2020 Daily Trail Markers: Nevada Caucus Eve edition


On the eve of the Nevada caucuses, every candidate (except Tulsi Gabbard and Michael Bloomberg) is stumping in the state to turn out supporters ahead of Saturday’s “first in the West” contest. And a new poll from CBS Las Vegas affiliate KLAS shows Nevada remains Bernie Sanders’ race to lose, with the senator polling at 30.4% — nearly double Pete Buttigieg at 16.9% and Joe Biden at 16.1% behind him. 

Of the early campaigns to staff up operations in Nevada last year, CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin says only Sanders and Elizabeth Warren remain in the race. The Sanders team has touted building Nevada’s largest staff, numbering more than 250, with outside backers like Make the Road Nevada and National Nurses United swelling their volunteer ranks. Despite a spat with the Culinary Workers Union, one of Nevada’s most prominent unions, Sanders has picked up the support of a massive teachers union and labor leaders in the state.

Behind Sanders, Buttigieg’s team is smaller but boasts key strategic hires for Nevada’s delegate contest. Under state director Paul Selberg, who formerly led the Nevada Assembly Democratic Caucus staff, and national caucus director Travis Brock, former head of the state party, the campaign was the first to open outposts in far-flung rural Nevada towns like Pahrump and Fallon and claims nearly half of their organizing team speaks Spanish.

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Biden has secured key allies for navigating the Nevada caucuses like State Senator Yvanna Cancela, former political director to the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, and swing district freshman Congressman Steven Horsford. And even beyond locking up the high-profile endorsement of the Latino Victory Fund on Thursday, Biden has jockeyed with Sanders for a lead in polling of the coveted Latino communities that make up nearly one third of Nevada.

And looking for an upset beyond the top-polling contenders in the KLAS poll are Warren at 12.1%, Amy Klobuchar at 11.0%, and Tom Steyer at 9.8%. All three are within the survey’s margin of error of each other and below the so-called viability threshold (15% in most precincts) to qualify for delegates.

But that hasn’t stopped them and the other candidates and outside groups from spending more than $6 million in television and radio ads put together in this final week, per Kantar CMAG data. And given the wide field, all the White House hopefuls stand to pick up additional support during realignment of the nearly 75,000 Nevadans who have already cast early votes and the remaining caucus-goers Saturday, including those braving a rare rain forecast in Las Vegas.

FROM THE CANDIDATES

JOE BIDEN

Can unions save Joe Biden’s campaign? CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson reports from Las Vegas that the big bet the Biden campaign is putting into their pro-union message in the state. After disappointing finishes out of the top three in Iowa and New Hampshire, aides and allies hope the “middle-class Joe” mantra will sway Nevadans to turn around his political fortunes. The pro-union message has only grown more dire as Biden rings the alarm that proposals like Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan will eliminate the private insurance many union workers on the Las Vegas strip bargained to get. And even if this strategy succeeds in Nevada, can unions—whose membership nationwide has been cut in half over the past 20 years—and their support boost him past his rivals?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG

Michael Bloomberg announced Friday that the women who have signed non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) will be permitted following growing pressure from Democratic rivals like Warren. CBS News campaign reporter Tim Perry reports that Bloomberg announced in a statement his reversal and he listed steps he will take with his company and further legislative action he would take if elected president about workplace discrimination. “I’ve had the company go back over its record and they’ve identified three NDAs that we signed over the past 30-plus years with women to address complaints about comments they said I had made,” Bloomberg said. “If any of them want to be released from their NDA so that they can talk about those allegations, they should contact the company and they’ll be given a release,” Bloomberg added. Bloomberg also said leaders at his private company Bloomberg LP will “review and reform our policies where necessary with regard to equal pay and promotion, sexual harassment and discrimination.” He also said that if elected, he would work to pass the Be Heard Act in Congress and he will encourage business leaders to “support women beyond what is mandated by Congress.”

