The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Buttigieg looks to cement viability before Super Tuesday
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — After finishing in the top two in the Iowa and New Hampshire nominating contests, former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg hoped to shape this Democratic contest as a two-man race between himself and Bernie Sanders, but as voters here make their voices heard today, the field remains diluted.
Buttigieg's chief opponents, former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn, have no plan to exit the race before Super Tuesday. And among each of the campaigns, there's anxiety that the forthcoming results will there's provide little clarity as to which candidate is best positioned to counter a surging Sen. Bernie Sanders and fend off former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s big-spending operation.
On Super Tuesday, March 3, more than half of the total delegates to the Democratic National Convention will be apportioned. And before those states, which might be friendlier to the Buttigieg campaign, Democratic candidates are still trying to prove themselves competitive in Nevada and South Carolina where the majority of the Democratic electorate is voters of color.
And Buttigieg is still struggling to gain their support.
“I think he’d be the first to say the candidate who can’t get black and brown support shouldn’t be the president,” a senior Buttigieg campaign official told NBC News. “We will need to demonstrate that we can be successful so we can have the permission structure to go on to Super Tuesday.”
But Buttigieg's best hopes might come from voters who haven't made up their minds yet. Recent polling in Nevada indicates that there is still a sizable part of the electorate that has yet to make up its mind. And in New Hampshire, Buttigieg did well with those voters: Of the 48 percent of New Hampshire voters who said they chose a candidate in the final days, Buttigieg won the largest share of them with 28 percent support.
Money, though, may be Buttigieg's bigger issue in reaching those voters.
Recently, Buttigieg sent a fundraising email to supporters decrying Bloomberg's spending. “We are now also up against a billionaire who is throwing colossal sums of money on television instead of doing the work of campaigning,” Buttigieg wrote. “He just expects others to clear a path for him and his money.”
In a second fundraising email Buttigieg’s deputy campaign manager, Hari Sevugan, put it more bluntly: “We need to raise $13 million to keep our campaign going through Super Tuesday.”
And in these Super Tuesday states, without money it can feel impossible to get your message across.
“This isn’t Iowa or New Hampshire. You can walk faster than you can drive around here,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a longtime California political professor. “You have to have a motivated base — and money. You need to have money.”
Buttigieg hits Sanders, Medicare for All in two South Carolina ads
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — As the Democratic primary race heads South, Former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is out with a new television ad taking direct aim at Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on health care.
Buttigieg hit the airwaves in South Carolina on Friday with a new 30-second spot distinguishing his "Medicare for All Who Want It" plan from Sanders’ Medicare for All plan. Ad viewers won't hear those differences from Buttigieg though, they'll hear from a female narrator telling viewers that Medicare for All could force them off their plans.
“Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” would completely eliminate private insurance, forcing one hundred fifty million Americans off their current plans — including twenty million seniors on Medicare Advantage,” the narrator says as a photo of Sanders sits on screen for nearly 15 seconds.
Then, the ad flips to shots of Buttigieg speaking to and meeting with voters as the narrator describes his health care plan as, “a better way to lower costs and cover everyone.” The spot ends with a pointed pitch for “progress” instead of “polarization.”
Buttigieg has doubled down on this message in several weeks, including during the Democratic debate in Nevada where he called Sanders one of the most "polarizing" candidates. The former mayor has also questioned how exactly the Vermont senator would pay for his health care plan.
Sanders for his part has outlined several options for paying for his plan, but has signaled that the specifics will come later.
"You're asking me to come up with an exact detailed plan of how every American — how much you're going to pay more in taxes, how much I'm going to pay," Sanders told CNBC in October. "I don't think I have to do that right now."
For Buttigieg, this latest television ad buy is part of a one-two punch, coinciding with a new 60-second radio ad titled, “Right Plan,” that contrasts also the two healthcare plans. It also comes as new South Carolina polling suggests Sanders has expanded his base while Buttigieg is making his last efforts to gain traction in the Palmetto State.
Nevada GOP House candidate hopes to gain traction
WASHINGTON — With all eyes on Nevada ahead of tomorrow's presidential caucuses, congressional candidates in the state are also revving up their campaigns. One Republican receiving attention is Lisa Song Sutton, an Asian-American in her thirties, former Miss Nevada, and entrepreneur whose past ventures include founding a boozy cupcake shop. She’s running for the GOP nomination in the state's Fourth Congressional District, currently held by Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford.
