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— The fifth Democratic presidential primary debate was largely free from conflict until the closing minutes, as the candidates avoided stepping on each others’ toes too much.
— President Donald Trump urged Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to appoint GOP Rep. Doug Collins to the soon-to-be-open Senate seat, The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported.
— Google announced a major change to its political ad policy, limiting ad targeting to just age, gender and limited geography. Most digital strategists expressed varying levels of frustration with the change, and some said it could hurt downballot and insurgent candidates.
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Days until the POLITICO/PBS NewsHour Democratic primary debate: 28
Days until the Iowa caucuses: 74
Days until the 2020 election: 348
DEBATE NIGHT — Another debate night came and went, and the candidates’ largely avoided one another for most of more than two hours. Here are some takeaways from the fifth Democratic debate:
— The leaders are still the leaders: Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg are leading in the polls, and that likely won’t change. The opening moments of the debate revolved around Warren, who defended her wealth tax and used the conversation to jump back and forth to her other various policy plans. Sanders used the conversation around health care (which was shorter in this debate than in past ones) to drive home his favorite line: “I wrote the damn bill.” Biden kept trying to return to his central argument that he is best positioned to beat Trump, while Buttigieg was polished at brushing off his lack of time in D.C., highlighting his time in the military and as a mayor as a positive instead.
— Fight? What fight?: The candidates largely avoided big, acrimonious clashes that were the centerpiece of some of the past debates. There was a few squabbles: Kamala Harris and Tulsi Gabbard went back and forth on if the other was fit to be on stage (spoiler: they don’t like each other), and Biden and Tom Steyer quibbled over climate change. The moderators tried to stir up conflict between Harris and Buttigieg that didn’t stick. But there was no real big blowup over health care, and Biden ducked a conflict with Sanders over the Iraq War.
— But there was a discussion on how the party needs to talk to and prioritize black voters: Cory Booker pressed Biden on legalizing marijuana, joking he thought Biden was high when he said he opposed legalization. Booker pushed the former vice president on the racial disparities of drug law enforcement, saying it was already legalized for the privileged while minorities are arrested and jailed in the war on drugs.
Harris also made a powerful call for Democrats to care about minority voters all the time, not just when they need to win an election. “Candidates have taken for granted the constituencies that have been the backbone of the Democratic Party and have overlooked those constituencies. They show up when it’s close to election time, show up in a black church and want to get the vote but just haven’t been there before.”
Buttigieg also acknowledged his struggles with black voters. “I welcome the challenge of connecting with black voters in America who don’t yet know me,” he said, before talking about his experience as a gay man: “I do not have the experience of ever having been discriminated against because of the color of my skin. I do have the experience of sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own country.”
— No target on Pete’s back, either: The widely-assumed belief going into the debate was that someone would try to take a big swing at Buttigieg, as the mayor rises in early state polling. But the few attacks he faced in the latter half of the debate came from the wings of the stage instead of the center. Booker suggested he didn’t need “a focus group” to relate to black voters, but he didn’t overtly criticize Buttigieg. Harris skipped the chance to hammer Buttigieg on his campaign using a stock image of a Kenyan woman to highlight his policies for black Americans, instead giving the aforementioned push about minority voters in the party. Amy Klobuchar and Gabbard both took shots at Buttigieg on his experience and military judgement, respectively, but Buttigieg adeptly pushed back at both of them, and he did not get much attention from the highest polling candidates.
— Does this, fundamentally, change anyone’s positioning who isn’t at the top of the pack?: We’ll have the polls to tell us soon enough. In the meantime, what we saw was candidates focused on driving home their core messages throughout most of the night. Andrew Yang, in the limited time he got, was a forward-looking outsider who is comfortable cracking a joke. Klobuchar, once again, won praise for her debate performance, making her pitch as someone who has experience and has won tough races, and Booker was also strong on stage. Steyer, too, honed in on climate change and Washington reform repeatedly and Gabbard embraced the anti-establishment mantle.
