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2020 Daily Trail Markers: Candidates prepare for New Hampshire debate

Democratic presidential debate preview
Democratic candidates meet for New Hampshire debate ahead of state's primary 05:05

When Donald Trump won the New Hampshire primary in 2016, he reportedly credited the opioid epidemic, calling the state a "drug infested den." He effectively tied widespread opioid addiction to his signature campaign theme — the border wall he wanted to build across the U.S. southern border with Mexico — saying that the drugs were coming up through Mexico.

Presidential candidates or opioid deaths were the main recurring topics in New Hampshire news that year, when 20 people were listed on the major-party primary ballots, and 437 people died of opioid overdoses. Despite the attention, the number rose in 2017. And now, it still ranks among the top five states for opioid- and drug-related deaths, says CBS News Campaign Reporter Nicole Sganga. 

Now, in 2020, White House hopefuls are accustomed to including, along with traditional retail stops, visits to rehab centers, where they unveil expensive plans to curb opioid abuse. 

Last year a study on mortality rates in the U.S. found New Hampshire had the largest increase in the rate of deaths of people between 25 and 64. The report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed the rate of deaths among young and middle aged people in New Hampshire increased by 23% between 2010 and 2017.

Despite its pervasiveness, the opioid epidemic and its many victims have garnered little attention on the Democratic debate stage. That could change Friday night, as the candidates take the debate stage in Manchester.

Seven of the remaining 11 Democratic contenders still in the presidential race will debate at St. Anselm University. Friday morning, ABC News announced left-to-right podium order as follows: entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and businessman Tom Steyer. The debate begins at 8 p.m. EST.

In this special DEBATE edition of Trail Markers, the CBS News Political Unit gives a rundown of what to watch from each presidential candidate as well as other political news of the day.



VIA CBS NEW CAMPAIGN REPORTER BO ERICKSON: Five days after the Iowa caucuses, both advisers and top allies of Joe Biden are hoping the campaign can regain its breath after their 4th-place finish, which the candidate called a "gut punch." While many attendees at Biden's New Hampshire events this week say they are not considering Iowa's results in their voting decision, several of them on Tuesday told CBS News they were underwhelmed by Biden's first day back in the Granite State. "I expected a little bit more energy," Shaun McGahey, 35, from Pembroke, said standing on the rope line with her two kids in Concord. "It wasn't every 30 seconds you are getting interrupting to cheer for what he said."

Biden and his advisers retooled his message on Wednesday and threw a few punches of his own by questioning the records of rivals Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg. These weren't new criticisms but, with the assistance of a teleprompter, it was the first time Biden's critiques of his rivals were the main thrust of his pitch. Sanders, according to Biden, is too far left and will sink fellow Democratic candidates nationwide with his "democratic socialist" label. Buttigieg is too green, Biden argued, stating his mayoral experience does not fit the challenges awaiting a post-MAGA administration.

On Thursday, Biden spent the day preparing for the debate in Delaware, according to a source. When disagreements broke out on previous debate stages, Biden sometimes physically stepped back from his podium — a sign that he was steering clear of dueling rivals. But does Biden now feel like he needs to be in every fight? And what about Elizabeth Warren, who like Buttigieg has previously criticized Biden's long record in Washington. As he did with Buttigieg, will Biden demand to know if Warren thinks the Obama administration was a "failure"?


VIA CBS NEWS CAMPAIGN REPORTER JACK TURMAN: Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg had a strong performance in the Iowa caucuses. While the Iowa Democratic Party has had major issues with reporting the results, Buttigieg has been campaigning in New Hampshire and said on Tuesday, before the final returns were in, that his campaign had an "astonishing victory" in Iowa. While CBS News has not declared a winner of the Iowa caucuses, it appears that Buttigieg, who has campaigned as an alternative to some of his more moderate competitors, will finish ahead of former Vice President Joe Biden and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar.

On Friday, Bernie Sanders criticized Buttigieg for taking money from billionaires. Buttigieg has held the kind of high-dollar fundraisers that Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have both sworn off. Will Sanders continue to push Buttigieg on receiving money from billionaires? With Buttigieg coming out of Iowa ahead of Biden and Klobuchar, will the more moderate candidates criticize the . millennial former mayor's lack of Washington experience? And with Sanders and Buttigieg both coming out of Iowa declaring victory, how will Buttigieg use the debate to continue momentum and convince undecided voters?


