Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* There hasn't been any major shake-up on Hillary Clinton's staff, but she is adding Jen O'Malley Dillon, the former deputy campaign manager for President Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, to the Clinton team.
* As attention now shifts to South Carolina, which hosts its Democratic primary in about two weeks, Clinton unveiled a new ad yesterday called "Broken," which focuses on systemic racism in the criminal justice system.
* Chip Englander, who ran Rand Paul's failed presidential campaign, has decided to join Marco Rubio's operation.
* It seems hard to believe, but Rep. Todd Young, the leading Republican candidate in Indiana's U.S. Senate race, "may not have submitted enough valid petition signatures to qualify" for the ballot. The Indiana Democratic Party is moving forward with a challenge to Young's eligibility.
* MSNBC reported yesterday that Bernie Sanders, throughout his Senate career, "has been a regular presence at luxurious Democratic fundraising retreats, according to more than a half-dozen lobbyists, donors and former Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee staff members with whom he attended the events." It follows a similar report about Sanders attending a 2007 fundraiser on Martha's Vineyard, which included wealthy lobbyist donors.
* The field of Republican Senate candidates in Florida will apparently grow to five, with homebuilder Carlos Beruff poised to throw his hat in the ring.
About a month ago, Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) was asked at a town-hall meeting about drug abuse in the state. The Republican governor focused on heroin, which he said was reaching Maine from out-of-state drug dealers.
"These are guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty ... these types of guys ... they come from Connecticut and New York, they come up here, they sell their heroin, they go back home," LePage said. "Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave, which is a real sad thing because then we have another issue we have to deal with down the road."
That, of course, sounded pretty racist, but the governor's spokesperson said in a statement to reporters, "The governor is not making comments about race. Race is irrelevant."
In fact, LePage soon after added at a press conference, "I never said anything about white or black traffickers.... What are they, black? I don't know. I just read the names."
As it turns out, that wasn't exactly an accurate reflection of the governor's thoughts on the matter. The Portland Press Heraldreported yesterday on LePage elaborating on the subject.
Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday that "I had to go screaming at the top of my lungs about black dealers" and make other "outrageous comments" to force the Legislature to take the state's drug crisis seriously.
LePage's "black dealers" comment contradicts his earlier assertions that the media and his political opponents -- not he -- inserted race into the drug debate by misinterpreting his statement that out-of-state dealers often "impregnate a young white girl" in Maine.
It would appear the "race is irrelevant" talking point is no longer valid.
If you've ever seen some of the Republican attack ads launched by Crossroads GPS, chances are you didn't think the commercials came from a "social welfare" non-profit organization. But we were reminded yesterday that the law in this area can get a little murky.
The Washington Postreported on an unexpected decision from the IRS, following years of review.
The Internal Revenue Service has granted tax-exempt status to Crossroads GPS, a conservative group that has aggressively pioneered in a new form of political engagement by nonprofit groups sanctioned by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.
The decision by the IRS -- first reported by OpenSecrets.org, the website of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics -- means that Crossroads GPS has been deemed a "social welfare" nonprofit under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code.
Just so we're clear, Karl Rove and former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie created a super PAC several years ago called American Crossroads, which plays a prominent role in Republican politics. Crossroads GPS is a companion entity, which is also a high-profile role in the party, but plays by a different set of rules.
One of the benefits of creating a 501(c)(4) non-profit is secrecy: these groups can collect unlimited amounts of money from just about anyone, invest that money in political campaigns, and keep their donors' names secret from the public. The organizations are popularly known as "dark money" groups because there is no disclosure, and the financing is kept in the shadows.
What's the catch? Under federal tax law, in order to qualify for non-profit status as a 501(c)(4) "social welfare" group, the organization has to ensure that a majority of its work is not overtly political. Or put another way, for every dollar one of these organizations collect, 51 cents has to go towards some kind of "social welfare" purpose -- and campaign attack ads don't count.
As recently as last week, things couldn't have been much better for Marco Rubio. The media celebrated his third-place finish in Iowa as if it were a victory; endorsements came rushing in; mega-donors starting lining up; and polls showed him on track for a strong, second-place finish in New Hampshire.
Rubio's "3-2-1" plan -- third place in Iowa, second place in New Hampshire, first place in South Carolina -- was on track. The Florida senator was positioned to ride a wave of hype towards his party's nomination.
Last week, however, suddenly seems like a long time ago. Rubio choked in Saturday night's debate, embarrassed himself at the worst possible moment, and appears to have come in fifth in New Hampshire. No GOP candidate has ever finished worse than second and gone on to win the nomination. Rubio's chances appear to have been shattered.
But the senator still hopes to pick up the pieces, and as TPM reported, Rubio took his message to Fox this morning.
The Florida senator later added that he won't stop talking about how Obama is hurting the country.
"One of the things I'm criticized for is saying the truth, and I'll continue to say this: Barack Obama is undermining this country. He is hurting this country. He is doing serious damage to this country in a way that I believe is part of a plan to weaken America on the global stage. This is the truth," Rubio said on Fox.
For any adult looking at reality, it obviously is not the truth, but let's not brush past the specifics of this pitch too quickly. Rubio believes he sees a secret plan, hatched by the president of the United States, "to weaken America" deliberately.
In other words, Rubio's comeback plan involves telling voters that President Obama is somehow guilty of treason.
Much of the political world was focused late yesterday on the New Hampshire presidential primaries, and for good reason: the nation's future direction will be shaped in large part by who wins the White House.
