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What The Potential 2020 Candidates Are Doing And Saying, Vol. 18

Welcome to a weekly collaboration between FiveThirtyEight and ABC News. With 5,000 people seemingly thinking about challenging President Trump in 2020 — Democrats and even some Republicans — we’re keeping tabs on the field as it develops. Each week, we’ll run through what the potential candidates are up to — who’s getting closer to officially jumping in the ring and who’s getting further away.


The concept of electability was on some candidates’ minds this week as they considered the potential of the eventual Democratic presidential nominee to win the general election, especially in Midwestern states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which helped President Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

But in an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted at the end of April, the preference for a candidate who matched the respondent’s views was nearly equal to preference for a nominee who could beat Trump.

Several hopefuls also spoke out this week to argue that it should not be assumed that moderate blue-collar Midwestern voters prefer a white, male candidate or even that they’re all moderate and blue collar themselves.

Here’s the weekly roundup.

May 3-9, 2019

Michael Bennet (D)
Bennet hit the ground running in the first week after his May 2 announcement of his 2020 presidential bid. Bennet, the 21st Democratic candidate to join the race, was in Iowa talking about the cost of education.

“Getting to free college for everybody is not a very progressive way to approach this because a lot of wealthy kids will benefit from that, but let’s see if we can get you out debt free,” Bennet told a voter, without offering any specifics.

Bennet also appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday to respond to criticism of his voting record. The senator from Colorado had previously been given an “F” rating from progressive super PAC Demand Justice for helping to advance Trump’s judicial nominees and, specifically, for voting against filibustering the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch.

Joe Biden (D)
The former Vice President received pushback from Sen. Bernie Sanders in response to a claim Biden made in March that he has “the most progressive record of anyone running.”

“I think if you look at Joe’s record and you look at my record, I don’t think there’s much question about who’s more progressive,” Sanders told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl in an exclusive interview from Des Moines, Iowa, that aired on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday. Sanders’ refutation was part of a trend of 2020 candidates defining themselves in relation to Biden.

Biden also stopped in Columbia, South Carolina Saturday to speak with African American voters and attended a private fundraiser on Saturday evening, at the home of his longtime adviser Dick Harpootlian, an attorney and former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman. On Wednesday, a health care union in California held a protest at a fundraiser for Biden at the home of a board member for Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles.

A small group of members from the National Union of Healthcare Workers — which represents 3,500 mental health clinicians who work for Kaiser Permanente in California—stood outside the home of Cynthia Telles, a member of the Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan boards of directors, to protest long wait times for patients to receive follow-up care and fight inequities between mental health care and medical health care with Kaiser Permanente.

Union President Sal Rosselli told ABC News Tuesday that his members hope Biden, who has been an advocate for mental health care, would support the union’s position. Biden did not address the protests during his remarks at the fundraiser and the Biden campaign declined to comment to ABC News for a story.

Cory Booker (D)
Booker introduced what his campaign team called “the most sweeping gun violence prevention proposal ever advanced by a presidential candidate.” Booker supporters were notified Monday in an email titled, “I’m sick and tired of thoughts and prayers.”

His plan focuses on pressuring gun manufacturers to comply with new regulations and imposing rigorous oversight over their products. The senator has previously vowed to “bring a fight to the NRA like they have never ever seen before.”

In an interview with ABC’s “Nightline,” Booker reflected on the violence in Newark, a city he led for over seven years as mayor.

Booker told co-anchor Byron Pitts. “I’m tired of walking around cities like mine that have shrines of teddy bears and dead kids. Teddy bears and candles and places where the murders happen.”

Pete Buttigieg (D)
On Sunday, Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten, joined former President Jimmy Carter’s Sunday school class in rural south Georgia, according to the Associated Press. Carter said he knew Buttigieg from working on a Habitat for Humanity project in Indiana where the mayor volunteered.

On Friday night Buttigieg was heckled by protesters at an event in Texas. Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was interrupted on several occasions by anti-gay remarks. Protesters yelled, “Marriage is between a man and a woman,” and “Repent,” according to a CNN reporter in the audience.

