The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
As Harris falters, campaign and allies mull next steps
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., once viewed as a top-tier contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, has lost considerable ground in the crowded field while other candidates are picking up steam.
With just over four months left until Iowa’s leadoff caucuses, Harris has fallen to five percent support in the latest NBC/WSJ poll released Tuesday, putting her in fifth place behind former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
It’s a precipitous drop for the former California attorney general, who entered the presidential race with a huge rally in her hometown of Oakland last January. She jumped to prominence after the first nationally televised Democratic debate in June, where she called out Biden, the field’s front-runner, over his past statements on public school busing.
Harris has faded since then. Her second debate performance, in July, was panned as she defended her record as a prosecutor and worked to explain her position on healthcare reform. She did little to bounce in the third debate earlier this month, casting much of her attention toward President Trump.
And she’s had a light campaign schedule this summer.
When Harris returns to Iowa this weekend for the Polk County Democrats’ Steak Fry, it’ll be her first trip to the state in over a month. She’s visited just 18 of Iowa’s 99 counties so far.
It’s been more than two months since her last visit to South Carolina, where Harris, who is African American, is counting on a robust showing among black voters who make up the majority of the state’s Democratic primary voters.
And Harris has been in New Hampshire just once in the last two months.
By comparison, Biden has campaigned actively in the early contest states. Since August 1, the former vice president has been to Iowa three times, New Hampshire twice and South Carolina twice. He’s also been to 21 of Iowa’s 99 counties, despite having entered the race in April, three months after Harris.
And through the summer, Warren has held well-attended rallies in St. Paul, Seattle, Oakland, Austin and New York City.
Harris, however, has spent much of the summer on a fundraising spree. She held fundraising events in Chicago and New York City last weekend, skipping a major labor summit in Philadelphia on Tuesday to raise money in the Baltimore area instead.
Harris advisers say the candidate will continue to prioritize fundraising ahead of the Sept. 30 third-quarter fundraising deadline. The California senator raised $12 million in the second quarter, less than Biden, Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg.
With falling poll numbers and a sparse campaign schedule, Harris is in need of a healthy fundraising haul to sustain a robust operation heading into the winter.
Campaign spokesman Ian Sams told NBC the campaign wants to “make sure we have the nest egg to be competitive and viable through March” and insisted the candidate will be “on the trail a lot more” come October.
“We’re not playing to win a summer news cycle in the off-year,” Sams said. “We’re playing to win an election. We’re aiming to peak at the turn of the year when we’re approaching votes – and we’re built to do that.”
“Horse-race polling be damned,” he added.
But part of Harris’ struggles comes down to voters’ lack of familiarity with the third-year California senator.
In the new NBC/WSJ poll, 15 percent of Democratic primary voters said they didn't know her name. By comparison, just 7 percent said that about Warren, and 1 percent said that about Biden and Sanders.
Austin Healy, a 31-year-old Texan who voted for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the state’s 2016 primary, attended an early September campaign rally for Warren in Austin that drew thousands. He told NBC News that he “originally liked [Harris] in the beginning” but followed: “I don’t really know what she stands for – there’s not really a clear message for me.”
Harris, an Oakland native who first served as San Francisco’s District Attorney before becoming California’s attorney general, has also struggled to change perceptions about her time in law enforcement.
It’s a point of frustration for Lateefah Simon, a long-time mentee of Harris who said she was “yelling at the TV” while watching the third debate, imploring Harris to tell the stories that define her record as a progressive prosecutor.
Simon, who now works on criminal justice reform in California, says Harris needs to “tell it raw” and invoke her personal experiences.
Simon recalls a moment when Harris, then a district attorney, was comforting a mother whose daughter had been killed. When the victim’s mother came into Harris’ office sobbing after the killer’s trial, Harris got down on her knees with her.
“I’m here with you. Look at me. I’m here with you,” Harris had said, their foreheads touching, Simon recounted.