ELIZABETH WARREN

Warren has threaded a line between pitches of herself as a uniter and as a fighter, but since the start of the Nevada debate, she’s had the gloves off. Warren, a former contract law professor, read a covenant she had drafted to release Bloomberg’s former employees who are bound by non-disclosure agreements on a CNN town hall Thursday night. It was disqualifying, she said, that Bloomberg had stuffed “a gag in the woman’s mouth.” CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak says the act is reminiscent of how Warren acted in the Senate. During Jeff Sessions’ 2017 attorney general confirmation hearing, she refused to stop reading a letter on the Senate floor that criticized Sessions’ actions as a senator. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said about Warren: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” “Nevertheless she persisted” has become Warren’s tagline. 

Bloomberg’s decision to in fact release some former employees from NDAs helps Warren’s argument that she can play rough enough to take on President Trump. But Warren, confronted in January with apparently the most dire financial situation her  campaign has faced, has also shown a new desire to contrast herself from her opponents. Speaking about fellow progressive Sanders on MSNBC on Thursday, Warren said “I get real stuff done … I don’t want to be a president just to yell at people. I want to be a president to change things.” To this point, Warren’s new strategy is working. Her campaign announced it has raised over $17 million in February alone, it’s best month yet. 

AD WARS

BILLBOARDS ON BLAST

Bloomberg is looking beyond the war being waged against him by the Democratic primary field toward general election opponent President Trump, trolling him with billboards where the president himself is campaigning in the West this week. CBS News campaign reporter Tim Perry has exclusively learned that billboards are going up in Phoenix and Las Vegas, where Mr. Trump campaigned Friday. The billboards are appearing in high visibility areas near a Trump hotel property on the Vegas Strip, and also along potential motorcade routes where the president may see them as he drives by. Should Mr. Trump look out the window of the presidential limousine, he could see billboards blaring, “Donald Trump cheats at golf,” and “Donald Trump eats burnt steak.” There’s also “Donald Trump lost the popular vote” and “Donald Trump went broke running a casino.” In a statement released by the campaign, Bloomberg campaign spokeswoman Galia Slayen said “Americans deserve to know that Donald Trump cheats at golf and went broke running a casino.” The feud between the two New York billionaires has escalated since Bloomberg began to see a sharp uptick in polling amid his enormous ad spending. In Bloomberg’s second FEC filing, his campaign reported spending over $460 million dollars total since he entered the race in late November through the end of January.  

According to the ad tracking service Kantar/CMAG, the campaign will have spent more than $415 million in TV, radio and digital advertising since its launch. After Bloomberg’s lackluster debate debut this week, Mr. Trump took to Twitter Wednesday night to mock the former New York mayor’s performance, tweeting, “Mini Mike Bloomberg’s debate performance tonight was perhaps the worst in the history of debates, and there have been some really bad ones. He was stumbling, bumbling and grossly incompetent. If this doesn’t knock him out of the race, nothing will. Not so easy to do what I did!”

OFFICE ANTICS

WRITING ON THE WALL

A Knoxville, Tennessee office for Bloomberg was vandalized Thursday overnight with expletives and language that the Bloomberg campaign says echoes language used by Sanders. According to WVTL, the Knoxville Police Department said they received a complaint of vandalism at the office. The police department said they are investigating the incident and no suspects have been identified. CBS News campaign reporter Tim Perry reports that Bloomberg campaign manager Kevin Sheekey said in a statement that the campaign has experienced multiple instances of office vandalism in various states over the last week and is calling on Sanders to condemn the attacks and accused the Sanders presidential campaign of using “Trump-like rhetoric,” that encourages this behavior. When asked for a response to the story from CBS News, the Sanders campaign said they were not commenting.

“This latest incident at our Knoxville campaign office is exactly what we’ve been warning about. We don’t know who is responsible for this vandalism, but we do know it echoes language from the Sanders campaign and its supporters.” Sheekey said. “We call on Bernie Sanders to immediately condemn these attacks and for his campaign to end the Trump-like rhetoric that is clearly encouraging his supporters to engage in behavior that has no place in our politics.”

