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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Ahead of Iowa tour, Klobuchar releases rural and agriculture plan

WASHINGTON — If it’s the Iowa State Fair, candidates are putting out Iowa-centric policies. This is Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s: a plan that she hopes will benefit farmers, drive job growth, and focus on rural America. Klobuchar will pitch this plan across 20 of Iowa’s 99 counties, starting Wednesday at a family farm in Ankeny.

  • Review all international tariffs and create a national rural export strategy. All tariffs in place as of 2021 will be reviewed and in her first 100 days in office. Klobuchar will restart the President’s Export Council — bringing together leaders from business, agriculture, and labor to get on the same page about the U.S.’s export and trade strategy.
  • Connect “every household and business in America” to high-speech broadband by 2022. Stemming from her previously-released $1 trillion infrastructure plan, Klobuchar will push for investment in rural areas, as well as money towards repairing bridges, highways and airports. She’ll also look to “revitalize” freight and passenger rail travel.
  • Expand support systems for family-owned farms — including federal crop insurance programs, addressing the dairy crisis thru a commission, and fully fund permanent disaster programs.
  • Up farmers’ and ranchers’ access to land and capital by increasing the maximum loan amount they can receive from the Farm Service Agency. She’ll also increase the size of the FSA’s loan portfolio to make sure more farmers can access it, and offer a new tax credit to farmers that help beginning farmers get in business – be it by selling land or equipment to them.
  • Preserve rural hospitals with the creation of a new Rural Emergency Hospital classification under Medicare, to help maintain an ER and provide outpatient services. 
  • Expand assistance for rural childcare, by upping funding for Child Care and Development Block Grants. She’d also seek to pass a “landmark childcare proposal” that limits childcare payments to seven percent of a family’s income.  
  • Promote the future of the ag industry while also promoting conservation efforts. This includes investments in homegrown energy, like strengthening the Renewable Fuel Standard, and extending biodiesel and second generation biofuels tax credits. Additionally, she’ll invest in wind, solar and rural energy programs.
  • Ensure rural vets and seniors get proper healthcare, housing, and transportation.
  • Fight discrimination in communities of color, as well as partner with Native American tribes in rural areas.

Asked by NBC News about how much this plan would cost, Klobuchar’s campaign did not release an estimate.

Mike Gravel endorses Bernie Sanders

WASHINGTON — Former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel ended his quasi-presidential campaign this morning and endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Gravel's campaign was mainly run by a small group of teenagers, and the campaign's focus was to make the debate stage. Gravel did not make either the first or second Democratic debate and was not on track to qualify for the September debate. 

 

 

Mississippi voters head to polls in gubernatorial race

WASHINGTON — If it’s Tuesday ... voters are voting! Republicans could be headed for a primary runoff after today’s three-way primary contest in the Mississippi gubernatorial race.

The GOP contest pits Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves against former state Supreme Court chief justice Bill Waller Jr. and state Rep Robert Foster. (Foster recently made headlines for refusing to allow a female reporter to accompany him on the campaign trail without a male colleague present).

Reeves, who has been considered the frontrunner throughout the campaign, has the backing of incumbent Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and he has outspent his opponents on TV by more than 3-1. But a recent Mason-Dixon primary poll pegged him at 41 percent, a 10-point lead over Waller but short of the 50 percent threshold necessary to avoid a runoff. 

If no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote today, they'll head to a runoff on August 27. 

The winner will likely face Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood in November. Hood faces seven comparatively unknown Democratic contenders in his primary today.

Regardless of who wins, polling suggests the general election could be competitive. An NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll from last month found Reeves leading Hood by 9 points and Waller leading Hood by 12 points. 

Democrat J.D. Scholten joins pack trying to oust controversial Rep. Steve King

SIOUX CITY, IA — More than 60 supporters spent a humid Monday evening in Sioux City cheering on Democrat J.D. Scholten as he officially kicked off his second bid to oust controversial GOP Rep. Steve King, who narrowly won their first face-off in 2018.

“Last time we hoped to win. And this time we expect to win. It’s that simple,” Scholten told reporters while standing in front of his branded “Scholten for Congress” RV, more affectionately known on the trail as “Sioux City Sue.”

The stakes in the district have grown since the 2018 elections, especially after King was stripped of his committee assignments by GOP leaders in the wake of inflammatory comments he made about white supremacy. 

