The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
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.”
Bloomberg surrogates preview debate tactics against Sanders
CHARLESTON, S.C. — Hours ahead of the Democratic debate in South Carolina, surrogates for former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg held a press conference targeting Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and the need for him to be “vetted” now that he’s a “front-runner.”
Rep. Greg Meeks, D-N.Y., Columbia, S.C. Mayor Steve Benjamin, Augusta, Ga. Mayor Hardie Davis, former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and former Flint, Mich. Mayor Karen Weaver — all elected officials of color — slammed Sanders for his record, particularly on gun control.
“We need a candidate who's fully vetted that can go on to defeat Donald Trump. We don't believe that Senator Sanders has passed this test,” said Benjamin.
All of the speakers at the press conference hit Sanders’ multiple votes against the Brady bill, legislation which required a waiting period for gun purchases and background checks.
“No one, not any of them, has a perfect record when it comes to the issues that are important to the black community,” Meeks said. “Too often Bernie Sanders has been on the wrong side of history, missing in action or unable to make progress on virtually every issue for black voters.”
Meeks noted that while Bloomberg has apologized for his past mistakes on policies such as stop and frisk, Sanders “has not been clear” in where he has failed on issues like gun reform.
“While we welcome that Bernie Sanders has changed his position on some things, he has strongly criticized other Democratic candidates for their previous policies, even after they have acknowledged they were wrong,” Meeks added.
The campaign surrogates also promised a "180 degree shift" in Bloomberg's debate performances.
"Number one, I think that the first half of the debate when you had over sixty people attacking him, it was a poor response," Meeks said on Bloomberg's first debate performance. "He's gotta defend himself. I think he did better in the second half of the debate. And I think that you'll see a 180 degree shift tonight."
How previous Dems won South Carolina and the nomination
WASHINGTON — As 2020 candidates prepare for the South Carolina Democratic primary Saturday, the focus is on black voters, a growing base for the party in the Palmetto State and a key voting bloc for eventual party nominees in past elections. The demographic makes up about two-thirds of the state's Democratic electorate.
Every Democratic winner in South Carolina’s primary since 1992 has ultimately become the party’s nominee except for John Edwards. Though Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders leads the 2020 field in delegates after first and second place finishes in multiple early states, he'll likely need to overcome his past challenges in South Carolina to clear his path to the nomination.
His 2016 primary finish was disappointing in South Carolina, especially among black voters. Hillary Clinton carried 74 percent of the state with Sanders trailing nearly 50 percentage points behind her, according to exit polls.
The racial breakdown between the two candidates’ supporters in the state was starkly different. Among Clinton voters in the primary, 71 percent identified as black while 64 percent of Sanders’ backers identified as white.
2008 primary exit polls show that Barack Obama won over about double the vote share of Clinton, including 80 percent of the black vote but less than one-fourth of white voters in the Palmetto State.
General election exit polls from 2004 show that blacks only made up about 30 percent of voters but with a vast majority — 85 percent — supporting John Kerry.
Going into tonight’s debate in South Carolina, Joe Biden leads among likely Democratic voters and African-Americans in the state in the latest NBC News/Marist poll out Monday. This comes despite his weak performances in the early states thus far.
Sanders only trails Biden by 4 points — 23 to 27 percent support respectively — with likely Democratic voters in South Carolina. In the black subset of this group, the senator is 15 points behind Biden with only 20 percent support.
Billionaire entrepreneur Tom Steyer comes in a close third with 19 percent from black voters.
The poll was conducted before the Nevada caucuses, a heavily diverse state that Sanders won by more than a two-to-one margin.
The seven candidates on the ballot and still in the race will compete for 54 pledged delegates to the National Democratic Convention, the greatest number of delegates up for grabs in the campaign cycle so far. Mike Bloomberg will not be on the ballot and South Carolina cancelled its Republican primary.
Biden clinches support from all House Dems from N.C.
CHARLESTON, S.C. — In the race to Super Tuesday, former Vice President Joe Biden has an advantage at least when it comes down to Congressional endorsements across the fourteen states voting next week. On Tuesday, Biden clinched all three Democratic House members from North Carolina when Rep. David price joined fellow N.C. Reps. G.K. Butterfield and Alma Adams.
And that endorsement comes as Biden tries to indicate he has the best chance to stop Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary contest.
Biden has a total of 48 Congressional endorsers from both the House and the Senate, according to NBC News’ count, including 20 from Super Tuesday states alone making him the most endorsed Democratic presidential candidate from Congress. NBC News has also learned that South Carolina heavyweight House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn is expected to endorse Biden on Wednesday, bringing his total count of Congressional endorsers to 49.
Biden has also received the most endorsements from House Democrats who flipped their Congressional seats during the 2018 blue wave election. Many of these “front-line” Democrats represent states like Iowa and Texas, and say they need a more moderate candidate like Biden to keep their seats in 2020. Price echoed that in his endorsement.
"This is a critical time in the nominating process. I have worked with many of the candidates directly and have listened carefully to their ideas. I respect the commitment that each has brought to the race and I will gladly support whomever our party nominates. However, I believe Joe Biden is the best candidate to unite our party and our nation in a way that ensures Democratic control of not only the White House, but also the House and Senate," Price said in a statement.
While the impact of endorsements on voters seems to have faded, the Biden campaign says that their influence is critical since their networks bring in the resources and support needed to sustain their campaign operation in Super Tuesday states. Endorsers have often gone on bus tours for Biden in numerous early primary states while Biden was competing elsewhere.
Biden endorsers in Super Tuesday states may also become necessary for the campaign as they have yet to start airing ads in Super Tuesday states.
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.
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