In this edition: The Trump battle plan, ad wars in North Carolina, and a new poll from the first primary state.
Eight Democratic candidates for president are polling at zero in New Hampshire, and this is The Trailer.
The president's Wednesday night rally in the Florida Panhandle ended without much of a theme. He took shots at Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Beto O'Rourke. He attacked China for its aggressive turn in trade negotiations, then shrugged that “It'll work out." And he appeared to laugh when a crowd member yelled about shooting undocumented immigrants.
What made less news but mattered much more for the president's reelection hopes was a pledge to redirect nearly half a billion more dollars toward hurricane recovery — and a promise to rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base, damaged by last year's storms. That was exactly what the coalition working to reelect Trump wanted to hear: Every visit to a swing state, every offer of help from the government, could help them get reluctant voters excited about 2020. And Trump campaign representatives were working the rally, collecting data from attendees who might want to reelect the president.
The president's reelection campaign, which began on the day he was sworn in, is not built with the expectation of a landslide. Like Barack Obama's 2012 campaign, it's designed to grind out a win by identifying everyone who supports the president, getting them registered and active, and turning them out. The president won just 45.9 percent of the popular vote in 2016 but edged out wins in key states. The mission in 2020 is to do it again.
As Democrats debate what model can win in 2020 — revving up their base? Convincing independents that Trump is an aberration? — the Trump operation is sticking to what worked before. Trump allies believe they have a long head start on the Democrats, who only this year created an independent source for voter profiles, the Data Warehouse, modeled after the years-old Republican Data Trust.
The DNC is still recovering from the Obama-era mismanagement that ended with supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) accusing it of rigging the 2016 primary; the RNC, with the president's blessing on all of its small-donor pitches, has no such problems. As a candidate, Trump decried super PACs; as a president, he has blessed America First Action, a super PAC with plans to raise $300 million ahead of the election. The president himself had recently helped America First raise money; the president's supporters, Republicans say, do not care if he once attacked this sort of politics.
Some prognosticators, looking at economic models, see a path to a Trump landslide. Trumpworld isn't that cocky; donors to America First Action are told that just 164 electoral votes are locked in for the president, while 13 states will see at least some kind of competition and spending. These are states — Arizona, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — where the president got less than 52 percent of the vote in 2016. The AFA's goal is to spend $250 million on the last six states on that list, which have the most electoral votes.
In each state, the focus is entirely on hitting a turnout number. In Florida, for example, the starting Trumpworld assumption is that 10.5 million votes could be cast, which would represent record turnout in a fast-growing state. To be sure of a win, the president would need around 5.2 million to 5.3 million votes. At least 4.3 million Floridians, according to the campaign models, are already assured to come out for the president. The goal from there is straightforward: Find the 972,000-odd voters who would get the president to the win number.
“I believe that between the president holding rallies, Brad executing on his digital strategy, and Ronna and the DNC working on turnout, we can bridge that gap,” said Brian O. Walsh, president of America First Policies. (Brad is Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale; Ronna is RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.)
Getting those voters means persuading some holdouts, chiefly the ones who came out of 2016 disliking both Trump and Hillary Clinton. The sharpest tool for winning them over, Republicans say, is information about the president's lower-profile wins — everything from anti-opioid legislation to projects such as rebuilding that Air Force base in the Panhandle.
Just as many voters, though, might be found by converting nonvoters or infrequent voters into Trump supporters. Trumpworld, after a midterm that showed most suburban women could not be swayed to their side, was captivated by data that found the voters who dropped off the most from 2016 to 2018 were white men who lacked college degrees, a loyal section of the president's base.
Hundreds of thousands of voters who fit that profile, especially in states such as Florida, simply weren't registered. Tapping some of them had helped blow apart the Democrats' election models in 2016 and in some states in 2018 — Democrats barely believed it possible to win Jacksonville's Duval County without winning the state. The new theory was that if the haphazard 2016 Trump campaign could activate some of these voters, a better-organized 2020 version could find them with months to spare.
