The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Georgia Senate elections set new ad spending records powered by massive outside spending
WASHINGTON — Election day in Georgia's Senate runoffs is Tuesday, and both races have already seen enough TV and radio spending to become the two most expensive Senate contests (by ad spending) in U.S. election history.
Combining runoff spending with the general election, both contests (GOP Sen. David Perdue v. Democrat Jon Ossoff, and GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler v. Democrat Raphael Warnock) easily clear the record of $251 million spent on the airwaves in North Carolina’s 2020 Senate race.
The Perdue-vs.Ossoff race is set to have about $382 million spent on TV and radio, and the Loeffler-vs.-Warnock race is set to have about $284.3 million in TV and radio spending (this total includes money booked to be spent on Monday and Tuesday), per AdImpact.
The majority of that spending has come in the compressed runoff window — $250 million in the Perdue/Ossoff race and $235 million in the Loeffler/Perdue contest.
Another trend that's common across both races since the runoff began is that Democratic candidates have been consistently outspending their GOP rivals on the airwaves, but GOP outside groups have more than filled the void to give Republicans a final spending edge.
Through Tuesday, Ossoff is expected to spend about $87 million to Perdue's $50 million, compared to Warnock's $70 million and Loeffler's $50 million. But in both races, GOP outside groups have outspent Democratic outside groups by more than 3 times — with Democratic groups spending about $26 million in each race to the GOP's more than $80 million.
Biden taking longer than most former presidents to name his attorney general
WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden still hasn't announced his attorney general designee. With Election Day being 62 days ago, Biden is on track to announce his attorney general pick later than the last 7 seven presidents.
According to Senate confirmation records that date back to former President Jimmy Carter's Cabinet picks, Biden has taken longer to announce his attorney general designee than most. Prior to Biden, Carter had the longest gap (48 days) between Election Day and announcing his attorney general designee.
Here's how that looks by the numbers:
- President Trump announced his AG pick 11 days after Election Day.
- Barack Obama announced his first pick (just including first terms) 28 days after Election Day.
- George W. Bush named his pick after 46 days.
- Bill Clinton’s first 1992 pick was announced 52 days after Nov. 3 1992.
- George H. W. Bush announced his attorney general 21 days after Election Day.
- Ronald Reagan named William French Smith 38 days after Election Day 1980.
- Jimmy Carter announced his pick after 48 days.
Biden's incoming press secretary Jennifer Psaki told reporters to expect more Cabinet announcements this week, but didn't clarify if that would include Biden's designee for attorney general. However, outgoing Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., Obama Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland and former deputy attorney general and acting attorney general Sally Yates are all rumored to be under consideration.
Biden also hasn't named his picks to lead the Commerce and Labor departments, the Small Business Administration and the CIA director.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp dismisses Trump's call to resign
LAWRENCEVILLE, GA. — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp dismissed President Trump's call for him to resign on Wednesday and said that any pressure to challenge the 2020 presidential election results should be focused in Washington D.C., not in Georgia.
“There is a constitutional and legal process that is playing out, and I'm very comfortable letting that process play out,” Kemp told reporters. “But that horse has left the barn in Georgia and it's headed to D.C. right now. The next vote is going to be there, not here. So people need to focus on the vote that is happening here.”
Trump tweeted on Wednesday that Kemp should resign from office and called the governor an "obstructionist".
Kemp said that his constituents would rather him be focused on distributing the Covid-19 vaccines and helping keep the Republican Senate majority, not on the president's tweets.
“That's what everybody else, quite honestly, should be focused on while the rest of the process is playing out," Kemp said.
He added, "I've supported the legal process that [the president] or any other campaign can go through in this state, but at the end of the day I also have to follow the laws and the Constitution."
Ahead of the Jan. 5 Georgia Senate runoffs, Republican Sen. David Perdue said on Wednesday that Trump's criticism of Kemp and other Georgia officials wasn't making his race more difficult.
"I think that what the president is doing is exercising his rights,” Perdue said during a Fox News interview.
Perdue also defended the president's claims of voter fraud in Georgia.
“We know there are potentially some improprieties there and the president has done nothing but asking for some questions to be answered," Perdue said.
Georgia's secretary of state's office released a signature match audit of Cobb County's absentee ballots which found "no fraudulent absentee ballots".
Kemp said he would continue to support both Perdue and fellow Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, but hasn't been invited to President Trump's Jan. 4 Georgia rally.
