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Meet the Press Blog: Latest news, analysis and data driving the political discussion

Smart political reporting and analysis, including data points, interesting national trends, short updates and more from the NBC News political unit.
Image: Illustration of photos depicting voters on line, voting booths, the Capitol, the White House and raised hands.
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Pete Buttigieg’s latest ad buy is aimed at college students

DES MOINES, Iowa — If you’re not a paid subscriber on Spotify or Pandora you know the feeling when you’re listening to a playlist and all of a sudden an ad pops up. Now, one voice you could hear in between songs is South Bend Mayor and presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg.

Thursday, the campaign launched two 30-second ads aimed at college students heading back to school in New Hampshire and Iowa. The campaign tells NBC news the ads are aimed at meeting voters where they are. 

Democratic Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speaks in Fairfield, Iowa on Aug. 15, 2019.Alex Edelman / AFP - Getty Images

In one ad, titled “Back to Normal,” Buttigieg implores the listener to, “ask yourself how a guy like Donald Trump ever got within cheating distance of the Oval Office.” The mayor goes on to stress the importance that Democrats not be the party of “back to normal.”

The second ad, “A Moment,” strikes a similar tone. “We are never going to be able to fix what is broken in Washington by recycling the same arguments and politicians that have dominated our politics for as long as I've been alive,” Buttigieg says. This ad centers on issues, that younger generations are most impacted by including school shootings and climate change.

Both ads end with Buttigieg delivering a definitive line, “We've got to do something completely different.”

This messaging which has been a hallmark of Buttigieg’s stump speech on the campaign trail, will now be streamed directly into voter’s ears.

If listeners choose to click on the ads, they’ll be directed to the campaign website’s “issues” page, which features the mayor’s latest policy proposals and key platforms.

This comes as many candidates in the presidential race, including Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, are beginning to ramp up ad buys in key early states.

The Buttigieg campaign declined to comment on how much the ads cost and how long they are expected to run.

RNC outraises DNC in July

WASHINGTON — The Republican National Committee significantly outraised the Democratic National Committee last month as the Republicans continue to expand their cash advantage over their rivals. 

The RNC raised $20.8 million in July, a little less than 40 percent of that ($8 million) from small donations of $200 or less. By comparison, the DNC brought in $7.7 million, with 35 percent of that ($2.7 million) from small donations. 

The GOP spent $17.7 million over the month while the DNC spent $7.9 million. 

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Manchester, N.H. on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019.Patrick Semansky / AP

The fundraising disparity echoes the trend that's existed since the start of the year — the RNC has outraised the DNC in 2019 by a little more than $66 million. And it ended the month with $47 million in the bank compared to $9 million for the DNC. 

That's in no small part thanks to the power of incumbency. Having the sitting president is a major cash boon (and President Trump does particularly well with small donors) as supporters are able to rally around the president as a focal point while Democratic donors are torn between a crowded field of candidates. 

But while the RNC is helping the president's reelection efforts with its cash advantage, there's a lot of money being raised on the Democratic presidential side right now too. Democrats are hopeful that fundraising and enthusiasm will translate to the eventual nominee. 

And the Democrats are still seeing strong fundraising at the congressional committees. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee outraised the National Republican Congressional Committee last month, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee narrowly outraised its GOP counterpart, the National Republican Senatorial Committee. 

Campaign advertising heats up in key early states

WASHINGTON — The television ad wars are kicking into another gear as more Democratic presidential candidates seek to flood the airwaves ahead of the next round of debates. 

Some are spending big in the hopes of securing a spot on the stage, while others are looking to cement their status in the field. 

Billionaire Tom Steyer is an example of the former. On Tuesday, he reserved $525,000 worth of television time in just two days across the four early voting states (in the Boston, Cedar Rapids, Charleston, Columbia, Greenville, Des Moines, Las Vegas, Quad Cities, Reno, and Sioux City markets). A few hours later, he bought another $87,400 on cable. 

Steyer needs just one more poll of at least 2 percent to qualify for the September debates, but the deadline to qualify is just a week away. 

New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who currently needs more polls and donors to make the September debate stage, reserved more than $170,000 in television time since Monday. Her campaign also started running a new ad this week in Iowa and the Boston (read: New Hampshire) television markets that plays up her commitment to nominate pro-choice judges and her support for "Medicare-for-All." 

