The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Senate campaigns raise big money ahead of possible coronavirus crunch
WASHINGTON — Senate incumbents and challengers in key states raised big money in the first quarter of 2020 even as societal and financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic could dampen fundraising totals going forward.
A Senate Democratic challenger outraised a Republican incumbent in six of the 10 most competitive races rated by Cook Political Report (where a Republican incumbent is running for reelection).
Kentucky Democrat Amy McGrath and Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly leading the pack, having raised $12.9 million and $11 million respectively.
Some Democratic challengers at least doubled (or nearly doubled) their incumbent counterpart’s efforts in the Senate battleground — Kelly, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Maine Speaker Sara Gideon and North Carolina’s Cal Cunningham.
And Kansas’ Barbara Bollier raised $2.4 million while the four top Republicans in the race combined to raise under $900,000.
That’s while Republican incumbents all put up at least six-figures in receipts from this past January through March — with Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell raising the most with $7.5 million and Arizona Sen. Martha McSally close behind with $6.4 million.
Going into April, the average incumbent Republican has $9 million banked away, a nest egg that’s larger than most Democratic competitors’ and one that could become increasingly important if fundraising efforts come to a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Take Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst. She outraised her top-raising Democratic challenger this quarter, Theresa Greenfield. But Ernst has about $6.5 million in her war chest, while Greenfield has just $3.8 million.
As Democrats hope that big numbers from people like Kelly, McGrath and South Carolina’s Jaime Harrison can help expand the map, or at least siphon off resources from other key states, Republicans are trying to keep the pressure on the few vulnerable Democratic incumbents up for reelection this cycle.
Republican John James, who lost his 2018 Senate bid, outraised incumbent Democratic Sen. Gary Peters $4.8 million to $4.1 million. And the two are virtually tied in cash-on-hand, with slightly more than $8.5 million banked away.
Democratic Sen. Doug Jones significantly outraised the top two Republicans in the race, former Sen. Jeff Sessions and former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville. But Jones still has a tough race ahead of him regardless of which candidate makes it out of the runoff, considering how deep-red Alabama is.
In Georgia’s special election, incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler raised $6.2 million — but only about $1 million of that came from individual donors. Loeffler personally contributed about $5.1 million to her campaign. And her Republican challenger, Rep. Doug Collins, raised just $2.5 million and that included a whopping nearly $1.7 million transfer from his House account.
Rep. Justin Amash to decide whether to launch presidential bid 'soon'
WASHINGTON — Rep. Justin Amash is expected to make a decision “soon” on whether he will jump in the race for president his office says, potentially launching the latest attempt by a conservative to challenge President Donald Trump.
The Michigan Independent paused campaign activities for his congressional re-election bid in mid-February “to carefully consider a presidential run."
"He has been discussing the potential campaign with his family, his friends, his team, and others, and a decision can be expected soon,” his office tells NBC News.
Amash, a fierce critic of the president, stoked speculation earlier this week when he responded to Trump saying that a president’s authority is “total.” Amash tweeted that Americans “deserve another option” and that he’s “looking closely” at it.
The libertarian-minded lawmaker would not run as a Republican and would likely have to win the nomination of a third party in order to effectively compete in a significant number of states in November. Amash’s office has not speculated which third party Amash would run under. The Libertarian Party has plans to hold its nominating convention next month.
The Michigan lawmaker left the Republican party in 2019 after the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, which Amash said was reason to open impeachment proceedings against the president. In an op-ed in the Washington Post announcing he was leaving the GOP, he didn’t mention the president by name but instead focused on the two party system, saying that “modern politics is trapped in a partisan death spiral.”
Elizabeth Warren endorses Joe Biden
WASHINGTON — Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential bid Wednesday, making her the latest prominent Democrat to publicly throw their support behind Biden in recent days.
Warren announced her decision in a message on Twitter, where she said that America needs an empathetic president like Biden to help Americans reconnect with the federal government.
"In this moment of crisis, it is more important than ever that the next president restores Americans' faith in good, effective government," she said.
"Joe Biden has spent nearly his entire life in public service. He knows that a government run with integrity, confidence and heart will save lives and save livelihoods."
She connected Biden to her call for big, structural change to America, arguing that she's seen his commitment to helping everyday Americans in how he handled the recovery from the Great Recession of 2008.
