The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
35d ago / 11:49 PM UTC
Catholic support for Trump is up but bloc favors 2020 Dems, according to new survey
WASHINGTON — A new online poll released Monday finds that Catholic support for President Trump has increased since the end of 2019 despite impeachment, but that Trump loses in head-to-head match-ups against top Democratic challengers among these Catholic voters.
The latest Eternal World Television Network/RealClear Opinion Research poll, which surveyed 1,521 registered self-identified Catholic voters in the United States, discovered that Joe Biden is the dominant primary and general election candidate.
Among those in the bloc likely to vote in the Democratic primary, Joe Biden leads the pack with 29 percent support. Biden, who identifies as a Catholic, also beats Trump by the greatest amount among the Democratic candidates in a hypothetical general election face-off, garnering 51 percent support versus Trump’s 40 percent.
Within the primary, Biden is followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., with 24 percent and Mike Bloomberg, who surged from seventh place to third place in Catholic support, up 15 points since November. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., follows the former New York City mayor, and Pete Buttigieg comes in last among the top contenders.
In head-to-heads with Trump, the places just about hold. Sanders leads Trump by 9 points, 50 percent to 41 percent. Bloomberg also beats Trump by 9 points, 48 versus 39 percent. Warren is next in line with a six-point advantage — 48 to 42 percent.
Buttigieg faces the narrowest gap of the competitive 2020 candidates in a contest with President Trump, only ahead by 4 points.
Despite Trump’s weaker performances against potential Democratic rivals, the president’s overall approval rating did increase among registered Catholic voters surveyed. President Trump’s job approval among Catholics stands at 47 percent — less than half of the group though up from 44 percent in November.
The demographic was starkly divided on how they’ll vote in 2020. About one-third of Catholics said they will definitely vote for Trump in 2020 while slightly more reported that they will never vote to reelect the president.
Trump’s support stems primarily from participants who consider themselves devout or active Catholics, about one fifth of those polled. That 18 percent of devout Catholics was also a more diverse group of voters with large shares of Latinos and women.
Among this subset, Trump’s approval rating was 63 percent. A majority of these devout Catholics — 59 percent — said that they plan to vote for the president while just 20 percent said they’ll vote to oppose Trump.
In 2016 exit polls, 23 percent of voters identified as Catholic. President Trump beat Hillary Clinton within that demographic by 4 points, 50 percent to 46 percent.
The poll from RealClearPolitics and EWTN News, a network dedicated to providing news from a Catholic perspective, showed that the Catholic voting bloc is crucial to the president’s reelection bid.
The president’s backing by Catholics stems in part from their approval of the U.S. economy. More than half of Catholics asked said that the country is better off financially than it was before Trump assumed the presidency.
About two-thirds of Catholics interviewed believe that they are personally better off than they were four years ago.
The survey also discovered that over 40 percent of Catholic voters polled argue that there’s an “anti-Christian” bias in the media. This number rises to 59 percent among the most devout fifth within the bloc.
Monday’s poll is the second of a four-part series pursued by EWTN News and RealClearPolitics. The margin of error was about plus or minus 2.8 percent and participants were interviewed from January 28 to February 4.
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Josh Lederman and Maura Barrett
35d ago / 5:50 PM UTC
Vandalism hits Bloomberg campaign offices across the U.S.
WASHINGTON — At least seven of Mike Bloomberg’s campaign offices have been vandalized over the last two weeks, campaign officials say, in a string of incidents that the Bloomberg campaign has blamed without evidence on Bernie Sanders’ supporters.
In the latest case, discovered early Monday morning, a Chicago office was graffitied with the words “racist,” “sexist,” and “oligarch” spray-painted in red on the windows of the building. Other vandalism at offices in Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee have referenced Bloomberg’s wealth and stop-and-frisk policing policy.
Kevin Sheekey, Bloomberg’s campaign manager, called the incident an “act of hate" and referenced the Sanders campaign.
“While we do not know who is directly responsible, we do know Senator Bernie Sanders and his campaign have repeatedly invoked this language, and the word 'oligarch' specifically when discussing Mike Bloomberg and his campaign,” Sheekey said. “Sen. Sanders’ refusal to denounce these illegal acts is a sign of his inability to lead, and his willingness to condone and promote Trump-like rhetoric has no place in our politics.”