Former Housing Sec. Julián Castro also put $51,000 toward television advertising in Iowa this week as he searched for his final poll to secure a spot on the debate stage. But after his campaign learned he qualified with a 2 percent finish in CNN's new poll released Tuesday, his campaign shortened the buy and cut $11,000 from it. 

The other big television spending this week came from former Vice President Joe Biden, who launched his first television ad of the cycle in Iowa as part of a $500,000 buy from Aug. 20 through Sept. 9.

That's a big buy, at least at this point in the cycle. But it also puts Steyer's massive spending in perspective, since the billionaire is spending more across just two days this week than Biden is for the next two weeks. 

Read more about Biden's ad, which leans heavily on his general-election argument, from NBC's Mariana Sotomayor on the blog.

And to round out the television spending so far this week, California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris' campaign reserved $28,500 in television time in Iowa from Aug. 22 through Aug. 28. 

Joe Biden launches first Iowa TV ad

DES MOINES, Iowa — Joe Biden's presidential campaign launched its first television advertisements across the state of Iowa Tuesday morning, coinciding with former vice president's sixth visit to the first-in-the-nation-caucus state since announcing his candidacy for president.

The one-minute ad titled “Bones,” opens by quickly showing faces of Americans diverse in age and race as the narrator says “We all know in our bones this election is different.”

As the narrator points out that the “stakes are higher” and “threats more serious” than ever before, the ad quickly turns to show white supremacists carrying torches the night before the 2017 Unite the Right clashes in Charlottesville, Va., a flashpoint that Biden repeatedly mentions as a moment that heavily influenced his run for president.

“We have to beat Donald Trump,” the narrator says before Biden appears on the screen. “And all the polls agree Joe Biden is the strongest Democrat to do the job. No one is more qualified.”

Biden, who frequently references his close personal and working relationship with President Barack Obama, is shown alongside his former boss in the ad as the narrator reminds the audience of landmark legislation and progress both men achieved as partners in the administration.

“Now, Joe Biden is running for president with a plan for America’s future. To build on Obamacare, not scrap it. To make a record investment in America’s schools, to lead the world on climate, to rebuild our alliances.”

Joe Biden delivers a 20-minute campaign speech at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair Aug. 8, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

The narrator then adds that Biden would “restore the soul of the nation battered by an erratic, vicious, bullying president.”

In what could be a glimpse into a possible campaign slogan, the ad ends with a quick description of Biden’s political strengths: “Strong. Steady. Stable Leadership. Biden. President.”

The ad will target voters living in the largest media markets of the state for several weeks, according to the campaign, including Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Quad Cities and Sioux City.

According to ad spending data from Advertising Analytics,  Biden's campaign has reserved about $500,000 in television time in Iowa from Aug. 20 to Sept. 9, with the bulk of the money being spent in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.

Ben Kamisar contributed.

Tom Steyer pauses campaign for jury duty

NEW YORK — In the United States, one civic duty calls upon candidates and constituents alike: jury duty. 

Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer announced he would step off the campaign trail this week to report for jury duty in San Francisco. The billionaire businessman will be on standby for the weeklong summons, and will report to the courthouse for selection if called. 

Tom Steyer speaks with Chuck Todd on Meet The Press.NBC News

Steyer was a late addition to the 2020 race for president, announcing his candidacy in July.  Despite that later entry, the candidate said in a tweet it was important that he take time off the trail to fulfill his “civic obligation.” 

“I believe I could have postponed it, but I believe that it’s every American’s civic duty to serve on a jury,” Steyer said in an interview with NBC News. “It’s a choice about values. Do you believe that you’re above the responsibilities of everyday citizens or not.”

Steyer told NBC News that he thinks jury duty, like voting, is an essential and positive aspect of democracy that makes “this country strong.”

Earlier this summer, another 2020 hopeful took time away from the campaign. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., reported for jury duty in July.  Booker tweeted a video from the Newark courthouse declaring it “the best jury room in all of America.” 

Former Presidents Obama and Bush have also been summoned for post-Oval Office jury duty in recent years.

Elizabeth Warren tells Native American forum she's 'sorry' for ancestry flap

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Sen. Elizabeth Warren led off her much-anticipated appearance at the Frank LaMere Native American Forum by saying “I’m sorry.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is escorted on stage by Donna Brandis, left, and Marcella LeBeau at the Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forum on Aug. 19, 2019 in Sioux City, Iowa.Stephen Maturen / Getty Images

“Like anyone who's been honest with themselves, I know that I have made mistakes,” she said, alluding to the year-ago dust up over her DNA test and Native American ancestry that loomed over the early weeks of her 2020 presidential campaign.

