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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Granite State voters are taking their time before picking a candidate

MANCHESTER, N.H. — A new CNN/UNH poll of likely New Hampshire voters has former Vice President Joe Biden leading with 24 percent, Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., on his heels with 19 percent each, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 10 percent, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., at 9 percent and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke each at two percent. The DNC qualifying poll is our first snapshot of where candidates stand in the first-in-the-nation primary state since April.   

But while no other candidate passed one percent support, only 16 percent of voters say they are “definitely” decided six months out from voting day, leaving 84 percent of Granite State voters up for grabs, a number reflective of what voters in the state have been telling NBC News. 

Since the first Democratic candidate primary debates, 12 candidates have campaigned in N.H. The majority of voters NBC News has spoken with at campaign events share a common sentiment — it is still early.  

Candidates attract dozens, and in some cases, hundreds of potential voters to come out in person. But the most common attendees at these events are still considering multiple candidates.

"Still shopping,” said Peterborough locals Jamie Harrison and Kathy George while waiting  in line to see Warren on July 8. 

Traci Joy, from Nashua, saw Warren and Cory Booker in the same week. Joy liked their messages, but says she also really likes newcomer Buttigieg and Sanders, one of her favorites since 2015. 

Similarly, at Buttigieg’s town hall in Dover, curious locals came to hear from the South Bend mayor, but are still open-minded. Kathleen Dinan, an elderly woman, is considering Buttigieg, Harris, Warren and Booker but “the important thing is we nominate someone who can beat Trump.” 

Millennial mother of two Jenn Macdonald was a “big Berner” last election cycle, but is intrigued by Tulsi Gabbard and Harris this time around. 

“I’m really looking at more so what they’re standing for and less about who they are at this point because there are so many out there now that it’s really about who’s going to do the whole big picture for us,” she said. 

As voters accustomed to the state’s first-in-the-nation role, residents here tend to be kinds of voters that want to see and meet a candidate in person multiple times in their backyards before pledging their utmost exclusive support. 

For the 18 candidates who aren’t topping the latest poll, it’s evidence that the electorate here remains highly engaged — and largely undecided on who they like the most.

Sanders celebrity buzz muted in crowded field

WASHINGTON — In 2016, Vampire Weekend opened for Sen. Bernie Sanders in Des Moines; director Spike Lee told South Carolina Democrats to “do the right thing,” by supporting the Vermont senator’s presidential bid; comedian George Lopez told Latino voters he was “Feeling the Bern.” 

Four years later, Sanders is seeing his support shrink in a crowded field for the Democratic presidential nomination.

And his celebrity appeal is less pronounced as well, though there have been a few exceptions. Tony! Toni! Tone! opened a California rally in San Francisco during his campaign rollout tour. Actor Danny Glover is still a surrogate and has become somewhat of a regular on the campaign trail, especially at events in the South. In Pasadena, actor Danny DeVito surprised supporters at a rally, briefly speaking on stage to express his appreciation for the senator.  

Sanders also got somewhat of an endorsement Tuesday from New York rapper Cardi B, and campaign officials say the two sides have regular conversations about a potential appearance on the trail.

 

However, the regular sightings of bold-faced names, and rallies drawing thousands at a time have so far been muted during this campaign run. Sanders' team says what has been seen already is not reflective of what is planned for the senator, which includes possible music festival appearances. "There's still a cultural hallmark on this campaign for sure," one official told NBC News. 

Spike Lee cut videos for Sanders and spoke at a 20-thousand plus rally in the Bronx, NY, in 2016 but has been publicly silent about the current race. His daughter, Satchel Lee introduced Sen. Kamala Harris at a Brooklyn fundraiser earlier this month. 

Comedian Sarah Silverman, who initially supported Sanders in 2016, donated to South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg according to FEC filings. Silverman still talks favorably of the senator but also shows an affinity for many of the other candidates, tweeting “Love Cory Love Bernie love Elizabeth love Beto — great options and I’m rooting for all!”  

The New York indie rock band Vampire Weekend, on tour with a new album, performed a full set at a Sanders Iowa event in 2016. This march, the band's singer Ezra Koenig told The Times of London that his band may be up for another political swing for Sanders. "If we can help out, sure." And then added:  "but it's hard to be as excited as I was in 2016." 

