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Minnesota voters cast first ballots of 2020 election

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Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

The first votes of the 2020 primary presidential election have been cast in the Midwestern state of Minnesota.

Voters are deciding which Democratic presidential hopeful they want to become the party’s eventual nominee in the November presidential election.

Though Iowa’s contest next month will be the first to announce a candidate as winning the state, early voting began in Minnesota on Friday.

Thousands of early ballots have already been cast.

The nation is fixated on Iowa’s caucus – party-held elections across the state’s precincts – on 3 February as the start of the 2020 election season, but voters from several states will have already had their say by then.

After this primary election process, each party will name their presidential nominee in the summer. Voters will then cast their ballots for the next president of the United States on 3 November.

What is early voting?

Facing frigid temperatures of -2°F (-19°C), voters in Minneapolis – the seat of Minnesota’s largest county – were already arriving to vote at 08:00 local time, when polling stations opened.

“We even had a little bit of a line,” Ginny Gelm, the Hennepin county elections manager, told the BBC.

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Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

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Representative Ilhan Omar speaks in support of candidate Bernie Sanders on the first day of early voting in Minneapolis

Over 280 people had cast ballots in person in the county before noon and over 6,000 more had been received by post, Ms Gelm said.

Thirty-eight US states and the District of Columbia allow voters to cast ballots before election day, either in person or by mail.

These ‘absentee’ ballots are often used by soldiers, US personnel overseas, or those not able to get to a poll station on election day.

Though some jurisdictions have already begun accepting ballots by post, Minnesota is the first to open polling stations where voters can turn up.

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Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

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Minnesota voters braved freezing temperatures to get to the ballot box

They have 46 days to vote before the state’s primary election day on 3 March, when over a dozen other states and territories will also hold their primary contests on the so-called ‘Super Tuesday’.

Vermont, Virginia and North Dakota will also open polls for early voters on Saturday.

Early voting has become increasingly popular, though most voters still wait until election day. In 2000, 16% of voters cast early ballots in the general election, compared to nearly 40% in 2016.

Where are the candidates?

Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota senator who is running for president, campaigned in her home state as polls were open, but others were on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire, which hold primary contests next month.

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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Democratic candidate Amy Klobuchar campaigned in her home state of Minnesota on the first day of voting

A strong result in the two February races can give a lift to campaigns. Joe Biden, the former vice president, and Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator, are the frontrunners, according to polls.

Though Mr Sanders was not there for the first ballots, Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota congresswoman and supporter, campaigned in the state Friday on his behalf.

Candidates still have a long road ahead. Americans won’t know their next president until the general election on 3 November.

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2020 Democratic White House hopefuls court teachers in pivotal Iowa

DES MOINES — Democrats vying for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination courted Iowa’s teachers on Saturday by promising to oust U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and appoint someone who has taught in public schools.

The pledges to remove DeVos, who has used her post in the Trump administration to advocate for school choice, vouchers and charter schools, drew the most enthusiastic applause at the Iowa State Education Association’s (ISEA) legislative contest.

The ISEA, a member of the National Education Association, represents 34,000 teachers in Iowa, which on Feb. 3 will host the first state nominating contest to pick a Democratic candidate to take on President Donald Trump in November.

U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, each addressed the conference for about 10 minutes on Saturday morning.

Klobuchar, from the neighboring state of Minnesota, reminded the crowd that her mother was a longtime public school teacher and that she is a product of public schools.

“In my first 100 days I have 137 things that I found out you can do without Congress – a president can do herself – that are legal, but I will tell you this, in the first 100 seconds I will fire Betsy DeVos,” Klobuchar said to cheers.

Klobuchar trails Biden, Warren and Buttigieg, along with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, in Iowa opinion polls as the candidates enter the final stretch ahead of the state’s caucuses. She, like other senators, will largely be tethered to Washington in the coming days for Trump’s impeachment trial.

The ISEA did not endorse in the 2016 presidential primaries. Klobuchar, Warren, Biden and Buttigieg have all received endorsements from individual ISEA members and past leaders. The National Education Association, which represents 3 million educators, backed Hillary Clinton in 2016 over Sanders but has yet to endorse in the 2020 race.

Warren highlighted her plan for a wealth tax that would finance an additional $800 billion federal investment in public education.

“My secretary of education will be someone who has taught in public school, Betsy DeVos need not apply,” Warren said.

DeVos is a former chair of Michigan’s Republican Party, political fundraiser and she chaired the board of the Alliance for School Choice, the largest U.S. organization promoting increased school choice via vouchers, corporate tax credits and other measures. She is not a teacher.

Biden likewise told the crowd that “four years of Betsy DeVos is enough.” (Reporting By Amanda Becker in Des Moines, Iowa; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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Ted Lieu tells Devin Nunes to ‘shove it’ after Republican colleague threatens lawsuit

On Friday, Lieu tweeted the first page of a December 31 letter from Nunes’ attorney, Steven Biss, threatening to sue to protect his client’s reputation.
Lieu included his curt response: “I welcome any lawsuit from your client and look forward to taking discovery of Congressman Nunes,” Lieu wrote in a reply letter dated January 16. “Or, you can take your letter and shove it.”

CNN has reached out to Lieu, Biss and Nunes’ office for comment.

In his tweeted response, Lieu pointed to Parnas’ Wednesday interview with MSNBC in which he said he recalled speaking and meeting with Nunes, but also said the pair doesn’t “have too much of a relationship.” Phone records released last month by Democrats as part of the impeachment inquiry showed that Nunes had exchanged multiple phone calls, at key moments, with Parnas.
Parnas, a Soviet-born businessman, was indicted in October by New York federal prosecutors on campaign finance charges. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Nunes confirmed to Fox News on Wednesday that he had spoken with Parnas, after previously saying such a conversation would have been “very unlikely.”

Democrats say Trump abused his office by directing a pressure campaign for Ukraine to announce an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden in exchange for $400 million in US security aid and a White House meeting. Trump, Democrats say, then stonewalled congressional investigators to coverup the misconduct.