VIA CBS NEWS CAMPAIGN REPORTER BO ERICKSON: Whether it was complimenting Stacey Abrams while debating in Georgia or her staying on a jobs-focused message in Ohio, Amy Klobuchar has repeatedly connected what she says in the debates to the place in which the debate is being held. That could help her during Friday's debate in New Hampshire, which comes just days before the state's primary. 

Several Klobuchar allies told CBS News they still see the senator in introduction mode with many Democratic voters. Her campaign says she "surged" in Iowa, although she landed in fifth place only a few points behind Joe Biden.

For almost the whole campaign Klobuchar has delicately run against Biden, usually only mentioning the former vice president when asked. But before the official results even began to trickle out, Klobuchar's campaign manager tweeted that she beat Biden in Iowa. 

With a little more heat, could she pick off the former vice president in New Hampshire? She's made the generational argument and criticized Biden's 2002 vote for the Iraq War. Or will she get more bang from bashing Buttigieg? In previous debates, Klobuchar has repeatedly discussed the mayor's limited resumé. 

Barring a dismal finish in New Hampshire on Tuesday, the Minnesota senator's campaign is set to march into the new early states where they have dispatched additional staff. Senior advisers say the campaign's frugalness puts them in position to compete comfortably through South Carolina.  


VIA CBS NEWS CAMPAIGN REPORTER CARA KORTE: Two candidates are claiming they won the Iowa caucuses, and neither will be standing center stage tonight. 

What does that mean? Perhaps it means that there's going to be a lot of crossfire Friday evening. Who's on top? Who's trying to scratch back? What we know about Bernie Sanders is that his campaign is in an upswing. While other candidates are cutting staff and pulling advertising in early states, Sanders just doubled down with a $5.5 million ad buy in Super Tuesday states. His campaign also just had its strongest fundraising month to date with $25 million raised in January. 

Sanders says he won in Iowa so that naturally puts him at odds with Pete Buttigieg, who gave a victory speech the night of the caucuses. Campaigning Friday morning in New Hampshire, Sanders took a swing at the former mayor. "I like Pete Buttigieg, nice guy. But we are in a moment where billionaires control not only our economy but our political life," said Sanders.

Sanders criticism of Buttgieg came alongside some harsh words for another former mayor, Mike Bloomberg. Sanders also called Bloomberg a "nice guy" but told the crowd that the New Yorker is "spending millions to buy the election." He added, "There's something wrong with that…But we are in a moment where billionaires control not only the economic but political life of this country." 

At the same event Friday, Sanders evoked the Woody Guthrie song "Which Side Are You?" – an old union tune. (We heard Sanders make the same reference when he was in Guthrie's home state of Oklahoma last September at a rally with 4,000 supporters.) Sanders then posed the question to the crowd in New Hampshire: Which side are you on? The side of the working class who have been ignored by politicians for decades? Or, in Sanders' telling, the side of the billionaires running corrupt industries and controlling this country? 

Sanders is portraying himself as the standard-bearer of one side while trying to make Pete Buttigieg the representative of the other. Will voters agree with that assessment of the race?


VIA CBS NEWS CAMPAIGN REPORTER ZAK HUDAK: While most candidates headed to New Hampshire early in the morning after the Iowa caucus, Tom Steyer prepared to go to Nevada. Steyer's campaign has made no secret of the fact they see Nevada and South Carolina as the early states where he could thrive. But the billionaire candidate made it known Thursday he was ready to brawl with an ad running in New Hampshire that took aim at Buttigieg, Biden and "socialists."

For Steyer, a major surprise in New Hampshire is unlikely. But with Nevada around the corner, he could use anything even resembling an upset, and his ad strongly signals he is looking to make a case for himself over one of the major contenders on stage. If so, the only question is who—between Biden, Buttigieg or Sanders—Steyer will go after tonight.


VIA CBS NEWS CAMPAIGN REPORTER ZAK HUDAK: Elizabeth Warren needs to turn things around after Iowa, and the New Hampshire debate will be a major opportunity for her to do so. The Massachusetts senator has four days to shore up support in her neighboring state, where a CBS News poll a month ago and another poll Thursday put her in third place.