And there's Rosario Dawson, the actress who stumped for Sanders on a cold New York night in 2016 and described him as someone “I’ve adored and loved for so long.” Dawson is now the the girlfriend of one of Sanders' challengers for the Democratic nomination, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.

Gary Grumbach contributed to this report.

The Cardi B and Bernie Sanders relationship, explained

WASHINGTON—With rapper Cardi B. tweeting praise for Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders Tuesday morning, it's worth taking a look back at their history. 

While many of Cardi B’s most popular songs are about her newfound excessive wealth since making it big as a rapper, (see: “Bodak Yellow”) there’s a long relationship here, albeit only publicly on social media at this point, between the democratic socialist and the 26-year-old rapper.

Cardi B has been vocal about her political views online for years, consistently very supportive of the Vermont senator. In a now-deleted (and not safe for work) video posted on Instagram in the summer of 2016, Cardi B told her supporters to "Vote for Daddy Bernie."

And she's shown interest in politics before—talking with GQ last year about her interest in and appreciation for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Sanders regularly evokes FDR an influence for democratic socialism). 

Here's an excerpt from that interview

"…First of all," continues Cardi B, "he helped us get over the Depression, all while he was in a wheelchair. Like, this man was suffering from polio at the time of his presidency, and yet all he was worried about was trying to make America great—make America great again for real. He's the real 'Make America Great Again,' because if it wasn't for him, old people wouldn't even get Social Security."

Sen. Bernie Sanders responded to her comments on social security in this GQ article by saying Cardi B is right. 

Cardi B voiced her support for Sen. Bernie Sanders again in April of 2019, but stopped short of a full endorsement during a red carpet interview with Variety:

VARIETY: Who are you supporting in 2020?

CARDI B: Um, I don’t know. I’ma always go with ‪Bernie.

VARIETY: Yeah? Why?

CARDI B: Because there’s the thing, right, Bernie don't say things to be cool. Like, there's pictures of him being an activist from a very, very, very long time. As a matter of fact I was watching the news and I saw like this guy named Tim Ryan. And his, his speech was very convincing to me. He really wants to give the United States free health care. So that’s a big plus. We need health care. So. I don’t know. We’ll see.

A deeper dive into the second quarter fundraising numbers

WASHINGTON — Monday's second-quarter fundraising filings shed some important light on the financial health of the Democratic presidential field. 

The top-lines are clear: South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former President Joe Biden, Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and California Sen. Kamala Harris have separated themselves from the pack as far as fundraising. 

But there are tons of important nuggets in the trove of information turned over by the campaigns Monday night. 

Here are two next-level data-points worth noting from the reports. 

Staff size 

Different candidates have different theories of how to win the Democratic nomination. And many of them are at different points in their presidential bid. So there's no one-size-fits-all approach to staffing. 

All of the top-fundraising candidates have more than 100 salaried staff-members, but their staff totals reflect different strategies. 

Warren's group of 304 salaried staff members is the largest operation in the field. That big investment in staffing is especially important for Warren because she's made the decision to skip the big-dollar fundraising circuit.

Sanders' organization is close behind, with 282 staff members, while Biden has about 194 salaried staff.  

Buttigieg, the second-quarter fundraising leader, is relying on a leaner staff of about 137 salaried positions (his campaign, like many others also relies on staff being paid as consultants too). 

All of those candidates have the deep pockets right now to support such large staffs, while candidates at the bottom of the polls only have a few dozen staff members. 

But the one big outlier is New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker—he has slightly more salaried staff (176) than Buttigieg despite raising one-fifth of the money that Buttigieg raised. Booker is making a similar bet as Warren, one that relies on a big staff. But the question is, can he sustain it?

Campaigns in the red

One way to think about a presidential campaign is to treat it like a unique business. Instead of maximizing profits, it has to maximize votes. And while there may be reasons to spend a business into the red, it's usually not a good sign to do it. 

Along with Booker, John Delaney, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Beto O'Rourke, Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang all spent more than they brought in last quarter. 

