The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
On the South Carolina airwaves: Negative ads and appeals to black voters
WASHINGTON — With just one day to go until South Carolina's pivotal Democratic presidential primary, the Palmetto State's ad wars are heating up.
Philanthropist and billionaire Tom Steyer has blanketed the state to the tune of $20 million in television and radio ads in South Carolina this cycle, according to Advertising Analytics. That's more than the rest of the Democratic field combined.
Far behind him, but ahead of the rest of the pack, is former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has spent $2.4 million. (While former Mayor Michael Bloomberg isn't on the ballot in South Carolina, he's running $2 million in ads in adjacent states that bleed onto the airwaves in South Carolina.)
Former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign has spent $700,000; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has spent $690,000; Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has spent $580,000; Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders has spent $500,000; and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has spent $470,000.
And Super PACs supporting Klobuchar, Warren and Biden have spent $980,000, $590,000 and $110,000 respectively.
What are South Carolinians seeing as Saturday's primary creeps closer?
Let's start with Steyer, who is far-and-away the biggest spender.
In the past week, Steyer's spent the most on a biographical spot, one that tells the story about how he started a community bank that, in his words, "invest[ed] in the community, in businesses owned by women and people of color."
He also has spots up taking swipes at Biden and Buttigeg as an "insider" and an "untested newcomer" respectively; another hits Biden by arguing "nothing will change when he's elected" and that Sanders' "socialist plans won't beat Trump."
Buttigieg's top ad is a positive, hopeful spot that nods at his plan for black Americans. But the ad he's spent the second most on takes a direct shot at Sanders, arguing that Sanders' plan involves "forcing 150 million Americans off" their current health-care plans and framing Sanders as polarizing.
Biden's ads echo a common theme for candidates on the South Carolina airwaves — two of the three ads he launched in the race's final days center on former President Barack Obama (along with a swipe at the Medicare for All crowd).
Looking for a strong showing in South Carolina to keep his momentum going, Sanders' ads primarily talk about how he wants to fight for civil rights and for criminal justice reform.
Klobuchar primary is running positive spots playing up her call for unity and pragmatism.
While Warren isn't currently on the air, she had previously run two bio spots in the state, one that evokes Obama's praise of her. Gabbard isn't on the air anymore either, but she had previously run a spot criticizing government spending on "wasteful wars" instead of domestic issues.
A warm welcome for Buttigieg from diverse caucus groups on Capitol Hill
WASHINGTON — Former South Bend, Ind Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has struggled cinching a diverse electorate in critical states, met with the Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucuses on Thursday in an effort to receive their endorsements.
And overall, members left the meetings feeling impressed, and perhaps surprised, with some of their worries appeased — despite Buttigieg not seeing higher poll numbers among those voting blocks. Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., called it “a very good meeting” as she walked out.
Multiple members of Congress told NBC News that to appeal to diverse voters, Buttigieg needs to “reach out more” like he did on Thursday and continue meeting with these voter constituencies.
Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., the lone CBC endorser and national co-chair for the Buttigieg campaign, told NBC there was “a lot of vertical head-nodding” when asked how he was received in the room. But members also pressed Buttigieg on his controversial record in South Bend.
“That was the great deal of the focus in that particular meeting,” said Brown.
Rep. André Carson walked out of the meeting telling reporters it was “excellente”. However, the meeting came on the heels of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn's key endorsement of former Vice President Joe Biden, and just two days before the South Carolina Democratic primary where a majority of the Democratic electorate is people of color.
Despite winning the highest share of delegates in the Iowa caucuses, and coming in second in the New Hampshire primary, Buttigieg is registering at just 6 percent in South Carolina, according to the latest poll. While Buttigieg was hoping this meeting could up his amount of congressional endorsements from members of the CHC and CBC, it's unlikely one meeting will do that.
CHC Rep. Nanette Barragán, D-Calif., told NBC News “I do not, I'm still considering it and I'm certainly talking to the Mayor as well,” adding “I was just impressed with what I saw.”
