The Hill’s Campaign Report: Debate puts Biden on the defensive

The Hill's Campaign Report: Debate puts Biden on the defensive
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Welcome to The Hill’s Campaign Report, your new weekly rundown on all the latest news in the 2020 presidential, Senate and House races from Max Greenwood, Jonathan Easley and Julia Manchester. Email us at [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected], or follow us on Twitter at @KMaxGreenwood, @JonEasley and @JuliaManch

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I’m Max Greenwood, here’s what we’re watching this week on the campaign trail.



If came into the presidential primary hoping that his decades-long track record of striking deals in Washington would help him bridge political divides and make the case for his ascent to the Democratic nomination, Thursday’s presidential debate was a harsh reality check.

The former Delaware senator and two-term vice president spent most of the night on the defensive, facing a barrage of attacks from younger, more liberal challengers over past positions that, for many Democrats, haven’t aged well. 

Those criticisms were distilled in remarks by , the 54-year-old senator from California, who struck a particularly poignant note when she contrasted Biden’s opposition to school “busing” during his first term in the Senate in the 1970s with her own experience with school integration as a child.

“There was a little girl in California who was a part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bused to school every day,” Harris, whose father is black and whose mother is of Indian descent, said. “And that little girl was me.”

Biden denounced Harris’s comments as “a mischaracterization of my position across the board.” But the exchange underscored what Democrats have long worried is the former veep’s greatest vulnerability: his record. 

If the second night of debates highlighted the generational divide present in the Democratic primary field, it also called attention to the growing ideological gulf in the party.

Sharing the stage with Biden was Sen. (I-Vt.), the 77-year-old avowed democratic socialist, whose first presidential run in 2016 is widely seen as having helped pave the way for the Democratic Party’s ascendant left wing.

While Biden has built his campaign around calls for incremental change — saying at a recent fundraising event that “nothing would fundamentally change” if he becomes president — Sanders has advocated for full-scale political revolution, demanding a single-payer health care system and the elimination of tuition and fees at public colleges and universities.

That same divide was also on display in the first debate on Wednesday night, when Sen. (D-Mass.), a progressive who has risen in the polls in recent weeks, squared off with more moderate figures like Sen. (D-Minn.) and , a former Maryland congressman, over the same issues.

Whichever side you’re on, one thing is clear: there are still plenty of fights to be had in this primary. After all, there are still 11 Democratic debates to go.


Read more:

Winners and losers from two nights of Democratic debates, via The Hill’s Jonathan Easley.

Biden falters in Democratic debate, via The Hill’s Niall Stanage

Harris attacks Biden’s record on civil rights in debate, via The Hill’s Alexander Bolton.



ON THE SIDELINES: In between debate prep sessions and public appearances, Democratic presidential candidates made their way 30 miles south of Downtown Miami to a migrant shelter in Homestead, the only unlicensed, for-profit shelter for migrant children in the U.S., The Hill’s Rachel Frazin reports.

The facility saw visits from more than half of the Democratic primary field. Rep. (Calif.) made the trip on Monday, while Warren and Klobuchar visited on Wednesday. Former Rep. (Texas), New York City Mayor and Rep. (Hawaii) went on Thursday. And a slate of candidates, including Harris, Sen. (N.Y.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor are there today.


ONE BAD GAFFE: A day after de Blasio won some attention for his performance in the first round of Democratic debates, the New York City mayor found himself under fire. Speaking to striking workers at Miami International Airport, de Blasio abruptly shouted  “Hasta la victoria, siempre” — Spanish for “Until victory, always” — a phrase coined by Che Guevara, the Argentine-born guerilla who played a leading role in the Cuban Revolution, The Hill’s Owen Daugherty reports. 

It’s never really a good idea to quote a Marxist revolutionary if you’re running for president. But in South Florida, home to the largest Cuban American population in the country, quoting Guevara cuts even deeper. Many Miamians are the sons and daughters of those who fled Cuba in the years after the revolution, and those scars run deep. 

De Blasio’s apology: “I did not know the phrase I used in Miami today was associated with Che Guevara & I did not mean to offend anyone who heard it that way. I certainly apologize for not understanding that history.”




OYEZ, OYEZ, OYEZ: The Supreme Court found in a 5-4 decision on Thursday that federal courts are unable to rule on partisan gerrymandering, highlighting a deep ideological divide between the justices, The Hill’s Jacqueline Thomsen reports. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said the Framers of the Constitution understood that politics would play a role in drawing congressional lines, and that the claims around partisan gerrymandering are “political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.”

Why it matters: Drawing congressional districts to give one party an electoral edge is nothing new — the term “gerrymandering” itself is over 200 years old, after all. But the Supreme Court’s decision this week could empower state lawmakers more brazenly carve out advantages for their party’s candidates, especially with redistricting just around the corner.


ANOTHER MAJOR DECISION: Democrats got a bit of good news on Thursday, when the Supreme Court dealt a blow to the Trump administration’s efforts to add a question about citizenship status to the 2020 census, Jacqueline reports. While the overall decision was somewhat confusing, to say the least, it held that the Trump administration did not give a sufficient reason for adding the citizenship question. Now, the Commerce Department will have to come up with a clearer explanation of its reasoning for doing so.

Why it matters: Those who oppose adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census argue that doing so would deter certain people, particularly those in immigrant communities, from responding, leading to a drastic undercount of the population. Democratic presidential candidates offered mixed responses on Twitter, celebrating the decision, but cautioning that the battle over the issue is far from over.

Here’s how Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Amy Klobuchar weighed in.


