In this edition: Chaos reigns in the Democratic primary, left-wing candidates count their election wins, and a Pennsylvania poll has more signs of trouble for the president.
If you're reading this you have less than 23 hours to file for the New Hampshire primary, and this is The Trailer.
CONCORD, N.H. — In his first minutes as a candidate for president, former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick set his ground rules. He would not be “trying to climb up by pulling anybody else down.” He would make “contrasts,” giving voters the information they needed to distinguish him from 16 other Democratic candidates.
Those contrasts did not have to be nice. Joe Biden seemed to be saying “that if we just get rid of the incumbent, we can go back to doing what we used to do,” Patrick said. Elizabeth Warren, who he was “incredibly fond” of, was running a great campaign that absolutely would not prepare her for the presidency.
“I think the actual business of advancing an agenda, once elected, is a different kind of undertaking,” Patrick told dozens of reporters crowded into the New Hampshire secretary of state's office.
Patrick, whose initial decision to not run for president did not stop allies from urging him on, spent Thursday reintroducing himself as a pragmatist who could stitch together his party and the country. In doing so he divided Democrats even further. The most crowded primary in American history now has, depending on who you ask, two or three credible left-wing contenders, four or five credible center-left candidates, and either one, two or three “front-runners.”
Allies of Sen Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) believe that Patrick could pull voters from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), former vice president Biden and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg — anyone at the top but Sanders. Some centrists think that Patrick could offer a pull-the-alarm option if Biden falters, and some worry that he can only further split their vote and widen the opening for Warren or Sanders.
On Wednesday morning, Democrats on the left were worrying that a Warren-Sanders split would leave their movement without a nominee; by Thursday morning, the party's centrist wing seemed to be in disarray.
“If Biden were as strong as Hillary Clinton was in 2016, I would be concerned,” said Rep. Ro Khanna of California, a co-chair of the Sanders campaign. “But we're going to have the moderate vote split with Biden and Buttigieg and Booker and now Deval Patrick and Michael Bloomberg. I mean, look at the lines — they're a lot longer on their side than they are on the progressive side.”
There is nothing new about Democratic panic, but there is something different about the mood now, three months before the Iowa caucuses, than in previous cycles. In 2007 and 2015, the primary was simple: Everyone else was in a struggle to become the alternative to Hillary Clinton. A clear establishment-versus-outsider story line had been carved out. Labor unions and party leaders were well into picking their candidates. By this point in 2015, most of the largest labor unions had endorsed Clinton: the National Education Association, the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
None of those unions has made an endorsement yet, and leaders of all three have altered the process so that official candidate backing will come much later. It has become easier for candidates such as Patrick and former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has not yet officially entered the race, to pitch themselves as potential saviors to centrists, even as uncertainty ripples through the left. Tomorrow, Sanders will officially accept the endorsement of National Nurses United, three months later than its endorsement of his last campaign. Back then, the union had only one suitor; this year it got pitches from Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg.
“Last time there was just one candidate who backs our issues, so this was more difficult,” said Jean Ross, NNU’s co-president, who said it was largely positive for multiple left-wing candidates to seek the nomination. “I don’t think that can hurt so long as the principle is that health care is a human right. The others, you’ve seen them evolving toward something less, and something less will not work.”
Online, the debate between supporters of Sanders and Warren can grow bitter, something that has begun to worry groups that would be relatively happy with either as a nominee. But there is not much urgency on the left about making a choice before voting begins. The Center for Popular Democracy Action, which has held an endorsement process for a coalition of left-wing community groups, announced this week that Warren, Sanders and Julián Castro had all advanced to the next stage, with an endorsement possible, but not certain, next month.
“The purpose of this endorsement is to make sure a neoliberal does not win the nomination,” explained CPDA co-president Jennifer Epps-Addison. “We are thrilled and excited. Many of us have been waiting our whole lives to have just one progressive be considered a top contender, much less three.”
The tumult among the party's centrists — a hard term to define, but one donors are comfortable with — has bought the left some time. Patrick's maiden voyage to New Hampshire found the candidate making exactly the pitch made by Biden, Buttigieg, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) in early states, with the implicit argument that none of those candidates was running strong enough campaigns. At the state house, and during a visit to a cafe in Manchester, Patrick took questions about specific policies as cues to talk broadly about bringing the country together.
“I'm going to try to be a candidate with an ambitious agenda, but also some humility, because I think [no] one candidate, no one party has a corner and all the best ideas,” Patrick said in Concord. “As you draw on those ideas to sharpen and refine your own agenda, then I think we have not just a better chance of enacting that agenda, but having that agenda last.”