In 2018, Scholten worked his way through the district’s 39 counties, showing up in places in King wasn’t and focusing on rural communities with talk about tariffs and broadband internet access. He is planning to do the same ahead of 2020 while also honing in on the consequences Steve King’s racist rhetoric has had on the district. 

Scholten took direct aim at King, and seemingly at President Trump, saying, “this hateful rhetoric that we’ve consistently seen from our congressman — these words have consequences, and the hatred and the racism has become too commonplace in this country. It does fuel violence. It labels us, it divides us, it drives us apart. That’s not what we’re about.” 

It was a point that hit home for Sioux City resident Linda Smoley. “Being represented by Steve King drives me absolutely insane because the whole country knows about the 4th district [and] the things [King] says, the racism, the bigotry,” Smoley told NBC News. “It is so so embarrassing and devastating and now dangerous. J.D. is so caring and compassionate and really he is the exact opposite of a Steve King.”

David Elder, of Sioux City said he is ready for the change that Scholten promotes, especially when it comes to the rhetoric.

“One of the things that I really like is just the fact that he isn't Steve King. Steve King just absolutely does not represent the values that I think we should have as Americans,” Elder told NBC News, “He’s said so many things that are just blatantly racist and even though northwest Iowa is a fairly homogenous place, it's changed a lot over the years.”

A rematch still might not happen, however. King has drawn at least three viable Republican challengers, prompting the question whether Scholten would be able to carry the GOP-heavy district if King were defeated in the primary. 

Sioux City resident Jackie Stellish doesn't think Democrats can count on King losing the GOP primary.  “I don’t see a possibility of these other candidates,” Stellish said, “They don't have the support and they don't have the money. King has name recognition but, you know what, J.D. does too. King is going to get that nomination, and we are going to send Steve King back to where he belongs.”

A massive shift afoot in the Texas GOP congressional delegation

WASHINGTON — Republican Rep. Kenny Marchant announced his decision to retire Monday, making him the fourth Texas GOP congressman to spring for the exit this year. 

Within the past few weeks, Republican Reps. Mike Conaway, Will Hurd and Pete Olson have announced they'll too retire after next year.

Those are some big names in the delegation — Marchant is on the Ways and Means Committee and the ranking member of the Ethics Committee; Conaway is the top Republican on the Agriculture Committee and a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence; Hurd is also an Intelligence Committee member who has held onto his district despite constantly difficult re-election battles; and Olson is a former fighter pilot who served as one of the more conservative voices in the caucus. 

Once they retire, they'll take with them more than a half-century of seniority.  

But those retirements are part of a larger picture, one of a Texas delegation that's been going through a massive shift in the past two election cycles. And that shift has been at the direct expense of House Republicans. 

The Texas Republican delegation lost five members to retirement last cycle — Reps. Ted Poe, Sam Johnson, Jeb Hensarling, Joe Barton and Lamar Smith. That list includes former chairmen of the Ways and Means, Financial Services, Energy and Commerce, and Science, Space and Technology Committees, all with more than a century of service in the House combined.  

And the GOP lost two more high-profile Republican lawmakers at the ballot box in 2018 — Reps. John Culberson and Pete Sessions. Culberson had represented the Houston area since 2001 and had been an appropriations "cardinal." And Sessions joined Congress in 1997, ultimately rising to chair the powerful Rules Committee. 

Those losses come as Democrats have made a bigger push for suburban areas around Texas' largest cities, which are also rapidly diversifying. And Democrats are targeting seats like Hurd's in 2020. 

Even if every other Republican lawmaker holds their seat in 2020, the Texas GOP will have lost more than 200 combined years in seniority over a span of four years. That's a major blow to a powerful delegation.

Recent polls show most American agree with background checks, semi-automatic bans

WASHINGTON — Recent polls show that a majority of Americans agree with background checks for gun purchases and banning semi-automatic assault guns. 

From an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll conducted July 15-July 17 (margin of error for all adults: +/- 3.5 percentage points):

Do you think background checks for gun purchases at gun shows or other private sales is a good idea or a bad idea?

Among all Americans: 89% good idea, 9% bad idea

  • Democrats: 96% good idea/ 4% bad idea
  • Republicans: 84% good idea/ 14% bad idea
  • Independents: 89% good idea/ 10% bad idea

Do you think a ban on the sale of semi-automatic assault guns such as the AK-47 or the AR-15, is a good idea or a bad idea?

