarcerated men make up a large portion of that number and have been tasked with campaigning for Steyer in their neighborhoods.
In New Hampshire, where he’s made a total of only six trips, Steyer also highlights his outsider status and regularly brings up climate change on the stump. He’s made targeted outreach efforts to areas like the Seacoast, where the risks and impacts of rising tides hit closest to home.
Steyer maintains his status in the race doesn’t necessarily depend on the results Monday night in Iowa.
When asked for a best-case scenario, Gerdes was optimistic, but also realistic: “Our belief is, even just beating expectations, showing some momentum here where no one expects us to do anything ... then the whole dynamic of the races changes.”
Bernie Sanders raised more online from Iowans than rest of Dem field
DES MOINES, Iowa — As the clock ticks closer to Monday night's Iowa caucuses, new federal election filings from the Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue provide the latest glimpse as to each candidates' financial strength in the Hawkeye State.
That new data shows that Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders raised more money online from Iowans, $703,000, than his Democratic presidential rivals in all of 2019.
Former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg raised the second most with $519,000, followed by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren's $418,000, former Vice President Joe Biden's $251,000, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar's $185,000 and businessman Andrew Yang's $142,000.
No other active presidential candidate raised more than $100,000 in Iowa online donations, according to ActBlue data.
ActBlue processes all virtually every online donation to Democratic candidates and is required to itemize every single donation in its report to the Federal Election Commission, unlike campaigns that aren't required to disclose information for donations under $200.
So its semi-annual filing journalists, campaigns and data-nerds the ability to comb through those online donations for analysis.
Click here for more coverage from the latest federal election filings.
For Warren, 'unity' is more than a talking point
IOWA CITY, Iowa — As she makes her closing pitch to Iowa voters, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has increasingly stressed the need for party unity.
“I've been building a campaign from the beginning that's not a campaign that's narrow or not a campaign that says us and nobody else," Warren said at a rally in Cedar Rapids Saturday. "It's a campaign that says, 'come on in because we are in this fight together. This fight is our fight.'”
Her comments come after a surrogate for Bernie Sanders pointedly joined in with a group of the Vermont Senator's supporters to boo Hillary Clinton Friday night.
But Warren's push is more than just a reactionary move, there's some data behind it as well.
A Warren aide tells NBC News that among people they’ve identified as planning to caucus for Warren who also caucused in 2016, there’s a 50-50 split between those who supported Sanders and Clinton.
That means unity isn’t just a messaging point, it’s borne out in who the campaign sees its attracting at this point. It’s why they weren’t (and aren’t) directly attacking Sanders and why she doesn't directly engage on questions about Clinton.
In fact, speaking to reporters on Saturday, Warren skirted questions on both of those issues — re-emphasizing that message of needing to come together.
What we learned from the Q4 candidate filings
DES MOINES, Iowa — Friday’s new batch of campaign finance reports gave us one more look under the campaigns’ hoods before Monday’s Iowa caucuses.
Some candidates already pushed out their top-line numbers from the fourth fundraising quarter, but the full reports give a comprehensive look at the financial health of these campaigns.
Here are some takeaways from the NBC Political Unit:
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is running an unprecedented campaign as the richest presidential candidate in modern history. And the FEC reports show it.
Despite refusing to take individual donations, Bloomberg spent $188 million in the six weeks his campaign was active in the fourth fundraising quarter — more than every other active Democratic presidential candidate combined (except for fellow billionaire Tom Steyer).
He spent $132 million on television advertising; $757,000 in airfare; $3.3 million on polling; and $8.2 million on digital advertising, for example.
And while he closed the quarter with about 145 people on the payroll, a campaign aide said he’s expanded to more than 1,000 since.
One of the wealthiest people in the world, Bloomberg can afford it. But it’s still a risky bet, as Bloomberg isn’t on the ballot in any of the first four states.
Fellow billionaire Tom Steyer is taking a similar path — he spent $154 million of largely his own money last quarter. But while his wealth isn’t as large, he’s competing in the early states.
Money in the bank
Sanders ended 2019 with the most cash on hand in the field, with more than $18 million in the bank. That’s more than his rivals at the top of the polls — Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren finished with $13 million, and former Vice President Joe Biden trailed behind them both with only $8.9 million in cash.
It’s no surprise to see candidates spending big right before the start of voting. That’s part of the bet — spend big and hope to see it reflected in the polls and when voters cast their ballots.
Sanders’ big spending came as he rebounded in the polls. And his massive $34.6 million fundraising haul to close 2019 shows he’s not likely to struggle for cash.
But others are hoping that a big spend can help turn around a slide at the polls and put them in good shape once votes are cast.
That’s the case with former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Buttigieg spent almost $9 million more last quarter than he took in, amid a fall at the polls. So his campaign is looking for that investment to pay dividends in the early states.
