The center of the Democratic 2020 field is wider than expected

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Image: Montana Governor Steve Bullock delivers his State of the State address in Helena on Jan. 24, 2017.
Montana Governor Steve Bullock delivers his State of the State address in Helena on Jan. 24, 2017.Thom Bridge / Independent Record via AP file

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By Chuck Todd and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — Six months ago, the conventional wisdom about the emerging 2020 race was:

  • It would be a race to the left.
  • Joe Biden could be a bust (or might not even run).
  • Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke were two of the top favorites who ultimately might win the nomination.

So how’s that conventional wisdom working out?

And while it’s still early, maybe the biggest story about the Dem 2020 race so far is how wide — and crowded — the center of the party is right now.

Biden has a significant lead in the polls; another candidate from the relative center, Steve Bullock, is now in the race (more on him below); and the trend on health care has been to break away from Bernie Sanders on health care — rather than embrace him completely.

Of course, the 2018 midterms should have taught us that the pragmatic center of the party is a force to be reckoned with.

For every Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, there was an Abigail Spanberger, an Elissa Slotkin, a Cindy Axne, a Colin Allred and even a Donna Shalala representing the pragmatic/Obama center of the party.

This isn’t to say the left can’t win the Dem nomination; it definitely could.

And, as we’ve discovered, the conventional wisdom will probably change again in another six months – maybe good news for Bernie, Beto and Kamala.

But if something has remained constant over the last six months, it’s been the strength of the middle of the Democratic Party.

Chaos reigns

Chaos, arguably, has been the defining characteristic of President Trump’s first two and a half years in office.

And just check out these headlines over the last 24 hours:

  1. Dow ends the day down 618 points after dramatic day of losses
  2. White House Reviews Military Plans Against Iran, in Echoes of Iraq War
  3. Barr asks U.S. Attorney to probe how Russia investigation got started
  4. Before Trump’s purge at DHS, top officials challenged plan for mass family arrests

As for the attorney Barr picked to lead this new Russia investigation, John Durham, he has a history of dealing with sensitive matters.

“Attorney General Janet Reno asked Mr. Durham in 1999 to investigate the F.B.I.’s handling of a notorious informant: the organized crime leader James (Whitey) Bulger,” the New York Times writes.

“In 2008, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey assigned Mr. Durham to investigate the C.I.A.’s destruction of videotapes in 2005 showing the torture of terrorism suspects.”

“A year later, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. expanded Mr. Durham’s mandate to also examine whether the agency broke any laws in its abuses of detainees in its custody.”

Beto’s relaunch: “I recognize I can do a better job”

Over the last few days (here and here), we’ve been talking about resets and relaunches for Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke.

And here’s O’Rourke telling MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow last night that he can do a better job talking to a national audience.

“We've been on the road now for eight weeks traveling to over 15 states, have held more than 150 town halls, running today the same way that we started. But I recognize I can do a better job also of talking to a national audience, beyond the town halls.”

O’Rourke also discussed what distinguishes his 2020 candidacy – and also his 2018 Senate campaign – from the rest of the Dem field.

“It doesn't matter how blue, we're not going to take you for granted. Doesn't matter how small, how red, how rural, we're not going to write you off. Everyone's important. Everyone counts.”

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Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: Bullock’s in

In a video released this morning, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock became the latest Democrat to announce a presidential bid.

He talks about living — and winning — in a red state: “As the Democratic governor of a state that Trump won by 20 points, I don't have the luxury to talking to people who agree with me.”

He also emphasizes campaign-finance reform. “We need to defeat Donald Trump in 2020 and defeat the corrupt system that lets campaign money drown out the people’s voice, so we can finally make good on the promise of a fair shot for everyone.”

More from NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald: “Core to Bullock's case is that he won Montana twice, including his reelection in 2016 on the same night as Donald Trump won it in a landslide. He did it while sticking to core Democratic values on everything from abortion to climate change to guns.”

Bullock launches his campaign from his high school alma mater in Helena, Mont., at 3:30 pm ET, and he heads to Iowa on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

On the campaign trail today

In addition to Bullock’s launch in Montana, Joe Biden remains in New Hampshire… And Beto O’Rourke raises money in Houston.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 617.38

617.38.

That was yesterday's drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average as the U.S. trade war with China intensified with new retaliatory tariffs.

The 2.4 percent drop was the market's worst since January 3.

More, from our colleagues at CNBC: "Trade bellwether Caterpillar fell 4.6% while Apple dropped 5.8%. Boeing shares declined 4.9% amid speculation the airplane maker could be singled out by China in the trade war.

"The utilities and real estate sectors, considered by investors to be defensive spaces in the market, were the only ones in the S&P 500 to close higher on Monday."

The Lid: Walk (back) like an Egyptian

Don’t miss the pod from Monday, when we examined Kamala Harris’ walk-back on private health-care insurance.

ICYMI: News you shouldn’t miss

Jimmy Carter is recovering after a broken hip.

Farmers are reeling from the latest consequences of the trade war.

Kirstjen Nielsen was ousted after opposing a plan to arrest a huge swathe of migrant families, the Washington Post reports.

The White House is reviewing plans for military action in Iran.

Bill Barr has named a U.S. attorney to probe the origins of the Russia investigation.

And Geoff Bennett and Heidi Przybyla are the latest to report on how Trump and Democrats see abortion as a potent 2020 issue, noting: The president has taken a series of recent steps aimed at turning abortion into a rallying cry for conservatives — from painting abortion-rights bills in New York and Virginia as extreme; to expanding the Mexico City Policy (an existing rule banning U.S. aid to any health organization in another country that provides or makes referrals for abortions); to screening the anti-abortion film Gosnell at the White House.

Other news that’s out there…

Trump agenda: The gambler

Jonathan Allen explains why Trump is taking such a big gamble with China.

Trump now says he won't use material hacked or stolen by a foreign adversary against a 2020 foe.

Rod Rosenstein called James Comey a "partisan pundit."

Mike Pompeo is meeting with Putin today.

Trump will hold a rally in northern Pennsylvania next week in advance of the special election to replace Tom Marino.

2020: Castro’s education plan

Julian Castro has a new education plan.

What exactly was going on with Bill de Blasio's Trump Tower press conference?

POLITICO writes on a key 2020 endorsement: AOC.

The Washington Post has the latest on what might be next for Liz Cheney.

The New York Times looks at how Democrats who flipped seats in 2018 are planning to keep their jobs.