2020 Vision: Hillary Clinton thinks Russia will back Tulsi Gabbard to help Trump stay in power

Welcome to 2020 Vision, the Yahoo News column covering the presidential race. Reminder: There are 108 days until the Iowa caucuses and 382 days until the 2020 presidential election.

[Who’s running for president? Click here for Yahoo News’ 2020 tracker]

2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said this week that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, is likely being groomed by Moscow as a third-party candidate for the 2020 race.

In an interview on the podcast of former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, Clinton expressed her concerns about possible Russian interference in 2020.

“They’re also going to do third-party again,” Clinton said. “I’m not making any predictions, but I think they’ve got their eye on someone who’s currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate. She’s the favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far.”

While Clinton didn’t mention Gabbard by name, no other female candidates currently running in the primary — Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar and spiritualist author Marianne Williamson — have been accused of having ties to Russia.

Hillary Clinton and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Photos: Mark Wilson/Getty Images; Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Clinton also labeled Jill Stein, who ran for president in 2016 as a Green Party candidate, as “a Russian asset.”

“And that’s assuming Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not because she’s also a Russian asset,” said Clinton. “Yeah, she’s a Russian asset — I mean, totally. They know they can’t win without a third-party candidate. So I don’t know who it’s going to be, but I will guarantee you they will have a vigorous third-party challenge in the key states that they most needed.”

Clinton’s team didn’t back off the claim on Friday.

“If the nesting doll fits,” Clinton spokesperson Nick Merrill told CNN. “This is not some outlandish claim. This is reality. If the Russian propaganda machine, both their state media and their bot and troll operations, is backing a candidate aligned with their interests, that is just a reality, it is not speculation.”

Gabbard responded in a series of tweets Friday afternoon:

Gabbard has not ruled out a third-party run but defended herself against the charges that she was a Russian asset at Tuesday’s primary debate.

“Just two days ago, the New York Times put out an article saying that I'm a Russian asset and an Assad apologist and all these different smears,” said Gabbard. “This morning, a CNN commentator said on national television that I'm an asset of Russia. Completely despicable.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wave to the crowd at a rally in Wichita, Kan., last year. (Photo: J. Pat Carter for the Washington Post/Getty Images)

AOC to endorse Bernie Sanders

Two weeks ago, Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign looked to be in a tough spot. While he continued to pull in money from a wide base of donors, he had stalled out and Sanders himself suffered a heart attack while campaigning in Nevada, raising questions about whether his run would continue.

This week saw a positive change of fortune for the 78-year-old independent senator from Vermont. On Tuesday night, Sanders made his first appearance since the heart attack, looking spry and sounding on message during the primary debate.

“I’m healthy, I’m feeling great,” said Sanders when asked how he could assure voters he was up to the task of being president after having just suffered a heart attack.

“Well, let me invite you all to a major rally we’re having in Queens, New York,” Sanders added. “We’re going to have a special guest at that event. And we are going to be mounting a vigorous campaign all over this country. That is how I think I can reassure the American people.”

Before the debate concluded, multiple outlets reported that the special guest for Saturday’s event would be Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the freshman Democrat from New York. Politico reported that Ocasio-Cortez, who was an organizer for Sanders in 2016 prior to her own insurgent run at the House, called Sanders in his hospital bed to inform him she was coming aboard earlier than she had initially planned.

It remains to be seen if Ocasio-Cortez will have a major impact on the primary, but her 5.5 million Twitter followers are more than former Vice President Joe Biden (3.9 million) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (3.4 million), the current frontrunners in the race. Among Democrats with an opinion on both Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders, the former is more popular among women voters, white voters and the wealthiest voters, potentially giving the senator a bump.

Sanders also picked up an endorsement from Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.,, who announced her decision minutes after Tuesday’s debate ended. A video posted by Omar explaining her support for Sanders was retweeted over 12,000 times:

Between Ocasio-Cortez, the most prominent Latina politician in the country, and Omar, who is black and Muslim, Sanders potentially helps himself in a Democratic primary with a diverse field of voters. The pair — Ocasio-Cortez is 30, Omar is 38 — also add another dash of youth to the elder democratic socialist’s bid.

“I have been deeply impressed by her ability to inspire people all over this country — young people especially, people of color especially — in the struggle for economic justice, the social justice, for racial justice and for environmental justice,” Sanders said of Ocasio-Cortez in an interview with NY1 about the endorsement. “She is really an inspiration to people, not only in New York but all over this country, and I’m very, very proud that she is now part of our campaign.”

There was some thought that Ocasio-Cortez might throw her backing behind Warren, who wrote a Time magazine tribute to the congresswoman and appeared with her in a video critical of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Asked about the reports after the debate, Warren said they were all on the same team.

“Look, I have great respect for all three of those women,” said Warren, referring to Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., who was initially reported to be leaning toward endorsing Sanders. “I think they are terrific. And here’s what I know for sure — when this primary is over, we are all going to be on the same side.”

Ocasio-Cortez liked a tweet from editor David Klion that suggested she agrees with the Massachusetts senator’s assessment.

“Bernie and Warren genuinely like and respect each other and the effort to turn them into ideological nemeses based on their most annoying Twitter supporters is myopic,” wrote Klion. “Eventually one of them will happily endorse the other and the whole thing will seem dumb in hindsight.”

Joe Biden speaking at a women's leadership forum in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. (Photo: Alex Brandon/AP)

Biden’s money troubles

Despite a deluge of attacks from the White House attempting to paint him as corrupt, Biden has mostly maintained his position atop most national polls of the Democratic presidential field. But a potential red flag was raised earlier this week.

