Campaign says Donald Trump will skip last Republican debate before Iowa caucuses

Welcome to Trail Guide, your host through the wilds of the 2016 presidential campaign. It’s Tuesday, Jan. 26, and here’s what we’re talking about:

  • Donald Trump’s campaign says he’ll skip GOP debate, citing perceived unfair treatment from Fox
  • Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona’s Maricopa County says he’s backing Trump for president
  • Hillary Clinton promises an extension of the Obama years while Bernie Sanders calls for a political revolution, setting up a choice for Democratic voters, the Times’ Cathleen Decker writes
  • Our takeaways: The unusual format did little to break new ground or stop the candidates’ attacks
  • Trump suggests a Democratic priority: Negotiate with drug companies to lower Medicare costs
  • President Obama implies that Clinton is progressives’ best hope, even as the White House scrambles to maintain an air of neutrality

Snapping a picture with Clinton in Marshalltown, Iowa


Ted Cruz wants to debate Donald Trump -- one-on-one

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Anger erupts as Trump touts support from Sheriff Joe Arpaio

In a move that seemed designed to provoke, Donald Trump appeared alongside Arizona’s controversial anti-illegal-immigration sheriff Joe Arpaio on Tuesday at a rally in Marshalltown, Iowa, a city with a rapidly growing Latino community and a history of harsh immigration enforcement.

“It’s like a slap in the face,” said Diego Alvarez, 25, who joined a protest outside Trump’s event at a high school here.

“We’re working our butts off and they’re coming in to divide the people of this community,” said Alvarez, a construction worker who was brought to the country illegally at age 4. “These people are basically importing racism from other states.”

Later, Trump’s rally was disrupted by several chanting activists, who were quickly ejected.

Marshalltown’s police chief joined in, condemning Arpaio’s endorsement in a statement Tuesday. “Marshalltown has been enriched by the arrival and contributions of immigrants to the community,” said Chief Mike Tupper, who said relations between police and the community are challenged when immigrants feel threatened. “Harmful rhetoric from candidates jeopardizes the relationship that we in law enforcement have worked so hard to develop and maintain.”

At a news conference before the rally, Trump dismissed claims that he was fanning conflict. The American people, he said, “agree with me on illegal immigration.”

Arpaio, sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County, is a hero to those who favor stricter immigration enforcement. At the rally, he was greeted with shouts of “You rock!” and “We love you, Joe!”

But he is hated by many Latinos and immigrant activists, who say his far-reaching policies to identify immigrants in the country illegally amount to racial profiling. Several of his policies have been successfully challenged in court.


Rogue New Hampshire Democratic debate planned

MSNBC and the New Hampshire Union-Leader announced Tuesday that they planned to hold a debate days before the state’s first primary in the nation, encountering immediate resistance from the Democratic National Committee.

The debate is scheduled to take place on Feb. 4, and to be moderated by NBC’s “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.

Whether all three candidates would agree to participate was unclear Tuesday evening.

A spokesman for former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has long clamored for additional debates, immediately said the candidate would participate and called the announcement a “big victory.”

A spokeswoman for Hillary Clinton said the former secretary of State would participate if O’Malley and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders agreed to do so as well.

“Hillary Clinton would be happy to participate in a debate in New Hampshire if the other candidates agree, which would allow the DNC to sanction the debate,” spokeswoman Jen Palmieri told the Union-Leader.

A spokeswoman for Sanders, however, did not give a definitive answer when asked whether he would participate. Sanders holds a significant lead in New Hampshire, according to polls, and as a result would have the most at risk in a debate.

“We will be working with the DNC and the other campaigns to schedule additional debates,” spokeswoman Symone Sanders wrote in an email.

The chairwoman for the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, left no doubt about her position. The DNC will not sanction the debate, she said in a statement.

“We have no plans to sanction any further debates before the upcoming First in the Nation caucuses and primary, but will reconvene with our campaigns after those two contests to review our schedule,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Under the party’s rules, candidates or debate sponsors who participate in an unsanctioned debate could be excluded from taking part in later debates.


