GOP has higher turnout in North Dakota’s Senate primaries

While reading the primary turnout tea leaves isn’t predictive of the general election outcome in November, Republicans are giddy about their higher turnout in last night’s Senate primaries in North Dakota.

Nearly 70,000 people cast votes in the Republican primary, and almost 61,000 went for nominee Kevin Cramer.

That’s compared with 37,000 voters on the Democratic side, nearly all for Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.

Of course, North Dakota is a heavily leaning GOP state — Trump won it by 36 points in 2016, 63 percent to 27 percent.

But the turnout in November will be much higher than the 100,000-plus who participated in last night’s primaries. In 2012, a presidential year, more than 300,000 North Dakotans cast ballots. And Heitkamp won the race, 50 percent to 49 percent.

New Biden super PAC ad highlights Democrat's coronavirus plan

WASHINGTON — The super PAC supporting Joe Biden is returning to the national airwaves with a new television ad, this time focusing on the Democrat’s plan for tackling the coronavirus outbreak.

The 30-second spot from Unite The Country pivots from the group’s other recent paid messaging, which faults President Trump for how he has handled the pandemic.

Instead, the ad asks what Biden would do differently, before laying out elements of his previously announced plan, including ensuring all states had at least 10 mobile testing sites, greater availability of safety care, free vaccines, and an extended Obamacare enrollment period – something the Trump administration recently ruled out.

The new ad will begin airing early this week on cable airwaves nationally as part of a six-figure buy, a spokesperson for Unite the Country told NBC News. 

That new investment is in addition to the previous, seven-figure campaign behind the earlier ad, which made the point: "Crisis comes to every president. This one failed.”

The Biden campaign itself has been largely off the airwaves during the pandemic. Ahead of today’s Wisconsin primary, the campaign focused on text and phone outreach to voters there.

Last week, the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action, announced it will spend $10 million on ads criticizing Biden in swing states.

Wisconsin voters and poll workers head to polls in protective gear

WASHINGTON — After a dramatic battle over whether to even hold its primary on Tuesday in light of the coronavirus pandemic, Wisconsin voters are in fact heading to the polls

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers had attempted to block in-person voting with a last-minute executive order, but on Monday night, courts stepped in to overturn that order.

With public health officials warning against non-discretionary travel and suggesting Americans wear face-coverings while venturing outdoors, Ryan Jenkins from TMJ4, NBC’s Milwaukee affiliate, spotted poll workers and voters donning masks and other protective equipment. 

Be sure to check out today’s First Read for more on how we got here, and for what this could portend for elections to come, particularly the general election.

John Lewis endorses Biden for president

WASHINGTON — Rep. John Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement, endorsed Joe Biden for president Tuesday, saying the former vice president will inspire another generation "to speak up, to speak out, to be brave, to be bold."

"It is my belief that we need Joe Biden now more than ever before," Lewis, D-Ga., told reporters. "He will be a great president. He will lead our country to a better place. He will inspire another generation to stand up, to speak up and to speak out. Be brave, to be bold. That's why I'm committed to supporting him."

In an interview with NBC News' Craig Melvin airing later this morning on "Today," Biden calls Lewis "one of my heroes," praising his courage and sacrifice in the fight for civil rights, especially as part of the Bloody Sunday march in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. 

Biden said: "The fact that he would endorse me is just — it makes me even more certain that I should be doing what I'm doing. I'm a great, great admirer of John Lewis. He's a man of enormous integrity."  

Georgia has delayed its primary until May 19 because of the coronavirus outbreak. Although he was diagnosed December with Stage IV pancreatic cancer, Lewis said he was committed to traveling across the country to rally support for Biden.

"We need his voice. We need his leadership, now more than ever before. We need someone who will get our country on the right side of history and help save our  planet," he said

As vice president, Biden joined Lewis in 2013 in celebrating the 48th anniversary of the Selma voting rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. He also paid tribute to Lewis at a separate commemoration of the march in Selma this year.

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill about voting rights on Dec. 6, 2019.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images

Lewis' backing comes as Biden has a commanding delegate lead over his only remaining challenger for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, but with many states — including Lewis' home state, Georgia — having delayed their primaries. Still, it underscores what has been Biden's greatest asset in arriving at this position — the overwhelming support of African American voters.

Asked whether Biden should pick a woman of color as his running mate in light of that support he's enjoyed, Lewis said it "would be good to have a woman," as Biden has already pledged to choose.

"We have plenty of able women — some are black, white, Latino, Asian American, Native America," he said. "I think the time has long passed for making the White House look like the whole of America."

