The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Republican senators launching ads attacking Joe Biden
WASHINGTON — Two Republican senators have launched ads attacking former Vice President Joe Biden as the Democrat continues to lead President Trump in recent polls.
Arizona Republican Sen. Martha McSally has aired two ads in recent days evoking Biden as a foil, alongside likely Arizona Democratic nominee Mark Kelly.
And Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton has a new digital spot blasting Biden as "too confused to lead."
The McSally spots aim to tie Biden to Kelly — one argues the pair won't be able to hold China accountable (Republicans have hit Kelly on the airwaves for his business ties to China), while another says that Kelly will "help Joe Biden pass a new government-controlled health insurance system" (Both Kelly and Biden support a public option, not Medicare-for-All).
McSally was down big in Fox News’ recent poll of the Senate race (trailing Kelly 50 to 37 among registered voters). And Biden led Trump by 4 points in that same poll of the state that Trump won by 3.5 points in 2016.
While that Biden lead is within the margin of error, there are signs that there could be trouble in Arizona at the top of the ticket, as Democratic groups are pushing into the once reliably Republican state.
Meanwhile, Cotton, who has no Democratic opponent in the fall, just released a new digital ad attacking China for "lies" that "spread the China virus across the world," as well as Biden by rounding up a complication of his recent missteps to argue he's "too confused to lead."
The spot, first reported by Breitbart News, will run in Michigan and Iowa as part of an initial, five-figure buy.
Cotton's political website features another anti-Biden video, one from March that calls Biden "weak on China."
And Cotton's not the first Republican without a Democratic challenger in the fall to try to give his party air cover by attacking Biden. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., bought TV time ahead of the Iowa caucuses to criticize Biden and defend the president during impeachment.
While Cotton is running for reelection this year, the Democrats couldn't field a challenger to run against him after one candidate dropped out shortly after the filing deadline.
Multiple states hold key primaries as coronavirus pandemic, Floyd protests continue
WASHINGTON — On the day of George Floyd's funeral in Houston and as coronavirus cases continue to rise, several states are holding primaries to determine which candidates will represent their parties come November.
Here are the races the NBC News political unit are paying closest attention to:
Georgia Senate: The top primary contest to watch is in Georgia, where several Democrats are running for the right to challenge Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., in the fall.
The favorite in this Democratic primary is 2017 congressional nominee, Jon Ossoff, and his top challengers are former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and businesswoman Sarah Riggs Amico. The Cook Political Report lists the race as “Lean Republican” for November.
If none of the candidates break 50 percent, the Top 2 will advance to an Aug. 11 runoff.
South Carolina Senate: Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Democrat Jaime Harrison receive nominal primary opposition ahead of their expected November showdown in the Palmetto State. Harrison has raked in significant fundraising ahead of today's contest.
Nevada 3rd District: Republicans will pick their nominee in Nevada to face Democratic Congresswoman Susie Lee, D-Nev., in the competitive Nevada district.
Nevada 4th District: Also in Nevada, incumbent Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford, who recently admitted to having an affair with a former Senate staffer, is receiving a primary challenge from multiple Democrats, as well as Republicans who are trying to reclaim the seat.
For the contests in both the third and fourth House districts in the state, it's important to note that Nevada secretary of state, Barbara Cegavske, has sent mail-in ballots to all of Nevada's registered voters.
—Liz Brown-Kaiser contributed.
Dem group American Bridge launches $20 million battleground state ad buy
WASHINGTON — American Bridge is rolling out a $20 million ad campaign over 10 weeks in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in the hopes of softening up President Trump in the blue wall states he flipped to secure his 2016 victory.
The first spots feature voters who backed Trump in 2016 explaining why they are now backing former Vice President Joe Biden.
In one Wisconsin spot, a Vietnam veteran named John argues that the "Trump economy" isn't working for the working class.
"This time, I'm voting for Joe Biden because I think that Joe Biden has the good of the country in his heart," he says.
"To compare Donald Trump with Joe Biden — I can bet my life on most of what Joe Biden has to say. I wouldn't bet my life on the next three things that come out of Donald Trump's mouth, because one of them will probably be a lie."