Among all Americans: 57% good idea, 41% bad idea

  • Democrats: 83% good idea/ 17% bad idea
  • Republicans: 29% good idea/ 67% bad idea
  • Independents: 55% good idea/ 43% bad idea

Data dump unearths new nuggets about presidential fundraising

WASHINGTON — While most of the political world was watching the Democratic presidential debates last week, the Federal Election Commission released a treasure trove of fundraising data that sheds new light on how the candidates have raised their money.  

The gigantic data dump (in the form of a 25 million-line-plus spreadsheet) includes every donation handled by ActBlue, the donation-processing company that handles virtually all of the Democratic Party's online donations. 

The data is especially important because while quarterly reports from the candidates themselves don't have to include donors who give less than $200, the ActBlue reports must detail every donation it processed for a candidate. 

There's already been some deep analysis of the data from 30,000 feet by outlets like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. But here are some more interesting nuggets from last week's release, combined with data already available (note: the data spans from Jan. 1 through June 30 of this year):

There's a clear top tier in the early primary states 

Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina still dominate the early calendar, helping to decide the nominee and winnow down the field. And as far as fundraising goes, there's a clear top-tier. 

Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris aren't just at the top of the polls right now, they're also raising more money from the early primary states than anyone else. 

Sanders is the clear fundraising leader in Iowa and New Hampshire; Biden holds a significant edge in Nevada; and Biden, Sanders and Buttigieg are virtually tied at the top of the money race in South Carolina. 

The first debate bump 

Strong first debate performances changed the trajectory of some campaigns' fundraising. 

Julian Castro is a perfect example. The day before he took the debate stage in Miami on June 26, Castro raised under $20,000. But the day of the debate, where he won praise after a heated back-and-forth with Beto O'Rourke on immigration, Castro pulled in $84,000. And the day after the debate, he raised almost $330,000. 

Harris also saw a big bump after her first debate, where she tangled with Biden over racial issues. Raising just $68,000 the day before the debate, Harris raked in $574,000 on the day of her debate (June 27) and $1.8 million the next day (June 28). 

The moment Buttigieg's candidacy took off

Much of Pete Buttigieg's success has been attributed to a strategy of flooding the zone with media appearances. And the ActBlue data shows just how important that strategy has been to his campaign's bottom-line. 

Unlike most candidates that raked in fistfuls of cash on their announcement day, Buttigieg barely raised a dime when he announced his exploratory committee on Jan 23. But his fortunes changed dramatically on March 10, when he pulled in $201,000, and the following day, when he raised $456,000. The impetus? March 10 was Buttigieg's breakout performance during a nationally-televised CNN town hall. 

The Hooiser hasn't looked back since — there have only been a handful of days since when he raised less than six-figures. 

Buttigieg campaign parts ways with N.H. state director

MANCHESTER, N.H. — South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s campaign and its New Hampshire state director Michael Ceraso have parted ways, the campaign tells NBC News. In a statement from Buttigieg campaign manager Mike Schmuhl, the campaign says it is appreciative to Ceraso for getting their ground game in New Hampshire started.

"We are grateful to Michael for setting up our New Hampshire operation and helping us scale up to nearly 40 staffers in just a few months,” the statement from Schmuhl said. “Our New Hampshire team will continue to grow as we execute our plan to compete in the state. We will soon be announcing additional staff who will continue to help spread Pete’s message that he is the one who can tackle our country’s most pressing challenges with real solutions.”

There was no explanation immediately provided for the staffing departure.

Jess O’Connell, who is a senior adviser to the campaign who has been focused on early strategy in primary states, has already been on the ground in N.H. working with the team, a Buttigieg aide said.

The campaign stresses that they continue to have a strategy and a plan, and now are executing that plan to win the state. The aide also told NBC News that there will be more announcements and an expanded capacity of organizers, as well as a wave of field office openings, ahead of next month’s Democratic Party state convention.

During the 2016 campaign, Ceraso served as state director in New Hampshire and California for Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign. The Sanders campaign parted ways with Ceraso 27 days before the California primary.

Longtime New Hampshire operative endorses Gillibrand

CONCORD, N.H. — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., nabbed a notable endorsement Friday from longtime New Hampshire Democratic operative Judy Reardon.

