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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Democratic Debate Tour Stops in Ohio
      •  Kent: "Three Amigos" Ran Ukraine Policy
      •  No Formal Vote on Impeachment Inquiry, for Now
      •  Ocasio-Cortez to Endorse Sanders
      •  Aspiring Collins Challenger Is Raking It In

Democratic Debate Tour Stops in Ohio

Twelve candidates entered the arena, twelve left, and in between they let everyone know who is leading the field these days (Hint: She took at least 100 selfies with audience members after the debate was over).

Who helped themselves the most? It's a tie. First up is Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). As expected, just about everyone on stage took aim at her, particularly on the subjects of healthcare and her proposed wealth tax, but also on other matters as well. This is, at very least, a tacit acknowledgment of her co-frontrunner status. Beyond that, the question of exactly how good her night was depends on how much one thinks the attacks damaged her. It's true that she didn't have great answers for everything, and in particular, she is still unable to respond effectively to the charge that she wants to take away everyone's insurance. However, she did fend off some attacks very well, particularly in the latter part of the debate. Our view is that she didn't take very much damage at all, and may even have benefited from the slings and arrows being launched in her direction, as they will force her to tighten up her platform, and will also prepare her for what's coming next if she lands the Democratic nomination.

The other person who helped himself is Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). His campaign is flagging a bit right now, and there is no way he could have righted that ship in one night. However, in view of his heart attack, a listless or sluggish performance could have sunk him for good. That didn't happen; Sanders probably had his best debate of the campaign, and showed no sign that his heart issues have slowed him down. In addition, the Senator got off a few bon mots, and he also had a nice tug-at-the-heartstrings moment when he thanked everyone who took an interest in his well-being:

I'm healthy. I'm feeling great...let me take this moment, if I might, to thank so many people from all over this country, including many of my colleagues up here, for their love, for their prayers, for their well wishes. And I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. And I'm so happy to be back here with you this evening.

That said, Sanders really needs to invest in a different shade of pancake makeup. He was so orange that he looked like an Oompa Loompa. Or Donald Trump; your pick.

Who helped themselves the least? Joe Biden. Like Sanders, he may have had his strongest debate of the campaign. In part, that is because he did not run out of steam at the end of the night, in contrast to some of the previous Democratic debates. However, there are three pretty big strikes against Biden's performance on Tuesday night:

  1. Nobody attacked him: This may seem like a good thing, since he had a big target on his back in previous debates, and he sometimes struggled with that (the segregationist senators and the record player leap to mind). However, the fact that the other candidates largely ignored him is an indication that the folks who are most dialed into this race, and who have the most invested in its outcome, no longer see him as the primary threat to them. Maybe they don't see him as a threat at all, anymore.

  2. Hunter: Everyone knew that a question about Biden's son was coming. And when it came, the former Veep said "Look, my son did nothing wrong," and "My son's statement speaks for itself." That's not getting it done for folks who are on the fence about this.

  3. Huh?: Biden just isn't a great public speaker, at least not in this format. He's got at least a couple of problems. The first is that he's got some speech pathology-type issues, including some verbal paraphasia. That is to say, he stumbles over some words, and often swaps a similar (but wrong) word in for the actual word he means. Last night, for example, he said "expidentially" when he meant "exponentially" and he also mixed up Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The second issue is that Biden knows a lot of inside baseball, and he makes the (bad) teacher's mistake of not properly explaining things, such that he's not understandable unless you know a lot of inside baseball, too. For example, Biden's answer to a question about Syria did not make sense unless you know what Article 5 of the NATO charter says ("an attack on one member is an attack on all members").

    Anyhow, add it up, and Biden had a lot of exchanges like this one, when he was asked whether he would re-deploy the troops to Northern Syria that Trump has withdrawn:
    BIDEN: What I would do is I would be making it real clear to Assad that, in fact, where he's going to have a problem—because Turkey is the real problem here. And I would be having a real lockdown conversation with Erdoğan and letting him know that he's going to pay a heavy price for what he has done now. Pay that price.

    COOPER: Just to clarify, Mr. Vice President, would you want American troops back in northern Syria?

