The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
DNC reserves $22 million in YouTube ads for general election
WASHINGTON — The Democratic National Committee announced on Monday that it will reserve $22 million in YouTube ads ahead of the general election as the party looks to fight President Trump's fundraising and online campaign behemoth.
The ads will start in September in Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and then in October in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, Maine, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia.
While the party hasn't announced the content of the ads yet, it said in a release announcing the effort that the strategy is aimed at boosting turnout for the party's presidential nominee as well as the entire Democratic ticket.
Campaigns and political groups typically get better rates for ads when they make earlier investments.
“Now more than ever, it’s critical that we reach voters where they are online — and this digital program will help us mobilize the voters we need to make Donald Trump a one-term president,” DNC Chair Tom Perez said in a statement.
“By making these kinds of historic, early investments in our battlegrounds and campaign infrastructure, the DNC is putting our eventual nominee and Democrats running at every level of the ballot in the strongest possible position to secure victory in November.”
Patrick Stevenson, the party's chief mobilization officer, added in a statement that the party had been already planning an "aggressive general election online strategy" before the coronavirus pandemic upended American life, and the campaign trail.
"The pandemic has only reinforced the importance of communicating with voters across a wide range of online channels and utilizing a variety of innovative, data-driven digital tactics," Stevenson said.
"That's the approach we’re taking, and these ads will be another important tool that will help our eventual nominee and Democrats running at every level win in November.”
While the new DNC ads will hardly be the only digital ad spending from Democratic groups this cycle — other outside groups have already begun announcing commitments of their own — the party says it's working to reserve more ads across "several other platforms."
But as the eventual nominee stands to help the party significantly up its digital investments, Democrats will face a robust digital operation on the Republican side, one that's spent heavily on digital platforms in the hopes of re-electing Trump.
The Trump campaign alone has spent more than $48 million on Facebook and Google since the start of 2019, according to a digital tracker by the Democratic communications firm Bully Pulpit Interactive, with more coming from the Republican National Committee and other allied groups.
Much of that online spending has gone to ads encouraging supporters to sign up and donate to the Trump campaign.
Wisconsin primary confusion leaves Biden campaign scrambling to mobilize voters
WASHINGTON — As Wisconsin chaotically moves ahead with its presidential primary on Tuesday, Joe Biden’s campaign is scrambling to figure out the best ways to target and mobilize voters amid a major pandemic that has fully upended the 2020 presidential contest.
Wisconsin, which has been under a stay at home order since March 25 to combat the coronavirus crisis, had been scheduled to hold its primary over the objections of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who unsuccessfully pressed the Republican-led legislature to halt in-person voting, and others who are warning it's too dangerous to hold an election with the pandemic raging.
But it's unclear what that primary will look like after Evers' last-minute decision Monday afternoon to issue an executive order suspending in-person voting and moving it to June 9.
While Sanders bested Democrat Hillary Clinton by 13 points in Wisconsin's 2016 primary, polling shows Biden well ahead of Sanders this time, but given the unusual circumstances of this contest, no outcome is assured. And Wisconsin is a key general election battleground that Trump narrowly carried in 2016. So Biden’s team, which has been following work from home guidelines set by the campaign in early March, has been forced to campaign in earnest.
Biden has not visited Wisconsin during the primary season and the campaign has done no television advertising there. Outside of billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who carpet-bombed the airwaves during his brief bid, no candidate has spent significant money on the Wisconsin airwaves this presidential cycle. The former Vice President's campaign spent about $600 to run a new digital ad featuring Biden asking Americans to help protect COVID-19 frontline workers that Wisconsinites saw over four days last week on Facebook and Instagram.
Most of the campaign efforts have been spent on direct voter contact, advisers say.
Organizers have retired their door-knocking clipboards, turning their attention full-time to reaching voters on the Team Joe app and Pencil, a voter-database texting app that allows them to text persuadable voters and have ongoing conversations with them. The Biden campaign says that they have sent 3.1 million initial text messages from their texting platform since the March 17 primaries to voters living in key states like Wisconsin.
