In this edition: How the Democrats' one percenters (and zero percenters) are dealing with impeachment, the lopsided Trump air wars, and the Bernie Sanders advantage in the fundraising race (so far).
It's a good week for people who sell file footage of angry Democrats, and this is The Trailer.
In August, shortly after the second Democratic presidential debates, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) got unpleasant news from his communications team. They did not see a path for him to grab the party's nomination. There was, as one aide put it, time for him to "get out of this with a little bit of dignity" and return to his eastern Ohio district with a much larger national reputation.
A little while later, Harta Communications left the campaign. Ryan's digital director, Erick Sanchez, signed up with Andrew Yang. But Ryan, one of seven Democratic candidates who did not qualify for this month's debate after missing last month's, kept running for president.
Democratic activists are grumbling about the size of the field — still the largest ever, even after eight candidates dropped out. Party leaders talk about impeachment drama “freezing” the race in place. But the candidates stuck in the 1 percent basement are hanging on. There could, still, be a moment to break out; there could be a scramble to find a “Biden alternative,” something candidates in the middle of the pack have spent months waiting for. And the stragglers want in on that, if it happens.
“I'm sure there are people who feel like there are too many people” on the debate stage, said Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, who entered the race in May, one month after Ryan, and didn't hit either donor or polling debate qualifications. “But I don't feel any hurry to go anywhere. I want to see, as people get closer to making decisions in Iowa, what they're going to decide.”
The seven Democrats still in the race who didn't make the debate stage are in that position for very different reasons and have wildly divergent resources. Bennet, who delayed the start of his campaign until after a successful cancer surgery, raised $2.8 million in his first two months as a candidate and has gotten raves from center-left tastemakers nervous about Joe Biden's age and messaging. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who entered the race two weeks after Bennet, has a loud amen choir of Democratic strategists, eager for him to get more attention.
“Were it not for the new debate rules, Bullock would be looked at as a promising candidate who was in fine position to take off in the fall,” Jennifier Palmieri, a veteran of Hillary Clinton's 2016 bid, said in a September interview with the Atlantic.
Other straggling candidates don't have so many boosters. Marianne Williamson, who was a popular spiritual health author before the campaign and has become a popular Internet personality during the campaign, has no path to the debates, low favorability in polls of Democrats and no interest in quitting. She was even parodied in “Saturday Night Live's” season premiere, when better-polling candidates like Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Min..) were ignored. And she still draws crowds.
“Sometimes the political media elite talk about what the people think through the filter of why they think,” she explained in a talk with New York magazine. “They think people aren’t ready. That’s not my experience.”
John Delaney, whose Iowa state director jumped over from Williamson's campaign, has shrunk his staff over the past few weeks but argues that there's still opportunity that other candidates don't quite see. More than two years after entering the race, he is repositioning himself as the only candidate with business experience and business-friendly trade policies; not even Joe Biden, he points out, still supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Delaney does and sees an opening with trade-war-weary Iowans.
“We’re going to do 'Shark Tank'-type events to focus on job growth, and I need some different people to execute on that strategy,” Delaney said in an interview. “I have to figure out some way of distinguishing myself, and to the extent I have traction, it’s in rural Iowa. We just can’t continue to do stuff that I would describe as generic, showing up at the same things that everyone else is.”
Most Democrats are skeptical that there will be time for voters to take a second (or third, or seventh) look at their options. October, four months before the caucuses and right after the third pre-primary fundraising quarter, is not usually kind to insurgent candidates. In 2015, two of the low-polling Democrats in that presidential primary (Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb) used October to quit the race. And that was without an impeachment inquiry dominating every news cycle, something Democrats in Iowa think will crowd out the lower-polling candidates.
“Unfortunately, I do” think that, said Sean Bagniewski, the chairman of Polk County's Democratic Party. “I believe it when Pelosi says it’ll be over by Thanksgiving, though. [That] leaves December and January open for some Hail Marys in Iowa.” (Pelosi and other Democrats have hinted at a quick impeachment inquiry, though there's no hard limit on how long it could last.)
One of the left-out candidates is trying for one; one isn't. Former Pennsylvania congressman Joe Sestak, a retired Navy admiral, has confused some Democrats with a busy, unexpected presidential campaign, focused almost entirely on personal campaign stops in Iowa and New Hampshire. In an interview after a September visit with Story County, Iowa, Democrats, Sestak said he'd build a “beachhead” in Iowa and “raised enough to keep us operative all the way to February,” though he would have to buy TV ads earlier than he expected. The reason: He was getting left out of the news.
“When I gave my speech at the New Hampshire [Democratic] convention,” Sestak said, “a woman who used to be the head of the party came up to me and said, 'great speech.' “ He recalled how he'd walked over to a TV booth, asked whether the talent wanted to interview him and buried his head in his hands when he realized they had not listened to his speech.
