The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Trump's coronavirus approval rating underwater in key states, surveys find
WASHINGTON — New surveys out Thursday show President Donald Trump’s approval rating for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic is underwater among voters in four critical states this election while state governors receive high marks for their responses to the virus. By and large, these key voters also oppose protests against stay-at-home orders and efforts to relax social distancing measures.
The polling, conducted by the progressive firm, Public Policy Polling, on behalf of Protect Our Care — a left-of-center health care advocacy group — finds that 45 percent of voters in Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin approve of Trump’s management of the crisis while 50 percent disapprove on average. The governors of those states, in contrast, receive a net approval rating for their handling of the pandemic that’s 32 percentage points higher than the president’s with 58 percent approving and 31 percent disapproving.
Asked about who they trust more in general, governors on average held about a 20 point advantage over Trump among those surveyed in the swing states — 57 percent versus 36 percent. Governors also beat Trump by an approximate two-to-one margin with respect to who these key voters trust to reopen their state economies. 61 percent of those surveyed say they trust their state’s executive to take charge compared with 33 percent who place their faith in the president.
And despite the fact that several battleground states have recently been home to protests urging the immediate reopening of the country, the surveys show that an average of 67 percent of participants hold a negative view of these protests. A majority also believes that social distancing practices must remain in place.
Less than one-fifth — 19 percent — of participants on average say social distancing measures should be relaxed. A majority — 54 percent — report that the policies in place are sufficient while just 26 percent say more aggressive efforts should be instituted.
Notably, a state by state breakdown reveals that over half of Michiganders — 57 percent — believe that their state is currently doing the right thing when it comes to social distancing. The governor there, Gretchen Whitmer, has come under fire for instituting particularly strict practices yet out of all states polled, Michigan voters approve of their state’s measures at the highest rate.
The president’s supporters in the crucial states also favor the status quo or more aggressive efforts amid the coronavirus on average. Nearly two-thirds of Trump voters approve of the current or an even stricter social distancing approach versus 34 percent who say that it should be eased.
With respect to concerns about health and the economy, an average of 56 percent of voters report that they’re more concerned about getting the virus or someone in their family getting sick than the economic impact of the pandemic. 20 points behind, 36 percent of those surveyed worry more about the personal financial fallout.
Trump won Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin in 2016 but now appears to be behind the apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden in all four states according to the surveys’ findings, although Biden’s lead is within the margin of error in two states. In Michigan and North Carolina, Biden holds a seven point lead over the president — both 51 percent versus 44 percent. In North Carolina and Wisconsin, Biden is up by 3 points and 5 points respectively, within the margin of error.
The results of the latest surveys are similar to those of other recent polling, which found Trump’s approval rate for handling the coronavirus trailing behind governors in Michigan and Pennsylvania. Other surveys also show Biden winning head-to-heads with the president in those states.
Public Policy Polling conducted half of the polling for Protect Our Care by calls to landlines and the other half via texts to cell phones in the battleground states April 20-21 or just April 20. The average margin of error for the surveys in every state is plus-minus 2.7 percent.
Trump campaign releases new mobile app, tooled for virtual volunteering
WASHINGTON — After teasing it for seven months, President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign finally launched a new phone application to rally supporters on Thursday that has been re-imagined for the virtual political age.
The digital tool was originally pitched as a key way to organize before the coronavirus pandemic brought a traditional presidential race to a halt. Now, it allows volunteers to work remotely and “earn points” for signed memorabilia and special treatment at future events when they return.
Campaign manager Brad Parscale, the architect behind the mobile app, suggested that the new online portal will allow Trump supporters to “get the facts straight” from the president and called it “groundbreaking" contrary to "other lame political apps you’ve seen.”
The “Trump 2020” app also pushes users to check out the online broadcasts the campaign is holding nightly after each White House coronavirus task force briefing. The short, 30-minute virtual shows have attracted millions of views, per senior officials.
Once a supporter logs in, a screen reads: “As a reward for helping us fight against socialist Democrats you can earn items like Expedited Entry and special event access, even a picture with President Trump!”