    BIDEN: I would want those thousand troops to be protected by air cover, those thousand troops that are being—having to withdraw under fire, make it clear that they're not going anywhere, and have them protected, and work my way back toward what, in fact, needs to be done, protecting those Kurds. They lost their lives. This is shameful, shameful what this man has done.
    There's an answer in there (he'd put the troops back and put diplomatic pressure on both Bashar al-Assad and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan), but it takes a few readings to get to it, and even then you have to fill in a few gaps yourself. Undoubtedly, very few people understood him in real time.

    It's certainly possible that Biden's mind is clear, and that his age is a non-issue. However, if he keeps delivering meandering answers like that one (and he's done it in every debate), it will not stop millions of armchair physicians from concluding he's not up to the job, and casting their votes for someone else.

Anyone else worth mentioning? None of the candidates outside the top three did anything that will allow them to break out, so it might be argued that the other nine folks on stage also belong in the "people who helped themselves the least" category. That said, there were three of the second-tier (or third-tier) candidates who delivered very strong performances. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) gave some very good answers, though there were clearly two or three lines where she was expecting a laugh and didn't get it, which was a little awkward. Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend) continued to show that he has a bright future in Democratic politics, even if this is not his year presidentially. Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) will be up for reelection in 2022 and has probably started his oppo research on Buttigieg already. And, making his debut performance, Tom Steyer was surprisingly smooth. It can't be easy when you're the only one on stage that hasn't stared down the debate cameras before, but he performed like a pro. He also offered up a prescient assessment of Democratic strategy in 2020:

In fact, if we want to beat Mr. Trump, I think somebody who can go toe to toe with him and show him to be a fraud and a failure as a businessperson, and a fraud and a failure as a steward of the American economy is going to be necessary. He is one. His tax plan's a failure. His trade war is a failure.

Steyer ended up with only 7.2 minutes of speaking time, the fewest of any candidate on Tuesday. They may be his only minutes, as he's in danger of missing the next debate, so he should be happy he got the most out of them.

How did the moderators do? They were, in a word, awful. Anderson Cooper took the lead, and started the night with a series of questions about impeachment. If we assume that the first half-hour of the debate is when viewership is highest and attention spans are longest, it was a poor choice to start with an issue where—as Cooper himself noted—all of the candidates on stage are in agreement. Not helping was that Cooper's questions were a little...anemic. For example, he asked Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) whether or not he can "be fair in an impeachment trial." Was there any chance Booker would say anything other than "Of course I can!"? Similarly, Cooper asked Biden, "have Democrats been careful enough in pursuing the impeachment of President Trump?" Again, was there any chance that Biden would say anything other than "Of course they have!"?

Things did not get better from there; most of the questions were not especially interesting, did not cover new ground, and did not really force the politicians off their talking points. On top of that, Cooper and his co-moderators, Erin Burnett and Marc Lacey, allowed candidates to go way over their allotted times (sometimes as much as 30 seconds), and did not challenge them when they failed to answer the question that was asked. Cooper and Lacey also dominated the question-asking; there was a point when Burnett hadn't said a word in over an hour. The gender dynamics there are...problematic, shall we say?

Finally, it's not really the moderators' fault, but we will say again what we said after the last debate: Three hours is just too much. Whatever the purpose of these debates is, does anyone really imagine that voters are sitting through three hours' worth? Better for the candidates to have less speaking time with an audience that is paying attention than more speaking time with an audience that has already tuned out.

Issue of the night: Syria. Not too much of a surprise, given the developments on that front this week. This was also the most contentious part of the debate, with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) getting particularly hot under the collar.

Snarky line of the night: While defending her wealth-tax proposal, Warren said she was shocked that the other folks on stage oppose it, and wondered why a bunch of Democrats are so interested in protecting billionaires. Klobuchar looked over at Steyer, and then fired back with: "No one on this stage wants to protect billionaires. Not even the billionaire wants to protect billionaires."

Non-snarky line of the night: There was a nice moment when Biden was trying to make a point about Trump and Vladimir Putin, and he kept gesturing strongly (and, as it happened, in the direction of Sanders). This made it seem as if Biden was suggesting that the sometimes-accused-of-being-a-communist Sanders is Putin, and prompted a lighthearted exchange between the two men. Here's the video (it's only 12 seconds):

Biden may struggle for words sometimes, but nobody doubts his Olympic-level charm.

