In this edition: What veterans of the shuttered presidential campaigns think of the race now, why a new Senate candidate in Kentucky says he can run left to win, and why this Iran fight doesn't sound like previous foreign policy disputes.

No, you're the one refreshing the Des Moines Register homepage until their new poll comes out, and this is The Trailer.

Last week, when former HUD secretary Julián Castro ended his presidential campaign, the Democratic primary passed a milestone. More candidates had dropped out of the race than remained in it. The most crowded primary in modern political history was down to 14 candidates, as the party grew nervous that neither a nonwhite candidate nor a governor made it to the top tier of the final group. 

This week, I contacted veterans of four folded-up campaigns to ask for their assessment of the race — the one we've got now, and the one they thought they were entering a year ago. Joining this conversation, in order of when their candidates dropped out, were Jared Goldberg-Leopold, senior communications adviser for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee; Meredith Kelly, communications director for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York; Ian Sams, national press secretary for Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California; and Sawyer Hackett, communications director for Castro. The conversation has been lightly edited.

DAVID WEIGEL: What was the first thing that surprised you last year, after the campaigns had all started?

MEREDITH KELLY: I think what surprised me most, having just come off of the midterm elections, was how early the campaigns launched and hit the ground running. I personally was pretty worn out from the 2018 fight and I thought primary voters probably were, too. (That was at least my earliest surprise. Many more came later.)

JARED GOLDBERG-LEOPOLD: I was surprised by how many candidates there were. Almost everyone who was a “maybe” turned into a “yes.” And some of the “nos” (Bloomberg, Steyer), ended up becoming “yeses.” I expected a wide field — but this was even wider than I expected. 

SAWYER HACKETT: This is probably a common answer but I was genuinely surprised at how many candidates ultimately ran. Speculation is one thing, but most that speculated ended up running. 

MK: Definitely. And it mattered. The sheer number impacted strategy, especially when you started to consider polling and debate qualifying rules.

IAN SAMS: Jared’s and Sawyer’s point is a good one. The sheer number of candidates was overwhelming. I think it hastened the fatigue many voters have felt during 2019 about the primary. But I was also surprised by how some of those candidates who we all thought would be pretty formidable — Beto [O'Rourke], [Cory] Booker, Gillibrand (sorry, Meredith) — ended up not catching fire. There was so much talent, and so many great options for voters, that I think people were overwhelmed — and some of the names everyone speculated would be in the top five come Iowa never got the oxygen they needed to take off.

DW: What’s a specific way that affected your strategies? From my perspective, as a reporter, I remember it meaning there were literally too many candidates to pack into every story.

MK: I think the number of candidates forced campaigns to focus strategies on nationalizing, and nationalizing quickly. I know that sounds silly because it’s a presidential race, but it’s the difference between focusing on the Des Moines Register vs. what CNN will deem worthy of being viral. I think the number of candidates led to limitations on coverage and who could get on the debate stage, which led to strategies focused on nationalizing.

IS: One, you never really had a firm grasp of who your primary competition was in a “lane.” At various points, it felt like Kamala had to compete with Pete [Buttigieg], [Elizabeth] Warren, Gillibrand, Booker, [Joe] Biden, Beto… It was just so crowded that you could never really zero in on which candidate was the one you needed to “take out.” (Not literally. … This isn’t “The Irishman.”) That also complicated how you planned oppo, where you were really dedicating energy to campaign or seek endorsements, etc. It was just so big and so chaotic. Two, I couldn’t agree more with Meredith. The size of the field put a premium on attention. And in this environment, attention comes from cable news, primarily. Or Twitter (often unfortunately). You wanted to suck up as much oxygen as you can in the limited space media dedicated to primary coverage — made even more complicated by Trump’s dominance of coverage. 

JGL: For us, it meant that we couldn’t focus on being everything to everybody. I learned quickly that we weren’t going to get into every political story. But we could make lots of news with climate press and climate activists. That ended up being more fruitful than chasing a quote in the 26th paragraph of a catchall NYT or WaPo story. 

IS: I actually give Elizabeth Warren a lot of credit for a successful policy-driven strategy of commanding attention and coverage. The constant release of her “plans” guaranteed her near-daily coverage, which led to grass-roots enthusiasm and contributions, and helped her steadily grow her standing by taking the spotlight. Jared, don’t dismiss the 26th graf quote. People have made their careers locking down that spot.

