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By Alex Seitz-Wald

WASHINGTON — If New Hampshire Democrats voted today, and the most recent polling is correct, the only candidates who would get any delegates at all from the first-in-the-nation primary would be Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

The two are not only leading the packed field of 2020 presidential contenders, but are the only contenders who have clearly separated themselves from the rest of the crowd in polling and surpassed the crucial 15 percent threshold that candidates need to hit to be awarded delegates.

Of course, the election is not today. And it may look very different when Granite State voters actually head to the polls in February.

But the dynamic between Biden and Sanders is the most important relationship in the 2020 primary at the moment.

And for all their differences, Sanders and Biden have a mutual interest in preserving their duopoly and using each other as foils. Sanders needs an establishment antagonist, while Biden, 76, may prefer running against the 77-year-old Sanders than 20 younger options.

“With Biden in the race, it gives (Sanders) someone to contrast with,” said Mark Longabaugh, who was a aide in Sanders’ 2016 campaign. “I still think one of Bernie Sanders’ central challenges is being able to adjust to a front-runner’s position and ultimately building a coalition that makes him the nominee.”

Longabaugh added: “Biden has the opposite challenge. He has the ability to build a broad coalition, but his challenge is being able to consolidate really core support and enthusiasm. It seems that a lot of people are for Biden, but are they really for Biden?”

Sanders thrilled supports in 2016 as the scrappy underdog taking on Hillary Clinton. But the Vermont independent entered the 2020 contest at the top of a field that had largely adopted his worldview. Fancy fundraisers with corporate titans were out, “Medicare for All” was in.

Then along came Biden, showing little interest in kowtowing to progressive activists and holding a high-dollar fundraiser at the home of a top executive of Comcast (which owns NBC) on his very first night as a candidate.

Sanders began attacking Biden almost immediately on issues like trade, which he wielded effectively against Clinton in 2016, as his poll numbers slipped and Biden’s rose.

“If you add the job loss as a result of NAFTA, which Joe voted for — Joe was a friend of mine and we’re going to have this discussion in a very civil way — but Joe voted for NAFTA, he voted (for Permanent Normal Trade Relations) with China,” Sanders told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes. “Add those two trade policies together — you’re probably talking about the loss of more than 4 million jobs.”

On CNN, Sanders added, “Joe and I have very different pasts in terms of how we have voted and very different visions for the future.”

Meanwhile, his campaign mentioned Biden in at least three fundraising emails to supporters, including one with a subject line, “The political and financial establishment are plotting against us.”

“Bernie Sanders is trying to make this into a two-person race to recreate the 2016 campaign where Joe Biden becomes a foil for his candidacy,” said Zac Petkanas, a former Clinton aide and Sanders critic.

Other Democrats think Biden stands to gain from conflict with Sanders, too.

Alan Kessler, a Philadelphia lawyer and Democratic fundraiser who attended the first Biden fundraiser, said he knows lots of party donors who worry about Sanders.

“Both from the standpoint of who’s strongest to beat Trump and who’s strongest to stop Bernie, it’s Biden,” said Kessler. “Bernie’s running strong in the polls and there’s a real concern that if we nominate him, we lose.”

One senior Democrat, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about a subject that Biden allies would not engage in on the record, put it more bluntly: “Bernie attacking Biden is the best thing that ever happened to (Biden)” because it makes it appear that it’s already narrowed to a two-person race.

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Politics

NBC announces lineup of Democrats for each night of first 2020 debate

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NBC News on Friday announced the lineups of Democratic presidential candidates who are appearing on stage this month on each night of the first debate of the 2020 race.

The first group of 10 appearing on Wednesday, June 26:

  • Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts
  • Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota
  • Former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii
  • Former Housing Secretary Julián Castro
  • Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio
  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio
  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee

The second group of 10 appearing on Thursday, June 27:

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont
  • Sen. Kamala Harris of California
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana
  • Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado
  • Author Marianne Williamson
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell of California
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York
  • Entrepreneur Andrew Yang
  • Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado.

Where the candidates will stand on stage each night has not yet been determined.

To decide the matchups, candidates’ names were drawn manually at NBC News’ headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York. One representative from each of the qualifying campaigns was invited to attend the draw along with officials from the Democratic National Committee. Campaign representatives saw the paper slip with their respective candidate’s name on it before it was folded and placed inside the box.

A representative from NBC News Standards & Practices conducted the draw.

