In this edition: Mike Bloomberg becomes the Democrats’ piñata, new polling has the primary getting even more confusing, and impeachment rocks the Democratic conference for a few hours, before stopping.
There will be no newsletter on Thursday, when, like all patriotic Americans, I will be watching a marathon of “Mystery Science Theater 3000″ episodes. This is The Trailer.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts had spent nearly 11 months running for president, almost none of it attacking a rival Democratic candidate by name. She’d reserved her ire for billionaires, shaming Facebook investor Peter Thiel and JPMorgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon in her first — so far, only — negative ad. Even when she’d criticized Joe Biden for allegedly “repeating Republican talking points” about heath care, his name slipped out just once, and she dropped that line when Biden pushed back.
Mike Bloomberg is getting some different treatment. On Monday, Warren cheerfully informed an Ankeny, Iowa, audience that it was “day two of Michael Bloomberg’s $37 million ad buy,” saying that was no good for anyone.
“Michael Bloomberg is making a bet about democracy in 2020,” Warren continued, at an event focused on her own campaign’s volunteers. “His view is that he doesn’t need people who knock on doors. He doesn’t need to get out and campaign with people. He doesn’t need volunteers. And if you get out and knock on 1,000 doors, he’ll just spend another $37 million to flood the airways. And that’s how he plans to buy a nomination in the Democratic Party. I think it’s fundamentally wrong.”
In his first hours as a candidate for president, Bloomberg has become what the crowded Democratic primary lacked: a pincushion. The latest Democrat to enter the race is offering a campaign of unlimited resources, attempting to hack around the primary system to skip to the expensive general election. It’s a direct challenge to the primacy of Iowa and New Hampshire, which some Democrats are fine with. It’s also a replacement for the sort of mass organizing and intersectional alliance-building that many Democrats and liberals, led by Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), see as the only way to regain power.
“I don’t think, at the end of the day, most Democrats are focused on any particular policy other than removing this man from office,” Bloomberg’s campaign manager, Kevin Sheekey, told MSNBC on Monday. “No one’s campaigning in the only [states] that matter: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona. Those are the only states that matter in the general election.”
Sheekey was incorrect: Multiple candidates have stumped in those swing states, including Sanders and Warren. That campaigning has taken the form of town halls and rallies with thousands of attendees, as well as small meet-and-greets or labor solidarity events. With less fanfare, the biggest campaigns are also holding daily organizing parties across the country to build post-Iowa operations that could one day be retooled for a general election. Earlier this month, when 1,000 “barnstormers” traveled to Iowa to help Pete Buttigieg, they were advertising the candidate’s grass-roots network outside early-voting states.
There is no such grass-roots movement for Bloomberg, despite years of fitful work at creating one. Unity ’08 and Americans Elect were launched in 2008 and 2012 to help a potential third-party candidate appear on state ballots, work that collapsed when no candidate of Bloomberg’s wealth and stature decided to run. (He officially abandoned the third-party dream after 2016.) Bloomberg’s campaign events have flaunted his uniqueness: quick trips to the states, such as Arkansas or Virginia, where he needs to file for the ballot, followed by lunch with local leaders.
Bloomberg’s ad buys have touched markets and states that no other candidate was planning to invest in yet. It has the look of a national election, when candidates no longer spend hours talking to voters in diners or VFW halls, and for some in the states, it had upsides.
“Honestly, people appreciated that he came to the state,” said Michael John Gray, the chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party. “Unfortunately, when you live in a state run by a Republican majority, sometimes you only see Democrats framed the way Republicans want to frame them. We haven’t seen anything like Bloomberg’s $250,000 investment here; I mean, that’d be like a $2 million investment elsewhere. That will benefit the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates.”
Gilberto Hinojosa, the chairman of Texas’s Democratic Party, said Bloomberg was simply being smart by investing in states such as his.
“There’s a handful of delegates in New Hampshire and Iowa, and a potful of gold of delegates in Texas and California,” Hinojosa said. “If Mr. Bloomberg is willing to spend that money and make that kind of investment, he’ll be the first Democrat of my lifetime to do it in Texas. Last time around, Hillary Clinton spend $250,000 to buy a little bit of radio here.”
Bloomberg, who has spent personal money to elect both Democrats and Republicans, is uninterested in any argument about campaign financing. Just as Joe Biden did when he ended his opposition to a super PAC, Bloomberg is asking Democrats to think about what a general election really looks like and whether they really want purity when they could have a machine dedicated to ousting Trump.