Behind the scenes of Sunday's unexpected White House coronavirus briefing

WASHINGTON — Sunday was supposed to be a quiet day at the White House, with no briefing scheduled and a decision from senior aides to call a “lid” before noon, indicating there was no expectation of seeing President Trump for the rest of the day. 

The president's top health officials and secretary of defense appeared on the morning shows, warning of a brutal week ahead, conceding the administration was “struggling” to get the pandemic under control, and predicting the coming days could be “the hardest moment for many Americans in their entire lives.”

President Donald Trump during the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on April 5, 2020.Joshua Roberts / Reuters

Given that it was Palm Sunday, the coronavirus task force was slated to meet remotely in the early evening via teleconference, led by Vice President Mike Pence from his residence. 

But President Trump was not satisfied with that plan, according to a source close to the task force, and didn’t want the “dour” messages from the surgeon general and Dr. Anthony Fauci to be the only public-facing moments of the day. He felt it was important to have a presser to stress “glimmers of hope,” according to this person.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams gave a dire projection on Meet the Press hours earlier, saying that this week “is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, it's going to be our 9/11 moment.”

Two officials close to the task force told NBC News that prior to Sunday they had not heard Adams refer to this week as the next Pearl Harbor and 9/11, and thought the language was a bit strong.

Trump therefore decided to convene the group in person in the Situation Room on Sunday and then floated the possibility of an evening press conference on Twitter, which even caught several aides off-guard.

“It came as a surprise,” a senior administration official admitted.

Reporters were ultimately called back to the White House and a lengthy, 83-minute briefing followed. Senior staffers have repeatedly argued a consistent presence from the president is as critical as ever.

“It is important during this unprecedented crisis to hear from the president and these briefings are one of the methods he has chosen to communicate directly to the American people,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told NBC News in a statement.

On Sunday afternoon, members of the task force eventually made their way to the West Wing, marking the second weekend in a row where they were asked to come to an in-person meeting after conference  calls had already been scheduled and publicly announced.

The other instance was when Trump haphazardly floated a quarantine for the tri-state area last weekend and the abrupt nature and frenzied response caused the vice president and others to scramble to the Situation Room for an evening meeting. Hours later, the potential quarantine was walked back and scrapped entirely.  

DNC reserves $22 million in YouTube ads for general election

WASHINGTON — The Democratic National Committee announced on Monday that it will reserve $22 million in YouTube ads ahead of the general election as the party looks to fight President Trump's fundraising and online campaign behemoth. 

The ads will start in September in Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and then in October in Arizona, Colorado,  Georgia, Minnesota, Maine, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia. 

While the party hasn't announced the content of the ads yet, it said in a release announcing the effort that the strategy is aimed at boosting turnout for the party's presidential nominee as well as the entire Democratic ticket.

Campaigns and political groups typically get better rates for ads when they make earlier investments. 

“Now more than ever, it’s critical that we reach voters where they are online — and this digital program will help us mobilize the voters we need to make Donald Trump a one-term president,” DNC Chair Tom Perez said in a statement.

“By making these kinds of historic, early investments in our battlegrounds and campaign infrastructure, the DNC is putting our eventual nominee and Democrats running at every level of the ballot in the strongest possible position to secure victory in November.” 

Patrick Stevenson, the party's chief mobilization officer, added in a statement that the party had been already planning an "aggressive general election online strategy" before the coronavirus pandemic upended American life, and the campaign trail. 

"The pandemic has only reinforced the importance of communicating with voters across a wide range of online channels and utilizing a variety of innovative, data-driven digital tactics," Stevenson said.

"That's the approach we’re taking, and these ads will be another important tool that will help our eventual nominee and Democrats running at every level win in November.”

While the new DNC ads will hardly be the only digital ad spending from Democratic groups this cycle — other outside groups have already begun announcing commitments of their own — the party says it's working to reserve more ads across "several other platforms." 

But as the eventual nominee stands to help the party significantly up its digital investments, Democrats will face a robust digital operation on the Republican side, one that's spent heavily on digital platforms in the hopes of re-electing Trump. 

The Trump campaign alone has spent more than $48 million on Facebook and Google since the start of 2019, according to a digital tracker by the Democratic communications firm Bully Pulpit Interactive, with more coming from the Republican National Committee and other allied groups. 

Much of that online spending has gone to ads encouraging supporters to sign up and donate to the Trump campaign. 

Wisconsin primary confusion leaves Biden campaign scrambling to mobilize voters

WASHINGTON — As Wisconsin chaotically moves ahead with its presidential primary on Tuesday, Joe Biden’s campaign is scrambling to figure out the best ways to target and mobilize voters amid a major pandemic that has fully upended the 2020 presidential contest.

