2020 campaign starts picking up speed

Image: Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, speaks during an organizing event at
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, speaks during an organizing event at Curate event space in Des Moines, Iowa on Jan. 5, 2019. Copyright Matthew Putney AP file
Copyright Matthew Putney AP file
By Chuck Todd and Mark Murray and Carrie Dann with NBC News Politics
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First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.


WASHINGTON — After a slow start to the new year — a presidential announcement here, a campaign stop there — the 2020 Democratic race picks up speed this weekend.

Today, Cory Booker and Pete Buttigieg are in Iowa, Kirsten Gillibrand hits South Carolina, and Sherrod Brown (who's still on his tour making up his mind about 2020) goes to New Hampshire.

Tomorrow, on Saturday, Elizabeth Warren makes her official campaign announcement from Lawrence, Mass. (after launching her exploratory committee on December 31). Also tomorrow, Booker, Buttigieg and Tulsi Gabbard are all in Iowa; Brown remains in New Hampshire; and Gillibrand stays in South Carolina.

And on Sunday, Amy Klobuchar announces her decision on 2020 from Minnesota (all signs point to yes), while Warren travels to Iowa, and Booker and Gillibrand stump in South Carolina.

So yes, we're really off and running.

Is geography destiny? Klobuchar and the power of the Midwest

People often forget this about Barack Obama's 2008 campaign: One of his strengths - in both the primaries and general election - was geography.

Obama's Illinois borders Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin and Indiana, and Obama won all of these states in either the primaries/caucuses (Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin) or the general election in 2008 (Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana).

And part of the POTENTIAL that Klobuchar brings to the 2020 Democratic field is the ability to replicate this Obama strength from 2008.

Minnesota, after all, borders Iowa (whose caucuses could be more important than ever this cycle), as well as Wisconsin (which could be 2020's all-important battleground state in the general election).

For Democrats, there are two swing areas - the Sunbelt (Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Florida) and the Midwest (Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio). In the last five presidential contests, we've seen Democrats get to 270-plus electoral votes through the Midwest. But - outside of Florida - we haven't seen them get there through the Sunbelt.

Aspirational versus audacious

The real divide inside the Democratic Party: On "MTP Daily" yesterday, one of us asked Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., about if she would support incremental ways - via Medicare buy-in for folks over 50 or a public option - to get to universal health-care coverage. Here was her answer:

"For me I, I reject that outright. I reject the rationale. I reject the rational of saying adopting the same insurance models or a similar insurance model to any other developed country in America is unrealistic. I reject that. I reject the idea that single-payer is impossible. I reject the idea that universal health care is impossible. All of these things are possible. When we talk about what I want in a 2020 candidate, I want a 2020 candidate that says we can do these things. We can be audacious."

Her answer hits at maybe the most fascinating divide in the developing 2020 Democratic race: aspirational versus audacious.

On the aspirational side, you have Klobuchar and Brown who support the Medicare buy-in idea - as an incremental way to improve the health-care system. On the audacious side, you have Elizabeth Warren and (especially) Bernie Sanders pushing for single-payer.

What say you, Democratic voters? Aspirational or audacious?

Trump, GOP to campaign against Dems' embrace of socialism

Meanwhile, Axios reports how Republicans are trying to score political points against the audacious side of the Democratic Party.

"The White House, the Trump campaign — and the outside political advisers in Trump's orbit — seem to be universally excited by the Green New Deal and many Democrats' embrace of socialism," per Axios.

"They've been far more optimistic about Trump's re-election chances this week than Swan has heard since the early days of Trump's presidency. And they're thrilled that so many of Trump's potential 2020 opponents are endorsing the Green New Deal."


But as NBC's Benjy Sarlin points out, the idea of a "Green New Deal" is more of a marketing framework rather than an actual policy/bill that presents problematic tradeoffs.

"In general, 2020 D's seem like they'll have a lot of flexibility to talk about Green New Deal however they want. It doesn't get too specific beyond articulating goals and the quotes I see people flipping out over on Twitter are mostly from AOC not the resolution," Sarlin tweets.

So is this Republican campaign really against socialism - or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? And if it's the latter, how do you really tie 2020 Dems other than Bernie Sanders to AOC?

This week's overlooked stories

Trump's State of the Union! The hot mess in Virginia! More 2020 moves! Jeff Bezos and the National Enquirer! Those were the stories that dominated the week. But here were other important stories you might have missed:

  1. Trump administration rolls back Obama-era restrictions on payday lenders - taking the side of lenders over the public.
  2. Trump nominates a World Bank critic, Treasury Department official David Malpass, to lead the organization.
  3. 2018 was the fourth-hottest year on record dating back to 1880. "The three hottest years on record were 2015, 2016 and 2017," per NBC News.
  4. Vulnerable Georgia congressman retires: "Republican Rep. Rob Woodall of Georgia, who defeated Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux by less than 500 votes in November, said Thursday that he won't run again in 2020," one of us wrote.

Today on the 2020 trail, per NBC's Kyle Stewart

Cory Booker spends his day in Iowa… So does Pete Buttigieg… Sherrod Brown hits New Hampshire… And Kirsten Gillibrand is in South Carolina.


RIP, John Dingell

"Former Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the longest-serving member of Congress who played a key role in many pieces of landmark legislation, has died. He was 92. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year," NBC's Rebecca Shabad writes.

"He helped sponsor the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1957, helped pass Medicare in the House and sponsored the Endangered Species Act. And while he initially support the Vietnam war, he later opposed it and called on President Richard Nxon to withdraw U.S. troops… Dingell, who introduced his father's universal, single-payer health insurance bill every Congress, became one of the original authors of what would become the Affordable Care Act."

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