The Democrats' busy presidential primary didn't affect these calculations, but its crowded nature both helps and hurts the Trump effort. Unlike in 2016, when Republicans inherited decades of messaging against Hillary Clinton, there is relatively little research yet on what attacks would work on the possible Democratic nominee.
Former vice president Joe Biden is seen as the candidate who would most credibly allow the president to run as a “change agent,” even from the Rose Garden; Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has touted internal polls that show him strong in the Midwest, is seen by Trumpworld as too far left to win, likely to alienate Democrats who are not comfortable with “socialism,” however defined.
With no obvious Democratic opponent, Trumpworld has been elevating Sanders and some of the left-wing House class. In 2016, famously, the president struggled to unite the kind of high-dollar Republican donors who'd backed other candidates in the primary or helped Mitt Romney compete with Obama. In 2019, the Trump allies working to win those donors were finding some of them rattled by the latest thing they'd heard from Sanders or Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.); it was opening wallets faster than the president could get them to open on his own.
The campaign apparatus could take advantage of that, even if the president did not. In Florida, with the national media gathered to cover him, he did not take any swings at Sanders or the Democrats’ left.
Campaigns tend to be careful in how they describe their favored super PACs, as they are not allowed to coordinate with them. But a damaging story about a PAC that was diverting possible donations from the Trump campaign persuaded Trumpworld to clarify its favorite super PAC: America First Action.
“Wall Street Democrats Are Absolutely Freaking Out About Their 2020 Candidates,” by Gabriel Debenedetti
The poll rise of Joe Biden has, perhaps temporarily, paused what was a running story among big Democratic donors — panic about a more populist candidate seizing the nomination.
“As Warren and Trump team jockey on opioids, Democrats say president betrayed his base on a devastating addiction scourge,” by Annie Linskey and Katie Zezima
The Trump campaign fully intends to tell voters that the president began solving the opioid crisis; Democrats don't plan to let him do it.
“Why Georgia’s anti-abortion law is ‘just the beginning,’ " by Greg Bluestein
Georgia's new law, which classifies abortion after six weeks of pregnancy as murder, goes further than any pre-Roe legislation. What if it becomes a nationwide model?
“Mayor Pete blindsides Kamala Harris in California,” by Carla Marinucci
Donors in the Democrats' wealthiest state are extremely open to some of their own senator's competitors.
|You are reading The Trailer, the newsletter that brings the campaign trail to your inbox three times a week.|
|Not a regular subscriber?|
On Wednesday morning, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) gave the International Association of Machinists a stemwinder about how the economy was failing them. As the congressman from eastern Ohio, as a candidate for president, he had seen this at the root: He had been pounding the Trump administration over policies that could not save a GM plant in Lordstown.
“How many times does this have to happen before we take over the economic and political system and make it work for us?” Ryan asked.
Hours later, the president announced that he was going to save the Lordstown plant. Sort of. In a tweet later confirmed by GM, the president declared that the 6.2 million-square-foot plant might be taken over by Workhouse Group, a small Ohio company, thanks to his lobbying.
Ryan spent much of the day responding to what was initially seen as good news. In a video statement, Ryan called the deal “bittersweet,” assuming it went off at all. In a call with reporters, he was asked how, exactly, Democrats would campaign for replacing the president when the job market was so tight.
“Many of these people are underemployed,” Ryan said. “I'll give you a perfect example, in Trumbull County. We are losing 1,700 jobs, good-paying UAW jobs that have gone in the past two years. We have a TJX distribution center coming online, which will be a thousand jobs, but those jobs aren't going to pay as much. In the short term you're going to see job growth, but the issue is underemployment. ... I just think these old metrics, quite frankly, of unemployment rates and stock markets are way overblown today."
The No. 1 concern of the Trump reelection effort, the factor it can't control, is a slowdown in the economy. But if the economy grows at the current hot and steady pace, Democrats are stuck in the same position as Ryan — arguing that the growth has not prevented decline outside big cities and suburbs, and that, anyway, the administration is taking credit for a trend it inherited.