Multiple US officials testified before Congress that Giuliani was a conduit for messages between the President and officials in Kiev, and Parnas told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday that his goal was to convince the Ukrainians to announce an investigation into the Bidens in exchange for access to the Trump administration.

CNN’s Paul LeBlanc, Devan Cole, Marshall Cohen and Erica Orden contributed to this report.

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POLITICO Playbook: How fast could the impeachment trial be?

JUST DAYS AWAY from the start of the Senate impeachment trial, President DONALD TRUMP is expected to respond to the summons notifying him of the trial later today. Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader MITCH MCCONNELL is keeping his cards close to the vest, letting few — even in his own conference — know exactly how he plans to run the impeachment trial.

BURGESS EVERETT and MARIANNE LEVINE have the latest on Republicans weighing an aggressive impeachment trial schedule next week: “Senate GOP leaders are weighing accelerating the pace of the trial, eyeing a schedule that would maintain the same overall number of hours for opening arguments and senatorial questions as employed in Clinton’s case, but spreading it out over fewer days, according to six people familiar with internal deliberations.

“If each side used all its debate time, that could mean fewer calendar days for the trial and a faster verdict. Clinton’s trial ran for five weeks, with opening arguments starting a week after it formally began. Trump’s could be far shorter.

“In their partisan opening resolution, Republicans are considering providing 24 hours of opening arguments to both the House impeachment managers and the White House counsel. If each team wants to use the full amount of hours, they may have to do so over as few as two days, potentially leading to long trial days. … But simply the threat of long workdays could condense those opening stages; during Clinton’s trial not all debate time was used.

“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has indicated to the White House he wants to use this structure, according to a source familiar with the matter. Nothing has been firmly decided, and the resolution is still being written. And the fact that the GOP is still debating the logistics of the trial demonstrate how delicate the issue is, and how few people are clued into what McConnell has in store for the Senate over the coming days.” POLITICO

HOW DEMS ARE PREPARING: WAPO’S MIKE DEBONIS: “According to House aides working on the impeachment case, the seven managers — led by Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) — are to meet through the long Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend along with dozens of staff members.

“They are seeking a conviction, but with all but a handful of Republicans publicly skeptical of Trump’s removal on the basis of the current evidence, they must first as a threshold matter persuade four Republicans to join with the 45 Democrats and two independents who caucus with Democrats to extend the trial by admitting additional witness testimony and documents.

“They also must balance the need to appeal solely to the audience of 100 before them while also making the case to the public about the seriousness of the president’s conduct — which, they believe, could in turn influence the votes of some key senators.” WaPo

NYT’S MICHAEL SHEAR: “Dust Off the Impeachment Tables, a Senate Trial Is Underway”

YES, HE’S ON TEAM TRUMP … BUT ONLY KINDA — “Dershowitz plays down role on Trump impeachment team,” by Evan Semones: “High-profile attorney Alan Dershowitz on Friday repeatedly sought to clarify his role on President Donald Trump’s impeachment defense team, insisting he was not a ‘full-fledged’ member. ‘I will present the history of the constitutional impeachment provisions, the history of impeachments that have gone on … and make a broad argument,’ Dershowitz told MSNBC’s Ari Melber. ‘My sole responsibility is to analyze and present the constitutional arguments against impeachment based on the two articles of impeachment.’

“Dershowitz went on to say that he will serve in a ‘limited’ capacity and will not be a part of the president’s tactical strategic team. ‘I am trying to present a very nonpartisan view of the Constitution and I think it would be refreshing to have a nonpartisan view introduced on the Senate floor in this highly partisan impeachment and removal,’ Dershowitz added.” POLITICODarren Samuelsohn, Anita Kumar and Josh Gerstein on Trump’s all-star, TV-friendly legal team.

ANOTHER PARNAS TWIST — “Nunes aide communicated with Parnas about Ukraine campaign, messages show,” by WaPo’s Paul Sonne, Rosalind S. Helderman and Greg Miller: “House Democrats released new documents Friday evening showing extensive contact between an associate of President Trump’s personal attorney and an aide to the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee regarding the effort to obtain material from Ukrainian prosecutors that would be damaging to former vice president Joe Biden.

“The text messages between Lev Parnas, who functioned as Rudolph W. Giuliani’s emissary to Ukrainian officials, and Derek Harvey, an aide to Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, indicate Nunes’s office was aware of the operation at the heart of impeachment proceedings against the president — and sought to use the information Parnas was gathering.

“The newly released texts show that Parnas was working last spring to set up calls for Harvey with the Ukrainian prosecutors who were feeding Giuliani information about Biden. … The messages also show that Harvey met with Parnas and Giuliani at the Trump hotel in Washington. Harvey and a spokesman for Nunes did not immediately respond to requests for comment.” WaPo

CNN: “Barr dropped into Giuliani meeting at Justice Department in previously undisclosed encounter,” by Evan Perez and David Shortel: “Attorney General William Barr briefly attended a meeting at the Justice Department last fall between top criminal prosecutors and President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, a department official said Friday. The meeting reveals a previously undisclosed interaction between two men the President depends on to defend him.

“Justice officials have sought to distance the department and Barr from Giuliani since it became clear in recent months that the former New York mayor is the subject of an investigation by Manhattan federal prosecutors. Giuliani was a part of a team of defense attorneys representing a Venezuelan client when they met with Justice Department officials.

“The two men are said not to be close despite their roles as top legal advisers to the President. Barr has kept a notable distance even while Trump mentioned them both together in a July phone call in which he urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to work with Giuliani and Barr to investigate a political rival, Joe Biden. Justice officials have said Barr has never spoken to Giuliani about Ukraine and hasn’t taken any action to investigate the Bidens.” CNN

NEW: JOSH GERSTEIN: “Rod Rosenstein says he made call to release Strzok-Page texts,” by Josh Gerstein: “Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein authorized the release to the media of text messages between two highly placed FBI employees who exchanged criticism of then-candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, the Justice Department has revealed in a new court filing.

“Rosenstein also said in the court filing submitted shortly before midnight Friday that he made the decision to share the messages with the press in part to protect FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page from unfair criticism.” POLITICO

Good Saturday morning.

