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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Sanders hits Buttigieg for billionaire support ahead of New Hampshire primary

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., went after Pete Buttigieg Friday for the former South Bend mayor's support from big-money donors at the final New Hampshire Institute of Politics' “Politics & Eggs” event of the cycle.

Sanders singled out Buttigieg and billionaire candidates Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg in the same breath while speaking to the crowd at Saint Anselm College, reading a series of newspaper headlines like Forbes’ “Pete Buttigieg has most exclusive billionaire donors than any Democrat” and The Hill’s “Pete Buttigieg tops billionaire donor list,” among others.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg at the Democratic presidential primary debate on Jan. 14, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa.Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

“I like Pete Buttigieg, nice guy,” Sanders said to awkward laughs in the room. “But we are in a moment where billionaires control not only our economy but our political life.”

Sanders also mused about a general election against President Trump, saying that he has read that “some of his advisors tell him that I will be the toughest candidate for him to run against.”

The senator faced the reality that turnout in Iowa — where he and Buttigieg remain essentially tied amid questions about the accuracy of the vote count — was not what his campaign had hoped for but pointed out some positives. 

“The Iowa caucus is behind us and while the voter turnout is not as high as I would have liked, you know what did happen? We saw a 30 percent increase in young people under 29 voting," Sanders said. "If we're gonna defeat Trump, we need a huge increase in young people's participation in the political process."

He added that his campaign needs to reach out to “some of Trump's working class supporters and make it clear that they understand the fraud that he is.”

Sanders was asked about criticism that his candidacy is similar to that of Britain’s Jeremy Corbyn, a left-wing candidate who lost badly in last month's elections there, and whether he was concerned that could foreshadow what happens in the United States in 2020. 

Sanders responded that while Trump will be a difficult opponent to run against, he believes that having the largest voter turnout in history will be key for Democrats.

“I think we are the candidate,” Sanders added. “We are a multi-generational, multi-racial campaign that has the capability of reaching out to communities all across this country, bringing them into the political process to defeat Trump.”

The New Hampshire Institute of Politics’ “Politics & Eggs” is sponsored by companies such as Comcast, Bank of America and Eversource Energy — in other words, the entities Sanders consistently attacks.

The room's walls were plastered with the groups' signage and many audience members present work for the companies. This was not a typical crowd for a Sanders event. Instead of the usual chants of “Bernie, Bernie!,” Sanders was met with polite applause. 

Sanders and Buttigieg will both attend ABC News' presidential debate tonight. 

-Liz Brown-Kaiser contributed.

Democratic group says congressional fundraising dominance isn't trickling down-ballot

WASHINGTON — Forward Majority, a Democratic super PAC focused on helping the party win control of state legislatures, is warning that Democrats’ congressional fundraising dominance isn’t trickling down to key state legislative races.

In a memo outlining a recent analysis of 2019 fourth quarter fundraising numbers circulated by the group last week, Forward Majority notes that “Democrats are being significantly out-raised by Republicans in the most competitive" state legislative campaigns.

Beto O'Rourke campaigns with Texas State Representative candidate Dr. Eliz Markowitz in Katy on Jan. 11, 2020.Annie Mulligan / for NBC News

Although congressional Democrats “have been clobbering their Republican opponents,” candidates further down the ballot are struggling. 

Data from other groups support these claims. 

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), which aims to reclaim the chamber majority, brought in $60 million in 2019 and reported record-breaking numbers surpassing the GOP in the fourth quarter of 2019.

On the House side, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) raised $125 million in 2019 — $40 million more than its GOP rival organization. About three quarters of that cash came from moderate Democrats’ campaigns in Trump districts.

That's not the case in state legislative races even in Arizona, Florida, and Texas, which are in the national spotlight as 2020 congressional and presidential candidates focus on the states. 

In Florida, Republicans outpaced Democrats in the fourth quarter by a whopping six-to-one margin in areas Democrats hope to pick up. In 2019, Republicans raised over $3.5 million across Florida House targets while Democrats gained only half a million. 