Over two long Q&As with reporters, Patrick previewed a campaign that could unleash more business-friendly money into the primary, something that could complicate the strategies of Biden et. al. while painting a bright target for the left. While Biden refused for years to endorse a super PAC on his behalf, Patrick said he would consider one right away.
“It'd be hard for me to see how we put all the resources together for an effective campaign without a PAC of some kind,” Patrick said. “I don't know what that is. I don't know where that will come from. And I wish it weren't so. I wish the campaigns weren't as expensive.”
That would leave Patrick and Biden as the only Democrats with super PACs, right before the expected start of a Bloomberg candidacy that would unleash tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising on behalf of another centrist. The idea for centrists is that Bloomberg or Patrick could offer an insurance policy in later-voting states if Biden fades; the read from more left-wing Democrats is that more easy targets are entering the race.
“It’s a really good thing for progressives that there are two transformative candidates speaking for the values of our movement,” said Joe Dinkin, a spokesman for the left-wing Working Families Party, which was pilloried by some on the left for endorsing Warren. “And it’s clear that the corporate-friendly candidates are in disarray.”
And then there were 17 (again).
“The sexism is getting sneakier,” by Megan Garber
How Elizabeth Warren became “angry.”
“Redistricting activists brace for wall of inaction as battle moves to states,” by Amy Gardner, Ted Mellnik and Adrian Blanco
How to undo a biased map when there's no court to make it official.
“Republicans discuss a longer Senate impeachment trial to scramble Democratic primaries,” by Robert Costa, Michael Scherer, and Seung Min Kim
The choice for the president's party: a short trial that ends his immediate political threat or a long one that traps six of his rivals in Washington.
“The difference between good and bad state polls, explained,” by Matthew Yglesias
One weird trick that pollsters keep doing to get flawed data.
WHAT I'M WATCHING
The final elections of 2019 will happen Saturday, in Louisiana, where conservative Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards is seeking a second term and where Republicans could secure a legislative supermajority. Victories for the GOP would end a mixed but largely positive year for Republicans in red states — a win in North Carolina’s soon-to-be-redrawn 9th Congressional District, a near-sweep of Kentucky’s statewide offices, and none of the upsets that cost the party seats in 2017 or 2018.
Down the ballot, especially in big cities, 2019 has also been a banner year for the left. The scope of its wins became clear in only the past few days, as California and Washington counted more ballots. Chesa Boudin, a public defender whose parents went to prison for their role in an armed heist, came out ahead in the race for San Francisco district attorney — the biggest and most resonant win for criminal justice reformers since the 2017 election of Philadelphia’s Larry Krasner. In Seattle, left-wing candidates routed business-friendly challengers backed by Amazon. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
From state to state, left-wing organizing in sometimes sleepy local elections paid off. Republicans made more gains in rural areas, like southwest Pennsylvania, but continued to lose power in suburbs or cities; the exceptions, like Jacksonville, Fla., sometimes came where Democrats simply failed to compete. But where they organized, via everything from the Working Families Party to Democratic Socialists of America to Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio's “canary candidates” program, more left-wing candidates prevailed. A rundown:
Chicago: In April, socialist-backed candidates won a string of city council elections: Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, Jeanette Taylor, Michael Rodriguez, Byron Sigcho-Lopez, Matt Martin, Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez, Andre Vasquez and Maria Hadden. The latter three unseated Democratic incumbents; all of them would go on to side with the city's teachers union in a fight with new Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
Denver: Candi CdeBaca, a self-described anarchist backed by the WFP, won a seat on the city council, joining disability rights activist Chris Hinds and formerly homeless activist Jamie Torres; in the city's school board elections, the left elected Tay Anderson and Brad Laurvick, backed by teachers unions. As Melanie Asmar wrote, the wins “could mean a departure from long-standing reform policies opposed by the union, including approving new independent charter schools and closing low-performing schools.”
Milwaukee: As in Denver, teacher-backed candidates swept races for the school board, even ousting the only incumbent who sought reelection.
Morgantown, W.Va.: The local branch of the Working Families Party elected seven city councilors in the college town that has become the bluest part of a very red state; one candidate, Zack Cruze, unseated an incumbent with a write-in campaign.
New York: Jumaane Williams prevailed in February's all-party race for public advocate; he won November's election, for the final two years in the job, by 56 points. Williams took over the job from now-Attorney General Letitia “Tish” James, two wins in a row for the left-wing WFP.
