Democratic debate draws little interest from viewers

John Kasich, the Terminator?

Friday evening was the Ohio governor’s 101st town hall meeting of his presidential campaign. This gathering was by telephone, and among those on the line was Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In the first “Terminator” movie, he noted, he played a cyborg with the model number 101.

“What they said about that model was that it doesn’t feel fear, it doesn’t feel pain and it can take a beating and it absolutely will not stop, ever,” he told Kasich. “Never give up. So this is you! You are the Terminator.”

The movie star and former California governor went on to praise Kasich for his work in Congress and in Ohio and for focusing on achievements rather than partisanship.

“John is a great leader,” Schwarzenegger said. “He’s a fiscal conservative. He’s uplifting and very positive. He’s inclusive. He’s a uniter and not a divider. He doesn’t listen to the naysayers, which is very important.”

A spokesman for Schwarzenegger said the praise wasn’t an endorsement but a reflection of the men’s decades-long friendship.

Schwarzenegger has contributed to Kasich’s campaign and appeared at a Los Angeles-area fundraiser for him in October, but has avoided weighing in on the presidential contest because he is close with several people in the race.

The two men have a long history in part because of Schwarzenegger’s annual body-building tournament, which takes place in Columbus, Ohio.

Kasich “is the only politician that had the guts to go in the middle of hundreds of body-builders that were oiled up and standing there in their underwear,” Schwarzenegger told the people who called into the town hall.

They have also worked together on GOP politics as well as after-school programs for needy children. And Kasich has supported Schwarzenegger through some rough patches in his career.

“ ‘Jingle All the Way,’ that movie went right in the toilet, and he went to see that movie and he paid for the ticket and he never asked me for the money,” Schwarzenegger said. “My mother asked me for the money back, but he didn’t. That just shows you what kind of friend he is.”

One-on-one debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders draws 4.4 million on MSNBC

 (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

MSNBC could probably use a hug right now.

The first one-on-one debate between 2016 Democratic presidential nominee contenders Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders scored 4.4 million viewers Thursday on the cable news channel, making it the least-watched showdown of the campaign season to include the major candidates.

The audience figure from Nielsen for the event that ran from 9 to 11 p.m. Eastern time, ranks 17th among all of the 19 debates held in the current cycle. Only two of the Republican "undercard" debates, featuring the candidates ranked near the bottom of the polls, were lower.

The previous low for a Democratic debate in the 2016 cycle was ABC's telecast from New Hampshire on Dec. 19, which was watched by 8.03 million viewers.

The debate held in Durham, N.H., five days before voters go to the polls in the state's primary, was finalized earlier this week, giving little time for MSNBC to promote it on the air.

Clinton ads aim to shore up Latino support in Nevada

As Hillary Clinton’s prospects for winning New Hampshire look increasingly bleak, her campaign is putting more effort into strengthening the firewall it has been building in the state that votes next, Nevada, where Clinton’s popularity with Latinos gives her a considerable advantage.

On Friday, the Clinton campaign unveiled its first Spanish-language television and radio ads there. The television advertisement opens with ominous images of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, the candidates most hostile to undocumented immigrants. Then it transitions to footage of Clinton warmly greeting Latinos in a classroom.

“It’s when things get tough,” the narrator in the television ad says, ”that you see the friends by your side. … With a friend like Hillary, we will keep moving forward.” The unveiling of the advertisements coincided with a visit to the state by Bill Clinton, who is holding campaign events in Nevada on Friday and Saturday. 

I'm sick of him. That's very strong.

Former First Lady Barbara Bush in a CNN interview on Friday in which she talked about Donald Trump, the national frontrunner for the GOP nomination

All the money in the world isn't buying votes this primary season

Money may yet prevail in this year’s presidential election, but the failure so far of big donors to propel candidates to the top of the heap has shown the limitations of even huge stockpiles of cash and put some critics of lax campaign finance laws on the defensive.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has collected more super-PAC money than any candidate, finished with less than 3% of the vote in Iowa, where his super PAC spent about $3,000 on television ads for every vote he won. Although he says he hopes for a “reset” in New Hampshire, Bush has lagged badly in polls leading up to Tuesday’s primary there.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, another early favorite of the big-donor class, dropped out four months before the first ballots were cast.

Meanwhile, two candidates who rail against big money and declined to establish their own super PACs, Republican Donald Trump and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist running as a Democrat, finished near the top of their races.

The lesson, says Richard L. Hasen, a professor at UC Irvine and author of a new book on campaign spending, “Plutocrats United,” is that money remains powerful, but not all powerful.

Did businessman Sheldon Adelson just tip his hand for Rubio?