"When Donald Trump is gone, we will need to do more than heal a nation that has been bitterly divided. We will need to rebuild and transform our country. And I've seen Joe Biden help a nation rebuild," she said.
And Warren emphasized that Biden is open to new ideas as he's made a handful of policy announcements in recent weeks that echo policies Warren or Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders promoted on the campaign trail.
During a virtual town hall last month, Biden touted his support for a Warren that would make it easier for people to file for bankruptcy, which includes allowing bankruptcy to relieve student debt. He's also supported expanding his free-college plan, adopted portions of her language on corporate bailouts to his COVID-19 relief plan, pressed for conditions on corporations that receive stimulus money and endorsed Warren's legislation calling on a CDC study on the racial disparity of the effects of COVID-19.
"Among all the other candidates I competed with in the Democratic primary, there's no one I've agreed with 100 percent of the time over the years. But one thing I appreciate about Joe Biden is he will always tell you where he stands," she said.
"When you disagree, he'll listen. And not just listen, but really hear you and treat you with respect, no matter where you are coming from. And he's shown throughout this campaign that when you come up with new facts or a good argument, he's not too afraid or too proud to be persuaded."
Warren's backing punctuates a recent flood of endorsements to Biden, a sign the Democratic Party is coalescing around their party's presumptive nominee.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed Biden on Monday, joining Biden's livestream and saying that "I will do all that I can" to see Biden defeat Trump.
Then, former President Barack Obama unveiled his endorsement Tuesday in video message where he said that Biden “has the character and the experience to guide us through one of our darkest times and heal us through a long recovery.“
—NBC's Mike Memoli contributed
The Democratic Party still looks like Obama's party
WASHINGTON — With former President Barack Obama endorsing his vice president, Joe Biden, on Tuesday, it’s worth recalling that the 2020 exit polls revealed that more Democratic primary voters said they wanted the next president to return to Obama’s policies — rather than pursue a more liberal course.
That could be one of the biggest reasons why Joe Biden’s message of restoration beat out Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ revolution during the Democratic primary season. It’s also why we saw almost all of the Democratic presidential candidates — from Biden and Sanders, to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and even former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — feature Obama in their TV ads.
In New Hampshire, a plurality of Democratic primary voters — 40 percent — said the next president should return to Obama's policies, and former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Biden overwhelmingly won those voters, according to the exit poll.
By contrast, 39 percent of Democrats in the Granite State wanted the next president to change to more liberal policies, and Sanders got 43 percent of those voters on his way to his narrow victory in that primary.
In South Carolina's primary, which Biden won overwhelmingly, 53 percent of the Democratic voters said the next president should return to Obama's policies, and Biden won 62 percent of those voters. Just 27 percent wanted the next president to change to more liberal policies, and 17 percent wanted a more conservative president.
The pattern also played out in the big Super Tuesday states:
- Virginia (which Biden won): 47 percent return to Obama’s policies, 28 percent more liberal.
- North Carolina (which Biden won): 56 percent return to Obama’s policies, 29 percent more liberal.
- Texas (which Biden won): 50 percent return to Obama’s policies, 34 percent more liberal.
- California (which Sanders won): 43 percent return to Obama’s policies, 40 percent more liberal.
But in Obama's endorsement video of Biden, the former president acknowledged that he would be pursuing different policies if he were running for president today instead of 2008.
“You know, I could not be prouder of the incredible progress that we made together during my presidency. But if I were running today, I wouldn’t run the same race or have the same platform as I did in 2008. The world is different, there’s too much unfinished business for us to just look backwards. We have to look to the future,” he said.
AFT launches ads blasting Trump for PPE claims
WASHINGTON — The American Federation of Teachers is launching a new round of television and online ads featuring nurses and health care workers blasting President Donald Trump for accusing them of stealing personal protective equipment (PPE), the tools these workers have needed to protect themselves while caring for COVID-19-positive patients.
The spots, obtained by NBC News ahead of Tuesday's launch, feature health care professionals urging Americans to contact the White House to demand masks and other PPE as they still face shortages at hospitals and health care facilities across the country.
The ads start with a clip of Trump last month questioning how New York hospitals are using PPE, saying, “Something’s going on. Where are the masks going? Are they going out the back door?”
Several different nurses respond, with one saying, “President Trump suggested that nurses like me are possibly stealing masks.”
