The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Biden's first virtual event encounters technological glitches
WASHINGTON — The virtual campaign is proving a bit complicated, after a Friday event for former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign encountered some technological glitches.
Biden is the first Democratic candidate to hold a virtual town hall due to concerns surrounding COVID-19 and public events. The attempt to broadcast the first of two scheduled “virtual events” in the next several days involved a garbled-voiced Biden and ended roughly four minutes after the Facebook Live video began streaming in Illinois.
The former vice president acknowledged the issues while ending the livestream.
“Well, I’m sorry this has been such a disjointed effort here because of the connections, but there is a lot more to say and I’ve probably already said too much,” Biden said.
But the appetite for these events appears to be there — the short event garnered more than 5,000 viewers.
On Saturday morning, the campaign released a link to a full, updated video without the technical glitches.
Much of the event focused on Biden explaining how he'd work to respond and recover the country from pandemics. He also tried to downplay the need for panic and outlined ways in which everyone can take precautions to avoid the spread of the COVID-19 virus, while still connecting to people.
“Campaign events are no exception that’s why we’re connecting virtually today. We’re going to have to get better at the technical side of this,” Biden said.
Biden, Sanders increase ad spending amid virtual campaign
WASHINGTON — While the traditional campaigning in the 2020 race has come to a halt due to concerns regarding COVID-19, the Democratic presidential candidates have increased their TV and radio ad spending for the upcoming March 17 primaries, with millions of dollars on the airwaves in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio.
Here’s a look at the ad spending in these four states through March 17, according to data from Advertising Analytics:
- Sanders: $1.4 million
- Biden: $564,000
- Unite the Country (pro-Biden Super PAC): $522,000
FYI: Michael Bloomberg had spent $8.9 million in the state before dropping out
- Sanders: $6.0 million
- Biden: $5.1 million
FYI: Bloomberg had spent $44.6 million
- Sanders: $2.2 million
- Biden: $1.9 million
FYI: Bloomberg had spent $18.6 million
- Sanders: $2.3 million
- Biden: $1.3 million
FYI: Bloomberg had spent $15.4 million
Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman formally backs Biden
WASHINGTON — The chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), California Rep. Karen Bass, announced Friday that she is endorsing Joe Biden for president, making her the 37th member of the CBC to back the former vice president.
In a statement released by Bass, the congresswoman said that Biden is the person who can provide a “steady hand that can bring an end to the past three and a half years of daily trauma inflicted” on Americans by the Trump presidency.
Bass added that during his time as vice president, she has come to know Biden as a true leader domestically and internationally — someone who “works tirelessly on behalf of all Americans, especially those purposely forgotten and antagonized by the current administration.”
In an interview with PBS, the chairwoman elaborated on her decision to back Biden and revealed that his rival, Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, “called one time” to invite her to meet “last minute,” but when she couldn’t make it, he never called back. Her and Biden in contrast, have spoken “a number of times” during the campaign.
Bass also told PBS that Biden’s vice presidency reveals a “historic connection with African Americans,” and that Sanders “does not have a historic connection like that.” She continued to criticize Sanders, saying that if she were to run for president, she would work “years in advance on building ties and building relationships — not just with African Americans — with all communities.”
Sanders will 'wholeheartedly' support Biden if he's the nominee, adviser says
WASHINGTON — Senior adviser to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign Jeff Weaver said Thursday that Sanders will support former Vice President Joe Biden "wholeheartedly" if Biden is the Democratic nominee.
In an interview on MSNBC, Weaver said that the Sanders campaign is looking at the rest of the Democratic primary on a "week by week" basis, but that if he does not win the nomination, he would campaign for the former vice president. However, Weaver wouldn't say if that decision would come before or after the Democratic convention in July.
"I don't have a crystal ball," Weaver said. Adding, "Right now we are working hard and working hard to win."
The campaign is looking to shore up wins in this Tuesday's upcoming nominating contests — focusing specifically on Illinois and Arizona where Sanders performed well in 2016. However, states like Florida and Ohio will also be voting on Tuesday where Biden has a substantial likelihood of winning a larger share of delegates.
What might Michigan's primary turnout say about the general election?
WASHINGTON — Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders had hoped a strong showing in Michigan's Democratic presidential primary would help supercharge his fledgling campaign, but his campaign appears poised for a double-digit loss there.