Warren's third-place finish in Iowa was a hit to a campaign that had invested heavily in the state from the start. It's left her at the margins of the conversation as Buttigieg, Biden and Sanders have taken swings at one another over the past few days. Warren's campaign has touted its more than 1,000 staffers across the country as an example how they plan. But without momentum out of New Hampshire, Warren, who has sworn off large-dollar fundraisers, could have trouble raising money from the grassroots donors who have propelled her campaign so far. 

Warren has generally avoided conflict with other candidates, at least publicly, but that may change tonight. There are several contrasts she has subtly made with her fellow progressive Sanders, who leads in the state. For example, has put a price tag and a payment plan on her "Medicare for All" proposal, while he has not. The stakes haven't been higher, so will Warren concentrate her fire Sanders?


VIA CBS NEWS POLITICAL UNIT ASSOCIATE PRODUCER BEN MITCHELL: Andrew Yang has long made New Hampshire the focal point of his candidacy and good reason: The state's high percentage of independents and its libertarian streak are a good match for his policies and his outsider campaign. 

Friday's debate, however, is likely his last chance to break out. Support for Yang remains mired in the low single-digits in the latest New Hampshire polls while his campaign appears to be struggling everywhere else. Yang invested heavily in Iowa, spending 20 days in January crossing the state and holding 76 events in the run up to the caucus. Despite all his time and a nearly $7 million investment in TV ads, Yang placed a distant sixth and netted just 1% of SDEs. Now, after spending millions more than he raised in Q4, Yang is laying off "dozens" of staffers across the early states. Without a strong showing tonight to boost his fundraising and an even stronger showing in Tuesday's primary, Yang's days could be numbered.



A spokeswoman for the Nevada State Democratic Party said Friday that no mobile apps will be involved in their upcoming caucuses, following the party's decision to scrap their reliance on a software developer at the heart of the days-long delay in Iowa's results. The party says they are still "testing our process" before early voting is scheduled to kick off in the state next week.

Internally, multiple Democrats in Nevada tell CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin the party has floated the use of an unspecified "tool" to assist in reporting results on the day of the caucus, to be showcased at volunteer summits in the state this weekend. Aides to multiple campaigns say they have heard few details about the "tool," though the party insists they have remained in "constant contact" with campaigns in the state. "It's disappointing that campaigns aren't being given a seat at the table to help ensure what happens in Iowa doesn't repeat," said one Democratic campaign on Friday.

In a statement to CBS News, spokesperson Molly Forgey said that the state party has "maintained a high level of communication" with the campaigns.

"Our main objective is running the most expansive, transparent, and accessible caucus that ensures Nevadans voices are heard," Forgey said. "We've maintained a high level of communication with campaigns at every step of the way and that will never change." 


ON THE $$$

Two of the Democrats' largest super PACS, Priorities USA Action and Senate Majority PAC, are teaming up to run a new multimillion dollar digital ad campaign focused on battleground Senate races in Arizona, Maine and North Carolina, following Republicans' votes to acquit President Trump, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice. Senators Martha McSally, Susan Collins and Thom Tillis all found the president not guilty on articles of obstruction of Congress and abuse of power. All three also happen to be facing tough re-elections in their home states. 

McSally and Collins were both outraised by Democratic opponents in the fourth quarter of 2019. Tillis is also facing a serious challenge. "Just winning the White House wouldn't be enough. If we want to enact real change in this country, we need a Democratic Senate," said Priorities USA Action's Executive Director Patrick McHugh of the partnership.  

"By exonerating President Trump without securing a fair trial, Senate Republicans have ignored the rule of law and the will of the American people. Our new digital partnership with Priorities will allow us to hold Senate Republicans accountable by aggressively targeting voters in battleground states that are key to flipping the Senate," added Senate Majority PAC President J.B. Poersch in a statement. Priorities USA Action and Senate Majority PAC's partnership to further help their opponents comes after the two PACs also ran a $30 million digital campaign across eight senate races in 2018.



One of the Republican challengers to Mr. Trump suspended his long-shot bid on Friday ahead of New Hampshire's primary, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson. Former congressman and radio personality Joe Walsh announced on Twitter the suspension of his campaign. He began his bid in August but failed to gain traction in terms of polling and fundraising. He also has not qualified to be on the ballot in many states for the primaries. In his suspension announcement, he said he would stay committed to defeating Mr. Trump in November. Former governor Bill Weld is now the only national challenger remaining in the GOP primary. 

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