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who is also running for president, came to Buttigieg’s defense on Twitter. O’Rourke wrote, “Texans don’t stand for this kind of homophobia and hatred. Mayor Pete, we are grateful you came to Texas and hope to see you and Chasten back again soon.”

Julian Castro (D)
Last Friday, Castro’s campaign announced it met the 65,000 donor threshold to earn the former Housing and Urban Development secretary a spot in the first presidential debate.

In an interview with PBS Newshour, Castro expressed confidence that his campaign “will steadily but surely get stronger and stronger,” despite polling that currently shows him in the back of the field.

He further proclaimed that he would remain in the race, at least until the Iowa caucuses next February, pushing back against the idea of stepping out of the race should his support remain stagnant.

John Delaney (D)
Delaney was sharply critical of some of the major proposals being debated on the campaign trail, including the Green New Deal and Medicare for all, in a radio interview earlier this week, labeling them “half-baked socialist policies.”

“I’m just going to point out — their policies are bad policies,” the former Maryland congressman said in the interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. “Medicare for all, in terms of the bill that’s been introduced in the Senate, is fundamentally bad health care policy. Putting aside we have no way of paying for it, even if we were able to pay for it, it still would be bad policy.”

Delaney laid out his alternative, a public health care option, in a PBS Newshour interview, arguing that Americans want to be given choices rather than be limited to one plan.

Tulsi Gabbard (D)
In a fundraising email to supporters, Gabbard attacked the media, claiming that reporters were ignoring her campaign because she is “taking on … the corporate media and the military industrial complex who drive us into war for their own power and profit.”

The congresswoman from Hawaii outlined her platform in a nearly 30-minute-long interview with The Intercept on Thursday. She also talked about her decision to run for president after endorsing Sanders in 2016, her isolationist foreign policy views and her opinion that it’s time for the Democratic Party to move on from the Mueller report and focus on issues.

Kirsten Gillibrand (D)
The senator from New York pledged Tuesday that, as president, she would only nominate judges who would uphold Roe v. Wade. Gillibrand acknowledged that it was unusual for presidential candidates to set such a litmus test, but argued that such a stance was necessary after “Mitch McConnell obstructed the nomination process and stole a Supreme Court seat.”

“I believe that reproductive rights are human rights, and they are nonnegotiable,” Gillibrand wrote in a Medium post. “Women in America must be trusted to make their own medical decisions and have access to the full range of reproductive health care, including abortion.”

This weekend, Gillibrand travels to New Hampshire for six stops from Friday through Saturday, including at New England College, where she will deliver a commencement address.

Kamala Harris (D)
The New York Times reported Wednesday that Harris is reworking her campaign strategy to focus more on Trump, particularly after her aggressive questioning of Attorney General William Barr during last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing earned her praise.

And during a trip to Michigan last weekend, the senator from California took on the idea of “electability” — a concept other female candidates have had to navigate as they seek higher office. She took a direct jab at the idea of her chances to move into the White House at the NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner in Detroit on Sunday, the largest NAACP chapter in the country.

“There has been a lot of conversation by pundits, about the electability. And who can speak to the Midwest? But when they say that, they usually put the Midwest in a simplistic box and a narrow narrative. And too often their definition of the Midwest leaves people out. It leaves out people in this room who helped build cities like Detroit,” Harris said.

John Hickenlooper (D)
Hickenlooper authored a Wall Street Journal op-ed Sunday titled, “I’m running to save capitalism,” in which he explains his belief that while income inequality has led many Democrats to support socialist ideas, “capitalism is the only economic system that can support a strong middle class, a growing economy, and innovative entrepreneurs leading global technological advancements.”

The former Colorado governor concedes however that “the government has to adjust [capitalism],” making it easier for Americans to access higher education, raise wages and strengthen anti-trust laws.

Jay Inslee (D)
The Washington governor unveiled what he called the”100% Clean Energy for America Plan,” which calls for clean energy standards with regard to electricity, new vehicles and building construction.