Ted Cruz embraces apocalyptic preachers and anti-gay militants

 (David Horsey / Los Angeles Times)
(David Horsey / Los Angeles Times)

The Times' David Horsey looks at what sets Texas Sen. Ted Cruz apart from the pack: his endorsements from some of the religious right’s kookiest voices.

Hillary Clinton leans on women to get out the vote. And one criticizes Donald Trump's hair

Four days out from the New Hampshire primary, Hillary Clinton was intent on persuading women to close the margin by which she trails Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — and also to play down the odds of actually pulling it off.

Pulling it off was what Clinton did in 2008 against Barack Obama, as she reminded an audience at a YWCA in Manchester. But Sanders is a next-door resident and retains a substantial lead over Clinton in every poll taken in New Hampshire.

Clinton seemed to suggest she might have had the option of skipping New Hampshire, although that was never in the cards in a state which not only resurrected her campaign but, in 1992, her husband’s.

“People kind of opine: OK, you won Iowa, but you know you’re running against a neighbor. In New Hampshire, neighbors seem to win,” she said, deflating expectations for next Tuesday. “And I say, look that’s neighborly; I have no problem with that, but I’m going to make my case with the people of New Hampshire.”

Clinton said her campaign would “keep fighting until the last vote is counted on Tuesday,” although the candidate herself is leaving briefly to visit Flint, Mich., where lead from water pipes has poisoned residents.

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow was one of a group of Democratic female senators who traveled to New Hampshire to support Clinton and try to rev up supporters planning to knock doors for the candidate in the midst of a driving snowstorm.

She told the audience that Clinton was the only candidate to have called her office to offer help the Flint residents — a jab at Sanders. She also mocked his call for a “political revolution” that would elect him to the White House.

“This is the moment,” Stabenow said. “When folks talk about a revolution, the revolution is electing the first woman president. That’s the revolution. We are ready for the revolution.”

Other female senators also compared Sanders, their colleague, unfavorably to Clinton.

“We’re not supporting her because she’s a woman; we’re supporting her because she’s the very best person in this race,” said New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. “She’s smart, she’s tough and she doesn’t need any on-the-job training.”

Shaheen may have unintentionally alluded to the challenge ahead for Clinton here when she asked not for a victory on Tuesday but for “a strong vote” — in other words, a narrowing of the gap that Clinton can cast as a moral victory.

Clinton used her come-from-behind win in her last campaign to encourage her supporters.

“I know from my last experience here, when I came in 16 points down or something like that — but who’s counting?” she said. “I wasn’t running against a neighbor but an incredibly charismatic candidate, as we all remember. The only reason I was able to pull that off was because of you.”

Stabenow broke up the crowd with a reminiscence of something that many women have been told at some point in their political careers. And some of it touched on criticisms that have been made of Clinton herself, which the senator wanted to dispel before Tuesday.

“There’s always a message we get, about we’re too this or too that,” she said. “Wait your turn. You smile too much; you must not be serious. You don’t smile enough; you must not be friendly. You talk too much. You’re too serious. And I wouldn’t want to have a beer with you. Or, I do want to have a beer with you, but you can’t run security for our country.

“Your hair!” she continued. “Donald Trump’s hair — what about that hair? Come on.”

Donald Trump cancels lone Friday event in New Hampshire

Donald Trump campaigned in New Hampshire on Thursday night but had to cancel an event in the state on Friday morning because of bad weather. 

That allowed the billionaire businessman to fly home to New York instead of staying the night in New Hampshire as a large snowstorm arrived, according to CNN. 

Trump, who has a double-digit lead in polls ahead of Tuesday's primary, has faced criticism from rivals for not spending enough time meeting with voters in early nominating states. Earlier this week, he made a detour from New Hampshire, to rally supporters in Arkansas, which does not hold a primary until March 1. 

Ron Paul on Ted Cruz: 'He's owned by Goldman Sachs'

 (Luke Sharrett / Getty Images)
(Luke Sharrett / Getty Images)

Former Rep. Ron Paul has a message to his loyal libertarian followers — Ted Cruz is not the candidate to support in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. 

"You take a guy like Cruz, people are liking Cruz — they think he’s for the free market, and [in reality] he’s owned by Goldman Sachs," Paul said on Friday in an interview on Fox Business’ “Varney & Company." 

Paul, a thrice-failed presidential candidate, has offered few comments this election cycle as his son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, sought to become the Republican nominee. Yet this week, Rand Paul ended his presidential bid after a poor showing in Iowa, and now his father is speaking out. 

Cruz, whose wife has taken a leave of absence from her management role at Goldman Sachs, won Monday's Iowa caucuses and is making a play for some of Rand Paul's supporters. He's been castigated by rivals for not properly disclosing a 2012 loan his Texas Senate campaign received from Goldman Sachs. 