The GOP more than doubled Democrats’ earnings in key State House races in Texas, raking in over $2 million last year. 

In Arizona, where both the State House and State Senate are up for grabs, Democrats only raised 38 percent of the GOP’s haul in target races — about $650 thousand compared to $1.7 million in 2019. 

Forward Majority says that the discrepancy between Democratic fundraising at the national level versus the state level has led to different election outcomes, pointing to 2018 results as proof. 

The PAC launched a $10 million initiative, “Roadmap 2020,” in January to transfer power from Republicans to Democrats in the three competitive sunbelt states plus North Carolina.

2020 pick-ups are particularly important for state Democrats because the congressional redistricting process, a responsibility of state legislatures, begins in 2021 following the release of this year’s census.

Forward Majority’s communications director, Ben Wexler-Waite told NBC News Wednesday that the PAC will spend “where we believe establishing legislative majorities will upend Republicans' ability to rig the national electoral playing field." 

Demonstrators gather outside the Supreme Court during oral arguments on a partisan gerrymandering case on Oct. 3, 2017.Olivier Douliery / Getty Images file

States like Texas and Florida, Wexler-Waite said, matter for redistricting because they’re gerrymandered and set to gain new congressional seats after the census. The next redistricting process begins in about a decade. 

“At this critical moment in history, it's never been more important for Democrats to fight back,” the spokesman noted. 

Pieter Brower, a regional press secretary for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) — the official organization dedicated to electing Democrats to state legislatures — told NBC News Thursday that it’s not surprising that Republicans are ahead in fundraising though his group is making strides for Democrats. 

“It’s no secret that Republicans have deep-pocketed donors at their disposal,” Brower said. “Looking at a tough district and deciding that there’s no way we can win becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."

"We’re going on complete offense this year," he added. 

Former presidential candidate Joe Sestak endorses Klobuchar

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Former Pennsylvania Congressman and Democratic presidential candidate, Admiral Joe Sestak, is endorsing Senator Amy Klobuchar for president, her presidential campaign tells NBC News.

"We need a nominee with a depth and breadth of experience to govern effectively, a proven track record of winning in red and blue districts and states so we can unite this country again, and an understanding of the need to rebuild our global leadership so we can convene the world to tackle the defining challenges of our time,” Sestak said in a statement.

Amy Klobuchar greets people after speaking at a World Affairs Council event in Manchester, N.H. on Feb. 6, 2020.Rick Wilking / Reuters

"Having seen her on the campaign trail and observed her work in the Senate, it's why I know Amy Klobuchar is uniquely qualified to be President. I'm proud to endorse her," he added.

Sestak will campaign for Klobuchar in New Hampshire throughout the weekend ahead of the first-in-the-nation primary, hosting events at veteran’s organizations throughout the state alongside fellow Klobuchar endorsers, former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Jim Smith and retired Brigadier General Kevin Ryan.

Klobuchar often leans into her ability to unite voters of varying political ideologies on the campaign trail.

“I bring the receipts to this primary, and that is that I have been able to win big in the rural of rural areas in the reddest of red congressional districts, never losing once in every congressional district in my state,” Klobuchar said Thursday in Manchester.

“I think if we are going to have the kind of coalition that we need to bring patriotism and decency, back in the White House, we have to bring people with us," she said.

The endorsement from Sestak comes as Klobuchar holds a steady fifth place in recent polling, on top of earning the endorsements of all three New Hampshire newspapers that have endorsed so far.

Andrew Yang campaign sheds staff after Iowa results

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Businessman Andrew Yang's campaign confirmed on Thursday that they have fired dozens of staffers across Iowa as well as some national staff, including its policy and political directors.