Obama, Sanders will hold ‘informal’ White House sit-down Wednesday

(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

It’s time to remove the thumb from the scale, at least for a day.

President Obama will welcome Sen. Bernie Sanders to the White House for a one-on-one meeting Wednesday in the Oval Office, administration spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Tuesday night. There will be “no formal agenda” for the encounter between the Democratic president and one of the leading aspirants for his party’s nomination.

The announcement comes just a day after Obama heaped praise on Hillary Clinton in an interview with Politico, calling her “more experienced than any non-vice-president has ever been” for the job and brushing off her surprising struggle in a Democratic nomination battle she was expected to have well in hand.

The comments only fed the perception that Obama and his team saw Clinton as the Democrat most likely to help secure the White House for another term, something that would be important for the president’s legacy.

For Sanders, a White House meeting is a worthwhile detour from campaigning in Iowa ahead of Monday’s caucuses. Both the Sanders and Obama teams have said the two have met privately before, but have not offered specifics.

According to White House visitor logs, the only Oval Office sit-down between the two occurred in December 2014, before Sanders launched his campaign.

Obama last met with Clinton in December 2015 for an informal lunch. Earnest said Sanders and Obama had discussed scheduling a meeting when they saw each other at the recent White House holiday reception for members of Congress.


Trump won’t participate in next Republican debate

(John Locher/AP)

Donald Trump’s campaign announced Tuesday he would not participate in the last Republican debate before the Iowa caucuses, citing what it calls unfair treatment by host Fox News.

A spokeswoman for Trump confirmed that he would skip Thursday’s debate. In a spirited and sometimes combative news conference earlier in the day, Trump had indicated he might not participate.

“Most likely I won’t be doing the debate,” he said, accusing the cable news channel of “playing games” by poking fun at his complaints after an earlier Fox debate about moderator and anchor Megyn Kelly.

“We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president — a nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings,” Fox said in an earlier statement that rankled him.

In the first GOP debate in August, Kelly riled Trump by pressing him about derogatory comments he’s made about women, and Thursday was to be their first nationally televised showdown since.

“I’m not a fan of Megyn Kelly,” Trump said Tuesday. “I think she’s a third-rate reporter.”

Kelly responded Tuesday by saying she was simply doing her job.

“Mr. Trump has repeatedly brought up that exchange as evidence of alleged bias on my part,” she said on her show, “The Kelly File.” “I maintain it was a tough but fair question, and we agreed to disagree.”

Trump’s campaign later said he would instead host an event to benefit veterans.

Iowa will begin the presidential nominating process with its caucuses on Monday.

“We’re not sure how Iowans are going to feel about him walking away from them at the last minute,” a spokesperson for Fox News said in a statement. “But it should be clear to the American public by now that this is rooted in one thing – Megyn Kelly, whom he has viciously attacked since August and has now spent four days demanding be removed from the debate stage.”

In previous debates, Trump has been the center of attention as the front-runner in the crowded Republican presidential field. While Trump holds a strong lead nationally, he’s locked in a tight race in Iowa with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

On Tuesday, following the announcement that Trump will sit out the debate, Cruz told reporters he would challenge the billionaire businessman to a one-on-one debate.

7:52 p.m.: This post was updated with comments from Megyn Kelly, Fox News, the Trump campaign and background.

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As race to win Iowa tightens, Donald Trump makes final push for evangelicals

(Steve Helber / Associated Press)

In the final days before Iowans begin the presidential nominating process, Donald Trump, whose candidacy has both perplexed and enlivened various factions of the Republican Party, is focused on shoring up the support of the state’s evangelical voters who could propel him to victory and bolster his momentum in the upcoming primaries.

Trump announced Tuesday the endorsement of Jerry Falwell Jr., an influential evangelical leader and president of Liberty University, who called the billionaire businessman a “successful executive and entrepreneur, a wonderful father and a man who I believe can lead our country to greatness again.”

The endorsement from Falwell comes a week after former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin tossed her support behind the billionaire’s candidacy. Palin has a strong following of evangelical and tea party supporters.