Battle of the Progressives
Sanders and Warren have been fighting for the progressive vote the entire presidential cycle. But when it comes to the money fight, Sanders is winning.
Take their total individual contributions: Sanders brought in over $34 million dollars in the last quarter of 2019, while Warren brought in just over $21 million. That’s a turn around from the third quarter when Warren’s fundraising skyrocketed. In the third quarter, Sanders just barely outraised Warren that quarter, $25.2 million to $24.5 million.
Sanders’ deep pockets have allowed him to outspend Warren when (and where) it matters: The lead up to Iowa and the other early state contests.
Since the start of the fourth fundraising quarter (Oct. 1, 2019), Sanders has spent more than $16 million on television and radio ads, compared to $7.4 million for Warren, data from Advertising Analytics shows.
Even so, they’re spending at similar rates to each other and the rest of the field.
Sanders’ burn rate (which means the amount of money he spent divided by the amount of money he brought in) was over 144 percent, while Warren’s burn rate was just a bit higher at 155 percent.
So while Warren continues to have the resources to mount a strong campaign, it’s Sanders who has the fundraising edge among the progressive candidates.
Boots on the ground
Of the three top-polling candidates, Warren almost doubled her staff in the fourth quarter – ending 2019 with over 1,100 staff members on her payroll.
Sanders ended the quarter with about 850 people on his staff payroll – about 300 more than the last quarter, and Biden’s staff on payroll stayed nearly stagnant even despite an uptick in fundraising: In this quarter he had about 488 people on payroll, in quarter three he had about 446.
While the candidate makes the headlines, it’s the staff on the ground across the country who helps convert support into ballots cast, particularly once the calendar opens up on Super Tuesday and campaigns require a larger footprint across the country.
Campaigns that ended in Q4
FEC reports aren’t just useful for active candidates, those reports can help shed some important light on campaigns who have closed up shop.
Take California Sen. Kamala Harris, who dropped out in early December. When she suspended her campaign, she said her “campaign for president simply does not have the financial resources to continue.”
And now we know what she meant.
Harris raised just $3.9 million in the fourth quarter, but spent $13.1 million.
It was a similar story for former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who raised $966,000 and spent $3.9 million.
Both ended with little left in their bank accounts — O’Rourke had just $361,000 cash on hand to close the year, while Harris had $1.4 million left in the bank but with $1.1 million in debt.
Warren surrogates preach party unity
DES MOINES, IOWA — At around the same time that Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., booed Hillary Clinton at a Bernie Sanders campaign event on Friday, Elizabeth Warren’s surrogates here were pitching a different message: Party unity.
Warren “is the person who can unite our party,” said Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., who joined Reps. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Katie Porter, D-Calif.
“We deserve a person who will listen,” Pressley added. “Elizabeth hears all of us.”
All three were stumping for Warren on Friday night with the senator stuck in Washington, D.C., as a juror in President Trump’s impeachment trial — just as Tlaib and Reps. Ilan Omar, D-Minn., and Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., were campaigning for Sanders.
Warren ultimately made it into Iowa late Friday night, while Sanders called into his campaign's event in Clive, Iowa before traveling to the state for events this weekend.
For all of the similarities of Warren’s and Sanders’ messages — attacking corporate power, decrying income inequality, eliminating college debt — the biggest difference between the two campaigns might be Sanders’ insurgency versus Warren’s unity.
Tlaib did walk back her boo comments on Saturday morning. And importantly, Sanders wasn’t present to hear them.
But judging from the polls two days before the Iowa caucuses, Sanders’ insurgency — at least on the Democratic left — appears to be a more powerful force than Team Warren’s call for unity.
Michael Bloomberg releases tax plan
DES MOINES, Iowa – Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg released his tax plan on Saturday. The plan lays out seven key objectives to generate $5 trillion in revenue.
The plan's main focus is the 2017 tax reform legislation signed by President Trump which cut taxes for large corporations and high-income individuals. Bloomberg, who made his billion-dollar fortune by launching his financial software company Bloomberg L.P., says in the plan that the tax cuts on companies were too big.
"Trump’s tax reform cut business taxes too much – giving U.S. businesses a bigger tax cut than they had even asked for. While our tax code needs to ensure that our producers stay competitive with foreign companies, they can and should contribute more," the plan states.
Furthermore, the Bloomberg campaign said that the current tax law is "deeply unfair" because it "allows accumulated wealth to pass from generation to generation with little or no tax due, and provides countless loopholes that the rich can exploit to reduce their taxes still further."
The main objectives of Bloomberg's plan are:
- Raise rates for high-income taxpayers, restoring the top rate on income from 37 percent to 39.6 percent.
- Set capital gains tax at the same rate as income for taxpayers above $1 million and implement policies to curb avoidance and deferral for the wealthiest Americans.
