Welcome to 2020 Vision, the Yahoo News column covering the presidential race. Reminder: There are 24 days until the Iowa caucuses and 298 days until the 2020 presidential election.
The Iran crisis collided with the Democratic presidential race this week as Sen. Bernie Sanders and President Trump battled over the circumstances of the U.S. strike that killed a prominent Iranian general.
Sanders called Trump a “pathological liar.” The Trump campaign said Sanders “can’t be trusted” to keep Americans safe.
In an interview Friday morning with NBC News, Sanders said that he had yet to be presented with evidence that Gen. Qassem Soleimani was planning an imminent attack on the United States when Trump ordered his killing last week. Sanders immediately called the attack an “assassination.”
“The difficulty that we have, and I don’t mean to be rude here, is that we have a president who is a pathological liar,” said Sanders on the “Today” show discussing the stated reasoning behind the strike on Soleimani at a Baghdad airport. “So could it be true? I guess it could be. Is it likely to be true? Probably not.”
“I think what happens in our own country and around the world is that people don’t believe much of what Trump says, and when you lie all the time, the problem is sometimes maybe you’re telling the truth and people are not going to believe you,” he added.
The White House has yet to provide details of why Soleimani had to be killed, including at a widely criticized Wednesday meeting with Congress that Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah called “probably the worst briefing I’ve seen, at least on a military issue, in the nine years I've served in the United States Senate.” Following Soleimani’s death, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the attacks his killing allegedly prevented “might still happen.”
On Wednesday, the Trump campaign sent an email to supporters titled “DANGEROUS: Bernie Sanders Can't Be Trusted To Defend American Lives,” one of the first times his campaign has directly targeted the Vermont senator, who’s had strong poll showings and impressive fundraising to start the year. The email accused Sanders of repeating Iranian and Russian talking points by referring to the death of Soleimani as an assassination. The Trump campaign followed up with an email Thursday with the headline “FACT: Bernie Sanders Is A Wealthy, Fossil Fuel-Guzzling Millionaire,” which compared Sanders to the “wealthy Hollywood elite.”
Sanders’s Twitter account posted images of the emails and added, “Donald Trump is attacking us because he knows we will beat him in the general election.”
But before a general election, Sanders would have to win the Democratic primary, which former Vice President Joe Biden currently leads. Sanders has also used the tensions with Iran to contrast his vote against the Iraq War with that of Biden, who supported the invasion as a senator.
“Joe Biden voted and helped lead the effort for the war in Iraq, the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in the modern history of this country,” Sanders said in a Monday interview with CNN.
Big week for endorsements
With the Iowa caucuses just over three weeks away, the list of endorsements in the Democratic primary continues to add names, from former candidates to Hollywood B-listers.
The most high-profile endorsement of the week came from former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, who exited the race on Jan. 3 and endorsed Sen. Elizabeth Warren three days later.
“There’s one candidate I see who’s unafraid to fight like hell to make sure America’s promise will be there for everyone, who will make sure that no matter where you live in America or where your family came from in the world, you have a path to opportunity too,” said Castro in a video announcement.
The pair held an event together in Brooklyn in front of 3,000 people, and the Texan will likely be deployed as a surrogate on the campaign trail as Warren spends time in Washington for the impeachment trial of President Trump in the Senate. Castro’s announcement — and co-branded signage — has fed speculation that he could serve as a potential running mate for Warren.
Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg picked up support from an African-American member of Congress when Rep. Anthony Brown of Maryland endorsed him on Thursday. Brown was named a national co-chair for the Buttigieg campaign, which has struggled in its efforts to reach out to black voters, including earning criticism for using the names of prominent black South Carolinians as endorsers of his racial justice plan without getting their permission.
Former Vice President Joe Biden is still the leader in endorsements, according to FiveThirtyEight’s tracker. He has the support of nearly three dozen sitting members of Congress and 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry, who served with Biden in the Obama administration and was set to campaign with his former Senate colleague in Iowa this weekend. In November, Biden secured the endorsement of Oliver Davis, the longest-serving African-American on the South Bend Common Council.
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang’s eclectic list of endorsements continued to grow, coming off news that he raised $16.5 million in the final three months of 2019, more than all but four of his fellow primary candidates. This week, Yang secured the endorsements of James Gunn (director of the blockbuster “Guardians of the Galaxy” series) and Teri Hatcher (star of “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” and “Desperate Housewives”). They join a list that includes musician-actor Donald Glover, Tesla founder Elon Musk, wrestler Chris Jericho and actors Steven Yeun, Ken Jeong and Tommy Chong.
The highest-profile endorser of the cycle remains Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who threw her support (and 6 million Twitter followers) behind Bernie Sanders as he was recovering from a heart attack in October. Ocasio-Cortez has helped strengthen the Sanders campaign’s outreach to the Hispanic community and, when combined with endorsements from Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, gives the 78-year-old a diverse group of high-profile surrogates after his supporters were maligned by rivals in 2016 as “Bernie Bros.” This week, Sanders picked up the endorsement of the Sunrise Movement, a collection of young climate activists that will hold an event with him in Iowa on Sunday.
