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Where things stand in the race
Seventeen Democratic nominating contests will take place over the next week: the South Carolina primary on Saturday, and then, on Super Tuesday, primaries in 14 other states, along with votes cast by Democrats abroad and in American Samoa.
But yesterday, the day after a rambunctious debate in South Carolina, all the focus was on that state’s upcoming primary. Six candidates — Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer — spoke at the National Action Network breakfast, hosted by the group’s founder, the Rev. Al Sharpton. Each candidate made a pitch for support from black voters, who are expected to make up the majority of the primary electorate.
Steyer has assiduously courted the black vote in South Carolina and has a history of working to aid black businesses (though some of his spending in the state has drawn scrutiny). He made perhaps the breakfast’s boldest arguments, calling directly for reparations for slavery.
Most South Carolina polls put both Steyer and Sanders within striking distance of Biden, though the former vice president is hoping that his solid showing in Tuesday’s debate can help him hold onto his lead. An online snap poll from CBS News found that Sanders and Biden were the biggest winners at the debate on Tuesday, with over two-fifths of respondents saying that each of them had performed impressively.
Biden also got a big boost on Wednesday from Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 Democrat in the House and South Carolina’s most influential Democratic politician. “I know Joe. We know Joe. But most importantly, Joe knows us,” Clyburn said in an appearance with Biden in North Charleston on Wednesday. The Biden campaign immediately released a video on social media featuring Clyburn praising the candidate.
Michael Bloomberg isn’t the only one spending in huge numbers on TV ads. Priorities USA, a Democratic super PAC, has released two new ads attacking President Trump. It announced last month that it would spend $150 million on anti-Trump ads before the Democratic National Convention in July, helping to keep him on his toes while the Democrats fight among themselves.
Bloomberg sought to drive home his core argument on Wednesday: that he is the best-positioned candidate to beat Trump — and that he would govern nothing like him. The former New York mayor released a forceful new ad, seizing on the anxiety around the coronavirus and criticizing Trump for being unprepared to confront it. He, Biden, Klobuchar and Warren also appeared in televised town hall events on CNN.
Two days ago in this space, we told you that Nancy Pelosi was sidestepping questions about whether she was disturbed by Sanders’s rise. But when asked by reporters on Wednesday whether she would be comfortable with him at the top of the Democratic ticket, she responded with a single word: “Yes.”
A Pew study released Wednesday found that 10 percent of eligible voters in the United States this cycle will be immigrants. That’s a new high, and it’s twice as high the share in 2000. Immigrants from Mexico make up the single largest group, accounting for 16 percent of foreign-born voters. This doesn’t mean that immigrants will actually register and vote in numbers commensurate to their share of the electorate. That will depend in part on organizing and get-out-the-vote efforts.
A group of more than 200 Native Americans issued a letter on Wednesday reviving longstanding criticism of Warren, who has apologized for having claimed Native heritage. The letter, which was first reported by The Los Angeles Times, said Warren had “perpetuated a dangerous misunderstanding of tribal sovereignty.” Warren responded with a 12-page letter of her own, writing, “I was wrong to have identified as a Native American, and, without qualification or excuse, I apologize for the harm I caused.”
Photo of the day
Representative Jim Clyburn and former Vice President Joe Biden took the stage before Clyburn endorsed Biden in North Charleston.
Obama jumps to Biden’s defense, but it’s not an endorsement.
Lawyers for former President Barack Obama sent a cease-and-desist letter to a pro-Trump super PAC on Wednesday, demanding that it stop airing and sharing a misleading, inflammatory ad that twists a passage from an Obama audiobook to make it appear he was accusing Biden, his former vice president, of betraying black voters.
The ad uses audio of Obama reading an excerpt from his memoir “Dreams From My Father.” In that passage, a barber describes politicians seeking black voters’ support while not actually helping them.
“This despicable ad is straight out of the Republican disinformation playbook, and it’s clearly designed to suppress turnout among minority voters in South Carolina,” Katie Hill, a spokeswoman for Obama, said in a statement, echoing criticism from the Biden campaign — which alerted Obama’s team to the ad late Tuesday, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
The ad was paid for by a group called the Committee to Defend the President, a little-known but well-funded super PAC that has raised $7.8 million in the 2020 cycle, mostly in contributions from Republican donors ranging from $200 to $5,000, according to federal spending data. The PAC, based in Virginia and founded by Dan Backer, a veteran anti-Clinton activist, pumped $1 million into Marsha Blackburn’s successful Senate bid in Tennessee last year, and was also behind a Spanish-language ad distorting Biden’s record on immigration.
But the brazen effort could backfire, or at least that is what several Biden allies reached Wednesday night were predicting: Obama, who has tried to steer clear of the primary race, was forced to have his team jump to his friend’s defense. (Hill referred to Biden as the former president’s “own esteemed vice president.”) Even while Obama maintains his official neutrality, that could give Biden a small boost in a must-win contest for him.
Trump confronts the coronavirus, and concerns about how he’s handling it.
Trump has drawn bipartisan criticism for his response to the coronavirus, and on Wednesday he sought to show a steady hand.
He appointed Vice President Mike Pence to oversee efforts to stem the virus’s spread in the United States, while seeking to play down the severity of the crisis in remarks to reporters.
He said that “the flu in our country kills from 25,000 people to 69,000 people a year,” contrasting it with the coronavirus, which has not yet killed anyone in the United States. But top health officials have warned that the virus will almost certainly spread in the country.
Both Democrats and Republicans have assailed Trump for his request of $2.5 billion in funding to combat the virus. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, called that request “long overdue and completely inadequate to the scale of this emergency.”
Pelosi criticized Trump for leaving “critical positions in charge of managing pandemics at the National Security Council and the Department of Homeland Security vacant,” and for attempting to cut funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In an appearance on MSNBC, Representative Donna Shalala, who served as health and human services secretary under President Bill Clinton, rejected the idea that Trump ought to be speaking about a health issue on television. “This is an anti-science administration,” she said. “The last person the American people trust is the president of the United States talking about science.”
But Trump asserted that his administration’s response to the spread of the virus has been excellent. Responding to reporters, he also said he would be open to restricting access to the United States from countries with high rates of infection with the virus.
The C.D.C. announced on Wednesday that a person in California had been infected but was not known to have recently visited a foreign country or had contact with a confirmed case. That could make it the first case of community transmission in the country.