DNC holds briefing with House Dems amid concerns of contested convention
WASHINGTON — As questions swirl around the possibility of a contested convention, the Democratic National Committee held a briefing for House Democrats on the convention rules and insisted that a candidate must have a majority of delegates to win the party's nomination.
The briefing comes as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the delegate leader after the first three nominating contests, indicated at the NBC News debate in Las Vegas and on Twitter that the winner of a plurality of delegates, not a majority as written in DNC rules, should be the nominee.
Sanders’ statements have concerned some Democrats who are already nervous about Sanders winning the nomination and the impact he could have on candidates down-ballot.
“What we’re concerned about is we all follow the rules,” Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and a member of the DNC said after the briefing. “I think the rules are important, they were passed, and whatever the candidates are saying, the rules are the most important thing to comply with.”
The rules say that the nominee must win a majority — 1,991 of the 3,979 — of the delegates available heading into the convention in Milwaukee in July. If no candidate wins after the first round at the convention, then a second round of voting takes place and considers the votes of what used to be known as superdelegates. This group consists of current and former elected members of Congress, governors and presidents.
Sanders, who pressured the DNC to rewrite the rules after 2016 and diminish the role of superdelegates, fears that the superdelegates will overturn the will of the voters supporting him in a second round of voting at the convention.
Some Democrats running for re-election in red and purple districts worry that having a Democratic Socialist on the top of the ticket will turn off suburban voters key to winning House and Senate seats.
Sanders backer, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said that Sanders isn’t trying to circumvent the process.
“If you have someone who has 45 percent of the vote and the next person has 20 percent, then I think it’s important for that second round of people to consider the will of the voters and to consider the will of the voters in the states,” Jayapal said.
Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., also a Sanders supporter, said that the party should get behind the person who wins a plurality of delegates.
“I do think the party should get around the plurality winner. I'm hopeful that President Obama may do that. You know, I'm hopeful President Obama will play that role,” Khanna said.
Perhaps an indication of the unease about the Democratic primary, Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., said that someone in the party stood up to nominate House Speaker Pelosi for president at the briefing.
“Somebody nominated Pelosi for president," Himes said. "She said, ‘I like my job. You're not getting rid of me that easy.'"
South Carolina Democratic Party ready for its say in 2020
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Two days before the Democratic presidential primary here, South Carolina Democratic Party executive director says voters are making up their own minds on who to support — not looking at who did well in other states.
"Our voters have really looked at these candidates through their own unique lens without worrying about what people everywhere else are saying," Jay Parmley said.
He added, "When people say, 'Oh, you have someone to bounce out of [a state]', that just doesn't seem to translate on the ground."
Parmley noted that that's why South Carolinians aren't shocked at some polls that show philanthropist Tom Steyer in second or third place, or why former Vice President Joe Biden has been able to maintain a lead.
However, the SCDP does feel that whoever wins in South Carolina still has the best chance to carry the nomination. Parmley said, "Our diverse electorate gives people an opportunity to do well and also I think it mirrors a ton of the rest of the country."
That's the strategy that Biden hopes carry him into Super Tuesday, and the mindset of some who say the primary calendar should change to reflect the demographics of the Democratic Party and not start the nominating contests in overwhelmingly white Iowa and New Hampshire.
"If we win in November, then the four early states don't matter in 2024, so they may push the decision off a while," Parmley said. "But I do think, though, this will be revisited."
While the presidential primary may be over for South Carolinians on Saturday night, the SCDP is actively looking toward their down-ballot races which, Parmley said, has an unofficial start date of Monday. But those races have lost a lot of oxygen from the presidential race, leaving some down-ballot candidates like Rep. Joe Cunningham, and the Democratic challenger to Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, Jaime Harrison, in a hard position.
Parmley said that while it's easier when down-ballot candidates can wholeheartedly endorse the party's nominee, it won't be a necessity in 2020.