“We don’t have the protective equipment,” another nurse says.
Then another nurse says, “Do your job Mr. President,” and another follows up by saying, “…and give us the equipment we need to do our job.”
AFT membership doesn't just include teachers — the union has a smattering of members from other vocations, including a large group of nurses.
In a Tuesday statement, AFT President Randi Weingarten said that health care workers are targeting the president “for his odious suggestions that they are somehow thieves and demanding that he does his job as they do theirs.”
“Trump calls himself a wartime president, but our states don’t have the funds or testing they need, and our hospitals and healthcare professionals remain dangerously ill-equipped to fight this pandemic,” she said. “His refusal to do his job means our heroes will remain exposed and at risk.”
AFT’s ads called “Thieves” cost in the mid-six-figures, the group told NBC, and will air in 15-second and 30-second versions in the Washington, D.C. and New York City markets on a number of channels including CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel.
Klobuchar and Abrams team up to promote vote-by-mail, other expansions
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams are teaming up in a new video promoting efforts to expand voting-by-mail and early voting ahead of the November general election.
The roughly three minute video, which features Klobuchar and Abrams separately, largely focuses on issues of voting safety during the coronavirus pandemic and ask people to sign a petition to support expanding vote-by-mail.
Klobuchar pointed to recent concerns about Wisconsin's primary last week, held at a time when statewide shut-downs and social distancing measures are critical, according to public health officials.
“As we saw in Wisconsin, voters were faced with things that should not happen in the United States of America,” Klobuchar says in the video. “Everything about it was wrong. People should not have to decide between their own health and their own right to vote. We can do both, we can protect people's health, and we can allow them to vote.”
Klobuchar is a lead sponsor of legislation introduced last month seeking to protect voting rights during the coronavirus pandemic by implementing vote-by-mail and expanding early voting nationwide for November. Abrams, a former Georgia House Democratic Leader, is also the founder and chair of Fair Fight Action, which works to promote fair elections in Georgia and around the country and encourages voter participation.
Klobuchar and Wyden’s bill calls for funding to be given to the states so they can expand voting, keep polls open 20 days in advance, ensure no-excuse mail-in voting and train a “new generation of poll workers.”
“Voting by mail is easy, secure, and the healthiest and safest way to cast your ballot,” Abrams says in the video. “You can vote by mail while you are socially distancing and stay at home. Just as we adapt to new norms to protect ourselves and our loved ones, we must also adapt to how we conduct our elections.”
“Republicans and Democrats can certainly agree that we must be prepared in November,” she says. “We need the resources now to help states conduct elections and expand vote by mail. The stakes are too high in this election, and we must get this done.”
Former first lady Michelle Obama’s organization “When We All Vote” formally announced support for Klobuchar’s vote-by-mail bill on Monday.
“When We All Vote recently announced its support for the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020, which represents the organization’s first time supporting federal legislation,” the press release said. “The reforms in the bill are aligned with When We All Vote’s three voting principles.”
Klobuchar tweeted her thanks to Obama for supporting her bill, saying, “During a time of crisis, we must protect the right to vote AND Americans’ health. Let’s pass this bill.”
The partnership of Klobuchar and Abrams comes amid speculation that both could be considered by apparent Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden as his running mate for the fall.
Poll: Majority of public says Trump’s urge for NFL season to begin on time was inappropriate
A Seton Hall Sports poll released Monday showed that a majority of Americans believe medical experts — rather than President Trump — should decide when the National Football League season begins amid the coronavirus pandemic.
This comes after the president spoke to league commissioners last Saturday, encouraging them to start the NFL season on time — a move that most of the public disapproved of according to this same survey.
The poll shows that six-in-10 Americans believed Trump’s conference call with sports commissioners, in which he expressed his desire to have fans at games by August, was inappropriate given current medical guidance on the coronavirus.
Just 36 percent said the president’s comments were appropriate.
When asked who should determine when the NFL resumes play, a clear majority of respondents — 61 percent — said medical experts should decide. Only 7 percent said the president should decide, and another 11 percent said it should be up to state governors.
About 20 percent of the nation believes the NFL should decide whether to hold games in September on its own.
In a separate question, 55 percent of those polled said the federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak was not strong enough, while 38 percent labeled the government’s handling appropriate. A mere 6 percent called the government’s response excessive. The numbers were about the same for those self-identified as sports fans.
