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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Buttigieg unveils rural health plan as he starts Iowa swing

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg is unveiling a plan to boost health outcomes for rural Americans as he opens a week-long swing through Iowa.

The plan illustrates how Buttigieg is working to cast himself as uniquely qualified in the Democratic primary field to address issues important to rural voters and those in the Midwest, including many who voted in 2016 for President Donald Trump.

Buttigieg's plan focuses on expanding student loan forgiveness to include people who work in rural medicine in a bid to encourage medical providers to seek out jobs in those communities. He also wants to offer more visa waivers to immigrant doctors to stay in the U.S. to work in underserved areas.

The Buttigieg plan would also boost telehealth initiatives by investing another half-billion in federal dollars and expanding the telehealth services covered by insurance. Other parts of the proposal focus on tribal communities and veterans.

On health care more broadly, Buttigieg has proposed a public option for health insurance that he argues would eventually attract more and more Americans into that system.

The new plan comes as Buttigieg heads Friday to Iowa for nearly a week of campaigning, including a stop Tuesday at the Iowa State Fair. Buttigieg will spend most of the coming week in rural areas.

Biden maintains lead in new Iowa poll as Warren surges

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden maintains his clear lead in a new Iowa poll of the Democratic presidential field, but Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is storming toward the front of the pack. 

Biden leads Monmouth's new poll of likely Iowa caucusgoers with 28 percent, a score virtually unchanged from Monmouth's April poll. But Warren is now in second, with 19 percent, a major increase from her 7 percent in April.

Sen. Kamala Harris, Calif., is in third place with 11 percent, followed by Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders in fourth with 9 percent. 

Behind him is South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 8 percent, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar with 3 percent, billionaire Tom Steyer with 3 percent, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand with 2 percent and businessman Andrew Yang with 2 percent. 

The rest of the field polled at 1 percent or below. 

The boost comes amid a spate of good news for Warren—she's seen an uptick at the polls in recent weeks, and raised more during the second fundraising quarter than all but two candidates. 

In the Monmouth poll, Warren's 76 percent favorable rating among Democrats is the highest of the 11 candidates tested, with a 14 percent unfavorable rating lower than all but Buttigieg and former Housing Secretary Julián Castro.

Warren is also the only candidate whose unfavorable rating went down from the April poll (New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker's 16 percent unfavorable rating stayed the same over the four-month period). And she's the second choice of the most respondents in the poll, with 19 percent. 

The poll also shows a decline for Sanders, down to 9 percent from 16 percent in April. Sanders also has the highest unfavorable rating of those tested, with 33 percent. Fifty-eight percent view him favorably. 

And it's the fourth poll where Yang finishes with at least 2 percent, which means he's now qualified for the next round of debates in September and October. 

The likely caucusgoers overwhelmingly identified health care as one of the top-two most important issues in deciding who to support. 

Fifty-six percent of caucusgoers said that on the issue of health care, they wanted a public option, the ability for people to either keep their private health care or opt-in to Medicare. Twenty-one percent say they want to scrap private insurance entirely for Medicare-for-All. 

Monmouth polled 401 likely caucusgoers from Aug. 1 to Aug. 4. The poll has a margin of error of 4.9 percent. 

Harris to air her first Iowa television ad

DES MOINES, IOWA — California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris is releasing her first television ad Thursday in Iowa, pegged to the senator's five-day bus tour throughout the state. 

The campaign has reserved at least $192,000 worth of advertising dollars for the spot, according to figures from media-tracking firm Advertising Analytics. The ad will run across the state and is the first Iowa ad from a presidential candidate polling toward the top of the field. 

The ad, titled “Me, Maya, and Mom,” starts with a picture of Harris and her younger sister Maya standing alongside their mom as kids. Harris says her mom would stay up late sitting at the kitchen table “trying to figure out how to make it all work.”

The ad ties into Harris’ theme of tackling issues that keep people up at night, part of what she calls her “3 a.m. agenda.” In the ad, Harris specifically mentions her plan for a middle-class tax cut, her health care plan and her plan to tackle equal pay. 

“Instead of ideological or theoretical debates, Senator Harris is focused on an action plan to directly improve the lives of American families… her agenda directly addresses the issues that keep people up at night,” press secretary Ian Sams said in a statement provided by the campaign. 

Harris’ ad will run from August 8 until August 14. 

Booker talks gun violence at Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Sen. Cory Booker delivered a speech Wednesday morning at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.—addressing gun violence and the “hatred and white nationalism in America.”

Booker’s remarks come just more than four years since the mass shooting at Mother Emanuel in June of 2015—when 21-year-old Dylann Roof murdered nine African Americans during a bible study, including senior pastor and state senator Clementa C. Pinckney—and on the heels of two recent mass shootings last weekend in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

During the speech, Booker highlighted ways in which “we can act to legislate safety even if we cannot legislate love” by pointing to five specific policy proposals:

  • “Legislation to close the loophole that enabled one man to take nine souls from this very congregation."
  • “Banning assault weapons once and for all.”
  • “[Requiring] federal licensing for guns in America.”
  • “[Requiring] that the Department of Justice, Homeland Security and FBI conduct assessments of the domestic terrorism threats posed by white supremacists.”
  • “[Requiring] the FBI to dramatically change and improve reporting of hate crimes and work with local law enforcement to establish policies to focus on training, to focus on how to identify and investigate and report those crimes that threaten our security and safety with chilling regularity.”