Under “rewards,” it costs 100,000 points to get a picture with the president and 28,000 points for “expedited entry to skip the line” at a Trump campaign gathering. Netting 5,000 points will earn fans a $25 store discount. Supporters can get 100 points for sharing the app and they can add to their total by sharing stories to Twitter and Facebook.
It’s unclear exactly when the Trump campaign will return to the trail this year with large events but discussions are underway for rallies to begin again later this summer and fall ahead of November’s election.
In the “events” section of the app, all gatherings are currently listed as phone calls or livestreams.
Throughout the health crisis, the re-elect effort has touted its ability to convert a conventional campaign into a virtual one. This app, the campaign says, will help give supporters another opportunity to get involved and help reach new voters who support the president’s agenda.
The app includes a “news” section that features the latest campaign statements, as well as curated attacks on former vice president and apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden. There are also dozens of videos from the campaign’s rapid response team embedded throughout.
One congressional race, three very different ways to advertise on coronavirus
WASHINGTON — Today's First Read Ad Watch heads to northwest Georgia for the battle to replace retiring GOP Rep. Tom Graves, where there are some very different ways that candidates are messaging on coronavirus.
In Clayton Fuller’s recent spot in the deep-red district, he begins by talking about how he was called up by the Air National Guard for coronavirus response, before pivoting to his work as a prosecutor who will stand with President Trump.
In another advertisement, neurosurgeon John Cowan blasts “weak Republicans” like Mitt Romney and “deranged Democrats” like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nancy Pelosi before shooting a prop with a sign with “COVID-19” written on it.
And in a third spot, Marjorie Taylor Greene calls fines for violating social distancing orders “a dose of Chinese-style socialism,” warning that America could become “a socialist nation under China’s thumb.”
In Georgia's 14th Congressional District, a district that President Trump won overwhelmingly in 2016, the GOP primary is effectively the only game in town. So there's a large field of candidates beyond these three looking to grab the seat.
But on the airwaves right now, these three candidates are taking three significantly different tacks toward messaging on the coronavirus crisis.
This is an excerpt from Thursday's edition of First Read, the newsletter from NBC's Political Unit. Sign up by clicking here.
Al Gore backs Joe Biden in Earth Day online event
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden earned another notable endorsement on Earth Day from the influential climate change activist and former Vice President Al Gore.
Gore endorsed Biden via Twitter Wednesday before joining him in a question-and-answer live stream to discuss how best to curb climate change and help communities that have been disproportionately affected by the warming global temperatures.
He told Biden and the over 3,000 viewers tuning into the livestream that it’s “not rocket science” who they should vote for if they prioritize ending the climate crisis.
"If there is anyone out there who has any doubt whatsoever about the choice to be made in this election, it is simple, it is not complicated, it is clear cut. Vote for Joe Biden, vote against Donald Trump, put us on the road to solving the climate crisis," Gore said.
Since leaving the White House in early 2001, Gore, who served as President Bill Clinton’s vice president, has been one of the lead voices raising the alarm on the devastating consequences brought forth by climate change, and calling for immediate action. Gore was also the Democratic Party's 2000 presidential nominee.
During the town hall, he warned that some permanent damage is already irreversible, but that the world is at a “tipping point” that requires cooperation to prevent the globe from becoming completely uninhabitable.
His endorsement comes hours after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who ran a climate-focus campaign for president last year, also backed Biden Wednesday. The Biden campaign hopes that endorsements like these can help attract Sen. Bernie Sanders’ young progressive supporters who cite global warming fears as a key issue of concern for them.
In recent weeks, Biden has shown a commitment to hear progressive groups concerns about climate change by announcing a joint-task force with Sanders that would propose policies to enhance his current climate proposal. Gore has also pledged to quell skeptics worries that Biden is not progressive enough on climate reform.
“Your election is absolutely crucial,” Gore said. “And I want to do everything I can to convince everybody that cares about the climate crisis that this is a no-brainer. This is a real simple choice. And if anybody has any doubt about that, come talk to me.”
Warren endorses down-ballot women candidates for the fall
In an email provided exclusively to NBC News, the Massachusetts Democratic senator told supporters: “Now, here’s something I’ve learned about how to make real change: It takes a grassroots movement fighting from the outside — and leaders fighting from the inside. Today, I’m endorsing leaders who know how to fight and win.”