Song Sutton told NBC News in a phone interview last month that while politics wasn’t originally part of her plan, she’s running because she feels that Horsford has “gone D.C.” on voters and is a part-time Nevadan failing to represent them.
Song Sutton also argued that she — along with a record-number of Republican women considering runs for Congress — can offer voters an additional, new face of the GOP in 2020.
“We’re coming from every possible background,” the candidate said. “The GOP knows that it needs to look more like America.”
But before facing Horsford, the former Miss Nevada faces a crowded primary of nearly ten challengers.
Song Sutton claims she brings something to the table that her competitors don’t, saying her candidacy is about unification and promoting community engagement within the majority minority district.
“This is my community,” she said, adding that she has ties to even the bluest spots in the district, which spans from Las Vegas to rural areas. “I want to serve it and I think I can do that in a very effective way.”
Song Sutton noted that her 2014 Miss Nevada title helps her candidacy and said her campaign has averaged 2,000 miles each month talking to voters.
Song Sutton has amassed nearly 32,000 Twitter followers and surpassed her primary rivals in individual contributions for two consecutive quarters. She raised more than $130,000 in the fourth quarter of 2019 and a total of about $258,000 for the year according to FEC filings.
She was the only GOP candidate to finish 2019 with no debt and gained nearly $128,000 in the first 90 days of her campaign — more than any of her Republican competitors raised in the same amount of time on the trail.
And her campaign has picked up endorsements from some of the top GOP women in the Silver State, including former Nevada Republican Party Chairwoman Amy Tarkanian and Las Vegas City Councilwoman Victoria Seaman.
Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the UVA Center for Politics, told NBC News Wednesday that although Song Sutton led the pack in fundraising last quarter, he doesn’t consider any of the GOP candidates’ performances in that metric “particularly impressive.”
Kondik stressed however, that Democrats must retain Nevada to win the White House and warned that losing either NV-03 or NV-04 "would be a bad sign for Democratic hopes of winning the House.”
Professor Dan Lee at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas reiterated this point Wednesday, arguing that districts like this “play a role in shifting the balance of majority power in the House."
Both political experts deem the Fourth Congressional District leaning or likely Democratic.
The filing deadline for the primary is March 13 and Nevadans will vote in the contest on June 9.
Bloomberg has spent more than $400 million on presidential campaign
LAS VEGAS — Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg spent an unprecedented $220.6 million in the month of January alone on his presidential bid, new campaign finance disclosures show.
The latest filing sheds even more light on the unprecedented nature of the self-funded bid by one of the world's wealthiest people — Bloomberg spent more money in January than any candidate has ever spent in one calendar month. And overall, he's spent more than $400 million on his campaign so far.
The Bloomberg campaign told reporters it has so far spent more than $300 million on advertising, $7 million on polling and $9 million in payroll for its more than 2,000-member staff. It's also paid $25.6 million to Hawkfish, the digital-ad firm Bloomberg founded, which Bloomberg plans on retaining through November to mount an effort against President Trump even if he does not emerge victorious in the Democratic nomination fight.
Bloomberg isn’t accepting any donations from supporters, but currently has about $55.1 million to spend in cash on hand. A campaign aide emphasized that Bloomberg will spend whatever it takes to defeat Trump, and that this number isn’t indicative of the remaining budget of the campaign.
Biden makes emotional speech to pass gun reform legislation
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Former Vice President Joe Biden made an emotional commitment to pass gun reform legislation if elected president of the United States on Thursday — calling anyone who has not and would not support the movement "cowards".
Speaking just miles away from the site of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, Biden delivered a passionate plea for politicians to finally put families touched by gun violence over gun manufacturer’s interests.
During his speech, he scorned Republicans and some Democrats, specifically naming Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for voting to protect gun manufacturers from being sued by individuals touched by gun violence. Even though he acknowledged that Sanders’ viewpoints on the issue has changed, he called it “immoral” for anyone to have ever voted in favor of immunity.