As to when the NFL season should start, nearly half of respondents — 46 percent — said it should not go on as planned for September 13, versus 36 percent who said it should. By a vast 57-point margin, 77 percent of the public argued that the college and professional football seasons should be delayed if players don’t have sufficient training ahead of time compared to 20 percent who said a delay wouldn’t be necessary.
The poll also found that 62 percent of those surveyed credited sports leagues for cancelling their seasons early-on because of the novel coronavirus, saying they played a role in making government officials take the outbreak more seriously.
The Seton Hall Sports Poll was conducted by the Sharkey Institute within the university's Stillman School of Business April 6-8 via landline and cell phones. It surveyed 762 adults in the United States, and it’s margin of error is plus-minus 3.6 percentage points.
Conservative group to launch ads opposing mail-in voting
WASHINGTON – A conservative group has launched a paid advertising campaign against mail-in voting amid the escalating, partisan battle over alternative ways to vote as the coronavirus pandemic rages.
The group, Honest Elections Project, is launching a week-long $250,000 digital and television ad campaign on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN to protect against the “brazen attempt to manipulate the election system for partisan advantage.” Honest Elections Project is a non-profit group that is not required to release its donors.
Jason Snead, the executive director of Honest Elections Project, told NBC News in a phone interview that “there are a lot more opportunities for malfeasance” with mail-in voting. He said that ballots could go missing, get lost or invite ballot harvesting.
Mail-in voting has become the latest partisan battleground in the fight over voting access.
With stay-at-home orders and uncertainty over when the risk of coronavirus infection will dissipate, Democrats in Congress are pushing legislation and federal funding to enable states to implement mail-in voting ahead of the November election.
When We All Vote, the group backed by former First Lady Michelle Obama, on Monday launched a grassroots effort to pressure states and the federal government to adopt widespread mail-in voting, online voter registration and early in-in person voting.
While some Republicans, like New Hampshire’s Governor Chris Sununu, are also moving in that direction, many Republicans, including most in Congress and President Donald Trump, have resisted, saying it increases the opportunity for fraud.
During a late-March interview on Fox News, Trump said that Democrats were proposing "levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again."
Honest Elections Project and many Republicans have said that absentee-ballot voting is a good alternative. While many absentee ballots are also sent in by mail, states often limit access to specific groups of people who must request absentee ballots and provide a reason why they can’t make it to the polls.
In contrast, a massive expansion of mail-in voting would cover more people and not require an excuse to request a ballot by mail.
A spokesman for Honest Elections Project said they will spend “whatever it takes” to combat an effort to move the election to be conducted by mail. It has also hired the law firm Consovoy McCarthy PLLC to file counter-lawsuits when voting-access groups in states around the country push for mail-in voting.
Massive Trump re-elect fundraising dips in March amid coronavirus
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s re-election announced Monday it raised a combined $212 million in the first quarter of 2020, with contributions dipping in the month of March compared to the earlier part of the year even as the effort still maintains a strong financial advantage over Democrats.
In one of the first concrete signs that the coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on fundraising, the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee brought in $63 million last month compared to $86 million in February.
The pro-Trump groups reported more than $240 million in the bank, an increase of $40 million since January.
The total comes from both the main campaign entity, the RNC and its authorized joint fundraising committees, combined. And in a sign the effort is ramping up significantly in the on-year, the $212 million raked in last quarter was up from the $156 million generated from January to March of 2019.
The campaign and the RNC pivoted to virtual voter interactions, including fundraisers, after the White House announced strict new social distancing rules in mid-March. Several high-profile surrogate events, including a multi-day, high-dollar swing for Ivanka Trump and a California trip for first lady Melania Trump, were postponed indefinitely.
The Trump team’s transition to a fully digital operation took place almost immediately, with the entire re-elect effort converting volunteer events to phone banks and the campaign’s online arm is now holding daily events on social media platforms.
Trump Victory, the joint venture, is boasting that their volunteers have already made more than 17 million voter contacts since most of the nation went into lockdown exactly one month ago.
Despite the challenges of cyber-organizing and fundraising, the campaign remains confident Trump's handling of the coronavirus challenge can help his political standing.
“Americans can see President Trump leading this nation through a serious crisis and they are responding with their continued enthusiastic support for his re-election,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement.
Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee NC have yet to report their first-quarter hauls for 2020. From the start of 2019 through February, the RNC had significantly outraised the DNC — $294 million for the RNC to $115 million for the DNC.
But while Trump's campaign lapped Biden's in fundraising, Democratic donors were divided between a large field of candidates. The Democratic presidential campaigns combined significantly outraised Trump's campaign in 2019, so Democrats are hopeful a unified effort will help close the resource gap.
In total, the Trump campaign and RNC committees have raised $677 million to date this cycle, which is $270 million more than former President Barack Obama’s re-elect teams had at this point in 2012, when the Democratic incumbent was seeking re-election.
“The enthusiasm for President Trump and our Party remains strong, and we continue to be all systems go toward November," RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement.
Cuomo: 'I’m not running for president'
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he will not run for president in 2020.
“I’m not running for president. I'm not running fro vice president. I'm not running anywhere," Cuomo said at a coronavirus news conference on Saturday. "I'm not going to Washington, I'm staying right here.
Cuomo said that is was "flattering" that some Democrats wanted to see him replace former Vice President Joe Biden as the nominee, but also called it "irrelevant" in a time of crisis.
"There is no politics here. I have no political agenda, period," Cuomo said.
Trump campaign renews focus on Hunter Biden in controversial China ad
WASHINGTON — As President Trump's campaign gears up for a general election face-off with apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden, it's also reintroducing attacks against the former vice president’s son and his business dealings with China.
In a new digital ad released on Thursday, the president’s re-election team is attempting to paint Biden as lenient on China when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic and travel ban, and specifically highlights a trip to Beijing that Hunter Biden joined his father on in 2013. The two-pronged approach is an effort to weaken Biden, while using his son’s work with overseas companies to create a perception of corruption.
“During America’s crisis, Biden protected China’s feelings or perhaps China’s investment?” the text on the screen reads, spliced between news reports of the visit and Biden praising various Chinese officials, including President Xi Jinping.
Beyond the 60-second online spot, the Trump campaign and its allies have started to highlight more news reports about the former vice president’s trip, which came under scrutiny again as the impeachment investigation began last fall after the president tried to dig up damaging information against the Bidens amid unproven allegations related to Hunter’s work with a Ukrainian energy company.
Almost immediately, reporters and the Biden campaign noticed that the commercial on China featured an image of Biden and former Washington governor and Commerce Secretary, Gary Locke, who was also on the 2013 trip. The photo appears in a montage with other Chinese officials, implying that Locke was among them. Locke is Chinese-American and also served as ambassador to China.
“The shot Biden’s campaign is complaining about is relevant because it’s Joe Biden standing in front of Chinese flags during his 2013 trip to Beijing — the trip where Hunter accompanied him and met with Chinese business partners. It’s immaterial who else is in the shot with Biden,” Trump communications director, Tim Murtaugh, said in a statement to NBC News.
The Biden campaign is now calling for the spot to be removed.
“This is utterly disgusting and should be pulled immediately,” Biden spokesman Andrew Bates tweeted.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang also condemned it, tweeting: "Gary Locke is as American as the day is long. Trump rewriting history as if he effectively responded to the virus is utter garbage."
As coronavirus spread across the country, Asian-American lawmakers have spoken repeatedly about a rise in xenophobia and discrimination directed at them, warning of the dangers of linking blame for the respiratory illness to any group of people.
Murtaugh says the campaign has no plans to take the ad down or re-edit it to make clear Locke is not a Chinese official. It will also continue to highlight questions about Hunter Biden’s business activity while his father was vice president, much as Trump’s defense team did during the impeachment trial.
The focus on China and Biden comes as the White House continues to argue Trump was tough on China when the coronavirus outbreak began spreading beyond Wuhan, specifically pointing to travel restrictions on foreign nationals traveling from China to the United States in late January.
A recent New York Times investigation found, however, that 430,000 people have flown from China to the U.S. since the outbreak started with as many as 40,000 arriving since the rules went into effect.
The ad implies that Biden linked the travel limitations to “Trump’s record of hysterical xenophobia,” but there is no proof that the former vice president was referring to the new guidelines when he delivered those remarks.
Still, the bite is used repeatedly in the spot, followed later by a clip of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director, Dr. Anthony Fauci, praising the decision as “a very smart move.”