The list highlights candidates running for re-election, like Democratic House incumbents Sharice Davids of Kansas, Lauren Underwood of Illinois, and Katie Porter of California who were part of the “blue wave” of women elected to the House in 2018. Porter was also one of the co-chairs of Warren’s presidential campaign.
Two women on the list, Tricia Zunker running in Wisconsin's seventh district and Christy Smith running in California's twenty-fifth district, are receiving Warren’s endorsement right before they face special elections next month.
In Nebraska's second district, Warren is backing progressive Kara Eastman who’s facing a moderate Democratic opponent in a competitive district.
Warren’s list also throws light on several local races, including Sarah McBride, a transgender activist running for a senate seat in Delaware. Highlighting candidates in local races is in line with the former 2020 candidate's message of electing Democrats “up and down the ballot.”
”This November, statewide and state legislative elections will be especially critical as we recover from the coronavirus crisis in the short term and rebuild our economy in the long term,” Warren writes in the email to supporters.
The email doesn’t directly call for monetary donations to the candidates, but asks Warren’s supporters to fill out to a survey for how they plan to help the candidates listed.
Warren noted in her email that she will announce more endorsements in the future.
Jay Inslee endorses Biden for president
WASHINGTON — Washington Gov. and former 2020 presidential candidate Jay Inslee endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday in a special Earth Day edition of Biden's "Here's the Deal" podcast.
"You're going to have a concrete plan for action within the next 10 years to develop a clean energy plan, so we just don't plan to 2050. I know that you have efforts to really do things in the next 10 years and I'm very excited about this," Inslee said.
Notably, Inslee endorsed Biden’s climate change plan — even though many green groups and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have been critical of it. Specifically, groups have argued that Biden's goal of reducing carbon emissions by 2050 instead of 2030 doesn't go far enough.
Inslee, who focused most of his presidential bid on climate change, ended his campaign in August. He has since been back in the national spotlight due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Seattle area saw one of the country's first major outbreaks and has over 12,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Inslee has been applauded for issuing an early stay-at-home order. On Tuesday, Inslee said he wouldn't be lifting the movement restrictions by May 4, when the current stay-at-home order was supposed to be lifted.
Inslee listed coronavirus as one of the many reasons he's endorsing Biden because of “his willingness to follow science and really help us get us out of the COVID-19 crisis” by bringing “a reasoned approach rather than just ignoring doctors.” He also believes Biden’s empathy that guides how he helps people will lead him to be honest with the American people during times of crisis.
"I know that you have a willingness to follow science and really help us get us out of the COVID-19 crisis. You're going to bring a reasoned approach to that rather than just ignoring doctors. You're going to follow their advice," Inslee said.
Biden has been consolidating support in the Democratic Party since Sanders ended his presidential campaign and endorsed Biden. Inslee is one of the last 2020 presidential candidates to endorse Biden and the two had gone head-to-head during the campaign about Biden's climate plan.
RNC says "full steam ahead" with convention plans, Biden remains unsure for DNC
WASHINGTON — The Democratic and Republican parties are on different tracks when it comes to planning their nominating conventions during the coronavirus pandemic.
On Monday, the apparent Democratic nominee former Vice President Joe Biden said he wasn't sure if a traditional convention could happen at all, while Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel said the party is moving "full steam ahead" in planning an in-person convention for late August in Charlotte, N.C.
"We don't build out our convention until July. So I think we have at least until the end of June or early July to make a decision if we have to switch from a traditional convention to something scaled back. But we will have to have an in-person convention. Those are the bylaws of the RNC and so currently, going forward, we're planning on a full-scale convention," McDaniel said on Monday.
The Democratic National Committee has already postponed their convention to Aug. 17 from their original week in July due to the pandemic. However, the apparent nominee said that unless science makes that possible, it still might not happen.
"I very much, as any candidate would, wants to have an actual convention, be in a position where the middle of August, we're able to actually have a convention where people show up, and you have businesses being able to open up more than they are now, but it requires the president to take action now to do the things that need to be done. So that we have adequate testing," Biden said on Monday to a local Wisconsin news outlet.