“This is nine years into an economic expansion, seven of which happened under President Obama,” said Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), who represents parts of Philadelphia. “The average job growth per month isn't any better than the last couple of years of the Obama administration. So I'm glad that, even with all of Donald Trump's screw-ups, he has not screwed up this economic expansion.”
In a memo obtained first by Politico, the Democratic National Committee has clarified the rules for cutting candidates out of its first two debates.
As previously announced, there will be two debates in prime time in June, on the 26th and 27th, in Miami. Each debate will feature up to 10 candidates; if more than 20 candidates qualify, the candidates with the lowest polling average (their best three polling results, divided by three, rounded to the nearest tenth of a percentage point) will be cut.
At the moment, three declared candidates for president have neither 65,000 donations (one way to make the debate) or any combination of polls putting them at 1 percent (the other method). They are: Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), and Miramar, Fla., Mayor Wayne Messam.
North Carolina's 9th Congressional District. The Club for Growth's intervention in the nearby 3rd District didn't make much of a ripple, but its work here — in a special election sparked by fraud allegations against a Republican campaign — hits all the popular insurgent themes. In a new spot, the group hits Leigh Brown, a Realtor and first-time candidate. “Brown attacked in the 2016 campaign. She wrote: Donald Trump, you're wrong.”
State Sen. Dan Bishop's own campaign has positioned him as the “battle-tested conservative” whose first priority in Washington will be to “build President Trump's wall”; his own ad, in rotation now, portrays Democrat Dan McCready as one of many “clowns” he's ready to fight, next to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). The May 14 primary is crowded, but Bishop and Brown have the airwaves almost to themselves.
New Hampshire Democratic Primary (Monmouth, 376 New Hampshire Democrats)
Joe Biden — 36%
Bernie Sanders — 18%
Pete Buttigieg — 9%
Elizabeth Warren — 8%
Kamala Harris — 6%
Cory Booker — 2%
Amy Klobuchar — 2%
Beto O’Rourke — 2%
John Hickenlooper — 1%
Tim Ryan — 1%
Andrew Yang — 1%
This is Monmouth's first dip into the first primary state, and it finds a bigger cache of support for Biden than any other poll this year; it ends a string of polls that had put Sanders, the landslide winner of the 2016 New Hampshire primary, on top. The key: 68 percent of Democratic voters, when asked whether they want purity or electability, say they prefer the candidate they “do not agree with but [is] stronger against Trump.” The news cycle does not reward endless investigations of the same question, but “electability” remains a big enough driver to freeze this primary in place until and unless voters begin to see Biden as less electable.
Maryland Republican primary (826 Maryland Republicans, Gonzales Research)
Donald Trump — 68%
Larry Hogan — 24%
It's been six months since anti-Trump Republicans began urging Hogan to consider running against the president, arguing that his bipartisan appeal in a blue state could be translated nationally. At one point, in a remarkable bit of wish-casting, New York Times columnist (and Maryland resident) David Brooks suggested that Hogan would be the party's 2020 nominee. That was hasty; Trump, who won 54 percent of the vote in 2016's three-way Maryland primary, does even better in a match-up with Hogan.
Amy Klobuchar. This week, she became the second 2020 Democrat to hold a town hall on Fox News. She largely got to focus on her pitch as a pragmatic “heartland” candidate, but most follow-up questions she got were about whether Democrats had shifting standards for judging sexual misconduct, which led Klobuchar to defend her questioning during the Brett M. Kavanaugh hearings. “He got a really good job out of the whole thing,” she said. “He’s, like, on the Supreme Court of the United States.”
Bernie Sanders. He told the International Association of Machinists that, as president, he'd put a moratorium on pension cuts; he then joined Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to introduce legislation that would cap credit card fees at 15 percent.
John Hickenlooper. He's proposing a change to the attorney general's confirmation process, requiring 60 Senate votes for confirmation, limiting him or her to one term, and preventing him or her from being removed without cause.