MK: Yes, couldn’t agree with Jared more. We focused on the fact that Kirsten has been a fighter for women and families her whole career and tried to lead the conversation on issues that fit into that lane. So Inslee’s climate was Kirsten’s reproductive rights and paid family leave. It worked for both of them (to some extent) because they were issues that they had credibility on. Some said it felt narrow, but with such a large primary you needed to try and build from some base of support. 

JGL: I also agree with Meredith and Ian. In many ways, 2020 is the Cable News Primary. MSNBC and CNN are the biggest pipelines into voters’ living rooms. That’s due to a combination of two factors: the hyper-political awareness of Democrats in the Trump era and the unfortunate decline of local media. I firmly believe that we made more news in Iowa with an MSNBC prime-time hit than a front-page story in the Des Moines Register. (As a print journalism major, that makes me sad, too.)

SH: I also think every campaign was facing these dynamics differently. Working for a candidate who wasn’t deemed a “front-runner” from the start meant we were forced to maximize opportunities to showcase why we were different — pushing immigration and social justice issues, traveling to unique communities, not being shy on contrast early on in debates.

DW: What was the most hopeful, optimistic, “maybe we can win this” moment from the campaign?

IS: After the Miami debate, hands down. I remember everyone was walking into those debates unsure of what would happen, who would do well, what the dynamics would be. And I watched Kamala — a junior senator who was largely unknown nationally — go out and not only go toe-to-toe with the front-runner, VP Biden, but really command leadership of the stage. It was a lightning bolt kind of night. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a debate performance that, in the moment, was so strong.

JGL The most optimistic moment was the first week of the campaign. We got four to five full days of big-time coverage, and we were doing something no one had ever done before: running a presidential campaign centered on climate change. I remember looking at my Twitter feed on March 1 (launch day) and being shocked that we somehow made the governor of Washington state into the #1 Twitter term in Washington, D.C. But that window was short — and proved extremely difficult to reopen.

MK: There was a week in June when Kirsten had several great moments in a row and I was just dying to see a new poll. She had first gone on a Fox News town hall with Chris Wallace in Dubuque and was hitting it out of the park — mostly on her message of fighting for women and families. (For those not following quite as closely as me: Wallace asked her “What about men’s seat at the table!?” and Kirsten reminded him that men are already there.) That was followed later in the week by her Hall of Fame speech in Iowa, focused on the same themes. She was just being a strong woman, and I was personally really proud.

IS: That Chris Wallace moment from Gillibrand really was amazing. I was like she isn’t out of this thing yet. HOW ANNOYING.

JGL: It is interesting thinking about all of these great moments for each of our campaigns. The half-life is just so short for any one great moment.

MK: Yeah … it was fleeting for pretty much anyone that didn’t enter the race with universal name ID and a massive online network. Except Mayor Pete.

IS: This has been a primary of Moments™️.

DW: When did you first become aware of how Democratic voters viewed “electability”? That is, when was it clear that so many voters had convinced themselves that white men were electable, but other candidates were risky? (I realize this is a weirder question for Jared.)

IS: Consistently, in all data available, we saw that the top trait Dem primary voters were looking for was the ability to beat Trump. And in that way, I think the near-daily public polls showing Biden with a lead became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Minus a few blips here and there, that’s how it’s been for a year. Voters — and I think especially voters who belong to the most vulnerable communities in this country — are more worried this year about taking a perceived risk on a candidate, because the stakes of getting Trump out of office are so much higher for them. That has been the undercurrent of this entire primary, and frankly, I’m not sure there was a specific moment that became clear. With the benefit of hindsight, I think it’s probably always been true.

MK: I went into the primary knowing from the midterms that beating the Republican — in this case Trump — was more important than any particular issue area. What was surprising, as I alluded to earlier, is that the profile of electability in 2020 looked different than in the House races in 2018.

SH: If there’s one through-line for this whole cycle it’s electability. It was clear from Week 1 that the primary concern of every voter was the ability to beat Trump. It was also clear that the media’s three-year-long repetition of the importance of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania had corrupted Democratic voters into believing that only a white man could beat Trump. It’s only recently that black and brown voters are considered in the electability framework. I have to believe that if newsrooms were more diverse we wouldn’t be stuck with this narrative that’s made voters think they’re choosing between their minds and hearts.

