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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Beto O'Rourke vows to confront Trump directly in return to campaign trail

EL PASO, Texas — Beto O’Rourke marked his return to the presidential campaign trail Thursday with a promise to confront President Trump more directly, shaking up his campaign strategy and warning Americans: “if we do not wake up to this threat, then we as a country will die in our sleep.”

O’Rourke’s speech marks the end of an emotional twelve-day period for the candidate in his home town, where he returned August 3rd in the wake of a shooting here that killed 22 people. O’Rourke told a small audience of invited guests and reporters that the shooting crystalized his thinking about the urgency of removing President Trump.

"We must take the fight directly to the source of this problem. That person who has caused this pain and placed this country in this moment of peril and that is Donald Trump,” O’Rourke said. "I want to be the leader for this country that we need right now and that we do not have. 

O’Rourke’s return to the campaign trail will, at least in some measure, eschew traditional campaign stops like the Iowa state fair. He said he will instead focus his energy on lifting up those targeted by the administration’s policies. He’ll head next to Mississippi to join families of those affected by ICE raids there last week. 

O’Rourke also introduced one new policy plank in his remarks, calling for a mandatory buy-back of all assault weapons in the United States. He had previously supported banning the sale of “weapons of war,” but after visiting shooting victims in El Paso hospitals, said he now believes the country needs to go farther in getting such weapons off the streets. 

The return to the trail comes as O’Rourke has gained renewed national attention in the wake of the shooting. But his poll numbers remain largely flat — garnering 1-to-2 percent support in most early states, with a larger following in Texas and in some recent national surveys. 

O’Rourke on Thursday again rejected calls to quit the presidential race and pursue Texas’ Republican-held Senate seat.   

"There have even been some who have suggested that I stay in Texas and run for Senate. But that would not be good enough for this community. That would not be good enough for El Paso. That would not be good enough for this country,” O’Rourke said. 

2020 Democrats prepare counter-programming in New Hampshire for Trump visit

MANCHESTER, N.H. — As President Trump prepares to touch down in the first-in-the-nation primary state for a campaign rally Thursday, the Democratic presidential campaigns here are taking advantage of the opportunity to differentiate themselves from the incumbent they're aiming to unseat. 

Then-candidate Trump won the New Hampshire primary in 2016 with  just over a third of the Republican vote. However, he narrowly lost the state to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during the general election. This is President Trump's first visit to New Hampshire since the 2016 election. 

Donald Trump greets supporters at a polling station in Manchester, N.H., on Feb. 9, 2016.Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

Here's how some 2020 Democrats are responding to Trump's visit: 

Biden: Biden’s NH team is organizing a rally response that will take place at Portland Pie Company just down the street from the arena where Trump will appear “to stand up against the  divisive rhetoric and hatred that we are seeing from the White House,” according to a campaign statement. They are welcoming Granite Staters to join their campaign staff to send a message to President Trump, and the campaign will be signing folks up to volunteer, collecting Commit to Vote cards and talking to voters about “why Vice President Joe Biden is uniquely qualified to restore the soul of our nation, rebuild the backbone of our country, and unify America.”

Buttigieg: During Donald Trump's rally Buttigieg’s NH staff, volunteers and organizers will be gathering in Concord, New Hampshire to host a “change the channel”  phone banking in support of common-sense gun safety measures.

Gillibrand:  Gillibrand’s New Hampshire team will perform acts of community service to address Trump’s broken promises he made to voters and help those affected by the opioid epidemic. Today the team will hold a food drive, collecting non-perishable items at Gillibrand's Manchester Headquarters to donate to shelters across the city that help those suffering from  Substance Use Disorder. On Friday they will participate in the Old Sol’s 4th Annual Summer Servathon, packaging food to be delivered to Families in Transition/New Horizons, which help local families experiencing food insecurity.

Harris: This week leading up to Trump’s New Hampshire rally, Harris’s campaign has been holding “Dude Gotta Go” phone banks in cities and towns across the Granite State.

