Election news: January 9, 2024

Christie blasts Lloyd Austin over concealing hospitalization

ROCHESTER, N.H. — Christie told audience members at a town hall event here tonight that the single most important issue in this race is character while adding that the White House was “tying themselves in knots” trying to explain how Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was battling prostate cancer and did not tell the commander in chief.

“The entire time the president of the United States didn’t know. Nobody told him. I mean, how the hell does that happen?” Christie said.

He also criticized Austin’s character, saying: “What’s the character of the secretary of defense if he doesn’t pick up the phone himself and call the president, the man who gave him the job, and said: ‘Oh, by the way, Mr. President, bad news. I have prostate cancer. I need to go in for surgery. Here’s how I propose to handle it. Is that OK with you?’

“I mean, that seems to be pretty basic, right?” Christie added. “This applies to our party, too,” he said before proceeding to talk about Trump’s Christmas message in which he called for various people who are “looking to destroy our once great USA” to “rot in hell.”

Ramaswamy conducts town hall via FaceTime as bad weather interrupts his travel

Vivek Ramaswamy speaks to voters at an Iowa event via FaceTime on an iPad on Tuesday.
Vivek Ramaswamy speaks to voters at an Iowa event via FaceTime on an iPad on Tuesday.Alex Tabet

A day riddled with canceled events and logistical hurdles for Ramaswamy’s campaign featured another blip when the 38-year-old entrepreneur beamed into his third town hall of the day via FaceTime from an iPad.

The event, originally dubbed a “rally” by the campaign, was conducted virtually as 20 Iowans passed around the iPad, asking Ramaswamy questions as a staffer held a microphone up to the device.

“Apoorva and I were together in the last event that went over,” said Ramaswamy, explaining his delays as a brutal winter storm rocks Iowa, slowing down travel on the roads.“We’re driving very slowly and carefully in the snow to stay safe. But thank you for your patience for having me this way.”

Ramaswamy spent yesterday criticizing his GOP rival, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, for canceling an event in Iowa amid the winter storm. Ramaswamy posted on his X account, “We’re not gonna let a little snow stop us. I’m no snowflake,” before proceeding to cancel three of his seven events.

Voter voices: Anti-Trump N.H. Republicans weigh Haley vs. Christie

ROCHESTER, N.H. — Greg Leach, 49, a Republican voter who attended a Christie town hall Tuesday night, told NBC News he plans to vote for Haley.

“My heart wants to vote for Gov. Christie, but my brain tells me to vote for Nikki Haley,” Leach said. He said his decision is based on current polling numbers. He views Haley as being “within close striking distance of Trump.”

“I want to vote for Christie, but I feel like right now my vote would be wasted and, in a sense, a vote for Trump,” Leach said.

Leach has never voted for Trump and does not want him to be in office “ever again.”

Sandy Keans, 81, an independent who also attended the town hall, plans to vote for Christie.

“I think he’s the most commonsense, does things like I would do them,” she said.

Keans said she is not interested in voting for Haley: “I think she caters her answers to whoever is in the room. It doesn’t seem to be a consistent message.”

No. 3 GOP senator, John Barrasso, endorses Trump

John Barrasso of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican senator, endorsed Trump for president today, becoming the highest-ranking GOP senator to back the former president before the Iowa caucuses Monday.

“President Trump and a new conservative led Senate partnership will restore American greatness,” Barrasso said in a statement. Barrasso’s superiors, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota, have not endorsed anyone in the GOP primaries.

Barrasso, already speaking of Trump as the presumptive nominee, said he made the endorsement “because hard working Americans simply can’t afford another four years of Joe Biden.”

Ramaswamy pledges to cut funding for NPR

When a voter asked him what he would do about National Public Radio, Ramaswamy was unequivocal. 

“Well, I think the use of federal money to engage in one-sided partisanship is an abandonment of their purpose,” he said. “When I’m talking about zero-based budgeting, I really mean zero-based budgeting.”