STATE-BY-STATE

SOUTH CAROLINA

Is South Carolina still Joe Biden’s firewall? CBS News reporters LaCrai Mitchell and Nicole Sganga report Biden has expressed confidence in his support from African Americans throughout the primary cycle, and black voters are expected to make up 60% of the Democratic primary electorate in South Carolina. But an NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll released Tuesday showed his lead over Bernie Sanders among black voters has shrunk to just three percentage points. On Monday, the campaign kicked off a bus tour with Jill Biden who insists that her husband’s “firewall” remains intact and invoked her late son, Beau Biden, in talking about the unique bond she and her husband feel with the state. “The people of South Carolina know me. They know Joe,” Jill Biden said. “We were here, like I said, after our son Beau died. This is where we came to try and heal. And when there was the mass shooting at the church, we came to that service. I mean, we love the state of South Carolina.”

A CBS News analysis shows Biden has spent 18 days in South Carolina since launching his campaign. By comparison, he was in Iowa for 61 days and in New Hampshire for 23 days. Biden has spent nearly $400,000 on South Carolina television and radio advertisements this month alone, much less than the seven-figure investments made in Iowa and Nevada. This week, Biden’s Super PAC, Unite the Country, has invested just under $74,000 total in local radio advertising, according to Kantar Media. Amid the crowds of voters Dr. Biden addressed however, there was a sense that this might be the former vice president’s last stand, and some of his supporters here harbor doubts about him. “I would say I am a Biden supporter, but I’m also very interested in Amy Klobuchar,” Scott McBroom said as he awaited to see Jill Biden in North Charleston. “Frankly, had he run four years ago, I would have been volunteering myself. But what I’m seeing so far concerns me. He’s not as sharp as he was four years ago.”

TEXAS

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is throwing her weight behind a progressive candidate seeking the nomination in Texas’ crowded Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, according to CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson and CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster. Ocasio-Cortez said on Friday that she is endorsing progressive organizer Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez in the race to challenge Republican Senator John Cornyn in November. The endorsement, first reported by the New York Times, comes less than two weeks before primary day in Texas and while early voting is already in progress. Ocasio-Cortez’s support for Tzintzún Ramirez is part of a slew of endorsements for progressive women in races across the country through Ocasio-Cortez’s PAC, Courage to Change. “When I am in the Senate, I will fight for the bold, progressive change that Texans deserve, including securing an economy with living wages, high-quality healthcare for all, and real action on climate change.”,” Tzintzún Ramirez said in a statement about the endorsement. Tzintzún Ramirez is one of at least 11 candidates running for the Democratic Senate nomination in Texas. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes during the primary, there will be a runoff between the two candidates who receive the most votes. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has endorsed Air Force veteran MJ Hegar in the primary. Hegar led the most recent Texas Tribune/University of Texas poll of the Senate race with 22%. “Texans are going to vote for someone who is outside the political system and embodies Texans values of strength, courage, and independence,” Hegar’s spokesperson Amanda Sherman said in a statement in response to Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement.

CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro says that while Ocasio-Cortez’s organization represents a contrast with the House Democratic campaign arm that protects incumbents, none of the endorsed House races conflict with any of their “Frontline” members. Nebraska’s 2nd district, where Courage to Change endorsed Kara Eastman, is the only race that does overlap with DCCC’s target list. In a fundraising pitch, the PAC mentions the campaign arm. “When community leaders, activists, and working-class candidates try to run for office, organizations like the DCCC discourage them.” The PAC’s website adds that “corporate interests, elite donors and insular party power structures disincentive many potential leaders from running for office.” In a statement from Jessica Cisneros, who is looking to topple Congressman Henry Cuellar in March 3 primary, she said she’s “honored by this endorsement and to be part of the movement across the country to fight for a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and standing up to Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda.” Both campaigns have been running attack ads against each other in the past few weeks. Cuellar’s campaign manager Colin Strother told Navarro that “it has historically been considered as very poor taste for members to endorse against other sitting members. I feel pretty confident that we’re standing with the right people. And we’re more than happy to let her tout her endorsements from the Congresswoman, as well as Bernie, Elizabeth Warren.”





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