Wisconsin, which has been under a stay at home order since March 25 to combat the coronavirus crisis, had been scheduled to hold its primary over the objections of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who unsuccessfully pressed the Republican-led legislature to halt in-person voting, and others who are warning it's too dangerous to hold an election with the pandemic raging.

But it's unclear what that primary will look like after Evers' last-minute decision Monday afternoon to issue an executive order suspending in-person voting and moving it to June 9. 

Joe Biden speaks at Tougaloo College in Miss., on March 8, 2020.Rogelio V. Solis / AP file

While Sanders bested Democrat Hillary Clinton by 13 points in Wisconsin's 2016 primary, polling shows Biden well ahead of Sanders this time, but given the unusual circumstances of this contest, no outcome is assured. And Wisconsin is a key general election battleground that Trump narrowly carried in 2016. So Biden’s team, which has been following work from home guidelines set by the campaign in early March, has been forced to campaign in earnest.

Biden has not visited Wisconsin during the primary season and the campaign has done no television advertising there. Outside of billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who carpet-bombed the airwaves during his brief bid, no candidate has spent significant money on the Wisconsin airwaves this presidential cycle. The former Vice President's campaign spent about $600 to run a new digital ad featuring Biden asking Americans to help protect COVID-19 frontline workers that Wisconsinites saw over four days last week on Facebook and Instagram. 

Most of the campaign efforts have been spent on direct voter contact, advisers say. 

Organizers have retired their door-knocking clipboards, turning their attention full-time to reaching voters on the Team Joe app and Pencil, a voter-database texting app that allows them to text persuadable voters and have ongoing conversations with them. The Biden campaign says that they have sent 3.1 million initial text messages from their texting platform since the March 17 primaries to voters living in key states like Wisconsin. 

But instead of solely focusing on selling their candidate, campaign staffers say they are consoling Wisconsin supporters and key constituencies amid the distress caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Besides restructuring their direct voter contacts, staffers are being trained on how best to engage and inform voters about the virus in an effort to not just win over their support, but also solidify their trust in the candidate in a key battleground state as they eye the general election against President Donald Trump.

“We’re calling supporters and would-be volunteers to ask them how they’re doing, how they’re staying safe,” Molly Ritner, the campaign’s states director, said in an interview with NBC News. “Sometimes we’re the only ones interacting with these people on a daily basis.”

The Biden campaign is banking on their “aggressive” shift to a phone-calling and texting approach to put them over the edge in Wisconsin, the first real test for them to mobilize voters at a time when they are being told to stay at home. Achieving success and turnout in the Badger state could lay a rough template for how the campaign approaches future contests next month, most of which have become vote-by-mail primaries. 

Concerned about the potential public health dangers of in-person voting on Tuesday, the campaign has prioritized getting as many supporters as possible to sign up for absentee ballots instead. 

“The health and safety of our staff, supporters, and the general public is Biden for President’s number one priority. We encourage voters to take advantage of absentee ballots,” Biden said at the end of a recent statement announcing his endorsement of Jill Karofsky in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court race.

So far only 1.2 million Wisconsinites have requested an absentee ballot according to the Wisconsin Election Commission, a much lower number than the 2.1 million who voted in the 2016 primaries.

A group with C.O.V.I.D., Citizens Outraged Voters in Danger, including, from left, Ron Rosenberry Chase and Jim O'Donnell, protest while wearing masks outside the State Capitol during a special session regarding the spring election in Madison, Wis., Saturday, April 4, 2020.Amber Arnold / AP

Ahead of Tuesday’s contest, the Biden campaign has also relied on endorsers in and outside the state to tap into key constituencies in congressional districts they are targeting. Last week, they tasked a campaign co-chair, Louisiana Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond, to lead a call with faith leaders and urge them to inform their congregants to sign up for absentee ballots and vote safely.

The forced pivot to digital has moved them away from traditional campaigning strategies like airing TV ads in Wisconsin, instead prioritizing having Biden appear regularly on national TV and participating in virtual events that a broader swath of voters can view live or after it airs. The campaign targeted young Wisconsin voters on social media to attend Biden’s young adult happy hour last week viewable from the campaign’s livestream page.

“Virtual events don’t have physical borders like a state does, so we’ve been able to target events broadly to Wisconsin voters to have them participate,” campaign states director, Molly Ritner, said.

Pete Buttigieg launches PAC aimed at electing young leaders

HOUSTON, TX — Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who dropped out of the presidential race just over a month ago, is launching "Win the Era," a political action committee aimed at electing a new generation of leaders.