Reardon is the former legal counsel for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., serving her in both the governor’s office and in the U.S. Senate.  She is also a longtime committee member of the state party, a former New Hampshire House Democratic whip and has served as senior adviser to several presidential campaigns. Reardon endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 cycle.

In a phone interview with NBC News, Reardon said that she attended the Detroit debate and spent additional time with Gillibrand and her team in their hotel during the visit. 

Reardon said that she saw Gillibrand during her first trip to New Hampshire and was especially struck by her ebullience and energy.  

“I know she’s an underdog but I still think she can surprise people,” Reardon said. “In February I thought the pundits were all making a mistake in writing off Elizabeth Warren, and I think they’re making the same mistake now with Kirsten Gillibrand. She has a lot of grit.” 

When asked if she had other candidates she was considering endorsing, and potentially would throw her support behind if Gillibrand doesn’t go far in the process, Reardon pointed to other female Senators seeking the presidency. 

“I came into this cycle saying all things being equal I want to vote for someone younger than I am,” Reardon said. “Baby boomers have had their chance at being president and I think it’s time to move on. I’d also, all things being equal, would like to vote for a woman, so I like all of the female senators.” 

Asked why she decided to announce this early in the cycle, and throwing her support behind a candidate who still hasn’t qualified for the third round of debates in September, Reardon said it’s part of the “privilege of being in New Hampshire.” 

“I think it would be a waste of that privilege to not get involved,” she said. 

According to the most recent New Hampshire poll from UNH/CNN last month, Gillibrand is polling at 1% in the state.

Booker endorsement demonstrates tough balancing act for candidates

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Sen. Cory Booker’s New Hampshire campaign on Thursday announced an endorsement from Concord Mayor Jim Bouley, the longest current serving mayor in the state — a political boost that also demonstrates the complicated balance candidates face when tying to amass support while staying true to their stated principles.  

Outside of his position as an elected official, Bouley is also a registered and active lobbyist in New Hampshire. Among the clients his firm represents is 3M, the large manufacturing company that is currently involved in three separate lawsuits over accusations that the company’s products have led to the PFAS contamination of drinking water, suits filed in both New Hampshire and Booker’s home state of New Jersey

Booker is one of several Democratic presidential candidates who have tried to keep distance between themselves and special interest money and support. Among other things, the Booker campaign has said it would refuse contributions from federal lobbyists (Bouley is a state lobbyist). 

In an interview with NBC News, Bouley said that the Booker campaign did not ask him to disclose his lobbying ties ahead of his endorsement. He also said that it is “absolutely true” that 3M is dealing with multiple lawsuits over the allegations of contamination but stressed that he does not “represent 3M on that issue.” 

Booker has embraced political and financial support from other local New Hampshire lobbyists including informal campaign adviser operative Jim Demers. Demers, a longtime Democratic political operative in the state who served as the co-chair of President Barack Obama’s 2008 New Hampshire campaign, has donated $2,450 to Booker’s presidential effort, per FEC filings. 

The Booker campaign declined to comment on the record on Bouley’s lobbying ties.

First on NBC: Klobuchar meets donor threshold, clinching spot in next Dem debate

WASHINGTON — Senator Amy Klobuchar has met the donor threshold to compete in September's third Democratic debate, her campaign said early Friday morning.

In an email to supporters less than forty-eight hours after debating in Detroit, Klobuchar announced more than 130,000 donors catapulting her into the fall phase of the Democratic primary. "Now onward and upward," the supporter email — first reported by NBC — read.

Klobuchar's campaign previously said she'd met the polling qualification of at least two percent in four major surveys for the ABC-hosted debate in Houston, Texas. But meeting the donor threshold makes her the eighth of 24 candidates to check both qualifying boxes. 

Higher qualifying thresholds could halve the large field of Democrats vying for the nomination.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, California Sen. Kamala Harris, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren have also qualified for the next debate stage.

Klobuchar's Detroit debate performance stood out perhaps because of what she didn't do Tuesday night: attack her opponents by name for "making promises just to get elected" when asked by the moderator. 

Thursday night on MSNBC, the Minnesota senator reasoned that Democrats "gotta use these debates as a moment to take it to Donald Trump" and putting out a progressive blueprint for the country.

"If you spend the whole time just cutting down your opponent just to get that viral moment, then what have we done? We don't win and we don't do better for this country," she said. That may mean Klobuchar won't earn "that viral moment," but she said she won't be looking "for it by going after my opponents, by saying mean things."