But instead of solely focusing on selling their candidate, campaign staffers say they are consoling Wisconsin supporters and key constituencies amid the distress caused by the coronavirus crisis.
Besides restructuring their direct voter contacts, staffers are being trained on how best to engage and inform voters about the virus in an effort to not just win over their support, but also solidify their trust in the candidate in a key battleground state as they eye the general election against President Donald Trump.
“We’re calling supporters and would-be volunteers to ask them how they’re doing, how they’re staying safe,” Molly Ritner, the campaign’s states director, said in an interview with NBC News. “Sometimes we’re the only ones interacting with these people on a daily basis.”
The Biden campaign is banking on their “aggressive” shift to a phone-calling and texting approach to put them over the edge in Wisconsin, the first real test for them to mobilize voters at a time when they are being told to stay at home. Achieving success and turnout in the Badger state could lay a rough template for how the campaign approaches future contests next month, most of which have become vote-by-mail primaries.
Concerned about the potential public health dangers of in-person voting on Tuesday, the campaign has prioritized getting as many supporters as possible to sign up for absentee ballots instead.
“The health and safety of our staff, supporters, and the general public is Biden for President’s number one priority. We encourage voters to take advantage of absentee ballots,” Biden said at the end of a recent statement announcing his endorsement of Jill Karofsky in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court race.
So far only 1.2 million Wisconsinites have requested an absentee ballot according to the Wisconsin Election Commission, a much lower number than the 2.1 million who voted in the 2016 primaries.
Ahead of Tuesday’s contest, the Biden campaign has also relied on endorsers in and outside the state to tap into key constituencies in congressional districts they are targeting. Last week, they tasked a campaign co-chair, Louisiana Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond, to lead a call with faith leaders and urge them to inform their congregants to sign up for absentee ballots and vote safely.
The forced pivot to digital has moved them away from traditional campaigning strategies like airing TV ads in Wisconsin, instead prioritizing having Biden appear regularly on national TV and participating in virtual events that a broader swath of voters can view live or after it airs. The campaign targeted young Wisconsin voters on social media to attend Biden’s young adult happy hour last week viewable from the campaign’s livestream page.
“Virtual events don’t have physical borders like a state does, so we’ve been able to target events broadly to Wisconsin voters to have them participate,” campaign states director, Molly Ritner, said.
Pete Buttigieg launches PAC aimed at electing young leaders
HOUSTON, TX — Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who dropped out of the presidential race just over a month ago, is launching "Win the Era," a political action committee aimed at electing a new generation of leaders.
The PAC, named after a common refrain Buttigieg used while on the campaign trail, will represent a continuation of his work to support generational change candidates running in down-ballot races.
“The work of electing a forward-thinking generation of Democratic candidates never ends,” Buttigieg senior advisor Lis Smith said in a statement. “Pete will do his part by building and leading the Win the Era PAC as we get closer to the November election."
In an email to supporters, Buttigieg leans into a sense of urgency related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the need for strong state and local leadership.
“Our nation and world are in a period of upheaval right now, which will make it more important than ever to support and elect good leaders this November and into the future,” Buttigieg writes. He later adds, “In the past few weeks especially, we’ve seen the importance of our institutions and the reality that local and state leadership is extremely important.”
Per the email, the PAC will be rolling out endorsements focused on candidates who represent “a successor generation of leadership,” and Democrats who are competing in conservative places highlighting “areas with emerging diversity in the electorate not yet reflected in leadership,” among other attributes.
Buttigieg, known for being a fundraising powerhouse throughout his presidential bid, hopes to create that same energy around his latest project.
The Buttigieg campaign will refund general election donations made to his campaign, as required by law. Buttigieg ended up with about $3 million in money earmarked for the general election, an NBC News analysis of Federal Election Commission data shows. He is urging his donors to instead put that money toward his newly formed PAC with an option to donate up to $5,000 via the PAC's website.