HMM — “National Archives exhibit blurs images critical of President Trump,” by WaPo’s Joe Heim

SCOOP: “Trump berates Azar over bad health care polling,” by Nancy Cook, Dan Diamond, and Adam Cancryn: “President Donald Trump lashed out at HHS Secretary Alex Azar on Thursday after senior aides presented him with polling data showing that voters prefer Democrats on health care, according to six people with knowledge of the conversation.

“Trump, who phoned Azar from a meeting with his political affairs team, expressed frustration that voters haven’t rewarded him for taking actions to lower drug prices, the sources said.

Trump’s outburst sent White House staff scrambling to convene a meeting on drug pricing this morning with potentially more to come. Some predicted Trump could look to push harder on stalled drug pricing proposals, including one opposed by many in his party.

“Trump on Thursday grilled Azar about the administration’s new plan to let states import drugs from Canada, with a focus on how it would affect his reelection prospects in battleground states like Florida, according to two individuals. Azar, whose job does not appear to be in jeopardy, and other officials have promised Trump that the new importation plan will play a significant role in lowering drug costs, although some experts have derided the idea as a political stunt.” POLITICO

“Supreme Court will again review Obamacare birth control mandate,” by Susannah Luthi

ON THE GROUND — ELENA SCHNEIDER in Emmetsburg, Iowa: “Buttigieg tries to recapture Iowa magic”: “Pete Buttigieg is not touching the he-said-she-said between two of his chief primary rivals. In fact, he’s going to great lengths not to talk about any opponents at all, after spending the fall drawing contrasts with them.

“Instead, Buttigieg, who has dropped 5 to 7 points in the polling averages here in a few months, is trying to regain the first-place position he once held in Iowa, closing out on a message of party unity. He’s staying outside of the conversation dominating cable news, campaigning miles away from the impeachment proceedings that called his opponents in the Senate away to jury duty.

“In a five-day, marathon sprint across Iowa, including a brief break for Tuesday night’s debate in Des Moines, the former South Bend, Ind., mayor bounded into middle school gyms and VFW halls to make his case to ‘a lot of voters who are still in decision mode” who “still could vote for any number of candidates,’ Buttigieg told reporters.” POLITICO

“In Iowa, the spotlight is on Democrats. The Trump campaign is trying to change that,” by WaPo’s Holly Bailey in Des Moines

RUNNING WHILE FEMALE — “They ‘Would Love to See a Woman in Office,’ but It’s Not Priority No. 1,” by NYT’s Lisa Lerer in Winterset, Iowa: “In the final weeks before the Iowa caucuses, the two leading female candidates remaining in the Democratic primary are embracing their gender as an asset, decisively pushing back against concerns that a woman can’t be elected president. …

“Since Donald J. Trump took office, women have emerged as the backbone of the Democratic Party, leading protests, creating new political organizations and running for office. A record number of women are serving in Congress, and the #MeToo movement has raised awareness of sexual assault and gender bias. Saturday marks the fourth annual Women’s March, with events taking place around the country and the world.

“Yet, the sisterhood may stop before the White House. In interviews with nearly two dozen female voters in Iowa this week, the symbolism of breaking what Hillary Clinton called ‘that highest, hardest glass ceiling’ in politics seemed to be less resonant than ever before, particularly for older voters, who were subsumed by anxiety about defeating Mr. Trump.” NYTNYT’S Emma Goldberg asks the question — Would a 37-Year-Old Woman Be Where Pete Buttigieg Is?

REMEMBER THIS … LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL UPDATE: “Last charge dropped in sex slave case against ex-GOP consultant,” by David Ferrara: “Prosecutors on Tuesday dropped the last remaining criminal charge against a former Las Vegas-based Republican consultant accused of sexually enslaving and assaulting his former fiancee. A lawyer for Benjamin Sparks said after a brief court hearing that the woman had concocted the allegations and lied to authorities when she said he physically abused her and prevented her from leaving her apartment.

“‘It’s a complete fabrication, and we can prove it’s a complete fabrication,’ Josh Tomsheck said. ‘Once she became aware we had the evidence in the case, she stopped showing up to court.’ The decision came three months after prosecutors dismissed more serious charges against Sparks. Chief Deputy District Attorney Steven Rose said the woman had developed an illness that prevented her from testifying at a misdemeanor battery trial for the next several weeks or even months.

“‘She indicated to me that because of a medical condition, she would not be able to testify for a relatively lengthy period of time,’ Rose said, adding that the woman knew charges against Sparks would be thrown out. He declined to elaborate on her condition. In October, the prosecutor dismissed five felony counts, including kidnapping, against Sparks.” LVR

TRUMP’S SATURDAY — The president has nothing on his public schedule.

WOMP WOMP — “Never Trumpers flame out,” by Alex Isenstadt: “The ‘Never Trump’ movement had once hoped to embarrass President Donald Trump in 2020 with a primary challenge that would expose the president’s weaknesses within his own party. But Trump’s GOP opponents are failing to even get on the ballot in many states, let alone gain traction with Republican voters.

“With the start of primary season just weeks away, Trump rivals Joe Walsh and Bill Weld are ceding an array of key battlegrounds. Walsh won’t be competing in more than half of the 30 states and territories whose filing deadlines have already passed, while Weld won’t be contending 12 of them. The latest blow came Wednesday, when the two missed the deadline to make the Virginia ballot, making Trump the sole contender.

“It’s the latest reminder of Trump’s vice-like grip on the GOP — and how any hint of opposition within the party has been extinguished. Even before a single contest has been held, the president has already gone a long way toward securing renomination: He will be the only candidate on the ballot in nine states that collectively account for nearly one-third of the delegates needed.” POLITICO

FOR YOUR RADAR — REUTERS/SEOUL: “North Korean foreign minister replaced: report”: “North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho has been replaced, Seoul-based NK News reported on Saturday. Ri’s replacement has not been identified but Pyongyang is set to reveal his successor about next Thursday, the report said, citing unnamed sources. South Korea’s unification ministry, which is in charge of North Korea affairs, has said that any change in Ri’s status should be assessed cautiously.” Reuters

MORE PROBLEMS AT BOEING: “Boeing Finds New Software Problem That Could Complicate 737 MAX’s Return,” by WSJ’s Andy Pasztor: “Boeing Co. is grappling with still another software problem that has cropped up in its effort to fix its 737 MAX aircraft, adding to technical issues that have complicated and delayed the grounded fleet’s return to service over many months.