Tom Steyer has his moment
We’ve had no shortage of “surges” this election cycle. First it was Pete Buttigieg, who came out of nowhere last April. Then it was Joe Biden, shortly after he announced. Then Kamala Harris, then Elizabeth Warren, then Buttigieg again. Lately Bernie Sanders has been booming.
So is it now Tom Steyer’s turn?
That was the chatter in campaign circles Thursday after Fox News released two polls showing the billionaire California businessman in surprisingly strong contention in two key early states: Nevada, where Steyer tied Warren for third with 12 percent, and South Carolina, where he passed Sanders for second with 15 percent.
To put those numbers in perspective, no previous poll had found Steyer above 6 percent in the former state or 7 percent in the latter. In fact, the last Fox News surveys pegged Steyer’s Nevada support at 5 percent (in November) and his South Carolina support at 4 percent (in October). If Fox’s latest data is accurate, then Steyer may have doubled or even tripled his support over the past few months, at least in those two states.
Any poll can be an outlier, and none of the other campaigns was panicking over Steyer’s showing. But the immediate effect was to vault him onto the stage for next week’s Democratic debate in Des Moines alongside Biden, Buttigieg, Warren, Sanders and Amy Klobuchar.
How to explain the sudden shift in Steyer’s fortunes? That’s simple enough: his fortune. With a net worth of $1.6 billion, Steyer has been free to spend as much as he wants to on his campaign. So far, that’s meant more than $116 million on television ads — 10 times as much as Sanders and Buttigieg, the next highest spenders, and second only to the much richer Mike Bloomberg. But unlike Bloomberg, who is skipping the first four primary contests, Steyer is actually competing in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. His spending hasn’t made much difference in the first two states, where he’s polling at 2 or 3 percent and where the rest of the field is also competing for attention, both on TV and in the flesh.
In the less-saturated states of Nevada and South Carolina, however, Steyer has completely dominated the airwaves. According to ad spending data compiled by Kantar/Campaign Media Analysis Group and shared by FiveThirtyEight, he has dropped $8.7 million on ads in Nevada and $8.3 million in South Carolina. That’s 88 percent of the Democratic field’s total ad spending in South Carolina and 99.9 percent of its total ad spending in Nevada.
Having TV all to himself appears to have paid off for Steyer, exposing how easy it is for a billionaire candidate to spend his way onto the debate stage — and how persuadable some Democrats still are, even after a year of primary campaigning. The question now is whether Steyer can somehow replicate the effect in Iowa and New Hampshire, or preserve his newly improved standing in Nevada and South Carolina long enough to actually finish ahead of more traditional rivals on primary day.
Either way, a Steyer surge is more likely to cause problems for his competitors than to propel Steyer himself to the nomination. The Fox News polls also showed Biden leading by 6 points in Nevada and 21 points in South Carolina. Unless the rest of the field figures out a way to dethrone the former vice president — a task Steyer may only complicate by further splitting the anti-Biden vote — he remains the favorite.
Bloomberg in it for long haul
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been criticized for attempting to buy the presidential nomination, having already invested more than $100 million of his $32 billion fortune in advertising and organization building after entering the race late last year. Whether or not he pulls off his unconventional strategy of ignoring the early states to focus on Super Tuesday and running a national race from the beginning, his massive organization will be sticking it out through November.
NBC News reported Friday that Bloomberg’s operation of 500 staffers will work to defeat President Trump even if another candidate wins the nomination, essentially providing a shadow field operation to battle the Republican incumbent. Like a super-PAC, it would be prohibited from directly coordinating with the official campaign, but it would provide the Democratic ticket a ground network in key states. Estimates of how much Bloomberg might eventually invest in the race range up to $1 billion — or more.
“Mike Bloomberg is either going to be the nominee or the most important person supporting the Democratic nominee for president,” Kevin Sheekey, Bloomberg’s campaign manager, told NBC News. “He is dedicated to getting Trump out of the White House.”
The announcement defuses criticism from some in the party that Bloomberg was essentially running a vanity campaign. It also helps him retain some of the top talent he has recruited, with the prospect that their jobs will outlast Bloomberg’s candidacy if he falls short of the nomination.
Bloomberg currently stands at 5.8 percent in the RealClearPolitics national polling average.
“I ran for president to help forge another direction for our country. I wanted to discuss things I felt needed to be discussed that otherwise were not. I feel that we have done that.”
— Marianne Williamson, announcing her withdrawal from the presidential race
“Of course it matters. We just did a three-and-a-half-hour selfie line. Don’t tell me it doesn’t matter to do face-to-face.”
— Sen. Elizabeth Warren on whether missing the chance to campaign on the ground during a Senate impeachment trial would hurt her chances in early voting states
“It’s, like, my job to try and watch what’s the competition, but it’s like watching death.”
— President Trump, at a rally in Toledo, Ohio, on watching the Democratic primary debates
“We don’t think decisions about political ads should be made by private companies.”
— Rob Leathern, Facebook’s director of product management, in a blog post saying the company would not change its policy against policing political ads
“It will be great for the country — great for the country. Terrible for me.”
— Larry David to Stephen Colbert on the possibility of Bernie Sanders winning the presidential election; David flies from Los Angeles to New York City nearly every week to play Sanders on “Saturday Night Live”
“I never wash my face.”
— Warren, in an interview with Cosmopolitan magazine, on her skin care routine
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