In this edition: Iowa versus the impeachment trial, what we learned from two wonky candidate forums, and polls that reveal how little we know about the horse race.
I hope you’re enjoying the fifth year of the 2016 Democratic primary, and this is The Trailer.
DES MOINES — Over the long weekend, as they campaigned across Iowa, the senators running for the Democratic presidential nomination got a little wistful.
“I will not be able to be back here in Iowa as much as I would like,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont at a Monday night rally here. “Not me, us is becoming very much a reality in the next few weeks of this campaign.”
“I’m going to have to be leaving and going back for the impeachment hearing,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota at a town hall Sunday in Waukee, prompting a burst of applause. “I always tell people, ‘I’m a mom, so I know how to do two things at once.’ ”
Klobuchar and Sanders, both of whom entered the final weeks on a polling upswing in Iowa, will now be stuck in Washington in the run-up to the caucuses. So will Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who is still strongly competing for Iowa. So will Sen. Michael F. Bennet of Colorado, who has largely given up on Iowa but who intended to hold 50 New Hampshire town halls before that state’s Feb. 11 primary.
The four senators knew this was coming and made backup plans. Campaign surrogates, who were always coming to Iowa for the final stretch, will have expanded roles. Chartered flights will zip Sanders and Warren from Washington to Iowa this weekend and next weekend, as soon as Saturday impeachment proceedings are finished. Some candidates may live-stream updates to Iowa supporters, but with limited time; they are jurors in a trial, unable to jump from TV hit to TV hit.
“Some of you are upset because you should be in Iowa right now,” snarked White House counsel Pat Cipollone in his opening statement before the Senate.
Two candidates with no current jobs, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, will have the run of the state. Both candidates are stumping in Iowa on Tuesday and Wednesday, while their opponents may have just two full days left to campaign in person.
That reality has started to trickle down to Iowa voters. Many of them will tune in only for the final week, having blocked out the noise until they felt that it mattered. As a result, they may not get to see Sanders, Warren or Klobuchar.
“I don’t know that Amy will be around here much more,” said Sheldon Ohringer, a 62-year-old businessman, as he waited for Klobuchar to speak Sunday night. “It’s kind of a mess.”
But as candidates made their final pretrial stops in Iowa, there was little sense of urgency. A cold snap kept temperatures close to zero, potentially hurting turnout for what became modestly sized Klobuchar, Sanders and Warren rallies. There was no sense of urgency from voters who might not get another chance to see the candidates or pose some questions.
“Honestly, I’m here to see Nina Turner,” said Betty Baker, a 67-year-old Whole Foods employee, referring to Sanders’s campaign co-chair. “I was with Bernie last time and I’ll be with Bernie again.”
Every Iowan who did not attend events this weekend was a potential caucus-goer the campaign would never meet. Every event scrapped because of the trial meant dozens or hundreds of lost contacts, the sort of work that had helped Sanders run even with Hillary Clinton, that had kept the low-key Klobuchar in the hunt for Iowa, and that had pulled Warren from her early-2019 doldrums.
“I hope I’ll be able to come back more to Iowa,” said a nostalgic-sounding Warren after a Sunday town hall at a Des Moines public school. “This is the give or take. It really should be at the heart of our democracy. We can’t have it all be about TV ads and sucking up to billionaires.”
For the next two weeks, Warren and her colleagues had no choice — most voters would be seeing them on TV, not in person. The Senate’s impeachment schedule helped candidates in just one way, starting proceedings each day at 1 p.m. That will leave copious time for interviews, with senators appearing on morning cable shows across Iowa and chances to do more TV when the Senate adjourns each night.
The campaigns are counting more on the work they did already, the millions of dollars spent on organizing and voter contacts. On Tuesday morning, Klobuchar’s campaign gathered together state legislators who had endorsed her in a small room at the state capitol, where they assured reporters that the campaign would chug along with their help.
“Her staff has created all sorts of events around her being absent, and we’ve got sort of an army of legislators to help them,” said state Sen. Liz Mathis.
“She did events in all 99 counties,” state Rep. Chris Hall said of Klobuchar. “I think the results of that stayed in those counties after the visits.”