"It's a needle we may have to thread," Parmley said. "We're going to go out and fight for our down ballot races, no matter who the nominee is. And sure some people may make it easier and some people may make it harder, but I would argue that's the case of any of them anywhere."
Pelosi projects unity of House Democrats as Sanders rises
WASHINGTON — Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., projected complete unity within the House Democratic Caucus Thursday when it comes to the idea of backing the eventual presidential nominee of their party.
At Pelosi’s weekly press conference, NBC News asked Pelosi what she’s telling her members about Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who might be nervous about what his possible victory in the Democratic race would mean for down-ballot races.
“The presidential is its own race. Contrary to what you may be hearing or writing, we are not getting — we are all unified. Whoever the nominee is of our party, we will wholeheartedly support,” she said. “Our gospel is one of unity, unity, unity. So I don’t have the experience that you may have described."
Pelosi said that her responsibility is to win the House again in November with a “mainstream and non-menacing” message. When asked if Sanders has been delivering such a message, she demurred. The Speaker of the House said that Democrats already demonstrated their ability to win in the 2018 midterms by owning the ground game with their mobilization efforts, messaging and money.
Pelosi added that the Democratic Party will support the candidate who wins a majority of delegates, which is not what Sanders has previously said he would do if the situation arose.
“Whoever the nominee is, we will support with respect for his or her positions and hopefully with their respect for our positions as well," Pelosi said.
CPAC speakers celebrate Romney's absence, prompting cheers
OXON HILL, Md. — Multiple speakers at the 2020 Conservative Political Action Conference took aim at Senator Mitt Romney Thursday morning, celebrating the Utah GOP senator's absence from CPAC and prompting applause from the crowd.
During a session featuring Republican Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp said he feels “a little tongue in cheek” about Romney.
Schlapp said that not having Romney at CPAC “worked out just fine,” which resulted in cheers from the audience.
“You can stand for that too,” Schlapp added.
Meadows retorted by asking Schlapp, "You mean they would rather have Donald Trump here than Mitt Romney?”
Schlapp excluded Romney from the event after the senator broke with the GOP and President Donald Trump during the impeachment trial, voting to convict the president on one article of impeachment.
Schlapp noted he’d be worried for the senator’s “physical safety" if he attended the conference.
The President of Turning Point USA, a non-profit organization that aims to educate and organize primarily conservative students to “promote freedom” per its website, name-checked Romney for his vote.
Charlie Kirk labelled the impeachment of Donald Trump an unconstitutional sham. The mention of Romney's name sparked booing from the crowd.
"Every time his name is mentioned, you should respond that way," Kirk said. "Because he lied to every single person in this room that knocked on doors for him, that made phone calls for him, that donated to his campaign."
Kirk also accused Romney of belonging to the "same political class that President Trump ran against,” even accusing President Barack of Obama of being a “Marxist president” that Romney was supposed to crusade against.
CPAC continues through Sunday with headliners like Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and President Trump attending the days-long event. The conference theme is "America vs. Socialism."
Klobuchar cleans up on endorsements — from newspaper editorial boards
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., has been raking in the endorsements — from newspaper editorial boards.
Despite not having large numbers of congressional or celebrity supporters that some of the other candidates have, Klobuchar has received the backing of a dozen newspaper editorial boards.
The papers formally supporting Klobuchar span across early and Super Tuesday states, from New Hampshire, Iowa and Nevada as well as several publications in upcoming primary states like the San Francisco Chronicle, Mercury News/East Bay Times, the Houston Chronicle, The Seattle Times.
“We have our sights not just on Super Tuesday but beyond since Washington state is a week after Super Tuesday," Klobuchar said at a kick-off event at her Las Vegas office on the morning of the Nevada caucuses while ticking off the endorsements. "We're really excited about what's happening as we go forward.”
Klobuchar only has six endorsements from fellow members of Congress, all but one coming from fellow Minnesotans.