But Warren and Sanders have turned their small-dollar fundraising into the case for their candidacies; Sanders points out frequently that he has more individual donations than Trump does. Bloomberg has sworn off campaign donations, rejecting the modern Democratic argument — captured by the party’s donors-and-polls debate threshold — that small-dollar support is proof that a candidate is competitive.
“This is the arrogance of billionaires,” Sanders told voters in New Hampshire this past weekend. ” ‘Hey, I can run for president because I’m worth $55 billion, and maybe I’ll take $1 billion out of that $55 billion’— not a lot, when you’re worth that much — ‘and start running a massive amount of TV ads.’”
The irony in this criticism, from Sanders and Warren, is that neither campaign sees Bloomberg’s entry as a problem for them. The former mayor of New York City was urged into the contest, in part, by moderate Democrats worrying about whether former vice president Joe Biden could push past the better-funded Warren or Sanders. At his Virginia stop, Bloomberg both defended his campaign spending (“I’ve been using my resources for the things that matter to me”) and acknowledged that he was getting high-level interest.
“I was lucky enough to receive some very flattering calls that will just stay between me and whoever made the call,” Bloomberg said. “I didn’t grow up in a world where I knew famous people. And when you get a call from one of them, I still pinch myself a little bit.”
For many Democrats, Bloomberg has been on firmer footing when dismissing the role of New Hampshire and Iowa in the primary process by declining to compete for either. Democratic thinking about the first two states, with electorates much whiter than the party as a whole, is conflicted. On Friday, when asked whether Bloomberg was insulting Iowa, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) turned the conversation to campaign finance reform in general.
“The average American is going to make their decision,” she said, “but I know that the average American wants there to be campaign finance reform. We know that whoever you are, we have to get money out of politics. It should not be a function of how much money you have.”
A couple of days later, when a voter put the Bloomberg question directly to Buttigieg, the Indiana mayor was diplomatic. “It’s not my place to tell any other campaign what to do,” he said. “As the very first in the nation, you get such a big say on who gets to move on.”
Rejecting donations will keep Bloomberg off December’s debate stage, and he has not reached a high enough level in public polls to qualify, anyway. The 17 Democrats running against him are generally viewed more favorably by the party’s voters.
“Which version of our democracy is going to win?” Warren asked in Ankeny. “If Michael Bloomberg’s version of democracy wins, then democracy changes, and it’s going to be about which billionaire you can stomach going forward. Because believe me, I’ve heard plenty of billionaires who think they should be president, or at the minimum should be picking the president.”
Bloomberg has not done much, yet, to push back against the idea that he’s offering Democrats a buyout. Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona, who endorsed Harris for president in September, did not know that Bloomberg was spending Tuesday in his home state until The Post asked him about the visit.
“The upside is that it brings more attention to our state, [but] I can’t say if he will be rewarded,” Gallego said. “I don’t understand why Bloomberg is jumping in. We have winning candidates right now. I endorsed Kamala Harris specifically because I think she can put the coalition together to win. I have doubts Bloomberg can.”
Jim Morrison contributed reporting from Norfolk.
“Can hanging out with Tulsi Gabbard fans help us understand what her deal is?” by Jada Yuan
Inside the fan base of the Democratic candidate who stands apart.
“What makes someone change their mind?” by Lyz Lenz
How Elizabeth Warren stopped being a Republican.
“Google’s new political ad rules unite Democratic and Republican campaigns in opposition,” by Tony Romm and Isaac Stanley-Becker
If everybody hates it, how bad can it be?
“The Left’s plan to slip vote-swaying news into Facebook feeds,” by Joshua Green
If you can’t beat the Fake News monster, join it.
“Deval Patrick’s bid to win over Democratic power players,” by Gabriel Debenedetti
The hunt for centrist-curious Democrats who aren’t sold on Biden.
“Trump ‘homecoming’ rally illustrates importance of Florida to his reelection effort,” by Robert Costa
Why the president, a new Florida resident, keeps stumping in the state.
The latest on the impeachment inquiry:
Bernie Sanders, “Big Us.” The messaging in this latest Iowa spot is delivered entirely by a farmer who makes a nearly nonideological case for Sanders. Polling has found that he does better on questions of “trust” than he does in a pure horse race. The arguments for Sanders here combine the left’s political demons with the right’s: “He’s not there for Wall Street. He’s not there for Hollywood. He’s not there for Big Oil, or big pharma or big anybody. Just Big Us.”