“I have watched her not tell these stories,” Simon recalls. “Why don’t you talk about Claire? You hired me. Why don’t you tell that story?”
Deb Mesloh, a longtime Harris friend and campaign adviser, told NBC News that she has learned to never doubt Harris because she’s shown resilience in tough elections for her district attorney and attorney general posts. But Mesloh acknowledged the scale of running for president limits the opportunities for Harris to make personal connections with voters.
“What I’d love to see is for her to continue to share her personal story and for her to continue to talk about her life history and the things that inform her leadership and connect with voters in a one-on-one sense so they get to know her,” Mesloh said.
Sams, the Harris campaign spokesman, said the campaign knows it is working up against candidates, namely Biden, Sanders and Warren, who had built-in national reputations before declaring their presidential bids.
“Voters need to understand who you are. They need to understand why you’re running,” Sams said. “The three people atop the polls have been well known nationally for a long time and have strong brands...all the others of us who have not been national figures before have to do even more to tell people what we’re about and get it to stick.”
Michael Bennet targets Iowa Caucus-goers with new TV ad
DES MOINES, IA — Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., is the latest candidate to hit TV screens in Iowa with two 30-second ads titled, “Most,” and “Truth. Bennet failed to qualify for the September debate stage and is still struggling to meet the October threshold. The campaign hopes the new ads will introduce potential caucus-goers to the candidate.
“Not enough people have had the chance to meet him or learn what drives him,” campaign spokeswoman Shannon Beckham said. “These ads show who Michael is and how he’s different from other candidates.”
The combined ad buys will ultimately hit a seven-figure spend across TV and digital platforms, according to the campaign. Ad-buy trackers show that the initial TV buys cost the campaign nearly $200,000 with more investment to come over the next several weeks in Iowa, and other early states like New Hampshire.
That's a significant investment considering Bennet’s campaign ended the second quarter with only $2.2 million in the bank, per FEC filings. In contrast, Tom Steyer has already spent $4.5 million on the air in Iowa, while Joe Biden’s invested $688,000, with Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris trailing closely behind with $635,000 and $562,000 investments, respectively.
In the ad titled “Most,” Bennet discusses how he’s dedicated his political career to “tackling tough problems,” including jobs, education and immigration reform to make Washington “work for the people again.” Bennet closes the ad focusing on health care saying, “As president, I’ll get everyone covered with a public option or keeping the health plans they already have.”
Bennet has separated himself from the more progressive wing of the Democratic candidates by opposing Medicare for All plans.
Health care is also the central focus of Bennet's second ad, "Truth." The ad starts with a narrator talking about how Bennet “pounds truth into the campaign.”
“The truth is a health care plan that starts by kicking people off their coverage makes no sense,” Bennet says in the ad. “Before we go and blow up everything let’s try this.”
“This” is Bennet’s "Medicare X Plan,” which would allow people to keep their current health care plan or buy into a public option.
Iowans will remember a push in ad spending by former Democratic candidate Kirsten Gillibrand earlier this summer before she ultimately dropped out of the race after failing to qualify for the September debates.
Bennet’s ads will broadcast in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, in addition to CNN and MSNBC.
Elizabeth Warren's anti-corruption speech highlights
NEW YORK — Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., laid out her new anti-corruption proposal in a speech at Washington Square Park last night.
The speech attracted an audience of 20,000, according to Warren’s campaign.
Here are some highlights of her speech:
Government corruption has caused "extinction of species", "children slaughtered by assault weapons" and "crippling student loan debt"
Standing in the shadows of one of the U.S.'s most expensive universities, New York University, Warren said that she "has a plan" to root out corruption in government. She blamed that "corruption" for why the government hasn't done enough to stop the ballooning student loan debt, climate change and gun control.
"Corporate lawyers" as federal judge appointees rule "against vulnerable people"
Warren lambasted corporate lawyers who make their way to the federal judiciary and rule in "favor of corporations". And she said that "right-wing groups have spent millions of dollars" to ram through unqualified nominees.
