The Democratic presidential race has a clear top four — at least for now

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Image: Elizabeth Warren
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren addresses the crowd during her town hall meeting at Chartway Arena at the Ted Constant Convocation Center in Norfolk, Va., on Oct. 18, 2019.Kristen Zeis / The Virginian-Pilot via AP

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — You might have missed this 2020 development amidst all of the impeachment news over the past month, so it’s worth emphasizing it right here.

The Democratic presidential race has narrowed to a clear, consistent Top 4 — Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg.

They were the Top 4 fundraisers in the 3rd quarter money race; they’re the Top 4 Democratic candidates in the national polls; and they’re the Top 4 Dems in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Given the large, incredibly diverse field of 20-plus candidates that we started with, it’s striking to break down the demographics of this current Top 4:

  • All are white.
  • Three are men, one is a woman.
  • Three are 70 or older; the other is 37 years old.
  • One is gay.
  • Only one hails from a state outside of the East Coast or New England.
  • None has won a statewide contest outside of the East Coast or New England (not counting Biden being on the ticket with Obama in 2008 and 2012).
  • None hails from a state that has more than 11 Electoral College votes.
  • None is a governor – either current or former.
  • Only one has served in the military.

And while polls show the top Democrats leading President Trump in hypothetical matchups, that profile of the Top 4 has made some Democratic observers worried, writes the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin.

“With doubts rising about former Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s ability to finance a multi-state primary campaign, persistent questions about Senator Elizabeth Warren’s viability in the general election and skepticism that Mayor Pete Buttigieg, of South Bend, Ind., can broaden his appeal beyond white voters, Democratic leaders are engaging in a familiar rite: fretting about who is in the race and longing for a white knight to enter the contest at the last minute.”

We’re mindful that American politics is always capable of producing plenty of surprises — so it’s entirely possible another Dem can break through in the next 100 days before the Iowa caucuses.

But if you had, back in February or March, the 20-plus candidates being whittled down to these four Democratic candidates after the fourth Democratic debate, you might want to go buy a lottery ticket.

It was far from preordained that these would be the Top 4 in late October 2019.

Impeachment inquiry update: Taylor testifies

Ambassador Bill Taylor — the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine — is set to be deposed today in closed session, per NBC’s Geoff Bennett.

Taylor, if you recall from those released text messages, is the U.S. diplomat who appeared HIGHLY skeptical of the Trump administration’s maneuvers with Ukraine’s new president.

Taylor on July 21 — four days before Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s Zelensky: “Gordon [Sondland], one thing Kurt [Volker] and I talked about yesterday was Sasha Danyliuk’s point that President Zelensky is sensitive about Ukraine being taken seriously, not merely as an instrument in Washington domestic, reelection politics.”

Taylor on Sept. 1: “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?”

Taylor on Sept. 9: “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

Also, the New York Times reports that Trump met with a critic of Ukraine’s new government — Hungary’s Viktor Orban — just days before a key meeting, and Trump “heard a sharp assessment that bolstered his hostility toward the country, according to several people informed about the situation.”

More: “Mr. Trump at a critical moment in the Ukraine saga sat down in the Oval Office with a European leader with a fiercely negative outlook on Ukraine that fortified opinions he had heard from his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and from President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia repeatedly over the months and years.”

Other countries’ elections

Last night, Justin Trudeau won a second term as Canada’s prime minister.

“Official results won't be announced until all votes are accounted for, but based on ballots already reported, the CBC, CTV News and Radio Canada projected that Trudeau's Liberal Party would win enough seats in the House of Commons to be able to form a minority government,” per NBC News.

“Under a minority government, the Liberals would have to join with a smaller party to pass legislation in the House of Commons.”

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Meanwhile, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu admitted he couldn’t form a new government after last month’s election.

“The opportunity to form a stable government will now fall to his rival Benny Gantz, who leads the main opposition Blue and White party.”

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: A Tale of Two Different Democratic Campaigns

Repeating a gambit first deployed by Cory Booker last month, Julian Castro yesterday told supporters that he’ll drop out of the 2020 campaign if he can’t raise $800,000 by the end of October, NBC’s Maura Barrett reports.

By contrast, Amy Klobuchar told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow last night that her campaign has raised $2 million since last week’s debate, per NBC’s Amanda Golden.

On the campaign trail today: A busy day in Iowa

Elizabeth Warren hits Waterloo (for a small-business walking tour) and Cedar Falls (where she holds a town hall)… Kamala Harris is in Cedar Rapids, Vinton and Iowa City… And Marianna Williamson also visits in Iowa City… Andrew Yang is in New Hampshire… Pete Buttigieg campaigns in Las Vegas… And Tulsi Gabbard speaks in DC.

Dispatches from NBC’s embeds

NBC’s Gary Grumbach notices a change in Bernie Sanders’ approach to discussing his friendship with opponent Elizabeth Warren during an interview on PBS: “Host Judy Woodruff asked Sanders, ‘For people who are out there looking at these two world views, what is the difference?’ Sanders responded how he typically does, suggesting he and ‘Elizabeth’ are ‘good friends,’ but he did add a new phrasing to this answer. ‘I think the only way we bring about real change in this country is not within Capitol Hill,’ Sanders said, invoking past political and cultural movements like the women’s movement and labor movement to make his point. This is a minor change, for sure, but it does seem that gone are the days of his ‘Elizabeth is a good friend and I will not disparage anyone else’ answers.”

Data Download: The number of the day is … 26 percent

26 percent.

That’s the share of Americans who say they approve of Donald Trump *and* that there’s almost nothing he could do to lose their support, per a new PRRI poll.

That includes 37 percent of all Republicans, 31 percent of white evangelicals and 55 percent(!) of Republicans whose primary news source is Fox News.

On the flip side, nearly half — 46 percent — of Americans say they disapprove of Trump and that there’s almost nothing he could do to win their approval.

The Lid: Fifth Avenue Freeze-out

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we took a closer look at that “Fifth Avenue” vote.

Shameless plug

Late last week, NBC News launched Article II: Inside Impeachment — a new podcast looking at all of the latest developments during the impeachment inquiry, hosted by Steve Kornacki. Yesterday, one of us guest-hosted and spoke with NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell about Bill Taylor’s testimony on the Hill today. Check it out here. New episodes of the pod drop Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, with bonus episodes for breaking news.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

A new CNN poll finds that 50 percent of Americans now support impeaching Trump and removing him from office.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Canadian election results.

And here’s what’s next for Israeli politics after Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to form a government.

The Pentagon is drawing up plans for a quick withdrawal from Afghanistan in case Trump surprises military leaders by ordering an immediate drawdown.

Trump’s lawyers and the Manhattan D.A. have reached an agreement regarding the timing of the next legal action around the fight for Trump’s tax records.

Trump Agenda: Taking their time

House Democrats now say it may take more time to make the impeachment case to the public.

Facebook has disabled a network of Russian-backed accounts that targeted Biden in swing states.

Medicaid now covers a million fewer children than it used to.

2020: Fretting time

Democratic Party leaders are wondering about possible late entrants to the 2020 race.

Beto O’Rourke wants to limit Trump’s pardoning power.

Trump is going all-in on the 2019 gubernatorial races.

A new book isn’t flattering to Kamala Harris’s handling of the housing crisis during her time as AG.

Julian Castro says he’ll have to drop out if he doesn’t raise $800,000 in the next 10 days.

Amy Klobuchar is hoping to harness momentum after the last debate.