On Politics: Where Things Stand Before South Carolina

On Politics: Where Things Stand Before South Carolina


Good morning and welcome to On Politics, a daily political analysis of the 2020 elections based on reporting by New York Times journalists.

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  • If you’ve been reading this newsletter, you know that Democratic superdelegates are a freaked-out bunch right about now. Lisa Lerer, your morning newsletter host, and her fellow political reporter Reid J. Epstein spoke to 93 superdelegates over the last few days, and almost all of them said they’re concerned about what a Bernie Sanders candidacy would mean for Democrats’ chances in congressional races. Cue party intrigue over what will happen at the Democratic National Convention, if Sanders does not win an outright majority of pledged delegates.

  • During her weekly news conference on Thursday, Nancy Pelosi left the door wide open for a brokered convention. “The person who we nominate will be the person who has a majority plus one,” she told reporters. “That may happen before they ever get to the convention, but we’ll see.”

  • “Contrary to what you may be hearing or writing, we are all unified,” Pelosi said. “Whoever the nominee is of our party, we will wholeheartedly support.”

  • Joe Biden got generally good marks for his performance in the debate this week, then he got the full-throated endorsement of Jim Clyburn, South Carolina’s most influential Democrat. A poll conducted before either of those things had happened, and released on Thursday, provided another dose of good news for Biden: The Monmouth University poll showed him with a gaping, 20-point lead over Sanders. Tom Steyer finished almost even with Sanders.

  • A decisive victory for Biden could provide crucial momentum for him going into Super Tuesday. He is running neck-and-neck with Sanders — and sometimes, with Michael Bloomberg — in some of the most delegate-rich states coming up on Tuesday, including Texas and North Carolina.

  • Elizabeth Warren has spent the campaign decrying the influence of money in politics. So it was a surprise late Thursday when a super PAC announced it would be making one of the largest ad buys of the campaign — on Warren’s behalf. The group, Persist PAC, will be funding $9 million in TV and digital ads in three crucial Super Tuesday states: California, Texas and Massachusetts. The group says it does not plan to disclose its donors until it’s legally required, on March 20.

  • President Trump has been running some consistent counterprogramming against the Democratic primaries, holding rallies in early-voting states and other swing states just as Democratic voters are preparing to go to the polls. Now he has put money down to air follow-up ads in New Hampshire, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado, featuring footage from his recent appearances there.

  • Voting is already well underway in the most delegate-rich state on Super Tuesday. At least 2.7 million Californians have voted early, Alex Padilla, the California secretary of state, said on Thursday. “I’m predicting a very high turnout,” he told reporters. California, which has 415 delegates, is participating in Super Tuesday for the first time this year, adding to its heft as a decisive force in the nominating process.

  • Here’s one way to drive youth turnout: Instagram-ify the vote. That’s the idea behind a program bringing voting sites to four college campuses across the country. The +1 the Polls initiative, sponsored by MTV, is seeking to make voting feel “memorable and social” for college students, who will often be participating for the first time. After all, nothing says “social” like doing your civic duty by filling out a form alone in a booth. Right?

  • The Wisconsin primary isn’t until April 7, but a Marquette Law School poll found that if it were today, Sanders would be the strong favorite in the crucial Midwestern state. The poll gave him a 12-point lead over Bloomberg, his closest rival. It also found all the Democratic candidates in a statistical tie with Trump in head-to-head matchups. Only Sanders had a numerical lead over Trump (48 percent to 46 percent), but that too was within the poll’s margin of error.

  • A CNN/University of New Hampshire poll told a different story. It showed a wide range of possible outcomes in the state, depending on the Democratic nominee. Pete Buttigieg, who ran a close second to Sanders in the New Hampshire primary, had a six-point lead over Trump in the poll; Bloomberg, who did not compete in New Hampshire, trailed Trump by 12 points.


Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. stuck his head through the order window during a visit to Scott’s Bar-B-Que restaurant in Hemingway, S.C., on Thursday.


The Service Employees International Union said on Thursday that it would pour $150 million into a turnout drive this year that would focus on voters in low-turnout areas and minorities.

In what would be its largest-ever voter-engagement campaign, the union will target six million voters for face-to-face contact across 40 states, with particular attention on Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. It also plans to send text messages to 20 million potential voters, and will invest in both local and national elections.