The Biden campaign has just $8.9 million in cash on hand after spending more than it brought in during the third quarter, including nearly $1 million on private plane travel. In comparison, Sanders has $33.7 million in cash on hand, while Warren has $25.7 million and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg has $23.4 million.

Biden also has a more limited donor pool, as just 38 percent of the $22 million he raised in the first half of the year came from donations of $200 or lower. That’s in comparison to 77 percent small donors for Sanders and 67 percent for Warren. Donors are allowed to give only $2,800 to each primary candidate, meaning donors who give in smaller amounts can give again, versus those who max out early in the cycle.

“The fundamental question about fundraising is: Do you have what you need to run your race? And we do,” Kate Bedingfield, deputy campaign manager for Biden, told the New York Times.

A Washington Post analysis of third quarter spending contrasted with poll movement during the same period showed that Biden did not get much bang for his buck, spending $17.2 million over that time while dropping nearly 3 points in the polls. Warren had the best numbers, spending $18.6 to move up almost 10 points. Both Sanders and Buttigieg spent heavily ($21.3 million and $18.6 million, respectively) to stay in the same spot. The breakdown was also positive for businessman Andrew Yang ($4.3 million to move up 2 points), negative for Harris ($14.4 million to drop 5 points) and a nightmare for billionaire activist Tom Steyer ($47 million to gain 0.6 points).


President Trump greets Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, before he speaks in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in June. (Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP)

Vulnerable GOP senators get bad polling news

A new round of polling shows some Republican senators could be facing reelection headwinds in 2020. According to a Morning Consult survey of battleground states, freshman Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, had the biggest fall, tumbling 9 points to negative 4 approval since a similar survey from the second quarter of the year. Not helping Ernst is Trump’s approval rating in the state, which is 16 points underwater. Ernst also posted lackluster third-quarter fundraising results that came in under the haul of one potential Democratic opponent. Ernst, however, maintains a large cash-on-hand advantage, with nearly $4 million.

Other Republican senators who saw their approval ratings fall were Maine’s Susan Collins (down 2 points to negative 6), North Carolina’s Thom Tillis (down 3 to negative 6) and Colorado’s Cory Gardner (down 3 to negative 6). Arizona’s Martha McSally, who lost a 2018 Senate race before being appointed to her seat, is still above water in terms of her approval rating but saw a 1-point decline. Should the House decide to impeach Trump, all three would be faced with potential lose-lose votes in which they are forced to either condemn the president (and alienate his base) or vote to acquit (and potentially turn off independents in states where Trump is unpopular). The poll wasn’t all bad news for Republicans. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas stayed even at 18.

The two Democratic senators polled in the race — Doug Jones of Alabama and Gary Peters of Michigan — saw slight increases in their approval ratings, although Jones remains an underdog in a state where Trump's approval rating stands at 17.

Post debate poll shows little change

Support among Democratic primary voters, Oct. 16, 2019. (Survey results courtesy Morning Consult)

The first national poll taken after Tuesday's Democratic primary debate shows virtually no change in the race. According to the survey, conducted by Morning Consult on Wednesday, Joe Biden (31 percent) continues to hold a 10-point lead over Warren (21 percent), with Sanders (18 percent) in third. Harris (7 percent) and Buttigieg (6 percent) round out the top five.

Last week, the same poll showed each of the candidates with basically the same support, with movement limited to a single percentage point within the survey's 2-point margin of error. Support for Elizabeth Warren, who took the brunt of the attacks from her rivals onstage at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, was literally unchanged from a week ago.

The data from Morning Consult also suggests that the last two debates have had little effect on the race.

Harris, who saw a spike in support after the first debate, “ended the fourth debate essentially where she began the summer,” Morning Consult noted, while support for Sanders and Buttigieg has not changed.

(Morning Consult)
Morning Consult

Buttigieg has, however, gained ground in Iowa. A new Emerson poll released this week found him in third place (with 18 percent) behind Biden and Warren (tied for first with 23 percent) and ahead of Sanders (with 13 percent), who has slipped to fourth among likely caucus-goers.

The same survey, taken in March, had Mayor Pete in fourth place, with 11 percent support.

Coming up

Saturday, Oct. 19: Sanders will hold his first rally since his heart attack, in Queens, N.Y., where he is expected to be endorsed by Ocasio-Cortez.

Sunday, Oct. 20: Buttigieg will appear on “Fox News Sunday” and CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Tuesday, Oct. 22: Bill Taylor, acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, will testify in the House Democrats’ ongoing impeachment inquiry.

Friday, Oct. 25: Trump and at least nine Democratic presidential hopefuls — Biden, Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg, Harris, Booker, Klobuchar, Castro and Delaney — will appear at a criminal justice forum at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (Photo: John Minchillo/AP)

Verbatim

“I do. I’m not on it tonight.”

— Sen. Bernie Sanders at last Tuesday’s Democratic debate, his first campaign event since he suffered a heart attack, after Sen. Cory Booker pointed out that Sanders supports medical marijuana

“People need to keep their hands off of women’s bodies.”

— Sen. Kamala Harris discussing women’s reproductive rights at the debate

“I will not embrace a plan like ‘Medicare for All Who Can Afford It.’”

— Sen. Elizabeth Warren, at the debate, defending her support for Medicare for All

“I have a lot of respect for Senator Warren, but last night she was more specific about the number of selfies she’s taken than about how this plan is going to be funded.”

— South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, on CNN Wednesday, attacking Warren’s health care proposal

“Sometimes you have to let them fight like two kids. Then you pull them apart.”

— President Trump, at a rally in Dallas Thursday, defending his decision to pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria, abandoning America’s Kurdish allies ahead of Turkey’s invasion


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