Reddest meat of the night: From Booker, following a mention of Planned Parenthood-defunding by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA):

I'm having deja vu all over again because we have another health care debate, and we're not talking about the clear and existential threat in America that we're in a state that has had two Planned Parenthoods close. We are seeing all over this country women's reproductive rights under attack. And God bless Kamala, but you know what? Women should not be the only ones taking up this cause and this fight.

That got the longest and loudest applause of the night.

Blunder of the night: In a clearly pre-scripted moment, Harris set her sights on Warren, and tried to force the Massachusetts Senator to agree that Donald Trump should be kicked off Twitter. Not only did this look desperate and gimmicky, it also set Warren up for this declaration: "So, look, I don't just want to push Donald Trump off Twitter. I want to push him out of the White House. That's our job." As a result, Harris' attempt to score some points at the expense of the frontrunner—a strategy that worked well against Biden in the first debate—blew up in her face.

A little historical perspective: At one point, fairly early in the evening, Biden decided to offer up a little history lesson, declaring that "George Washington worried on the first time he spoke after being elected president that what we had to worry about is foreign interference in our elections."

Uncle Joe is a little shaky on his timeline here, but otherwise he's correct. The incident that he is referring to is known as the Citizen Genêt Affair. In 1793 (a.k.a. five years into Washington's presidency), the nation of France—then ruled by its revolutionary government, and involved in wars with both Spain and Britain—sent Edmond-Charles Genêt as its ambassador to the United States. However, instead of performing ambassadorial duties in the national capital (Philadelphia, at that time), Genêt promptly headed to South Carolina and started rounding up mercenary soldiers and armaments for the French war effort. Washington was livid, and demanded that France recall Genêt. He also worried that the French might try to interfere with the 1794 midterm elections, and made public remarks to that effect. That interference did not come to pass, possibly because the United States did not use paperless voting machines back then. In addition, the French revolutionary government agreed to recall Genêt. Recognizing that likely meant a one-way ticket to the guillotine, Genêt requested and received asylum in the U.S., and lived out the rest of his life in New York.

A detail that may fly under the radar: The saga of the lapel pins is something that historians will someday write about. After the 9/11 attacks, and for years after, wearing an American flag lapel pin was expected of male politicians, such that Barack Obama's attempt to go pin-less in 2008 became a minor scandal.

Biden was a politician in 2001, and so was well steeped in that expectation. It is no surprise that he religiously wears his flag lapel pin to this day; it was very visible last night. Sanders was a politician in 2001, too, but he's also a rebel and someone who does not embrace blind patriotism. So last night, he was wearing a U.S. Senate lapel pin in that spot on his coat, as he generally does. As an added benefit, if he ever gets lost, you can drop him in a mailbox, and the USPS will know where to deliver him.

Most of the other male candidates on stage—Buttigieg, Booker, Steyer, Beto O'Rourke and Julián Castro—had no lapel pins. That may be because they were not politicians in 2001, or whatever.

The exception, outside of Biden and Sanders, is Andrew Yang, who is an outsider candidate, and who is young enough to view the lapel pins in ironic terms. So, he had a lapel pin that read "MATH." That is partly a reference to his Asian heritage (he often makes math jokes), but is also one of his slogans. It stands for "Make America Think Harder."

On a scale of 1-10, how contentious was it? We'll give it a 6. Beyond all the shots fired in Warren's direction, there were also some pretty serious flare-ups between other candidates, including one between O'Rourke and Buttigieg, and one between Gabbard and Biden.

On a scale of 1-10, how much will this debate move the needle? We'll say 5. It's going to affirm Warren as (co-)frontrunner, and is also likely to be the final nail in the coffin for some campaigns that were gasping for air, and are not in a good position to make the next debate.

The bottom line: When it comes to politics, nobody has a crystal ball. Well, nobody besides Larry Sabato. But there's a non-zero chance that, in six months, we will look back on this night as Elizabeth Warren's coming-out party.

So there it is, another debate in the books. The next one is nearly five weeks away (Nov. 20), so everyone gets a breather until then. (Z)

Kent: "Three Amigos" Ran Ukraine Policy

On Tuesday, George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for Ukraine, became the latest member of the Trump administration to chat with the House Democrats who are investigating the possibility of impeaching the President. Donald Trump should probably be happy that the Democratic debate (see above) sucked up a lot of this news cycle's oxygen, because from the administration's standpoint, Kent's testimony was no bueno.