O’Rourke: Beto for New Hampshire released a 53-second video in which Beto narrates the rhetoric President Trump has used “to incite violence and mass shootings, calling him out for white supremacist rhetoric and changing the character of this country.” The team is also pushing a “hate not welcome”  social media campaign. “Hate is not welcome here in New Hampshire, and it’s on all of us to call it out and combat it. Donald Trump and his campaign continue to stoke division, racism, and white supremacy — and it doesn’t just offend our sensibilities, it is resulting in violence across the country,” said Beto for New Hampshire State Director Mike Ollen.

Kamala Harris announces plan to require background checks for online gun sales

WASHINGTON — In the week of the two-year anniversary of Charlottesville and the aftermath of mass shootings in El Paso, Kamala Harris Wednesday announced a new executive action she would take as president to require background checks for online gun sales as part of an effort to combat domestic terrorism

2020 Democratic Presidential hopeful Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks at a campaign rally in Davenport, Iowa on Aug. 12, 2019.Alex Edelman / AFP - Getty Images

This is the second time Harris has laid out proposed executive actions on gun control. In April, the California senator said she would give Congress 100 days after she is elected to pass comprehensive gun reform and if they did not, she would take steps to require background checks, close the so-called "boyfriend loophole"  and renew the assault weapons ban. This most recent executive action would fall under the same deadline. 

The plan, announced Wednesday afternoon, also includes steps to take on the rise of domestic and white nationalist terrorism. Harris says she would support laws to empower courts to use “Domestic Terrorism Prevention Orders,” to allow law enforcement and family members to petition a federal court to “temporarily restrict a person’s access to guns if they exhibit clear evidence of dangerousness.” 

Harris would also expand the National Counterterrorism Center’s purview to include handling domestic terrorism cases and direct more resources to analyzing and preventing white nationalist terrorism. She would seek Congress’ authority in order to do this. 

Harris’ plan also includes directing the FBI to take “more vigilant steps” in monitoring online platforms where white nationalist rhetoric grows. She says the increased monitoring would put pressure on sites to more closely follow their terms and conditions. 

While Harris does not mention specific websites in her plan, it is worth noting that sites such as 8chan, which have been gathering points for the shooters in recent attacks, are designed in a way so that there are no terms and conditions to begin with. The content is free-flowing and not censored, so it is unclear how Harris plans to take on sites like this in particular. 

Harris also says she would commit $2 billion over ten years to investigate and prosecute domestic terrorism cases. Her plan does not specify where the funding will come from.

Joe Biden holds 19-point lead in latest South Carolina primary poll

WASHINGTON — The most recent Democratic primary poll in South Carolina is clear on one thing: unless your name is Joe Biden, you have some work to do. 

Biden leads the latest Post and Courier/Change Research poll with 36 percent of likely Democratic voters choosing him as their first choice. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is second to Biden with only 17 percent of the vote. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., follows closely behind with 16 percent, and then California Sen. Kamala Harris trails him with 12 percent. 

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden answers a question from Crystal Gadsden White about the importance he places on unions during a town hall on July 7, 2019, in Charleston, S.C.Meg Kinnard / AP file

Biden’s strength in South Carolina isn’t new. Prior to the first Democratic debate in June, Biden led the same poll with 37 percent of the vote. In that poll, Warren was also in second place with 17 percent. While Biden’s lead in the first southern state primary contest hasn’t changed, it comes despite some notable exchanges on race. 

In the first Democratic debate, Biden and Harris sparred about his vote against federally mandated busing — a policy Harris said was the reason she was able to be bused to school as a child in California. Biden has also been forced to defend the 1994 crime bill which led Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. to label Biden as the “proud architect of a failed system.” 

During his recent Iowa swing, Biden delivered a speech in which he said that “poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids,” then quickly added, “wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids” — remarks widely described as a gaffe.

