In this edition: How Nevada explains the Bernie Sanders renaissance, why 2016 will never end, and why campaign ads are starting to change.
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CARSON CITY, Nev. — Bernie Sanders was ready for questions, but there was a catch: The first would go to “a gentleman I met a few months ago.” John Weigel, a Navy veteran suffering from Huntington’s disease, got up unsteadily and began thanking the senator from Vermont, who’d personally intervened to help with a medical bill so large that Weigel had contemplated suicide.
“I only have to pay $29.50 a month, from when they canceled my insurance without my knowledge,” said Weigel (no relation to this newsletter's author). “So, thank you for rescuing me.”
Sanders gave him a hug and politely refused to take the flight jacket Weigel had brought him as a gift. “When brave people like John put their lives on the line to defend our country, when they come home, they will receive the best quality health care that this country can provide,” he said.
It was a warm moment, it led local news, and it grew organically from the Sanders strategy to win Nevada. The senator from Vermont has poured money into organizing, just like in other early states, with the campaign planning to hire its 100th Nevada staffer by this weekend. And just like in other early states, Sanders focuses his speeches on voters with something to lose.
That means young voters panicked about climate change, immigrants nervous about growing racism, and working-class voters — white and otherwise — who saw Medicare-for all as their best chance to get reliable insurance. (The people most intrigued by Pete Buttigieg or Elizabeth Warren were more likely to have private insurance already.) Many tuned out the last election other than the Sanders campaign, and many of them are tuning out the noise this time, confident that there’s only one trustworthy candidate.
“When I look at the debate stage, it’s like: Hillary Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Ronald Reagan and Bernie Sanders,” said Mike McHaney, 19, as he waited for Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats in the Senate, to speak in Reno. He clarified that former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts were the latest iterations of Clinton; South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, was the “Republican lite.”
Nevada, which was added to the Democrats’ early-state calendar in 2008, has spent every election so far as an afterthought, a tight contest between the whittling of New Hampshire and the drama of South Carolina. There are 11 long days between New Hampshire’s primary and this state’s caucuses, the biggest gap in the February calendar. And nonwhite voters make up 40 percent of the electorate, putting the state closer to the Democratic Party's demographics than the first two states, where candidates will spend the most time and money.
A Post average of state polling since November has found a race that mirrors the national numbers: Biden in the lead, Warren trailing by single digits, and Buttigieg on the rise. But the results in Iowa and New Hampshire could reshape things, and Sanders, in particular, sees the potential for a breakthrough. For longtime Sanders supporters, Nevada was the state that got away, with voters who seemed receptive to the senator in 2016 and a campaign that had not been ready to exploit that.
According to the 2016 entrance poll of caucusgoers, Sanders won Latino voters by eight points and won white voters without college degrees by the same margin. Tick Segerblom, a Clark County commissioner who led Sanders’s shortlist of 2016 endorsers, saw a “night and day” difference between that campaign and this one.
“Four years ago he really didn’t have the resources to commit to Nevada,” Segerblom said. “At this time, they were still debating whether to go all in or not. Hillary was so lucky, given the timing, because he had the popular support here but not enough time to organize it.”
In one metric, endorsements, Sanders has struggled to improve over what he did four years ago. Segerblom, a state co-chair of the campaign, is his most prominent supporter; former assemblywoman Lucy Flores, a key 2016 surrogate, has since moved to California. While the powerful Culinary Union Local 226 had stayed neutral in 2016, hurting Clinton, it was not a natural ally for Sanders; its members used forums with Sanders and Warren to voice their worries about Medicare-for-all replacing union health insurance plans. And there are long and unhappy memories of what happened in 2016, when Sanders delegates accused the party of fraud at a raucous state convention, none of it endearing party leaders to his supporters.
Those supporters don't really care. In conversations around Sanders's northern Nevada rallies, they frequently spoke with contempt about the party's establishment.
“I haven't been as involved this time, because I've been a little bit sour over last time,” said Mike Jones, 38, who had been a delegate to that convention. “I'm just kind of now getting back out. What's good is that I don't think there's a candidate that they” — party leaders — “want to rally around. I don't think they want Bernie to win, but I don't know that they've gone out of their way to stop him.”