Many of those candidates were cutting big checks in the hopes of qualifying for the first round of Democratic debates (which they all did). But burning through cash like this is a risky strategy, with a slimmer margin of error. 

Biden on Trump: 'I won't get down in the dirt with him'

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday he'd have no problem taking on President Trump on the debate stage, arguing that his experience on the world stage has prepared him to stand up to adversaries.

During an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Biden defended his performance at last month's Democratic debates, where California Sen. Kamala Harris forcefully attacked his record on opposing federally-mandated busing to promote integration. And he said that despite that exchange, he'd be ready to take on Trump if they debated in the general election. 

"I realize that some have  concluded because I didn't respond very tough back to her that, how can I take on Trump? I have never had any trouble taking on anyone from Trump to Putin to Xi Jinping or anyone else," he said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Chinese president. 

"I would say come on Donald, come on, man. How many push-ups do you want to do here, pal? I mean, jokingly. Come on, run with me man."

"I won't get down in the dirt with him," he added. 

Breaking down the 2020 2nd quarter numbers

WASHINGTON — Yesterday was the official second quarter filing deadline for 2020 candidates and with all the reports in, here's a look at where the candidates stand on the most important fundraising metrics: 

Total contributions (includes only donations from individuals — not from the candidates themselves or transfers from other accounts):

  • Pete Buttigieg: $24.9 million (was $7.1 million last quarter)
  • Joe Biden: $22 million
  • Elizabeth Warren: $19.1 million (was $6 million)
  • Bernie Sanders: $18 million (was $18.2 million)
  • Kamala Harris: $11.8 million (was $12 million)
  • Cory Booker: $4.5 million (was $5 million)
  • Amy Klobuchar: $3.9 million (was $5 million)
  • Beto O’Rourke: $3.6 million (was $9.4 million)
  • Jay Inslee: $3.0 million (was $2.3 million)
  • Andrew Yang: $2.8 million (was $1.8 million)
  • Julián Castro: $2.8 million (was $1.1 million)
  • Michael Bennet: $2.8 million
  • Kirsten Gillibrand: $2.3 million (was $3 million)
  • Steve Bullock: $2.0 million
  • Tulsi Gabbard: $1.6 million (was $2 million)
  • Marianne Williamson: $1.5 million (was $1.5 million)
  • John Hickenlooper: $1.1 million (was $2 million)
  • Bill de Blasio: $1.1 million
  • Tim Ryan: $865,000
  • John Delaney: $284,000 (doesn’t include $7.75 million transfer)

Cash on hand:

  • Sanders: $27.3 million
  • Buttigieg: $22.7 million
  • Warren: $19.8 million
  • Harris: $13.3 million
  • Biden: $10.9 million
  • Gillibrand: $8.2 million
  • Klobuchar: $6.7 million
  • O’Rourke: $5.2 million

Burn rate (total spent divided by total receipts):

  • Gillibrand: 184 percent
  • O’Rourke: 146 percent
  • Hickenlooper: 143 percent
  • Gabbard: 122 percent
  • Booker: 117 percent
  • Inslee: 107 percent
  • Klobuchar: 107 percent
  • Harris: 64 percent
  • Warren: 55 percent
  • Sanders: 55 percent
  • Biden: 51 percent

Chinese diplomat deletes tweet about black Americans

WASHINGTON — A senior Chinese diplomat has deleted a tweet that was widely condemned as racist and asserted that white residents of Washington refuse to live in black communities. 

The comments from Lijan Zhao, the deputy chief of mission for the China’s embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, came as he sought to defend Beijing after 22 countries issued a joint statement criticizing China for the mass detention of Muslims in Xinjiang Province. The deputy chief of mission is typically the second-ranking diplomat in an embassy. 

“If you're in Washington, D.C., you know the white never go to the SW area, because it's an area for the black & Latin,” Zhao wrote on Twitter. “There's a saying ‘black in & white out’, which means that as long as a black family enters, white people will quit, & price of the apartment will fall sharply.” 

