The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Liz Brown-Kaiser and Mitch Felan
34d ago / 10:33 PM UTC
2020 is a referendum on socialism, CPAC speakers say
OXON HILL, Md. — As the first few days of CPAC wrap up, high-profile conservative figures have emphasized that the 2020 election is a referendum on socialism rather than the Democrat who will ultimately become the nominee. In fact, the theme of this year's conference is "America vs. Socialism."
Though Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the current Democratic front-runner, has been name-checked on occasion, the event has primarily emphasized the dangers of the Democratic party itself, which the participants at the Conservative Political Action Conference say has morphed into an entirely socialist entity.
National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow stated that he wouldn't mind having a socialist at the top of the Democratic ticket.
"I am perfectly happy to have a Socialist candidate so we can have it out," he said Friday afternoon on a panel with Ivanka Trump and American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp. "President Trump is more than prepared to show the world why what he called in Davos, Switzerland 'the American model of free enterprise' will whip socialism every time hands down."
Kudlow added that voters should look to the past to see "time and again that socialism is the loser." He also explained that a socialist economy is a great fear of his because it could tank the U.S. economy.
Ivanka made similar arguments, though calling out socialism less directly than Kudlow. Instead, she stressed the importance of the private sector to economic success.
"Our economy is the envy of the world," the first daughter said, highlighting the benefits of President Trump's pro-growth policies.
Schlapp echoed both panelists but made a point to swipe Sanders specifically.
"You don't feel the Bern! We know that," the ACU chairman said. "There's no Bern-ing going on here!"
Earlier Friday, senior advisor for President Trump's reelection campaign, Kimberly Guilfoyle, previewed tomorrow's Democratic primary in South Carolina and warned the crowd of what's at stake in 2020.
"Democrats will be one step closer to nominating a socialist to lead their party," she said.
She noted that she often reflects on the possible alternative to President Trump this election cycle.
"America will never be a socialist country," Guilfoyle stated, calling Democrats children running around a playground suffering from "Trump derangement syndrome."
She reassured the crowd however, that no one can prevent Trump's reelection bid.
"The squad, the socialists. Let them run, let them run baby because nothing can stop the Trump train," Guilfoyle said to cheers.
Among the audience at CPAC are many conservative student groups like Turning Point USA and university chapters of College Republicans. Several speakers at the 2020 conference urged this next generation of voters to disavow socialism despite the left's argument that — in Guilfoyle's words — socialism is "cool" or "woke."
CPAC continues through Sunday and will feature an appearance from President Trump Saturday afternoon.
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34d ago / 9:29 PM UTC
Virginia Rep. Wexton looks to hold onto suburban women in November
WASHINGTON — With the presidential race in full swing through Super Tuesday, congressional incumbents seeking re-election are also gearing up their campaigns with suburban women in mind to replicate their midterm victories. A record number of winning female candidates helped Democrats flip 43 Republican seats and reclaim the House majority in 2018, many supported by overwhelming margins from a voting bloc that has recently swung hard away from the GOP.
There are encouraging signs for Democrats. A November NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that President Donald Trump faces erosion in his support among women. Sixty-seven percent of college-educated women said they are certain they will vote against Trump while just 22 percent of women with a degree said they will definitely back the president.
One congresswoman running for re-election in a battleground state is Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton, who defeated two-term Republican incumbent Barbara Comstock handily in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District in 2018.
Wexton’s district spans the growing suburbs of Washington, D.C. Her state is a major focus of presidential candidates seeking to garner Virginia’s 99 pledged delegates at stake on Super Tuesday.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump statewide by five points and the president also lost Loudoun County, a critical part of Wexton's district, by nearly 17 points.
Wexton’s campaign says that suburban women will once again be key to her re-election, at least as long as Donald Trump is president.
Wexton herself says those voters are moving even more towards the Democratic column.
“I do think that suburban women focus on issues that help kids and families, and kitchen table issues,” she told NBC News in Sterling, Va. last month. “The Republican party has been moving away from those issues.”
For Wexton, the GOP is morphing into the party of Trump and the president’s divisiveness isn’t a “good way to govern.”