Each of those endorsements arrives as Trump seeks to slow the surge of his top rival in Iowa, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has strong support from evangelicals.

“It’s all calculated and really shows how he can morph himself so that he’s appealing,” Steffen Schmidt, a professor of political science at Iowa State University, said of Trump’s support from Falwell and Palin.

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Donald Trump says he ‘most likely’ won’t attend Thursday’s debate

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Meet the small Iowa city where the political world is convening

(Mark Z. Barabak / Los Angeles Times)

Republican front-runner Donald Trump is rallying with immigration hard-liner Sheriff Joe Arpaio tonight in Marshalltown, Iowa. A couple of hours later, Trump’s Democratic counterpart, Hillary Clinton, will campaign in the same small city.

Nestled in the gently rolling farmland of central Iowa, Marshalltown has a complex back story, with an influx of Latino immigrants whose arrival in recent decades unsettled some longtime residents at first. We traveled there recently and found a changing town whose residents have complex views on immigration and their neighbors:

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Republican debate lineup will include Rand Paul

Rand Paul, who missed the cut for the main stage at the last Republican debate and sat out the undercard round for lower-tier candidates, will be among eight presidential hopefuls in the top-tier debate in Des Moines on Thursday. It’s the last chance for GOP candidates to face off in person before Monday’s Iowa caucuses.


On the road in Iowa: It’s not all about ethanol

Shown are wind turbines outside Adair, Iowa.
Shown are wind turbines outside Adair, Iowa.
(Mark Z. Barabak / Los Angeles Times)

Iowa is the country’s third biggest producer of wind power, behind Texas and California, according to the American Wind Energy Assn.


How much are Iowans’ votes worth? $70 million so far, in ad spending

(John Minchillo / Associated Press)

Presidential candidates and the outside groups backing them will have spent a whopping $70 million on trying to sway Iowa caucus-goers before they vote on Monday, a sign of the unprecedented growth in money flooding politics in the super PAC era.

The biggest spender by far, at $15 million, is Right to Rise, the well-funded super PAC that is supporting Jeb Bush for the Republican nomination. According to NBC News, using data supplied by SMG Delta, the group raised more than $100 million before the race even began, a strategy that was supposed to scare off potential rivals. All told, Bush and Right to Rise have spent $62 million without managing to reverse his slow slide down the polls.

Bush’s former South Florida protégé-turned-rival, Sen. Marco Rubio, is just behind him with $12 million, counting money spent both by the campaign and outside groups.

Thus far, though, more money has yet to translate to more love from the voters, at least in the polls. The total spent by Rubio and Bush is three times the amount spent by the two leaders in the race, Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Trump, in particular, riding a tidal wave of (free) media coverage, has spent just $3 million on ads. And he’s been relentless in mocking his rivals for taking big contributions for advertising, saying it’s a sign that they are in the pocket of their big-money donors.

The total spent in Iowa, by one count, is more than five times the amount spent just four years ago – a sign of the explosion in money raised and spent by outside groups unleashed by Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United.

Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton is outspending Bernie Sanders, $9 million to $7.4 million. Both those candidates are funding advertising through their campaigns – a strategy that, because of rules on political advertising, gives them more ads for their money.

With Trump’s continuing dominance, he is starting to attract more attack ads. Keep the Promise I, one of a set of outside groups supporting Cruz, recently began airing “Trumpcare” ads in Iowa attacking Trump for his previous support of government-funded healthcare for all, something the group’s president, Kellyanne Conway, called a “galvanizing issue” for conservatives. The group, which stayed out of the ad wars until recently, announced a purchase of $2.5 million in ads in Iowa and South Carolina.


Sheriff Joe Arpaio backs Trump and will appear at Iowa rally where protests expected

Arizona’s famous anti-illegal-immigration sheriff, Joe Arpaio, is backing GOP front-runner Donald Trump.

The Maricopa County sheriff planned to campaign Tuesday afternoon with Trump in Iowa’s farming enclave of Marshalltown, which has seen a steady rise in immigration from Mexico and Central America. Immigration advocates are expected to protest outside the rally.