NBC News contributor Dante Chinni, the director of the American Communities Project at George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs and a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, pulled out three important takeaways from Michigan's primary:
- There are cracks in Sanders' coalition of young, college-age voters as well as the older working-class voters.
- Sanders' success in areas that support President Trump "seems to have fizzled."
- And turnout suggests Biden "might be the candidate to bring blue-collar voters back to the Democrats in 2020."
Click here to read his full analysis.
Gabby Giffords backs Biden ahead of Arizona primary
Giffords, who represented a Tucson-area district from 2005-2012, became a nationally recognized gun control activist after she was shot and critically wounded in a mass shooting in Arizona in 2011. Her endorsement comes ahead of next week's Arizona primary between Biden and Bernie Sanders, whose strength among Latino voters could prove significant in the state. Sanders won 53 percent of Latino voters in Nevada’s caucuses on February 22 and 41 percent in Texas on Super Tuesday.
Arizona votes on March 17, along with Florida, Illinois and Ohio.
“Joe Biden leads with his heart. He has the compassion and toughness to lead on gun safety. I’ve witnessed him comfort the survivors of gun violence, and I’ve seen him fight for solutions to gun violence — and win. This is the leadership we need in the White House. Joe Biden is the choice for a true gun safety president,” Giffords said in a statement provided to NBC News.
"Congresswoman Gabby Giffords is an American hero who embodies the courage and tenacity we need to take on and defeat the gun lobby," Biden said in a statement to NBC News. "I have been proud to work alongside Gabby in the fight to end gun violence and am honored to have her support today."
The endorsement could undergird Biden’s momentum coming off his strong showings in the March 10 primaries.
Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly, is expected to be the Democratic challenger to Arizona Republican Sen. Martha McSally in one of the highest-profile Senate contests this year.
Sanders has come under criticism from Biden and gun control activists for some of his past votes on gun measures, particularly a law that shields gun manufacturers from liability.
As a presidential candidate, Sanders has emphasized his support for universal background checks and his D- minus rating from the NRA.
Giffords and Biden have worked together in the past on gun safety measures, including in the aftermath of the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut where 20 first graders and six educators were killed. Two years later, they sat together off the Senate floor watching as a bill Giffords had fought for to expand background checks failed by five votes.
Biden leads Sanders by dozens of endorsements after big wins
WASHINGTON — Since his big win in the South Carolina primary less than two weeks ago, Joe Biden has earned more than 50 endorsements from Democratic governors and members of Congress.
That’s compared with just one endorsement for Bernie Sanders since the Vermont senator’s win in the Nevada caucuses on Feb. 22.
Overall, Biden has a total of more than 100 endorsements from major Democratic politicians, while Sanders has about ten.
The gap in their support has continued to widen as the former vice president racks up primary victories. Following Biden's near-30 percentage point margin win in South Carolina on Feb. 29, most of his former primary opponents have endorsed him.
In the last week and a half alone, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, and Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Kamala Harris of California, and Cory Booker of New Jersey have all rallied for Biden. Mike Bloomberg and John Delaney have also put their support behind him.
Other influential politicians who have jumped on board include Terry McAuliffe, a long-time Clinton ally who previously served as Chair of the Democratic National Committee and the governor of Virginia.
The only former competitor backing Sanders after his definitive victory in the Nevada caucuses is author Marianne Williamson. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., dropped out of the race last week but she has yet to endorse Biden or Sanders.
Those backing Biden and Sanders also vary drastically in their ideologies and policy positions.
Since the South Carolina primary, Democratic Reps. Abigail Spanberger, Elissa Slotkin, and Andy Kim — moderates who all flipped their seats from red to blue in the 2018 midterms — have endorsed Biden. Kim is one of several House members who previously endorsed Buttigieg and then transferred his support to Biden after the former South Bend mayor suspended his campaign.
While just one member of Congress — Rep. Mark Takano of California — has decided to throw his support behind Sanders since his strong performance in Nevada lifted him into temporary front-runner status, those who backed the Independent Vermont senator prior to the caucuses come from the bluest of districts. Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan for example, are ardent Sanders campaigners.
From the start of his candidacy, Sanders has failed to win over any governors. Five governors in contrast, have issued formal endorsements for Biden, including Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer whose state is voting today.
