Can Tom Steyer overcome the challenges of a late entry into the presidential campaign?

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Image: Tom Steyer listens during a town hall event in Ankeny, Iowa, on Jan. 9, 2019.
Tom Steyer listens during a town hall event in Ankeny, Iowa, on Jan. 9, 2019.Daniel Acker / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Ben Kamisar

WASHINGTON — The presidential candidates who announce first usually don’t win. (Think John Edwards and Tom Vilsack in the 2008 cycle. Or Ted Cruz in 2016.)

But those who go last — or close to it — have had even rougher times. (Remember Wes Clark in 2004? Or Fred Thompson in 2008?)

And that’s the challenge for Tom Steyer, who yesterday became the latest Democrat to throw his hat into the 2020 ring.

The late bird doesn’t get the worm — unless you’re the biggest bird in the neighborhood, like Joe Biden this cycle or Mitt Romney in 2012.

Consider all of the Dems who have gotten into the 2020 race since Biden’s announcement three months ago:

  • Michael Bennet (May 2) barely made the first Dem debate, and he struggled to break through.
  • Steve Bullock (May 14) who didn’t make the debate stage.
  • Bill de Blasio (May 16) who had a few moments at that first debate, but who still hasn’t caught fire.
  • And Joe Sestak (June 23).

And remember the criteria to make the third debate stage in September: at least 2 percent in four qualifying polls and 130,000 donors.

That’s a steep challenge, even for Steyer and the millions of dollars he plans to spend. (How do you convince Democratic donors to give money to a billionaire?)

Of course, the $100 million that Steyer plans to drop on the 2020 race can make up for a lot of things — like a late start or a lack of charisma.

But is that enough?

Especially for a Democratic electorate that’s grown frustrated by the large (and expanding) field.

Migrant kids allege sexual assault, retaliation from U.S. agents

“A 16-year-old Guatemalan boy held in Yuma, Arizona, said he and others in his cell complained about the taste of the water and food they were given. The Customs and Border Protection agents took the mats out of their cell in retaliation, forcing them to sleep on hard concrete,” per NBC’s Jacob Soboroff and Julia Ainsley.

“A 15-year-old girl from Honduras described a large, bearded officer putting his hands inside her bra, pulling down her underwear and groping her as part of what was meant to be a routine pat down in front of other immigrants and officers.”

“A 17-year-old boy from Honduras said officers would scold detained children when they would get close to a window, and would sometimes call them "puto," an offensive term in Spanish, while they were giving orders.”

McGrath raised more than $2.5 million in first 24 hours

Kentucky Democratic Senate candidate Amy McGrath raised more than $2.5 million in the first 24 hours of her campaign against Mitch McConnell — over $1 million of it in just the first five and a half hours after she announced, NBC’s Kasie Hunt reports.

McGrath’s campaign manager says it’s the most ever raised in the first 24 hours of a Senate campaign. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee says the next closest was Mark Kelly, Senate candidate in Arizona, who raised $1 million in his first day of campaigning.

By the way, that’s more than what Kamala Harris raised in her first 24 hours as a presidential candidate.

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2020 Vision: The Outsider

"Nobody owns me," Tom Steyer said in an interview with NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald. "I'm not afraid to speak my mind. I'm not beholden to them. I'm not beholden to the establishment."

More Steyer: "It's really a question of, if we're going to reform this system, who are you going to believe? Someone from the outside who's been doing direct democracy grassroots organizing for 10 years, or people from inside the Beltway?" he said. "If you look at the top four people running for president as Democrats, they share 73 years either in the Congress or the Senate. It's a question of insiders versus an outsider."

On the campaign trail today

Joe Biden, in DC, meets with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ campaign arm, Bold PAC … Steve Bullock remains in Iowa … And John Delaney is in Wisconsin.

Dispatches from NBC’s embeds

Steve Bullock discussed the Electoral College at a campaign stop in Iowa. While some Democratic candidates have called for presidential elections to be determined by the popular vote, NBC’s Maura Barrett reports Bullock’s take: “I think we should be asking, why are losing those places? Not trying to reform a system that's 200 years old. And Democrats need to be able to compete in those areas, so no I wouldn't want to reform the Electoral College system.”

And one Biden note. The NBC team (Priscilla Thompson, Marianna Sotomayor and Maura Barrett) confirmed that former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack will be hosting a meet and greet for Biden on Monday, July 15. According to Vilsack, this isn't an endorsement, but the NBC team flagged, “the event is simply a recognition of the fact that they’ve known the Biden’s for 33 years. According to Vilsack, he and his wife worked on Biden’s campaign in 1986.”

Data Download: The number of the day is … $15.6 million

$15.6 million.

That’s how much money Joe Biden made over the two years since he left the White House.

The Bidens made $11 million in 2017 and $4.6 million in 2018, a massive increase from the $300,000 to $400,000 they made during Joe Biden’s two terms in office.

The Bidens made more money and gave more to charity last year than any of the 11 Democratic candidates who have released their 2018 returns. And only Kamala Harris paid a higher effective tax rate.

But it’s clear that Joe Biden’s wallet is far better off for his time in the White House.

Tweet of the day

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

A federal judge blocked the Justice Department from swapping lawyers on the Census citizenship case.

The Justice Department doesn't want some of Robert Mueller's deputies to testify in front of Congress.

The British ambassador who criticized President Trump in leaked cables has resigned.

The Justice Department’s inspector general is nearing the completion of his report on the FBI's conduct during the Russia investigation.

Trump agenda: “Falling out”

President Trump claims he had a 'falling out' with Jeffrey Epstein more than a decade ago.

The White House is threatening to veto the Democratic House's defense spending bill over concerns about funding levels, the wall and other provisions.

President Trump's social media summit includes a controversial list of attendees.

2020: Coming to a TV set near you

Tom Steyer has already booked $1 million in television ads as he launches his presidential bid.

Republicans are fighting amongst themselves as they try to rally around a small-donor donation platform.

ABC News and Univision will host the third round of Democratic debates in Houston on Sept. 12 and 13.

A North Carolina state lawmaker has won the state's Third District GOP primary runoff, a blow to Republican woman who were rallying around their own candidate.

Disgraced former Congressman Mark Foley says he may run for Congress again.