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Money Makes the Political World Go ‘Round – “Sunday Political Brunch” - January 5, 2020

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – There’s an old saying, “Money is the Mother’s Milk of Politics!” It’s a recognition that fundraising is a critical part of office seeking, from the White House, on down. To me, it’s over-simplified. I’ve always preached my “Four M’s of Politics: Money, Manpower, Message and Momentum!” But this week quarterly and annual finance reports came due, and it may say a lot about where this race is going, so let’s “brunch” on that this week!

“Bernie’s Burnin’ Bucks” – After some lackluster debate performances, Senator Bernie Sanders has gotten fired up again in the past two contests, and that may explain the uptick in his fundraising. Sanders’ campaign took in $35.5 million dollars in the last quarter, in many cases due to the collectively large number of smaller donors he typically sees. According to the latest Real Clear Politics (RCP) composite poll, Sanders is now a strong second for the nomination in national polls, has moved back into the number two slot in Iowa, and is leading in New Hampshire.

“Trump, ‘Trumps’ them All” – For an officeholder whom experts would have you believe is so unpopular, President Trump actually leads the fundraising race (which is not unusual for any incumbent from either party). In the final quarter of 2019, the Trump campaign filed reports saying it had raised $46 million dollars, which was more than any other candidate. And yes, the president is very wealthy in his own right, but these donations do not include whatever he may have tossed into the pot. Clearly his base support is solid, and it shows from individual contributions.

“Paying Down on Pete” – South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has been surging, largely on consistently solid debate performances. His campaign raised $24.7 million dollars in the last quarter. In the national RCP composite poll, he is still in fourth place with just 8.3 percent, but he leads in Iowa, favored by 22 percent of those polled. I mentioned the importance of momentum earlier. If Buttigieg holds on and scores an upset in Iowa, he’ll have huge momentum. Remember, at different stages of this race, Biden, Warren, and Sanders have all polled ahead in Iowa, so we’ve had four different frontrunners, with the caucuses just a month away on February 3rd. A last-minute fundraising surge helps buy media advertising.

“The Ying and Yang of It” – The fourth most prolific fundraiser in the fourth quarter after Trump, Sanders and Buttigieg, was businessman-turned-upstart-candidate Andrew Yang, who collected $16.7 million dollars. He’s caught the public fancy with ideas such as giving every person in the country $1,000 a month (or something like that). He’s catchy and quotable and I admit wins my, “Most Intriguing Candidate Award,” (which is NOT an endorsement, just a fascination). While Yang has raised $32 million overall, he’s only spent $9 million. Flush with that kind of cash he could buy lots of ads and half-hour infomercials in the early states. He’s in this race!

“Warren’s War Chest” – The Federal Election Commission, FEC filings, show that Senator Elizabeth Warren has raised just shy of $80 million dollars, including her campaign’s estimate of $17 million in the fourth quarter. While she has spent $35 million, she basically has a huge campaign war chest for final ad blitzes in the first four contests of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. She’ll need to spend it. The RCP composite poll has her running third nationally, but she’s faded to fourth in the latest Iowa and New Hampshire polls.

“Biden’s Bucks?” – If there’s one candidate whose campaign funding may seem lackluster by comparison, it’s that of former Vice President Joe Biden. He raised just $38 million dollars in the first three quarters and is projecting another $22 million for the fourth quarter. But, just $60 million for the two-term VP? That seems anemic. Biden leads the RCP national poll by nine points, but national polls are more of a “beauty contest” since there is no national primary. Biden is currently polling third in both Iowa and New Hampshire but is the frontrunner in Nevada and South Carolina. If he can survive the first four contests intact, then he may indeed be the national frontrunner.

“The ‘Four M’s of Politics’” – I repeat my mantra that the four key elements are money, manpower, message and momentum. First, let’s dispel a myth: the person with the most money always wins. It’s just not true. Time and time again in presidential, congressional, gubernational and on down the line, the person who raises the most cash, does not always win. Building a loyal and wide campaign staff is critical. Having issues (and messages) that resonate with average voters is critical (think underdog Barack Obama in 2008). And then seizing on momentum, like a strong “Top Three” finish in Iowa and New Hampshire can help a campaign catch fire. Yes, money is great, but it’s only part of the magic elixir of the “Four M’s.”

We’re a month away from the Iowa Caucuses, so who’s your pick right now? And are you a firm commitment, or might you change your mind? Click the comment button and let us now.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is the Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five neighboring states and most of the Washington, D.C. media market. He is also a National Contributing Political Writer for the White House Patch at www.Patch.com.