Two of the candidate's editorial board endorsements were split with other candidates. The New York Times endorsement was shared with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and the Las Vegas Weekly backing was joint with former Vice President Joe Biden.
She did lose out on the endorsement of The Boston Globe, which went to Warren, and The State — the second largest newspaper in South Carolina — which went to Pete Buttigieg.
While the editorial boards consist of largely white, educated people across the country, Klobuchar nevertheless argues that she can appeal to a large, diverse electorate and offer voters the “receipts” of her record to prove that she can get things done.
Courting the endorsements is part of the strategy, campaign staff told NBC News, to put Klobuchar in front of a broad swath of voters to win them over.
“It’s time for Democrats to look beyond fiery speeches, beyond big ticket promises devoid of price tags, and if possible, beyond the cinematic beckoning of that billionaire button-down Messiah stalking your smartphone," the Houston Chronicle editorial board wrote. The newspaper added that people simply have to ask: "Who can really get things done?”
“Who can get proposals past the gauntlets of the federal judiciary and congressional gridlock? In the current field only Klobuchar and Joe Biden have a track record of bipartisan effectiveness in Washington," the editorial board continued. "Biden, in his third bid for president, hasn’t articulated the fresh vision needed.”
The recent endorsement did, however, bring up previous reporting about how Klobuchar treats her staff, noting that “if Klobuchar wants Americans to believe she’s the decent, empathetic antidote to Trump, she should prove it with her staff.”
In her most recent endorsement from the Bangor Daily News, a small newspaper in Maine, the paper said that Klobuchar was the only candidate to speak to them, and that she “brings needed realism, a track record of hard work, and an understanding of rural America to the job."
According to the Maine newspaper, "she also has a record of winning in more conservative rural areas and among swing voters, important qualities in a Democratic nominee who will face President Donald Trump in November.”
The Bangor Daily News also argued that having Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., as the nominee poses “a danger for Democrats."
"Having an avowed socialist at the top of the ticket could hurt the party’s candidates for the U.S. House and Senate,” the editorial board said, echoing a point that Klobuchar herself has often insinuated on the trail.
Biden holds big lead in new South Carolina primary poll
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden holds a 20-point lead over Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders in a new Monmouth University poll of South Carolina's Democratic presidential primary, with 36 percent to Sanders' 16 percent.
With the Palmetto State primary this coming Saturday, philanthropist and billionaire Tom Steyer sits at 15 percent, the only other candidate to hit double-digits in the poll.
On which side of the 15-percent mark candidates like Steyer and Sanders hit will be important, if Saturday's results hem close to the poll's findings. That's because 19 of the state's delegates to the Democratic National Convention are allocated proportionately by the statewide results of the primary, but are only split amongst the candidates who reach that 15-percent threshold.
Behind the top three candidates in the poll are Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren with 8 percent, former South bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 6 percent, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar with 4 percent and Hwaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard with 1 percent.
Fifteen percent of likely primary voters told Monmouth that they were undecided, and only 40 percent of likely primary voters said they were set on their choice.
When just looking at black voters, who typically make up the majority of the South Carolina Democratic primary electorate, Biden holds an even bigger lead. He has support from 45 percent of black voters, compared to Steyer's 17 percent and Sanders' 13 percent.
Biden has long been banking on South Carolina, a state in which he has formed deep relationships during his time in politics and one where black voters (one of his strongest constituencies) are are powerful voting bloc.
But Steyer has invested heavily there, spending more than $20 million on the airwaves through Thursday, according to Advertising Analytics.
And Sanders is looking to ride his strong showings in the first three nominating contests into South Carolina, where all of the candidates are looking for a bounce ahead of Super Tuesday, which comes just days after the primary.
Biden campaign mobilizes in Super Tuesday states
GEORGETOWN, S.C. — The Biden campaign said Wednesday it’s launching a new six-figure, “multi-channel” paid media campaign in Super Tuesday states to push early voting – with a special emphasis on reaching African American voters.