In another spot airing in Pennsylvania, a Westmoreland County voter named Janie said that she's "disappointed" in Trump, while "Joe Biden understands how the government works, and I trust him."
The new buy runs through the end of August, and will include TV, radio and digital ads. The group is targeting a smattering of markets across the state, including many of the Trump-leaning areas that the president's campaign recently targeted with its recent ad buy.
Trump campaign seizes on calls for Dems to support 'defund the police' movement
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign is seizing on mounting calls to defund police by calling out prominent Democrats who are supportive of the movement after the death of George Floyd, who was killed when an officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
The Trump re-elect effort held a call with reporters on Monday to criticize the “left’s radical proposals to defund the police,” specifically pressuring apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden to speak out in opposition to the idea.
Minutes later, the Biden campaign issued a statement doing so.
“As his criminal justice proposal made clear months ago, Vice President Biden does not believe that police should be defunded. He hears and shares the deep grief and frustration of those calling out for change, and is driven to ensure that justice is done and that we put a stop to this terrible pain,” spokesman Andrew Bates said, stressing Biden supports the “urgent need for reform.”
On the call, the Trump campaign slammed members of the so-called “Squad,” including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, for being open to defunding and disbanding police.
“It is consuming the entire Democrat party as the most extreme elements have the loudest voices and demand acquiescence,” communications director Tim Murtaugh said, also name-checking notable Democrats such as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Rep. Val Demings — who is currently being vetted as a possible running mate for Biden.
Murtaugh jabbed at Bowser for not stepping in and stopping activists from adding the words “DEFUND THE POLICE” to the existing city-commissioned “BLACK LIVES MATTER” mural on 16th St., near the White House.
The campaign also had two surrogates on the call with reporters to attack Democrats: former Cincinnati Mayor Ken Blackwell and former Chester County Sheriff Carolyn Bunny Welsh.
They both argued it was impossible to operate cities “without local law enforcement” and took the extreme view of the concept in terms of disbanding police, seemingly ignoring one of the larger ideas of the movement in terms of allocating resources differently.
“Should law enforcement be accountable? Absolutely,” Welsh conceded, but the idea of dismantling police “will do nothing but create chaos and anarchy” she claimed.
Asked about whether any of the people on the call believe systemic racism exists in policing, Murtaugh said: “No one hates a bad cop worse than a good cop. I think that there are people who have bad attitudes … in all organizations.” The others referred to a “few bad apples,” which is something top Trump administration officials have echoed in the last few weeks.
The campaign could not comment on any particular policy proposals that would be forthcoming on the larger issue of police reform from the president and deferred to the White House on that.
If the president’s feed is any indication, this issue will continue to be highlighted by both him and the campaign this summer. The re-elect effort has already sent fundraising list emails this weekend, saying: “We can’t stand by while the Left tries to DEFUND THE POLICE.”
Biden campaign launches turnout effort targeting LGBTQ voters
Joe Biden’s presidential campaign on Monday announced the launch of a robust get-out-the-vote effort targeting LGBTQ voters.
The effort, called, “Out for Biden,” will be aimed at turning out a record number of LGBTQ voters in November by fostering “relationships with pro-equality partners to register and mobilize LGBTQ+ voters around the country, with an emphasis on key battleground states,” the campaign said in a statement.
"Our campaign’s decision to launch Out for Biden in the shadow of historic protest elevates the power of the moment and encourages deep — and sometimes difficult — dialogue within our LGBTQ+ community as Pride month begins,” said Reggie Greer, the Biden campaign’s LGBTQ+ vote director. “LGBTQ+ people of color are central to the fabric of our communities. We must elect a government that will center their voices and celebrate the contributions of LGBTQ+ people everywhere,” Greer added.
Trump campaign touts May job gains in new TV ad
WASHINGTON — President Trump's campaign dropped a new TV spot over the weekend that spikes the football on Friday’s surprising job numbers.
“The Great American Comeback has begun. A record 2.5 million new jobs in May, and we're just getting started,” the spot’s narrator begins.
“Before the pandemic. President Trump made our economy the envy of the world. Now he's doing it again, bringing devastated industries back, working to build factories here instead of China, getting direct cash relief to families.”