© 2020, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

“Lucky Number 7 Presidential Debate is Next!” – Sunday Political Brunch December 29, 2019

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – It’s crunch time for the Democratic presidential candidates. While they have been doing one debate per month, that is about to accelerate. In the course of just 41 days, they will debate four times in January and February. Maybe that will serve to whittle down the field even further. By the time February ends, four states will have held primaries or caucuses. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“Debate Lucky #7!” – The next debate takes place on January 14 in Des Moines, Iowa. It is the seventh debate and the final forum before the crucial Iowa Caucuses. The Democratic National Committee has tightened the qualifications for the debate and so far, only five candidates have qualified: former Vice President Joe Biden, Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Senator Cory Booker and businessmen Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang are trying to make the field, but the stricter criteria to qualify may keep them out. I kind of like the idea of a debate of five, but since the first contest is so critical, I’d like to see maybe two more get in.

“The Best of the Rest” – The next three debates after Iowa are February 7, just four days before the New Hampshire Primary; February 19 just three days before the Nevada Caucuses; and, February 25, four days before the South Carolina Primary. In all cases, the debates will take place in the state of the next primary. That’s crucial for home-state voters to get the final look-see of the candidates left on stage. On balance I’ve enjoyed these debates and have been informed by them. Whether you agree with these candidates or not, the DNC deserves a lot of credit for putting them out there so often. No one can say they didn’t have the chance to make an educated vote.

“Who’s on First?” – The latest national composite poll from Real Clear Politics (RCP) has former VP Biden leading with 8.5 percent. Bernie Sanders is trending back up in second place, while Elizabeth Warren is trending down slighting in third. Pete Buttigieg is a solid fourth. But as I’ve said, a national poll really doesn’t matter, since we don’t have a national primary. What matters is how any candidate performs in the first four primary season contests, especially the first two.

“Hawkish on the Hawkeye State” – The nation’s first contest is the Iowa Caucuses on February 3. While Biden may lead nationally, the latest RCP composite poll has Mayor Pete leading with 22 percent, to Senator Sanders at 20 percent, Biden at 18.8 percent and Warren at 16 percent. Likely VP choice and neighboring Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar is solid at 6.3 percent. Yes, Biden may lead nationally, but the Iowa and New Hampshire contests are all about momentum, even if you don’t win. The Iowa numbers for Biden, who once led big here, must be troubling.

“Don’t Take Us for Granite” – The Granite State of New Hampshire holds its primary on February 11. The RCP composite poll has neighboring Vermonter Sanders leading with 19 percent, to Buttigieg – who once led here - with 17.7 percent. Biden who also once led here is now third at 14.3 percent and Massachusetts neighbor Warren – who also once led here as well – is now fourth at 13.3 percent. The fact that she’s trending downward in both Iowa and New Hampshire must have her staff and supporters worried. Thus, perhaps, the motivation of her “wine cave” fundraiser attack on the surging Mayor Pete, which was quickly lampooned on Saturday Night Live! Warren did have one of the best lines in last week’s debate when moderator Tim Alberta of Politico asked, “Senator Warren you would be the oldest president ever inaugurated. I would like you to weigh in as well.” And Warren responded, “I’d be the youngest woman ever inaugurated!” The crowd loved it!

“Will the Gloves Come Off?” – The most glaring issue in this race is that Sanders and Warren are joined at the hip. They are dear friends and ideological soul mates. Their issue stances are so close, you’d be hard pressed to slide a sheet of paper between the two. That is probably hampering them both and preventing a breakout. Warren was clearly the best debater through the first six contests, and Sanders was hobbled by health issues. Now, Sanders clearly is at full strength and has his fire and passion back, and the polls reflect a bounce. At what point do these two cut their losses, and attack each other? It’s got to happen, or both may be done. Politics is a full-contact sport. You can’t “nice and polite” your way to the White House in either party.

“When the Gloves Come Off, Part 2” – My point about Warren and Sanders needing to challenge each other is backed up by scrappy Mayor Pete and equally-scrappy Senator Klobuchar’s dust-up. Both have been gaining ground and political buzz, so they each needed a marquee moment in the debate to grow momentum. Klobuchar, who has been a county prosecutor and three-term U.S. Senator, chided the Sound Bend Mayor for his lack of political experience, plus the fact that he lost badly in a statewide race. Klobuchar said, “We should have someone heading up this ticket that has actually won and has been able to show that they can gather the support that you talk about. Like moderate Republicans and Independents, as well as a fired-up Democratic base.” To which Buttigieg retorted, “If you want to talk about the capacity to win, try putting together a coalition to bring you back to office with 80 percent of the vote, as a gay dude in Mike Pence’s Indiana.” It was the kind of good feisty exchange we need between Sanders and Warren!

What did you think of last week’s debate in Los Angeles and did it change your allegiance? Just click the comment button to let us know!

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five neighboring states, and most of the Washington, D.C. media market. He is also a National Contributing Political Writer for, “The White House Patch” at www.Patch.com

© 2019, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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