“The latest glitch, which Boeing said Friday it was working to correct, prevents the jet’s flight-control computers from powering up and verifying they are ready for flight, according to industry and government officials. ‘We are making necessary updates and working with the FAA on submission of this change, and keeping our customers and suppliers informed,’ a Boeing spokesman said.

“Before the problem was discovered last week, according to people briefed on the details, the company and the Federal Aviation Administration were slated to conduct a key certification flight by the end of this month. But at this point, these people said, that date increasingly looks like it will slip into at least February.” WSJ

CLICKER — “The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics,” edited by Matt Wuerker — 14 keepers

GREAT HOLIDAY WEEKEND READS, curated by Daniel Lippman (@dlippman):

— “The Amish Keep to Themselves. And They’re Hiding a Horrifying Secret,” by Sarah McClure in Cosmo: “A year of reporting by Cosmo and Type Investigations reveals a culture of incest, rape, and abuse.” Cosmo

— “Shadow of a Doubt,” by NYT Magazine’s Emily Bazelon: “In 2011, Michael Shannon was wrongly convicted of murder, even though two jurors voted to acquit him — a result of a Louisiana law rooted in discrimination. Michael Shannon in November 2019. But for defendants like Shannon — and the holdout jurors who believed in their innocence — it has left a bitter legacy.” NYT

— “‘American Oligarchs: The Kushners, the Trumps and the Marriage of Money and Power,’ by Andrea Bernstein: An Excerpt” — NYT: “Of hundreds of cousins, grandparents, sisters and brothers, uncles and aunts, only a handful, including Lisa, Rae, and their father, Naum, made it through—through the destruction of their home and the confiscation of their business; through family separations and multiple mass executions, starvation, lice, beatings, forced labor, German dogs, and Nazi bullets; past barbed wire; through months of hiding in the forest, braving the Polish winter, a trek across international borders, and years in a displaced persons camp.” NYT$28.50 on Amazon

— “The Past and the Future of the Earth’s Oldest Trees,” by The New Yorker’s Alex Ross: “Bristlecone pines have survived various catastrophes over the millennia, and they may survive humanity.” New Yorker

— “The Mysterious Lawyer X,” by Evan Ratliff in California Sunday Magazine — per’s description: “Epic, unputdownable true-crime tale from Australia. The twist is revealed fairly early in the story, so there is no harm in teasing it here: The go-to criminal defence lawyer for Australia’s top gangsters is a police informer, and has been one right through her career. The good news is that she helped police put away dozens of murderers and drug traffickers while purporting to defend them. The bad news is that the gangsters are now walking free, their trials invalidated and their convictions overturned.” California Sunday

— “How I Learned to Talk,” by Emily Fox Gordon in The American Scholar: “Conversation once offered entry into other people’s minds. Has that disappeared?” American Scholar

— “The Baron of Botox Is Gone, But His Face Lives On,” by Justine Harman in Medium: “Dr. Fredric Brandt redefined cosmetic dermatology forever by bringing a smooth, plump, and ageless face to the masses.” Medium (h/t

— “My decade as a fugitive: ‘I felt I could be killed at any moment’” — The Guardian and California Sunday Magazine: “After fleeing the scene of a crime, Waymond Hall vanished into Oakland. He feared he had grown up just like his father.” Guardian

— “All we owe to animals,” by Jeff Sebo in Aeon Magazine: “We breed and kill at least 100 billion animals per year for food and at least 115 million per year for research. Fishing kills 1-3 trillion animals per year. Deforestation destroys animal habitats. Building and vehicle collisions kill at least a billion animals per year. This year, more than 300 birds were injured or killed in collisions with a building in North Carolina in a single night.” Aeon (h/t

— “The Middle East Isn’t Worth It Anymore,” by Martin Indyk in WSJ’s Saturday essay: “With few vital American interests still at stake there, the U.S. should finally set aside its grandiose ambitions for the chaotic region.” WSJ

— “So long, salt and vinegar: how crisp flavours went from simple to sensational,” by Amelia Tait in The Guardian: “It was five decades after crisps were invented that flavouring was applied: cheese and onion. Now you can buy varieties from bratwurst to spiced cola. But what inspired this explosion?” Guardian (h/t

— “Catholic Church Shields $2 Billion in Assets to Limit Abuse Payouts,” by Josh Saul in Bloomberg Businessweek: “Dioceses are aggressively moving and reclassifying holdings to shrink the value of their bankruptcy estates.” Bloomberg Businessweek

MEDIAWATCH — Jason Karaian is joining the NYT as the DealBook editor based in London. He previously was global finance and economics editor at Quartz. Announcement

Send tips to Eli Okun and Garrett Ross at

SPOTTED: Pam Bondi on a flight from Tampa to DCA this morning. Pic

SPOTTED at a farewell for Australian Ambassador Joe Hockey and his family at Dock 5 in Union Market on Friday night: Mick Mulvaney, Bret Baier, Greg Norman, Armenian Ambassador Varuzhan Nersesyan, Japanese Ambassador Shinsuke Sugiyama, Irish Ambassador Dan Mulhall, Bosnia and Herzegovina Ambassador Bojan Vujić, New Zealand Ambassador Rosemary Banks, Kathy “Coach” Kemper, Katrina Cooper, Tony Abbott, Chris Liddell, Renee Lidell, Kaivan Shroff, Anthony Pratt, Jeff Tracey, Norah O’Donnell, Mary Brady, Jonathan Swan and J. Eric Smith.

SPOTTED at Steve Biegun’s swearing in as deputy secretary of State on the 8th floor of the State Department on Friday: Joe Hagin, Jim Carroll, Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai, Bill Cohen, Denis McDonough, Stephen Hadley, John Thornton, Devon Spurgeon, Ziad Ojakli, Matt and Mercy Schlapp, Andrea Mitchell and Marc and Pam Thiessen. Pic

TRANSITIONS — Avery Boggs is now group VP for policy communications at Charter Communications. She previously was executive VP for marketing and strategy development at PLUS Communications. … Carmiel Arbit is now a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. She previously was director for strategic engagement at AIPAC.