Klobuchar, lagging both Sanders and Warren (as well as Biden and Buttigieg) in the polls here, has the most to lose from the impeachment schedule. While the Warren and Sanders campaigns are already planning chartered flights to the state, Klobuchar has less money to spend; while Warren and Sanders have well-known surrogates, like former HUD secretary and presidential candidate Julián Castro (Warren) and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Sanders), Klobuchar’s heavy hitters are Minnesotans who are not household names in her neighbor state.
“Our governor in Minnesota is coming down, as well as our lieutenant governor, who is the only Native American in that position in the country, as well as some of our representatives,” Klobuchar said in Waukee. (Rep. Ilhan Omar, the best-known member of Minnesota’s House delegation, has endorsed Sanders.)
The Minnesotan has always highlighted her support from local Democrats, to make her point that the candidates down the ticket would thrive if she led it. But Warren and Sanders simply have more star power. “Queer Eye” co-star Jonathan Van Ness will campaign for Warren this weekend; as in 2016, Sanders has a bevy of celebrity supporters, like Killer Mike and Cornel West, who have already been headlining events.
The candidates free to campaign in Iowa are being careful not to gloat about it. Buttigieg, when asked about his advantage, tends to pivot and talk about how he has no Washington ties at all. Andrew Yang, who is spending every day until the caucuses in Iowa, told reporters Monday that he sympathized with the candidates who couldn’t be there.
“I feel bad for my competitors that have to head to D.C. for this impeachment trial, because I wish they were out campaigning, too, and sharing their vision for the country,” Yang said. “But the circumstances are what they are.”
Sanders was trying to work around those circumstances, announcing over the weekend that he would fly to Cedar Falls, a college town where he’d always run strong, for a late-night rally on Wednesday. He’d be joined by Ocasio-Cortez, whose presence at previous Iowa stops generated the biggest crowds of the campaign in Iowa.
“We had originally planned a number of town meetings, rallies, although I think we’re going to do the best we can to bring surrogates,” Sanders said on Monday night.
At that very moment, the Sanders campaign was learning that the Senate impeachment schedule might require senators to stay in the chamber long into Tuesday and Wednesday nights. On Tuesday morning, Sanders canceled that rally. But Ocasio-Cortez would still be in the state by Friday night, 10 days before the caucuses.
“With two weeks until Iowa, the Democratic presidential candidates are getting aggressive — with each other,” by Matt Viser, Sean Sullivan and Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
All the latest on the new negativity.
“Bennet die-hards drawn to awkward, unusual New Hampshire campaign,” by Trent Spiner
Stumbling over a water bottle and winning votes.
“As primary voting nears, Joe Biden remains strong with black Democrats,” by Joshua Jamerson and Ken Thomas
The wall that no other Democrat has been able to climb.
“Sanders, a critic of secret money in politics, declines to call on a group supporting him to disclose its donors,” by Sean Sullivan and Michelle Ye Hee Lee
What Our Revolution is up to.
A “Friends” remake for everyone who misses it on Netflix.
The drama of Cory Gardner.
“Beyond ideology: The voters torn between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden,” by Evan Halper and Janet Hook
The old, “scrappy” guy division of the primary.
ON THE TRAIL
DES MOINES — The days of the “cattle call,” the event that pulls multiple candidates into one city for one event, are coming to an end. More than half of the Democratic field spent the weekend at two cattle calls, both designed to pull out fresh answers on the questions that simply don’t come up at town halls and really don’t come up in scrums with reporters.
On Sunday, the magnet was a “We the People” forum organized by Public Citizen, Progress Iowa and the NAACP, ostensibly on the topic of money in politics. Moderators pushed Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, the only senators in attendance, on whether they would follow the Senate’s “blue slip” tradition, which had let Republicans block Obama judicial nominees for years, by requiring the sign-off of senators from a nominee’s district. Klobuchar would not go there.
“Right now that blue slip process for district court nominees is saving us,” Klobuchar said. “If we were to say right now, just get rid of it, they would do the same thing. It’s leverage.”
Warren went a little further, saying that a debate about the process would be healthy but that she was open to the change.
“I’m not going to say that when Republicans are in the White House, we all play by nice rules, and when Democrats are in the White House, we play by dirty rules,” she said. “I’m not doing that.”
