In this edition: Democrats try to convert the Berniecrats, Fox News becomes a primary issue, Marianne Williamson campaigns in Washington, and Kentucky Democrats pick their nominee for governor.
Like I always say, it comes down to crucial Bullitt County, and this is The Trailer.
DES MOINES — Three years ago, Bernie Sanders came a handful of votes away from winning the first Democratic caucuses. He came back to the state just months after the 2016 election, then a few months after that, then a few more times. In a 23-way contest, if Sanders repeated his 2016 caucus performance, he’d win handily.
But not everyone who backed him last time is on board.
“The last election was very different,” said Anna Mullen, a 30-year-old farm policy advocate who came to see South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg in Des Moines on Friday. “We basically had three candidates to choose from; I caucused for Bernie because he wasn’t the establishment candidate.”
As Sanders stumps across the country, telling crowds how an “unprecedented grass-roots effort” could capture the presidency, many of the voters who signed up for the last version of the revolution are migrating to other candidates. New candidates are attracting some of his former voters — sometimes even former staffers — with the promise of something fresh. The Democrats who wanted to cast an anti-establishment vote, or advance Sanders's ideas, or simply stop Hillary Clinton's march to the nomination, have plenty of new options.
“Bernie was more exciting than Hillary [Clinton], and he moved his ideas into the mainstream,” said Vince Geraci, 65, who had gravitated to Sanders in 2016 after backing former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley. “I think that mainstream is meant for somebody else now.”
In some ways, Sanders's problem is an enviable one to have. He won nearly 14 million votes across the 2016 primaries and caucuses, building the biggest independent organization inside the party. He has universal name recognition, something every other candidate except Joe Biden is spending time and money to build. His campaign already has the names of 24,000 Iowa voters committed to caucus for Sanders again and sees many more of his past supporters as gettable as the campaign goes on, even if for now they check out town halls for his rivals.
“We encourage them to go to those other candidates’ events,” said Faiz Shakir, Sanders’s campaign manager. “We want every voter to be an informed voter. We also have confidence that, at the end of day, they’ll be with Bernie. They’ll see how he fights with them in the trenches and how he’s in the front line of labor and working peoples' movements.”
Still, Sanders is running behind the support he had when the 2016 primaries concluded. He won 49.6 percent of the vote in the last Iowa caucuses, when an estimated 171,109 Democrats turned out. Organizing 24,000 supporters in the same turnout would amount to just 14 percent of the vote. A majority of Democrats who picked Sanders in 2016 are, at the moment, up for grabs.
The 23-candidate pileup in Iowa is partly a reflection of that, with plenty of hopefuls who believe they can build a base that includes some former Sanders voters. New York mayor Bill de Blasio, the final candidate to enter the race, spent part of his first day in Iowa meeting with George and Patti Naylor, farmers who had endorsed Sanders in 2016 and introduced him at the 2019 event where he rolled out his rural agenda. They were, he found, still undecided; de Blasio, who had invited Sanders to speak at his 2018 inaugural ceremony, saw lots of room to compete.
“I have immense respect for Bernie Sanders, I really do,” de Blasio said in an interview. “But I feel that I have something particular to offer, because I'm the chief executive of largest city in the country. I’m dealing with one of the toughest, most complex places there is, and we’ve made real changes.”
The old Sanders coalition did not consist of only what he would call “progressive” voters, a fact that poses some challenges in 2020. As the only credible challenger to Clinton, Sanders stitched together a network of left-wing voters, independents and even some conservatives that allowed him to run in every primary.
According to exit polls from Iowa, just 33 percent of caucusgoers wanted a president with “more liberal” polices than President Barack Obama; Sanders won those voters by 55 points. He was boosted into a tie with Clinton because a smaller share of voters, the 7 percent who wanted a “less liberal” president than Obama, also backed Sanders, by a 50-to-43 margin. Given a binary choice, conservatives who disliked Clinton opted for the democratic socialist.
That phenomenon helped Sanders in a number of primaries, marginally adding to a coalition that was not, in the end, enough to overwhelm Clinton. The same conservative Democrats have more options in 2020, as do the Democrats who appreciated Sanders in 2016 but wonder whether he has made his impact on the party by shifting it to the left. Democrats who've heard bits and pieces of the current Sanders pitch — it's heavy on how he changed the party and how 2020 can “complete” the political revolution — wonder whether there's someone newer and younger to support.