“I am sorry for a harm I have caused. I have listened and I have learned a lot and I am grateful for the many conversations that we've had together. It is a great honor to be able to partner with Indian Country and that's what I've tried to do as a senator and that's what I promise I will do as President of the United States of America.”

In bringing the issue up herself, Warren was able to handle it on her own terms, while then pivoting to the thing she’s now known best for: talking about her various plans.

Tribal leaders and event organizers told NBC News before the event that the DNA flap didn’t give them pause about Warren’s candidacy.  But her apology Monday highlighted a difference between Warren and President Donald Trump, who rarely, if ever, apologizes.

Biden, Warren and Sanders see popularity wane amid 2020 presidential campaign

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., all have seen their popularity slide over the past 20 months, a drop that coincides with their entry into the Democratic presidential primary. 

Between the January 2018 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll and the new poll released Sunday, all three have seen their popularity slide to varying degrees.

All ended up underwater, with negative sentiment higher than positive sentiment among American adults.

Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts embrace after the Democratic presidential debate in Detroit on July 30, 2019.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images file

Biden has fallen the furthest — he's seen a net 32 percentage-point rating (54 percent positive and 22 percent negative) slide to a net rating of negative 4 percentage points (34 percent view him positively now while 38 percent view him negatively). 

Sanders' net-popularity also dropped by double digits (17 points), from 44 percent positive and 30 percent negative in 2017 to 37 percent positive, 40 percent negative now.

Warren's popularity hardly moved by comparison, but a once-slightly positive rating now sits in negative territory. In 2018, 30 percent of adults viewed her positively and 28 percent viewed her negatively. Now, those numbers are at 31 percent positive and 32 percent negative. 

The phenomenon of politicians seeing their public image slide when they run for higher office is far from new—while former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton enjoyed strong support while at the State Department, her ratings crashed down to Earth when she decided to run for president in 2016. 

All three Democratic candidates have better net ratings than the man they hope to run against in 2020. The new poll found President Donald Trump with a 39 percent positive rating and a 53 percent negative rating.

The president and those three Democrats were the only candidates included in the poll. 

A deeper look at the numbers reinforce the significant demographic differences between the Trump base and that of the Democratic candidates. 

Trump has a booming, net-positive rating from white, non-college men of 45 points and a net 4-point positive rating from white, non-college women. But he's underwater with white, college-educated men by 7 points, and with white, college-educated women by a whopping 46 points. 

Among white voters, the Democrats are most popular among white, college-educated women and least popular with white, non-college educated men. 

All three Democrats sport double-digit, net-positive popularity ratings among non-white voters, compared to a dismal negative 55 percentage point net rating for Trump. Biden, Sanders and Warren all score virtually the same with African-American voters despite that voting bloc's heavy preference for Biden in Democratic primary horse-race polls. 

In the pivotal Rust Belt — home to key general election states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio (as well as Indiana) — Trump's rating sits 12 points underwater. Warren is 5 points underwater while Biden's rating is even and Sanders' is positive by 2 points. 

The poll also tested two interest groups that have been in the news lately — Planned Parenthood and the National Rifle Association.

Fifty-two percent of adults have a positive view of Planned Parenthood, compared to the 27 percent who have a negative view of the group. 

By comparison, 40 percent view the NRA positively, while 41 percent view it negatively. 

The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted Aug. 10-14 of 1,000 adults – more than half reached by cell phone – and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.

Elizabeth Warren's heritage flap re-emerges ahead of native American forum

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Time may really heal all wounds — even those that are self-inflicted and political in nature. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s, D-Mass., controversial rollout of a DNA test regarding her Native American ancestry marred the early weeks of her presidential campaign. But more than half a year later, Warren is now surging in the polls, known not for the early error but instead as the candidate "with a plan for that." 

It's those plans that Warren will be pushing ahead of a Monday appearance in Sioux Falls, Iowa for a candidate forum focused on Native American issues. Several tribal leaders invited to the forum told NBC News they are unfazed about the DNA test dust-up, while acknowledging it probably could have been handled more deftly.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks to the crowd at a town hall event in Aiken, S.C., on Aug. 17, 2019.Sean Rayford / Getty Images

But even as Warren has worked to quell concerns about her ability to face off (and win) against President Donald Trump, the Native American forum and the mere suggestion of the issue shows that the controversy can swiftly come back the fore. And that's even without President Donald Trump hyping the issue.

