Welcome to On Politics, a daily political analysis of the 2020 elections, based on reporting by Times journalists.
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Where things stand in the race
The Democratic competition in Iowa has returned to a state of semi-suspended animation now that Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar are back at the Senate impeachment trial. Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg remain in Iowa campaigning.
Buttigieg faced questions from voters at two Iowa events on Monday about how he will win more support from African-Americans. This morning, The Times published a story by Reid J. Epstein detailing frustrations and grievances among people of color working for the Buttigieg campaign, some of whom felt stressed about the candidate’s lack of support from black and Hispanic voters.
Of all the candidates, it’s the absent Sanders who is the hot topic in Iowa’s political circles. “I have told my colleagues all along: Bernie Sanders can win with 27 percent of the vote here,” Representative Dave Loebsack told Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns for their latest article on the Iowa race. If the multiple non-Sanders candidates split the vote, Sanders could prevail with a far smaller percentage of the electorate than past victors like Hillary Clinton (who had 49.8 percent), Barack Obama (37.6 percent) or John Kerry (37.6 percent, too).
We asked Alex about any stirrings of a stop-Sanders movement. He texts: “Much of the Dem establishment is still crossing its fingers and hoping Biden comes out of IA/NH strong enough to become a focal point of opposition to Sanders. But beyond that, there’s not much of an organized Stop Sanders effort — not yet, anyway. Lots of skepticism that another white centrist like Buttigieg or Klobuchar can win minority votes. The only thing that really looks like an anti-Sanders firewall right now is the Bloomberg campaign.”
Whoever they nominate, many Democrats say their main concern is getting President Trump out of office. But polls show him in an increasingly strong position against his potential Democratic rivals, partly thanks to the humming economy. According to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, while Trump’s job approval numbers remain historically low, his handling of the economy gets higher marks. And in head-to-head matchups with top Democrats, Trump is now neck-and-neck among all registered voters, the poll found.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Chasten Buttigieg stood on a chair to snap a shot of his husband, Pete, amid a gaggle of reporters after a town hall event in Boone, Iowa, on Monday.
Two senators are ready to hear from Bolton
Less than a day after The New York Times reported that John Bolton’s unpublished memoir contradicts the administration’s impeachment defense, two Republican senators signaled that they were prepared to call Mr. Bolton as a witness. But it’s too soon to know if that’ll happen.
“I think it’s important to be able to hear from John Bolton for us to be able to make an impartial judgment,” Mitt Romney of Utah told reporters on Monday. Romney was joined by Susan Collins of Maine in calling for Bolton to testify; it was the first break in a Republican wall of opposition to calling new witnesses or evidence in the impeachment trial.
At least four Republican senators would need to vote with their Democratic colleagues to allow fresh witnesses and documents to be subpoenaed. To ultimately remove Trump from office, a two-thirds majority would be needed.
That is a high hurdle to surmount — and according to Peter Baker, our chief White House correspondent, it’s an almost impossible one in today’s political reality.
At the trial itself, Trump’s team continued to present its defense without responding to the news outside. His lawyers argued that the House’s impeachment had been unjust and made accusations against Biden. They barely mentioned Bolton.
Oh right, there’s an Iowa Republican caucus too
Theirs is not much of a nail-biter, but Republicans also have a caucus in Iowa on Feb. 3. Two candidates challenging Trump, Joe Walsh and William Weld, are technically running, though they haven’t made any inroads in Trump’s support.
The Iowa Republican Party didn’t cancel its caucus in part because it values the state’s first-in-the-nation status, but also because it sees the exercise as a productive dry run for what it expects will be a competitive process in 2024.
“We’ve got over 100 trainings,” said Jeff Kaufmann, the chairman of the Iowa Republican Party. “We get no tax dollars, no help. We’ve got to raise about $750,000 to hold this caucus. It’s a significant investment.”
Trump himself is expected in Des Moines on Thursday night for a rally, part of a ramped-up campaign schedule. Kaufmann noted that Iowa was still a swing state, even though Trump won it handily in 2016, and the president will be speaking to independents.
“For all practical purposes,” Kaufmann said, “this is the beginning of the general election.”
A not-so-negative negative ad
The airwaves in Iowa are seeing the first truly negative ad to attack a Democratic candidate.
The target: Sanders.
The source: not a Democratic rival, but the Club for Growth, a conservative outside group.
The Washington think tank said it had spent $41,500 to guarantee the ad would remain on the air in Iowa through the caucuses.
The ad features all the hallmarks of a traditional attack ad: a conspiratorial-voiced narrator ticks off a list of policy positions, lampooning them as “radical” before also pointing to Sanders’s “extreme” age (he is 78).
Aside from the attack on Sanders for being “too old,” his campaign will probably welcome the Club for Growth ad, which accuses him of wanting to give “government health insurance to everyone” and calls his Green New Deal “even bigger than the New Deal.”
Members of the Sanders campaign were quick to seize on the ad. His speechwriter David Sirota went so far as to call it a “positive.”
But the Club for Growth said it wasn’t concerned about how the ad might be construed.
“The potential for a radical socialist as the Democratic nominee has never been more real,” said David McIntosh, the president of Club for Growth Action.
After months of tiptoeing around the issue, Warren is embracing her standing as the lone woman in the top tier of Democratic presidential candidates. She is structuring her final pitch to Iowa voters around that identity, summed up in a single pithy line: “Women win.”
The latest example was a campaign video tweeted out Monday morning: In it, Warren answers a questioner who is deciding whether to support her. Warren cites her first election victory, in 2012, when she defeated a Republican incumbent, and describes what she sees as the reasons female candidates have outperformed men nationwide since Trump’s election.
In mentioning her gender, she is also flicking at the back-and-forth she had with Sanders, whom she accused of telling her in 2018 that a woman could not win the presidency.
Without mentioning her rival by name, Warren is seeking to rally voters around that exchange while building on a subtle theme of her campaign, which has deployed historical accounts of women’s involvement in the labor movement in pivotal speeches.
For those worried about Democratic Party unity …
You probably missed it, but on Friday the Democratic National Committee chairman, Tom Perez, sent out a list of appointments to lead and serve on the three standing committees of the Democratic National Convention.
The list is mostly party stalwarts, which you might say makes sense — it’s the party leader picking party officials. Barney Frank, the former congressman, and Maria Cardona, a strategist, were tapped to lead the rules committee. Denis McDonough, the former Obama White House chief of staff, was named to lead the platform committee.
But with Sanders ascendant in the polls, some of his supporters weren’t happy with the establishment-leaning list — including Nina Turner, a co-chair of the Sanders campaign.
“It is an embarrassment. The D.N.C. should be ashamed of itself,” Ms. Turner told the progressive site Status Coup on Monday. “It really is a slap in the face to folks who were asking for reform.”
Turner also pointed back to the dust-up between the committee and the Sanders campaign during the 2016 presidential race, when leaked emails showed D.N.C. staff members had traded disparaging messages about the Sanders campaign.
“If the D.N.C. believes that it’s going to get away in 2020 with what it did in 2016, it has another thing coming,” Turner said.
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