Sanders's stump speech, which has changed from four years ago only by adding more left-wing goals, channels that frustration — Sanders's opponents range from naive to corrupt. Every Democratic candidate talks about immigration reform, but Sanders talks about a moratorium on deportation; every Democrat talks about taxing corporations, but Sanders talks more about dismantling them.
“When you are taking on the power of Wall Street, and you're taking on the power of the insurance companies and the drug companies and the fossil fuel industry and the military industrial complex and the prison industrial complex and the whole 1 percent, you are taking on people who have seen unbelievable amounts of money,” he said in Carson City. “They control the economy. They own the media.”
In other early states, the Sanders campaign has tried to expand the electorate by reaching nontraditional voters and by registering people who like Sanders but hadn't signed up. Nevada, however, has same-day registration and a Democratic trifecta in state government — the only one in the four early states — keeping the voting laws expansive. Democrats did not talk about Nevada like it could define the race. But more than Iowa or New Hampshire, it could prove whether the Sanders strategy is working at scale, ready to be expanded into the next 47 states.
The latest volley in the fast-moving disclosure wars.
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Plenty of Democratic endorsements are up for grabs with the Californian gone.
The rise of Jaime Harrison and how Lindsey Graham caused it.
“What does this country demand of black women in politics?" by Lisa Lerer and Jennifer Medina
Hard feelings after a historic-looking campaign faltered.
DEMS IN DISARRAY
Three years ago, Howard Stern repeatedly pleaded with Hillary Clinton's campaign, arguing that an interview with him could introduce her to new voters. She passed then but agreed to a sit-down last week. It was a hit and, like much of what Clinton does, it started a new fight over the last presidential election. Egged on by Stern, Clinton said that Bernie Sanders wounded her campaign by taking so long to concede.
“He hurt me,” she said. “There's no doubt about it, and I hope he doesn't do it again to whoever gets the nomination. Once is enough.”
Sanders did not respond until an interview with Iowa Press's David Yepsen, in which he chastised Clinton for “rerunning 2016" and causing more division.
“I could take out a letter from Hillary Clinton saying, 'Thank you Bernie for working so hard to try to make me the President of the United States,' " Sanders said.
It was true: After he left the race, Sanders pursued an aggressive schedule of campaign rallies on Clinton's behalf, telling often-skeptical crowds that a Clinton win was their best hope for changing the Supreme Court and attacking climate change. It's also true that Sanders took longer than other defeated candidates to end his campaign. Like so much of Democratic politics after 2016, defeat turned something that might have been forgotten into something that has festered.
Clinton in 2008 and Sanders, in 2016 both ran primary campaigns through the entire calendar. In 2008, Barack Obama built a slim delegate lead over Clinton on Super Tuesday, when a record 24 states held primaries or caucuses. But Clinton mounted a comeback in the first March primaries, and it was clear that any nominee would need unpledged, or “superdelegates,” to win the nomination. After splitting the final two primaries with Obama, in June — he won Montana, while she won South Dakota — Clinton waited until a weekend rally in Washington to concede the race, declaring that her voters had made “18 million cracks” in the glass ceiling.
In 2016, Sanders fell behind faster than Clinton had in the 2008 delegate race. That was thanks largely to her landslides in the Super Tuesday states dominated by black voters. He recovered momentum with an upset win in Michigan, followed by routs in western caucus states. But he never threatened Clinton’s delegate lead, and by May, he developed a strategy to overperform in the final primaries — most importantly, California — and convince superdelegates that they had backed the wrong front-runner.
“If their role is just to rubber-stamp the pledged-delegate count then they really aren't needed,” Sanders's 2016 campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, said at the time. “They're supposed to exercise independent judgment about who they think can lead the party forward to victory.”
It didn’t work. Clinton bested Sanders in California, sealing the nomination, having built a decisive majority with pledged delegates and a landslide majority with superdelegates. Sanders pushed ahead, seeking a consolation prize that Clinton had not cared about in 2008: influence over the Democratic platform. On June 16, 2016, two days after losing the final primary (in the District of Columbia), Sanders told supporters he would focus on changing the party. Not until July 12 did Sanders concede the race. Unlike Clinton, who released her delegates at the convention, Sanders got a roll-call vote.
For Sanders supporters, who are exhausted by the return of 2016 questions, the timeline itself doesn't explain how unfairly their candidate gets treated. A bloc of Clinton's diehard supporters labeled themselves PUMAs (or “Party Unity, My A—”), and the most press-curious among them actually campaigned for the Republican ticket. Clinton's convention speech in 2008 acknowledged some of the bitterness in her base: “Whether you voted for me, or voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose.” And Democrats were universally happy with the changes Sanders delegates made to the platform.