The tweet triggered outrage on social media, including from former U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who served as President Obama’s national security adviser and called Zhao a “racist disgrace” and “shockingly ignorant. She urged China’s ambassador in the U.S., Cui Tiankai, to “do the right thing and send him home.” 

Zhao, who lived previously in Washington, later clarified that he was referring to the Southeast quadrant of the U.S. capital, not the Southwest quadrant, and tweeted a link to a news article detailing racial segregation in Washington. After tweeting back to Rice that she was “such a disgrace, too,” Zhao eventually deleted his initial tweet.

Asked for its response to Zhao’s comments about black Washingtonians, the White House declined to comment. The State Department also had no specific comment about Zhao’s tweet. 

The controversy over Zhao’s tweet came as Trump himself was facing a barrage of criticism over his attacks on Twitter and elsewhere against four Democratic congresswomen of color whom he says “hate our country” and “can leave.” 

The Trump administration’s silence on Zhao’s tweets also stands in contrast to the president’s outspoken attacks on British diplomat Kim Darroch, who resigned last week after leaked diplomatic cables showed he’d described Trump and his administration as “clumsy and inept.” Trump publicly took issue with Darroch’s private comments, calling him a “pompous fool” and declaring that the White House would no longer engage with him. 

The White House has also frequently called out what it deemed to be problematic comments by foreign diplomats in the past, such as those from Iranian envoys. 

So far, the congressional committees that oversee U.S. foreign policy have not called out the comments publicly. But the office of Sen. Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he had raised the issue with the Chinese Embassy in Washington.

The embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether Zhao remains in his post or has been disciplined.

Abigail Williams contributed to this report.

Harris announces plan to combat prescription drug costs

DAVENPORT, Iowa — Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., announced a new plan Tuesday to put “people over profit,” pledging to take on pharmaceutical companies and sky-rocketing drug prices through fines and potential executive action.

Harris previewed the plan at a town hall in Somersworth, New Hampshire on Sunday, telling voters there that “the pharmaceutical companies have been jacking up prices hand over fist, year after year."

"Their business model, it seems, is purely about profit and not about public health,” she said.

Harris’ plan would allow the federal government to establish a “fair price” for what pharmaceutical companies can charge for prescription drugs, which will be based on the average price of comparable drugs from countries like the UK, France, Australia and Japan. If companies sell drugs above the set fair price, their profits from selling the at the higher cost will be taxed at a rate of 100% and that money will go back to consumers through a mail-in rebate.

She also lays out possible executive action steps if Congress doesn’t act within 100 days, including plans to investigate pharmaceutical companies that have overpriced drugs, allow a direct importation of lower-cost drugs from foreign countries and make investigating pharmaceutical companies a priority at her Department of Justice. For the worst offenders of high-priced drugs, Harris proposes to “license a company’s patent to lower the cost” through “march-in” rights under existing law.

On average, Americans spend $1,208 on drugs every year, according to data from the OECD.

Harris, who is in Davenport, Iowa today, is expected to talk more on her plan at the AARP Forum this afternoon.

 

O'Rourke's fundraising sputters in second quarter

MANNING, IOWA— Beto O’Rourke’s fundraising machine stalled in the second quarter.

The Texan presidential candidate, who entered the presidential race with great fanfare in March, announcing on Monday night he’d raised just $3.6 million dollars in the race’s last three months, lagging far behind the field’s top tier.

That number is roughly one third of his first quarter fundraising total of $9.4 million; a quarter in which O’Rourke was only a declared candidate for 18 days. In his first 24 hours as a candidate last quarter, O'Rourke raised more than $6 million. 

By comparison, South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren all raised at least $19 million in the second fundraising quarter, according to their campaigns. 

In a memo accompanying the release of the fundraising numbers, O’Rourke’s campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillion urged supporters not to panic.

"When you look at our fundraising in aggregate, we’re in a great position. I won’t sugar coat it: we have work to do, but we have the resources we need to execute our strategy,” O’Malley Dillon wrote.

O’Rourke’s campaign has been rapidly staffing up in the early states, and nationally. The campaign announced 11 new Iowa field offices on Monday and a national finance director and national press secretary started work in El Paso just this month. His campaign spent more than $5.3 million last quarter, more than it brought in in donations. 