“S.E.I.U. members and working people who are trying to organize a union recognize this is a make-or-break moment for our country,” the union’s president, Mary Kay Henry, said in a statement.

In the 2018 midterm elections, the service employees’ union mobilized workers and nonwhite voters, particularly in the Midwest, through a 14-month initiative. In announcing its plans for 2020, the union cited Democratic victories in the Wisconsin and Michigan governors’ races as evidence that its 2018 efforts had paid off.

The 2020 push includes a plan to turn out union members in high numbers on Election Day, as well as involving them in broader get-out-the-vote efforts. The union is planning to target Hispanic voters in Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin, and Asian-Pacific Islander voters in parts of Nevada and Pennsylvania. It will also work to drive turnout among Hmong and Somali immigrant communities in Minnesota.

The effort will primarily rely on door-to-door canvassing and other forms of direct engagement, as well as online advertising.


How are the top-polling candidates choosing to communicate with voters in South Carolina? Here’s a look at the most-aired TV ad per candidate throughout February in the Columbia and Charleston markets, according to Advertising Analytics.

Biden’s most-aired commercial leaves almost all the talking to his former boss, President Barack Obama. The ad consists of footage from a speech Obama gave in 2017, as he was preparing to leave the White House. “This is an extraordinary man,” he says of his deputy, with Biden standing at his side.

Obama rattles off some of what he calls Biden’s accomplishments during his time as vice president, including reviving American manufacturing as head of Obama’s middle-class task force, working to combat gun violence and pushing to make college more affordable.

Obama has declined to endorse a candidate in the race, but this ad comes just about as close as you can to conveying the spirit of an endorsement without actually depicting one. As it ends, Obama declares: “Joe’s candid, honest counsel made me a better president and a better commander-in-chief. And all of this makes him the finest vice president we have ever seen.”

Sanders has been fighting an uphill battle in South Carolina, particularly among black voters, who still support Biden by a double-digit margin, according to polls. Sanders has cut into that lead some, and with this ad his campaign makes its intentions clear: It wants to pick off Biden voters.

The central character here is Dalhi Meyers, a councilwoman in Richland County, who says she started out as a Biden supporter. Framing the decision as a matter of pragmatism while also dropping in a reference to Obama, she argues that Sanders’s campaign is the one with “momentum.”

“I want to see the kind of lines around the building that we saw in 2008,” she says. “I want to see people motivated to get out and vote for a candidate that they believe in.”

In conclusion, she brings it all back around to electability: “Somebody’s got to take this fight to Donald Trump, and I think Bernie Sanders can do that,” she says.

Steyer has made a point of targeting voters of color, often by speaking about the community-development bank he started in California that seeks to boost minority and low-income businesses. But in his most heavily aired ad this month, he uses a far simpler — and utterly unsubtle — tack: He cloaks himself in Obama’s popularity.

The ad begins with Edith Childs, a city councilwoman in Greenwood, S.C., speaking into the camera. Then it quickly flashes to footage of Obama remembering the moment when Childs came up with his now-famous campaign slogan, “Fired up, ready to go,” during a campaign stop in South Carolina.

Bringing things home, Childs tells viewers, “We need something different to beat Trump. Tom Steyer can bring it.” At the end, she modifies her maxim: “Tom’s fired up, and Trump’s got to go.”

The White House is asserting greater control over what information becomes public about the coronavirus outbreak.

Trump directed all government scientists and health officials not to make public statements without going through Vice President Mike Pence, who is heading up the federal response to the virus.

But potentially worrisome stories are coming out anyway, in spite of the administration’s attempts to coordinate its message. A government whistle-blower has informed lawmakers that federal health workers had contact with Americans quarantined for possible exposure to the virus, even though they weren’t given proper medical training or protective gear — then they went back into the general population.

The workers were “improperly deployed,” the whistle-blower said.

Trump, however, continued to give his administration’s response high marks on Thursday. “I think it’s an incredible achievement what our country’s done,” he said. Referring to the 15 people who have now been infected with the virus in the United States without traveling overseas, he said: “Fifteen people is almost, I would say, a miracle.”



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