But there was less disruption at and around the convention by Clinton supporters than there would be by Sanders supporters. The first major release of hacked DNC emails came as the convention began, forcing the resignation of then-DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and fueling a dramatic walkout during Clinton's nomination. The ill feelings could have faded had Clinton won. But she didn't, hence the bitterness that spills out more than three years later.
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Mike Bloomberg, “On the Economy.” The third ad in 2019's biggest TV campaign sells Bloomberg as the creator of “over 400,000 jobs” who will create an “opportunity economy.” Bloomberg's happy distance from the Democratic Party's arguments is on display throughout: He's offering “lower-cost health care” and “affordable middle class housing,” not the comprehensive social change of Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.
Elizabeth Warren, “Not Afraid.” The senator's ads in Iowa, up to now, have been issue-specific. She ran a standard biographical spot only once, during the Iowa State-University of Iowa football game. This is a switch: Warren leads with her experience as a consumer advocate, culminating in Barack Obama's decision (at odds with some in his administration) to elevate her to consumer adviser after the financial crisis. It's the first time footage of Obama that has appeared in ads for one of Joe Biden's close competitors.
Pete Buttigieg, “Veterans.” The mayor's experience as a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan has been a theme in many of his ads. This is the first one to expand that focus, with footage of Buttigieg in uniform and a testimony to his character from a fellow veteran. “Pete's service, like mine, was with people from all walks of life,” he says. “Pete has shown an ability to unite this country after years of divisiveness.” It's the first spot to emphasize Buttigieg's new support from VoteVets and emphasizes how that part of his biography is not about war stories, but about how he can relate to people who aren't like him.
Favorable/unfavorable ratings for Democratic candidates (Monmouth, 838 voters)
Joe Biden: 43/50 ( 0 change since November)
Bernie Sanders: 41/53 ( 0)
Elizabeth Warren: 40/50 (-8)
Pete Buttigieg: 34/35 ( 6)
Mike Bloomberg: 26/54 ( 0)
Andrew Yang: 25/28 ( 0)
The past few weeks of infighting have obscured something about Democratic voters: They really like most of their candidates for president, even though most of the country is cool to them. Since last month, Elizabeth Warren's sky-high favorables with Democrats have fallen by a net of nine points; that has left her the most popular candidate among Democrats but eroded her general-election numbers. And the president remains more strongly disliked than any of the four potential challengers who are polling highest in their primary: 47 percent of voters view him “very” unfavorably to only 39 percent for Warren and Sanders.
The outlier is Bloomberg, who has spent more on national TV ads than any competitor. His favorable rating is basically even among Democrats (his competitors' net favorable ratings in the party are 50, or better), which produces the two-to-one negative rating seen here.
2020 general election (Quinnipiac, 1,533 registered voters)
Joe Biden: 51%
Donald Trump: 42% ( 2)
Bernie Sanders: 51% ( 2)
Donald Trump: 43% ( 1)
Elizabeth Warren: 50% ( 1)
Donald Trump: 43% ( 2)
Mike Bloomberg: 48%
Donald Trump: 42%
Pete Buttigieg: 48% (-1)
Donald Trump: 43% ( 3)
Amy Klobuchar: 47%
Donald Trump: 43%
A perpetual problem for Amy Klobuchar's campaign has been trying to make an “electability” argument while few pollsters bother testing her against the president in a general-election matchup. Quinnipiac's polling demonstrates another problem: Voters don't know as much about the candidates who they're hearing less about and, naturally, are less frequently asked about in polls. It's a vicious circle that other candidates never escaped from, though Iowa Democrats try not to govern themselves by national polls.
IN THE STATES
Florida. Four-term Republican Rep. Ted Yoho will retire in 2020, keeping a pledge he made to serve just four terms. (Yoho had defeated Cliff Stearns, a 24-year incumbent, to win his seat.) His 3rd Congressional District, around Gainesville, is not particularly competitive; Barack Obama lost it by 10 points while winning Florida, and Hillary Clinton lost it by 16 points while losing the state overall.