“Folks, it's just flat out immoral. It's just flat out immoral. You know, too many Republicans and some Democrats, like Bernie Sanders, voted five times against the Brady bill that I was passing.”
Biden added, “Every day that we do nothing about this epidemic of assaults and assault weapons, high capacity magazines in our streets, is an insult.”
The former vice president has often referred to the broken and divisive politics surrounding gun violence at his campaign stops, but he has elevated the rhetoric since touching down in Las Vegas where 59 people were killed in a 2017 mass shooting. His more forceful words promising reform both at events and in TV ads are intentional, the Biden campaign says, since the issue is one of the most important to caucus-goers in Nevada.
“Why in God’s name can we say that we can't do anything about a hundred and fifty thousand people being shot dead in the United States of America,” Biden said raising his voice. “Look, why are guns different? Because of cowardness. Because of cowards. Cowards who are afraid to take on these special interest because they are so damn powerful.”
Biden became visibly emotional, putting his hands over his face and wiping away tears at one point, after hearing Stephanie Pizzoferratto talk about losing her four-year-old daughter to a stray bullet.
“For all the people across the country, normal, normal has become living a nightmare,” Biden said after alluding to how quickly one’s life can change due to gun violence.
Biden said that if he’s elected president he will send Congress legislation on day one of his presidency that would repeal the liability protection for gun manufacturers and close the background check loopholes and waiting periods.
But if he’s not elected president, Biden said he would commit the rest of his life to defeating the NRA’s influence.
“Whether I am your president or I am a citizen fighting for it, I promise you I will not rest until we beat these guys because it is immoral what's happening,” Biden said. “I promise you, if I'm your next president they're going to be held accountable because I am coming after them.”
Bloomberg surpasses Warren in major endorsements after debate debut
WASHINGTON — Mike Bloomberg has officially surpassed Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in presidential endorsements from members of Congress and governors after his debut on the debate stage Wednesday night.
With the Nevada caucuses set for Saturday, Warren still does not have any major endorsements from politicians in the Silver State. Bloomberg will not be on the ballot in Nevada.
Joe Biden is the sole Democratic candidate with formal support from a Nevadan. Rep. Steven Horsford, the Democratic member for NV-04, endorsed the former Vice President on February 14. Biden leads the pack with a whopping 49 official backings from members of the House and Senate, along with governors of several states.
Bloomberg picked up three endorsements Thursday following his first debate appearance, stealing Warren’s second place spot. The former New York City mayor has a total of 17 endorsements — 16 from U.S. Representatives and one from Rhode Island’s Democratic governor.
Warren now takes the bronze for endorsements with 14 in total.
Bloomberg’s latest endorsements came from Democratic Reps. Josh Gottheimer, Pete Aguilar, and Nita Lowey of New Jersey, California, and New York respectively.
Warren, who slipped in the polls as Bloomberg surged, repeatedly took swipes at the billionaire philanthropist at Wednesday’s debate hosted by NBC News.
“I’d like to talk about who we’re running against,” she said early in the night. “A billionaire who calls women ‘fat broads’ and ‘horse-faced lesbians.’ And no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg.”
Bloomberg was a primary target on the debate stage and has been widely criticized for his policies and wealth by other candidates.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., takes fourth place in formal support with nine major endorsements. Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar and former Sound Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg are tied with seven. Klobuchar and Buttigieg are viewed as competing for the same voter support and clashed several times at the debate.
Both Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, who is still in the 2020 race, and entrepreneur Tom Steyer — who did not qualify for last night’s debate — have no official support from members of Congress or governors.
New PAC backs Warren with seven-figure Nevada ad buy
LAS VEGAS — A new PAC launched by four female activists is now supporting presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., with a seven-figure ad buy in Nevada ahead of Saturday’s caucuses.
The ad aired by Persist PAC, which isn’t authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee, features images of the senator with President Barack Obama, arguing that Warren will take President Trump “on and win.”
“When you don’t grow up rich, you learn how to work. When you take on Wall Street, you know how to fight,” the narrator says.
When asked for comment, the Warren campaign disavowed PACs broadly but did not specifically mention Persist PAC.