But away from the Granite State, Americans received a very different kind of reminder about what's actually at stake in 2016. NBC News' Pete Williams reported:
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked enforcement of the Obama administration's ambitious new plan for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
The justices granted a plea from 30 states that asked for a temporary hold on the new Clean Energy Plan while the lower courts decide whether the Environmental Protection Agency has the legal authority to impose it.
This was ... wait for it ... a 5-4 decision. The court's Republican-appointed conservatives -- Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Kennedy, and Roberts -- agreed to block the energy policy, while the court's Democratic-appointed center-left justices -- Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan dissented.
A New York Timesreport noted that there is no precedent for the high court taking a step like this: the Supreme Court "had never before granted a request to halt a regulation before review by a federal appeals court." Jody Freeman, a Harvard law professor and former environmental legal counsel to the Obama administration, described the move as "stunning."
To appreciate why, let's pause for a moment to consider how we reached this point.
There are plenty of questions about what happens now in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, and those questions matter. But before looking ahead, it's worth pausing to appreciate just how impressive Bernie Sanders' landslide win in New Hampshire really is.
For one thing, this would have been very hard to predict when the race got underway in earnest several months ago. Hillary Clinton, who won the New Hampshire primary eight years ago, appeared to have an insurmountable lead over a 74-year-old socialist senator, who was believed to be running as a protest candidate, simply looking for a platform for his ideas. And yet, as the dust settles, Sanders appears to have finished with a roughly 22-point victory.
For another, consider that margin in a historical context. Among New Hampshire Democrats, the biggest win ever for a non-incumbent was Michael Dukakis' 16-point victory in 1988. Sanders defeated that record easily. In fact -- here's the really amazing part -- Sanders' 22-point win is actually larger than some of the Democratic primaries in which an incumbent Dem president faced a challenger: Jimmy Carter won by 10 points in 1980 and Lyndon Johnson won by 8 points in 1968.
Exit polls offer us some sense of how the Vermont independent pulled it off.
Values and demographics shaped the strong support Bernie Sanders received Tuesday in New Hampshire, according to the NBC News Exit Poll of Granite State Democrats.
The Vermont senator won 83 percent of millennial voters under the age of 30. He also won 66 percent of voters who describe themselves as very liberal, and at the same time took 72 percent of self-described independents.
That last point is of particular interest. Among New Hampshire Democrats, Clinton and Sanders actually tied, but independents voted in the primary and propelled Sanders to his record victory.
Having set the stage, let's now consider the What It All Means question.
By definition, a development everyone expected to happen can't be a surprise, but that doesn't make the outcome any less remarkable: Donald Trump, a first-time candidate running on a bizarre platform, won the Republican Party's New Hampshire presidential primary -- easily.
The vote tally isn't quite finished, but as things stand, the New York developer is on track to prevail with a margin of victory of 19 points, which is the largest for a non-incumbent Republican since Reagan's 1980 win over three decades ago.
In the wake of the Iowa caucuses, in which Trump finished second, the conventional wisdom said the setback put the candidate on a trajectory towards inevitable failure: the Trump bubble had been pierced, the paper tiger had been exposed, and some degree of normalcy had been restored in the nominating fight.
No one is saying that anymore. On the contrary, chaos now reigns.
As we did after Iowa, let's again try to cut through the noise and break things down from a pitch-vs-hype-vs-truth perspective.
The Pitch: "We are going to start winning again!" Trump said in his victory speech. "We are going to win so much. You are going to be so happy."
The Buzz: Meet the new GOP frontrunner, same as the old GOP frontrunner.
The Truth: It's interesting to see the Republican race effectively reset to where it stood before the Iowa caucuses. At that point, Trump was on track to prevail, and now he's right back where he was. Just as important, the road ahead looks favorable -- Trump enjoys big leads in South Carolina polling -- titling the odds further in his favor.
The Pitch: The Ohio governor suddenly has the "GOP establishment" lane all to himself.
The Buzz: A strong showing in New Hampshire doesn't negate the fact that Kasich is poorly positioned to compete in the next round of primaries and caucuses.
The Truth: Kasich deserves enormous credit for implementing an effective New Hampshire strategy, built largely on a foundation of retail politicking and a unique, positive message. His second-place showing, outperforming polling averages, gives the governor renewed credibility as a national candidate. What it does not give him, however, are the resources and organizational structure he needs to move forward. The best case scenario for Kasich: other establishment-style Republicans quickly drop out and endorse him.
Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent, talks about the economic and foreign policy implications of both the Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump wins in New Hampshire's primary election. watch
Rachel Maddow suggests that Donald Trump's win in New Hampshire could represent a shift in American politics and the Republican Party to compare more closely with right-wing nativist political parties in Europe. watch
Rachel Maddow remarks on the lack of liberal representation in mainstream politics and notes that Bernie Sanders has given voice to a new generation of liberals who don't have to feel excluded from mainstream politics. watch
NBC News projects that John Kasich will take 2nd place in the New Hampshire GOP primary. Rachel Maddow explains how Kasich ran his campaign in the Granite State and secured his 2nd place showing on Tuesday evening. watch
Brian Williams, Rachel Maddow, and Andrea Mitchell look at exit poll data to discover that Bernie Sanders was carried in New Hampshire by large proportions of young voters, independents, gun owners, liberals, and even more women voters went for Sanders than Clinton. watch