BIRTHDAYS: Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.) is 49 … Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) is 77 … Brett Horton, COS to House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) … Martin O’Malley is 57 … Brian Callanan, general counsel at Treasury … Ellen Eckert … Ben Adams is 39 … Brandye Hendrickson, deputy director at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials … Kirk Bell … Kara McKee … Kelly Kundinger … Ben Jealous, chairman of 20X Ventures, is 47 … Christian Palich, senior adviser to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt (h/t wife Minyet Palich) … Sandy Cannold, EP for CNBC’s “The Exchange” and “Power Lunch” … Anna Morris of Treasury … Lindsay Monaghan … POLITICO’s Evan Gaskin … Phil Chambers … Yagmur Cosar, comms director at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Corporate Citizenship Center … outgoing FT editor Lionel Barber is 65 … Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, contributing writer at National Geographic and contributor to The New Yorker and the NYT Magazine, is 47 … Alex Korey … Jeffrey Goodell …

… Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is 5-0 … Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is 41 … National Review’s John McCormack … Beth DeFalco, managing director at Mercury … Paul Equale (h/t Jon Haber) … Jonathan Serrie, Fox News correspondent in Atlanta … Adam Radman, director of advocacy at Americans for Tax Reform … JoAnne Wasserman … Allie Wright … Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen is 76 … Ryan Taylor, VP at Forbes Tate Partners … GMMB’s Samara Yudof Jones … Caroline Ross … APCO’s Gadi Dechter iis 45 … former Sen. Paul Kirk (D-Mass.) is 82 … former Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) is 65 … Jonathan Hayes … NBC’s Jane Timm … Laura (Maloney) Johnsen … David Jacobs … WJLA anchor Dave Lucas … Josh Orton … Bryce Cullinane is 34 … Craig Shaffer … George Nassar … Nan Powers Varoga … John Hume is 83 … Andrew Sullivan, partner at Hudson Pacific … George Aldrich (h/t Teresa Vilmain) … Sarah Muntzing … Matthew Kemeny

SUNDAY SHOWS, via Matt Mackowiak, filing from Austin:

— NBC’s “Meet the Press”: Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) … Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) … report on a focus group in Milwaukee, WI. Panel: Co-authors and The Washington Post’s Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker (“A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America”), former Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) and radio host Hugh Hewitt.

— ABC’s “This Week”: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) … Harvard professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz … Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) … Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). Panel: ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd, former Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D-Chicago), Republican strategist Sara Fagen and The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib.

— CBS’ “Face the Nation”: Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) … Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) … former Trump White House National Economic Council director Gary Cohn … CBS News’ Jan Crawford. Panel: The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib, USA Today’s Susan Page, CBS News’ Ed O’Keefe and CBS News’ Weijia Jiang.

— “Fox News Sunday”: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) … Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). Panel: Former Bush White House senior adviser Karl Rove, Axios’ Jonathan Swan, GOP pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson and The Washington Post’s Charles Lane … “Power Player of the Week” segment with professional endurance athlete Colin O’Brady.

— Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” (10am ET / 10am CT): Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) … Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) … Trump organization executive vice president Donald Trump, Jr..

— Fox News’ “MediaBuzz” (11am ET / 10am CT): The Federalist publisher Ben Domenech … Fox News correspondent Gillian Turner … former PBS correspondent Ray Suarez … Fox Nation host Lara Logan … Democratic strategist Joe Trippi … conservative commentator Gayle Trotter.

— CNN’s “Inside Politics” (8 a.m. ET): Panel: The New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis, The Wall Street Journal’s Michael Bender, TIME Magazine’s Molly Ball and CNN’s Nia-Malika Henderson.

— CNN’s “State of the Union” (9 a.m. ET / 12 p.m. ET): Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) … Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO). Panel: CNN political commentator Mary Katharine Ham, Democratic strategist Karen Finney, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-VA) and Rep. Michael Walz (R-FL) (substitute anchor: CNN’s Brianna Keilar).

— CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” (Sunday 10 a.m. ET): The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum and Carnegie Moscow Center senior fellow Alexander Gabuev, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace senior fellow Karim Sadjapour … RAND Corporation’s Ariane Tabatabai … former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd … author and Morgan Stanley head of emerging markets and chief global strategist Ruchi Sharma (“The 10 Rules of Successful Nations”).

— CNN’s “Reliable Sources” (Sunday 11a.m. ET): Panel: Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick, former Clinton White House press secretary Joe Lockhart and Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan … The Los Angeles Times’ Sarah Wire and Politico’s Meredith McGraw … Media Matters for America senior fellow Matt Gertz … former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau and Snapchat “Good Luck America” host Peter Hamby.

— Univision’s “Al Punto” (Sunday 10 a.m. ET): Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador … “Caminata por la Verdad, la Justicia y la Paz” organizers Julián LeBarón, Alberto Athie and Javier Sicilia … actor Antonio Banderas … Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) … former Assemblywoman Lucy Flores (D-NV) and Democratic analyst Ana Maria Archila … Univision News’ Jorge Cancino.

— C-SPAN: “The Communicators” (Saturday 5:30 p.m. ET): U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), questioned by The Hill’s Emily Birnbaum “Newsmakers” (SUN 10am ET): Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), questioned by CQ Roll Call’s Jason Dick and National Journal’s Zach Cohen … “Q&A” (SUN 8pm & 11pm ET): New Hampshire Union Leader publisher John McQuaid.

— MSNBC’s “Kasie DC” (Sunday 7 p.m. ET): Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) … Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR) … former Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) … Republican strategist Brendan Buck … The Los Angeles Times’ Eli Stokols … WBUR’s Kimberly Atkins … NBC News’ Josh Lederman … former FBI assistant director Frank Figliuzzi … The Wall Street Journal’s Catherine Lucey … NPR’s Susan Davis … MSNBC political analyst Mike Barnicle.