Marianne Williamson. She announced her 65,000th individual donation, qualifying her for a spot in the first presidential primary debates next month. “Thank you to those of you who have seen the possibility of a new American beginning and have been willing to invest in its formation,” she said. Eighteen Democrats have now said they have qualified for the debates; Williamson is the only one to have done so with donor totals only.
Jay Inslee. He announced a New Deal-styled “climate conservation corps,” the latest in the series of attempts to put climate at the center of a jobs plan.
Seth Moulton. He tapped Marie Harf, a foreign policy veteran of the Obama administration and current Fox News commentator, as his deputy campaign manager for communications.
One of the advantages of being a front-runner in your primary is that your every utterance makes news. At a stop in Los Angeles with the city's mayor, Joe Biden took media questions for 15 minutes, some of them newsy (he agreed that undocumented immigrants were entitled to taxpayer-funded health care) and some speculative. What did he think of the risk of a drawn-out primary?
“What's going to happen is, this field is going to be winnowed out pretty quickly, here in California as well,” Biden said. “In order to get any delegates out of a congressional district, you need 15 percent of the vote. To come out of Iowa, you need 15 percent of a caucus. So it's going to work its way through relatively quickly.”
For some reason, this made headlines around the country. But the point was obvious. To break it down a bit:
- The first Democratic contest will be the Iowa caucuses, where voters gather in person and line up in support of their preferred candidates. If their candidate does not have the support of 15 percent of caucusgoers in those rooms, the supporters join up with other candidates. This rule has wiped out around half the Democratic field in every recent contest.
- In primary states, delegates are assigned to candidates who get more than 15 percent of the vote statewide and in congressional districts. If a half-dozen (or more) candidates make it to New Hampshire and poll around 5 percent, they leave the state with no delegates and lots of questions about where they could possibly compete.
Biden wasn't predicting that his own strength would winnow down the field. It's just how the primaries work; a handful of candidates will be able to carry on after New Hampshire. The “brokered convention” scenario doesn't assume that 23 candidates make it through June; it assumes that, for the first time since 1992, more than two candidates stick it out past Super Tuesday. And in 1992, that did not lead to a brokered convention.
Almost nothing seems to get Democratic voters thinking as seriously about the courts as Republican voters do, but it's worth watching the conservative movement's legal strategy for hints of a backlash. The GOP has been focused on appointing friendly judges, making sure unfriendly ones don't hamper their agenda and trying to get abortion cases to the Supreme Court.
On Wednesday, Vice President Pence told a meeting of the Federalist Society that it was time for district judges to stop issuing injunctions against regulations proposed by the executive branch.
“The Supreme Court of the United States must clarify that district judges can decide no more than the cases before them, and it’s imperative that we restore the historic tradition that district judges do not set policy for the whole nation,” Pence said. “In the days ahead, our administration will seek opportunities to put this very question before the Supreme Court to ensure that decisions affecting every American are made either by those elected to represent the American people or by the highest court in the land.”
This actually got less attention than the efforts by Republicans in Alabama and Georgia to pass stricter bans on abortion, with criminal penalties for women who got them, even if the procedures were performed out of state or the pregnancies the result of rape or incest. The intent behind these laws (and similar laws already passed in Ohio and Mississippi) is clear: to test whether the new Supreme Court would restrict abortion rights if a new case got to its docket.
None of this has really come up in the Democratic primary, so far; there's not much daylight between the candidates when it comes to appointing judges. But it's bubbling under, especially when the candidates engage on an electability question. And it complicates the abortion question that has been wrapping Democrats around their axels. In North Carolina and Montana, Republican legislatures have passed bills to strengthen antiabortion laws to protect “born alive” infants; Democratic governors have vetoed them. The plan had been to make Democrats pay for a politically untenable position, but that could be moot if the debate moves back to Roe.
. . . 22 days until Democrats head to California for the state party convention
. . . 44 days until Jim Clyburn's fish fry in South Carolina
. . . 91 days until the start of the Iowa State Fair