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Biden's lead has been stable, but there's still lots of uncertainty about the vote

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Joe Biden
Democratic U.S. presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden takes part in an outdoor town hall meeting in Scranton, Pa., on Sept. 17, 2020.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

WASHINGTON — Another day, another round of strong polls for Joe Biden and the Democrats.

Biden and Senate Democratic candidates are ahead in Arizona, Maine and North Carolina, according to a trio of New York Times/Siena polls, though Biden is up by just a single point in the toss up state of North Carolina.

Biden’s even up by 2 points in Maine's Second District, which awards one electoral vote.

But for as stable as Biden’s lead has been, it’s worth emphasizing the uncertainties of conducting a presidential election during a pandemic.

For example, with more Democrats expressing interest to vote by mail than Republicans, FiveThirtyEight reports that ballots already turned in by North Carolina Black voters are being rejected at a higher rate (4.7 percent) than white voters’ ballots (1.1 percent) — likely due to mistakes in filling out the ballot.

Now we’re talking about just a sliver of votes so far (some 70,000), and North Carolina allows voters to fix their ballots. But this could be a problem for Democrats, especially if the race in the Tar Heel State is close.

Similarly, the Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman says that while Democrats were mostly victorious in the Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court ruling Thursday on its voting procedures, there were two big exceptions.

One, the court ruled that ballots that are not submitted in outer envelopes won’t be counted. And two, it said election boards don’t have to notify voters if they made a mistake.

That could be a problem for Democrats, Wasserman argues, if they’re the ones sending in more mail-in ballots and if these voters don’t have experience when it comes to voting by mail.

Meanwhile, in Florida, Politico reports this morning that more than 35,000 ballots in the state’s August primary were rejected for a variety of reasons, which could end up mattering in November given how close Florida elections always are.

Add them all up, and you see why the polls could very well be spot-on about where the Biden-vs.-Trump race stands, and why they could end up looking wrong on (or after) Election Day.

For a race that’s been incredibly stable, maybe the biggest uncertainty of all is how the votes get counted.

Dueling Biden-Trump events in battleground states

President Trump and Joe Biden held dueling events in battlegrounds on Thursday evening, and their remarks on how to hold events could not be more different. Here was President Trump on Biden’s town hall in Pennsylvania:

“They've got cars, like car that are parking. It's the weirdest thing I've ever seen. And CNN is going 'Oh this is so beautiful. They have cars in a parking lot.' What a deal.”

And here was Biden on Trump’s:

“The president continues to think that masks don't matter very much, although he says it, and has these large gatherings with everybody around with no masks on. And it's extremely dangerous. And so there's a lot of people, a lot of people hurt.”

According to NBC’s Josh Lederman, nearly everyone at Trump’s Wisconsin rally was not wearing a mask, or adhering to social distancing guidelines. The Trump campaign did hand out masks at the entrance to the event, but did not require attendees to wear them.

Also, one striking message that Biden delivered in his town hall was portraying Trump as the candidate of “Park Avenue.”

“I really do view this campaign as a campaign between Scranton and Park Avenue,” he said.

More Biden: “Grow up here in Scranton — we're used to guys who look down their nose at us, or look to people who look at us and think that we're suckers. ... If you didn't have a college degree, you must be stupid, if, in fact, you didn't get to go to an Ivy school.”

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

6,707,888: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 44,424 more than yesterday morning.)

198,886: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 839 more than yesterday morning.)

91.55 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

2020 Vision: When Dems wet the bed, Team Biden races to replace the sheets

Four years ago, Hillary Clinton’s campaign mostly ignored warnings from the Democratic chattering class, as well as TV pundits.

A problem brewing in Wisconsin? Situation under control, the campaign said and acted. Trouble in Michigan? No travel there until the very end.

Four years later, the Biden camp is running almost the anti-Hillary campaign when it comes to Washington bed-wetters: You spot a problem — whether it’s perceived or very real — and the campaign will run to fix it.

“Joe needs to go to Kenosha.” Well, he went to Kenosha. “Joe has a Latino problem in Florida.” Biden headed to Florida. “And is anyone else worried about Minnesota?” Well, Biden today campaigns in Minnesota, despite the public polls showing him ahead there in the high single or even double digits.

Dem strategists looking at the polling data say that while worries about Minnesota are way overblown, Biden has plenty of work to do with Florida Latinos if he wants to win the Sunshine State.

But with a scaled-back travel schedule and all the money Team Biden is now raising, whenever a Dem or pundit wets the bed, they can afford to replace the sheets.

On the campaign trail today

President Trump speaks in Bemidji, Minn., at 7:00 p.m. ET. Joe Biden also stumps in Minnesota, hitting the Duluth area. Vice President Pence travels to Arizona.

Ad Watch from Ben Kamisar

Today’s Ad Watch takes a look at the shifting Senate map, as both parties are making new, seven-figure investments in states that aren’t typically on the battleground.

NBC News has learned that Senate Leadership Fund (the super PAC backing Senate GOP candidates) is making its first ad investment in Alaska — $1.6 million on TV, radio and digital, an 18-day campaign that starts Wednesday as GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan looks to win another term.

There’s been a recent influx of money there aimed at boosting independent Al Gross (who is backed by the Democrats), so the SLF investment will help to narrow that gap. In a statement to NBC, SLF President Steven Law sought to frame Gross as an independent-in-name-only, a dynamic we told you about yesterday.

On the other side of the aisle, the DSCC announced it’ll spend “seven-figures” in South Carolina to boost Democrat Jaime Harrison in his bid against Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, money it says it’ll use on TV ads but also on field organizing, polling, data and more.

The Lid: You’re only young once

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we broke down all the finding from our NBC/Quibi analysis of younger voters.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The president says he’s issuing an executive order soon that will direct funding for “patriotic education” in schools.

Some Mississippi voters are frustrated with the state’s vote-by-mail rules.

A former Pence Covid taskforce aide says she’s voting for Biden.

FBI Director Christopher Wray warned in congressional testimony about Russian election interference and white nationalism.

Lev Parnas faces new fraud charges.

Eric Trump wants to delay his deposition in the NY attorney general’s investigation of the Trump Organization until after the election.

The president wants to honor Caesar Rodney in a “garden” of American heroes. If you said “who?” — you’re not alone.

The Pennsylvania State Supreme Court has struck the Green Party ticket from the presidential ballot.