"I don't want to wake up on January the sixth and wonder what else I should have done. I'm doing everything I can with the time that I have to support sending them back up there," Kemp said.
Georgia breaks runoff turnout record for Senate races
WASHINGTON — Georgians have already broken the state's runoff turnout record in the dual Senate runoffs that will decide control of the U.S. Senate, new numbers show Tuesday, a mark reached about a week before the day of the election.
More than 2.3 million voters have cast their ballots, with more than 800,000 voting absentee by mail and 1.5 million voting early, in person, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. The previous runoff turnout record was set in 2008, when Georgians cast 2.137 million total ballots in the entire election.
More than 78,000 Georgians who did not vote in the general election have already voted in the runoff race, according to the analysis of early vote data by the Democratic political data firm TargetSmart. Tom Bonier, TargetSmart's CEO said Monday that a majority of those voters were voters of color, with African-Americans making up a strong portion.
Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock have been holding GOTV rallies targeting key constituencies within the Black, Latino, and Asian Americans and Pacific Islander communities, as well as young voters with key surrogates like President-elect Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama.
Republicans have been rallying their supporters with key figures as well, and President Donald Trump will rally for Republicans Sen. David Perdue and Sen. Kelly Loeffler on Jan.4 (the day before the election) in the northwest Georgia congressional district of Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Green, a Republican who has been amplifying Trump's unsubstantiated claims of massive voter fraud.
Some Republicans are anxious that Trump's false claims and repeated undercutting of the state's election results could turn off voters the party needs in January.
The Georgia Secretary of State’s office tells NBC News 3,283 absentee ballots have been rejected as of Tuesday morning. Those voters have until the Friday after Election Day to cure their ballots.
Andrew Yang files paperwork for New York City mayoral bid
WASHINGTON — Former Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang has filed paperwork with New York City to run for mayor, marking the next political chapter for the entrepreneur who mounted an underdog bid for president in 2020.
Yang, who had been reportedly eyeing a bid for New York City mayor, filed on Wednesday with the city's Campaign Finance Board. An affiliated committee, Yang For New York, which is associated with a top Yang aide, also registered with the city board.
Yang has not yet commented on the filing, but a source close to Yang told NBC that the filing is "just procedural" and that "no decision has been made," but that since Yang was "seriously considering it" that filing "was the necessary next step."
With New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio term-limited, the mayoral race is expected to be wide open.
New York Democratic Rep. Max Rose, who lost his re-election bid this year, is exploring a bid. Other prominent candidates include New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former de Blasio aide and police oversight board head Maya Wiley (a former MSNBC legal analyst), former Housing and Urban Development Sec. Shaun Donovan, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and New York City Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia.
Yang announced his 2020 presidential campaign in late 2017, far before almost any other major candidate. And while he was initially viewed as a long-shot, his campaign caught a jolt of momentum as he pitched his plan for all Americans to receive monthly $1,000 checks as part of a universal basic income.
He ultimately dropped out of the race after the New Hampshire primary and started a nonprofit aimed at advancing his ideas, including universal basic income. He endorsed President-elect Joe Biden in March.
For the first time, New York City will be running the mayoral primary races with ranked-choice voting, which allows voters to rank a slate of candidates. If no candidate wins a majority vote, the votes for the lowest-finishing candidates will be reallocated to their next preferred candidate, with the process repeating until one candidate hits a majority.
DNC will elect new chair at Jan. 21 virtual Winter Meeting
WASHINGTON — The Democratic National Committee will pick its new chair during its virtual Winter Meeting on Jan. 21, NBC News has learned, one day after President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated.
The party informed committee-members today of the date of its Winter Meeting, one of the seasonal gatherings where it conducts party business, a DNC aide told NBC.
The centerpiece of the Winter Meeting will be the party's officer elections, which will include the election of a new chair. Current DNC Chairman Tom Perez has said he will not serve another four-year term, opening the vacancy at the top of the organization.
With Biden entering the White House, he'll have significant sway over who leads the party. While there are no official candidates yet, former South Carolina Senate nominee Jaime Harrison has expressed openness to running, telling The Washington Post last month "If that's something that they are interested in me doing, I'll definitely take a good look."
Harrison proved to be a strong fundraiser during his failed bid for the Senate this past cycle, raising more money in a single fundraising quarter than any candidate in American history. He ultimately lost that race to Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham by about 10 points.