“I appreciated his message; I think that he's going to have to come up with a new way to distinguish himself,” said Kumari Henry, 62, as she waited for Buttigieg to arrive at an event in the Des Moines suburbs. “He's saying that he's the one who made things happen, which is good. He just needs something new to say.”
Sanders has brought new ideas into the race; his “Thurgood Marshall plan” for education went further than anything he proposed in 2016. But in the month since Joe Biden entered the race, building a lead in early primary states, the campaign has continued portraying Sanders as the inevitable choice when voters start to study their options. In a recent episode of the campaign's podcast, “Hear the Bern,” Sanders pollster Ben Tulchin emphasized how well Sanders had done in the rural parts of Midwest states in the 2016 primary and dismissed Biden's strength as temporary.
“They captured the peak of Biden's announcement,” Tulchin said. “That's a classic case of the establishment media setting it up well for the establishment front-runner to look good and hurting an outsider candidate like Bernie.”
Tulchin's analysis fit into the theory of the campaign, in which it's not a long-term problem that many of the senator's 2016 supporters seem to be drifting to other candidates.
“In order to become a Bernie voter, you have to agree with the basic thesis, which is that we have radical injustices in America, exacerbated by Donald Trump, and we need bold solutions for them,” Shakir said. "If you like status-quo politics or you're five degrees off kilter, then yes, probably, Bernie doesn’t speak to you. If you see that beating Trump is not enough, that's the place where you're going to support Bernie."
Eight months before Iowans vote, not all of Sanders's 2016 voters have come home to him. But it's good enough to be competitive with Biden, and that's more than 21 other Democrats can say.
“Not everybody who was with Bernie in 2016 is still with him for various reasons,” said Ed Fallon, an environmental activist and former state legislator. “But I think I think the fact that he's got as many of his people still with him is pretty incredible.”
Democrats do not know whether a centrist or a leftist has a better shot at building a winning coalition, but every voter is 100 percent convinced of his or her own theories.
Tired: arguing about debate formats. Wired: arguing about town halls.
The most loyal bloc of the Democrats coalition remains committed to the party but divided on what to expect from candidates.
“The socialist network,” by Doug Henwood
The fast rise of the Democratic Socialists of America has reshaped politics in some cities and college towns, but what does it do next?
“Beto O'Rourke made me a punk playlist,” by Daniel Newhauser
Sometimes the headline does what it promises.
Pete Buttigieg was the third 2020 Democrat to hold a town hall meeting on Fox News, but he had a sort of advantage: He was the first Democrat to take the stage since fellow 2020 candidates Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) said they wouldn't.
In the short run, that seemed to help Buttigieg. Like previous Fox News town halls, Sunday's event had a mixed audience that did not reflect the network's conservative prime time hosts; he ended the night with a standing ovation. Unlike Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who also had a mostly praised town hall, Buttigieg got accolades from some of the network's more mainline personalities.
“I think Pete Buttigieg is the most impressive, by far, candidate in terms of just raw political talent in the Democratic field,” Fox's Brit Hume said Monday.
But Hume's comment departed from a lot of Fox analysis of Buttigieg's moment. The candidate had used some of his time to attack Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson, two of Fox's prime time hosts; they and the hosts of “Fox and Friends” swung back at Buttigieg, and on Monday night, the president suggested that Fox shouldn't have hosted him.
“What’s going on with Fox, by the way? What’s going on there?” Trump asked a friendly crowd in Pennsylvania. “They’re putting more Democrats on than Republicans. Something strange is going on at Fox, folks.”
The president had appeared on Fox just an hour after Buttigieg's town hall ended, for an exclusive (taped) interview with host Steve Hilton. He also seemed to be missing the dynamic of the Fox town hall. So far, whether to indulge the network is the most openly divisive issue in the Democratic primary. Ask about former vice president Joe Biden's record, and candidates tend to play nice; ask about Fox, and they unload.
“This campaign is about going to where people are, and you see that physically in where I show up,” former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke told reporters this week when asked about his willingness to appear on Fox. “But it also has to be in those channels or those social media streams where people get their news and their information. That also includes Fox.” (There has been no O'Rourke event scheduled on Fox, and the former congressman's slide in polls might complicate negotiations; a number of candidates polling in single digits have been rebuffed by Fox.)