For decades, Ron Paul has been the standard-bearer of libertarians, and he said on Friday that no candidate in the current GOP field can carry forward free-market principles. 

"It's hard to find anybody — since Rand is out of it — anybody that would take a libertarian position, hardcore libertarian position on privacy, on the war issue and on economic policy," Paul said.

Primary Postcard: Bernie Sanders in the snow

The Exeter Town Hall is one of the classic first-in-the-nation primary venues. Almost every candidate for president comes through here at some point during their campaign.

It's also one of the smaller venues — especially at this stage in a campaign when half of the interior is taken up by television camera staging.

And so, many who had come out to see Bernie Sanders here today in the driving snow were turned away by the fire marshal (as were more than a few reporters).

Sanders, though, stopped outside to address supporters who could not make it in.

This, he said, is what "momentum looks like."

Obama dings GOP 'doom and despair tour'

President Obama greets students earlier this week at a Baltimore mosque, where he offered the kind of upbeat message he hopes fellow Democrats will embrace — especially on the campaign trail. (Mandel Ngan / AFP-Getty Images)
President Obama greets students earlier this week at a Baltimore mosque, where he offered the kind of upbeat message he hopes fellow Democrats will embrace — especially on the campaign trail. (Mandel Ngan / AFP-Getty Images)

President Obama on Friday derided the Republican presidential campaign as a “doom and despair tour” featuring candidates who are trashing the American economy but offering no real solutions.

Obama bragged that the economy gained 158,000 new jobs last month and pointed out that the unemployment rate has dipped below 5% for the first time in almost eight years.

“I know that’s still inconvenient for Republican stump speeches as their doom and despair tour plays in New Hampshire,” Obama said in a brief conversation with reporters at the White House. “I guess you cannot please everybody.”

He’s clearly pleased, in no small measure because upward trends in the economy bode well for the eventual Democratic nominee for president.

Obama didn’t get into the weeds on that. He brushed away a question about Hillary Clinton’s razor-thin win over Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Iowa caucuses, but his disdain for the GOP campaigns was impossible to hide.

“Those who are running down the economy and adding to the anxiety don’t seem to have any plausible coherent recipe,” Obama said. They propose cutting taxes for the rich or blaming immigrants, he said.

“That is not what is depressing wages for middle class families.”

President Obama heading to California next week for meetings, fundraisers

President Obama will travel to Los Angeles and San Jose next week to raise money for Democrats and hold meetings with Asian leaders, a White House official said.

His first stop is Wednesday in San Jose, where he will stay overnight in advance of two events on Thursday, one for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and another for the Democratic National Committee.

He'll head to Los Angeles later that day for more DNC events and stay overnight. Friday night, he'll stay in Palm Springs. (Golf has not been announced, but it seems a good bet.)

Early the following week, Feb. 15 and Feb. 16, Obama is hosting a summit with leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage. 

Clinton aide scolds reporters for asking about paid speeches

 (Jewel Samad / AFP/Getty Images)
(Jewel Samad / AFP/Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton has had a tough time explaining why financial firms and other companies paid her so much money to give speeches — as much as $675,000 for a single event.

At Thursday night’s debate, she was asked why she doesn’t just release the transcripts from the events, which would put to rest questions about what she said to the firms that paid her so much. Clinton hedged. She said she would give the request some thought.

By Friday morning, her pollster was chiding the media for pressing the issue.

“I don’t think voters are interested in the transcripts of her speeches,” Joel Benenson, the Clinton campaign’s pollster, said at a breakfast for journalists held by the Wall Street Journal. “I think they are interested in will she take on the powerful forces on Wall Street.”

Of course, the speech transcripts would shed light on whether she took on those powerful forces when they were paying to hear from her. But Benenson, a former reporter, chalked up the interest in the speeches to a media obsession. He used the issue as an opening to give a mild scolding to reporters over the questions they like to ask.

“If you limit yourself to what you think you learned in a formal way about what people care about, I think you could be asking the wrong questions,” Benenson said. “And a lot of time we ask the wrong questions. “

Of course, if the Clinton campaign really wanted to stop the media from asking about whether it will release the speeches, it could simply release them. 

Jeb Bush says Marco Rubio's record shows no hope of leadership

GOP presidential candidates Jeb Bush, left, and Marco Rubio battle for home state support in Florida. None
GOP presidential candidates Jeb Bush, left, and Marco Rubio battle for home state support in Florida.

Jeb Bush thinks Marco Rubio is a “great guy,” but not a leader ready for the White House.

The former Florida governor continued his attacks on his rival for the GOP presidential nomination in an interview Friday with MSNBC and questioned Rubio’s claimed   accomplishments.