When asked about the likelihood of any traditional, in-person convention for his apparent nomination, Biden said, "I, honest to God, don't know."
The differences in the parties' plans tracks with how their candidates' campaigns have been responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, the Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said he intends for the president to hold in-person rallies before the general election in November.
"We will get back to those rallies. Never fear, the president is certain that we're going to be back out there speaking directly to the American people," Murtaugh said.
Biden has been a bit more conservative with his campaigning plans. Before the DNC announced they would postpone their convention to mid-August, Biden got ahead of them and said that he would want the convention pushed back or made into a virtual convention.
Similarly, the two candidates have been on opposite sides of possible voting mechanisms for the November election with the president saying he doesn't support mail-in ballots, while Biden has said it's time to start considering a virtual election.
Joe Biden's presidential campaign raised $46.7 million in pivotal month of March
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden raised $46.7 million in March, according to new campaign finance filings, as he was tightening his grip on the Democratic Party's nomination.
His campaign spent $32.4 million in March, ending the month with $26.3 million banked away, Biden's latest report to the Federal Election Commission shows.
The total is a dramatic increase from Biden's fundraising in recent months — he raised $8.9 million in January and $18.1 million in February. In March, Biden began to widen his lead in the Democratic presidential nominating fight by scoring big victories on Super Tuesday and in contests the subsequent weeks before the coronavirus pandemic shuttered much of American life and caused many states to delay their nominating contests.
Biden pointed to the difficulties of campaigning (and living life) during coronavirus in a Monday-night message to supporters. But he also thanked those supporters for helping him turn the tide after poor showings in the early weeks of voting and spoke of his focus on making President Trump a "one-term president."
"It was your support which has made us the presumptive nominee of our party. That is something no one was predicting just a little over a month ago. Many of the so-called experts had declared our campaign over. Not you. You and so many others lifted us up on your shoulders, generated record levels of turnout, and propelled us in state after state to a historic comeback victory," he said.
"Now I am especially proud to say that every one of our primary opponents has endorsed our campaign. We are leading a unified Democratic party to take on Donald Trump."
While the big fundraising quarter shows Biden's ability to galvanize Democratic dollars behind him, Biden and the Democratic National Committee trail the joint Republican effort aimed at reelecting Trump by a significant margin.
When the two joint fundraising committees affiliated with Trump's reelection effort are added in, the full Republican effort closed March with about $244 million in cash on hand, while the DNC and the Biden campaign had about $57 million (when the DNC's $5 million in debt is subtracted).
As the incumbent, Trump has had the luxury over the past three years of raising big money through joint fundraising committees, which allow donors to spread out money across a handful of committees involved in a unified effort. Biden will have that luxury as well, without Trump's head start.
That said, Biden's campaign raised more than three times that of the Trump campaign in March (Trump's campaign raised $13.6 million last month).
And through February, the Democratic presidential candidates combined this cycle raised $768 million through February, outraising the combined effort of the Trump campaign and the RNC by more than $300 million over the same time period.
Mike Bloomberg spent over $1 billion on presidential campaign, new FEC reports show
The reports show that he spent a total of $1,051,783,859.43 through March of this year. Bloomberg, one of the richest men in the world, didn't accept individual contributions during his bid and instead self-funded his campaign. According to Advertising Analytics, Bloomberg spent $453 million on television ads and at least $82 million on digital ads. He also invested heavily in polling and building up a large campaign of over 500 staffers across the country.
Late last month, Bloomberg announced he’d pour $18 million into the Democratic National Committee, transferring the funds from his campaign to boost the party apparatus instead of creating his own super PAC.
The former New York City mayor's campaign now faces a potential class action lawsuit for allegedly promising jobs through November to over one thousand campaign staffers and then laying them off after the campaign was suspended. The staffers stopped receiving paychecks in the first week of April, and will stop receiving health care benefits at the end of the month.
Bloomberg announced his candidacy in November and dropped out of the race on March 4 after a poor performance on Super Tuesday. The billionaire entrepreneur’s only electoral victory was in American Samoa.