Still, asked if the moment gave pause about Warren's candidacy, Aaron Payment, the chairperson of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians, said "absolutely not." Payment — who says he has met with Warren both as a candidate, most recently when she attended a gathering of tribal leaders in Detroit, and in the years preceding her 2020 campaign — pointed to the fact that she never claimed to be a member of a tribe.

"Unfortunately, she allowed herself to get sucked in when the president started disparaging her and demeaning American Indians in general," Payment said. "Hindsight is always 20/20. Maybe there might've been a different way to" go at Trump on the issue.

W. Ron Allen, Tribal Chair of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, lamented the politicization of Warren's heritage but said the Massachusetts senator may have "made a mistake of over-defending her heritage." 

Noting that "fighting back" is in Warren's nature, Allen then brought up Trump: "When Trump does his thing, just shut up. Don't give him any energy because he feeds off that stuff."

President Trump's "thing" with Warren has long been to attack her with the slur Pocahontas; something he and his surrogates continue to do on Twitter and in other forums.

Warren was born in Oklahoma and has said that stories of her Native American ancestry were part of family lore. She identified as Native American on some official forms — something political foes have weaponized against her in the past — but a 2018 Boston Globe review found that it did not play a role in her professional advancement.

At Democratic campaign events across the country most voters seem to have put the DNA test to the back of their minds — or at least found other, more positive hallmarks of Warren's candidacy to focus on. At Warren's events, she is rarely pressed on the heritage issue. During a town hall in Jefferson, Iowa last week, a Native American woman of the Rosebud Sioux tribe prefaced her question to Warren by telling the candidate "you are all native to me!"

But, in a crowded field of candidates, voters are also taking note of potential negative attributes.

"They do all have something that has made me go ‘oh, my gosh,'" 39-year-old Jessica Wiederspan told NBC News in Oskaloosa, Iowa. "With Elizabeth, it was the Native American issue."

"It’s a concern for me about something Trump can use against her," Wiederspan said, "to distract from the bigger issues and from all of his problems and all of her good ideas. I also don’t think it was handled very sensitively, you know, but what I’ve seen is nobody’s perfect."

To other voters, Trump will be Trump — regardless of who the Democratic nominee is.

At a Warren event in Franconia, New Hampshire voter Nancy Strand said the president will find a way to disparage any eventual nominee.

"Whoever wins this Democratic nomination, [Trump] is going to slur," she concluded. "If he picks that for her, I don't think most of us care. He's going to do it no matter what."

It's not just Trump, though.

While the issue has been largely out of the conversation with voters on the campaign trail, it has reared its head in other places. Like during a tense May interview on "The Breakfast Club" podcast, where co-host Charlamagne The God said Warren was "kind of like the original Rachel Dolezal," a white woman who claimed to be black. 

"This is what I learned from my family," Warren responded about her claims of heritage. In the interview, she also said "I'm not a person of color. I'm not a citizen of a tribe. And tribal citizenship is an important distinction -- and not something I am."

Based on nearly half a dozen conversations with tribal leaders and event organizers, Monday's forum is expected to hinge on the issues. A Warren aide told NBC the senator looked forward to talking policy Monday in Iowa — and that's what tribal leaders told NBC they wanted to hear about from Warren, and the other candidates attending.

As for the controversy?

"Everybody I've talked to, I haven’t seen any concern," event organizer OJ Semans of Four Directions, Inc. told NBC in the days leading up to the forum. "Sure, there's gonna be somebody somewhere that has a problem but that's just the way it is. I look at what she's done for Indian country. That’s the most important part for me”

Priscilla Thompson and Benjamin Pu contributed.

Beto O'Rourke: 'I'm going to be that candidate that shows up for everyone in America'

WASHINGTON — Former Texas Democratic congressman turned presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke defended his campaign's reboot on Sunday, arguing that he plans to travel the country to "call out the existential threat" of a second term for President Trump.

O'Rourke returned to the campaign trail last week after the mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso, which authorities say may have been racially motivated, calling the shooter's alleged anti-immigration rhetoric the "real consequence and cost of Donald Trump." 

"Democrats have to address those issues and deliver on those issues," he said about kitchen-table issues like health care and the economy.