In addition, to asking his supporters for donations, Buttigieg is also urging them to send along information on lesser-known candidates who the PAC should consider supporting.
Biden leads Trump in new national poll
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump in the latest Grinnell College national poll. The poll of likely voters, released Wednesday, shows Biden garnering 47 percent support to Trump's 43 percent support.
The poll also measured a hypothetical head-to-head contest between Trump and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Trump leads Sanders, 44 percent to 43 percent, well within the poll's 3.5-point margin of error for likely voters.
And while the poll shows a close race between either potential Democratic nominee and Trump, support among self-proclaimed Trump supporters is stronger than support for either Sanders and Biden supporters.
Of those who identify as Biden supporters in a head-to-head match-up with Trump, just 55 percent said their "mind is made up" on supporting Biden. Forty-three percent of them said they could be persuaded to support a different candidate.
The same story seems to be true of Sanders supporters. Of likely voters who identify as supporters of Sanders, 50 percent said they're steadfast in their decision — and 44 percent of them could be persuaded otherwise. The president, meanwhile, continues to see strength in his base.
Eighty-two percent of self-identified Trump supporters say their mind is made up on who they'll support in the general election, with just 17 percent saying they could be persuaded to vote for someone else.
The Grinnell College poll was taken between March 27 and March 30 as concern about the coronavirus pandemic rose and as new guidelines for social distancing were put in place. But as unemployment rates rise due to the pandemic, Americans are split on if they think the economy is in a better or worse place than when President Trump took office. Forty-three percent of Americans said the economy is better than at the beginning of 2017, while 42 percent said it is worse.
Trump campaign demands Sessions stop tying his Senate campaign to the president
WASHINGTON – President Trump’s re-election campaign sent a scathing letter to former Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week, calling him “delusional” for tying himself to the president in his current Senate campaign and demanding it stop circulating any mailers that imply Trump supports his bid.
The Trump campaign specifically called out Sessions’ team for an advertisement that mentioned the president by name 22 times and “even makes the delusional assertion that you are President ‘Trump’s #1 Supporter.’”
“We only assume your campaign is doing this to confuse President Trump’s loyal supporters in Alabama into believing the President supports your candidacy in the upcoming primary run-off election. Nothing could be further from the truth,” wrote Trump campaign chief operating officer Michael Glassner in a letter obtained by NBC News.
The New York Times first reported on the letter.
Trump endorsed former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, Sessions’ primary opponent, last month after the two men advanced to a runoff. Aides close to the president had tried to get him to hold off on slamming Sessions until after the primary, which Trump did, until the morning after.
The president famously told "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd that the single “biggest mistake” of his administration was appointing Sessions as attorney general and wishes he would have made that decision differently.
Sessions, for his part, has repeatedly complimented Trump in this race, tweeting adoring videos and reminding voters that he was the first senate backer of then-candidate Trump back in 2016.
The Trump campaign letter to Sessions includes text from the president’s tweets in mid-March endorsing Tuberville, with bolded emphasis added to underscore the point.
“We want to be absolutely clear about it: President Trump and the Trump Campaign unambiguously endorse Tommy Tuberville,” the letter included, with a stark warning at the end. “We demand that you and your campaign immediately stop circulating mailers—or any other similar communication—that wrongly suggest otherwise.”
Session’s team did not immediately respond to NBC News' request for comment, but spokeswoman Gail Glitcho told the New York Times that "Alabamans don't like to be told what to do," pointing to the 2017 Alabama special election where Trump's preferred candidates lost the GOP primary and the general election. She went onto argue that Sessions is "indeed one of the strongest supporters of President Trump and his agenda."
The Alabama Senate race has now been postponed until July 14 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Tweet the Press talks with NBC News medical correspondent Dr. John Torres
WASHINGTON — In case you missed today's Tweet the Press, we spoke with NBC News medical correspondent Dr. John Torres about the latest on coronavirus.
