WASHINGTON — The Lincoln Project, a super PAC founded by a group of veteran Republican strategists, is best known for its viral anti-Trump ads spread across social media and even aired on television. And while the group has also targeted individual GOP senators up for re-election this cycle for supporting President Trump, it’s inserting itself more directly into upcoming races by endorsing a Senate candidate for the first time — Montana Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.
“We’re known for our independence, our open spaces and our strength,” the spot narrator says of Montanans over picturesque scenes of the state. “Governor Steve Bullock did a hell of a job for Montana, and in the U.S. Senate, he’ll show ’em what Montana strong looks like.”
The 30-second ad, titled “Strong,” continues to say that, “With everything going wrong in Washington, do nothing, say nothing politicians won’t cut it” as a photo of Daines appears on the screen.
The Lincoln Project says it’s spending north of a $100,000 dollars on the ad, which is set to air across several Montana media markets on both broadcast and cable television from Wednesday through the end of the week. The spot will also be released on digital and social platforms.
According to Lincoln Project communications director Keith Edwards, the group’s decision to support Bullock represents the first time it has backed a candidate for Senate.
“We chose Steve Bullock because he’s a competent, moral leader who thinks of his constituents first,” Edwards told NBC News in an email. “Steve Daines is just another rubber stamp for Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell.”
The group’s co-founder, Reed Galen, echoed that sentiment in an interview with NBC News, explaining that Bullock, a moderate Democrat, can garner support from GOP and Independent voters, even though doing so would mean they cross party lines.
The Lincoln Project hopes to mobilize these GOP and Independent voters across the country against Trump come November. Asked if the group is concerned about appearing too Democratic and alienating those voters with the latest ad, its past attacks on Republican lawmakers, and its endorsement of presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden for president, Galen said: “I don’t think so.”
“If there’s a candidate that we believe, like a Joe Biden or in this case a Steve Bullock, who is an absolutely worthy replacement for the current incumbent, then you know, we believe that the folks who believe as we do, that you’ve got to take Trump and Trumpism out of the system.”
As to whether the group plans to release more ads endorsing Democratic candidates in competitive Senate races in the future, Galen responded that: “You’ll have to wait and see.”
The final spending disparity in Kentucky’s Democratic Senate primary: Nine-to-one
WASHINGTON — We’ve been following the massive spending disparity in Kentucky, where Democrat Amy McGrath has brought in money hand-over-fist for her Senate bid.
While she was initially expected to cruise through Tuesday’s primary to a matchup with Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, her top Democratic opponent, state Rep. Charles Booker, has caught fire as of late.
Even though Booker has kicked up his fundraising and spending in recent weeks, he’s still been massively outspent on the airwaves.
As of Tuesday, McGrath has spent $12.1 million on TV and radio ads compared to Booker’s $1.3 million, according to data from Advertising Analytics.
Now the question is: can McGrath leverage her massive resource advantage into holding onto a primary win, or can Booker overcome the huge spending disparity to score an upset?
Hogan Gidley, White House spokesman, to move to Trump reelection campaign
WASHINGTON — White House spokesman Hogan Gidley will join the Trump campaign as its new national press secretary starting next week, the campaign announced Tuesday.
Gidley has been with the White House since October of 2017 and has served in several communications capacities, most recently as the principal deputy press secretary. Gidley will technically replace Kayleigh McEnany, who became the current White House press secretary when she left the role of the campaign’s national spokesperson in April.
“Hogan Gidley has been at the President’s side for three years and now he joins the fight to re-elect him,” Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager, said in a statement.
“He is a talented advocate and defender of the President and his policies and is never afraid to go into battle with hostile reporters and television hosts. Hogan is a great addition to the team and makes us even stronger.”
It’s the latest example of crossover and overlap between the White House and the outside re-elect effort as the incumbent president seeks a second term.
The move has been in the works for several weeks, according to a source familiar with the discussions, but was accelerated after Trump and his top aides were disappointed with low turnout at the Tulsa, Oklahoma rally.
The president seemed to tease the news himself Tuesday morning before he left for Arizona. Asked if there were any campaign staff shakeups being considered, Trump replied: “Yeah, Hogan Gidley, not for that reason.”