After former GOP presidential candidate and now-Rubio supporter Rick Santorum flubbed a question on what the Florida senator has accomplished, Rubio’s campaign sent out a tally of his achievements.

But Bush called the list a misrepresentation of his rival’s actual work.

“The list they put out has been debunked not just by me,” Bush said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“His list includes fighting for additional sanctions of Hezbollah, which was done by unanimous consent where he didn’t show up to vote,” he added.

Several Republican candidates ganged up against Rubio after he came in a strong third in the Iowa caucuses, just a point behind Donald Trump.

Bush touted his experience as governor leading Florida through hurricanes and implementing eight years of tax cuts, which he called a superior record of leadership.

Rubio doesn’t bring that, he said.

“Leadership is not about passing amendments and calling it success,” he said. “Leadership is about making tough decisions.”

Carly Fiorina: The debate stage is 'rigged'

ABC News left Carly Fiorina off the GOP debate stage for this Saturday — a move she denounced Friday as proof the system is “rigged.”

The former Hewlett Packard CEO, who received fewer than 2% of the vote this week in the Iowa caucuses, told MSNBC on Friday that the coverage of the presidential race doesn’t consider what voters and delegates want — it’s all “back room deals” between the Republican National Committee and the networks.

“Power is being taken away from you [voters] day after day,” Fiorina said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “That’s why I’m running. We have to restore a citizen government.”

ABC News’ criteria for Saturday’s debate in Manchester, N.H., said that to get on stage, a candidate would have to be among the top three finishers in Iowa or among the top six in an average of national polls conducted since Jan. 1 or among the top six in an average of New Hampshire polls during the same period.

Seven candidates — Donald Trump, Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, Govs. Chris Christie and John Kasich, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Ben Carson — met at least one of those tests and received invitations.

Fiorina didn’t make the cut. She was the only candidate to fail to do so other than former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, who hasn’t been actively campaigning.

Several prominent Republicans, including past presidential candidate Mitt Romney, for whom Fiorina raised money in the last election cycle, pressed ABC on Thursday to let her debate. She met with RNC Chair Reince Priebus, but to no avail.

“I know that there were certain candidates lobbying hard at ABC and the RNC to keep me off the stage,” Fiorina said, offering no evidence for her claim.

“I think they are afraid to debate,” she added. “I don’t know how they’re going to defeat Hillary Clinton if they won’t debate me."

Fiorina questioned ABC’s decision to use polls dating back more than a month, especially after she beat Christie and Kasich in Iowa. Both of those two candidates have focused on New Hampshire and spent little time in Iowa, unlike Fiorina, who campaigned actively in the state.

Unlike previous GOP debates, there is no “undercard" session this time for trailing candidates. ABC’s coverage of the debate in Manchester starts at 8 p.m. ET.

In fight between Clinton and Sanders, a raging battle over Democrats' future

Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton shake hands during a debate Thursday at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. (Jewel Samad / AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton shake hands during a debate Thursday at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. (Jewel Samad / AFP/Getty Images)

The Democratic presidential campaign is most obviously a fight between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. It is also a contest over what kind of party Democrats want to have and what level of purity will be required to be part of it.

Apocalyptic campaign rhetoric amid the bucolic New Hampshire scenery

Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth, N.H. (Robert F. Bukaty / Associated Press)
Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth, N.H. (Robert F. Bukaty / Associated Press)

The villages and towns of New Hampshire are as scenic as ever, the people as friendly as can be. The unemployment rate is 3.1%, about a third lower than the national rate. It seems an unlikely place for the apocalypse.

Yet that — or something close to it — is the threat that pours forth from Republican politicians careening across this state, and the advertisements blasting from the state’s televisions.

“There is an assault on everything we stand for,” says Donald Trump’s newest ad here.

“After seven long years of this president, we feel our country slipping away,” Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida says in his newest ad.

“Economic calamity ... is befalling our nation,” Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas says in his ad.

Clinton and Sanders vigorously spar in New Hampshire debate, a sign of things to come

The only remaining Democratic candidates, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, share a friendly exchange during an often-heated debate in Durham, N.H. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
The only remaining Democratic candidates, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, share a friendly exchange during an often-heated debate in Durham, N.H. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Another night, another quarrel. Democrats may as well get used to it, as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders wage an increasingly pitched fight for the party's presidential nomination.

Clashing one-on-one for the first time, in a Thursday night debate a day after a New Hampshire town hall, the more than two hours of jostling — over healthcare, Wall Street regulation, what it means to be a true progressive — came down to a fundamental question:

Do Democrats want ground-shaking change after eight years in control of the White House, as Sanders promises, or mere refinement of the programs and policies that President Obama put into place, as Clinton suggests?