The wide-ranging discussion touched on what to expect across the country, how the virus is affecting young people, whether Americans should wear masks and what to expect about the treatments being explored.
Click on the link here to read the full conversation on Twitter.
With Biden or Sanders at the top of the ticket, Democrats look down-ballot for diversity
WASHINGTON — With the party's presidential race having been whittled down from a historically diverse field to two white men, Democrats are pointing to at least one bright spot when it comes to diversity among their candidates in 2020: state legislative elections.
According to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), which aims to elect Democratic state legislators nationwide, there are over twice as many Democratic women serving as state delegates or senators compared to their Republican counterparts — 1,455 versus 670 respectively. And in some key battleground states, the party has recruited more diverse candidates considering race and sexual identity than the GOP.
DLCC president, Jessica Post, told NBC News in a recent phone interview that diversity matters because it energizes the Democratic base and leads to victories.
“Diversity is our winning strategy,” she said. “We’ve recruited great communities thinking about the voices that need to be represented.”
The efforts to attract a diverse field of candidates is especially crucial in states where election outcomes will affect congressional redistricting. For example, the DLCC reports that Democrats are running eight LGBTQ+ candidates for the Texas state House versus none for Republicans. There are 20 Democratic candidates of color seeking seats in the North Carolina state Senate compared to Republicans’ six. For the state House there, 40 Democratic minority candidates are running against the GOP’s single candidate of color.
The Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) — the DLCC’s counterpart — did not respond to NBC News’ request to confirm these numbers but answered several other questions last week, saying they are supporting candidates of various backgrounds in pivotal states.
The RSLC reports that over fifty Republican women are running for Pennsylvania's state legislature while in Florida, there are about 30 GOP minority candidates. In Georgia, almost 40 Republican women along with four Asian-American and two African-American candidates are seeking state seats, according to the GOP committee.
RSLC communications director, Stami Williams, said these examples reflect the GOP’s “great success” in recruiting diverse candidates and noted that Democrats flipped less than half the amount of legislative seats during Trump’s first three years than Republicans did in the same period under President Obama.
The DLCC's Post argues that the GOP views legislative diversity as a mere “add-on” to their agenda, saying that the party has “fallen down on the job.”
Yet despite growing diversity down-ballot, Democrats face criticism for lacking diversity at the party’s upper echelons after the most minority and female-heavy field narrowed down to two older, heterosexual, white men — former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
For Post, the boost in state-level Democratic diversity isn’t purely a reaction to the party’s dilemma at the top. She believes that Trump and his party have been “repellent to women and people of color,” and have motivated diverse candidates to run for state office.
The DLCC president said that she’s encouraged by Biden’s commitment to choose a female running mate.
“We would’ve loved to see many of these diverse candidates stay longer in the presidential field,” Post stated. “I do think it’s notable that we have a direct way to point to our state legislative pipeline of diversity right now with Stacey Abrams [former Georgia state minority leader] potentially being a vice presidential nominee.”
Director of the Center for American Women and Politics, Debbie Walsh, told NBC News last week that an “almost primal” desperation to beat Trump this election drove Democratic primary voters to make a “calculated choice” to back candidates they deemed electable — not personally preferable.
These voters, Walsh emphasized, assumed that nontraditional presidential candidates couldn’t defeat Trump. She pointed to the spike in down-ticket diversity as evidence that less conventional candidates can win.
State legislative primaries began in March and will continue through September. The results of the November general elections will significantly impact the 2021 congressional redistricting cycle.
Biden leads Sanders in Wisconsin primary poll
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden is leading Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders by over 30 points in Wisconsin, according to the latest Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday. Per this poll, Biden garnered 65 percent support among likely Democratic voters versus Sanders' 32 percent support.
Wisconsin's primary, which is still scheduled to take place on April 7 despite the coronavirus pandemic, is one of the only contests still taking place in April — and it could be a stunning defeat for Sanders. In 2016, Sanders won the Wisconsin primary by 14 points. On Wednesday, Sanders called for the Wisconsin primary to be postponed, have early voting extended and encouraged people to vote by mail.