IS: Sawyer actually sparked my memory here. … Kamala gave a big speech at an NAACP gathering in Detroit in the spring or summer where she tried her level best to turn the electability question on its head. She raised questions about how “electability” had essentially become shorthand for “white” (without saying it quite so explicitly), and did it in Detroit, Michigan. She tried to challenge the media to understand that the ability to energize communities of color is just as important (if not more important) for “electability” than winning back some Trump voters. And it was a real topic of conversation in the press, on cable, etc., for several days after. But changing that perception was going to be a really steep hill to climb, and I think we’re all still climbing it.

JGL: The Trump chaos has really put Democratic voters’ political engagement into hyperdrive. That’s why we’re seeing record cable viewership and subscriptions to newspapers. It has also turned voters into mini-pundits, thinking about polling and electability way earlier than ever before in a primary process. I think this had the effect of largely locking in the field from the beginning. If you were behind in the polls, the primary questions were “why are you behind in the polls?” I give a lot of credit to Mayor Pete’s team for being the only one to really bust out of that mold. And also credit to Warren and Harris’s teams for achieving real polling bumps mid-campaign. 

MK: Right. When you’re that scared of losing to Trump and nominating the most electable, you become a pundit that is overanalyzing any indication of strength. What metrics do primary voters have to look at in the off-year, before voting starts? They have polling, they have fundraising numbers, and they have cable and print coverage to consume in order to learn which candidates are “top tier.” I tend to think that advantaged the universally known national figures with huge online networks. But it sounds like you guys think it was more about their whiteness? That’s interesting. (I know that their whiteness only helped them... I’m just thinking about chicken and egg here).

IS: I mean, at the end of the day, Hillary [Clinton]’s underperformance of Obama among core communities of color in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania was, among many reasons she lost, probably the single “easiest” to fix, or at least you’d think that. So it’s pretty clear the 2020 nominee needs to do better there to be considered “electable.”

SH: To Meredith’s point too, I think we’re setting ourselves up for failure with this framework. If we nominate someone like Pete who’s great with older white voters in Iowa but abysmal with people of color and young voters (our most loyal voters), we might as well hand the nomination to Trump. Yet somehow he’s considered electable because he’s “from the heartland.”

DW: With that in mind, were any of you surprised by Buttigieg’s success in getting these electability-conscious voters to take him seriously? And what did you attribute it to?

MK: I don’t think Buttigieg will come full circle on proving his electability until he starts polling better with nonwhite voters. Everyone knows that’s a key coalition — real pundits and mini-pundits across the country. I think it’s possible! I know he has a pretty strong ad up right now in South Carolina to earn the trust of key voters there. But serious credit to that campaign and to the mayor himself — it’s pretty astounding what he’s accomplished in his campaign. His success constantly breaks the trends that impacted the rest of the field.

JGL: Yes. I think he did an incredible job at striking at the right moment and sustaining it. His campaign proved the value of earned media. If he had his moment in June instead of April, I don’t think it would’ve worked. But, I think he faces real challenges ahead — and I don’t know if I’m ready to say that he’s won the “electability” argument. He’s still struggling with communities of color — and it’s easy for his current supporters to like the idea of him now, but he needs to hold onto that electability ring through the ballot box. You can see lots of ways it might peel away. 

IS: Some of us on this thread may disagree when it comes to Mayor Pete, but I give him and his team a ton of credit for their disciplined focus on who their voters were and how to grow a pool of similar voters in order to become relevant as a top-tier candidate. He has challenges to overcome, no doubt, but he ended up sort of filling this non-Biden Biden lane among voters: more moderate, more unity-oriented in his message, etc. And he just relentlessly played those hits to continue to grow his standing among older, white and college-educated voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. (Keep in mind, he’s still only polling in mid-single digits nationally.) So he broke through with electability-conscious voters because a lot of people who put that at a premium think that, to be electable, you have to be moderate. So by deciding mid-spring/early summer to really pursue a more moderate tone and message, I think he was able to pull more of those voters toward him.

JGL: To Meredith’s point, I’d also credit his team with smart ad buying. They realized that they needed primary polling numbers to continue the electability message. And they spent early to make that real. And, unlike [Tom] Steyer, their paid messaging was reinforced with earned media coverage on cable. This has to be the easiest reporter move: Get other campaigns to talk about Mayor Pete. 