The ad “Service,” which has been running in SC this week including just before the debate and features President Obama’s remarks when he presented Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom, will be on the air in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
The ad buys will target shows and stations that over-perform with African American viewership, the campaign said. Separately, the campaign will run radio ads in Texas and North Carolina talking about how Biden will build on the Obama legacy.
In California, North Carolina and Texas, they are running digital ads on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube also focused on the early vote.
Those television ads will be Biden's first primarily targeted to Super Tuesday states — other ads have run in states holding elections on Super Tuesday, but those ads aired in markets that also covered portions of the early primary states (like the Boston media market, which covers large portions of New Hampshire).
The campaign calls its limited ad spending “strategic” — another way of reflecting the campaign’s limited ability to compete with deep-pocketed rivals on the airwaves in Super Tuesday states. Through Tuesday, Biden's camp had only spent about $46,000 there on television and radio advertising, according to Advertising Analytics, the least of any Democratic candidate left on the ballot.
And Biden's affiliated super-PAC, Unite the County, hasn't run an ad in a Super Tuesday state either.
Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has already spent $172.3 million in those states, while billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer has spent more than $35 million. Both are funding their own campaigns with their massive personal wealth.
Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign has spent $11 million in Super Tuesday states; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has spent $1.7 million; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has spent $543,000; Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has spent $338,000 and former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg has. spent $363,000.
Super-PACs backing Warren and Klobuchar are also up on the air, and all of those campaigns have more ad spending already booked.
So no matter the total size of the six-figure investment, Biden will still trail the Super Tuesday television and radio spending of most of, if not all of his rivals.
Separately, the campaign announced today a reallocation of staff in the states that follow Super Tuesday – Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Arizona, Missouri and Washington – in addition to staff already in California, Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, Massachusetts, Colorado, Minnesota, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Florida.
In a statement, Biden campaign Super Tuesday States director Molly Ritner said: "Over the past few months, we have continued to build a strong team on the ground in Super Tuesday states — and we’re excited today to add to our Super Tuesday team while also building out our battleground state operation. Joe Biden has built the broad and diverse coalition that we know it will take to beat Donald Trump, and these resources will allow us to continue to bring the Vice President’s message to the voters that we know make up the base of our party.”
Jim Clyburn endorses Joe Biden
CHARLESTON, S.C. — House Majority Whip, and influential South Carolina Democrat, Rep. Jim Clyburn made his endorsement of Joe Biden official on Wednesday morning, praising the former vice president's record and years of service for the state.
Clyburn's endorsement comes after NBC News learned he would endorse the former Vice President, but held off on the announcement until after Tuesday night's Democratic debate. Clyburn first announced the endorsement in a tweet, before appearing with Biden in person, writing, "Joe Biden has stood for the hard-working people of South Carolina. We know Joe, but more importantly, he knows us."
However, Clyburn said he struggled to decide if he should make an endorsement in this race even though he had long decided who he would vote for. He said it was not until he met an elderly constituent at his accountant’s Richland County funeral last week that Clyburn realized he could not stay silent. The constituent said they were waiting to hear from Clyburn before deciding who they would vote for.
"I decided, then and there, that I would not stay silent," Clyburn said.
Clyburn continued, "I want the public to know that I am voting for Joe Biden, South Carolina should be voting for Joe Biden."
As the House Majority Whip and the longest serving Democrat from South Carolina, Clyburn’s influence in the “first-in-the-South” primary is immense given his extensive networks to mobilize support. While his endorsement was not a surprise, it comes at a time when Biden needed an extra vote of confidence to prevent opponents from eroding his support among African American community.
"Nobody with whom I've ever worked with public life, is anymore committed to that motto, that pledge that I have to my constituents than Joe Biden," Clyburn said. "I know his heart, I know who he is, I know what he is."
