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Wacky Websites & Silly Stunts: Struggling 2020 Democratic Candidates Get Desperate

By Hanna.Trudo@thedailybeast.com (Hanna Trudo)
Photo Illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

Steve Bullock went straight-up troll with his latest fundraising pitch: purchasing the site “Is Greenland For Sale” dot com. 

“Donald Trump thinks he can buy Greenland. It's just absurd! And we have WAY bigger problems to solve,” reads the website, which re-directs to the Montana governor’s ActBlue fundraising page. “Donate to help Steve Bullock kick Donald Trump out of office.” 

Sen. Michael Bennett (D-CO), who scored just 1 percent in a new Emerson Poll in Colorado this week, announced he would send a copy of his self-published book to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for every person who chips in a buck to his presidential campaign. 

“The propaganda Russia drove into our social media is graphic and unsettling.@SenateMajLdr McConnell needs to see these disturbing images,” Bennett tweeted. “Send him a copy at http://RussiaHackedOurDemocracy.com  and demand he act now to protect our elections.”

Welcome to the desperation phase of the presidential primary, when the lower tier of Democratic candidates will do just about anything to score whatever metric they still need to get on the September debate stage and avoid truly toiling in obscurity.  

Candidates like Bullock and Bennett, who have not reached the Democratic National Committee’s debate threshold of 130,000 unique donors and at least 2 percent in four eligible polls, got a double dose of campaign mortality this week as former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee dropped out within days of each other, opting instead for down-ballot bids after failed attempts at the White House. 

After months of unsuccessfully antagonizing progressives, Hickenlooper said he’d run for the Senate in Colorado, while Inslee, who announced his campaign is over to pursue a third term as governor, failed to make the cut for an upcoming climate-only debate, after leading the charge for such an event to take place. 

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has also caught primary’s latest strain of freak-out frenzy, pushing video calls with the senator to chat about issues (or dish about celebs!) for a dollar. 

“If you donate to our campaign today, you might just receive a FaceTime call from me! We can talk about the issues you care about most, or even just share our favorite Lizzo songs,” she posted on Twitter on Wednesday. “Chip in and enter here.”

Gillibrand’s newest fundraising push comes after some negative publicity from the national media. After saying there’s a “path for redemption” for former Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and political pundit Mark Halperin, who were both credibly accused of sexual misconduct, she faced additional questions about her comments, which came just one day after she hosted a reproductive rights town hall in St. Louis. On Tuesday, Gillibrand explained her rationale on Franken in more detail to The New York Times’ “The Daily” podcast.

Meanwhile, in the lower chamber of Congress, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) sought to distract followers from the daily chaos of the campaign trail altogether. “It’s Sunday. Let’s put politics aside,” Ryan recently tweeted. “What are you all eating tonight?” The next day, he followed up: “You gotta cut the campaign calories somehow,” he added in a new tweet with a video of him walking on a treadmill desk, accompanied by the hashtag #dietstartstomorrow. 

Away from Washington, spiritual guru Marianne Williamson, who appeared in the first two debates in Miami and Detroit, is unlikely to qualify in September. So she tried a new tactic proposing an entirely new cabinet department, modeled after her mystical candidacy. 

Williamson unveiled her plan for a “United States Department of Peace” on Monday, adorned with a pink dove logo and “Peace Academy” that would focus on “restorative and healing oriented approaches.”

“In short, we must wage peace,” Williamson, who announced that she crossed the unique donor mark on Tuesday morning but has not met the polling requirement, wrote. The same day, she tweeted praise for an “Artists Corps” proposed by a Nashville-based pianist

In the early stages of the primary, several cable news outlets invited presidential contenders to participate in one-on-one town hall forums. But the events, held months ago, were largely panned as nightmares for ratings, except for showings from more prominent candidates like Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Now, they are considered mere memories in the rapid-fire rhythm of the primary.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will nonetheless have a chance to make his case to American television viewers on Aug. 25, along with Bullock, who was also guaranteed a CNN town hall slot. But the segments come just three days before the deadline to compete in the debate, effectively negating the possibility of any theoretical boost in the polls.  

Still, not all attention-grabbing efforts are self-made. The progressive mayor, used to being the butt of the New York press corps’ jokes, was unable to get to Iowa for a labor forum and dialed in by video. But his plans took an unfortunate turn when a technical difficulty altered his voice, creating a comedically high octave. 

“If a high-pitched voice is what it takes to spread a message about putting working people first, pass the mic and I’ll try my best chipmunk impression while talking about how we achieved universal pre-K, a $15 minimum wage and a #GreenNewDeal for New York City,” he tweeted, punctuated by an emoji crying out of laughter.

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