As Warren said in the last Democratic presidential debate, she practiced law "for about 45 minutes" before becoming a law professor.
Warren: "We're here because of some hard-working women"
At the top of Warren's remarks, she addressed the role that women have played in the fight against corruption, using the devastating Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 to make a point about systemic corruption.
"For years, across the city, women factory workers and their allies had been sounding the alarm about dangerous and squalid conditions—fighting for shorter hours and higher pay," she said, before adding that "the fat profits were making New York’s factory owners rich.
"Take any big problem we have in America today and you don’t have to dig very deep to see the same system at work."
Trump expected to rake in $15 million in 24 hours in California
RIO RANCHO, N.M. – After rallying Latino supporters here Monday in a state he lost handily in 2016, President Donald Trump heads to another Democratic stronghold for a two-day fundraising swing in one of his most frequent political targets: California.
The president is expected to raise a whopping $15 million there in about 24 hours for his re-election effort, according to a Republican official familiar with the planning of the events.
Trump will travel to the Bay Area on Tuesday for the first time since taking office to headline a fundraiser lunch that has been shrouded in secrecy. Very few details have been provided, given the protests that broke out when then-candidate Trump campaigned in the region in 2016.
The Silicon Valley fundraising lunch is expected to bring in $3 million, ahead of a visit to Southern California for various events in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles and San Diego. Those gatherings will rake in $5 million, $3 million and $4 million respectively.
The fundraisers are scheduled to be hosted by Trump Victory, a joint committee between the Trump 2020 campaign and the Republican National Committee. The following individuals are listed as co-hosts, according to “save the date” invites reviewed by NBC News: RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, co-chair Tommy Hicks Jr., RNC Finance Chairman Todd Ricketts and Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale.
This will mark Trump’s fourth trip to the Golden State since taking office. On his first trip, he inspected border wall prototypes and held a fundraiser in Beverly Hills (March 2018). On the second trip, Trump visited areas devastated by wildfires and met with families affected by the Thousand Oaks shooting (November 2018). The third trip was for another border wall visit and fundraiser in Southern California (April 2019).
Both parties in New Hampshire prepare for potential Lewandowski Senate bid
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Corey Lewandowski hasn’t yet announced a decision on whether to join the field of Republicans hoping to challenge Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in 2020.
But the prospect of President Trump’s pugilistic former campaign manager jumping into the fray has drawn mixed reactions from leaders of both parties, with Democrats expecting an expensive and ugly drawn-out contest and Republicans split over whether a hard-core Trump loyalist offers the best chance to flip the seat.
Lewandowski would be joining three other GOP figures who have already announced plans to run: Retired Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, former New Hampshire House Speaker Bill O’Brien and Bryant “Corky” Messner. The primary is September 8, 2020 — nearly a year away.
But Lewandowski is expected to announce his decision soon, which comes as he is scheduled to testify Tuesday at a House Judiciary Committee hearing investigating possible obstruction of justice by Trump.
Right as the Judiciary Committee took a short break from his testimony, Lewandowski tweeted out directing supporters to “StandWithCorey.com” as he teased a “potential Senate run.”
A “Stand With Corey” super PAC based in New Hampshire filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission announcing its creation on Tuesday.
Trump fired Lewandowski at the peak of the 2016 campaign, but the two remain close and Trump has all but endorsed him if he decides to run.
“He's tough, and he's smart, and I'm hearing he's thinking about running for the Senate," Trump announced at a campaign rally in Manchester last month, with Lewandowski sitting nearby. "I think he'd be tough to beat."
The New Hampshire Democratic Party, which publicly said little as other GOP candidates jumped into the Senate contest, has mounted a full court press against Lewandowski. At its state convention this month, the party kicked off its so-called “Corrupt Corey” campaign — passing out business cards and launching a website to draw attention to his lucrative consulting career in the wake of Trump’s election.
“Corey Lewandowski has spent every minute since the 2016 election selling White House access to the highest bidder, including pay-day lenders, big oil, and even foreign interests,” said Josh Marcus-Blank, the state Democratic Party press secretary.