Phoenix: Carlos Garcia, an activist with the Puente Human Rights Movement (and campaigner against former Maricopa County Sherrif Joe Arpaio) won a seat on the city council.
Philadelphia: Left-wing incumbent city councilors such as Helen Gym won reelection; the Working Families Party, which took advantage of a law that requires two at-large council seats to be reserved for minor parties, ousted a Republican with city councilor-elect Kendra Brooks.
Seattle: Amazon's seven-figure intervention in city elections backfired dramatically, with even the incumbent city councilor who seemed most vulnerable — socialist Kshama Sawant — prevailing after late-arriving ballots were counted. Pro-labor, left-wing candidates now have a council supermajority and are considering whether to completely ban PAC donations by corporations that have foreign investors. If implemented, that would prevent another 2019-style intervention by Amazon.
The latest on the impeachment inquiry:
- Republicans’ conspiracy theories slam into sworn testimony in collision of divergent worlds
- No firsthand knowledge is GOP rallying cry in defense of Trump on impeachment
- Pelosi calls Trump’s actions ‘bribery’ as Democrats sharpen case for impeachment
- Fact-checking the opening day of the Trump impeachment hearings
- Podcast: Can He Do That? Your guide to the first public impeachment hearing
Elizabeth Warren, “Elizabeth Warren Stands Up to Billionaires.” Warren's campaign has run fewer ads than any close rival's — just one short cable buy in Iowa. Here, it's taking a page from Tom Steyer's “Need to Impeach” and running a spot only on a specific cable channel, to get a rise out of very specific viewers. (Steyer would hit Fox News; Warren is hitting CNBC.) The 60-second spot starts with Warren introducing her wealth tax then plays the complaints of four billionaires: Leon Cooperman, Joe Ricketts, Lloyd Blankfein and Peter Thiel.
John Delaney, “Real Solutions.” The first candidate to enter the race (28 months ago) will run his longest commercial — a 30-minute spot on Iowa TV markets, telling his business-to-politics biography and explaining why he entered the race. In it, he denounces “extreme partisanship,” pegging it as one of the main reasons he had to run: “How can 50 percent of the people be wrong 100 percent of the time?”
Pete Buttigieg, “Refreshing.” The Indiana mayor has continued to sharpen his criticism of Medicare-for-all legislation in TV spots. Criticism of the (unnamed) Democrats who want to replace private insurance with a single-payer plan is outsourced to Iowa voters. “We have to have people have the choice to keep their private health insurance or to go on the Medicare plan,” says one. “He seems sensible, not going to promise something that he cannot deliver,” says another.
Andrew Yang, “Paycheck.” One of Yang's first spots in New Hampshire returns to the original theme of his campaign, something emphasized a bit less in his other ads: the universal basic income of $1,000 per month.
2020 election in Pennsylvania (Muhlenberg, 410 registered voters)
Joe Biden — 53%
Donald Trump — 44%
Bernie Sanders — 50%
Donald Trump — 45%
Elizabeth Warren — 50%
Donald Trump — 45%
The latest Democratic panic was sparked by a New York Times-Siena poll that found every leading Democrat in a dead heat with the president in the three decisive 2016 states: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The Pennsylvania-based Muhlenberg poll finds each Democrat more clearly ahead of the president in the commonwealth, and at 50 percent. (Why that matters: Muhlenberg's final 2016 poll found a 44-to-40 lead for Clinton. She wound up with 47.5 percent of the vote, as a surge of undecideds for Trump and a scatter of third-party votes gave him a win with 48.2 percent.) Every Democrat is viewed more unfavorably than favorably, but not as much as Trump, or as Clinton, who was 25 points underwater in the final 2016 poll. Every Democrat loses white voters and by similar margins: Biden gets 46 percent of them, to 44 percent for Warren and Sanders. But Clinton won only 40 percent of those voters in 2016. With an electorate that resembled that year's, the president would be behind any challenger.
IN THE STATES
California. Cenk Uygur, the founder of the Young Turks liberal video network, appeared in paperwork for a candidacy in the state's 25th Congressional District — the one vacated this month by Democrat Katie Hill. Uygur declined to comment on the filing but promised an announcement on Thursday's prime-time show. Until now, Democrats in the swing seat, which has been trending blue, were consolidating around Assemblywoman Christy Smith.
Kentucky. Republican Gov. Matt Bevin conceded his race for a second term Thursday, nine days after losing to Democratic Attorney General Beshear. “We’re going to have a change in the governorship based on the vote of the people,” Bevin said at a news conference, as a recanvass, which he had asked for, was not finding any change in Beshear's 5,000 vote margin. “I’m not going to contest these numbers that have come in. It isn’t fair to throw that on our legislature.”