Obama-Biden event expected to bring in at least $4 million
WASHINGTON — Joe Biden will hold his first joint fundraiser Tuesday night with former President Barack Obama, and the grassroots fundraising event is expected to bring in at least $4 million, according to the Biden campaign.
If that holds true, tonight’s fundraiser will be one of the biggest, but not the biggest, financial event in the coronavirus pandemic era of virtual events. A previous big-dollar event with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren brought in $6 million for the Biden war chest.
This will be Obama’s first time holding a 2020 campaign event since he endorsed his former vice president over two months ago.
Ahead of the event, the Biden camp has been in overdrive pushing supporters for donations on their text and email lists. An email on Monday in Obama’s name offered donors a chance to have more private virtual meet and greet with both men. In a statement to NBC News, Obama spokesperson Katie Hill previewed the former president’s participation.
“President Obama will make a full-throated case for why Vice President Biden is the leader America needs at this turbulent moment. Joe Biden embodies strong, stable, empathetic leadership and has shown he’d be ready to hit the ground running in the midst of an unprecedented health and economic crisis,” Hill said in the statement.
Hill added that Obama will also campaign and raise money for Democrats “up and down the ballot” like he did in 2018.
More than 120,000 people have paid to participate in tonight’s fundraiser — making it one of the largest fundraisers yet with a campaign surrogate. Warren’s fundraiser with Biden drew in 620 attendees, and a fundraiser with California Sen. Kamala Harris earlier this month had 1,400 participants and $3.5 million was raised.
Marianna Sotomayor contributed.
Biden campaign commits to three presidential debates amid reports Trump’s team is pushing for more
WASHINGTON — The Biden campaign has officially committed its candidate to participating in no more than the three previously scheduled presidential debates set up for the fall, pre-emptively denying any potential requests from President Trump for more debates.
Although formal invites by the Commission on Presidential Debates will be sent out after the nominating conventions this summer, the Biden campaign also made clear that their yet to-be-announced vice presidential pick will also participate in their early October debate.
In a letter obtained by NBC News, Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon tells the Commission that they hope President Trump and Vice President Pence will signal their willingness to participate rather than “make excuses” to dismiss the election tradition of three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate. The letter comes after recent reports circulated that the Trump campaign has signaled a desire to add more general election debates to the schedule — a reversal of the president’s previous position on debates.
“Now that Donald Trump is trailing badly in the polls, and is desperate to change the subject from his failed leadership of the country, we are seeing reports that he has his own proposal for debates,” O’Malley Dillon said in the letter. “No one should be fooled: the Trump campaign’s new position is a debate distraction.”
The campaign manager also requested that the Commission confirm it’s plans for holding a safe debate amid the coronavirus pandemic with measures like social distancing in place to ensure that the debates won’t be cancelled.
New outside group drops big money to help Hickenlooper ahead of primary
WASHINGTON — With a little more than a week left before the June 30 Democratic Senate primary in Colorado, a new group is spending big money to help former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
The group has about $800,000 booked on the airwaves right now between Monday and the primary, and spent a little more than $100,000 over the weekend.
It’s not the only group coming to Hickenlooper’s defense — the Senate Majority PAC’s $1.4 million in spending booked through the primary. The Democratic super PAC launched an ad last week defending Hickenlooper after the state ethics board found he broke gift rules twice while serving as governor.
It’s unclear who is funding Let’s Turn Colorado Blue, as its late arrival onto the scene means it will not have to legally disclose its donors until after the primary.
Hickenlooper has been the favorite to move on to face Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., in one of the highest-profile Senate races of 2020. But Hickenlooper has been on the defensive in recent weeks.
Biden campaign releases two new ads focused on the Black community
WASHINGTON — The Biden campaign released two new digital ads focused on the Black community as a part of their $15 million, five-week ad buy in battleground states. The campaign started to run these digital ads on Juneteenth as well as radio and print advertisements as part of their “mid-six figure” investment in Black media in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona and North Carolina.