Read more:

2020 Democrats celebrate Supreme Court citizenship question decision, via The Hill’s Rebecca Klar.



THE ECONOMIST/YOUGOV: Ahead of the first Democratic debates, Biden led the pack with 25 percent support, followed by Warren in second place with 19 percent and Sanders in third with 15 percent. Harris and Buttigieg rounded out the top five, with 7 percent and 6 percent, respectively, via The Hill’s Rebecca Klar.


EMERSON: Biden came in with 34 percent support, while Sanders trailed with 27 percent. Warren, Harris and Buttigieg notched 14 percent, 7 percent and 6 percent, respectively, The Hill’s Rachel Frazin reports.


MORNING CONSULT: Biden scored a whopping 38 percent support — double the 19 percent that backed Sanders. Warren came in third with 13 percent, while Buttigieg placed fourth with 7 percent. Harris isn’t far behind, notching 6 percent in the poll, via Morning Consult.


The latest from RealClearPolitics: Biden leads the field with 32 percentage points, Sanders takes second with 16.9 percent, Warren gets third with 12.8 percent support and Harris and Buttigieg round out the top five with 7 percent and 6.6 percent respectively.


FROM 1600 PENN:  

SPLIT SCREEN: Before the first group of Democratic presidential candidates even took the debate stage, Trump was already trying to draw contrasts, tweeting en route to Osaka for a Group of 20 summit that he was “off to save the World!” It’s a key theme of presidential reelection campaigns: while candidates from the opposing party are fighting amongst themselves, the commander in chief is conducting the business of the country. Expect more tweets like that over the next year.



Of course, Trump isn’t one to stay above the political fray, tweeting Friday morning that it “was not a good day for Sleepy Joe or Crazy Bernie,” using his standard epithets for Biden and Sanders, The Hill’s Rachel Frazin reports.

A note: Trump has paid particular attention to Biden, tweeting about him perhaps more than any other Democratic candidate, and there has been looming concern among many Republicans that Biden is the person most capable of defeating Trump in 2020. Will his debate performance on Thursday affect that perception? We’ll have to wait and see.




SENATE WATCH: Democrats are poll-testing messages ahead of 2020 as they gear up for an aggressive effort to recapture control of the Senate, The Hill’s Reid Wilson reports.


ON THE LEFT: Democracy for America, a liberal political action committee, endorsed Reps. (D-Ill.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and Mike Levin (D-Calif.), hoping to give the three House freshmen a boost ahead of their 2020 reelection bids, The Hill’s Tal Axelrod reports.


ON THE RIGHT: Trump came out with some endorsements of his own, throwing his support behind Sens. (R-Ariz.) and (R-N.C.), both of whom are expected to face tough reelection fights next year, via Tal.


A ROCKY START: It’s no secret that Republicans in Washington discouraged , the controversial former Alabama Supreme Court justice, from mounting a second run for the Senate. Against their wishes, he entered the GOP primary to challenge Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) in 2020. 

But a recent poll from Alabama-based polling firm Cygnal suggests that Republicans in Moore’s home state aren’t clamoring to back him either. Moore took just 13 percent in that survey, trailing former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville (29 percent) and Rep. (21 percent), The Hill’s Reid Wilson reports.



NAME NAMES: Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative legal advocacy group, launched a $1.1 million ad campaign this week demanding that Democratic presidential candidates release the names of their potential Supreme Court nominees, The Hill’s John Bowden reports.


A YUGE BUY: The Trump campaign took out a 24-hour ad buy on YouTube’s masthead on Wednesday, hours before the first round of Democratic presidential debates, The Hill’s Tal Axelrod reports. Exactly how much the ad cost is unclear (though Google’s ad-buying site places its value at more than $100,000). It’s one of the most coveted digital ad placements on the market, reaching more than 60 million viewers, per Democratic digital firm Acronym.




Biden travels to Chicago to speak at the Rainbow PUSH International Convention. He’ll travel to San Francisco in the evening for finance events, per his campaign.

6 p.m. EDT: Jill Biden, the former vice president’s wife, holds a meet and greet in Des Moines, Iowa.

7:15 p.m. EDT: Warren holds a town hall in Chicago.


  • There are 220 days until the Iowa caucuses, 228 days until the New Hampshire primaries, 239 days until the Nevada caucuses, 246 days until the South Carolina primaries and 249 days until Super Tuesday. 



FREE COLLEGE: Sanders unveiled a sweeping plan this week that would cancel all $1.6 trillion in student loan debt and eliminate tuition and fees at public colleges and universities, The Hill’s Naomi Jagoda and Max Greenwood report.


SECURE THE VOTE: Warren released a plan on Tuesday to combat foreign interference in U.S. elections and crack down on voter suppression, via The Hill’s Maggie Miller.


2020 HIRES: Former DCCC Executive Director Dan Sena and Democratic ad maker Scott Kozar are joining Sen. ‘s (D-Colo.) presidential campaign as media consultants, Politico’s Elena Schneider reports. Also joining Bennet’s operation: Democratic pollster Pete Brodnitz.


IN THE WORKS: Buttigieg’s campaign is looking for a faith engagement director, the latest sign that the openly gay Indiana mayor plans to make a play for religious voters, The Hill’s Julia Manchester reports.


ENDORSEMENTS: Jan Bauer, the longtime chair of the Story County, Iowa, Democratic Party who retired earlier this year, said she’s backing Montana Gov. ‘s presidential bid, Politico’s Natasha Korecki reports.



STANDING TALL: For many presidential hopefuls, the first Democratic debates were a major opportunity to stand out — and stand tall — before a national audience. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that three candidates in the first debate on Wednesday — Klobuchar, Gabbard and Castro — used risers to give themselves a few extra inches, NBC News’s Adam Edelman reports.


We’ll see you next week!


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