“It’s effectively state media,” he said.

According to NPR’s financial reports, the stations receive funding from a broad mix of sources, including federal grants but also corporate sponsorships, universities and individual donors.

GOP candidates say supporters are too fired up for cold to keep them home

Temperatures for the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses on Monday are set to be the coldest in the contest’s modern history, with a forecast high temperature of around 0 degrees in Des Moines, according to the National Weather Service.

But Republican presidential candidates aren’t worried, uniformly saying they think their supporters are uniquely motivated to come out and vote the night of Jan. 15. And state party leaders also don’t think the frigid temperatures will affect turnout.

Read the full story here.

DeSantis responds to Trump’s saying he hopes the economy crashes the year

DeSantis responded to comments Trump made last night in a TV interview in which he said hopes the economy crashes “during this next 12 months.”

DeSantis told reporters today after his Fox News town hall that he “does not want to see the economy crash.”

“I don’t want the economy to crash because people’s livelihoods depend on their 401(k)s. People’s jobs — if the economy crashes, people get thrown out of work, businesses would go under. I don’t want to see that happening. I want people to do well,” he said.

Trump voluntarily appeared in court just six days before the Iowa caucuses in an effort to convince more Republican voters that he is a victim.

Protesters rush the stage at DeSantis town hall on Fox News

A handful of protesters interrupted DeSantis’ town hall on Fox News this evening in Des Moines, chanting “no oil money” and carrying a banner with the same message.

DeSantis seemed unfazed, saying, “You live and you learn with these people. That was a mistake. You guys didn’t get that one right.” Security escorted the protesters out of the room.

Earlier this evening, DeSantis said he would back fracking nationwide. “We’re going to frack in this country. It’s important. And it’s the way you get to be energy independent and energy dominant,” he said.

DeSantis predicts appeals court will rule against Trump on immunity claim

In a Fox News town hall event tonight, DeSantis predicted that Trump is headed toward another legal setback.

DeSantis said he expects the appeals court that heard arguments today in Trump’s effort to dismiss the federal election interference case on presidential immunity grounds will rule against the former president.

“I think the D.C. Circuit will rule against him. I mean, it’s a liberal circuit,” DeSantis said. The three-judge panel that heard arguments today included one Republican appointee.

When asked if he thought Trump was immune from prosecution because he was president at the time, DeSantis said, “You know, I’m not exactly sure, because I think it’s kind of a novel issue.”

DeSantis then pivoted to argue that it is just another way the election will be all about Trump if he’s the nominee. It “lets Democrats off the hook,” DeSantis said.

Democrats to spend $35M targeting voters of color in House races

Democrats announced that they are spending at least $35 million this election cycle to “persuade and mobilize” Latino, Black, Asian American, Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian voters to help the party win control of the House in November.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee told NBC News that the planned 2024 spending would surpass the $30 million spent on those groups of voters in the 2022 midterm elections and other previous cycles.

The investment and work associated with the program “honors our commitment to the multiethnic coalition that our fragile democracy depends on,” Missayr Boker, the DCCC’s deputy executive director for campaigns, said in a news release. “While extremist Republicans continue to lie, cheat and suppress the vote of people of color in order to win elections, Democrats understand that democracy is strengthened when everyone’s voice is heard.”

Read the full story here.

GOP race ignores the elephant in the room

We are now six days from the Iowa caucuses, and the major back-and-forth in the Republican presidential campaign is about … Haley.

That’s at least the situation over the airwaves, as DeSantis and Trump’s allies have released closing TV ads hitting Haley. 

The DeSantis campaign released this ad in Iowa yesterday, per NBC News’ Dasha Burns: “Here’s what Wall Street-funded Nikki Haley just said in New Hampshire: ‘You know that Iowa starts it, you know that you [New Hampshire] correct it.’” 