BACK ON THE SAME PAGE? — Progressives are trying to come back together after Medicare for All has taken a beating. “Leaders of the left — suddenly reeling after seeing the Democratic health care debate shift dramatically in their direction the past few years — are strategizing on how to retake the offensive. At a closed-door meeting Tuesday, Congressional Progressive Caucus leader Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) had a message for her fellow supporters of Medicare for All: Unite against the moderates and don’t fight about whether Warren’s plan is too mild compared to Sanders’,” POLITICO’s Alex Thompson, Holly Otterbein and Alice Miranda Ollstein reported.
WILL HE OR WON’T HE? — Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans on spending $15-20 million on voter registration drives in Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin as he still mulls a presidential run, the AP’s Steve Peoples reported.
— Bloomberg also filed to run in the primary in Texas, per The Texas Tribune’s Alex Samuels. The deadline to file is Dec. 9.
NOT THERE — Activists lamented Julián Castro’s absence from the debate on Wednesday night, saying he has pulled the field on issues like immigration and racial justice, POLITICO’s Laura Barrón-López and Maya King wrote. “I’ve clearly influenced the debate on immigration, on police reform, on housing,” Castro said in an interview in Las Vegas. “There has been a focus on people that are left behind, people that are struggling, including an awareness of how race impacts that.”
GOODBYE — Miramar, Fla., Mayor Wayne Messam, who was still technically running for president, officially ended his bid on Wednesday. Messam also filed an (incredibly late) amendment to his third quarter FEC filing on Tuesday; Instead of the $5 in fundraising he initially reported, he actually raised a bit over $15,000.
ENDORSEMENT CORNER — Ady Barkan, a prominent progressive activist who has been at the forefront of the Medicare for All movement, endorsed Warren in a piece in The Nation (and if you’ve never read Arthur Allen’s profile in POLITICO Magazine of Barkan from March, stop what you’re doing and read it).
POLLS POLLS POLLS — Marquette University Law School released a new Wisconsin poll that has both head-to-heads between top Democrats and Trump and a ballot test for the Democratic primary. Wisconsin is a late-primary state, but check out the results for a snapshot in a key general-election battleground.
THE SENATE MAP — Trump wants Collins to fill the soon-to-be-empty Georgia Senate seat after GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson resigns at the end of the year. Trump pressed Kemp to appoint Collins in a call on Wednesday “hours after the Gainesville Republican said he was ‘strongly’ considering a run for the job even if he’s not tapped,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein reported. The president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., also publicly tweeted his support of Collins. More from Bluestein: “Kelly Loeffler submitted her application hours before the Monday deadline, apparently scrambling Collins’ calculations. Loeffler, a financial executive who co-owns Atlanta’s WNBA franchise, is widely considered by GOP insiders to be Kemp’s favorite for the coveted post.”
Collins’ team also commissioned a poll in August (and circulated it earlier this month), POLITICO’s Alex Isenstadt writes in to Score, that found that 53 percent of GOP voters knew who he was and that voters responded positively to his biography. The American Conservative Union, the group that runs the annual CPAC convention, also sent a letter Kemp urging him to appoint Collins.
— An attorney representing former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in front of the Colorado Ethics Commission has been paid a bit over $43,000 by the state after the attorney was appointed as a “special assistant attorney general” by the then-Republican state attorney general in 2018, The Denver Post’s Justin Wingerter reported.
TECH TALK — Google announced a major change to its political ad policy, announcing ads can only be targeted via three general categories: age, gender and location (down to a postal code level), I reported, with contextual ads still allowed. The change, which is set to go into effect on Jan. 6 in the U.S., removes the ability to target voters by broad political affiliation and public voting records, It could also have an unintended effect: It could hurt downballot candidates, especially insurgent ones, several strategists told me (read more story for more).
Facebook also announced it would expand which ads are included in its transparency report. The company also clarified what it would allow on the platform, saying it would remove outright lies in ads or deceptive techniques like deepfakes, but it believed “that robust political dialogue is an important part of democracy, and no one can sensibly adjudicate every political claim,” and that it expects “the number of political ads on which we take action will be very limited—but we will continue to do so for clear violations.”