On Monday, eight Democrats headed to the Brown and Black Forum, in another part of Des Moines. (Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, who has only made one stop in Iowa, appeared at “We the People” via video and skipped Brown and Black altogether.) There, it was Sanders who was pushed to new territory, being asked first if he would actually tear down border wall sections built after the president reappropriated funding from the military budget.
“I don’t know, maybe the answer is yes,” Sanders said. “If it’s going to cost me billions of dollars to tear it down, maybe the money would be better spent on child care in this country.”
Later, Sanders was asked about a promise that has helped him win support from immigrant rights groups but gotten little attention otherwise: Would he really put a moratorium on all deportations?
“If someone has been convicted of a terrible, terrible crime, that might be an exception to the rule,” he said. “A moratorium on 99 percent of deportations is nothing to sniff at, and I think the undocumented community would be very proud of that.”
The latest on the impeachment of President Trump:
- Senate debate has begun over rules governing Trump’s historic trial
- Lev is talking. So where is Igor?
- Here are the lawyers defending Trump in the Senate trial
- Democrats increase pressure on Susan Collins as Trump impeachment trial begins
Mike Bloomberg, “Impeachment.” The billionaire candidate’s ads continue to feel like general election arguments, flashing forward to a day after the Democratic primary. This one is entirely based on his remarks about impeachment from the campaign trail. “In 2016, I warned that Donald Trump was a dangerous demagogue,” he said. “It’s time for the Senate to act and remove Trump from office, and if they won’t do their jobs, this November, you and I will.” As with every Bloomberg spot, this will mostly be seen in states where no other Democrat is on the air, making that point. More importantly, it’ll run in states with competitive Senate races, like North Carolina, where no other Democrat has ad time.
Elizabeth Warren, “Trump Fears Her the Most.” Voter nervousness about “electability” has bedeviled Warren for this entire campaign, even when she briefly carved out a lead. This spot isn’t inventive, but it’s focused, cutting together footage of TV talkers speculating that the Trump campaign is nervous about how Warren would run against him. Some of this chatter is from last summer, the first time Warren emerged as a possible nominee. Talk about Trump struggling with a populist candidate has more recently focused on Bernie Sanders.
Unite the Country, “A President to Right the Ship.” The pro-Biden super PAC is sticking to its promise to avoid negativity, and this spot uses clips from the candidate’s announcement speech over footage of a stormy sea. The Biden campaign proper is running a spot that starts with the president attacking him; this complements that, with Trump nowhere to be seen, just looming over the idea that the country needs to be calmed down.
Trump approval rating (CNN/SSRS, 1,051 registered voters)
Registered voters who are “extremely enthusiastic” about the election
Registered voters who are “very enthusiastic” about the election
Registered voters who are “less enthusiastic” about the election
The premise of a lot of Democratic campaigning right now, especially on the left, is that there’s an electorate waiting to mobilize against the president, if only the party can find it and inspire it. CNN’s survey, which finds low support for the president overall and steady support for impeachment and removal, adds some evidence to the “enthusiasm” theory. The voters most likely to reject Trump are the ones who aren’t really raring for the election yet; the voters who can’t wait for November make up the only group that supports him. Those numbers are probably a reflection of the Democrats’ muddled primary, but they validate both parties’ theory of the race.
New Hampshire primary (Boston Globe/Suffolk, 446 likely voters)
Bernie Sanders: 16% (-)
Joe Biden: 15% ( 3)
Pete Buttigieg: 12% (-1)
Elizabeth Warren: 10% (-4)
Andrew Yang: 6% ( 2)
Tulsi Gabbard: 5% (-1)
Amy Klobuchar: 4% ( 3)
Tom Steyer: 3% ( 1)
Deval Patrick: 1% ( 1)
Michael F. Bennet: 1% ( 1)
Since November, the biggest movement has been away from Warren and toward Klobuchar and Biden. That Warren movement is entirely about male voters, whose support shifted from the teens to single digits, with anecdotal evidence that they were turned off by last week’s controversy over whether Sanders suggested a woman would struggle to win the election. But without a push, there’s no obvious favorite; the biggest share of voters, by far, are undecided, and more than 40 percent say they could change their minds before the vote.