The one-minute ad titled “Always” recounts how Biden’s career has been shaped by wanting to “stand up and act” against injustices. It briefly touts his early career fighting for the Black community by combating housing discrimination to being chosen former President Obama’s vice president.
In a memo obtained by NBC News last week, the campaign’s director of paid media explained the ad would re-introduce voters to the former vice president at a time when the Trump campaign is trying to discredit his civil and voting rights record. Notably the ad does not mention Biden signing the 1994 crime bill.
The second one-minute digital ad stresses what’s “at stake” in this election, particularly in light of the civil unrest following the killing of George Floyd. The ad shows images of hurt protestors and armed officers as well as President Trump’s now infamous walk to St. John’s cathedral after police aggressively dispersed peaceful protestors.
With Klobuchar out, the V.P. pool narrows for Biden
WASHINGTON — The V.P. field narrowed Thursday night when Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar withdrew from the vetting process.
“America must seize on the moment and I truly believe — as I actually told the V.P. last night when I called him — that I think this is a moment to put a woman of color on that ticket,” Klobuchar said in an interview on MSNBC.
Biden responded to her decision on Twitter, saying Klobuchar has the “grit and determination” to take on any challenge and help “beat Donald Trump.”
But as Klobuchar noted, calls for Biden to put a woman of color on the ticket are only growing. Here are the moves vice presidential contenders still in the veepstakes made this week:
Sen. Kamala Harris: Harris was among a group of senators to put forward a bill to commemorate Juneteenth as a federal holiday. Harris is one of four Black women known to be advancing to a more comprehensive vetting stage with the Biden campaign. She joins Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Florida Rep. Val Demings and former national security adviser Susan Rice.
Harris’ stock in the veepstakes has remained steady since Biden became the presumptive Democratic nominee. She has defended her past as a prosecutor — an issue that dogged her in the primary race with progressives — and her personal relationship with the Biden family could make her more likely to appear on the ticket than those with less name recognition.
Rep. Val Demings: Demings may have not considered herself a possible contender for Biden’s running mate originally, but as she said this week, sometimes “the situation chooses you.”
The Florida congresswoman hasn’t been hesitant to promote her qualifications to be vice president. On “The View” this week, Demings said that this moment in time is what makes her the best candidate.
“Sometimes the situation chooses you. And I do believe this is one of those moments,” she said, hinting at her background as the former Orlando police chief.
Demings added, “I believe I have the on the ground experience, the credibility and the political will and courage to get this done.”
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: The Atlanta mayor has dominated national headlines recently following the police killing of Rayshard Brooks in her city, amplifying her bully pulpit as mayor and raising her profile as a veep contender.
And during a Women for Biden call Thursday, Lance Bottoms credited Biden for proving to her in the early days of their relationship that he values the Black and other minority communities.
“It was not lost on me that this was an older white man who was willing to stand alongside, and quite often behind, a younger African American man to lead our country,” Bottoms said, noting that “representation is everything” for her.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: Despite Klobuchar’s decision to drop out of the veepstakes Thursday, Warren — who like Klobuchar, is white — continues to pursue her running mate ambitions.
The Massachusetts senator helped Biden rake in a whopping $6 million dollars Monday, the most money raised in a single Biden fundraiser. Warren previously vowed to not take part in high-dollar fundraisers during her presidential run, saying on the trail, “we’re tearing this democracy apart” by involving big money in politics.
But during the event, Biden praised Warren for her “fearless work” standing up to Wall Street and teased that he’s still working to get her on his side. Biden has emphasized in the past that he needs a veep who shares his approach to leadership but who is willing to challenge his positions.
And early this week, dozens of Warren allies wrote a letter to the presumptive Democratic nominee urging him to choose her, pointing to her policy expertise, working-class background, and ability to unite the party.
Check out the NBC News political unit’s coverage of the veepstakes here.
Multiple bills in the works to make Juneteenth a federal holiday
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., told MSNBC on Thursday that she will announce legislation as soon as the end of this week to make Juneteenth, the annual June 19 commemoration of the end of slavery, a national holiday.
Harris said she will sponsor the legislation with Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Tina Smith of Minnesota, and Ed Markey of Massachusetts.