Joe Biden, “Commander in Chief.” The Biden pitch in Iowa has distinguished him from Democrats on something immutable: He has been vice president, and nobody else has. The potential comfort of replacing Trump with Barack Obama’s running mate is the entire focus of this spot, more than a particular foreign policy issue: Biden would, in his words, “stand with our allies” and “know them by their first names.”
Elizabeth Warren, “Climate.” The senator’s first spot in Iowa was a detailed look at her Social Security expansion plan; her second spot is a broader pitch for her climate change plans, which include a Green New Deal and are centered on domestic job creation. It’s a lot like a spot Sanders previously ran in the state, though Warren seems to have hit on the concise plan ad as her strategy, now that she’s on the air.
Club for Growth, “Foreign.” The conservative PAC is trying to shape Alabama’s wide-open Senate primary, which was reshaped this month when Jeff Sessions returned to run again. This spot targets Rep. Bradley Byrne, one of the first Chamber of Commerce-friendly candidates who defeated a more conservative challenger in the 2014 cycle. Byrne has since rebranded himself as a Trump ally, and the Club is trying to cut into that armor by attacking Byrne’s reliable vote for Republican leadership in the House, specifically to keep the Export-Import Bank active.
2020 New Hampshire primary (Suffolk/Boston Globe, 500 likely voters)
Bernie Sanders: 16% (-1)
Elizabeth Warren: 14% ( 0)
Pete Buttigieg: 13% ( 7)
Joe Biden: 12% (-9)
Tulsi Gabbard: 6% ( 3)
Andrew Yang: 4% ( 3)
Kamala Harris: 3% (-5)
Cory Booker: 2% ( 1)
Tom Steyer: 2% ( 1)
Steve Bullock: 1% ( 1)
Julián Castro: 1% ( 1)
John Delaney: 1% ( 0)
Amy Klobuchar: 1% ( 0)
Deval Patrick: 1% ( 1)
The Sanders campaign, which had put up with a few weeks of speculation on whether he was falling out of contention, has celebrated this poll for good reason. It’s the second in one month to show him in a lead, albeit bunched up with a few other candidates. Where it differs from those polls: Sanders’s own support has remained steady, with no obvious movement since the summer. Just a few trajectories have changed dramatically: Biden and Harris have lost support, Buttigieg has gained it, and both Yang and Gabbard have ticked up as fewer voters became undecided. That could affect the Sanders campaign in ways not worth predicting until after Iowa: His supporters from 2016 have been the most interested in Yang’s and Gabbard’s sort of anti-establishment candidacies.
Which Democrat has the best chance of defeating Trump? (Quinnipiac, 575 Democratic voters)
Joe Biden: 46% ( 4)
Elizabeth Warren: 10% (-10)
Bernie Sanders: 10% (-4)
Pete Buttigieg: 6% ( 4)
Mike Bloomberg: 3% ( 3)
Amy Klobuchar: 1% ( 0)
Kamala Harris: 1% (-2)
Tulsi Gabbard: 1% ( 1)
Michael Bennet: 1% ( 1)
At the start of this month, Warren released her Medicare-for-all payment plan; two weeks later, she released a two-part transition plan. In the details, both get closer to what Democratic voters say they prefer, with a single-payer health plan on the horizon after more people are enrolled in Medicare. But every poll has found the same voters getting skittish about Warren herself; here, her steady progress on the question of which candidate could beat the president has retreated to what it was this summer.
Did the president use his office improperly to gain advantage against an opponent? (CNN/SSRS, 1,007 adults)
Yes: 53% ( 4)
No: 42% (-1)
There’s been little movement in any impeachment polling since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) first announced her support for an inquiry. Small moves in the basic question — should the president be removed from office — have been over-read as the surge of new impeachment support, or as the complete collapse of the Democrats’ strategy. This is as much movement as we’ve seen, with voters ready to believe that the president committed a crime but unsure of what to do about it.
IN THE STATES
Arkansas. Democrats, who held both of the state’s Senate seats at the start of this decade, will not field a challenger to Republican Sen. Tom Cotton. Democrat Josh Mahony, who had been running alone for the party’s nomination, quit the race right after the filing deadline, citing unspecified personal reasons.