Despite lagging poll numbers, Sanders has said he will continue to assess his campaign and stay in the race. On Wednesday he said on MSNBC, "We're taking a hard look at our campaign. We do have a narrow road, a path to victory. It's going to be a tough fight."
Biden has since said that there isn't a need for more Democratic debates, but that he will not call for Sanders to exit the race.
The new poll also shows Biden just narrowly pushing ahead of President Trump in a general election match-up, where Sanders lags slightly behind Trump. Forty-eight percent of registered voters support Biden in a general election, with 45 percent supporting the president — however that falls within the poll's 4.2-point margin of error. The poll's February tracker showed the president and Biden tied in the state.
Wisconsin could become a must-win state for both the president and the eventual Democratic nominee. President Trump was the first Republican nominee to win Wisconsin since former President Ronald Reagan in 1984. And much of Biden's campaign has been focused on restoring the so-called "Blue Wall" in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Laid off Bloomberg staffers docked taxes for campaign phones, computers
WASHINGTON — Laid off campaign staffers to Michael Bloomberg's campaign who received their final paychecks on Tuesday were docked hundreds of dollars to cover taxes on their campaign-issued cellphone and laptop, three former Bloomberg campaign staffers told NBC News.
The deductions came as a lawsuit against the Bloomberg campaign, alleging that the campaign fraudulently promised jobs through November, has grown from one plaintiff to more than 50. The plaintiffs are seeking to get the case certified as a class action in seven states, a move that could raise the number of claimants to over a thousand.
Former staffers told NBC News that their paychecks were docked more than $400. The Bloomberg campaign had touted how they had lured top talent to the campaign with new iPhone 11s and MacBooks, and offered to let staff keep them when they were let go. A campaign spokesperson said staffers were told during the off-boarding process that they’d pay taxes on those items, but several former staffers said they did not realize that it would be automatically deducted from their remaining paychecks.
Sally Abrahamson, an attorney for the former staffers suing the campaign, said her firm, Outten & Golden, is now investigating the campaign’s deduction of “purported taxes on cell phones and laptops.”
“It doesn't sound right. How can workers be expected to pay taxes on something they didn't want?” Abrahamson told NBC News. “The law certainly doesn't allow an employer to pay wages with anything but money.”
Earlier this month, Bloomberg abandoned his initiative to form an independent super PAC to absorb his presidential campaign and instead transferred $18 million to the Democratic National Committee. He laid off his staff of more than 2,400 people in that process and those staff members were invited to enter a competitive hiring process for a job at the DNC. Laid off staff will lose their health insurance at the end of April amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The lawsuit, filed by a former field organizer, alleges that Bloomberg’s campaign promised potential hires they’d have jobs through November regardless of who won the nomination. Many of the 50 additional plaintiffs who joined the lawsuit in an amended complaint filed in federal court Monday said they left other lucrative jobs and relocated across the country based on the campaign’s assurances.
A Bloomberg campaign spokesperson, responding to both the docked paychecks and the expanded lawsuit, re-issued the campaign's statement from earlier in March.
“This campaign paid its staff wages and benefits that were much more generous than any other campaign this year,” the spokesperson said. “Staff worked 39 days on average, but they were also given several weeks of severance and healthcare through March, something no other campaign did this year.”
Democratic groups significantly outspending GOP groups on airwaves since coronavirus crackdown
WASHINGTON — Democratic candidates and aligned groups are outspending their Republican counterparts in the two weeks since President Trump announced guidelines aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
There's been $23.5 million spent on political advertising from March 16 (the day the administration announced its "15 Days to Slow the Spread" guidelines) through Tuesday, with Democrats making up 69 percent of that ($16.2 million), Republicans making up 29 percent of that ($6.7 million), and independent groups filling in that last 2 percent.
All of these figures are from the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics.