Sheekey called on Sanders to instruct his supporters and staff “to elevate the discourse in this campaign and end their spread of hateful rhetoric.” He suggested the incidents could lead to violence if not tamped down by Sanders, adding, “This needs to end before someone gets hurt.”
No direct evidence has emerged of any involvement from Sanders supporters in the vandalism. The Sanders campaign has not commented on any of the incidents.
The Bloomberg campaign meanwhile, has pointed out that many of the specific phrases graffitied on Bloomberg’s office have been used by Sanders’ top surrogates and staffers, including national press secretary Briahna Joy Gray, senior advisor David Sirota and Rep. Nina Turner, Sanders’ campaign co-chair.
Still, blaming Sanders supporters for at a minimum inspiring the vandalism represents a risky strategy for Bloomberg, who could face questions about a rush to judgement if evidence emerges that another party was to blame. It also opens Bloomberg up to criticism that by trading in unproven allegations against an opponent, he’s using tactics that Democrats have long derided Trump for employing.
The vandalism against Bloomberg’s offices first came to light in mid-February when offices in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Toledo, Ohio, were vandalized. Signs and writing on the windows vilified Bloomberg as a “corporate pig” and an “oligarch,” according to the Bloomberg campaign and local news coverage.
More incidents were soon discovered in Flint, Mich., where an office was defaced with a sign reading, “Eat the Rich,” the campaign said. Late last week, the campaign’s office in Knoxville, Tenn., was defaced with expletives spray-painted in orange, video footage of the office shows.
So far, no one has been injured in the acts of vandalism, the Bloomberg campaign stated.
The incidents come as Bloomberg faces increasing ire from the other 2020 candidates and their supporters for crashing the Democratic primary late in the game and thrusting himself into the top tier with a deluge of spending from his personal fortune. In just a few months, Bloomberg has already poured more than $464 million of his own money into his campaign.
Yet while Bloomberg has been taking many of the incoming attacks from other Democratic candidates, it’s Sanders who is the clear front-runner and leader in the delegate race following his massive victory in Nevada, where Bloomberg didn't compete.
So as Sanders’ dominance in the race has solidified in the last few days, Bloomberg and the others have increasingly turned their attention to blunting his momentum. Their arguments echoed concerns from the Democratic establishment that Sanders, an avowed democratic socialist, might not only lose to Trump but become an albatross around the necks of down-ballot Democrats, damaging the party’s prospects for keeping the House and flipping control of the Senate in November.
Dan Kanninen, director of states for the Bloomberg campaign, told reporters on Monday that nominating Sanders against a candidate as strong as President Donald Trump would be a “fatal error” for Democrats. Still, he asserted that Bloomberg would support whoever emerges as the Democratic nominee — even if it’s Sanders.
-Gary Grumbach contributed
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36d ago / 5:46 PM UTC
Steyer poised to make debate return in South Carolina
WASHINGTON — After missing last week's debate in Nevada, billionaire Tom Steyer looks poised to make his return to the stage this week in South Carolina.
Steyer appears to have qualified as of Sunday morning, after a new CBS News/YouGov poll found him in third place with 18 percent. The billionaire philanthropist has been polling well in the Palmetto State, allowing him to qualify with two state polls of at least 10 percent.
He stands to be the only addition to Tuesday's debate, as all who qualified for Nevada's debate are locked in and Tulsi Gabbard remains all-but certain to miss the threshold.
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Vaughn Hillyard and Priscilla Thompson
37d ago / 5:31 PM UTC
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.
“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.”
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Priscilla Thompson and Vaughn Hillyard
37d ago / 4:45 PM UTC
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.
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38d ago / 4:23 PM UTC
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.
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Ben Kamisar and Maura Barrett
39d ago / 2:03 AM UTC
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.
We don't have Jan $ yet for the other candidates (filing today).
But Bloomberg spent $69 million more in JANUARY ALONE than the rest of the candidates who stood next to him on last night's debate stage spent in the last 3 months of 2019 COMBINED. https://t.co/V7R8bjKY3X
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.
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39d ago / 12:20 AM UTC
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.”
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39d ago / 7:28 PM UTC
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.
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39d ago / 4:20 PM UTC
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.”
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40d ago / 6:15 PM UTC
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.