And here’s a new ad the pro-Trump super PAC MAGA Inc. is airing in New Hampshire, according to NBC News’ Jake Traylor: “Drug traffickers. Rapists. Poisoning our country. But Nikki Haley refused to call illegals ‘criminals.’” 

It’s understandable why DeSantis is going after Haley, because the two are locked in a competitive contest for second place in Iowa. 

We also get why Team Trump is targeting Haley, because she’s been gaining ground on the GOP front-runner in New Hampshire over the last couple of months. 

Now, DeSantis did mention Trump in that Iowa ad — barely — with video of DeSantis saying, “Trump is focused on his issues.”

But that delicate Trump criticism sidesteps the big picture in this Republican presidential race: The former president holds a commanding lead and is the overall front-runner for the nomination, despite all of the legal challenges he continues to face. 

Trump promotes false theory that Haley is ineligible to be president

Trump reposted an article on Truth Social yesterday that baselessly questioned Nikki Haley’s eligibility to be president.

The article, published in the right-wing site Gateway Pundit, argues that Haley should not be eligible under the 12th Amendment because her parents were not U.S. citizens at the time of her birth.

But Haley was born in South Carolina, making her a natural-born citizen and therefore eligible to be president.

Trump has vowed to end birthright citizenship if elected. In the past, he has also promoted false claims that Barack Obama and Ted Cruz were not eligible to be president.

Harvard Law School professor emeritus shot down the claim that Haley isn’t eligible to be president in an email to NBC News:

“The birther claims against Nikki Haley are totally baseless as a legal and constitutional matter,” he wrote. “I can’t imagine what Trump hopes to gain by those claims unless it’s to play the race card against the former governor and UN ambassador as a woman of color — and to draw on the wellsprings of anti-immigrant prejudice by reminding everyone that Haley’s parents weren’t citizens when she was born in the USA.”

NBC News’ Matt Dixon out with a book on Trump and DeSantis

NBC News Senior National Political Reporter Matt Dixon is out with a new book today: “Swamp Monsters: Trump vs. DeSantis―the Greatest Show on Earth (or at Least in Florida).” The book tells the wild inside story of how Trump made a star of DeSantis and then set out to destroy him, and how their struggle for supremacy has turned Florida into the crucible of the new GOP.

Read an excerpt here and watch Dixon on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”:

White House criticizes Trump’s stock market crash ‘hope’ comments

In an interview yesterday, Trump remarked that he “hopes” when the stock market crashes, it would be while Biden is still in office — talking about it as an inevitability.

White House spokesman Andrew Bates responded:

“Consumer sentiment is surging and inflation is falling. All the more reason to continue Bidenomics’ historically successful economic growth, job creation, and cost reduction momentum over the volatility of MAGAnomics — which economists warn would worsen inflation with tax giveaways to rich special interests. A commander in chief’s duty is to always put the American people first; never to hope that hard-working families suffer economic pain for their own political benefit. Republican officials should welcome the economic progress President Biden is delivering, instead of revealing twisted true colors that would shrink the American middle class in the name of their own cynical self-interests.”

Dean Phillips rips DNC over N.H. primary: ‘Most egregious affront to democracy I’ve ever seen in my life’

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Rep. Dean Phillips told NBC News he has not reached out to the Democratic National Committee since it sent a letter to the New Hampshire Democratic Party on Friday criticizing the state for selecting delegates for what it called a “meaningless” unsanctioned presidential primary.

“I’ve made myself pretty clear about what they’re doing is the most egregious affront to democracy I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said. “Don’t take my word for it. Take the Department of Justice here in New Hampshire that felt compelled to send a letter to one of the two major political parties in the United States of America, asking them to cease and desist from the unlawful suppression of American voters.”

He then compared Democrats’ silence over calling the New Hampshire primary “meaningless” to Republicans’ silence after the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol.

“I’m not going to now be quiet when I see my own party doing the same damn thing. They’re doing the same thing,” Phillips said. “And they’re doing it overtly thinking that they can delude the whole country into believing the nonsense that we’re protecting democracy.”