“Senator Warren’s position hasn’t changed,” the campaign said. “Since day one of this campaign, she has made clear that she thinks all of the candidates should lock arms together and say we don’t want Super PACs and billionaires to be deciding our Democratic nominee.”
At the last Democratic debate, Warren boasted that everyone on the stage except for her and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar is “either a billionaire or is receiving help from PACs that can do unlimited spending.”
Warren has also repeatedly criticized former Mike Bloomberg this week for buying the election, even labeling him a “egomaniac billionaire” on Twitter.
A source involved with Persist PAC told NBC News that the group’s founders believe Warren is the best person to become president and that they need to help elect her in order to enact the campaign finance change she often talks about on the trail.
To do that, they said, requires informing voters and getting the word out about her, working within the rules as they are currently written.
Separately, the Vice President of Communications at EMILY’s List, Christina Reynolds, confirmed that her organization has given $250,000 to Persist PAC. It’s not an endorsement, but EMILY’s List is donating to the group along with one outside organization backing Klobuchar.
“EMILY’s List was created to elect pro-choice Democratic women and we are proud of the campaigns both Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren are running,” Reynolds told NBC News. “While we respect their views and agree on the need for campaign finance reform, we believe this election is too important and we want to do what we can within the bounds of existing law to support them. We have made equal donations of $250,000 to each organization.”
Biden debuts new web ad hitting Bloomberg on Obama criticisms
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Frustrated over Mike Bloomberg’s television blitz casting himself as a stalwart ally of President Barack Obama, Joe Biden’s campaign is hitting the former mayor with a new online video spotlighting his past criticism of the administration.
Playing off the Bloomberg campaign’s attempt to build a viral online following with Instagram memes, the Biden video includes clip after clip of Bloomberg criticizing Obama on health care (calling Obamacare “a disgrace”), race relations (faulting him for not doing more to “pull people together”), climate change (saying “Obama did basically nothing.”
For good measure, it also features Bloomberg with kind words for President Donald Trump before the fellow New York billionaire ran for president.
After the video's release, Bloomberg released his own video on Twitter which showed Biden complimenting Bloomberg on his work on public health and environmental causes.
Sanders press secretary walks back 'heart attack' comments on Bloomberg
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Sen. Bernie Sanders' national press secretary walked back her false claim Wednesday morning that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg "suffered heart attacks in the past." She later tweeted she "misspoke."
"Rather, he underwent the same stent procedure as Bernie," Briahna Joy Gray tweeted of Bloomberg. "Bernie released 3 detailed medical reports in December — just like the other candidates."
The back-and-forth began when during a CNN town hall on Tuesday night, Sanders said that while he's feeling good, he will not release additional medical records after suffering from a heart attack in October. Despite promising to post his medical records before the first primary contest, the Democratic front-runner in December instead released three letters from doctors stating he is in good health.
“If you think I’m not in good health come on out with me on the campaign trail and I’ll let you introduce me to the three or four rallies a day that we do," Sanders said on Tuesday.
Bloomberg's campaign manager, Kevin Sheekey quickly blasted Joy Gray's original claim saying, "It's completely false."
"Here’s what we know about Sen. Sanders: In October 2019, he had a medical incident in Las Vegas. He didn’t tell the public for days and the full details have never been released. Now his campaign staff is spreading lies about Mike Bloomberg," Sheekey said in a statement.
The increased scrutiny on Sanders' health comes after a new NBC News/WSJ poll found that 57 percent of registered voters were uncomfortable with a candidate who's had a heart attack in the past year, and 53 percent being uncomfortable with candidates older than 75.
Bloomberg, who is 78-years-old like Sanders, has not yet released his medical records, instead released a letter from his doctor saying he’s in “outstanding health.” The two other septuagenarians in the race, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden, have also released letters from their doctors detailing their health statuses.
A new Super PAC gets behind Amy Klobuchar ahead of Super Tuesday
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Kitchen Table Conversations, a new political action committee supporting Amy Klobuchar, which filed with the FEC last Friday, is the first Super PAC to back the Minnesota senator's candidacy.
Richard Carlbom, a partner at United Strategies LLC in Minnesota, is spearheading the effort and confirmed to NBC News that “the goal is to introduce Amy to Nevada, South Carolina and Super Tuesday states.” Carlbom told NBC News that he has not been in contact with Klobuchar’s campaign — it is against FEC regulations for campaigns to coordinate with super PACs.