“As part of our original plans following the Iowa caucuses, we are winding down our Iowa operations and restructuring to compete as the New Hampshire primary approaches,” Yang's campaign manager Zach Graumann said in a statement. “These actions are a natural evolution of the campaign post-Iowa, same as other campaigns have undertaken, and Andrew Yang is going to keep fighting for the voices of the more than 400,000 supporters who have donated to the campaign and placed a stake in the future of our country.”

The firings were first reported by POLITICO. 

Several laid-off staffers told NBC News that the layoffs occurred en-masse and unexpectedly. Emails announcing the changes were sent to staff members shortly before midnight on Wednesday, two days after Yang appeared to place sixth in the Iowa caucuses after receiving just 1 percent of the state delegate equivalents — a disappointing finish for the candidate who had been touting for days a possible surge.

In the email sent to fired staff obtained by NBC News, the Yang campaign wrote that they have experienced “unprecedented success” and credited much of the success to the soon-to-be-fired staffers. 

“However, the campaign has had to make tough decision [sic] to remain viable in the race for the presidency,” the email said. “We have explored many options, including the restructuring of the campaign and various use case scenarios.”

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang speaks at the Ideal Social Hall on Jan. 30, 2020 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

The announcement continued, “After reviewing our options, we have concluded that we must eliminate several positions within the campaign. It is with deepest regret that I inform you that your position is one that will be eliminated effective Feb. 5. This decision is final and will not be modified.”

The Yang campaign confirmed in a statement that there was a dispute with unionized workers in Iowa and that its legal team “was not provided sufficient time” to review a memorandum of understanding provided by some unionized staffers the weekend before the Iowa caucuses.

“Despite our repeated attempts to negotiate with these select individuals, we were rebuffed with no reason given,” the statement read. “After months of hard work on the ground organizing volunteers, knocking on doors, and making phone calls, our organizers deserve better. They should not be exploited for personal gain and attention by a select group of individuals with suspect motivations within their ranks.”

Several former staffers turned to social media to announce their surprise that their campaign emails were locked and their gas cards turned off. 

“I just got a notification that my gas card was shut off and my campaign email was disabled,” one former Iowa field organizer wrote on Twitter. “Is this how we tell folks they’re fired in the campaign?” 

The former staffer later followed up with another tweet: “No worries guys, got it all straightened out — this IS how they tell you.” 

However, the staffer told NBC News that she was not harboring a grudge against the campaign and said “I believe in Andrew wholeheartedly, and I know he cares about and respects me, just miscommunication that hurt my feelings, but I know it's not intentional” and says she plans to volunteer in New Hampshire for the Yang campaign. 

A former headquarter staffer told NBC News, “Overall it came as sort of a surprise, that it was just in an email and then other stuff got deactivated.”

This staffer didn't know how many staff members were fired but said that others from ballot access, email response, youth organizing teams and volunteer organizing staff received the same email. 

“It’s definitely understandable as our organization continues to have to reallocate resources to N.H. at this time. Despite the layoff of my colleagues, we still do wholeheartedly support the Yang campaign,” the staffer said, confirming the campaign's statement that this restructuring was considered "before the Iowa results."  

Another headquarters staffer said, “I've loved working with this team and it's been an awesome experience to work with them" but this may have come down to money concerns. 

Joe Walsh ends long shot presidential campaign

WASHINGTON — Former Illinois Republican Rep. Joe Walsh, one of President Donald Trump’s long shot primary challengers, announced Friday he’s suspending his campaign due to “cult-like” support for the incumbent in the party.

Walsh came in at only 1 percent in the Iowa caucuses, despite spending considerable time in the state in recent months. Walsh told CNN that “any Democrat” would be better than Trump and vowed to help support the eventual nominee, but declined to say which candidate in the opposing party would receive his backing.

With Walsh's exit, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld is the president’s lone challenger in the race ahead of the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. Walsh and Weld both filed to be on the ballot last November. 