Many Democrats relish the prospect of Lewandowski candidacy, saying it would be a fundraising boon both to the party and to Shaheen, who is seeking a second term.
“People down the ticket want it because they hate Lewandowski,” said Lucas Meyer, president of the New Hampshire Young Democrats. But, Meyer added, the Senate race will likely be close regardless, given the state’s strong independent streak and its battleground status at the presidential level.
President Trump came within 2,736 votes of beating Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire 2016, and has vowed to contest the state aggressively again. It’s a strategy that could boost Lewandowski among the state’s die-hard Republican voters if he wins the Senate nomination.
Yet his appeal mainly to the Trump base — and the potential to turn off independent voters as a result — stands in contrast to what strategists of both parties believe is necessary to win a general election in New Hampshire.
“You don’t win the Senate race unless you attract moderate Republicans,” said Ned Helms, a Democratic activist and former state official. He added that Lewandowski "is clearly the favorite, and a lot of Republicans are embarrassed by him. It’s a smart idea to go after Corey now.”
Joe Sweeney, communications director for the New Hampshire Republican Party, dismissed that concern but said the party would remain neutral in the Senate primary.
“New Hampshire voters are some of the savviest voters in the country,” Sweeney said. “Independent voters make the election, and they’re not afraid to vote criss-crossing on the ballot.”
A recent University of New Hampshire poll indicated that although Trump’s has just a 42 percent approval rating in New Hampshire, among Republicans that number remains at 82 percent.
But some Republicans in the state aren’t thrilled at the prospect of a Lewandowski bid.
“I think what Corey does is he’s going to attract the attention of every Democrat donor in America,” said a senior Republican consultant who has run a number of statewide races.” But, the operative added, “If he runs, he will be the nominee.”
A Shaheen adviser, who is not authorized to comment publicly on the race and spoke on condition of anonymity, insists there is “no nervousness” at the prospect of a Lewandowski candidacy.
“If (Lewandowski) is the nominee he’ll be annoying because he’s nasty and it would make it all more unpleasant than it needs to be, but nobody is worried he would beat Shaheen,” this adviser said.
NBC News attempted to contact Lewandowski about the timing of his decision.
New Hampshire Republican Governor Chris Sununu, who will also face re-election in 2020, decided not to run for Senate and does not intend to endorse any candidate in order to stay neutral in the GOP primary. While there has been some chatter among Republicans in the state that Sununu has a contentious relationship with Lewandowski, his office says the opposite is true.
“The governor has a good relationship with all of the candidates, and knows that competitive primaries are good for the party. The top priority is defeating Jeanne Shaheen,” said Sununu communications director Ben Vihstadt.
Despite Democrats’ optimism about Shaheen’s prospects for re-election, Helms noted said her campaign won’t take anything for granted no matter who Republican nominate to challenger her.
“I’ve never seen Shaheen run any race as if she wasn’t 50 votes behind all the time,” he said. “She would run as if she’s behind until the Wednesday after the election.”
UPDATED: This article was updated with Lewandowski's tweet about a "potential" Senate bid.
Pete Buttigieg to unveil disaster relief plan in South Carolina
DES MOINES, Iowa — One year after Hurricane Florence pummeled the Carolinas and just weeks after Hurricane Dorian lashed the U.S. coastline, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg Tuesday is set to unveil new proposals aimed at helping communities withstand and rebuild in the wake of catastrophic weather events.
The plan titled, “Resilient Communities: A New Disaster Preparedness Approach,” aims to reimagine the way disaster relief and preparation works in the United States.
“It’s time to shift the focus from placing the burden of compliance on individuals and communities, to making it the government’s job to actually help people in their time of greatest need,” the policy reads.
Within his first 100 days in office, Buttigieg says he’ll set up a disaster commission comprised of federal, state, and local agencies along with volunteer organizations. According to the plan, the commission will make recommendations on a host of issues including how best to streamline disaster relief applications and creating a permanent source of disaster relief funding.