In conjunction with the plan — which would begin on the first day of his presidency and attempt to achieve renewable, zero-emission energy by 2035 — Inslee told ABC News that he is interested in retraining workers, such as coal miners, who currently labor in positions that would be affected by the plan, to work in new, clean-energy jobs.

Amy Klobuchar (D)
Klobuchar rolled out a $100 billion proposal last Friday to fight drug and alcohol addiction and improve mental health care. In a statement announcing the initiative, the Minnesota senator tied it to her father’s alcoholism and subsequent treatment, saying that she feels “everyone should have the same opportunity my dad had … [to get the] help they need.”

The plan’s foundation includes prevention, early intervention and treatment initiatives, as well as justice reforms that would deprioritize jail sentences for non-violent drug crimes and economic and housing opportunities to support recovery.

Beto O’Rourke (D)
On Monday, the former Texas congressman spoke at the United Steel Workers Local 310, as part of a five-day trip across Iowa, according to the Des Moines Register. A union pipefitter asked O’Rourke if he would commit to a federal law that would give unions the power to collect money from non-union members for collective bargaining.

“Everyone needs to pay into the benefits that they gain as a result of those who are willing to organize and fight,” O’Rourke responded.

On Wednesday, Sasha Watson, a writer who dated O’Rourke when she was in college, penned a story for the Washington Post Magazine about watching his rise to fame.

Watching him run for Senate, she wrote, “I was no longer one of a small group of friends who watched him at a distance, but a member of the public, and I followed his campaign along with tens of thousands of people.”

Tim Ryan (D)
In an interview with CNN last weekend, Ryan criticized Biden for saying China was “not competition,” calling the statement “stunningly out-of-touch.” The Ohio congressman elaborated by noting that China was “putting billions of dollars” behind construction in the South China Sea and investment in the solar industry.

Bernie Sanders (D)
The senator from Vermont debuted an agriculture and rural investment plan in Iowa on Sunday which includes sweeping reforms to break up agribusiness conglomerates, establish a “right to repair” law for farm equipment and redirect subsidies to prevent their disproportionate distribution to large producers as opposed to small farmers, among other proposals.

Sanders campaign staffers ratified a union contract with leadership this week, the first of its kind in presidential campaign history. Included in the contract are provisions that require the campaign to pay health insurance premiums for low-salaried employees and a pay ceiling for senior officials.

On Thursday, together with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Sanders proposed legislation to cap credit card interest rates at 15% and establish basic banking services at post offices.

Eric Swalwell (D)
Swalwell would not commit to supporting Trump’s impeachment during an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday, but said the president should face “consequences,” comparing the situation to one with his children.

“We have to start taking this president seriously and speaking the only language they know, which is force and consequence,” Swalwell said on the show Sunday. “I’m a father of a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old. We’re going through the terrible twos. When my son misbehaves, we take a toy away.”

Elizabeth Warren (D)
Warren appears on the cover of Time Magazine this week and the accompanying profile directs a spotlight on her policy-heavy campaign.

On Wednesday, Warren released a $100 billion plan to combat opioid addiction over 10 years. Friday, Warren is scheduled to visit West Virginia, the state with the highest level of opioid-related deaths in the nation, and a state that voted for Trump in 2016. The senator will visit the town of Kermit, where in 2016 the Charleston Gazette-Mail revealed the trail of nearly 9 million opioid pills shipped to a single pharmacy in the town.

On the Senate floor Wednesday, the senator from Massachusetts read portions of the Mueller report and continued to call for Trump’s impeachment, explaining to Politico that, in the wake of Sen. Mitch McConnell’s “case closed” pronouncement, she “felt a responsibility to go to the floor to say: ‘Case not closed, buddy.'”

Andrew Yang (D)
The Des Moines Register reported Tuesday that Yang did not disclose on his campaign finance reports his monthly gifts of $1,000 to a New Hampshire family to demonstrate his proposed universal basic income plan. A spokesperson for Yang’s campaign said that their first quarter report would be updated.

Next week, Yang will hold a rally in New York City’s Washington Square Park, for which his campaign claims over 5,000 people have already RSVP’d.

Adam Kelsey is a reporter for ABC News’s political unit.

Innovation Fellow at ABC News

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