THE CASH DASH — Stop me if I sound like a broken record: The RNC has crushed the DNC in monthly fundraising, the DCCC beat the NRCC and the Senate winner flip-flopped (the NRSC won). The filings cover the month of October (the DCCC’s filing was not posted on the FEC’s website as of early Monday morning, but the committee previously announced its fundraising haul).
— The DNC raised $9 million, spent $8.9 million and has $8.7 million in cash on hand (filing). It also has $7 million in debt.
— The RNC raised $25.3 million, spent $23.1 million and has $61.4 million in cash on hand (filing).
— The NRCC raised $10 million, spent $5.6 million and has $28.3 million in cash on hand (filing).
— The DSCC raised $5.4 million, spent $5.6 million and has $17.4 million in cash on hand (filing). It also has $9.9 million in debt.
— The NRSC raised $6.7 million, spent $4.8 million and has $15 million in cash on hand (filing).
AD WARS — FIRST IN SCORE — The Senate Leadership Fund, the super PAC tied to Senate Republican leadership, is launching a new digital ad campaign against Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. The ad, which the group says is a five-figure buy statewide in Montana, hits Bullock for being an “out-of-towner” for his travel during his presidential bid (the group says he’s been out of the state for 100 different days), and criticizes him on gun control and his criticism of Trump. Bullock has publicly maintained he is not running for the Senate.
— FIRST IN SCORE — Senate Majority PAC is launching a digital campaign against Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) over DACA. The Democratic super PAC told Score that the buy is around $40,000 over three weeks, with the possibility to increase the buy. “For Martha McSally, her loyalty to party leadership comes first,” one ad reads.
— Majority Forward, the Democratic nonprofit aligned with Senate Democratic leadership, is up with its first ad campaign of the cycle, hitting Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). “Clearly, she doesn’t want to hear from Mainers asking why she voted for bills threatening our Medicare once, twice, eight separate times,” a narrator says in the 30-second ad. More from Campaign Pro’s James Arkin: “The ad is the first this year from a national pro-Democratic group in Maine, which has already seen significant TV spending early in the cycle. Both Collins’ and [Democrat Sara] Gideon’s campaigns are already running TV ads, and several outside groups on both sides are on the airwaves.”
THE HOUSE MAP — A panel of North Carolina state judges issued an order freezing the filing period for House candidates in the state, which was set to begin on Dec. 2. More from Campaign Pro’s Steve Shepard, for Pros: “Instead, the three Wake County state Superior Court judges said they would hear arguments from both parties on Dec. 2 about the new congressional map passed last week by North Carolina’s GOP-controlled state legislature.”
— FIRST IN SCORE — End Citizens United, the Democratic group focused on money in politics, announced a program to defend the “Reformers at Risk” — twenty-six freshmen Democrats in battleground districts whom ECU has endorsed. The group said it has raised and contributed $1 million to the group of House members thus far and released polling in the districts (and CA-25) from mid-October that showed that voters are receptive to a government reform message (the battleground incumbents are all listed in the polling document).
— Republican Kate Gibbs, a former Burlington County freeholder, announced that she’d challenge freshman Democratic Rep. Andy Kim in NJ-03, per the New Jersey Globe’s David Wildstein. Barnegat Township Deputy Mayor John Novak, a Republican, also filed to run in the district.
— Twenty-four Democrats (and 8 Republicans) have filed to run in the special election in MD-07, per The Baltimore Sun’s Jeff Barker (who has a list of all the candidates).
— Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, who is running in GA-07, announced that she has now raised $1 million total this cycle.
BACK UP — Crowdpac, the crowdfunding platform that progressives used to raise money for candidates and causes that shuttered earlier this year, was acquired and relaunched by Prytany, a hybrid social media network where politicians and groups can communicate with supporters and fundraising platform.
ENDORSEMENT CORNER — EMILY’s List is backing Democrat Margaret Good, who is challenging GOP Rep. Vern Buchanan in FL-16.
CODA — QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Idk, Just passing laws and drinking claws. You get a job yet, Pat?” — Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) quote-tweeting her son, Pat Cunnane, who posted a picture of her drinking a White Claw alcoholic seltzer.