Texas. Filing for the March 3 primary closed this week, ending one of the first speculative questions about the 2020 Senate map: Beto O’Rourke will not run for U.S. Senate. Democrats fielded candidates in all the state's legislative districts — a legacy of the party's 2018 surge, helped by O'Rourke's current advocacy for downballot candidates.
There was a flowering of candidates everywhere, from the Democrats' crowded, O'Rourke-less Senate primary, to the suburban House seats both parties now see as competitive. Pierce Bush, the latest member of his family to jump into politics, filed in the 22nd Congressional District in Houston’s outer suburbs, a last-minute move after considering a run in the Democratic-held 7th District. (One of Bush's competitors, Kathaleen Wall, ran in a different district herself last year.) In the 24th District, Democrats set up a competition between retired Air Force Col. Kim Olson (who won the district in a 2018 statewide bide), Candace Valenzuela (who has the support of Emily's List), and Jan McDowell (who lost the seat in a 2018 bid).
The doors to the sixth Democratic debate slam shut Thursday, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii won't try to budge them. On Monday night, Gabbard tweeted that she'd “decided not to attend” the debate, which she referred to in scare quotes, and would “instead choose to spend that precious time directly meeting with and hearing from the people of New Hampshire and South Carolina.”
It was the second time that Gabbard issued a threat to not appear in the debates, which she won't be invited to without one more qualifying poll. (Repeat after me: 4 percent in any four polls, or 6 percent in two early-state polls). At that time, in October, Gabbard warned that the Democratic National Committee was posing a “serious threat to our democracy” through its aggressive gatekeeping, counting some polls but not others. But she dropped that threat and headed to debates in Texas, Ohio and Georgia, settling into a role as an opponent of “regime change wars” who asked whether her rivals could be trusted to command the military.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Gabbard was one poll short of making this month's debate. That's a reflection of her struggle to grow beyond her odd-bedfellows base of anti-establishment left-wingers and Republicans who've enjoyed her scraps with Democrats. In the seven weeks since Hillary Clinton told a podcaster that Republicans were “grooming” Gabbard to run as a spoiler candidate, the Hawaiian has faded from the Democrats' conversation.
Bernie Sanders. He won the biggest endorsement on offer from the activist left, with members of the Center for Popular Democracy Action voting to support him over Elizabeth Warren by a 3-to-1 margin. The CPD grew from the splinters of ACORN, the community organizing group broken by an undercover sting 10 years ago.
“A thing that really shifted the endorsement process was the release of Bernie’s platform on immigration,” said the CPD's co-executive director, Ana María Archila. “It made a very specific, clear commitment to put a moratorium on deportations from Day 1. That opened the doors for people to take the campaign more seriously, but he had already worked closely with our affiliates on health-care reform and on making housing a human right.”
Before the immigration position announcement, CPD activists were fairly split between Sanders and Warren.
Pete Buttigieg. He announced that his fundraisers would be open to the media, which seemed to conclude a transparency competition he'd been engaged in with Warren. (Nothing's stopping them from fighting again next week.) Events in Manhattan and Maryland will kick off the policy, and the Democratic Socialists of America and the Sunrise Movement, two groups backing Sanders, announced plans to protest the events.
Joe Biden. He was backed by the “Reckoning Crew,” grass-roots organizers in South Carolina who had supported Kamala Harris until her exit from the race.
Elizabeth Warren. Another week, another plan: The latest is the Blue New Deal, an environmental plan focused on the health and sustainability of oceans and aquatic life.
Mike Bloomberg. He picked up the support of San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who had been supporting Harris before her campaign ended.
Julián Castro. He was scheduled to hold a town hall in Des Moines on Tuesday night, asking whether Iowa should still hold the first Democratic contest.
Deval Patrick. He made another campaign swing through South Carolina on Tuesday and sat for a Snapchat interview.
Tulsi Gabbard. She told the Hill's “Rising” interview show that Pete Buttigieg could have “chosen to work anywhere” but decided to make money at a consulting firm, a strike against him.
Marianne Williamson. She mistakenly tweeted about her opposition to President Trump's posthumous pardon of Charles Manson. No such pardon occurred, except on a satirical news site.
... two days until the qualifying deadline for the sixth Democratic debate
... four days until runoff elections in Houston
... nine days until the sixth Democratic debate
... 55 days until the Iowa caucuses
... 63 days until the New Hampshire primary
... 74 days until the Nevada caucuses