The plan calls for more federal support on the ground following a disaster by increasing the number of FEMA disaster workers and FEMA Corps members while also building a surge-capacity force that would deploy non-FEMA federal employees to disaster sites.
Buttigieg hopes to equip FEMA workers with wi-fi hotspots to help communities reconnect with the rest of the world quickly and modernize the 911 system to allow calls to be rerouted and for those in need to send text messages and location data during a disaster.
At the community level, the candidate hopes to create a culture of resilience by funding community volunteer programs that could, for example, train people to help with evacuations or assist with weather related displacement. Buttigieg also plans to authorize and increasing the budget for FEMA’s Individual and Community Preparedness Division, with an emphasis on marginalized communities.
In addition, Buttigieg would incentivize private companies to work with state and local governments on resilience planning. The mayor supports proposed legislation that would authorize loans for states and communities working to incorporate resilience and mitigation while also consolidating grant programs so that communities can afford new technology. For example, a solar micro-grid system atop a fire station that would keep the building operational if power were lost.
While many candidates have released plans on climate change that address resiliency, Buttigieg is the first to release a policy solely focused on the issue.
Joe Biden gets another high-profile Latino endorsement
GALIVANTS FERRY, S.C. — Former Obama Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Monday night that he is backing former Vice President Joe Biden for president, giving Biden his second prominent Latino endorsement in recent days.
Appearing on MSNBC's "Hardball," Salazar said he chose Biden because he has the experience to unite the country and elevate its prominence on the world stage once again.
“We need to have him in the White House today because the country, more than ever before, needs somebody to unite our country and right now we live in a very dangerous world, both here at home and across the world and there's nobody that knows the world issues or the national issues as Joe Biden does,” he said.
Asked whether Biden has the political stamina to last through the primary, Salazar pointed to the multiple personal struggles he faced in life as examples that he knows how to pick himself up when he’s knocked down.
Salazar’s backing is the second endorsement from a prominent Latino politician which comes at a time when the Biden campaign is trying to ramp up efforts courting the Latino community. On Sunday, Rep. Vincente Gonzalez, D-Texas, became the third Congressional Hispanic Caucus member to endorse Biden, notably pulling his endorsement from Sec. Julian Castro after he raised questions about Biden's age during last week's debate.
Salazar, who served as Colorado’s senator between 2005 and 2009, notably chose to endorse Biden over his senate-seat successor and fellow moderate, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet.
Trump trip to New Mexico highlights his border state problems
WASHINGTON — On Monday afternoon, President Donald Trump heads to New Mexico, where he holds a campaign rally at 9:00 pm ET — all in an effort to expand the 2020 battleground map.
But not only is New Mexico a tough state for Trump — he lost it by 8 points in 2016 — it’s part of a region of the country that decisively broke against Trump and the Republicans in the 2018 midterms, especially as the president made illegal immigration and the “caravan” of migrants one of his closing messages in that campaign season.
Just consider what happened last year in the four states that share a border with Mexico and have large Latino populations:
- California: GOP lost seven House seats
- Arizona: GOP lost U.S. Senate seat, plus a House seat
- New Mexico: GOP lost governorship, plus a House seat
- Texas: GOP lost two House seats, won Senate contest by fewer than 3 points – the worst GOP margin in a major statewide contest in the Lone Star State in three decades.
Elizabeth Warren unveils anti-corruption reform proposals
NEW YORK — Amid all the dozens of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plans, there’s really one common thread between them: they aim to take on corruption.
And corruption itself is the issue of the day Monday, with the Massachusetts senator releasing a 15-page plan for rooting out government corruption — from the White House, to the halls of Congress; Supreme Court justices and federal agencies; and, of course, the revolving door between government officials and employees and the private sector. The plan, Warren writes, “lays out nearly a hundred ways” to fix the corruption problem.
On the trail, Warren often touts her anti-corruption plan as the most sweeping since Watergate — before lamenting that D.C. needs the most sweeping set of reforms since Watergate.