The Democrat has sought to lead the party before — he ran for DNC chair after the 2016 election, and Perez tapped him to be the DNC's associate chairman after that election. Before that, he led the South Carolina Democratic Party.
And he's close with one of Biden's key allies, South Carolina Democratic Rep. James Clyburn, after having worked as one of his top aides in the House.
While other DNC seasonal meetings include various caucus forums and committee work, including the work that helps to shape the party's rules, the party will just focus on electing its new officers during the January session. On top of the chairperson's race, the party will also be electing vice chairs, secretaries, treasurers and national finance chair.
Perez will leave the party after one term as its leader, in which the party won back both the House and the White House in the 2018 and 2020 elections respectively. The former Labor Secretary during the Obama administration, he inherited a DNC in turmoil after the party's loss in the 2016 presidential election, as well as after hacked emails showing some key party leaders deriding Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders were released.
Perez faced criticism from some Democrats and DNC members for the party's fundraising in the early years of his tenure. And even as the party won back the White House in November, Democrats lost ground in the House and underperformed its targets in the Senate (control of that body will now be decided in the two runoff Senate elections in Georgia).
But Perez and top Democrats have pointed to the steps taken to dig the party out of its 2016 hole to help its eventual nominee, Biden, defeat President Trump, including investments in organizing staff and its voter file, emphasizing targeting key constituencies, and helping to fund expansive voting-rights litigation effort across the country.
Iowa Democrat Rita Hart files challenge to six-vote defeat in the House
WASHINGTON — Iowa Democrat Rita Hart is officially contesting Iowa's Second Congressional District election, asking the House of Representatives to recount ballots and arguing that she would have won but for lawful votes left uncounted.
Hart ran against Republican state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks in November's election, and the state's election officials certified the Republican's narrow victory, by just six votes, late last month.
But in an official "notice of contest" filed with the House, Hart's campaign claims it has identified "at least 22 lawful ballots" that were left out of the count (the vast majority of those votes, but not all, were for Hart). The campaign says that if those votes were correctly added to the tally, the Democrat would have won.
The request goes on to request a "hand recount of every ballot" to be sure all votes are captured.
"We believe that in a democratic system, that it is important that this process be abided by, and that every vote be counted. It is better to get it done right than to simply ignore the fact that voters have been disenfranchised because it might be more convenient," Mark Elias, the Hart campaign's lawyer, said in a briefing with reporters.
Miller-Meeks and fellow Republicans slammed the decision.
"Every vote has been counted under Iowa law, and recounted under Iowa law. The canvas of votes was approved unanimously by a bipartisan board, and certified by the state of Iowa. I'm proud that a narrow majority of you elected me," Miller-Meeks said in a video statement Tuesday.
"Unfortunately, Rita Hart now wants Washington politicians to override the will of Iowa voters and disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Iowa voters."
And in a statement, National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Bob Salera called the decision to petition the House a "naked power grab."
The challenge is the latest twist in what's slated to be one of the tightest House races in modern American history. First, the state's unofficial results found Hart 47 votes behind Miller-Meeks, but the margin narrowed to six votes after a recount requested by Hart.
Ultimately, the House has control over who it decides to seat, so it will be up to the Democratic-controlled body as to whether to investigate and ultimately decide who should be seated. One high-profile example of the process happened in 1984, when the House conducted a recount that ultimately overturned the results in Indiana's 8th Congressional District.
The request for the House to weigh in comes as Democrats have criticized President Donald Trump for claiming, without evidence, that he is the rightful winner of the 2020 presidential election, even despite all votes being certified and electoral votes already cast.
The 176-page challenge from the Hart campaign specifically identifies ballots the campaigns believe should have been counted, and includes affidavits from those involved in the counting process, as well as from voters. The campaign says the votes weren't counted for a variety of reasons, including an error by an election worker, a misplaced signature, and ballots not being sealed properly.
Asked about the GOP criticism of bringing the challenge to the Democratic-controlled House, Elias said that the move wasn't partisan, but that they were only following the process laid out in federal law to contest federal elections. And he added that while the ballots he identified were not counted for a handful of reasons, he’s not suggesting any animus.
“Elections are, under the best of circumstances, challenging to administer. In the middle of a pandemic, they are even more challenging,” he said.