Four of the top five biggest spenders over this period were Democrats:
- Senate Majority PAC, the group aligned with Senate Democrats, has spent $3 million
- Priorities USA Action, which is backing former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential bid, has spent $2.8 million
- One Nation, the non-profit aligned with Republican efforts particularly in the Senate, has spent $1.7 million
- American Bridge 21st Century, the Democratic-aligned group that plays up and down the ballot, has spent $1.3 million
- And Unite the Country, the pro-Biden super PAC, has spent $741,000
The ad backed by the most spending in that window was from Priorities USA, which is running an ad that's criticizing Trump's response to the coronavirus outbreak. It's spent $1.2 million to run that spot so far.
The ad with the second-most money behind it is from Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, attacking Biden on Social Security and Medicare. Although both Biden and Sanders have wound down their ad spending to a virtual halt recently, Sanders spent $620,000 to run the ad over the time period. Virtually all of that came in the days surrounding the March 17 primaries, the ad has barely run since.
The Republican-aligned ad with the most spending behind it in recent weeks has been from One Nation, a spot that plays up Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst's work on prescription drugs. That spot has had $333,000 behind it since March 16.
During this time period, the top markets were the Portland-Aurburn market in Maine, Phoenix, and two markets in Florida covering Orlando and Tampa.
Maine is home to GOP Sen. Susan Collins' re-election race; Arizona held its presidential primary on March 17 and has a competitive Senate race; and Florida also held its presidential primary on March 17.
Physician embraces his expertise while campaigning in the coronavirus era
WASHINGTON — As candidates across the country adjust to campaigning in the age of coronavirus, Dr. Cameron Webb sees an opportunity and is embracing his experiences as a physician and public health expert on the trail.
“It’s necessary to have the range of professional backgrounds represented in our legislature,” Webb told NBC News in a recent phone interview. “I think the expertise that I have is really useful in a moment like this.”
Webb hopes to be the first Democrat to fill Virginia’s fifth congressional seat since 2008, a GOP-held district the size of New Jersey that includes Charlottesville and much of central Virginia. A practicing physician and a public health sciences director at the University of Virginia’s medical school, he has made expanding affordable health care a major focus of his career and campaign.
“My job is to walk into rooms and ask people where it hurts,” Webb explained. “When you have a district that’s this diverse, that’s this broad, you have to be a really skilled listener in order to meet everybody’s needs.”
So far, the candidate thinks this strategy of listening to voters like he does with patients has been effective, and that his background allows him and his campaign to “model the leadership” required during the coronavirus crisis.
Webb, who serves on Virginia’s Medicaid board, remarked that he’s grateful for his state’s 2019 Medicaid expansion as the pandemic takes a toll on patients and businesses.
The candidate previously worked under both Presidents Obama and Trump as a White House Fellow serving on the health care team and a drug pricing task force. When speaking to NBC News, he compared Obama’s track record on public health to Trump’s, commenting that there are “very clear differences'' in how this pandemic would play out under the former president.
Although Webb stressed that he won’t use the novel coronavirus as political leverage, he argued that the crisis reveals “other fault lines” in society and called out the American health care system for failing people.
“We’re seeing the lack of access to health care through the lens of this virus,” he said.
The fifth district is widely-considered a likely Republican seat and includes counties that pivoted from pro-Obama to pro-Trump but Webb doesn’t view the race as an “uphill battle.” The physician must beat out four other candidates in the Democratic primary before facing expected GOP competitor, Rep. Denver Riggleman, who won the district by almost seven percentage points in 2018.
The Riggleman campaign did not respond to a request for comment but the congressman’s Virginia distillery, Silverback, recently began producing hand sanitizer, which it’s offering for free to first responders and health care workers during the coronavirus outbreak.
Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the UVA Center for Politics, told NBC News last week that Republicans are favored to win the district but that it’s competitive enough to elect a Democrat “under the right circumstances." He noted that Webb may “fit the moment.”
The Democratic primary is currently scheduled for June 9 and the district is on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s list of seats it aims to flip from red to blue.