O’Malley Dillon urged supporters to give to the campaign if they can, to volunteer, and generally to have faith – pointing out that O’Rourke’s fundraising in his senate race in Texas, in which he shattered fundraising records, also started slowly.

The campaign said in its release that the average donation received was just $30, and more than 200,000 people gave – meaning O’Rourke has met the Democratic National Committee's donor qualification for the fall debates.

Bill de Blasio raised $1.1 million after late-entry in second quarter

WASHINGTON — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's presidential campaign raised $1.1 million from the time he entered the 2020 Democratic primary in mid-May to the end of June and hired several new staffers, according to his campaign. 

A well-received performance in the first debate helped him raise a significant chunk of that — $630,000 — in the four days following the NBC News-sponsored debate in Miami. De Blasio's campaign says he has about $728,000 cash on hand, meaning he spent only about 30 percent of what he raised. 

As one of the last candidates to enter the race, De Blasio had less time to fundraise than other candidates in the second quarter of the year — about 45 days out of the quarter's 91 days — meaning he raised roughly $24,000 per day. 

Monday is the deadline for all candidates to submit their fundraising reports to the Federal Election Commission for the second three months of the year.

Meanwhile, his campaign announced several new staffers, in addition those already announced.

Jaclyn Rothenberg will serve as national press secretary while Will Baskin-Gerwitz was named communications advisor. Jess Moore Matthews is the campaign's digital director. The campaign tapped former South Carolina Democratic Party executive director Lachlan McIntosh as its senior adviser in the first-in-the-South primary state, while Lance Jones will serve as state director there and Bre Spaulding as political director. In Iowa, de Blasio hired Cameron Macaw-Hennick to be his field director.

“These hires are a direct result of the fundraising success we’ve had in just a few short weeks, and our growth is a sign of what’s to come moving forward,” said de Blasio senior adviser Jon Paul Lupo. “We’re grateful to every supporter who chipped in because they share Mayor de Blasio’s message of putting working people first and we’re going to continue spreading that message to voters across the country.”

What's in, and out, of Biden's health care plan

DES MOINES, Iowa — Call Vice President Joe Biden’s healthcare plan Affordable Care Act 2.0.

In his new plan released on Monday, Biden proposes adding a “Medicare-like” public option that would serve as an option for consumers to receive health insurance. Americans would also be able to choose their own private insurance and would now only spend a lower income rate to obtain it.  

Biden campaign officials say the health care plan serves as a transitional piece of legislation that could pave the path to a Medicare-for-All single payer system in the future. 

Here's a quick look at some of what is in — and not in — Biden's plan: 

What's in: The individual mandate

President Donald Trump got rid of the individual mandate when he signed the GOP tax bill into law in 2017. Biden would bring back the penalty for not being covered under health insurance under his plan.

Since the individual mandate currently is not federal law, a Biden campaign official said that he would use a combination of executive orders to undo the changes and use his “longstanding history of getting stuff done in Congress to get legislation to build on the Affordable Care Act.”

What's out: Spending rate

Biden’s plan allows for consumers to buy into the individual marketplace and choose their health care provider of choice. In an effort to expand access even on that front, the plan will only allow consumers to spend 8.5 percent of their income on insurance. Under the Affordable Care Act, consumers could spend almost 10 percent of their income when paying for insurance.

What's in: Lowering prescription drug pricing

In an effort to lower the skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs, Biden’s plan would repeal existing law that currently bans Medicare from negotiating lower prices with drug manufacturers. He would also limit price increases “for all brand, biotech and abusively priced generic drugs” and launch prices for drugs that do not have competition, according to a Biden campaign official.

Consumers would also be able to buy cheaper priced prescription drugs from other countries, which could help mobilize competition. And Biden would terminate their advertising tax break in an effort to also help lower costs.

What's in: Undocumented immigrants can buy in

Biden’s plan would also allow undocumented immigrants to buy into the public option, but it would not be subsidized. Considering undocumented immigrants in his health care plan shows just how progressive the Democratic Party has come on the issue in just a decade. The Affordable Care Act, for example, did not allow undocumented immigrants from buying into the system.