The president's irritation at the town halls exposed a real difference between each party's base. Attacking the media is an essential part of the president's messaging. So is stiff-arming the media; the president has given dozens of interviews to Fox News since taking office and none to CNN. Republicans and media analysts alike see no downside in this; attacking the media is what his base wants.
Democrats, however, are perpetually worried about the impression that they might be alienating conservative voters. The idea that Warren might be giving up support by dissing Fox News did not just come from the network; it was explored by the socialist magazine Jacobin and asked abou by a voter at a Warren campaign stop in New Hampshire last weekend.
“Millions of people need to be persuaded that they deserve something better, that change is possible, and that they are the engine of that change,” Meagan Day wrote in Jacobin. "[Sanders] went on Fox News not only because he wants to get [working-class] people to consider voting for him in the 2020 election, but also because he has a long-term vision for reshaping the political landscape. He wants to drain the Right’s reservoir of (mostly white) working-class support — which the Right doesn’t deserve.”
The question for Warren came from a similar place; Warren's answer was that it was a fallacy to think that skipping a Fox event meant she was ignoring voters.
“I've done more than 70 town halls now,” she said. “I have been to 18 states, just last week I was in West Virginia, I was in Ohio, I've been down in the Mississippi Delta, I've been in Puerto Rico multiple times. And I'm going to keep doing that and outreach. I've taken questions from the press. I've done, I don't know, 50 press avails, taken about 1,100 questions from the press, and Fox News is certainly welcome to show up and I'm glad to talk to them. We'll keep doing it. But understand, because here's the part that matters for me. Fox News is a hate-for-profit racket.”
That got applause, but Warren wasn't finished.
“Much of America is starting to catch up to that, and that means that they are losing, right now, sponsors,” she said. “This is all about money. They lose sponsors because sponsors don't want to be associated with the hate. So Fox News's plan has been, 'Let's see if we can get some Democrats to come in here and do town halls,' and that lets Fox's sales people go out and say, 'Oh, totally independent. We listen to both sides, we're there for everybody,' and they use the numbers because our Democrats tune into those town halls. So, they say, 'Look how high our viewership is, and look how diverse our approach is because we held these town halls,' and make a lot of money off of these town halls.”
The next Fox News town hall, with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, is scheduled for June 2.
|You are reading The Trailer, the newsletter that brings the campaign trail to your inbox three times a week.|
|Not a regular subscriber?|
Here's a fact to impress (or bore) your friends at cocktail parties: From the first day of the 116th Congress, some of its 435 seats have remained empty. Tonight, in Pennsylvania, one of those seats will be filled, as Republican Fred Keller competes against Democrat Marc Friedenberg to serve the state's 12th Congressional District.
To put it mildly, this hasn't been as competitive as the last special election in Pennsylvania. In 2016, President Trump carried the mostly rural district by 36.4 points, slightly bigger than his margin in the state of Tennessee and much bigger than his margin in special elections won by Democrats in 2018. Keller has made no big missteps, and Democrats haven't put many resources in to boost Friedenberg. When Trump rallied in the district yesterday, he warned voters that they'd only really hear about the race if Keller lost.
“We have to get Fred in there tomorrow,” Trump said. “If he wins they won't report it. If he loses it will be the greatest story in the history of our country.”
Not even the most wildly optimistic Democrat thinks Keller will lose tonight. What's worth watching is the margin, and the turnout, for a sense of how the president is able to fire up his voters in the sort of places he needs to overwhelm urban and suburban voters.
The Bernie Sanders campaign has been working to convince swing state voters that their candidate has the strongest argument to make in a general election. That's the focus of a three-minute digital ad running in Wisconsin, built from interviews with voters and a few short clips of Sanders himself. (The senator doesn't really appear until 170 seconds into the video.) Some of the subjects grow emotional as they talk about what Trump promised to do for them and why they've been so unhappy during his presidency.
“There's no reason somebody needs to have $10 billion while some people have nothing,” says one voter in the spot.
The Sanders video team, which hired a producer for the liberal-leaning NowThis at the start of the campaign, has churned out videos like this, designed to demonstrate why the senator's support among disaffected voters is unique.
On Monday night, Marianne Williamson, the spiritual-minded self-help author whose presidential bid is running ahead of several governors and members of Congress, spoke to an audience of at least 500 people at Washington's Unity Church. The District may hold the last 2020 primary, unless the council changes it; the rewards of speaking there are limited.