SH: I don’t think anyone predicted it, but hindsight being 2020 (ugh), the tea leaves are right there. The media treats him as a novelty with relentless coverage — even before he polled anywhere, while the campaign itself focuses on his heartland roots and moderate message to emphasize the electability argument. 

DW: Why did you think that Buttigieg benefited from going on the attack while Gillibrand, Castro and Harris did not?

MK: Some people don’t love it when women vie for power. I can say that as the only woman in this chat.

DW: Tell me about the debate qualification rules. What did you first think about them, and when did you learn to hate them? (That second part may be a little leading.)

IS: Our mentality was pretty much always: They are what they are, and we've just got to try to meet them and not get bent out of shape about them. But then again, we were a candidate who did always meet them. So I probably am biased because of that. 

MK: Yeah ... Easy for you to say! I had a happy warrior communications strategy for the most part. Don’t complain, just hustle and meet the goals. But, that “hustle” certainly meant time and money spent that we would have loved to focus elsewhere.

SH: The debate thresholds seemed reasonable at first, even to candidates who weren’t front-runners. But it quickly became apparent that we were all campaigning for the thresholds. It meant constantly trying to break news, fatiguing donors for even $1, and spending much more time in Iowa and New Hampshire than Nevada and South Carolina because that’s where the polls were. Agreed. We all had to be happy warriors about it or risk looking petty. But no doubt it changed the way campaigns spend money and operate day-to-day. 

JGL: I don’t envy the DNC’s task here. Almost by definition, there was no way to winnow the debate stage without disadvantaging someone. But I do think the rules had the effect of benefiting those who were well-known and already polling well. We started with an email list that was about 10 percent of the size of the senators’ lists — so getting to 65,000 and then 130,000 was a tremendous lift for us. In some ways, it allowed us to specifically prove the strength of the climate message and the need for action around climate. And we wouldn’t have had that concrete proof without the DNC criteria. But, it also forced us to cut back on primary state staff and effectively limit our ability to reach voters. I do think the DNC will need to think about this for the next time: how to create a clear system that better allows lower-profile candidates and non-federal officeholders to get their voices heard.

DW: What’s something the political press corps got wrong about the race? Or something it focused too much on?

SH: I think the number one thing was the electability profile, but we covered that. Second, to me, was the inability to cover issues that weren’t #1 or #2 on voters minds. We heard a lot about health care, but the fact that we got through nearly 10 nights of debates without serious conversations on housing, mass transit, immigration, social justice, is a disservice to voters. 

MK: I have an anecdote that I think gets at a concern I had. In May, Georgia’s legislature passed a horrible abortion ban. It was one of many GOP-held states to do so. We jumped on the news cycle, rolled out the first comprehensive reproductive rights agenda for any of the presidential [candidates], and flew Kirsten down to Georgia to stand with women and providers to decry the ban. Great visual, great substance, in Kirsten’s wheelhouse and timely. We got FINE coverage, but it was disappointing. One of the cables didn't even send a camera. The next day, Elizabeth Warren rolled out a repro rights agenda and MANY stories called her the “first” candidate to do so. I think this speaks to how baked this was, from the perspective of the media, early on. That was May, I believe.

JGL: I think the media has filtered much of the 2020 primary through its interpretation of the 2016 prism: a battle between the left and center. (I’d argue that 2016 was actually as much about insider-outsider as it was left-center, but that’s beside the point). The media has been obsessed with corralling candidates into lanes — left/center, black/white/Hispanic, et. al. — which don’t actually reflect how voters make decisions. Iowa voters might switch between Warren and Buttigieg, or black voters might switch between Harris and Biden. It’s the same challenge I saw in a lot of the midterm primary coverage: Every governor's race got filtered into another Bernie-Hillary battle, when it really wasn’t. 

IS: I continue to grapple with what media has gotten wrong or focused too much on. I’ll pick one that comes quickly to mind: POLLS. The media is poll-obsessed. Nothing commands the same coverage as a horse-race poll. It’s easy, it ostensibly reveals *something,* and it so squarely fits into ESPN-style cable coverage. But it colors everything. Kills oxygen for people who aren’t polling highly. Feeds “electability” obsession. There’s just too much stock put into polling. And you’d think after 2016 there would’ve been an adjustment

DW: Okay, not to salt the wound, but: At least three of you (Ian, Sawyer, Meredith) worked for candidates who endorsed Medicare-for-all. When did you realize that, suddenly, this was not enough that adding your own spin to the bill would be covered as a flip-flop? This was surprising to me, because in previous cycles, candidates had plenty of latitude on plans that didn’t match 100 percent what they sponsored in Congress.