Larry Hogan celebrates bipartisan Covid relief deal in new 'No Labels' ad
WASHINGTON — Maryland RepublicanGov. Larry Hogan is appearing in a new ad campaign applauding the "bipartisan leadership" that led to Congress passing a Covid-relief deal over months of stalemate, NBC News has learned.
In the ad — on which No Labels says it will spend $350,000 to run on cable and digital across the country — Hogan pitches a hopeful message about Congress' way forward, calling the agreement "how our government needs to work," by putting partisan "labels aside and put the country first."
"This is what real, bipartisan leadership looks like. This relief package will save lives, save businesses and save jobs. It's what Americans have been waiting for," Hogan says in the ad.
"So many people are hurting, and I know it's hard to see our way through this. But if we unite as Americans and work together, I promise you, we can come out of this stronger and better than ever."
Lawmakers have been struggling to reach a consensus on a new round of relief for months, but broke the logjam over the weekend. But a deal materialized over the last few weeks, and Congress ultimately passed an almost $900 billion relief package late Monday. The deal includes new stimulus checks and an extension of the expanded unemployment benefits, and also provides more funds for areas including the vaccine rollout, for schools and for businesses.
No Labels supports the House Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group that has been pushing for compromise in the House on Covid relief and other issues. A handful of the top negotiators in the latest round of Covid relief in the Senate are allies of the group too.
In a statement to NBC, Ryan Clancy, the chief strategist for No Labels, applauded those allies who "kept working" when "congressional leaders weren't talking, and a deal seemed impossible" because "they knew the stakes and that millions of Americans desperately needed help.
"This deal simply would not have happened if not for the work of this group. So No Labels wanted to highlight this rare and welcome act of bipartisanship but just as important, to let Americans know we can see a lot more of this in 2021 if we demand it," Clancy said.
The new ad appearance comes in the early weeks of Hogan's term at the helm of the organization. The Maryland Republican has sought to stake out an independent lane in recent years within a GOP dominated by support for President Donald Trump.
The former head of the National Governor's Association, Hogan has been out-front on his state's response to the coronavirus pandemic, and told "Meet the Press" in July that he's a "lifelong Republican who has not been afraid to stand up and disagree with the president on any number of issues."
"I don't know what the future holds in November, but I know that the Republican party is going to be looking at what happens after President Trump and whether that's in four months or in four years. And I think they're going to be looking to, “How do we go about becoming a bigger tent party?” he said at the time.
Here's where Joe Biden fell short with critical Hispanic voters
WASHINGTON — In the early days of the 2020 Democratic primaries, former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign began polling to learn why their candidate was struggling to gain traction with Hispanic voters, in comparison to primary rivals like Bernie Sanders. Their data found that many Hispanics knew little about Biden — remembering him as Barack Obama’s vice president, and almost nothing else.
That lack of familiarity spelled trouble once Biden became the Democratic nominee, and left him vulnerable to President Trump and other Republicans' campaign to paint Biden and other Democrats as supporting socialist policies that could hurt Latinos economically.
Nationally, Biden fell just one percentage point behind 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton among Latinos, 65 to 66 percent respectively per exit polls. But several factors — like varying ideologies, countries of origin and where they live in the U.S. — influence the political leanings of Latinos, especially in key battleground states where Republican investment and communication infrastructure are prominent.
Among Latino men: Biden won 59 percent, a drop-off of four points from Clinton in 2016. The Trump campaign had prioritized outreach to them after identifying Latino business owners could be persuaded by Trump's economic message.
The Biden campaign also did little door-to-door campaigning during the pandemic, which may have also affected his ability to persuade a group that doesn't have a set party affiliation.
Biden advisers insist the campaign jumped into action when they realized Biden wasn't gaining ground with Hispanic voters. They allotted millions for paid media to micro-target Latino communities. And Biden still won an overwhelming majority of voters against Trump nationally.
Matt Baretto, whose polling firm Latino Decisions assisted the Biden campaign, said the campaign had done a good job reintroducing the candidate to Hispanic voters by describing his nearly-five decade political record and his commitment to his family and Catholic faith.
But he said the campaign, and the Democratic Party broadly, needed to do much more.
“You can only give the campaign so much criticism and credit. This is something that the party as a whole needs to be engaged with consistently from now on starting the day after inauguration,” Baretto said.
The Biden campaign’s chief strategist Mike Donilon echoed that point in a recent press briefing, noting that the party and Biden’s White House “are focused on and fully intend to strengthen” their outreach to the Latino community.