- Impose a 5 percent surtax on incomes above $5 million a year to pay for improvements in the country’s infrastructure, education and health care systems.
- Lower the estate-tax threshold and ensure protection of family-owned farms and small businesses.
- Close loopholes, including the “pass-through” 20% deduction, the “like-kind” provision and the carried-interest loophole.
- Raise the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent.
- Provide necessary resources to the IRS.
Biden campaign releases new Iowa ad, Super Bowl ad before caucuses
NORTH LIBERTY, Iowa – With just two days before the Iowa caucuses, former Vice President Joe Biden is rolling out two new ads in Iowa markets to make his final pitch to Iowans.
The first ad, entitled "Right Here", emphasizes Biden's key campaign point that the next president won't have time for "on the job training." The ad also revisits Biden's campaign announcement video. It begins with images of the Charlottesville clash in 2017 and warns that America is at risk of losing its democratic values if President Donald Trump is re-elected.
"We’re being reminded every day there’s nothing guaranteed about democracy, not even here in America. We have to constantly earn it, we have to protect it, we have to fight for it," Biden says in the ad.
"Right Here" will run in the top two Iowa markets: Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.
In addition, the campaign will also be cutting a new version of an ad that's been running in Iowa for the Super Bowl, called "Character." airing a 30-second ad during the Super Bowl, entitled "Character" in the same two markets. The ad begins with images of former President Barack Obama, before turning to President Trump.
These ads come amid the Biden campaign ramping up its Iowa airwaves presence. Two other ads have been on the air, and will continue to run through the caucuses on Monday.
Sanders surrogate Rashida Tlaib says she erred by booing Clinton
DES MOINES, Iowa — Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., apologized Saturday for joining supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders Saturday night in booing when the name of 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton came up at a campaign event in Clive, Iowa.
The moment happened during a panel discussion where Tlaib and other surrogates were campaigning for Sanders while he remained in Washington, D.C. for President Trump's Senate impeachment trial.
The moderator, Sanders supporter and Des Moines, Iowa school board member Dionna Langford invoked Clinton when discussing those who didn't support Sanders. Immediately, the crowd began to boo, and Langford pleaded with the crowd to stop.
“Remember last week when someone by the name of Hillary Clinton said that nobody — We’re not gonna boo, we’re not gonna boo,” Langford said. “We’re classy here.”
However, Tlaib disagreed with Langford's call.
“No, I’ll boo. Boo!” Tlaib said. She continued, “You all know I can’t be quiet. No, we’re going to boo. That’s alright. The haters, the haters, will shut up on Monday when we win.”
On Saturday morning, Tlaib apologized for her comments, saying in a tweet thread that, "I allowed my disappointment with Secretary Clinton's latest comments about Senator Sanders and his supporters get the best of me. You all, my sisters-in-service on stage, and our movement deserve better. I will continue to strive to come from a place of love and not react in the same way of those who are against what we are building in this country."
FEC reports bring new details about pro-Biden super PAC
DES MOINES, Iowa — Friday's campaign finance deadline helps to shed new light on the super PAC that's boosted former Vice President Joe Biden's television advertising footprint.
The end-of-year fundraising report from Unite Our Country, the group backing Biden, raised $3.7 million from 71 total donors. That report includes information from the second half of 2019.
Because super PACs can take unlimited contributions from donors (unlike candidates, that can only take a maximum of $2,800 per person per cycle), the group was able to rack up big money quickly.
One giver, longtime Democratic donor George Marcus, gave Unite Our Country $1 million. Marcus, a prominent Democratic bundler, hosted a fundraiser for Biden in Palo Alto, Calif. in October. Marcus is also listed on the Biden campaign's list of individuals who have bundled at least $25,000 for the campaign (bundlers help collect donations to the campaign from other donors).
The pro-Biden super PAC also received two checks of $250,000 each and 21 checks of at least $100,000, including from former South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman and state Sen. Dick Harpootlian.
It also received a $75,000 check from Boston Red Sox Chairman Thomas Werner. And as the New York Times' Shane Goldmacher points out, despite Biden's pledge to not personally take any contributions from fossil fuel company executives, one fossil fuel executive donated $50,000 to the super PAC.
The new reports filed with the Federal Election Commission do not include money raised and spent since the start of 2020. Those transactions won't need to be filed with the FEC until July.
Unite Our Country has been an important ally for Biden, particularly on the airwaves.
Since the start of the campaign, it's spent $4.4 million on television ads, according to data from Advertising Analytics. Combined with the $4.2 million Biden's own campaign has spent on television and radio ads, the combined effort puts Biden in fifth place in overall television and radio advertising spending nationwide.
And the effort has been important in Iowa too, ahead of next week's pivotal caucus. When the campaign's Iowa spending is combined with the super PAC spending, Biden's campaign leapfrogs businessman Andrew Yang and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren into fourth place in Iowa ad spending.