GOP Super PAC pledges $100,000 to support Rep. Steve King's primary challenger
WASHINGTON — The GOP Super PAC, Defending Main Street, announced that it will spend $100,000 to support the Republican state legislator challenging Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, in the fourth district congressional primary.
The group said Monday it would invest in direct mail, phone calls, and social media advertising aimed at boosting state Senator Randy Feenstra over King, who has been thrown off all congressional committees after making racist comments in an interview.
“Now more than ever, the people of Iowa’s 4th District need a voice in Washington, D.C.,” Defending Main Street Treasurer, Sarah Chamberlain, said in a statement.
“The small businesses, farmers, and families of this district are being excluded from eminently crucial decision-making amid the pandemic. It is time to restore the level of comprehensive representation these Iowans deserve," she added.
King was stripped of his committee assignments by House Republicans last year after they repeatedly condemned his remarks. The final straw for those House Republicans were comments last January about white nationalism.
King had asked in a New York Times interview: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”
In a statement shortly after, King told NBC News: "I reject white nationalism. I reject white supremacy. It's not part of any of my ideology. I reject anyone who carries that ideology."
Feenstra has argued that King can’t “defend President Trump” thanks to his hindered position in Congress. And he has run ads touting his pro-life credentials, support for Trump’s border wall, and ability to “deliver” for the area in the state Senate.
Feenstra has raised $844,000 and had $416,000 in his bank account at the end of March. King has raised $301,000 and had $27,000 in his bank account through March. The winner of that primary — which is now scheduled for June 2 — will likely face J.D. Scholten, the Democrat who was just 3 percentage points away from beating King in 2018.
Defending Main Street is a Super PAC aimed at supporting what it calls "governing Republicans." It's aligned with the Republican Main Street Partnership, a group that endorsed Feenstra earlier this year.
Prominent environmental group endorses Joe Biden
WASHINGTON — Former vice president Joe Biden embraced an endorsement from a prominent environmental advocacy group, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), Monday and suggested that he’s open to building on his climate plan with environmental leaders and organizations.
The LCV, which aims to elect pro-environmental candidates nationwide, announced its formal support for the apparent Democratic nominee in a statement Monday morning. That statement applauded Biden’s proposed climate plan and the candidate’s record of protecting the environment and addressing the climate crisis.
“We are proud to endorse Joe Biden to be the next president of the United States,” LCV Action Fund Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, Tiernan Sittenfeld, stated. “We cannot afford the cost of inaction or another four years of a Trump presidency.”
Responding to the endorsement, the Biden campaign said in its own statement Monday that it’s committed to working with the LCV on expanding its current climate policy.
“I have asked my campaign to commence a process to meaningfully engage with more voices from the climate movement,” Biden said. Together, his campaign along with leaders and organizations like the LCV will “collaborate on additional policies in areas ranging from environmental justice to new, concrete goals we can achieve within a decade, to more investments in a clean energy economy.”
Biden stressed that climate change is an important issue this election cycle, especially for younger voters — a more progressive demographic that his Democratic primary opponent, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, had more success with during the nominating fight — and that it will be a top priority under his leadership if elected president.
“In the months ahead, expanding this plan will be one of my key objectives,” Biden said. “I know this is an issue that resonates with many, including young people and those who have seen floods, fires, and drought destroy lives and livelihoods.”
Biden released his original climate agenda last June. His "Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice" includes a push for the United States to reenter the Paris Climate Agreement, to achieve net-zero emissions before 2050, to expand clean jobs and to take other actions to mitigate climate change.
Some progressive environmental groups, like the Sunrise Movement, have criticized Biden's plans for not going far enough, and have instead embraced more progressive candidates like Sanders.
In the LCV’s endorsement of the candidate, the group slammed President Trump for being an anti-environmental president and said that Biden will restore the U.S.’s status as a global environmental leader.
“Since day one, Donald Trump has threatened our planet and risked the health of our communities — especially communities of color and low-wealth communities — undermining the unprecedented climate legacy of the Obama-Biden administration,” Carol Browner, LCV Board Chair and former Clinton EPA Administrator, said in the statement.
“We are all in to help elect Joe Biden,” she added.
The LCV has invested $14 million in a direct-mail campaign and online advertising aimed at Trump in several swing states including Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.