Team Trump has long wanted to pivot the message away from the coronavirus and to the economy. So it’s no surprise they’re trumpeting the good news from Friday’s report.
But unemployment is still in the double-digits (and while white unemployment dropped, black unemployment did not); the economy lost eight times the jobs in April than it gained in May; and the CBO predicted the coronavirus would kneecap economic growth over the long term.
Democrats are spending millions trying to lay the pandemic (and the pandemic economy) at Trump’s feet, setting up a clear dynamic that will continue into the fall.
Mask-wearing habits could indicate how you'll vote
WASHINGTON — The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that a person's mask-wearing habits could indicate how they'll vote in the 2020 presidential race.
Sixty-three percent of registered voters said they "always" wear a mask when they're in public — like when they go shopping, go to work or be around other people outside of their house. Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, leads President Trump by 40 points among those voters: 66 percent to 26 percent.
And voters who don't wear a mask are nearly just as likely to vote for the president as mask-wearers are to vote for Biden.
Twenty-one percent of voters said they "sometimes" wear a mask — and Trump leads those voters by 32 points: 62 percent to 30 percent.
Perhaps most unsurprisingly, the voters who say the never or rarely wear a mask are nearly all in support of the president. Just 15 percent of registered voters said they don't tend to wear a mask — the president leads Biden with those voters 83-7 percent.
Biden and Trump have sparred on whether it's appropriate to wear a mask. The president has forgone wearing a mask in nearly all of his public appearances since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance to suggest Americans wear masks in public, especially when social distancing is not possible. Biden, meanwhile, has been photographed with a mask nearly every time he has left his Delaware home.
The president retweeted conservative media hosts criticizing Biden's decision to wear a mask, while saying publicly that Biden "can wear a mask" but that it's "unusual" the former vice president isn't seen wearing one indoors. Biden has called said Trump doesn't wear a mask in an effort to look "macho."
Protests put spotlight on women of color as potential Biden running mate
Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, Biden’s longtime friend and early endorser, said on Tuesday picking a person of color “would speak to this moment in a powerful and effective way.” Others are echoing the sentiment.
Here’s how some of Biden’s possible vice presidential contenders responded to this week’s events:
Sen. Kamala Harris: Harris has been highly visible and vocal in recent days as protests persist in D.C. The California senator joined protests against police brutality in the district, and less than one week after fellow veep contender, Florida Rep. Val Demings, wrote an attention-grabbing op-ed about the need for police reform, Harris released her own, writing in Cosmopolitan, "in times like this, silence is complicity.”
Harris was also busy on Capitol Hill Thursday, making an emotional speech on the Senate floor about the urgency to pass anti-lynching legislation she helped craft. Harris is one of just three sitting black senators.
Rep. Val Demings: Demings appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres show on Friday and said that being considered to be the first black woman vice president is an honor.
"The idea that I am seriously being considered for such a critical position during such a critical time is exactly the kind of opportunities that I'm working hard for and others who join me. That's the kind of opportunities we're working hard for in this country and so it's an honor," Demings said.
Demings' national profile rose when she was chosen as one of the House's impeachment managers earlier this year, and she previously served as Orlando's police chief — giving her, and potentially Biden as a joint ticket, a unique perspective on relationships between police and people of color.
Stacey Abrams: Abrams said on Thursday that her “responsibility is to fix the systems” to provoke change, rather than joining protestors and possibly distracting from their efforts. Like Harris, Abrams also wrote an op-ed about systemic racial injustice.
The New York Times op-ed stressed the need for those dismayed by the latest displays of police brutality to vote as “a first step in a long and complex process.”
Abrams also plugged her experience as “the first black woman ever to win a primary for governor for a major political party in American history” in 2018. Increasing minority voter turnout, particularly in states like Georgia, could be highly valuable for the Biden campaign.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar: Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has dealt with renewed criticism of her time as a prosecutor in Hennepin County, Minn. — where George Floyd was killed.
This week she inserted herself into the public calls for more charges against the police officers involved in Floyd’s death. Klobuchar announced the harsher charges on the officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck before Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison did, as well as the charges against the three other officers present at the scene.