"But we also have to call out the existential threat, to use the word that you just employed, that Donald Trump represents right now. Not only are we going to lose more lives, I'm confident that we will lose this country and our democracy, the longer he stays in office. So that is the urgency behind what I'm talking about."

That's why he says he wants to focus on taking his message outside of the early-voting states to voters across the country.

"If everyone counts, we can't just say that. We have to demonstrate that. And I don't think, at a time that this campaign, this selection for who will be the nominee, has become nationalized, that that will be lost on the people of Iowa," he said.

"I also know what it feels like when someone finally shows up. And I'm going to be that candidate that shows up for everyone in America."

Sanford says Trump doesn't deserve re-election, but would still support him over Democrat

WASHINGTON — Former South Carolina Republican Governor and Congressman Mark Sanford, who is considering a potential primary bid against President Trump, said Sunday that the president does not deserve to be re-elected

But he added that if faced with choosing between Trump and any Democratic candidate, Sanford would still vote for Trump because he believes Democratic policies will "exacerbate the problems on spending and the debt and the deficit." 

Sanford spent much of his interview laying out a contrast with Trump on issues like trade and government spending, arguing that the administration's "lack of stability" isn't giving business confidence to invest in America. 

When asked whether Trump deserved to be re-elected, Sanford replied that he doesn't. But when faced with a scenario of choosing between Trump and a Democrat, Sanford said he'd pull the lever for Trump. 

"Everything is relative in politics," he said, before evoking Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren. 

"With all due respect to Warren, the policies that she laid out will exacerbate the problems on spending and the debt and the deficit." 

Mark Sanford speaks to Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press" on Aug. 18, 2019.William B. Plowman / NBC News

He added that he wouldn't feel much more comfortable voting for former Vice President Joe Biden either.

"I have not seen him not embrace a lot of what she's talking about," Sanford said of Biden. 

"The progressive wing of the Democratic Party is leading the charge right now — You can see it in the polls of late. And so, I'm not seeing a great differentiation there, but I may be missing it." 

Beto O'Rourke stumps in locations hit by immigration raids

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — After relaunching his campaign in the still grieving community of El Paso, Texas following the mass shooting there earlier this month, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke continued to console Hispanic communities across the South who are living in fear of discrimination and deportation.

Beto O'Rourke visits the Tiendita Anita, a Mexican grocery store, on Aug. 16, 2019, his first day back on the campaign trail after the El Paso mass shootings.Suzi Altman / Zuma Press

Stopping by Tiendita Anita Grocery Store & Distribution Center on Friday in Canton, Miss., O’Rourke embarked on a listening tour of the community where almost one hundred workers were swept up by ICE agents at the Peco Foods poultry processing plant last week. The Canton raid was part of a sweep that detained almost 700 undocumented immigrants in one day and O'Rourke is the only Democratic presidential candidate to visit since the raids.

Anita, the owner of the store, told O’Rourke in Spanish that the raid served as a tipping point in a community that lives in fear of crossing ICE-labeled trucks. She told a story about a woman who refused to cash a check after seeing an ICE vehicle at the bank, and another about a 26-year-old man who hid in a restaurant freezer for nine hours when he spotted ICE agents coming into his workplace. 

The close encounters with agents have left many residents afraid to leave their homes. Some, she said, are considering going back to their home countries because they are exasperated by the fear of possibly knowing what it’s like to be separated from their families in the United States.

“It’s sad. It’s so, so sad,” Anita told O’Rourke in Spanish about how life has been sucked out of the community. “People are shaking in fear.”

Continuing his listening tour Saturday with Hispanic immigrants at a townhall inside Del Campo A La Ciudad, a Mexican owned restaurant and grocery store in Little Rock, O’Rourke passionately spoke out against President Donald Trump’s divisive rhetoric and the damage the Democrat says he has caused.

“'Predators,' that is a word that the President of the United States used to describe human beings. 'Animals,' that's the word that the president the United States used to describe human beings. 'Infestations,' which is what we call cockroaches. That's what the President of United States use to describe human beings,” he said.

O’Rourke promised to fight for a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States and legalizing DREAMers, stressing that families like the ones he met in Mississippi, should not fear the consequences of family separation.

He warned that if Trump is not defeated in 2020, the United States will “lose any idea of America and the ideal of America forever, we will continue to lose more lives in our lives and we cannot stand for that.”