This release of this plan comes the same day Warren is set to speak under the arch in New York City’s iconic Washington Square Park, a space — her campaign points out — that’s near where the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire took place in 1911. That killed 145 workers and spurred major change in the way of workers’ rights and protections.
This isn’t the first time Warren will use a major moment and location from the history of labor movement to make a larger point: she made her announcement earlier this year at the Everett textile Mill in Lawrence, Mass., where in 1912 women workers went on strike to demand fair wages.
Among the highlights of the plan:
- Require IRS release of tax returns for all candidates running or serving in government. For presidential candidates, Warren recommends releasing at least 8 years of returns.
- A ban on individual stock trading for government officials.
- Presidents and vice presidents must put businesses into blind trusts and sell them off.
- Make sure no future candidate can get political assistance from a foreign government or solicit large hush money payments with out legal consequences by clarifying the definition of “in kind contributions.”
- Ban corporate bonuses for executives that leave to serve in government.
- Lobbyists can’t take government jobs for 2 years after lobbying (with limited exceptions) and corporate lobbyists have to wait 6 years.
- Elected officials and government appointees would be barred from ever becoming lobbyists.
- Total Ban lobbying on behalf of foreign entities.
- Ban lobbyists from being able to donate to, or fundraise/bundle/host fundraisers for, political candidates.
- Impose a tax on entities that spend more than $500,000/year on lobbying.
- Ban members of Congress and senior staff from serving on corporate boards in both paid and unpaid capacities.
- More closely regulates judges’ ability to accept all-expense-paid trips to seminars by establishing a new fund that covers “reasonable” expense for such judicial seminars. Also bans judges from owning individual stocks.
- Allow continued investigation of judges accused of wrong-doing, even after they step down.
- Establish a new Office of Public Integrity to investigate ethics complaints, impose penalties on violators, and refer “egregious violations” to the DOJ.
Bernie Sanders' campaign shuffles New Hampshire staff
CHARLESTON, S.C. — The Sanders campaign is in the middle of a significant staff shuffle, reassigning the campaign’s New Hampshire state director, and adding teams to build operations in Massachusetts and Maine.
“This campaign is building up and spreading out,” campaign manger Faiz Shakir told NBC News.
The previous New Hampshire director Joe Caiazzo will become the Massachusetts state director. Shannon Jackson, who was a senior advisor to the campaign in 2016, will take over as New Hampshire state director. Ben Collings will lead the campaign’s operation in Maine.
“We’re making some moves to play for the long haul here and to put ourselves in a position to not only do well in the early states, but to do well on Super Tuesday and hopefully by that point secure the nomination,” Shakir explained.
The Vermont senator won New Hampshire in 2016 by more than 20 points.
Public polls show a tight race in the first in the nation primary state this time around, with one from Emerson college showing the Vermont senator in third place, another from RKM Research showing him in first.
An advisor to Sen. Sanders says the campaign has been conducting internal polling, but would not get into the details of the findings. In the past, the campaign has released memos and briefed reporters on the results of favorable internal polling.
Booker on health care: Don't 'sacrifice progress for purity'
WASHINGTON — Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., downplayed the divide within his party on health care while imploring Democrats to aim high but work to make gains where they can.
Booker has argued he supports the goal of a 'Medicare for All' system, but has also argued for a more pragmatic approach in the short term for trying to cover every American. And he said that the 2018 midterm elections, where Democrats made big gains in the House with a strategy centered on health care, proves that voters are buying what the Democrats are selling.
Booker was addressing the split that was evident again during last week's Democratic presidential debate. "I feel it when I talk to really good people on that stage that I know, that there is a unifying message here that, look, we are a nation with a savagely broken health care system," he said Sunday on "Meet the Press."
"We're the party that's trying to say, 'everybody should have health insurance.' We're going to fight to get there. We can put the ideal out there but walk and chew gum at the same time. In other words, not sacrifice progress for purity."