In recent days, Booker has assailed President Trump’s rhetoric toward immigrants, arguing on Sunday’s broadcast of “Meet the Press” that the president is “sowing the seeds of hatred in our country.” Authorities believe that the El Paso shooter wrote an anti-immigrant and anti-government manifesto posted online before the shooting.

While he didn’t mention Trump by name, he waved at that criticism, saying, “As a political strategy, weaponizing hatred can be effective because it seems easy. … Generations of politicians have used fear of the other for political gain, and that is certainly the case today.”

Facing his own criticism that the speech was an attempt to make political gain in a crowded field of 2020 contenders, Booker addressed his motivations for his appearance at Mother Emanuel.

“This is not a political moment,” Booker said. “I am not here today to ask for a vote. I am here today to ask if we again as a nation have the collective resolve to change the reality we live in.”

Biden campaign launches digital ad highlighting assault weapons ban in '94 crime bill

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential campaign is launching a small digital media buy in Iowa and New Hampshire highlighting the former vice president's role in passing a ban on assault weapons in the 1994 crime bill, a senior Biden campaign official told NBC News. 

While the buy is relatively small, just four figures, the ad is an example of Biden embracing a part of the crime bill that's often criticized by the left. 

Throughout the primary campaign, former Vice President Joe Biden's opponents have often hit Biden on his role in passing the crime bill citing that it led to the mass incarceration of many African Americans for minor offenses.

However, a popular part of the legislation was the assault weapons ban. The ban prohibited the manufacture for civilian use of semi-automatic weapons and large-capacity magazines. The law featured a 10-year sunset provision and Congress did not renew the ban in September 2004. 

In an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll in July, 57% of all Americans said a ban of the sale of semi-automatic assault guns such as AK-47s and AR-15s was a "good idea". That included 83% of Democrats, 29% of Republicans and 55% of Independents. 

Warren rolls out plans for rural health care and farm economy ahead of Iowa swing

COUNCIL BLUFFS, IOWA — Sen. Elizabeth Warren is outlining how she'd invest in rural America and focus on U.S. farmers Wednesday as she embarks on a multi-day swing through Iowa. 

The roll-out is of two plans in one, building on some of Warren's previously released plans on immigration, economic patriotism, and closing the race gap in entrepreneurship.

The rural investments include expanding health care access as well as broadband internet access to areas that are currently underserved. And her farm economy plan echoes Warren’s previous concerns with corporate consolidation and a call for “a complete overhaul of our failed approach to the farm economy.”

Here's a further breakdown of her proposal: 

Investing in rural America

  • Protect rural hospitals. Warren’s plan blocks all future hospital mergers unless the companies can show they’ll maintain or improve access to care. It also creates a new designation to reimburse rural hospitals at a higher rate, increases Community Health Center funding and establishes a $25B capital fund to improving health care access.
  • Bring more medical professionals into rural areas. Warren wants to woo medical talent to rural areas through apprenticeships, lifting caps on residents and repaying loans for those who work five years in rural and Native American communities. 
  • Expand access to broadband in rural areas. Warren’s plan creates an Office of Broadband Access within the Dept. of Economic Development that will manage an $85 billion grant program for rural-broadband infrastructure. The government will pay 90 cents on the dollar for construction done under these grants, and applicants will have to offer public broadband to every home in their area, with at least one plan for low-income customers.
  • Restore net neutrality

Building a new farm economy

  • Replace traditional farm subsidies with loans. Warren's proposal would end most farming subsidies and replace them with a supply management loan program, while still maintaining some subsidies as an insurance plan for weather-related catastrophes and disease. The plan also calls for the government to purchase the goods that the farmers aren’t able to sell. Warren argues that nixing the current subsidy system would end up saving taxpayers billions of dollars. 

  • Conservation programs. The USDA would offer farmers the option of enrolling in conservation programs that provide landowners with an alternative revenue stream.
  • Provide more money for farmer grant programs to fight climate change.
  • Break up large agricultural conglomerates through reversing anti-competitive mergers.
  • Expand federal purchasing of local produce.
  • Combat “systematic dispossession of land in communities of color” by expanding government programs to help farmers of color and Native Americans buy more land.

CORRECTION (Aug. 8, 2019, 6:20 p.m.): A previous version of this article contained two errors about Warren's farm policy. Her plan would end traditional farm subsidies and replace them with loans, while maintaining some subsidies as insurance for natural catastrophes like weather; Warren would not end farm subsidies. The article also incorrectly stated that under the plan, the USDA would purchase farm land to be repurposed for conservation programs. Warren's plan would allow the USDA to offer farmers the option of enrolling in conservation programs that provide them a revenue stream, but the USDA would not purchase land outright.

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.