— Gray TV’s “Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren”: Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) … Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) … Bloomberg News’ Kevin Cirilli.

— Sinclair’s “America This Week with Eric Bolling”: Congressional candidate Robert Hyde (R-CT) … White House principal deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley … Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) … Judicial Watch founder Larry Klayman … radio host Seb Gorka … congressional candidate Liz Matory (R-MD).

— Washington Times’ “Mack on Politics” weekly politics podcast with Matt Mackowiak (download on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify or Stitcher or listen at Author and CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen (“Trump and his Generals: The Cost of Chaos”).

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Rod Rosenstein says he made call to release Strzok-Page texts

The texts also included murky discussions of an “insurance policy” to guard against Trump’s election. Trump backers have interpreted the reference as a plan to use the then-ongoing investigation into ties between Trump advisers and Russia as way to prevent him from taking office or undermine his presidency, but Strzok and Page have denied any such intent.

In the two years since the first disclosure of the politically charged texts between Strzok and Page, Trump has subjected the pair to frequent public attacks, excoriated the two for bias and asserted that their actions at the FBI amounted to “treason.”

Trump has also made crude salvos against them for engaging in an extramarital affair a staple of his campaign events. At a rally last month, he appeared to imitate Page having an orgasm. She responded by calling Trump’s attacks “sickening” and saying they have devastated her life.

Strzok and Page filed separate lawsuits against the Justice Department last year, alleging that the release of their text messages violated the Privacy Act — an almost half-century-old statute that safeguards information federal agencies hold about private individuals.

Despite the litigation, until Friday it remained unclear just who at Justice gave the final OK to give about 375 Strzok-Page texts to journalists — including a POLITICO reporter — on the evening of December 12, 2017.

In a formal declaration submitted as part of the government’s defense to Strzok’s suit, Rosenstein owned up to being the one who made the call. He said he did so in part because the texts’ public release by members of Congress was inevitable in connection with testimony he was set to give to the House Judiciary Committee the following day.

“With the express understanding that it would not violate the Privacy Act and that the text messages would become public by the next day in any event, I authorized [Justice’s Office of Public Affairs] to disclose to the news media the text messages that were being disclosed to Congressional committees,” Rosenstein wrote in a five-page statement signed Friday.

In November, the Justice Department asked U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson to throw out Strzok’s suit, which challenges both his firing from the FBI and the release of the texts. However, Strzok’s attorneys countered in a court filing last month that one reason to allow the suit to proceed was that Justice Department was being vague about just who made the final call to give the messages.

Arguing that an air of mystery continued to surround the disclosure, Strzok lawyer Aitan Goelman called “revealing” Justice’s decision to seek dismissal of the suit without identifying the responsible official.

“An agency cannot avoid Privacy Act liability for a disclosure actually made for an improper purpose by eliciting a sanitized after-the-fact rationale from an official who does not have all of the facts,” Goelman wrote.

Rosenstein, who stepped down from his position as Justice’s No. 2 official last May, said in his new submission that his aides initially suggested he might want to delay sending the texts to Congress until after his House testimony. But the veteran prosecutor said he concluded it would be “inappropriate” to hold them back, even briefly, for that reason.

Rosenstein also said he decided to give the messages to the media before his testimony because of concerns that they would be cherrypicked in a manner that could be detrimental to the Justice Department, as well as Strzok and Page.

“The Department’s Office of Public Affairs … recommended providing the text messages to the media because otherwise, some congressional members and staff were expected to release them intermittently before, during and after the hearing, exacerbating the adverse publicity for Mr. Strzok, Ms. Page and the Department,” Rosenstein wrote. “Providing the most egregious messages in one package would avoid the additional harm of prolonged selective disclosures and minimize the appearance of the Department concealing information that was embarrassing to the FBI.”

While Rosenstein said the disclosure to the media was aimed at putting the messages in context, Strzok and Page have noted that the set of fewer than 400 texts sent to the Hill and shared with reporters that night was just a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands of messages the pair exchanged on work topics as well as personal matters.

Justice officials say that selection was done by the Office of Inspector General, which tracked down the messages after FBI officials initially said they had been deleted. Some of the messages released in December 2017 showed Strzok and Page taking verbal shots at politicians and public figures of various stripes including Attorney General Eric Holder, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Gov. Martin O’Malley (D-Md.)

Rosenstein’s statement does not indicate whether he consulted with Page, Strzok or their attorneys to seek their views on the planned release, but he had them informed that night that the disclosure was forthcoming. The former DOJ No. 2 official said he did have one of his top aides confirm with Justice’s top privacy official that the disclosure would not run afoul of the Privacy Act.

That official, Civil Liberties and Privacy Officer Peter Winn, has said in a prior court filing that he opined that the release of the texts would be legal.

Justice Department lawyers argue that Rosenstein’s consultation with Winn — a career official — effectively nullifies the Privacy Act portion of Strzok’s suit. Under the law, officials can only be liable for monetary damages for a Privacy Act violation if they broke the law intentionally or willfully.

Rosenstein’s filing does not discuss why journalists were initially told they could not identify the Justice Department in their stories as the source of the messages. Justice officials later lifted that condition.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller removed Strzok from his senior role on the Trump-Russia probe after learning of the texts in the summer of 2017. Page, who worked on the earlier stages of the investigation, had already moved on to another assignment.

The FBI fired Strzok in 2018, while Page ultimately resigned from the agency.

Strzok’s suit filed last April also challenges the circumstances of his firing. His attorneys contend that the Justice Department violated established FBI procedures when he was dismissed in 2018, dismissing him in a legally improper effort to kowtow to Trump.

A top FBI official who handles internal discipline initially proposed demoting Strzok and suspending him for 60 days, but Deputy Director David Bowdich decided to fire Strzok instead.

Page’s suit, which is before U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan, was only filed last month and is still in its early stages.

The suits also argue that the hasty disclosure of the messages was made at the behest of the White House, while Justice Department officials were scrambling to improve their rapport with Trump.

Goelman did not immediately comment on Rosenstein’s submission. Page’s lawyer, Amy Jeffress, declined to comment.