“I’m angry, because I don’t see this country paying attention to something that it should downright be paying attention to really carefully right now. It’s a crisis,” he added. “It is probably the most important crisis we are facing right now because both parties are wayward.”

DeSantis delivers State of the State address in Florida

Taking a brief detour from the presidential campaign trail to fulfill a day job obligation, DeSantis delivered his State of the State speech in Tallahassee this morning, peppered with many of the same themes he employs on the stump.

“We have put forth a blueprint for America’s revival that has instilled hope into the hearts of millions, that a new birth of freedom can emanate from this land once more,” he said in his closing remarks — a phrase the Florida governor often uses at events in early voting states.

DeSantis is expected to return to Iowa this evening to take part in a town hall on Fox News before resuming his regular campaign schedule ahead of tomorrow night’s debate at Drake University. The campaign has not announced any changes to the governor’s travel plans despite severe weather rocking Florida and a snowstorm plowing across the Hawkeye State.

Zero voters show up to a Dean Phillips event in New Hampshire

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Dean Phillips parked his “Government Repair Truck” outside the DoubleTree hotel here for an event dubbed “Coffee Conversations,” where he planned to talk to voters and give out free Dunkin’ coffee.

But no one showed up.

The problem: The temperature was below freezing and, according to the campaign, people were parking in a garage underground and entering through the hotel.

Phillips ended up pouring coffee for the staffers who were there.

“Sometimes if you build it, they don’t come,” he said.

Michigan Senate candidate Mike Rogers endorses Trump

Mike Rogers, Republicans’ leading U.S. Senate candidate in Michigan, announced that he is endorsing Trump.

“I have no doubt President Trump will be able to deliver for the American people on day one, but we must get to work now,” Rogers wrote in a Daily Caller op-ed detailing his endorsement of the former president, who narrowly lost in Michigan to Biden in 2020 after winning the state four years prior.

The endorsement marks an about-face for Rogers, a former law enforcement officer and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who previously criticized Trump and even briefly considered running against him for the White House.

Rogers is competing in a crowded Senate primary field in Michigan, facing off against Trump foe and former Rep. Peter Meijer, former Detroit Police Chief James Craig and businessman Sandy Pessler, among others.

Democrats running for the open seat vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow include Rep. Elissa Slotkin and actor Hill Harper.

Trump campaign cancels Iowa surrogate event because of weather

The winter storm in Iowa is continuing to upend today’s schedule. The Trump campaign has now canceled an evening event in Boone that was set to feature former acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker.

The Trump campaign was also forced to cancel two events with Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in Iowa yesterday.

Haley ‘excited’ by New Hampshire poll showing her gaining on Trump

WAUKEE, Iowa — Haley is “excited” about New Hampshire polling that shows her within striking distance of Trump, she told NBC News as she left an event here.

Haley’s campaign rode a wave of fresh momentum into the new year, but the hope is that a strong finish in Iowa — ideally one that eclipses DeSantis in the process — could provide a springboard for her to hand Trump a loss in New Hampshire. The former president has turned his ire on Haley in recent days, an acknowledgment of her upward momentum.

A CNN/University of New Hampshire poll released this morning found Trump leading Haley by just 7 points among likely GOP primary voters, down from a 22-point advantage in November.

But a Boston Globe/USA Today/Suffolk University survey also out today painted a different picture, showing Trump up by 20 points on Haley in New Hampshire ahead of the Jan. 23 primary.

Judge Judy endorses Haley

“Judge Judy” Sheindlin of TV courtroom fame threw her support behind Haley for president.

“I’m proud to endorse Nikki Haley because she is whip smart, has executive credentials and was a superb governor,” Sheindlin said in a statement. “She has international gravitas as Ambassador to the United Nations. She is principled, measured and has that illusive quality of real common sense. I truly think she can restore America and believe she is the future of this great nation.”