Michael Bloomberg releases plan for military families

DES MOINES, Iowa – Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg released a policy plan for military families on Friday. The plan focuses on the economic and health concerns of military families and specifically addresses increasing access to mental health services through public-private partnerships and to fully fund the Housing and Urban Development-Veteran Affairs' supportive housing program. 

The six main highlights of the plan include: 

  • Increased access to mental health services, and provide annual mental health exams for active duty service members
  • Eliminate co-pays for preventative health care services and expand telehealth services to veterans in rural areas
  • Provide resources to cover in vitro fertilization and other fertility services for service-women and female veterans, and expand availability for childcare for military families at on-base childcare centers 
  • Require people across the Department of Defense and in Veterans Affairs to be trained to handle reported sexual assaults
  • Reverse the ban on transgender Americans, and grant honorable discharge to those forced out of the service due to this plan
  • Fully fund HUD-VA's supportive housing program

Bloomberg's campaign highlighted some of Bloomberg's work with veterans while he was mayor, like launching the Veterans Employment Initiative and mandating that every city agency appointed a liaison to coordinate with the mayoral office veterans affairs. 

Buttigieg gets endorsement from swing-district N.J. Rep. Kim

NASHUA, N.H. — Fresh off a strong performance in Iowa, Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is getting the endorsement of Freshman New Jersey Rep. Andy Kim, a former national security officer in the Obama and Bush administrations.

“I represent a district that Trump won by six points,” Kim told NBC News. “The approach that he’s taking is one that will excite people in places like my district and other parts of this country that are frankly frustrated with how things have been operating and really looking for somebody that's going to do things differently.”

“I used to work at the White House," Kim told NBC News. “I spent a lot of time in the Situation Room, a lot of time in the oval office on tough issues.”

Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg greets supporters in Portsmouth, New Hampshire the morning after the flawed Iowa caucus on Feb. 4, 2020 in Manchester, N.H.Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Kim says he has seen first-hand the challenges a President Buttigieg might face, but that the candidate has been “tested in hard times,” and has a strong moral compass that would serve him well in the White House. 

Like Buttigieg, Kim knows what it’s like to run as the underdog candidate. In 2018, Kim defeated GOP incumbent Tom MacArthur and acknowledges that Buttigieg still faces a long road to the nomination.

“The challenge is really one of being able to tell your own story,” Kim said. “I've experienced it just in my own congressional district, and to be able to have to do that, across this entire country is just such an enormous task.”

However, with a wave of momentum coming out of Iowa, Kim says Buttigieg has the organization required to go the distance.

“I definitely think he has the capacity, and the organization, and the team that can put him in those types of positions to really get in front of people.“

Buttigieg and Kim have known each other for more than 15 years, the two first met before heading off to Oxford together as Rhodes Scholars. Buttigieg was even there when Kim met his future wife during graduate school orientation and both men attended one another’s weddings. 

“He is a really honorable person and he's somebody that's just been extraordinary to watch over the years and developing in his leadership,” Kim said of the former mayor.

Kim first endorsed Senator Cory Booker for president before the New Jersey lawmaker suspended his campaign.

He is the seventh member of Congress to endorse Buttigieg.

New Hampshire poll shows Sanders leading, Buttigieg and Biden fighting for second

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has a slim lead in New Hampshire according to a poll from Monmouth University released on Thursday, receiving 24 percent support from likely Democratic voters in the Granite State. 

Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden trail with 20 and 17 percent support respectively. 

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JULY 30: Democratic presidential candidates Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) (L-R), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) (L-R) , Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), take the stage at the beginning of the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre July 30, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. 20 Democratic presidential candidates were split into two groups of 10 to take part in the debate sponsored by CNN held over two nights at Detroits Fox Theatre. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)Scott Olson / Getty Images

The poll finds Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 13 percent, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar at 9 percent support, and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and businessman Andrew Yang both with 4 percent. Philanthropist Tom Steyer trailed the field with 3 percent support and all other candidates earned 1 percent or less. 