The PAC, named after a common refrain Buttigieg used while on the campaign trail, will represent a continuation of his work to support generational change candidates running in down-ballot races.

Pete Buttigieg appears on "TODAY" on March 9, 2020.Nathan Congleton / NBC News

“The work of electing a forward-thinking generation of Democratic candidates never ends,” Buttigieg senior advisor Lis Smith said in a statement. “Pete will do his part by building and leading the Win the Era PAC as we get closer to the November election."

In an email to supporters, Buttigieg leans into a sense of urgency related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the need for strong state and local leadership.

“Our nation and world are in a period of upheaval right now, which will make it more important than ever to support and elect good leaders this November and into the future,” Buttigieg writes. He later adds, “In the past few weeks especially, we’ve seen the importance of our institutions and the reality that local and state leadership is extremely important.”

Per the email, the PAC will be rolling out endorsements focused on candidates who represent “a successor generation of leadership,” and Democrats who are competing in conservative places highlighting “areas with emerging diversity in the electorate not yet reflected in leadership,” among other attributes.

Buttigieg, known for being a fundraising powerhouse throughout his presidential bid, hopes to create that same energy around his latest project.

The Buttigieg campaign will refund general election donations made to his campaign, as required by law. Buttigieg ended up with about $3 million in money earmarked for the general election, an NBC News analysis of Federal Election Commission data shows. He is urging his donors to instead put that money toward his newly formed PAC with an option to donate up to $5,000 via the PAC's website.

In addition, to asking his supporters for donations, Buttigieg is also urging them to send along information on lesser-known candidates who the PAC should consider supporting.

Biden leads Trump in new national poll

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump in the latest Grinnell College national poll. The poll of likely voters, released Wednesday, shows Biden garnering 47 percent support to Trump's 43 percent support.

The poll also measured a hypothetical head-to-head contest between Trump and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Trump leads Sanders, 44 percent to 43 percent, well within the poll's 3.5-point margin of error for likely voters.

And while the poll shows a close race between either potential Democratic nominee and Trump, support among self-proclaimed Trump supporters is stronger than support for either Sanders and Biden supporters.

Of those who identify as Biden supporters in a head-to-head match-up with Trump, just 55 percent said their "mind is made up" on supporting Biden. Forty-three percent of them said they could be persuaded to support a different candidate.

Joe Biden delivers remarks at his primary night election event in Columbia, S.C., on Feb. 29, 2020.Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images file

The same story seems to be true of Sanders supporters. Of likely voters who identify as supporters of Sanders, 50 percent said they're steadfast in their decision — and 44 percent of them could be persuaded otherwise. The president, meanwhile, continues to see strength in his base.

Eighty-two percent of self-identified Trump supporters say their mind is made up on who they'll support in the general election, with just 17 percent saying they could be persuaded to vote for someone else. 

The Grinnell College poll was taken between March 27 and March 30 as concern about the coronavirus pandemic rose and as new guidelines for social distancing were put in place. But as unemployment rates rise due to the pandemic, Americans are split on if they think the economy is in a better or worse place than when President Trump took office. Forty-three percent of Americans said the economy is better than at the beginning of 2017, while 42 percent said it is worse. 

Trump campaign demands Sessions stop tying his Senate campaign to the president

WASHINGTON – President Trump’s re-election campaign sent a scathing letter to former Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week, calling him “delusional” for tying himself to the president in his current Senate campaign and demanding it stop circulating any mailers that imply Trump supports his bid. 

The Trump campaign specifically called out Sessions’ team for an advertisement that mentioned the president by name 22 times and “even makes the delusional assertion that you are President ‘Trump’s #1 Supporter.’”

“We only assume your campaign is doing this to confuse President Trump’s loyal supporters in Alabama into believing the President supports your candidacy in the upcoming primary run-off election. Nothing could be further from the truth,” wrote Trump campaign chief operating officer Michael Glassner in a letter obtained by NBC News. 

The New York Times first reported on the letter. 

Trump endorsed former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, Sessions’ primary opponent, last month after the two men advanced to a runoff. Aides close to the president had tried to get him to hold off on slamming Sessions until after the primary, which Trump did, until the morning after.

The president famously told "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd that the single “biggest mistake” of his administration was appointing Sessions as attorney general and wishes he would have made that decision differently. 

Sessions, for his part, has repeatedly complimented Trump in this race, tweeting adoring videos and reminding voters that he was the first senate backer of then-candidate Trump back in 2016.

 The Trump campaign letter to Sessions includes text from the president’s tweets in mid-March endorsing Tuberville, with bolded emphasis added to underscore the point.