Michigan. Republicans hit a setback in their legal battle to stop a voter-created redistricting commission from drawing the state’s next electoral maps, after the Western District of Michigan ruled against them. Republican plaintiffs argued that, by preventing Michiganders with political ties from serving on the commission, the First Amendment rights of potential mapmakers were being infringed. The court didn’t bite, writing that “while the First Amendment is a check on the State’s authority, the State’s interests in designating eligibility criteria for an effective redistricting commission are, on balance, more than sufficient to justify the challenged provisions.”
Joe Biden. He picked up the endorsement of Rep. Dina Titus of Nevada, the first member of the state’s lopsidedly Democratic congressional delegation to support a candidate. He was also involved in a back-and-forth with Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, after Biden said he was disappointed in his former colleague for calling for an investigation into his son, Hunter. “It’s not going to work,” Graham told NBC News. “I like Joe Biden, you know, all I can say is that Joe didn’t pull any punches when he ran against [John] McCain; that’s the way the system works.”
Pete Buttigieg. He was endorsed by Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York and Rep. Pete Visclosky of Indiana, the second and third members of Congress to support him. He had just one congressional endorsement until this week, far behind the other high-polling candidates.
Deval Patrick. He spoke at New Hampshire’s “Politics and Eggs” breakfast, playing down the difficulties of entering the race so late: “The path we knew was there is wider than I fully appreciated.” He’s spending Tuesday in South Carolina, his second trip to the state in an 11-day campaign.
Tulsi Gabbard. She’s holding town halls in New Hampshire, where she has been polling best, over most of Thanksgiving week: Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
Mike Bloomberg. He filed in person Tuesday for Arizona’s primary, accompanying it with another news conference in which he spelled out a health-care plan similar to Joe Biden’s (building slowly from the Affordable Care Act) and explained a bit more of his migration to the Democratic Party. “I certainly could never run as a Republican,” he said. “The old-line Republican Party was very different than the one today. I don’t agree with virtually anything they stand for.”
Bernie Sanders. He’ll make a post-Thanksgiving return trip to South Carolina.
Elizabeth Warren. She sat down with the Des Moines Register’s editorial board, spelling out in more detail how she could implement a wealth tax. Europeans, she said, botched the wealth tax when they “went way too deep into the wealth range,” and Americans could grow the staff of the Internal Revenue Service to assess the property of the wealthy that would be subject to tax. “Billionaires are slippery.”
Michael Bennet. He picked up an endorsement in New Hampshire from state Rep. Joyce Fulweiler.
Cory Booker. In a new campaign memo, his team said that its focus for the next few weeks will be qualifying for the December debate. “We know the most important thing we can do for Cory Booker right now is to ensure that every dollar spent, every volunteer shift booked, every waking moment our campaign staff spends in the next two weeks is geared toward persuading voters that Cory should be their first choice in this contest.”
If someone created a pool, letting people bet on which Democrat would be first to speculate about ending the impeachment inquiry, the most money may have been put on freshman members from swing districts, or one of the two Democrats (New Jersey’s Jeff Van Drew and Minnesota’s Collin Peterson) who rejected the inquiry in the first place.
Good news: No one lost their money. It was Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Michigan, whose district Hillary Clinton carried by 61 points, who seemed to panic about the politics of impeachment.
“We are so close to an election,” Lawrence said on this week’s edition of Detroit reporter Charlie LeDuff’s podcast. “I will tell you, sitting here knowing how divided this country is, I don’t see the value of taking him out of office. I do see the value of putting down a marker saying his behavior is not acceptable.”
Republicans were overjoyed. Up to now, speculation about Democrats getting skittish on impeachment was just that — speculative — with anecdotes of freshmen nervous about the ads Republicans were buying in their districts. Lawrence had broken the seal, repeating a core Republican argument against impeachment while suggesting that Democrats might want to officially censure the president and move on.
As soon as the story caught fire, Lawrence flipped. “The House Intelligence Committee followed a very thorough process in holding hearings these past two weeks,” she said in a statement. “The information they revealed confirmed that this President has abused the power of his office, therefore I continue to support impeachment. However, I am very concerned about Senate Republicans and the fact that they would find this behavior by the President acceptable.”
We’re back to where we were on Monday morning: lots of scattered Democratic worries about impeachment, but no House Democrat actually calling for the party to drop it.
… seven days until runoff elections in Orlando and Boise, Idaho
… 14 days until runoff elections in Albuquerque
… 16 days until the qualifying deadline for the sixth Democratic debate
… 18 days until runoff elections in Houston
… 23 days until the sixth Democratic debate
… 69 days until the Iowa caucuses
… 77 days until the New Hampshire primary