Following Clyburn’s remarks, Biden was visibly emotional, wiping away tears from his eyes as he recounted how kind Clyburn and his deceased wife Emily have been to him throughout his career. Echoing Clyburn, Biden boldly stated that South Carolinians and the country are not talking about wanting a “revolution” — a jab at Sen. Bernie Sanders. Instead, he said people are looking for results, which he and Clyburn have been able to do at the national level when they spearheaded the Affordable Care Act and Recovery Act through Congress.
"Jim has a voice of powerful, powerful moral clarity that's heard loud and clear in the nation's capital, and he always reminds us, reminds everyone on both sides of the aisle that it's about you, family and community," Biden said.
He continued, "I'm here, heart and soul, with everything I've got to earn the support of the people of South Carolina."
Biden's strategy relies on him to do well in South Carolina to give him necessary momentum going into Super Tuesday next week. Projecting confidence, Biden believed that if he wins South Carolina with the help of Clyburn and his constituents, there will be no stopping his campaign.
"If you send me out of South Carolina with a victory, there will be no stopping us. We will win the nomination, we will win the presidency and most importantly we'll the eliminate the fear so many have in this country of a second term of Donald Trump," Biden said.
New Buttigieg campaign memo outlines strategy for Super Tuesday and beyond
CHARLESTON, S.C. — More than one third of the total delegates to the Democratic National Convention are up for grabs in Democratic primary races on Super Tuesday, and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s campaign is asserting that he has no intention of exiting the Democratic race before then.
A new campaign memo, obtained by NBC News, states, “this race will not be determined on Super Tuesday” if Buttigieg is able to raise enough money to stay in the competition for the long haul and limit Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to no more than a lead of 350 pledged delegates on March 3.
The memo outlines that the Buttigieg campaign’s focus is less about winning specific states and, instead, about targeting specific congressional districts and blunting Sanders’ momentum.
“In the current multi-candidate field, Super Tuesday contests are highly favorable to Senator Sanders, but his position will diminish dramatically as the field of candidates narrows and contests move to the Midwest,” the memo states.
Internal polling and research suggests that voters casting ballots in the March 10th and 17th contests, are “much more favorable” to Buttigieg, per the memo.
“We know that if we do not shrink Sanders’ margin of victory coming out of Super Tuesday, he will have too great a lead in the delegate race for anyone to catch up,” the memo reads.
The Buttigieg campaign’s strategy for trimming Sanders’ margins in Super Tuesday states will include ad buys to help bolster the name recognition of the mayor to peel off Sanders’ support by congressional district — where delegates are up for grabs by any candidate who can get at least 15 percent support.
On Tuesday, Buttigieg launched advertisements for the first time in all Super Tuesday states except Tennessee and Utah, with a $3.5 million investment in 22 specific media markets targeting congressional districts through the local and national cable television airwaves, digital efforts and on Hulu and Roku.
“Because of how delegates are awarded at the individual district level, we can precisely target each district on platforms like YouTube and Facebook without any geographic spillage.” the memo explains.
Buttigieg is also slated to target these areas with in-person public campaign events in this final week. He plans to visit Selma, Ala., Austin, Texas, and Oklahoma City, Okla.
However, the campaign will need to raise more money to be competitive in these states.The campaign, which has said it employed more than 500 individuals on staff, is explicit in the memo in its need to raise $13 million by Super Tuesday to stay competitive.
The Buttigieg campaign did not move resources to several Super Tuesday states until just over a week ago and they’re going up with their first television ads this week lagging behind many of their competitors.
A new 30-second spot titled, “Urgent” will run in 12 Super Tuesday states: Alabama, Arkansans, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia.
The campaign is banking on the premise that the field “will significantly winnow after Super Tuesday,” and ultimately, this plan will only work if the moderate lane of candidates gets smaller.
A senior Buttigieg aide told NBC News, “I think it's incumbent on anyone who doesn’t have a clear path to think long and hard about staying in the race.”