IS: There was so little “conflict” in this primary that I think media used Medicare-for-all as a vehicle to create “conflict.” Or at least SOMETHING to distinguish candidates and create friction.

MK: I was lucky that Kirsten wrote the language for the public option transition period in Bernie’s bill AND that she’d supported a public option since her first campaign in 2006. So I knew early on that she should emphasize that. It didn’t require her to denounce or move away from the final goal of single payer, and instead she was able to really focus on a responsible, multiyear transition of a public option, which was more popular.

JGL: I’ll add on health care that it was interesting to me how much the entire health-care discussion got swallowed by M4A. Historically, governors have benefited by talking about executive experience of getting things done. We were able to tout a governor who had just passed the first public option and the first long-term care insurance in the U.S. But that argument didn’t break through in the conversation.

IS: It was strange. I don’t remember these sort of tensions (sponsored bill vs. campaign plan announced) in past primaries. Not in 2016, or 2008 or 2004. But I guess Bernie’s presence in the field complicated it. Kamala decided in the late spring that she wanted her policy team to start vetting out what a “Kamalacare”-style Medicare-for-all plan could look like after a lot of voters kept expressing concerns to her about the ramifications of proactively abolishing private insurance and rushing a transition period. We ended up putting out a plan in July ahead of the Detroit debate, and it was pretty much universally praised by health-care experts. Some even said it was closer to real Medicare-for-all than Bernie’s plan. 

We were proud of it. But for some reason, the media never was interested much in the substance of the plan and instead only focused on the process of putting out her own plan after having supported Bernie’s legislation. It was a no-win situation. I wish we could just all agree that putting out your own plan, while also agreeing with the goals of what Bernie has been championing for years, is TOTALLY FINE.

MK: Yeah I think your campaign suffered the most in this bucket, Ian. Not necessarily fairly, but it just happened that way. Did you see any on-the-ground negative impact from the health-care plan differences? Or was it just a conversation in the “bubble"?

IS: Voters would listen to Kamala talk about her plan on the trail and would be like, “This is perfect!” Because it was bold and progressive, but also adjusted for some of the perceived weaknesses of Bernie’s proposal.

MK: That’s what I figured.

JGL: That doesn’t surprise me at all. There’s no question that Democratic voters believe health care is a top issue. But they also are much less wrapped around the axle about which plan is which. They like Obamacare, and Medicare-for all, and Medicare-for-all Who Want It. Anything that’s more health care is popular. 

DW: What was the worst day of the campaign? Besides the day it ended.

MK: Debates. So much work. So little sleep. Travel. So stressful. And it’s ultimately out of your control.

IS: You were in the chaos of the spin room til, like, 12:45 a.m. Then you would go have drinks with reporters or colleagues. Then you’d try to read the coverage. Then you’d go to sleep at like 4 a.m., only to get up at 6 a.m. to go staff your boss for morning TV on CNN and MSNBC.

MK: They are blended in my head at this point.

JGL: For me, personally, it was the day I woke up in a New York hotel and saw a bedbug on my bed — then had to leave my stuff behind to be fumigated — then ran through JFK airport holding only my computer in a paper bag and the clothes I was wearing. But actually, I think debate #1 in Miami was the hardest day politically. We were laser-focused on driving a climate message and couldn’t believe that climate change would be buried at the end of the debate, which was held in a hall that had been flooded a few years earlier. We broke through in debate 2 — but by then, it was probably too late

IS: I don’t know if it was the WORST day besides the last day, but a bad day was when Mayor Pete announced he had raised $25 million in Q2. We had *just* had the electric Miami debate, and were riding high, and then I saw he raised so much money and knew he was there to stay and would be a real threat.

DW: After doing this, what did you see that made you more optimistic about beating Trump in 2020? What did you see that made you worried?

IS: Optimistic: huge crowds and interest and enthusiasm for the Democratic candidates all year. When Kamala showed up the first time in New Hampshire in the middle of a snowstorm and we had 1,500 people crammed into a historic church, I knew something was happening in the country where people are sick and tired of what we’ve been seeing. Worried: Trump’s durability in poll numbers and massive financial war chest. This is not going to be easy, and Trump could very well defeat the Dem nominee. It is going to take a completely unified party, vast resources, and a laserlike focus on Trump and what’s at stake if he wins to be successful. Too many people think SURELY Trump is done and will lose, but every indicator is it’s a toss-up. That always worries me.