In the wake of nationwide anti-racism protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, dozens of companies have announced they intend to make June 19 a holiday for employees. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, also recently announced he would make Juneteenth as a state holiday.
There are additional efforts to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson signaled Thursday during his visit to the National Archives with first lady Melania Trump that making it a holiday has been a part of White House discussions.
Because the holiday has Texas roots, memorializing the 1865 announcement by a Union general to approximately 250,000 enslaved Africans in Galveston that had no idea that their freedom had been secured, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, also announced on Thursday he intends to file a bill making it a national holiday. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said earlier this week she plans to file a similar bill in the House.
Cornyn and Lee sponsored a bill earlier this year for a federal study of creating a National Emancipation Trail from Galveston to Houston, which would follow the path of slaves freed on June 19, 1865, to spread the news. Trump signed that into law in January.
Biden campaign debuts first general election ads in $15 million effort across key states
WASHINGTON — The Biden campaign debuted its first general election ads after months off the air Thursday morning in part of a five-week, $15 million ad campaign targeting several battleground states that President Trump won in 2016.
The first 60-second spot, “Unite Us,” features remarks from Biden’s recent speech in Philadelphia, and largely emphasizes the need to bring the country together, which Biden implies Trump is failing to do.
“The county is crying out for leadership,” Biden says, vowing not to “fan the flames of hate.”
The third 60-second spot is in Spanish with the aim of reaching out to Latino voters, and likewise focuses on the state of the economy. In it Biden touts his role in handling the 2008 recession under the leadership of President Obama.
Announcing the effort in a statement, the Biden team said that the latest spots are part of a $15 million campaign that includes TV, digital, radio, and print advertising in six critical states ahead of November. They also note that the ads will air on national cable, including Fox News.
The states targeted include Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Florida, and Arizona, all of which Trump won in 2016.
The Biden campaign has been able to stay off the air since April — when the former vice president became the Democratic nominee — instead relying on two supportive super PACs to carry the Democrat’s message through the spring.
Priorities USA, which has mainly driven Trump contrast messaging on the novel coronavirus, and Unite The Country, which recently turned to positive Biden spots with an economic focus, have been active on the air for Biden. The DNC also went on the air this week.
The Trump campaign has been blitzing key states. Republicans have outspent Democrats on television and radio ads in the presidential race $33.7 million to $19.7 million since April 8, the day Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders dropped out of the presidential race, data from Advertising Analytics shows.
President Trump’s campaign is responsible for $25.2 million of that spending, while the top Democratic group, the Priorities USA super PAC, has spent $10.6 million.
—Ben Kamisar contributed.
Nebraska Democratic Party calls on Senate nominee to withdraw after ‘sexually inappropriate comments’
WASHINGTON — The Nebraska Democratic Party is calling on its party’s Senate nominee to step down after he made what it calls “sexually inappropriate comments” about a campaign staff member.
A former staffer of Omaha baker and Democratic Senate nominee Chris Janicek sent the party a formal complaint about Janicek, turning over a copy of the text message containing the remarks. That prompted the state party to privately demand Janicek’s decline the party’s nomination by Monday, as state party officials have the power to replace him on the ballot if he withdraws by Sept. 1.
But upon learning Janicek would not step down, the party’s executive committee voted unanimously to strip him of all party resources and released a statement publicly calling for him to step aside.
“Our Democratic Party has no tolerance for sexual harassment,” Jane Kleeb, the state party chair, said in a statement.
“Our party will not extend resources or any type of support to any candidate that violates our code of conduct and doesn’t treat men and women with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
The Omaha World-Herald reported Tuesday that Janicek sent the text in a group message to at least five others, where he made a sexual comment directed at the former female staffer. That staffer was also a part of the group text.
Janicek and his campaign did not immediately respond to a request to comment from NBC News. But he told the World-Herald that “This is a moment in time where I made a terrible mistake in a text message.”
And a spokesman, Scott Howitt, told the paper that Janicek apologized to all of the staffers he sent the message minutes after he made the comments.
Janicek is running against Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, who won his 2014 election by more than 30 percentage points.