Despite the scrutiny on Biden’s record on race, voters in South Carolina don’t seem to be moving towards another candidate, and according to a July Monmouth University poll, 51 percent of South Carolina Democratic black voters prefer Biden as their top choice candidate. 

Of course, a lot can happen before the South Carolina primary in February, most notably the Iowa caucuses. After all, then-Sen. Barack Obama wasn’t primed to win South Carolina until he carried Iowa.

Beto O'Rourke to deliver campaign reset speech Thursday

DALLAS — Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke plans to deliver his first major, written address on Thursday, offering a reset of his presidential campaign, a new focus and a fresh strategy for going forward in the wake of a mass shooting in O’Rourke’s hometown of El Paso that killed 22 people last week. 

O’Rourke will recommit to holding President Trump accountable for the state of the country — and focus on the stakes of removing a president from office whom he has explicitly linked to the deaths of fellow El Pasoans, according to a senior campaign official.  

He’ll focus heavily on three key issues: racism, white supremacy and guns — and plans to propose what the campaign calls “new, bold solutions."

Beto O'Rourke hugs a woman at a memorial honoring the victims of a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 7, 2019.Mario Tama / Getty Images

 

O’Rourke also plans to call on other candidates, elected officials and members of the media to keep the stakes of this race in mind. The former congressman's frustration at the political media’s coverage of Trump boiled over last week, in a moment that went viral and drew praise from many Democrats for his raw, emotional response.  

Back in El Paso since last Saturday’s shooting, the speech will mark O’Rourke’s return to the presidential campaign trail — but don’t expect him to race immediately back to early states, the campaign official said. O’Rourke will lay out a plan to take him to more places typically written off by presidential candidates, and less to “traditional” events — “reflecting the gravity of the situation we’re in, even if that means doing things differently," the official said.

O’Rourke’s campaign hopes the speech and subsequent return to campaigning can propel the candidate back into the top tier. His polling numbers hover between 1.5 percent and 2.5 percent of those surveyed in most early states, with a much stronger base of support in Texas, where voters cast ballots on Super Tuesday. 

O’Rourke’s team remains adamant that despite his strong polling and fundraising base in Texas he will not — now or at any time — withdraw from the presidential contest to instead run for Senate against Republican incumbent John Cornyn. 

While stopping short of endorsing one candidate outright in what has become an increasingly crowded Democratic primary in that race, O’Rourke has regularly praised combat veteran and former House candidate MJ Hegar, and predicted she will defeat Cornyn should she become the nominee. 

Trump tweet praises prospect of House bid by controversial Curt Schilling

WASHINGTON — Days after former Major League Baseball All-Star Curt Schilling floated the prospect of running for Congress, President Trump boosted the controversial pitcher on Twitter by hailing the news as "terrific." 

Over the weekend, Schilling told news outlets that he's considering a run in Arizona, where he lived for a stretch as a child as well as while playing for the Houston Astros and Arizona Diamondbacks.

On Monday, he pegged that potential bid to his views on immigration policy in a statement to The Arizona Republic, accusing the federal government of spending taxpayer money on drug and child smugglers. 

"The state is not the state I grew up in. Making Arizona citizens of EVERY Race, religion and sexual orientation 2nd class citizens to illegal immigrants is about as anti-American as it gets," he said. 

"When you have homeless veterans, children, and you're spending tax dollars on people smuggling drugs and children across our border someone in charge needs their ass kicked."

Schilling, who is conservative and an outspoken Trump supporter, is no stranger to flirtations for public office. Last cycle, he said he would run against Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren but eventually decided not to run.

He hasn't specified the district in which he might run. But if he decides to, he'll have to reckon with a bevy of controversies that have followed him throughout his career as a broadcaster and pundit. 

ESPN fired Schilling in 2016 after sharing an anti-transgender meme on Facebook. He's previously faced criticism for sharing a litany of controversial statements and social media posts, including posting a meme about Nazis and Muslims (which he denied on his blog was racist) and arguing on a radio show that 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton should be "buried under a jail somewhere" if she disclosed classified information on her private email server. 