Sheindlin endorsed former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg during his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.

Indiana GOP Rep. Greg Pence, the ex-VP’s brother, to retire

Rep. Greg Pence, R-Ind., the brother of former Vice President Mike Pence, announced that he won’t run for re-election this fall.

Greg Pence was first elected in 2018 to the seat his brother previously held representing Indiana’s 6th Congressional District. The district is heavily Republican, favoring Trump over Biden by an almost 32-point margin in 2020.

Greg Pence’s political career is inextricably linked to his brother’s. Hours after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” Greg Pence was one of 147 Republicans who voted to object to the results of the 2020 election. He later voted against establishing the Jan. 6 Committee, as well.

Pence is the second Indiana Republican to announce his retirement in as many days: Rep. Larry Bucshon said yesterday he won’t run for re-election.

Ramaswamy returns to the airwaves with an ad featuring ex-Iowa Rep. Steve King

In a new ad out today, former GOP Rep. Steve King of Iowa offers a full-throated endorsement of Ramaswamy’s presidential bid.

“I’ve been looking for the strongest voice we have that will defend our Constitution and restore the pillars of American exceptionalism. That’s Vivek Ramaswamy,” King says in the ad, which is the Ramaswamy campaign’s first paid TV ad since December, when it went dark on the airwaves.

King lost his seat in Congress in 2020 after he made racist comments and was condemned for questioning whether humanity would exist without rape and incest. 

Ramaswamy began campaigning with King in Iowa in December and flatly denied any racism allegations against King, telling one voter, “I don’t think Steve King is a white supremacist … I don’t think he’s any close to that.”

Ramaswamy cancels several Iowa events because of snow — after slamming Haley for doing the same

After spending Monday berating Haley for canceling a campaign event because of a harsh winter storm that’s blanketing Iowa, Ramaswamy is doing the same thing today.

Originally slated to hold seven events in Iowa today, Ramaswamy’s schedule is now down to four.

But when Haley cancelled an Iowa event yesterday because of the snow, Ramaswamy said “if you can’t handle the snow, you can’t handle Xi Jinping” and you can’t be a “wilting flower when some basic things don’t go your way.” He also posted on X: “We’re not gonna let a little snow stop us. I’m no snowflake.”

This morning, he posted again about his car getting stuck in a ditch due to the snow. Ramaswamy vowed “Our next 7 events will continue as planned, starting at 9am in Coralville” before cancelling three of those seven events just a few hours later.

Ernst calls on Trump to make early VP pick

On “The Hugh Hewitt Show” this morning, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst called on Trump to announce whom he’ll select as his vice presidential nominee early in the year if he is gliding to the nomination.

Hewitt asked Ernst, “If [Trump] is the nominee and it’s certain that he’s the nominee after Super Tuesday, should he name his vice president early, because he’s going to be in trial after trial, and we need someone to go out there and raise money, raise awareness, raise issues. What do you think?”

Ernst answered, “I do think it’s important to announce someone early.” She added that Trump will “need a surrogate out there, that’s able to raise the money and to speak to a number of the issues that we will be facing in these next number of years.”

Ernst has not endorsed the former president, citing a “long-standing tradition” for Iowa’s senators to stay neutral ahead of the Jan. 15 caucuses. But many, including Hewitt, have named Ernst as a potential vice presidential pick for Trump.

Two New Hampshire polls paint different pictures of the GOP race

Two new polls of the Republican presidential race in New Hampshire paint very different pictures about the state of the contest there.

A CNN/University of New Hampshire poll finds Trump ahead of Haley by 7 points among likely Republican primary voters — just outside of the poll’s margin of error — down from the former president’s 22-point lead over the former U.N. ambassador in November.