Iowa caucuses (Focus on Rural America, 500 likely voters)
Joe Biden: 24% (-1)
Elizabeth Warren: 18% (-5)
Pete Buttigieg: 16% ( 4)
Bernie Sanders: 14% ( 5)
Amy Klobuchar: 11% ( 3)
Tom Steyer: 4% ( 1)
Andrew Yang: 3% ( 1)
Tulsi Gabbard: 1% (-)
This poll, which has generally found more support for Klobuchar than other studies of Iowa, demonstrates how many hills she’d have to climb to actually win. There’s precedent for candidates breaking through in the final weeks of a caucus — ask Rick Santorum — but not in a race where multiple candidates have fully invested in the state.
Mike Bloomberg. He added another celebrity endorsement, from Michael Douglas, the actor frequently associated with the rapacious Wall Street trader he played in two Oliver Stone movies. The former New York mayor now has three endorsements from members of Congress: Staten Island Rep. Max Rose; Orange County, Calif., Rep. Harley Rouda; and Rep. Stephanie Murphy, who represents some of Orlando’s suburbs. He’ll be in Washington on Thursday to speak to the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Pete Buttigieg. He’s wrapping up this Iowa swing Wednesday, then speaking to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, then hitting South Carolina and New Hampshire.
Bernie Sanders. He won the support of the California-based University Professional and Technical Employees, which supported him in a 3-1 margin over Warren, as no other candidate cracked double digits.
Elizabeth Warren. She’s returning to Iowa on Saturday and Sunday, during the 36-hour window when senators will be able to leave Washington. She also added the support of Iowa state Reps. Jennifer Konfrst and Heather Matson, who had previously endorsed Cory Booker.
Amy Klobuchar. Already leading the field in endorsements from Iowa legislators, she added more, including state Sen. Rob Hogg, who had gone out of his way to hold climate change-focused events for every candidate.
Tom Steyer. He’ll be in Iowa for the entirety of next week on a “final sprint” bus tour focused on central and eastern Iowa, where most votes and delegates will be coming from.
DEMS IN DISARRAY
A problem has emerged for Democrats who want to go negative: They’re just not comfortable sticking to it.
We got two glaring examples of this in just 48 hours, when the Bernie Sanders campaign let one attack on Joe Biden’s campaign fade away and backed down completely on another. The first fight was over Social Security, a topic Sanders relished, as he contrasted his years of advocacy for expanding the system with Biden’s occasional flirtations with “adjustments,” reducing payouts to beneficiaries.
Biden could have been vulnerable on the topic, but he focused on a clip that Sanders supporters were circulating that made it look like a clip of Biden sarcastically describing Paul Ryan’s entitlement cuts was an endorsement of them. Sanders was correct on the merits, but Sanders never got a clean hit on the topic. By Monday night, the argument had disappeared from the Sanders stump speech; hours earlier, Biden had told Brown and Black Forum moderators that he would never compromise on Social Security.
It went better for Sanders than a battle his campaign surrogates had picked. Earlier on Monday, the money in politics expert Zephyr Teachout, who had endorsed Sanders, published a Guardian op-ed calling out Biden’s “corruption problem.” That op-ed was shared in the campaign’s “Bern After Reading” newsletter, written by David Sirota. Each edition of the newsletter comes with a disclaimer, saying that the views are Sirota’s, and Sanders emphasized that in a short interview with CBS News reporter Cara Korte.
“It is absolutely not my view that Joe is corrupt in any way,” Sanders said. “And I’m sorry that that op-ed appeared.”
By Tuesday morning, Sanders was being criticized, seemingly out of nowhere, by Hillary Clinton. In a preview of a new Hulu documentary about her, written by the Hollywood Reporter’s Lacey Rose, Clinton said that “nobody likes” Sanders, which explained his lack of congressional endorsements in 2016, and she refused to say she’d support him if he became the nominee.
Once again, Sanders allies came in swinging, with Justice Democrats even launching a petition to demand that Clinton make a unity pledge. Sanders, who had previously responded to Clinton by pointing out that she’d thanked him for holding rallies on her behalf, released a terse statement: “My focus today is on a monumental moment in American history: the impeachment trial of Donald Trump. Together, we are going to go forward and defeat the most dangerous president in American history.”
... seven days until the special legislative election in Texas
... 13 days until the Iowa caucuses
... 21 days until the New Hampshire primary
... 32 days until the Nevada caucuses
... 42 days until the South Carolina primary
... 43 days until Super Tuesday