Candidates were divided into two groups: those who polled on average at or above 2 percent through midnight on Wednesday, June 12, and those who polled on average below 2 percent through midnight on Wednesday.

A random draw then took place, to create two separate groupings of 10.

NBC News then designated each grouping to a specific debate night.

DNC chairman Tom Perez told MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson on Friday before the draw that he wanted the committee to avoid grouping lesser-known candidates together on one night and high-profile candidates on the other.

“The purpose of that is to be consistent with our principle of trying to be fair to everybody but also, it gets to the point of your question, so that we have maximum eyeballs both nights,” Perez said.

The determination of the lineups came a day after the DNC announced the 20 candidates who met the threshold to appear on stage for the two-night event. The debate, hosted by NBC News, MSNBC and Telemundo, will take place on June 26 and 27 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami.

After the matchups were announced, candidates who qualified for the debate celebrated on social media and elsewhere, with some hoping for the chance to differentiate themselves to voters.

Gillibrand, for instance, lagged in the polls and struggled up until recently to meet the debate’s individual donor threshold. She released a statement Friday touting her record as President Donald Trump’s “kryptonite.”

“President Trump’s kryptonite is a strong, independent woman who speaks her mind, takes on tough fights for families and women, and has a record of actually getting things done, and that’s exactly what they’ll see from me on the debate stage,” she said. “The debates are the first chance for voters across the country to tune in and compare the ideas of the contenders, and I’m honored to have the opportunity.”

She also told NBC News that the night she’s on “actually doesn’t matter to me, I really admire and enjoy all my colleagues.”

Delaney said in a tweet that he’s looking to spar with his fellow Democrats, particularly Warren, on issues and not “personality.”

“I am pleased to be sharing the debate stage with many strong candidates, particularly Senator Warren who, like me, is talking about new ideas,” he tweeted from his official Twitter account. “I look forward to a debate on issues and solutions, not personality and politics.”

Sanders’ campaign said the Vermont lawmaker is also eager to jump in the ring.

“This is a terrific lineup because there will be a real debate over the key set of choices in this Democratic primary,” said Sanders’ campaign manager Faiz Shakir said in a statement. “We look forward to hearing other candidates outline their visions for the country and plans to fully guarantee all people the right to health care, housing, education, a clean environment, and the freedom of basic economic rights.”

The historically large field of candidates includes a slew of U.S. senators, a handful of mayors, a former vice president, longtime legislators and some political novices.

The DNC set two ways for candidates to qualify for the debate — fundraising and polling. To make the stage, candidates needed to have either at least 1 percent support in three qualifying polls, or provide evidence of at least 65,000 unique donors, with a minimum of 200 different donors in at least 20 states.

The debate will air live across NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m ET both nights. The debate will also stream online free on NBC News’ digital platforms, including NBCNews.com, MSNBC.com, the NBC News Mobile App and OTT apps, in addition to Telemundo’s digital platforms.

NBC News’ Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie and Chuck Todd, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Telemundo’s José Diaz-Balart will moderate the debate.



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Boris Johnson children: How old are Boris Johnson’s children? Will they be at TV debate?

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BORIS JOHNSON is topping the Tory leadership race after receiving 114 votes in the first ballot last week and will be hoping to keep his lead during the second vote on Tuesday. But who are the former Foreign Secretary’s children and how old are they?

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Supreme Court denies Flint officials’ request to block lawsuit over water crisis

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WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Friday denied a request from four Flint, Michigan officials who asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block lower court rulings that said they could be sued over lead contamination in the water supply.

Their motion was directed to Justice Sotomayor, who handles such appeals from that region. Without explanation, as is the usual practice, she denied their request.

The officials involved in the water crisis argued that they should be immune from a liability suit brought by a Flint woman, Shari Guertin, who said she and her minor daughter suffered injuries from drinking and bathing in water contaminated with lead. After a federal judge refused to throw the lawsuit out, the officials appealed.

A three-judge panel ruled against them in January, saying the officials “created the Flint Water environmental disaster and then intentionally attempted to cover up their grievous decision.” The full Sixth Circuit declined last month to take the case, leaving the panel decision intact.

The four asked the Supreme Court Thursday to put a hold on those rulings, which would have blocked the lawsuits while they pursued a full-blown Supreme Court appeal. It is that request that Justice Sotomayor denied.

The civil lawsuit is separate from any criminal cases. On Thursday, Michigan prosecutors dropped all pending charges against a group of state and local officials accused of a variety of crimes arising from the water crisis.



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