While the congresswoman focused on health care and gun reform in 2018, she tied her challenger to the president’s more controversial policies to win over moderates.
Wexton was a target of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the party’s fundraising body, leading up to the midterms.
Former NRCC communications director, Matt Gorman, said that “Comstock was really one of our best candidates” but “obviously the atmospherics were too much.”
Gorman added that unlike in 2018, Wexton now has a record to defend.
Wexton does not have a primary challenger but there are five Republicans running for the right to challenge her in November, two of whom are women. One candidate has launched a “Wexit” movement to get “the heck out of the ‘People’s Republic of Northern Virginia.’”
Aliscia Andrews would be the first female Marine in Congress if elected and is fighting to win over the “politically homeless” to beat Wexton, who she labelled a “lame duck” in a discussion with NBC News last month.
Andrews, who bills herself as a proud suburban mother, said that the bloc is critical to her campaign and that the GOP has "been changing” its approach to women voters.
It’s not clear how effective a reset can be for the GOP after Democrats nationwide hammered them over the issue of health care two years ago.
Health care advocate Tasha Nelson, whose son, Jack, has cystic fibrosis, is the Virginia Chapter Lead of Little Lobbyists, a non-partisan volunteer group representing children with complex medical conditions and disabilities.
In an interview with NBC News, Nelson said she considers herself a single-issue health care voter. While she does not identify with one party and says she used to lean right, she says she is no longer a swing voter.
Nelson feels herself moving further toward the Democrats, saying that her child would have died without the Affordable Care Act.
The Little Lobbyists work closely with Wexton and many lawmakers from both parties in both chambers.
When Comstock voted for President Trump’s tax bill, which targeted the individual mandate central to Obamacare, Nelson decided to support Wexton in the midterms.
As a voter rather than a representative of Little Lobbyists, Nelson believes Wexton has not let her down and plans to support her in 2020 as long as she continues to fight for health care protections for kids like Jack.
While all eyes will be on Virginia for the presidential primary on March 3, the state’s tenth district will move into the national spotlight as November approaches.
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Marianna Sotomayor and Mike Memoli
34d ago / 4:52 PM UTC
Tim Kaine endorses Joe Biden
SUMTER, S.C. — With just days until his state’s Super Tuesday primary, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine announced Friday that he's backing Joe Biden for president.
The former Virginia governor and 2016 vice presidential nominee applauded the “admirable” field of candidates running for president, but said Biden's record and "character" led him to support the former vice president.
“Barack Obama wisely chose Joe as his partner in the White House, and for eight years,” Kaine said in a statement. “It is sad to have a President who no one holds up as a role model for America’s kids. By contrast, Joe Biden has exemplary heart, character, and experience.”
America is afflicted by a President who delights in division, cruelty, lies, and chaos. We deserve better in the Oval Office. In Virginia's primary, I will proudly vote for @JoeBiden. Joe has exemplary heart, character, and experience—and he’s a leader our kids can look up to.
Kaine’s endorsement comes as Biden continues to amass the most support from congressional members in Super Tuesday states and as his campaign is seeking momentum to jump start his hopes throughout the numerous March primaries. The campaign has telegraphed that while Biden has not spent much time or money in Super Tuesday states, they feel confident they will do well there because of the influence and organizational support endorsers pour into the race.
While Biden and Kaine never served together in the Senate, they both served on the Foreign Relations Committee, Kaine as a member and Biden as a former chair.
When Kaine campaigned as the vice presidential nominee, he and Biden held a joint rally on the eve of the 2016 election in what was billed at the time as something of a pass-the-torch moment. Biden also campaigned for Kaine on the eve of the 2012 election when Kaine was about to be elected senator.
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34d ago / 3:16 PM UTC
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."
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).
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.”
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Leigh Ann Caldwell and Haley Talbot
35d ago / 10:19 PM UTC
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.'"
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35d ago / 8:24 PM UTC
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."
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35d ago / 7:21 PM UTC
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.
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."
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35d ago / 7:11 PM UTC
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.
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35d ago / 3:09 PM UTC
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.