The numbers: Trump 39%; Haley 32%; Christie 12%; Ramaswamy 8%; DeSantis 5%. The survey was conducted Jan. 4-8 among 919 likely primary voters and has a margin of error of +/- 3.2%

On the flip side, a Boston Globe/USA Today/Suffolk University poll shows Trump ahead of Haley by 20 points among likely New Hampshire GOP primary voters.

The numbers: Trump 46%; Haley 26%; Christie 12%; DeSantis 8%; Ramaswamy 2%. The survey was conducted Jan. 3-7 among 491 likely primary voters and has a margin of error of +/- 4.4%.

Why the difference between the two polls? 

They have two different views of Haley’s performance among New Hampshire’s undeclared/independent voters, who make up to close to half of the likely GOP primary voters in both polls. 

Undeclared voters in the CNN/UNH poll: Haley 43%; Christie 23%; Trump 17%.

That compares to registered Republicans breaking 58% for Trump and 21% for Haley.

But here’s the Globe/USA Today/Suffolk poll among undeclared voters: Haley 36%; Trump 26%; Christie 23%

 That compares to Republicans breaking 62% for Trump and 19% for Haley.

Iowa snow derails GOP campaign plans

Mother Nature is once again forcing Republican presidential candidates to alter their campaign plans in Iowa.

Ramaswamy postponed his first scheduled stop in the Hawkeye State today because of snow. This comes after he criticized Haley yesterday for canceling an event in Iowa because of the weather. Ramaswamy still plans to hold six events in Iowa today.

While Trump is attending court in Washington, his former acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, is set to hold an event for the former president’s campaign in Iowa. Actor Roseanne Barr was slated to join, but the Trump campaign said she would no longer be able to make it because of the inclement weather.

Haley and Hutchinson are scheduled to hold events in Iowa this morning.

DeSantis will participate in a Fox News town hall in Des Moines this evening after delivering his annual State of the State address in Tallahassee, Florida, in the morning.

In New Hampshire, Christie will hold a town hall in Rochester this evening. And on the Democratic side, long-shot candidate Dean Phillips has four Granite State stops on his schedule.

A piece of Ramaswamy’s Iowa plan: Free beer

AMES, Iowa — In the basement of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house here at Iowa State University, Ramaswamy made his pitch to a crowd of about 50 young men — and one young woman — on a Friday evening last month, as a campaign that often attracts more men than women took on a literal frat house atmosphere for a night.

The fraternity brothers peppered him with questions about cryptocurrency, “woke” indoctrination on campus, and crime on the streets of Chicago before honorary brother Ramaswamy threw a question at them himself.

“Do you guys have suggestions to us and our team here for how we can get large numbers of college students, say here at Iowa State, to come out on Martin Luther King Day evening?” Ramaswamy asked, fishing for ideas on getting young voters to caucus Jan. 15. “I saw some party buses on the way in here,” he added. “I’m open to any idea.”

Read the full story here.

Trump plans to be in court for 2 days the week before Iowa. His campaign is fine with that.

CLINTON, Iowa — The Iowa campaign trail has long been littered with mainstays, like Pizza Ranch and the Machine Shed BBQ restaurant, but Trump aims to add a new stop today nearly 900 miles from Des Moines: A courtroom in Washington.

His campaign and allies see this detour from the Hawkeye State days before the caucuses as a boost, not a detriment, to his bid to return to the White House.

“I think the Democrats intended to hurt him by tying him down in a courtroom, but it’s backfiring on them spectacularly,” said Mike Davis, an outside legal and political adviser who is in frequent contact with Trump and his campaign. “They’re turning Donald Trump into Nelson Mandela.”

Read the full story here.

Appeals court weighs Trump’s immunity claim in election interference case

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court today will hear arguments about whether former Trump is immune from prosecution for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in a chain of events that culminated in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Trump is expected to be in attendance when oral arguments begin at 9:30 a.m. at the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C. The hearing could last for several hours.

The case is one of four criminal prosecutions Trump faces as he fights on multiple legal fronts while remaining the presumptive front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.

Read the full story here.