Just five days away from the first-in-the-nation primary here, voters minds aren't made up. Just 49 percent of likely voters say they are "firmly set" in their choice. And with the New Hampshire primary just five days away, candidates and their surrogates have descended on the state to make their final pitches to voters. 

Even though the difficulties in reporting the winner from the Iowa caucuses stunted one candidate from being able to claim an outright victory, the fallout has changed the thinking of some candidates' supporters. Twenty percent of Biden's supporters said they were less confident in him after the Iowa caucuses, where it appears he came in fourth. On the contrary, 56 percent of Buttigieg's supporters said Iowa made them feel more confident about their choice — Buttigieg is still in a race for first against Sanders in the Hawkeye State. 

Perhaps the best news for Biden and Warren though, who is looking at a third place finish in Iowa, is that for 78 percent of New Hampshire voters, the caucuses didn't make them rethink their candidate choice.

Bernie Sanders raises $25 million in January, announces new ad campaign

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign announced a $25 million fundraising haul in the month of January on Thursday. According to the campaign, more than 649,000 people made 1.3 million donations, and over 219,000 of the donors in January had never donation to the Sanders campaign before.

The campaign said the average donation was $18. 

“Bernie’s multiracial, multigenerational, people-driven movement for change is fueling 2020’s most aggressive campaign for president,” Sanders’ campaign manager Faiz Shakir said in a statement. “Working class Americans giving $18 at a time are putting our campaign in a strong position to compete in states all over the map.” 

Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign rally, on Feb. 5, 2020, in Derry, N.H.Steven Senne / AP

Sanders also announced a $5.5 million TV and digital ad buy to build up their footprint in Super Tuesday states as well as expand their airwaves time in early states like South Carolina. The ad campaign funding will be split between 10 total states: Arkansas, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, California, Texas. 

The fundraising announcement comes after Sanders' 2019 fourth quarter filing showed him to have raised the most money of all the Democratic candidates for president. Sanders also ended 2019 with the most money in the bank going into the primary season. 

Sanders' fundraising figures were released while he remains in a tight race for first place in in the Iowa caucuses and days before the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 11. 

Republicans rest on Trump legal team’s arguments for acquittal votes

WASHINGTON — Despite its rejection by more than 500 of the nation’s leading legal scholars and the star constitutional scholar who testified on behalf of House Republicans, several Republican senators said they are leaning heavily on arguments made by celebrity defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz for their votes to acquit President Trump on Wednesday.

During the Senate trial, Dershowitz argued that “abuse of power,” one of the impeachment articles against Trump, is not impeachable unless it falls into certain categories, including treason, and that a modern day statutory crime or criminal like offenses need to have been committed.   

When asked which constitutional experts the GOP conference consulted in deliberating their votes, at least three senators referred NBC News only to the president’s own defense team, on which Dershowitz served.

Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Mike Braun of Indiana and Tim Scott of South Carolina cited no opinions other than Trump’s defense team in deliberations over Trump’s guilt or innocence.

Among the team, Dershowitz made the “constitutional case” for the president. Former special prosecutor Ken Starr also participated in the president’s defense presentation.

The arguments forwarded by Dershowitz have drawn the most criticism.

“Alan is completely alone,” said Prof. Frank Bowman, whose area of expertise at the University of Missouri includes impeachment.  “There’s no disagreement on the stuff Alan’s peddling. Zero, zip, nadda,” he said. “You can’t find anybody who’s actually an impeachment expert saying what he’s saying.” 

More recently, the Harvard assistant professor whose work Dershowitz pointed to in his presentation, Nikolas Bowie, said Dershowitz was incorrectly citing his work

Dershowitz insisted Bowie’s work product still supports his underlying argument; yet in an email to NBC, he could not reference any other living constitutional scholars who agree with him.

“Several prominent 19th century scholars led by Dean Dwight of Columbia law school agreed that a crime was required. Contemporary professors deserve no more credibility for their views than academics and judges who were closer in time to the adoption of the constitution,” he said.