According to the Deputy Assistant Secretary, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney decided that Ukraine policy should be removed from the normal channels, and should instead be placed in the hands of "three amigos": Energy Secretary Rick Perry, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and special U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker. Kent was instructed to "lay low" on Ukraine-related matters, and to run anything that needed to be done through that trio. Like other federal employees close to the Ukraine situation, Kent also tried to warn the administration that documents providing "dirt" on Joe Biden and others were phony.

Assuming Kent's characterization is correct, then the Democrats have an excellent chance of getting to the bottom of this whole situation. After all, Kent, Ambassador to Ukraine Masha Yovanovitch, Trump's Russia advisor Fiona Hill, and one of the amigos (Volker) have already testified, while a second amigo (Sondland) is testifying tomorrow, and the third amigo (Perry) has signalled he will cooperate. Needless to say, all of this is very upsetting to Team Trump.

The administration is doing what it can to fight back, of course. On Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence and Trump's TV lawyer/fixer Rudy Giuliani officially announced that they would not cooperate with the Democrats' impeachment investigation. That's not exactly a surprise, but such obstruction may not get them far, especially as the hole that Giuliani is in gets deeper and deeper. On Tuesday, it was revealed that he tried to persuade Trump to throw Fethullah Gulen out of the United States; such a move would be tantamount to a death sentence for the Muslim cleric and fierce critic of the Turkish government. In addition, former congressman and current Giuliani associate Pete Sessions has been subpoenaed, so that he can be asked about the Ukraine situation. The subpoena comes from a grand jury, and not from Congress, so it won't be so easy to dodge. Depending on what the grand jury hears, Sessions could very well be indicted. Or Giuliani could be. If the Democrats want to play hardball, they could subpoena Judith Nathan, Guiliani's soon-to-be ex third wife. From what we read in the tabloids, she and Rudy aren't exactly on good terms right now. She may not have been present at all meetings between Giuliani and various Ukrainians and shady characters, but she probably could talk about his travel schedule and maybe much more.

Another wild card in all this—and we mean that on several levels—is former NSA John Bolton. He's a temperamental fellow who thinks he was wronged. He also likely knows where some (or many) of the bodies are buried. And so, Democrats are salivating at the possibility of talking to him, while the administration is scared witless. Add it up, and the two weeks leading up to Halloween could be a real house of horrors for the administration. (Z)

No Formal Vote on Impeachment Inquiry, for Now

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and her whips have spent the past few days sounding out their fellow House Democrats about the possibility of formally voting on an impeachment inquiry. She wants overwhelming support, and she doesn't have it yet, as it turns out, so she announced Tuesday evening that no vote would be held right now.

There are pros and cons to holding a formal vote (which, it should be noted, is not constitutionally mandated). If it came to pass, it would strengthen the Democrats' hand in court, would put them in a better position to flex their muscles with fence-sitting witnesses, and would deprive the Republicans of a talking point. It would also please the base, which would mean a bump in fundraising.

On the other hand, the Democrats would have to vote on some sort of actual document affirming the inquiry, and the wording of that document could ultimately prove limiting, particularly if the impeachment inquiry goes in unexpected directions. Further, the vote would force Democratic members from swing districts to take a public position that could irritate some of their voters. The seven remaining Democrats who have not yet given any support (even verbal) to impeachment all hail from districts that Donald Trump won. It's fair to assume that the members from other districts that Trump won, those who have lent cautious support to an inquiry, would prefer not to go any further than that at this point. So, Pelosi is going to let them off the hook, at least in the short term. (Z)

Ocasio-Cortez to Endorse Sanders

At Tuesday's debates (see above), Bernie Sanders told America that he's holding a big rally in Queens, and that he will have a very special guest at that rally. Shortly thereafter, it leaked that the special guest is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who will formally endorse the Senator's presidential bid.

We're not entirely sure this is news. Was there really any question that the nation's second-most-prominent Democratic Socialist would back its most-prominent Democratic Socialist? It's like a guy who drives a pickup truck with Oklahoma license plates saying that he's thought about it, and he's going to be casting his ballot for Donald Trump. The Sanders campaign is treating it as big news, however, so we pass it along.