Still, Williamson's quick stop in the District revealed a candidate who is more moderate than a quick glance would suggest and a slice of the Democratic electorate that is more anti-politics than it is ideological. After quickly introducing herself as a woman with "35 years of experience working on spiritual, universal themes,” Williamson sketched out a presidency that would change federal priorities in big ways and watch for ripples of change.
“We have millions of American children in this, the richest country in the world, who go to school hungry every day,” Williamson said, explaining why she wanted a new Department of Children and Families to work on kids' priorities. “We have elementary schoolchildren on suicide watch. We have American children who are chronically traumatized before they even go to pre-K.”
To pitch her Department of Peace, and a greater focus on the State Department, Williamson did not cite spiritualism, left-wing thinkers or budget numbers. She said that even conservatives, when they were honest, knew that the country needed to refocus on peace.
“Even Donald Rumsfeld, who was the secretary of defense under George Bush, said we must wage peace,” Williamson said. “General Mattis, before he left the Department of Defense, said if we're not going to fully fund the State Department, then I'm going to have to buy more ammunition.”
During a lengthy Q&A session, Williamson repeatedly landed in the center of the Democratic Party — not as far to the left as Dennis Kucinich, a longtime friend who twice ran for president as a left-wing insurgent. Asked about Medicare-for-all, Williamson aligned herself with most of the Democratic field, saying she preferred letting people opt in to Medicare and not restrict private insurance.
“Take a Medicare-for-all type plan and make it a public option,” Williamson said. “That would be an adjunct and an augmentation of the current Obamacare. People will gravitate toward that; I think most people will. And then if people wish to keep their private insurance, they can. I am not convinced that you have to go for this immediate Medicare-for-all idea, and cut out private insurance.”
Later, a friendly voter who said he'd discovered Williamson after she endorsed reparations for the descendants of slaves asked whether she'd consider running as an independent. She was not interested.
“No matter who the Democratic nominee is, whether it's myself or anyone else, I will do everything in my power to make sure the Democratic nominee is elected,” she said.
Democrats are not sure what to make of Williamson, who at the moment is likelier to make the debate stage next month than Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock or New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. One thing she's not doing is trying to move the party's debate to the left.
2020 Democratic primary (Quinnipiac, 454 Democrats)
Support from voters paying “a lot” of attention to the primary
Joe Biden — 42%
Elizabeth Warren — 15%
Pete Buttigieg — 9%
Kamala Harris — 9%
Bernie Sanders — 8%
Beto O'Rourke — 3%
Cory Booker — 2%
Kirsten Gillibrand — 1%
Amy Klobuchar — 1%
Tulsi Gabbard — 1%
Bill de Blasio — 1%
Support from voters paying “little/no” attention to the primary
Bernie Sanders — 28%
Joe Biden — 23%
Amy Klobuchar — 6%
Elizabeth Warren — 5%
Kamala Harris — 5%
Cory Booker — 4%
Tulsi Gabbard — 2%
Beto O'Rourke — 2%
Pete Buttigieg — 1%
Julián Castro — 1%
Andrew Yang — 1%
The reason national primary polls aren't very useful for screening out candidates is that only a handful of them will survive the gantlet in Iowa and New Hampshire. That's why the intensity gut check in this poll is so useful. The Sanders theory, that there is a pool of unlikely voters who can be mobilized to support him, gets a little evidence; the Warren and Buttigieg and Harris theories, that they are slowly planting seeds that will grow if voters ever cool on Biden, also gets some. Something to keep watching here is whether Warren's tortoise/hare strategy gets interrupted by Sanders making ever-bolder moves on policy, such as his education rollout in South Carolina.
What to watch in Kentucky. The Bluegrass State — commonwealth, if you're a stickler — is holding primaries for every statewide office today. Both parties have contested marquee races, and Democrats have serious races downballot, some for offices that they held until 2015.
In the Republican race for governor, both parties expect Matt Bevin to win renomination and both are watching the margin he gets over state legislator Robert Goforth, a veteran whose portrayed the governor as a blowhard who couldn't build consensus. Bevin won the 2015 primary by just 83 votes.
The Democratic race (covered by The Trailer last week) is more dramatic, with three candidates running on entirely different theories of how to beat Bevin. Attorney General Andy Beshear, the only contender who holds statewide office, is emphasizing his record of wins over the governor in court and the four years he has spent suing on behalf of taxpayers.