Trump's saddling up to Schilling comes as he continues to defend himself from criticism that his rhetoric on immigration has contributed to violence against Hispanics, and from Democrats who have called him a white supremacist. Trump has denied those charges, arguing "they call anybody a racist when they run out of cards."  

President Trump's GOP challenger has quiet visit to Iowa State Fair

DES MOINES, Iowa — Democratic candidates descended on the Iowa State Fair during its opening weekend, flipping pork chops, riding bumper cars and pitching their plans to voters from atop the fair’s famous soapbox.

But Bill Weld, the race’s only current Republican challenger to President Donald Trump, had a decidedly quieter fair visit. Beneath a rainy, Sunday morning sky, the former Massachusetts governor used his time on the soapbox to answer questions from a poncho-clad crowd of attendees. He advocated for fiscal responsibility in government and criticized President Trump’s divisiveness.

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld walks down the grand course with John Olsen, of Ankeny, Iowa, right, during a visit to the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 11, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa.Charlie Neibergall / AP

“The current incumbent likes having one-word platforms: wall, hoax,” Weld said. “It means he doesn’t really have to argue the issues.”

With little fanfare, Weld spent the next two hours wandering the fairgrounds, munching on a turkey leg, going largely unnoticed. After doing several media interviews, the former Massachusetts governor went to cast his kernel at the corn poll. The booth worker mistakenly greeted him as Governor John Hickenlooper, D-Colo.

It’s not Weld’s first foray into presidential politics, and not his first race against Trump. In 2016, he was the Libertarian Party’s vice-presidential pick on the ticket led by former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson. Weld said Sunday he would not launch a third-party run if he lost the Republican nomination. 

When asked by NBC News how he plans to win in 2020, Weld said he would start by targeting New England states and spoke of “not-yet-ready-to-be-activated governor networks” he could tap for support.  

“The main thing is speaking the truth, not lying, not being ignoble, not trying to set people against each other,” he said. “I think the truth about what Mr. Trump is now doing and has been doing is going to set in. It's going to sink in sooner or later, and that will be the turning point in the election.”

Castro targets Trump's vacation in Bedminster with small, Fox News ad buy about El Paso shooting

DES MOINES, IOWA — Former Housing Sec. Julián Castro's presidential campaign is running an ad for an audience of one on Wednesday, booking a small ad buy that will run on Fox & Friends during President Trump's vacation. 

The new ad will run on Wednesday in Bedminster, New Jersey, where Trump is staying the week at his private golf club. The new spot connects Trump's rhetoric on immigrants to the recent mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, which was the largest targeted attack on Latinos in modern American history.

Castro, who needs to register at 2 percent or higher in one more poll to qualify for the September debates, may be hoping for an exponential return on the tiny ad buy of less than $3,000. 

The ad is set in an empty warehouse, with Castro speaking direct to camera, “President Trump: You referred to countries as shitholes. You urged American Congresswomen to ‘go back’ to where they came from. You called immigrants rapists. As we saw in El Paso, Americans were killed because you stoked the fire of racists. Innocent people were shot down because they look different from you. Because they look like me. They look like my family.” 

It comes after Trump attacked Castro's brother, Texas Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro, for releasing names of San Antonio donors on Twitter who had maxed out donations to the President. 

Read more on NBCNews.com here

Kamala Harris scores endorsement from Iowa's Asian-Latino Coalition

DES MOINES, Iowa — After a just-finished five-day bus tour through the state, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., rolled away with one of the biggest endorsements in the Iowa caucus to date Monday from the state's Asian-Latino Coalition.  

The decision to endorse Harris was “contentious” and not unanimous among the coalition's board members, according to the group's chairperson, Prakash Kopparapu, who said that, in the end, “her message is what works best for everyone, it’s balanced really well. And she’s convinced all the members that she has the strength and the personality to beat Donald Trump.” 