Ocasio-Cortez is a newbie to politics and may not have got it all figured out yet. If Sanders doesn't get the nomination, it shows everyone that her endorsement isn't worth much. That doesn't increase her power going forward. She could have hedged that by saying: "Bernie and Elizabeth are both great." (Z)

Aspiring Collins Challenger Is Raking It In

The frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in Maine's 2020 Senate race is Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives Sara Gideon. She's got name recognition and the backing of the Party establishment. Assuming she lands the nod, she will face off against Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who is among the most vulnerable senators next year. Whatever happens, Gideon isn't going to be hurting for money; her Q3 take was $3.2 million.

That's a pretty big number for any Senate campaign, particularly this early in the process. However, there are three additional bits of information that make it even more imposing. First, 97% of the money was collected in the form of small donations (less than $100), so Gideon can theoretically go back to the well again and again. Second, Maine is a very cheap place to campaign, compared to most states. It has only two of the nation's 200 largest media markets (#84 Portland-Auburn, and #155 Bangor). Third, if and when Gideon advances, she will immediately be gifted the $4.7 million that Democrats raised for Collins' opponent after the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. By comparison, Collins has $5.4 million on hand, and raised $2 million in the most recent quarter. So, we could be looking at the rare situation where a challenger actually has more money than an incumbent. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct15 Fiona Hill Piqued By Giuliani's Behavior
Oct15 Trump Sanctions Turkey
Oct15 Trump Reportedly Wanted to Release His Tax Returns in 2013
Oct15 Administration Loses another Border Wall Ruling
Oct15 Hunter Biden Tries to Quell the Storm
Oct15 Warren Gets Three Good Polls on the Eve of Debate #4
Oct15 Will the Democrats Find New Ground to Cover Tonight?
Oct14 It's a Real Mess in Syria
Oct14 Schiff: Whistleblower May Not Testify
Oct14 Tomorrow's Debate Could Be Crucial
Oct14 CBS Early States Poll: Warren 31%, Biden 25%, Sanders 17%
Oct14 NBC Poll: 55% Want Impeachment Inquiry
Oct14 If Trump Isn't the 2020 GOP Nominee, Who Might Be?
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Oct14 Warren Buys Facebook Ads to Show the Need for "Censorship"
Oct14 General Election Debate Schedule Is Now Available
Oct14 Louisiana Gubernatorial Race Will Go to a Runoff
Oct13 Sunday Mailbag
Oct12 Three-Judge Panel: Surrender the Tax Returns
Oct12 Yovanovitch Appears Before Congress
Oct12 Giuliani Won't Work on Ukraine-related Matters Anymore
Oct12 Trump Has a (Trade) Deal, Sort Of
Oct12 Kevin McAleenan Quits Team Trump
Oct12 Shephard Smith Quits Fox News
Oct12 Saturday Q&A
Oct11 Two of Giuliani's Buddies Are Arrested
Oct11 Rick Perry Gets Subpoenaed
Oct11 Fox News Poll: 51% of Voters Want Trump Impeached and Convicted
Oct11 Seventeen of the Watergate Prosecutors Want to See Trump Impeached
Oct11 Trump Lambastes Jeff Sessions
Oct11 Steyer Pulls in a $2 Million Haul in Q3
Oct11 Gabbard Goes Full Sour Grapes
Oct11 Shimkus Dumps Trump
Oct11 Rep. Nita Lowey Will Retire
Oct10 Turkey Invades Syria and Republicans Condemn Trump for Enabling It
Oct10 Graham Warns Pelosi that the Senate Won't Impeach Trump
Oct10 House Democrats Are Planning Subpoenas
Oct10 Biden Calls on House to Impeach Trump
Oct10 CBS Has Published a Memo the Whistleblower Wrote the Day after the Call
Oct10 Sanders Is Scaling Back His Campaigning
Oct10 Biden Leads Warren in North Carolina
Oct10 Impeachment Is Helping the Republicans
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Oct09 Impeachment Battle Lines Harden
Oct09 U.S. to Pull Out of Another Treaty
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Oct09 Polling Update