“Voters know that I'm a fighter that can not only beat Matt Bevin but actually get results for them,” Beshear said in an interview this month. “We cleaned up Kentucky's rape kit backlog: 5,000 untested kits, now tested. We've returned $2 million to seniors that had that money stolen from them.”
Adam Edelen, the former state auditor who became a solar power entrepreneur after his electoral loss, is running on a theory of political transformation. Beshear, he argues, would be portrayed by Bevin as a dynastic candidate (Steve Beshear, his father, was governor from 2007 to 2015) whose former deputy was brought down by bribery charges.
“Being opposed to Matt Bevin gets people to listen,” Edelen said. “The trick is, how persuasive you are in that space where you've got people paying attention? We've seen it time and again, from our governor's race in 2015 to the presidential campaign in 2016 that when we are merely a party of opposition, that's all we'll ever get to do. Oppose"
Rocky Adkins, a longtime state legislator from eastern Kentucky, is running a throwback campaign, one that Republicans worry would be the most effective against a wildly unpopular governor. Adkins opposes most abortion rights and voted for the restrictions passed by a Republican legislature — even some tied up in court — which Republicans think would neutralize social issues and let Adkins run as a dealmaker.
“Folks, a Democratic governor is going to have two chambers that are controlled by a supermajority of Republicans,” Adkins said at a rally last weekend. “It's going to take a governor that knows how to work that process, that has the institutional knowledge, the relationships, the friendships to bring people together in bipartisanship and compromise, to get results for you in the commonwealth of Kentucky.”
Polling has been sparse, and local Democrats expect Beshear, who began the race as the front-runner, to win, while not ruling out an upset for Edelen or Adkins. (A fourth candidate, Geoff Young, is running a left-wing insurgent campaign; he hit 21.2 percent in the 2015 primary but is expected to get much less now in a competitive race.)
Each has a very different electoral map. As much as a third of the total primary vote may come from Jefferson and Fayette counties, which include the cities of Louisville and Lexington; Edelen has focused on maximizing liberal, urban votes, so strong performances there could put him in contention. Edelen and his PACs outspent Beshear in digital advertising by a 2-to-1 margin and ran even further past Adkins. But Adkins is strongest in eastern Kentucky (east of Fayette County), where tens of thousands of voters remain registered Democrats but vote Republican for federal offices; strong turnout and numbers there would benefit him. Beshear's appeal has been the broadest, and his father built his reputation in western Kentucky; anything less than a romp in that part of the state would send up warning flares.
Beto O'Rourke. He's begun appearing more on national cable TV after taking a few weeks off. On Tuesday night, he'll participate in his second CNN town hall; this past Sunday, he appeared on Joy Reid's MSNBC show, where the host pushed him on the possibility that voting records were tampered with in 2016. “We know from other secretaries of state that other systems were breached,” O'Rourke said. “We don't know that vote tallies were changed.”
Bernie Sanders. He was invited by Walmart workers to address the June 5 shareholders meeting, the most dramatic example yet of how the senator has allied his campaign with workers' movements. Previously, he'd used his email list to drive attention and turnout to strikes and labor rallies, an act of solidarity not often shown by presidential campaigns.
Amy Klobuchar. She will join Virginia Democrats at their June 15 dinner in Richmond, joining previously announced headliner Pete Buttigieg. Virginia Republicans immediately asked whether Klobuchar supports Gov. Ralph Northam, who is not expected to attend the dinner, as Democrats work to build a 2019 legislative campaign without him.
Tim Ryan. He joined a cluster of 2020 Democrats at a pro-abortion rights protest outside the Supreme Court, telling ABC News that there might not be a middle ground on abortion anymore. Ryan's presence at the rally stood out; he did not come out fully for abortion rights until 2015.
Kamala Harris. She proposed new regulations that would force large companies to certify equal gender pay to the federal government.
Elizabeth Warren. She joined Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) for a video about how disappointed they both were in the “Game of Thrones” series finale.
Joe Biden. In an email to donors, he responded to a tossed-off Trump insult about how he had “abandoned” Pennsylvania for Delaware. “I’ve never forgotten where I came from. My family did have to leave Pennsylvania when I was 10 — we moved to Delaware where my Dad found a job that could provide for our family.”
. . . 11 days until MoveOn's “Big Idea” gathering in San Francisco
. . . 12 days until Kirsten Gillibrand's town hall on Fox News