Sanders and Biden scrap on the airwaves in Tuesday's states
WASHINGTON — It may not be super, but as the Democratic race hits the latest round of contests today, Joe Biden is looking to replicate his strong showing on last week's Super Tuesday and widen his delegate lead over Bernie Sanders.
The Sanders campaign is outspending Biden on the TV and radio airwaves across the six states that hold their nominating contests today — $2.9 million to Biden's almost $2.2 million, according to Advertising Analytics. But Biden's effort has been boosted by spending from his allied super PAC, Unite the Country.
Both campaigns are spending the most in Michigan — Sanders and Biden have spent about $1.2 million each, with Unite the Country spending another almost $400,000.
The Biden campaign and his super PAC have also run ads in Missouri and Mississippi, but neither have spent a cent on TV or radio ads in Washington, Idaho and North Dakota.
The Sanders campaign, by comparison, has gone up on the airwaves in all six states voting Tuesday.
Sanders' top ad across these states, according to Advertising Analytics data, is one that attacks Biden on social security by using audio from a speech in 1995 where he called for a spending freeze across the government. His campaign has spent more than $644,000 to air the ad in states holding votes on Tuesday.
The Biden campaign has bristled at those attacks, and has spent almost $200,000 in those states on ads that criticize Sanders for going negative and argue Biden has said he'd expand Medicare and Social Security.
Biden's top ads in the states voting Tuesday are different versions of the same spot, which feature former President Obama's praise of Biden as "an extraordinary man with an extraordinary career in public service."
And Unite Our Country has spent $376,000 in these states on a spot that quotes Biden talking about his campaign, and includes some brief swipes at Sanders (Biden is quoted int he ad saying he wants to "build on ObamaCare" instead of scrapping it, and "Democrats want a nominee who is a Democrat").
Biden holds double-digit lead in new Michigan primary poll
WASHINGTON — Joe Biden leads Bernie Sanders in Michigan by double digits ahead of tomorrow's presidential primary, a new poll shows.
Monmouth University's new numbers show Biden with 51 percent support, compared to Sanders' 36 percent.
The former vice president, who has been rising at the polls ever since last month's victory in South Carolina, has a significant edge (of at least double-digits) with white voters, non-white voters, voters aged 50 or over, women, self-described Democrats, moderates and conservatives.
Half of voters say they're firmly decided, 23 percent said they are open to changing their mind, and another 17 percent already voted early.
Biden and Sanders both have a similar edge over President Trump in a hypothetical general election matchup. Biden leads Trump 48 percent to 41 percent, while Sanders leads 46 percent to 41 percent.
Monmouth polled 911 registered Michigan voters (411 of which were likely Democratic primary voters) between March 5 and March 8. The margin of error for the larger sample was 3.1 percentage points, while the margin for the smaller sample was 4.8 percent.
Michigan is becoming the next big battleground in the Democratic presidential primary race. Both Sanders and Biden have dropped about $1 million each on television and radio ads through Monday and there's been a flurry of activity there in recent days.
The Vermont Independent senator canceled a rally in Mississippi last week to pivot to Michigan to hold events there, held a big rally with New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at the University of Michigan over the weekend, and won the endorsement of Rev. Jesse Jackson as he makes a play for the state's black voters.
But Biden has been laser-focused on the state too, rolling out a bevy of endorsements in recent days. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer backed him after his victories on Super Tuesday. And Biden is set to appear in the state on Monday with two former presidential primary rivals, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and California Sen. Kamala Harris, NBC News' Mike Memoli and Marianna Sotomayor report.
Sanders is hopeful he can win the state, like he did in 2016's presidential primary, to give his campaign a jolt of momentum after a tough showing on Super Tuesday. But Sanders' headline-capturing Michigan victory in 2016 only netted him a narrow delegate advantage from the state, which former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton offset by a large margin-of-victory in Mississippi, which holds its primary on the same day as Michigan.
Sanders is at risk of a similar dynamic this year — exit polling from Super Tuesday showed Biden cleaning up with black voters in southern states like Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee.
After it got stymied in Washington, Democrats hope to show key reform package can advance in states
WASHINGTON — Democratic legislators in 10 states are set to introduce a version of the government reform package known as HR-1, which has floundered in the GOP-controlled Senate, as Democrats try to demonstrate they can advance their agenda beyond Washington.