“I am honored,” Harris said in a statement, adding that the coalition's "mission and values of equality and justice are the same values I am fighting for in this campaign. I am thankful I will have the coalition’s organization strength in my corner as we head toward February.” 

The group boasts 400 members of diverse backgrounds, in addition to a large membership of caucasian voters who regularly attend candidate events, which have become a key stop for presidential hopefuls early in their campaigns.

Fourteen candidates spoke at Asian-Latino Coalition events during various Iowa swings, with Harris, Klobuchar, and Yang making multiple stops. Notably, neither Elizabeth Warren nor Bernie Sanders visited with the group, and therefore were not eligible for the endorsement. 

Amidst dancing to Sister Sledge and the Cupid Shuffle, members had the chance to cast their paper ballots for the endorsement, picking up to four candidates. After Harris, former HUD Sec. Julián Castro and Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Min., and Cory Booker, D-N.J. clinched the top four spots. The board of directors deliberated for about half an hour before settling on Harris. 

“When elections are close, the Asian and Latino vote makes a difference,” former Iowa state legislator Swati Dandekar told NBC News, “We saw that in 2018 and we are going to see that in 2020.” 

Dandekar personally endorsed Klobuchar earlier Monday, and credited growing excitement in the coalition to members who have recently become citizens and are preparing to vote for the first time. The demographics of the coalition make up a small sliver of Iowa’s population, with Latino voters representing 6 percent, and Asian Americans at 2.6 percent, according to the Iowa state data center. 

Iveth Mehta, an immigrant from Panama, voted for Harris as one of her four choices Friday evening. She said the California Democrat would match up well against President Donald Trump.

“With her background, being an attorney,” Iveth told NBC News, “I think she really can make a really good run against Donald Trump.”

Her husband, Nadir Mahta — an immigrant from Pakistan — also chose Harris as one of his top four, mentioning his desire to see everyone to be treated equally in the United States. 

“We need to find somebody who will be able to win in 2020. That’s the main thing. I have been a citizen for 35 years and I have to look over my shoulder because you never know. Look what happened in El Paso, what happened in Dayton, Ohio.” Nadir said.

“We just want to be treated like everybody else, like we’re a part of this community” Iveth added. 

Mark Sanford heads to New Hampshire, warns of “big storm” in newly released video

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Former South Carolina Republican congressman and Gov. Mark Sanford revealed Monday that he is headed to New Hampshire as he ponders a primary challenge to President Donald Trump while also releasing a new video warning of a “big storm coming.”

Sanford, who said last month that he is considering running for the 2020 GOP presidential nomination, told the Charleston Post and Courier that he would be “quietly having meetings” in New Hampshire with several people in that first-in-the-nation primary state.

In the new video, Sanford talks about the country’s “precarious financial position,” saying it could “crush our economy … even destroy our Republic.” 

“The really amazing part is that seemingly no one in Washington is talking about it,” Sanford says, before calling out Democrats’ “political promises that we can’t afford” and Trump’s actions that “drive our debt and spending.”

In an earlier video, released on July 17, Sanford said he would be using the coming weeks to explore launching an official campaign — laying out a 30-day timeline for an announcement.  

GOP ad ties Kentucky Democrat to Warren, Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez

WASHINGTON — A new TV ad from the Republican Governors Association ties Kentucky Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andy Beshear to “liberal radicals,” evoking images of Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as well as Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

“Liberal radicals across the country want to derail President Trump’s agenda and turn America into a socialist country,” the ad goes, showing images of Sanders, Warren, Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez.

It continues, “Andy Beshear stood with Hillary Clinton. After she lost, Beshear joined the radical resistance, suing to stop Trump’s agenda.”

Beshear, the state’s current attorney general, faces incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in November, and Trump won the state by 30 points in 2016.

The Republican Governors Association has been the biggest advertiser so far in this gubernatorial race, spending more than $2.5 million over the airwaves, according to data from Advertising Analytics. Kentuckians will choose their next governor Nov. 5.