SH: What made me optimistic was the sheer amount of people who would show up in big cities and in small towns, to hear a candidate they hadn’t made up their mind about. It was clear on the trail that no matter who the nominee was, a majority of those Democrats would come together to support the nominee. 

JGL: Like Ian, I’m optimistic about how engaged voters have been in the process. Part of the reason this primary has been so chaotic is that voters like almost everyone they see — and they desperately want any of the Democrats to defeat Trump. It makes me optimistic that we’ll have record turnout in November — and won’t have the complacency that we experienced in 2016. Pessimistic: I’m concerned about the fringe candidates — and whether their people will join the coalition or go third party. Thinking of a certain member of Congress from Hawaii here. 

MK: Optimistic: There’s a ton of energy out there and I think the most unifying force will be beating Donald Trump. Unlike 2016, when no one thought he would be president, he’s a real threat who we know can win. So I expect that Democrats in cities, suburbs and rural areas will be able to put much smaller differences aside and get on board with the nominee and beat him, rather than stay home as some did in the last presidential. Pessimistic: All of the candidates have flaws and it turns out most people aren’t perfect like Barack Obama. That’s a joke. Actually, pessimistic: When I see the Democratic Party get obsessed with cultural issues and things that matter in the D.C. bubble and not to people’s lives.

IS: I am also worried about everyone’s brains because of Twitter.

READING LIST

“Inside Elizabeth Warren’s effort to court her vanquished rivals — and why it’s worth her time,” by Annie Linskey and Amy B Wang

What Warren has won by reaching out to other candidates.

“A man in full,” by Walter Shapiro

The very long view on the Biden 2020 campaign.

“The surreal lives of 2020 campaign spouses: What happens when your loved one wants to be president,” by Jada Yuan

Honey, I’m about to ruin our lives.

“Maybe nominating Bloomberg for president isn’t a crazy idea,” by Jonathan Chait

The case for a multibillionaire.

“Trump thought war with Iran could help reelect Obama. What about Trump?” by Aaron Blake

The data on a big presidential bet.

“Florida ended a Jim Crow voting law. A year later, people are still fighting for a voice,” Sam Levine

How an uncomplicated effort to restore voting rights to felons got tied up by conservative legislators.

IN THE STATES

Former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath narrowly lost a bid for Congress in Kentucky last year and was soon taking calls from Democrats who wanted her to take on something tougher: a race against Sen. Mitch McConnell. She went viral, as she had in the midterms, raising $10.7 million through the end of last month.

But she did not clear the field. This week, Louisville-area state legislator Charles Booker entered the Democratic primary. If successful, he'd be the first black senator in the commonwealth's history and only the third black candidate elected statewide. (The others, including new Attorney General Daniel Cameron, were Republicans.) He is running to McGrath's left, with the sort of arguments that national Democrats view as overly risky, in red states or otherwise.

He supports Medicare-for-all, arguing that most people don't “have the luxury and privilege of taking our time.” He opposes any escalated conflict with Iran, because in any war, “the folks on the front line aren't going to be the billionaires.” He supports the Green New Deal, too.

“Come with me on a listening tour,” Booker said, in an interview this week. “If you're talking about listening to miners, I sit down and talk with those miners in Harlan County. They tell me they'd love to work in solar, they'd love to do other things, they just don't have the option because they can't find that work.”

Booker is one of several Democrats making life trickier for party-backed candidates in Senate races. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has moved aggressively to recruit and endorse challengers who the party thinks can raise money and win. In five states — Colorado, Iowa, Maine, North Carolina and now Kentucky — those candidates have cash advantages but have attracted more left-leaning opposition anyway, which their Republican counterparts are eager to exploit.

The risk, as Booker saw it, was actually that Democrats could run too cautious a campaign. McGrath's launch was damaged when she bobbled a question about whether she could have voted for Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh in 2018; she initially said she would have and then, under pressure, said she would not have. Asked about the court, Booker said he'd have opposed both Kavanaugh and Justice Neil Gorsuch.