The PAC’s first ad, “Sacred,” focuses on the “sacred space” of time between a newborn and their mother, talking about Klobuchar’s experience being kicked out of the hospital after her daughter Abigail was born and how it fueled her entrance into politics — a story she shares often on the campaign trail.
According to Carlbom, the PAC has received enough commitments where they can place a seven figure investment in paid advertisements.
Back in October, the Klobuchar campaign said they didn't want help from super PACs, and a Klobuchar spokesperson told NBC News that the campaign stands by that statement. Other candidates, like former Vice President Joe Biden and former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg are also being helped by super PACs.
Carlbom said those who have joined the PAC effort are “individuals who believe in Amy’s message and believe in Amy as a president and want to make sure other votes get to know the same Amy we know.”
Trump counter-programs Dems with West Coast swing
WASHINGTON — As Democrats debate and compete for votes in Nevada this week, President Donald Trump won’t just be looming over the caucuses metaphorically — he’ll also be staying in Las Vegas throughout a jam-packed West Coast swing.
The rare quadruple-state, four-day visit will be full of fundraisers, official White House events, and three back-to-back rallies, culminating with a large campaign event in Vegas on Friday afternoon, the day before final votes are cast there.
The strategy to effectively shadow the Democratic presidential contest started in Iowa and New Hampshire earlier this month where Trump deployed dozens of surrogates and dominated local media by headlining rallies in Des Moines and Manchester that attracted thousands of supporters.
But unlike in Iowa and New Hampshire, there is no GOP nominating contest in Nevada this year. The state party decided to cancel it in an effort to consolidate support for the president, working closely with the Republican National Committee to avoid any potential chaos at the convention in Charlotte this summer.
Senior campaign officials continue to make the case that while Democrats battle it out in search of their eventual nominee — with the rise of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg complicating party unity on that side of the aisle — the president’s campaign can capitalize nine months out from the general election, with no significant primary challenger.
Dry runs for November
The Trump campaign also has plenty of money and resources to conduct “dry runs” in these early states, enjoying $200 million in the bank heading into 2020 and raising more than $60 million in January. And the dress rehearsals in the Hawkeye and Granite States were largely successful, with turnout there exceeding recent incumbent presidents.
Trump begins his journey out West with a stop in Southern California on Tuesday, hosting a meeting on the 2028 Olympics, followed by two high-dollar fundraisers in Beverly Hills. This comes after Trump held the most expensive re-elect dinner of his presidency in Palm Beach over the weekend, with couples paying $580,600 each to attend.
On Wednesday, the president will travel to Rancho Mirage, Calif. for two additional fundraisers, and then deliver a speech on water access at an official White House event in Bakersfield.
From there, he heads to Phoenix for a “Keep America Great” rally, before again returning to Las Vegas to spend the night. As Democratic candidates spin their performances at the next debate, hosted by NBC News, the president is expected to be at his self-branded hotel just down the road from the Strip.
On Thursday morning, the president will speak at a “Hope for Prisoners” graduation ceremony at Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department headquarters. Later that evening, the president will stump in Colorado Springs, and again fly back to Vegas.
The consecutive campaign events in Arizona and Colorado will also feature two vulnerable senators in key battleground states, Sens. Cory Gardner and Martha McSally respectively. Both supported the president throughout the impeachment trial and voted not to convict him.
Trump’s final event of the multi-day swing will be a rally at the Las Vegas Convention Center Friday afternoon, less than 24 hours before the caucuses there Saturday.
While there is no clear measure of success for Trump in Nevada this week, he lost the state by only two and half percentage points to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Senior campaign officials say it’s not the top focus for expanding the map this cycle, but the Silver State is still considered a target. And holding rallies in all three states offers fresh voter data in those key states.
The campaign also plans to offer various surrogate gatherings throughout the week ahead of the caucuses, including visits from Vice President Mike Pence and Donald Trump Jr. But aides acknowledge there’s nothing quite like the president’s physical presence in the region.
“When Air Force One lands, there’s no better way to bracket and get your message out,” said Trump campaign spokesman Rick Gorka.