In Arizona and Nevada, investments and cohesion between Hispanic grassroots groups and state Democratic parties helped put Biden over the top. And Hispanic turnout also jumped in other battleground states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
But Biden saw a concerning dip in Hispanic support in Florida where Republicans worked to convince Miami-Dade County’s Cuban-American community that Biden was sympathetic to socialism. Biden won the county by just 7.3 points, a 23 point swing from Clinton’s total in 2016. And in south Texas, the once heavily Democratic Rio Grande Valley along the border with Mexico saw a steep drop in support for Biden compared to Clinton in 2016.
Strategists there said Trump's law enforcement message turned many voters in the region away from Biden even as Biden publicly stated that he didn't support the "defund the police" effort.
“A lot of the border patrol, law enforcement are heavily Latino in the Rio Grande valley. So when you are talking about ‘defunding the police’ and you don’t stand up to those types of rhetoric, then it leaves an opening for Republicans,” Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), said during a post-election virtual press conference in November.
Hispanic grassroots operatives and campaign officials told NBC News the campaign and party lacked a firm effort to combat attacks and misinformation spreading about Biden.
Advisers also saw Biden fall victim to a trend they believe has badly served Democrats for some time: Assuming Latino voters would support them because of Trump and Republicans’ anti-immigrant rhetoric.
While Trump’s attacks on illegal immigration and his effort to build a border wall with Mexico may have alienated many Hispanic voters, others were attracted to his economic record and warnings that Democrats would slow the economy. Trump’s messages were quickly and repeatedly disseminated through established conservative Spanish language T.V., radio and social media channels, as well as messaging platforms like WhatsApp.
Multiple aides said they pushed Biden to forcefully disassociate himself from socialism, which he did often when pressed in interviews. But he mentioned his record of taking on dictators in Central America just once in a speech in Miami — a missed opportunity, they say, since he gave nine speeches in Florida ahead of Election Day.
Former campaign officials, Hispanic operatives and state party leaders also said Biden needed to convey a much stronger economic message to voters who liked Trump’s record. And Biden’s support for strict regulations to control the pandemic, including the temporary closures of some businesses, left many voters fearing that they would lose their jobs if he were president, strategists said.
“I think it’s deeper than saying Biden needed to do more. It’s that the Democratic Party needs to assess how we can more effectively communicate our answers to misinformation,” Baretto said. “So let’s find that message and have other Latino Democrats communicating and sending the leaders of your party to do that. They should be echoing it.”
Biden cuts ad with Warnock and Ossoff for Georgia Senate runoffs
WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — Democratic Senate hopefuls Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are out with a new ad featuring none other than President-Elect Joe Biden as they look to give Democrats their second statewide win in a span of a few short months.
The minute-long ad opens with Biden speaking straight to camera, telling Georgians that while "things are tough right now," that “help is on the way,” outlining his plan to combat COVID, get folks vaccinated, and help business.
But Biden pivots to the Senate race, connecting Democratic success next month to his agenda.
“Let me be clear, I need Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the United States Senate to get this done," he says, adding: “There are folks in Congress threatening to do everything in their power to block our efforts,” and implorign Georgians to vote for the Democrats in their respective races. Ossoff is running against GOP Sen. David Perdue and Warnock against GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler.
While former President Barack Obama narrated an ad in support of both candidates, this is Biden's first, and it comes days after the president-elect joined the pair for a rally in Georgia.
Inauguration committee announces limited attendance amid Covid-19 pandemic
WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration will look more like a State of the Union, with the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies announcing Tuesday that they'll limit tickets and guests for lawmakers.
In a statement released Wednesday, Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt noted that the JCCIC has concluded alongside public health and medical experts that they will strictly “limit attendance at the 59th Inaugural Ceremonies to a live audience that resembles a State of the Union” address.
While the JCCIC traditionally gives out 200,000 tickets for members of Congress to distribute to constituents, the committee will now only distribute tickets to members of the 117th Congress and one guest to see the ceremonies on the Capitol’s West Front. Constituents, however, can still request memorabilia tickets and program packets, but they will not allow for access to the Capitol grounds.
The latest safety protocols follows the Presidential Inaugural Committee announcement Tuesday that they are also planning a largely virtual inauguration and parade to encourage supporters celebrate at home rather than gather in Washington, D.C.