New York. Democrats got their first major recruit in the 2nd Congressional District, which is being vacated by Republican Rep. Peter King: city councilwoman and veteran Jackie Gordon. She got an endorsement from Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney, as 2018 nominee Liuba Gretchen Shirley, who lost a sleeper race by six points, continues to consider the race.
Utah. Jon Huntsman, who left the governor's office to become ambassador to China, then left that office to run for president, is reportedly leaving his post as ambassador to Russia to seek the Republican nomination for governor again.
The qualifying period for the November Democratic debates has closed, and 10 candidates made it: Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard and Tom Steyer. Only one candidate who qualified for last month's debate, and remains in the race, missed the cut: Julián Castro.
That wasn't a surprise, as polling had found Castro far below the 3 percent threshold. His hopes of hitting 4 percent in early states, another way to qualify, was also dashed: The race's only Latino candidate polled at 1 percent in the Nevada Independent's survey, the only one in that state before Wednesday's cutoff. Still, as of Thursday morning, a Facebook ad was still urging supporters to donate to Castro and help him make the stage.
“Quickly — NBC News just warned I could be cut from the next debates,” the ad read. “I need a massive surge of support to fund the ads I’ll need to spread my message and make the cut. Will you rush $15?”
Castro had already hit the 165,000 donation mark, the other metric for making the debates, which was irrelevant without the poll numbers. His campaign said that the Nov. 20 debate, co-sponsored by MSNBC and The Washington Post, would not determine whether the candidate still mattered.
“Whether it's immigration, police violence, housing, or other issues, Secretary Castro is shaping the debate, regardless of whether he's onstage,” said Castro spokesman Sawyer Hackett. “While the ground shifts under the front-runners, and billionaires buy their spot on stage, Secretary Castro is fighting for the most vulnerable communities, and telling truths other candidates are unwilling to speak.”
The impeachment hearings have brought a temporary pause to the Medicare-for-all debate, which has sometimes consumed the Democratic primary. Supporters of the policy are raring to defend it, though; Data for Progress, which partners with YouGov Blue to ask about candidate and policy strength, recently tested three different descriptions of how the policy could be financed.
Asked whether they might support a "tax on employers that requires them to pay for health care for every employee" as Elizabeth Warren laid out this month, 47.6 percent of voters supported it, while 36.2 percent were opposed. Asked about a "per-employee fee by employers to the Medicare system," 50.1 percent of voters were in favor, to 31.6 percent opposed. The least-popular option was a progressive tax starting on income above $29,000; 31.5 percent of voters supported it, to 51.7 percent opposed.
Joe Biden. He won the support of Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, who ended his own presidential campaign last month. Ryan, 46, had run a shoestring campaign that pitched him as a living embodiment of the Rust Belt working class; in an interview with MSNBC's “Morning Joe,” Ryan said that Biden could win voters such as those -- "blue-collar workers that we have to have if we’re going to beat Donald Trump." Two months earlier, Ryan had told a Bloomberg News reporter that Biden was "declining" and might be a weak candidate in the fall; he never retracted those remarks, but never otherwise criticized Biden.
Cory Booker. He was endorsed by New Hampshire state Rep. Gerri Cannon, the first transgender member of the legislature, who was elected last year.
Andrew Yang. He introduced a series of tech reforms, including a “Department of the Attention Economy” which would regulate how distracting devices affect children, and a “Digital Bill of Rights” to help users retain control of their data.
Bernie Sanders. He introduced a Green New Deal for Public Housing, the first specific legislation to grow out of the nonbinding Green New Deal resolution, alongside Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, which would spend more than $170 billion to retrofit low-income housing. Meanwhile, an analysis by the left-wing magazine In These Times found that MSNBC, nominally the most liberal of the cable networks, had been more negative on Sanders than many other candidates.
Elizabeth Warren. Her campaign stepped up its billionaire-trolling effort with a new “Billionaire Tears” mug, commemorating a CNBC interview in which Leon Cooperman got weepy talking about her criticism of the extremely wealthy. “Savor a warm, slightly salty beverage of your choice in this union-made mug as you contemplate all the good a wealth tax could do,” the campaign wrote.
... one day until filing closes for the New Hampshire primary
... two days until Louisiana's runoff elections
... three days until Nevada's “First in the West” party dinner
... six days until the fifth Democratic debate
... 81 days until the Iowa caucuses
... 89 days until the New Hampshire primary