“We saw a woman speak out, with tremendous courage, and a lot of other voices tell their stories and be vulnerable on the national stage about some trauma that they have dealt with,” Booker said of the Kavanaugh fight. “Mitch McConnell ignored that. And so what I would never do is bounce back and forth and say, well, maybe he should have been appointed, maybe not.”

In 2014, when Democrats had higher hopes of defeating McConnell, nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes refused to say who she'd supported in the 2012 presidential election. Booker had no hesitation: He supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary and Hillary Clinton in the general.

“You know I didn't vote for Donald Trump,” he said.

IMPEACHMENT WATCH

The latest on the impeachment of President Trump

AD WATCH

Mike Bloomberg, "Mike Para Presidente.” His first Spanish-language ad touches on immigration only lightly, with an image of the U.S.-Mexico border wall melting into a version of his constant unity messaging. “We cannot continue divided in a volatile world,” a narrator says in Spanish. “Mike Bloomberg is ready to lead our country without dividing us. Because only united will we advance to a better future.”

Michael Bennet, "Wheels Pointed West.” The third in a series of digital biographical spots that have been telling the story of the Bennet family, this one focused on his marriage to environmental lawyer Susan Daggett. "We both had decided that we wanted to move to Denver, but naturally she got hired first,” Bennet says.

Andrew Yang, "James.” This new spot in Iowa hands the microphone to James Fayal, the founder of a tea company that was built in part by Yang's Venture for America project. "The American economy is transforming,” Fayal says. "Andrew is the only one that gets that.”

Progressive Change Campaign Committee, "No War for Political Gain.” Video of Donald Trump insisting that Barack Obama would bomb Iran to help his administration politically has been online for nine years. "He will attack Iran sometime before the election because he thinks that's the only way he can get elected,” Trump says in the clip, a quote repeated three times in an ad made to run on national cable networks.

Reason to Believe PAC, "Reason to Believe.” Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick has fallen out of the Democrats' primary conversation, even as he's campaigned in early states. One potential savior: this super PAC, which has piled up $2 million to introduce him to voters. Its first spot makes Patrick the star of an Obama-esque story, of struggle followed by power, and even pictures the two of them at a rally together, quoting a headline to describe Patrick as a possible "heir” to Obama.

POLL WATCH

New Hampshire Democratic primary (Monmouth, 404 registered voters)

Pete Buttigieg: 20% ( 10) 
Joe Biden: 19% (-6) 
Bernie Sanders: 18% ( 6) 
Elizabeth Warren: 15% (-12)
Amy Klobuchar: 6% ( 4)
Tulsi Gabbard: 4% ( 2) 
Tom Steyer: 4% ( 2)
Andrew Yang: 3% ( 1) 
Michael Bennet: 2% ( 2) 
Cory Booker: 1% (-1)

Monmouth was last in the field here in September, at the height of Warren's surge. It now confirms every other pollster's finding: She slipped as voters began to worry about whether she was too liberal. The best news for Sanders is that his favorable rating has risen after a period of decline; the worst news for Warren is that, after reversing negative impressions all year, she has retreated to the favorable rating she had last spring, lower than Sanders or Buttigieg. No one has gained as much ground on that measure as Yang, whose net positive rating rose from five to 35 points. But he's well below the 5 percent threshold that the DNC is using to set debate lineups, making it more likely that there will be a debate composed entirely of white candidates.

CANDIDATE TRACKER

Bernie Sanders. He was officially endorsed by the Sunrise Movement, the grass-roots, climate-change-fighting group that has pressured Democrats to support a Green New Deal and move the country as soon as possible from fossil fuels. “We wholeheartedly believe that Bernie can win the nomination, defeat Donald Trump in November, and usher in down-ballot victories that will help jump-start the political revolution,” the group said. “But if he doesn’t, the stakes of the climate crisis also demand that we can’t sit this election out.” The group also said that Elizabeth Warren, who got less than 18 percent of members' votes, was the only other Democrat to get any of their support. Sanders will rally with the Sunrise Movement during this weekend's Iowa swing.

Elizabeth Warren. She appeared in a series of women-focused magazines, from Vogue to Cosmopolitan, and participated in a video where she gave advice to worried women about relationships, whether to buy a dog when a roommate objected, and other issues far from politics. She, like Sanders, will be in Iowa this weekend.