Even self-identified conservative scholars dispute the legal case Dershowitz made on the Senate floor. Larry Tribe, a Harvard constitutional law expert, called it a “crackpot theory.”

But impeachment is an inherently political process and Republicans like Rob Portman of Ohio, who concede the president acted inappropriately, are voting to acquit based, at least partly, on Dershowitz’s argument. 

“In this case, no crime is alleged,” Portman said Tuesday on the Senate floor. 

“I think Ken Starr’s a pretty good constitutional scholar and former solicitor of the United States,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told NBC News. “But that’s not the point. The point is what Speaker Pelosi made early and often, which was that impeachment should never be a partisan exercise.”

The Senate heard no additional witnesses, relying solely on arguments made by attorneys for both sides. By contrast, during the 1999 impeachment of Bill Clinton, the Senate heard from 19 constitutional scholars in person and many others submitted written opinions, said Bowman.

Interviews with GOP senators underscore the exceedingly narrow universe of constitutional expertise that informed the Senate’s expected verdict that Trump did not engage in impeachable conduct.  

Attorney Alan Dershowitz addresses a question from senators during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in the Senate Chamber, Jan. 29, 2020.Senate TV / Reuters

Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., did not name any scholars GOP senators consulted in deliberations other than Dershowitz for his reasoning.

“I can tell you it gave a framework for many to think about it,” he said. “For many of us … it struggled to rise to where you can have a slam dunk case,” he said, because “it was how it originated.” 

When pressed for additional scholars who were consulted, he said: “I don’t know that. All I can tell you the discussion of [Dershowitz’s argument] was a plausible one in terms of how you can look at what rises to the level of impeachment.”  

“The partisan nature of it was as compelling as anything,” Braun said. 

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said the retired Harvard professor gave the party a single opinion and that was enough. 

“They sort of dressed it up in someone they can point to as a constitutional scholar ... So there you have it,” she told reporters. “At the end of the day, they’re saying ‘he did it, so what?’”

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said in his floor speech that there are other experts who agree with Dershowitz, before citing only Dershowitz.

“It came from others who were well respected attorneys on each side,” said Inhofe. “The president didn’t commit a crime,” he stated, saying that distinguishes Trump from former presidents Bill Clinton, who committed perjury under oath, and Richard Nixon.  

Inhofe’s press office did not return calls and an email seeking names of the attorneys who support Dershowitz.

Scott, the South Carolina senator, declined a request for a reporter to accompany him on a Senate subway to discuss the constitutional case.

“You cannot come with me,” he said.

When asked if he considered opinions other than Dershowitz, Scott said: “You’ll have to ask the president’s team.”

Warren highlights Obama praise in new ad

MANCHESTER — In a new digital campaign ad coming out this morning, Elizabeth Warren is highlighting her relationship with former President Barack Obama and his support of her work building the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 

The new ad, which the campaign says will also soon air on TV, comes after former Vice President Joe Biden's apparent fourth-place finish in Iowa and on the same day that Michael Bloomberg debuted an ad featuring his work with Obama, as well. 

The ad, first shared with NBC News, is titled ‘Elizabeth understands” and begins with a 2010 Rose Garden address, where Obama lauds Warren for her work fighting for the middle class. 

“She’s a janitor’s daughter who has become one of the country’s fiercest advocates for the middle class,” Obama says at the top, “She came up with an idea for a new, independent agency standing up for consumers and middle class families.”

On the campaign trail, Warren often ends her town halls telling audiences about her time fighting to build the CPFB, a message that ties into an overall theme in her campaign: she’s a fighter.

The ad also touches on that message, too with a line from Obama, referring to the uphill battle Warren faced while trying to start the CPFB, calling Warren tough.

“She’s done it while facing some very tough opposition. Fortunately, she’s very tough,” he said.

The ad will be released in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.