“I mean, that's okay,” he said he assured himself. "I understand that. But they won't put me on the air or in the paper!"
The busy Sestak schedule — he held 23 public events in Iowa last month, many of them stops at labor or local party meetings — contrasts with the disappearance of a Florida mayor who is still, technically, running for president. Miramar, Fla., Mayor Wayne Messam, who entered the race six months ago with a small splash of national attention, quickly (and acrimoniously) parted with the consultants who courted that attention. He has not held a public event in an early-voting state since July 13, a “run with Mayor Wayne” town hall in South Carolina, after previously hinting that he would focus on the state.
“We have about 20 plus runners that have joined us on the trail,” Messam said in a Facebook video which did not show any of the other runners. “We're having a great dialogue.”
A spokesman for the New Hampshire Democratic Party said Messam's team never responded when invited to last month's state party convention; Bagniewski said Messam's team had initially passed on the steak fry, citing a “busy schedule,” and then ignored a follow-up from the county Democrats.
“Mayor Wayne Messam is still in the race,” a spokesman insisted in response to an email about his campaign schedule. “Please be advised that most of the multi-candidate forums have been limited to only the so-called top tier candidates or the ones that qualified for the debates and Mayor Messam has been excluded.”
Candidates in the middle of the pack could be under more pressure to break out than the stragglers, who weren't breaking into the news cycle anyway. Ryan has 71 days to file for reelection to his House seat, though risks to his political career remain low: He can run for two offices at once, no other Democrat has filed to run, and two Republicans — one of whom lost a 2018 race to Ryan by 22 points — have raised little money.
“He will continue to forge a path forward, and we’ll examine what our options are over the next several weeks,” said Mike Morley, a spokesman for Ryan. “We have not established internally a marker, but I expect that Congressman Ryan will assess all of his options.”
In the meantime, Ryan is getting what a House member might not pull on his own: national interest from the media. On Monday, he appeared on Fox News to defend the party's impeachment push and add to the chorus of Democrats worried about the party moving too far left.
“I don't think we should just go at rich people and say, 'Hey, we hate you, and we want you to pay more money,' “ Ryan said.
The possible trial of the president has changed a few things about the primary.
“Did Republicans lose Orange County for good?” by Andrew Desiderio
Democrats try to consolidate their Romney-to-Clinton voters.
“Trump amps up attacks on whistleblower as some Republicans call for more strategic response to impeachment,” by Toluse Olorunnipa and Ashley Parker
The real messaging war: the one between conservative media and nervous Republicans.
“Bernie Sanders is in trouble,” by Holly Otterbein
He's still raising money and drawing crowds, but this isn't where he hoped he'd be.
“Louisiana governor avoids tricky national issues,” by Melinda DeSlatte
How to run in a red state when your voters don't want to hear the president get attacked.
You can learn a lot about campaigns’ standing by what they don’t say. In the days after the House began its impeachment inquiry, Republicans claimed to have raised more than $15 million — $8.5 million for the Trump campaign alone in just two days. It was boosted by a 90-second digital ad, high-octane rage material urging conservatives to “stop this nonsense” over clips of Democrats explaining why they impeached. And on Tuesday, the campaign told the Associated Press that its joint fundraising with the RNC had piled up $125 million over the quarter — breaking records, thanks in part to the impeachment push.
Democrats haven’t said anything about their fundraising. Some campaigns refuse to say whether they saw particular boosts on particular days, and the Biden campaign offered no hint of its post-whistleblower fundraising, apart from a donor email warning that “Joe won’t have as much cash as Trump when the fundraising deadline hits.” There is no paid “covering fire” for Biden, or any Democrats; there is plenty for Republicans. The Republican National Committee has said it will spend $10 million on digital advertising that accuses Democrats of eschewing real work for “more hearings” — even, in the case of Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.), if they don’t support impeachment. The Congressional Leadership Fund is buying digital ads attacking some of the same members, describing impeachment itself as too divisive.
“Instead of working across the aisle to fix Washington, [Rep. Elissa] Slotkin is now pushing a radical scheme to impeach President Trump,” goes one ad running online in the freshman Democrat’s Michigan district.
Democrats are not yet doing much to defend their members. DNC chief executive Seema Nanda has urged Facebook not to let misinformation about the story play across its platform, something the social network has done to conspiracy sites but not political campaigns. At the same time, the committee is buying some Facebook ads, though it did not state the cost of the buy by Thursday afternoon.
But Need to Impeach, the grass-roots group founded and funded by Tom Steyer (who has stepped away from it to run for president), said Tuesday that it would spend $3.1 million on ads pressuring Senate Republicans in purple states: Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
MIke DeBonis contributed reporting.