 “We want to be absolutely clear about it: President Trump and the Trump Campaign unambiguously endorse Tommy Tuberville,” the letter included, with a stark warning at the end. “We demand that you and your campaign immediately stop circulating mailers—or any other similar communication—that wrongly suggest otherwise.”

Session’s team did not immediately respond to NBC News' request for comment, but spokeswoman Gail Glitcho told the New York Times that "Alabamans don't like to be told what to do," pointing to the 2017 Alabama special election where Trump's preferred candidates lost the GOP primary and the general election. She went onto argue that Sessions is "indeed one of the strongest supporters of President Trump and his agenda." 

The Alabama Senate race has now been postponed until July 14 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tweet the Press talks with NBC News medical correspondent Dr. John Torres

WASHINGTON — In case you missed today's Tweet the Press, we spoke with NBC News medical correspondent Dr. John Torres about the latest on coronavirus. 

The wide-ranging discussion touched on what to expect across the country, how the virus is affecting young people, whether Americans should wear masks and what to expect about the treatments being explored. 

Click on the link here to read the full conversation on Twitter

With Biden or Sanders at the top of the ticket, Democrats look down-ballot for diversity

WASHINGTON — With the party's presidential race having been whittled down from a historically diverse field to two white men, Democrats are pointing to at least one bright spot when it comes to diversity among their candidates in 2020: state legislative elections.

According to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), which aims to elect Democratic state legislators nationwide, there are over twice as many Democratic women serving as state delegates or senators compared to their Republican counterparts — 1,455 versus 670 respectively. And in some key battleground states, the party has recruited more diverse candidates considering race and sexual identity than the GOP.

Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn shakes hands with Gov. Ralph Northam before his State of the Commonwealth address at the Virginia State Capitol on Jan. 8, 2020 in Richmond, Va.Zach Gibson / Getty Images file

DLCC president, Jessica Post, told NBC News in a recent phone interview that diversity matters because it energizes the Democratic base and leads to victories.

“Diversity is our winning strategy,” she said. “We’ve recruited great communities thinking about the voices that need to be represented.”

The efforts to attract a diverse field of candidates is especially crucial in states where election outcomes will affect congressional redistricting. For example, the DLCC reports that Democrats are running eight LGBTQ+ candidates for the Texas state House versus none for Republicans. There are 20 Democratic candidates of color seeking seats in the North Carolina state Senate compared to Republicans’ six. For the state House there, 40 Democratic minority candidates are running against the GOP’s single candidate of color.

The Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) — the DLCC’s counterpart — did not respond to NBC News’ request to confirm these numbers but answered several other questions last week, saying they are supporting candidates of various backgrounds in pivotal states.

The RSLC reports that over fifty Republican women are running for Pennsylvania's state legislature while in Florida, there are about 30 GOP minority candidates. In Georgia, almost 40 Republican women along with four Asian-American and two African-American candidates are seeking state seats, according to the GOP committee. 

RSLC communications director, Stami Williams, said these examples reflect the GOP’s “great success” in recruiting diverse candidates and noted that Democrats flipped less than half the amount of legislative seats during Trump’s first three years than Republicans did in the same period under President Obama. 

The DLCC's Post argues that the GOP views legislative diversity as a mere “add-on” to their agenda, saying that the party has “fallen down on the job.”

Yet despite growing diversity down-ballot, Democrats face criticism for lacking diversity at the party’s upper echelons after the most minority and female-heavy field narrowed down to two older, heterosexual, white men — former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

For Post, the boost in state-level Democratic diversity isn’t purely a reaction to the party’s dilemma at the top. She believes that Trump and his party have been “repellent to women and people of color,” and have motivated diverse candidates to run for state office.

The DLCC president said that she’s encouraged by Biden’s commitment to choose a female running mate. 

Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang arrive onstage for the fifth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia on November 20, 2019. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP - Getty Images

“We would’ve loved to see many of these diverse candidates stay longer in the presidential field,” Post stated. “I do think it’s notable that we have a direct way to point to our state legislative pipeline of diversity right now with Stacey Abrams [former Georgia state minority leader] potentially being a vice presidential nominee.” 

Director of the Center for American Women and Politics, Debbie Walsh, told NBC News last week that an “almost primal” desperation to beat Trump this election drove Democratic primary voters to make a “calculated choice” to back candidates they deemed electable — not personally preferable.

These voters, Walsh emphasized, assumed that nontraditional presidential candidates couldn’t defeat Trump. She pointed to the spike in down-ticket diversity as evidence that less conventional candidates can win. 

State legislative primaries began in March and will continue through September. The results of the November general elections will significantly impact the 2021 congressional redistricting cycle.