Pete Buttigieg. He won the support of Rep. Anthony G. Brown of Maryland, his first endorser from inside the Congressional Black Caucus. “As we fight for the future of the soul of our country here at home, we also remain entangled in endless wars abroad and the threats to American lives and interests around the world have increased,” Brown said, using some of the language (particularly about “soul”) that the Biden campaign has employed.

Mike Bloomberg. He took his every-state-except-the-first-four campaign to Ohio, picking up an endorsement from Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan, the latest in a string of midsize city leaders to get behind him. He’ll be in Georgia and Tennessee on Friday and Texas on Saturday and Sunday.

Joe Biden. He won over John Henes, formerly the national finance chairman for Sen. Kamala D. Harris's campaign, and one of several politically homeless donors who've come around. His campaign also announced minor, but telling, endorsements in Texas and Indiana, from politicians and an actress (Vivica A. Fox) who had, respectively, supported Julián Castro's shuttered campaign, or been born in Pete Buttigieg's South Bend.

Amy Klobuchar. She held her first open-media fundraisers this week, in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, and won an endorsement from Iowa state Sen. Rich Taylor before her return to the state tomorrow.

Cory Booker. He added to his list of New Hampshire endorsements with the support of state Rep. Tim Horrigon.

Andrew Yang. He announced an endorsement from James Gunn, the director of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie franchise, who had been removed from the planned third film before a fan campaign to add him back.

Donald Trump. He’s rallying in Toledo, tonight, the first of his traditional rallies since the start of the Iran crisis.

WHAT I'M WATCHING

One week after an American airstrike killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, Democratic presidential candidates and members of Congress have asserted themselves in ways that once eluded them.

No Democrat has supported the strike. Multiple Democrats have endorsed what the House of Representatives passed on Thursday — a war powers resolution “to terminate the use of United States Armed Forces to engage in hostilities in or against Iran.” Some went further, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introducing his own legislation to prevent any money from being used on an Iran attack without a vote first by Congress.

“When I look back upon American history, I remember the two most significant foreign policy mistakes our country made in the modern era, and those was the war in Vietnam and the war in Iraq,” Sanders said Thursday, flanked by co-sponsors of his “No War With Iran” Act. “We were led into both of those wars by a series of lies.”

Since 9/11, Democrats have never been this confident in arguing that a military strike did not need to happen, or done so little to guard against accusations of rooting for the enemy. Republicans were happy to test that all week. The National Republican Congressional Committee positioned a cameraman in the House office basements, asking freshman and swing-seat Democrats whether Soleimani was a “terrorist” and repeatedly getting blown off. Backbenchers and party leaders alike accused Democrats who did not support the killing of Soleimani of supporting every act he took, including those that killed American soldiers.

“I sit in Gang of Eight meetings and I sat in the classified meeting,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said on Thursday. “It was justified, and anybody who sat in there knows it. Anytime I hear a Democrat talk about him and say he was bad but then use the word 'but,' yes, I question it. There is no 'but' when it comes to Soleimani.”

(Two Republicans, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, also condemned a briefing on the attack and said it had strengthened their resolve to limit the president's war powers. )

Why aren't Democrats more nervous? One reason is frustration, with even Democrats who had supported previous interventions saying they were getting tired of presidents acting without approval.

“We've been disregarded by one president after another, and it's time to stop it,” said Rep. Elliot Engel of New York, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Another reason is raw politics: There is no clear public support for escalation with Iran. While snap polls have founded that the attack itself was popular, it was only marginally so, and there was more public worry about the president's decision-making than there had been support for the attack. Asked on Thursday why Congress had not done more to limit presidential power, Sanders suggested that political angst usually won out.

“I think that perhaps the answer has been the fear ... it will be seen as being soft on terrorism, not prepared to defend the troops or whatever,” Sanders said. “But the truth is, we have seen under Republican and Democratic administrations, Congress not utilizing its responsibility under the Constitution of the United States.”

In other election years, Democrats have tended to guard against accusations of weakness by supporting military strikes. It's too early to tell how their new, un-cautious approach will play out.

COUNTDOWN

... one day until the cutoff for the seventh Democratic debate
... five days until the seventh Democratic debate (maybe)
... 11 days until the Iowa Brown & Black Forum 
... 19 days until the special legislative election in Texas
... 25 days until the Iowa caucuses
... 33 days until the New Hampshire primary
... 44 days until the Nevada caucuses
... 52 days until the South Carolina primary