“I know Donald Trump will stand with me and countless Americans to secure our border,” said Arpaio. “I am proud to support him as the best candidate for president.”

Trump said: “I have great respect for Sheriff Arpaio. We must restore law and order on the border and respect the men and women of our police forces.”

The endorsement is not surprising, given Trump’s own tough stance against Mexicans, whom he has called “rapists,” and his promises to send back those here illegally and build a wall on the Southern border to prevent new arrivals.

But Arpaio’s support is another signal of how far the Republican Party has shifted from 2012, when it vowed to do better at attracting Latino and minority candidates.

As for Marshalltown, The Times recently examined the immigration dynamics at play in the community, where many residents, including the police chief, have come to appreciate the diversity that Latino immigrants bring.

Of the harsh voices on the campaign trail, Chief Mike Tupper told The Times: “They aren’t helping anything.”


Hillary Clinton’s primary fight isn’t as surprising as you think

(Jim Watson / AFP/Getty Images)

As Bernie Sanders rose in the polls in recent weeks, so too did the cries of “Here we go again” over Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Has she embarked on another doomed run for the presidency as in 2008, when her projected air of inevitability was punctured by an upstart Barack Obama?

Though Sanders’ popularity has done away with the idea of an all-but-assured Clinton nomination, her tough primary fight wasn’t completely unpredictable. In fact, The Times wrote about it in 2014, examining the hurdles that lay in wait for Clinton in Iowa:

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Nebraska GOP senator warns neighboring Iowa voters off Trump

Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska is warning conservative voters off his party’s presidential front-runner, Donald Trump.

Sasse may be just a first-term senator, but his views could have sway with voters heading to the polls in neighboring Iowa.

“Although I have not endorsed any candidate, I have strongly questioned GOP front-runner Donald Trump,” Sasse said in a Facebook post Tuesday.

“I am urging conservatives to hold every candidate accountable to keeping their word so that we uphold the Constitution’s system of checks and balances. I’m pro-Constitution and if that makes me anti-Trump, that’s Mr. Trump’s problem.”

Sasse, who first adhered to Senate tradition that newcomers keep their heads down, made a name for himself by then delivering a thoughtful maiden speech on fixing partisan gridlock.

But he’s not completely out of the limelight. Part of a younger generation in Congress, he’s quite active on Twitter -- and, on Facebook.


Donald Trump touts a Democratic priority: Negotiate lower Medicare drug prices

Republican front-runner Donald Trump served up a Democratic mainstay by suggesting Medicare should negotiate lower prescription drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry.

Medicare could “save $300 billion” a year, Trump told a crowd late Monday in Farmington, N.H., according to the Associated Press.

“We don’t do it. Why? Because of the drug companies,” Trump said.

For years, Democrats have led efforts to bring down drug prices by giving Medicare the authority to use its bulk buying power to negotiate discounts -- only to be blocked by the pharmaceutical industry and many Republicans.

Trump’s position blurs traditional party lines.

It would likely please many of the one in five seniors in America who, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, report difficulty in affording their prescriptions.

But for conservative Republican faithful, such a proposal would likely require the kind of government meddling in the marketplace that they would oppose.


Iowa Republican elite to voters: Anybody but Cruz, please

(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

Even as they insist they remain neutral in the presidential race, Iowa’s top Republicans are publicly embracing anybody but Sen. Ted Cruz – while also increasingly accepting the possibility that Donald Trump could be their nominee.

The moves by Iowa GOP officials, amid a tight battle between Trump and Cruz for victory in Monday’s Iowa caucuses, reflect a growing trend nationally, as establishment GOP figures begin to make their peace with the possibility that Trump could be the party’s standard bearer this year.

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Obama hints at support for Clinton as she’s locked in tough primary fight

(Paul Sancya / Associated Press)

Any concerns at the White House about a potentially divisive Democratic primary seemed put to rest when Vice President Joe Biden took himself out of the running last fall.