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The Week in Pictures: Blowout Impeachment Edition

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi finally got the chicken entrails that she needed to see, and has transmitted the yellowing and brittle articles of impeachment to the Senate, following which the stock market soared even higher, proving yet again that gridlock is the next best thing to constitutional government. Good times! Meanwhile, the Democrats hosted the world’s most boring presidential debate ever. See, this is what happens when you toss out the supporting cast of colorful character actor candidates: Maryanne Williamson, Ying-Yang, and Tulsi “Hang-Ten” Gabbard. Oh, and those other guys running from the Witness Protection Program, otherwise known as Mountain State Democrats Anonymous. Sorry Booker, fake Thracian gladiators can’t join.


Headlines of the week:


The restaurants in Indians airports must really suck.

And finally. . .

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Mike Bloomberg throws shade at Joe Biden as a looming “lame duck”

Mike Bloomberg seemingly suggested behind closed doors at an event with Silicon Valley elite on Thursday that former Vice President Joe Biden could be a “lame duck” president if elected, implying that the former New York mayor is the better moderate 77-year-old to support.

Toward the end of his 10-minute pitch to about 200 tech executives, investors, and socialites, Bloomberg, looking at notes, offered the contrast without naming Biden explicitly, according to video posted to social media and seen by Recode.

“My message to you is if you want somebody who’s experienced, and strong enough to serve two terms and not give the gift of being a lame-duck president to the Republicans,” Bloomberg said, before listing off a series of policy commitments, “then welcome to Bloomberg 2020 and I’d love to have your support.”

Biden is the only candidate who has been the subject of credible reporting that he could pledge to serve a single term, an accusation the Biden campaign has forcefully denied.

Nevertheless, the speculation could prove fruitful fodder for Bloomberg, who is competing with Biden for some of the same elite support and moderate voters.

A campaign spokesperson noted that Bloomberg has pledged to support the Democratic nominee no matter what.

It is a sensitive point of attack for Biden. Politico first reported in December that Biden’s campaign had considered publicly stating — or at least privately signaling — that he would only serve one term if elected, seen as a strategy to stave off nagging concerns about his age and whether he is as sharp as he used to be. Biden’s team has strongly disputed that a one-term pledge was ever under consideration

But it has nevertheless continued to dog him, including being asked about it in an interview published Friday with the New York Times editorial board.

“I never hinted that. That is simply not true,” he told the paper. “I don’t know where it came from, but it did not — it came from somebody who in fact, I guess, thinks that they know me and thinks that maybe, I don’t know.”

Biden’s campaign declined to comment.

Bloomberg and Biden are the same age: 77. Another candidate who has drawn concern about his health, age, and ability to do the job, Bernie Sanders, recently suffered a heart attack. Elizabeth Warren is 70, but there has not been serious reporting or speculation about Sanders or Warren making a similar one-term commitment.

Bloomberg’s line was interpreted as a comment about Biden, according to people in the room.

While Biden has not shown strength with Silicon Valley leaders, he does represent a clear threat to Bloomberg’s path to victory. Bloomberg only entered the race at a time when Biden seemed to have a declining grip on moderate voters and Democratic elites. But Biden has proved durable.

Bloomberg’s team has indicated to Democrats that he might reorient his campaign to a more general anti-Trump organization if Biden proves to be on the path to victory following Super Tuesday, when California votes, according to the New York Times. And so it makes sense for Bloomberg to look for the opportunities to draw a contrast with Biden.

The former New York City mayor made the comment at the conclusion of a “private briefing” for many leaders from the tech industry. Attendees included people like San Francisco powerbroker Ron Conway, so-called “Queen of the Internet” Mary Meeker, and a host of other Bloomberg-curious Silicon Valley titans.

Bloomberg allies think his data-driven, subdued brand of politics will resonate among leaders in the tech community.

“I think we need less talk and less partisanship. In fact, I think we need less tweeting,” he told the crowd at one point. “I make you this commitment right now: When I’m in the Oval Office, there will not be any tweeting.”

What Bloomberg is not seeking is campaign contributions from them — something that Biden, who has made multiple trips to Silicon Valley, very much is. Bloomberg is self-financing his race and asked the donors there to consider giving to the Democratic National Committee and outside groups — while still pledging to support him in the primary.

“I can imagine I’m the only politician in history who’s been in a room with all of you and not asked for donations,” he told the crowd.

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7 Major True Crime Adaptations Coming to TV in 2020

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You got your Murderinos. Your internet sleuths. Your Burke-truth we’d. People love true crime. Actually, people are obsessed with them. A quick search for “best true crime shows” will reveal list after list of series that dive into the scariest corners of humanity. There are podcasts (My Favorite Murder, Serial, Casefile, etc.) that are for the kinds of people who know way too much about Ted Bundy.

That kind of stuff will send shivers right down the spine of just about anyone, but there’s plenty of spooky stuff where those podcasts came from. The 2019 true crime mini-series The Confession Killer told the story of Henry Lee Lucas, an American serial killer who admitted to as many as 600 murders. But there’s more to the story that even the most true crime-obsessed don’t know about.This year will be no exception. More Ted Bundy. A deep dive into Aaron Hernandez, too. That’s just the start, you crime-obsessed weirdo.

Maybe this goes along with the theory that the more you know about something that scares you, the less scared of it you are? Maybe not. Anyway, bring on the true crime. If anything, watch these upcoming projects just so you can best your friends at your next true crime trivia night.

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Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez

The year kicks off with the very complicated case of Aaron Hernandez, former New England Patriots player and convicted murderer. The Netflix documentary, available now, explores his case (and eventual death). While that should offer some answers, like most crime cases it seems that the answered questions only seem to elicit… more questions.


Ted Bundy: Falling for a Killer

On January 30, this documentary comes to Amazon Prime and reframes the infamous serial killer from a woman’s perspective. Elizabeth Kloepfer Kendall, Bundy’s former girlfriend, and her daughter, Molly, share their real-life experiences with the murderer who was executed at Florida State Prison in 1989.