For more of the latest on the impeachment inquiry:
- Pompeo, Democrats trade threats over impeachment depositions
- Trump amps up attacks on whistleblower as some Republicans call for more strategic response to impeachment
- Barr personally asked foreign officials to aid inquiry into CIA, FBI activities in 2016
- The Ukraine story appears to be hurting Trump — and possibly Biden, too
- Everything you need to know about how impeachment works
Bernie Sanders, “Fights for Us.” The first TV ad of the senator's 2020 bid comes one month earlier than his first 2016 ad; there's obviously much less need for him to make an introduction this year, but there's more competition. Unlike the first spot from the last campaign, this one starts with Sanders's own voice, describing how childhood struggles affected his life. "Whether it was Wall Street, the drug companies or other special interests, Bernie has taken them on for us," a narrator says. The campaign has reserved $1.3 million worth of airtime for the spot.
John Bel Edwards, “Bipartisan.” Louisiana's Democratic governor is running for reelection less as a Democrat than as the guy who cleaned things up after two terms of Bobby Jindal, a Republican whom even Republicans have largely disowned.
“Two-thirds of the Republican-led legislature voted to fund TOPS [Taylor Opportunity Program for Students], save our hospitals and raise teacher pay,” says Republican state Sen. John Alario. “And Governor Edwards was willing to work with anyone committed to that goal,” says Richard Lipsey, a member of the board of regents. The closing message: Edwards did his best, so why throw him out?
Ralph Abraham, “It Ends.” A small problem for Republicans in Louisiana's race for governor is that the governor expanded Medicaid, and it has been popular. Neither Abraham nor business executive Eddie Rispone, the two Republicans competing for a runoff slot, say they would undo that expansion. Abraham has instead focused on the hasty implementation of the expansion, referring here to “tens of thousands of people in Medicaid who didn't even qualify” being added to the rolls.
In Louisiana, and in most red and purple states, the case against the expansion (which the Supreme Court made optional for states as part of its 2012 ruling on the health-care law) has been to cast Medicaid as a program for only the indigent, arguing that it is a failure of governance if people need to get onto a “government plan” instead of getting insurance through their jobs.
Should President Trump be impeached and removed from office? (CNN-SSRS, 1,009 adults)
Yes — 47%
No — 45%
In every poll since last week, support for impeachment has pulled into the 40s: not always a majority but usually a plurality. CNN's poll asks the question in the starkest way, one that fewer voters are comfortable with, and it finds a higher level of support than any call for any recent president's impeachment. The same poll, in 1998, never found support for impeaching Bill Clinton higher than support for censure or dropping the matter entirely. Polls during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama presidencies tended to find only hardcore partisan support for impeaching those presidents, never higher than the 30s.
Is asking a foreign leader for election help a good enough reason to impeach? (Quinnipiac, 1,115 registered voters)
Yes — 52%
No — 38%
All but the most loyal Trump voters describe this as reason enough to remove a president: The margin is 20 points for independents, five points for white voters and five points for all men. Only Republicans (17 percent), white men (42 percent) and white voters without college degrees (38 percent) oppose the idea that the president should be impeached if he leaned on a foreign leader for campaign dirt.
What are congressional Democrats' goals in the impeachment inquiry? (CBS News-YouGov, 2,059 adults)
Damage the president and harm his reelection — 53%
Protect American interests and investigate — 47%
Democrats were terrified of many things in the nine months before they moved toward an impeachment inquiry: conservative backlash, betting on facts that got debunked, being seen as reflexively partisan. The first polling on that last question does find that independents are more likely to see impeachment (or even exploring it) as a political act — and this is what Republicans have grabbed onto.
Did Joe Biden put pressure on Ukranian officials to lay off his son? (Monmouth, 1,161 registered voters)
Probably did — 42%
Probably didn't — 37%
To Democrats' dismay, whether they want Biden to be the nominee, the Trump administration and conservative media mobilized quickly after last week's whistleblower revelations, urging voters to ask whether Joe Biden was behaving ethically. No reporting has turned up evidence that Biden, who has spoken about the pressure he put on Ukraine to sack an incompetent prosecutor, made moves that directly helped his son, Hunter Biden, when he worked for a state energy company. But with just a week of accusations, including TV advertising, some of that messaging has sunk in with its intended, partisan audience.
New Hampshire. Corey Lewandowski, the first of Donald Trump's three campaign managers, said Tuesday that he was unlikely to run for U.S. Senate in 2020.
“As much as I think I would be a great fighter for the people of New Hampshire, and one U.S. senator can make a difference, it is my priority to make sure the president of United States is reelected,” Lewandowski said on “New Hampshire Today,” a radio talk show.