But with the first votes being cast in a week in Iowa and an eye toward preserving his own legacy, President Obama has come off the sidelines and inserted himself into the increasingly bitter nomination fight between his former secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and the populist insurgent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Obama abandoned almost all pretense of disengagement by suggesting in an interview Monday that Clinton is a “good, smart, tough” person up against a “bright, shiny” new alternative who remains less tested than her, a reminder about picking a nominee who can win a tough general election.

Obama stopped far short of expressing an endorsement or even a preference. Still, his willingness to step personally into 2016 politics reveals how deeply he believes Clinton is the candidate best suited to build on his achievements, even as the White House has had to scramble to maintain a veneer of detachment in the surprisingly competitive primary fight.

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Clinton emphasizes experience while Sanders attacks

(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

With the Democratic presidential contest in Iowa a tossup less than a week from the first vote of 2016, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders took starkly different approaches to pursuing wavering voters in their final appearance on the same stage.

An uncharacteristically confrontational Sanders, taking umbrage at the barrage of attacks from his rival’s campaign, launched into a spirited critique of Clinton’s career. Clinton responded later with little of the feistiness she has shown recently on the campaign trail, instead reverting to her earlier posture of confident front-runner, emphasizing her qualifications for the office and trying to avoid engaging her rivals.

Except Clinton is no longer the clear front-runner in Iowa. She is locked in an unexpectedly tight race with the self-described democratic socialist senator from Vermont, scrambling to avoid an early loss that would significantly complicate her path to the nomination.

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Donald Trump says he’s ‘pro-life, 100%'

Donald Trump remains firmly anti-abortion, he said Tuesday amid attacks from supporters of rival Ted Cruz over Trump’s past expressions of liberal views.

“I’m pro-life, 100%,” Trump said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “[Cruz] knows it; everybody knows it.”

Super PACs backing Cruz are airing TV ads aimed at Trump that question his commitment to conservative beliefs, while Trump in turn is courting the evangelical voters who make up the core of Cruz’s support, particularly in Iowa, which holds the nation’s first presidential nominating contest Monday.

Trump also turned personal in his attack on Cruz, as he has repeatedly since the two cast aside months of friendliness after Cruz took the lead in polls in Iowa.

“At least some people like Obama. Nobody likes Ted,” Trump said.

Trump also was asked about his threat to boycott Thursday’s GOP debate hosted by Fox News. He has said he would consider skipping the forum because of his acrimonious relationship with co-moderator and Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, whom Trump accused of biased, personal attacks against him during the first GOP debate in August.

“She’s not a professional. I don’t think she’s a very talented person. I don’t think she is a good reporter. I think they could do a lot better than that,” Trump said.

Fox has dismissed Trump’s threat, expressing surprise that Trump is “willing to show that much fear about being questioned by Megyn Kelly.”


Donald Trump threatens Ted Cruz’s hold on evangelical voters, new poll suggests

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., in December.
(Scott Olson / Getty Images)

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s monopoly on evangelicals may be in jeopardy, according to a new NBC News/Survey Monkey poll released Tuesday. The numbers show GOP front-runner Donald Trump with 37% support from white evangelicals nationwide while Cruz had just 20%, a 9% drop since last week.

Trump has made a more overt show of his faith in recent weeks.

On Saturday in Sioux Center, Iowa, Trump told the congregation that Christianity faces a “siege” from immigrants who bring other religions.

“Christianity will have power without having to form because if I’m there, you are going to have plenty of power,” Trump said in Iowa. “You are going to have somebody representing you very, very well.”

But Trump has stumbled a bit in his push. He spoke last week at Liberty University in Virginia during which he fumbled the pronunciation of the Bible book Second Corinthians as “Two Corinthians.” He blamed the mistake on erroneous advisement and his mother’s Scottish background, saying that’s how she referred to the book.

Cruz launched an attack on his rival’s Christian ideals this week leading into the Iowa caucuses. A TV ad campaign claims that Trump supported abortion and doesn’t share the same values as Christians.

The poll was conducted from Jan. 18-24 and reached a national sample of 9,690 adults.