The group behind the effort told NBC News that the measure is a collection of reforms, including an expansion of voting rights — early voting, same-day registration, and a restoration of rights for former felons — an attempt to end gerrymandering by moving to an independent redistricting process and restrictions on corporate political contributions and the so-called "revolving door" of legislators becoming lobbyists.
House Resolution 1 was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s top agenda item after Democrats won back control of the House in the 2018 midterm elections. It passed the lower chamber on a party-line vote a year ago Monday, but went nowhere in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The For the People Act, as both the national and state-level bill is known, will be introduced in a wide wide range of states including battlegrounds like Arizona, Pennsylvania, Georgia, New Hampshire and North Carolina, along with some bluer states like Connecticut and Hawaii, and red ones like South Carolina, Missouri and Kentucky.
The cross-country push is being coordinated by the group Future Now and Future Majority, which together are part of a renewed focus by liberals on statehouses after years of dominance by conservative groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
“It’s important to remember that the assault on democracy didn’t start with (President Donald) Trump -- it started in the states,” said Daniel Squadron, a former New York state Senator who is the co-founder and executive director of Future Now. “By expanding access to voting, reducing the power of corporate money in elections, and strengthening ethics and oversight, the For the People Act will ensure that state governments are more accountable, responsive, and focused on the broad public interest, not narrow special interests.”
The group aims to help Democrats win statehouses, while its policy arm has built an online policy library as part of the research and strategy help it provides to state lawmakers, many of whom have only limited professional staff and expertise at their disposal.
State legislative and gubernatorial races will be especially important in 2020 ahead of next year's decennial redistricting process, which will re-write congressional district lines for the next year, lines that are, in many states, subject to the approval of the state legislature and governor.
Trump campaign 'proceeding normally,' but no rallies scheduled
WASHINGTON — There are few things President Trump says he enjoys more than a large-scale rally with thousands of cheering supporters. And while he has pledged to keep up the pace amid concerns about large gathering as the coronavirus outbreak intensifies, his re-election campaign has not announced any upcoming rallies for the weeks ahead, marking the first time without one on the calendar this year.
The campaign maintains it is “proceeding normally” and simply hasn’t made any future plans public. “We will announce rallies when we are ready to do so," principal deputy communications director Erin Perrine told NBC News. "President Trump had a town hall this week, a fundraiser, and we have loads of campaign events on the event schedule on the website.”
Those “events” are mostly smaller gatherings for volunteer trainings but there is one “Women for Trump” event on the books with Second Lady Karen Pence next week in Pennsylvania.
When asked at the CDC on Friday whether he’d considered not having rallies due to coronavirus fears, the president told reporters: “No, I haven’t.” He doubled down on that over the weekend, when he said he expects “tremendous rallies” to take place but did not offer any specifics beyond that.
“We're doing very well. And we've done a fantastic job with respect to that subject on the virus,” Trump added.
For weeks, the president has maintained that mass gatherings are “very safe.” The president has held 10 rallies so far in 2020 and notably headlined campaign events around every major Democratic voting contest — including in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and North Carolina. This week will mark the first time voters head to the polls without the president continuing his consistent pattern of shadowing the Democratic campaigns this primary season.
It’s worth noting other candidates are continuing to campaign and hold large events, though they have signaled a willingness to adjust plans if guidance from medical professionals changes course. Former Vice President Joe Biden said Sunday his team is “listening to the experts and the CDC” and they will take “advice from them” on any upcoming mass gatherings.
Biden aides also put out a statement late Sunday night, indicating they "will continue to closely follow guidance offered by federal and local public health officials on the types of events we hold and how we execute them."
Trump has a fundraiser in Longwood, Florida tomorrow but, apart from that, there is no public campaign travel on his schedule. Asked on Saturday about whether elderly people should be concerned about attending political rallies, HHS Sec. Alex Azar told reporters during a White House briefing that he didn’t want to comment in his official capacity but that anyone who is older and has an underlying condition should “exercise caution.”
On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci echoed that message in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," saying: “If we continue to see the community spread go up I think you need to seriously look at anything that's a large gathering. Again, you have to understand… particularly if you're an individual who has an underlying condition and are vulnerable.”