Democrats had been salivating at the chance of challenging Lewandowski, who was popular with Republicans but had no obvious support from independents. National Republicans had grown bearish on the race after Gov. Chris Sununu opted not to run. Republicans still have a competitive primary, with former state House speaker Bill O'Brien running as the conservative loyalist.
“We didn't get into this without having surveyed the voters, and we found that [incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen] was struggling to get above 50 percent when we mentioned some of the things she has done and not done,” O'Brien said in a recent interview. “We find her falling back into the 40s when you talk about her vote on the Born Alive Act, when you talk about her opposition to the administration's tax relief.”
South Carolina. Two moderate Republicans are suing the South Carolina GOP over its decision to cancel the 2020 party primary, and former governor Mark Sanford — one of the president's three primary challengers — is welcoming it. Bob Inglis, a former congressman who lost a 2010 primary challenge to Trey Gowdy, is one of the plaintiffs; he told the Charleston Post & Courier that the state GOP denied “our voice in defining what the Republican Party is and who it supports.”
Sanford, who has adjusted to the decision by campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire, also welcomed the lawsuit, which cites previous party rules (in years without incumbent presidents) to argue that voters are being denied fair choices. “The State Executive Committee has chosen which candidate to support by fiat, and in doing so, excluded Republican voters from the process entirely — in violation of the law and its own rule,” the lawsuit reads.
For the next two weeks, the Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns — nearly two dozen of them — will be releasing their total fundraising from the start of July to the end of September. Full disclosure isn't necessary until Oct. 15, the day of the fourth debate, but there's a lot of strategy involved with this: It's in the interest of some campaigns to bury their totals and in the interest of others to find the moment when they could command the news cycle, even for a few hours.
So far, just four campaigns have revealed their third-quarter hauls.
Bernie Sanders. After a few weeks of “whither Sanders?” coverage, the campaign took a victory lap: It raised $25.3 million in the same quarter that it reached 1 million individual donors. In three months, 1.4 million donations had flowed into the campaign and more than 3.3 million had come since February, when Sanders entered the race.
“Media elites and professional pundits have tried repeatedly to dismiss this campaign, and yet working-class Americans keep saying loudly and clearly that they want a political revolution,” campaign manager Faiz Shakir said in a statement. As in many of his statements, there was a reminder that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) would not make the same no-fundraisers promise if she became the party's nominee.
Sanders's total was the highest of any Democratic candidate so far, in any fundraising quarter. It was also slightly less than his haul from the third quarter of 2015, when he raised $26.2 million, establishing himself as a real competitor to Hillary Clinton.
Pete Buttigieg. He raised $19.1 million in the third quarter, down slightly from the $24.8 million he raised in the previous three months, a sum that immediately cemented him as a top-tier candidate. If Sanders's total surprised Democrats, who had wondered whether he was fading, so did Buttigieg's; he has fallen slightly in some trial heats of the early states, though his favorable numbers have been rising as he becomes better known.
Cory Booker. After a high-profile push for $1.7 million, Booker raised a bit more than $6 million; $2.2 million of that came after his emergency plea. Without the do-or-die campaign, Booker was still on track to raise more than the $4.5 million he put together in the second quarter; with the new money, the campaign intends to hire 40 more staffers.
Kamala Harris. She raised $11.6 million in the third quarter, better than some Democrats expected after a bad second debate seemed to slow down her campaign. She also promoted two staffers, Rohini Kosoglu and senior adviser Laphonza Butler, in a minor campaign shake-up after a few weeks of sluggish poll numbers.
And for the Democrats who haven't released their totals yet …
Tulsi Gabbard. The last 2020 Democrat to come out for an impeachment inquiry, Gabbard has criticized other candidates for raising money off it. “Candidates for POTUS who are fundraising off 'impeachment' are undermining credibility of inquiry in eyes of American people, further dividing our already fractured country,” she wrote on Twitter. “Please stop. We need responsible, patriotic leaders who put the interests of our country before their own.” So far, just a handful of Democrats have released impeachment-related fundraising appeals: Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Steve Bullock.
Elizabeth Warren. She welcomed a story in the Verge about Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, who told employees that a Warren victory would “suck for us” and that if she tried to break up the company, “then I would bet that we will have a legal challenge, and I would bet that we will win the legal challenge.”
“Zuckerberg himself said Facebook is 'more like a government than a traditional company,'” Warren tweeted. “They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, undermined our democracy, and tilted the playing field against everyone else.”
Amy Klobuchar. She made her first campaign stop in Seattle, albeit to a smaller crowd than the one Warren spoke to last month. “I’ve got a plan, yes,” she told voters at a crowded coffee shop. “But it’s got deadlines.”
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