For Life

The new ABC series follows the life of Isaac Wright, Jr., a man who was wrongfully convicted of being a drug kingpin. While in prison, he became a proxy-lawyer for his fellow inmates and wrote briefs and motions to overturn convictions for close to 20 people. His conviction was overturned, and he now works as an attorney helping others who were wrongly accused. The show comes from producers Hank Steinberg, Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson, and Doug Robinson.


American Crime Story: Impeachment

Ryan Murphy is taking on Bill Clinton’s impeachment story in American Crime Story for FX. Beanie Feldstein is set to play Monica Lewinsky, and Murphy’s frequent star Sarah Paulson is on as Linda Tripp. The show will likely begin production in late March. For now, just relive Clinton’s impeachment speech from back when.


The Barking Murders

The BBC One series from Stephen Merchant features the story of British serial rapist and killer Stephen Port, aka “the Grindr Killer.” Merchant plays the notorious killer who raped and murdered four young men he met through dating websites between 2014 and 2015. The series will be told from the perspective of Port’s victims’ families as they try to figure out what happened to their sons and brothers.


Dr. Death

This NBC series is about Christopher Duntsch, aka “Dr. Death” or “Dr. D,” a former Dallas area neurosurgeon whose patients ended up either maimed or dead after surgeries. The show, based on the Wondery podcast of the same name stars Alec Baldwin, Jamie Dornan, and Christian Slater.


Inventing Anna

Remember that New York Magazine story about Anna Delvey? Now there will be a series from Shonda Rhimes and Netflix depicting the real-life Anna Sorokin, who pretended to be a German heiress and pulled the wool over countless New York socialites’ eyes. Julia Garner stars as Delvey/Sorokin and Anna Chlumsky stars as journalist Jessica Pressler.

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‘The red wall is cracking’: Buttigieg gets ovation after expecting protests | US news

Pete Buttigieg knew he was foraying into unfriendly confines when he was en route to Orange City, the seat of Iowa’s most conservative county.

The gay ex-mayor of South Bend, Indiana, may be in the top tier of Democratic presidential candidates seeking to win this vital first voting state next month, but his sexuality was seen as likely to be a major issue in this corner of the state, Sioux county.

The campaign braced for protesters in light of public burnings of library books depicting gay relationships and vociferous opposition to the town’s annual gay Pride festival, said Ben Halle, Buttigieg’s Iowa communications director, to the Guardian.

Halle said didn’t know what to expect as far as a crowd, but he said it was fair to expect opposition as Buttigieg’s campaign rolled into town.

“What you need to realize with Sioux county is there’s a very strong religious flavor there, from their courts to their public squares,” said Ned Bjornstad, a former elected prosecutor in north-west Iowa turned veteran defense attorney who practices regularly in Orange City. “For a candidate like Buttigieg, I’d expect protesters.”

There weren’t any.

As Buttigieg entered the Prairie Winds Events Center in downtown Orange City, a crowd of around 200 instead roared in a standing ovation.

Regan Harms, a 22-year-old senior majoring in biblical studies at Northwestern College in Orange City, said she wasn’t at all surprised with the turnout. As she introduced Buttigieg, she described him as a neighbor and fellow midwesterner, one who understands life in rural America.

“Iowans long for someone who understands them,” Harms said. “The second you meet him, you get that impression that he almost knows you. Of course he can come into Orange City, and people will like him. There’s that common bond among midwesterners.”

But Orange City is hostile territory to Democrats and fervently socially conservative. There, no Democrat running for governor or president has registered over 18% support since 2008. In Orange City, penalties are levied for work on Sunday. In July, a petition listing over 300 signatures asked the Orange City public library to ban books related to homosexual relationships and transgender people. A man was even convicted of burning said books outside the library.

In nearby Sioux Center in September, the Sioux County Conservatives alleged a restaurant was “celebrating sin” by hosting Pride brunch on a Sunday.

When asked whether people in Orange City cared about whether Buttigieg was gay, Harms said she wouldn’t answer that question.

“It’s a divisive topic here in town, of course,” she said. “Obviously, some people care, but look at this crowd. Others don’t.”

Buttigieg maintains he’s the candidate who can blaze the trail. After he announced he was gay, he won a second term in South Bend with a greater share of the vote.

While the Orange City crowd wasn’t roaring when Buttigieg announced his socially progressive platforms, only one crowd member asked him whether the country was ready for its first gay president. Buttigieg replied that it had taken a leap of faith to run as a gay man in South Bend, and it would take another to win the presidency.

“In the last 50 years, every Democratic president has a perspective outside Washington, is new on the national scene, and is of a new generation,” he said. “I check all those boxes.”

With less than three weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses, Buttigieg’s chances are as good as any, said Brad Best, professor of political science at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. Buttigieg has consistently polled in the top four in Iowa and New Hampshire since the late summer, but has suffered a slide as of late as the campaign enters a frenetic final period.

“I can’t think of anyone more anathema to the seat of Sioux county, but a packed house there suggests there’s broad appeal, for whatever reason,” Best said.

Buttigieg meets with members of the audience following an election rally in Sioux City, Iowa, on Thursday. Photograph: Nati Harnik/AP

Some Democrats believe that Trump’s behavior in office and scandal-plagued personal and political life may be hurting him even in this Republican stronghold and opening an unlikely door to candidates like Buttigieg – who himself confesses a deep religious faith.

“Look at it this way: the red wall has begun to crack,” said the former state senator David Johnson, who used to represent the area. Johnson left the Republican party and declared himself an independent after it declared Trump its nominee.

“Think about it: there were over 200 people in Orange City to see Pete Buttigieg and there aren’t even 2,000 registered Democrats in that county. That means there are independents and Republicans in that crowd,” Price said.

Corrie Hayes, a 21-year-old senior at Northwestern College, said she was impressed particularly with his response to a question about abortion rights, when he said that in the Book of Genesis, life begins with breath. She wouldn’t get into her positions on policy – she said she was deeply religious and her faith guided her every day – but she said she could tell Buttigieg was sincere about his faith.

Hayes feels it isn’t fair to question whether Buttigieg is “electable” simply because he’s gay.

“People [in Orange City] love each other regardless of who you are,” she said. “And that’s the reason I like Pete. He feels the same way.”