While Klobuchar has called for justice in this case, it may not do much to keep her in top consideration for the veep slot, especially when last week, South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn said, "We are all victims sometimes of timing, and some of us benefit tremendously from timing. This is very tough timing for Amy Klobuchar, who I respect very much."
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: The Michigan governor, who Biden has routinely praised for her coronavirus response, has been scrutinized for her extensive lockdown decisions amid the pandemic but was seen attending a large protest this week.
In May, Whitmer said that anti-lockdown protests, which included armed men and women in the state Capitol, were “not an exercise of democratic principles where we have free speech.”
However, on Thursday, she marched in a police brutality protest and told protestors, “elections matter," and, "we cannot be defeated. We must move forward together. When we do that, we cannot be defeated.”
On Tuesday, Whitmer defended her strict enforcement of keeping private businesses shut in a New York Times op-ed.
“Fighting the coronavirus isn’t only a matter of public health. It is a matter of civil rights,” Whitmer wrote.
Check out the NBC News political unit’s coverage of the veepstakes here.
State ethics board votes to hold Hickenlooper in contempt after refusing to testify at hearing
Colorado's state ethics commission voted to hold former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in contempt for refusing to testify at an ethics hearing Thursday despite a subpoena, even after the former governor's lawyer ultimately announced Hickenlooper would relent and testify later this month.
The governor did not attend Thursday's hearing, an almost six-hour proceeding held online because of the coronavirus. He had argued for an in-person hearing, warning that a virtual one into whether he violated the state's gift ban while in office would violate his right to due process.
A local district court judge declined to quash the subpoena on Wednesday.
As Thursday's meeting crept toward a close, Hickenlooper's lawyer, Mark Grueskin, announced that Hickenlooper would relent and appear, although not on Thursday. He offered June 16 as a possible date on which the governor would appear.
"The governor hears the gravity of the concerns and is very much committed to the commission process. And it is not his first choice, as you know, but he has indicated to me he will comply with the subpoena," Grueskin said.
But that reversal did not quell a frustrated commission. Elizabeth Espinosa Krupa, the group's chair, told Grueskin that she wasn't "willing to wait until the 16th."
William Leone, the commission's vice-chair, criticized Hickenlooper for his "disrespect for the circumstances," as well as the waste of time and money he said the former governor's refusal to appear caused the commission and others.
Ultimately, the five-member commission unanimously voted to hold Hickenlooper in contempt and pick back up with the hearing on Friday. The commission didn't decide on any punishment for its finding of Hickenlooper in contempt, but raised possibilities like imposing fines and other process consequences.
It's unclear whether Hickenlooper will appear Friday, although Melissa Miller, a Hickenlooper spokesperson, said in a statement "he remains ready to appear."
"As reported, today’s meeting was a 'massive technical mess,' confirming concerns we’ve raised for months. In order to put an end to the partisan political circus orchestrated by a dark money Republican group, Governor Hickenlooper offered to testify, and though that was rejected, he remains ready to appear," she said.
The ethics complaint that prompted the hearing centers on whether Hickenlooper violated the state's gift ban over the course of a handful of trips taken while governor. It was originally filed by the nonprofit Public Trust Institute — Frank McNulty, a former Republican state House speaker, is the group's director who signed the complaint. The former governor could face a fine if the commission finds he violated the ban.
Hickenlooper and his attorneys have denied the charges, and they say the decision to initially defy the subpoena was based on concerns about the virtual format not affording him his rights, not an unwillingness to testify.
"[Hickenlooper] has made clear he will testify in person. Today's debacle of a hearing has made clear that WebEx doesn't work for a legal proceeding like this. We will be opposing the motion to enforce the subpoena," Miller tweeted Thursday before the governor's reversal.
The commission did face a number of technical glitches during Thursday's virtual hearing, including witnesses interrupted by audio and internet connectivity issues, as well as background noise, including an unknown virtual attendee's dog barking.
Hickenlooper is running to oust Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, and faces a primary challenge from former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff.
Republican groups, both local and national, criticized Hickenlooper's lack of testimony in a flurry of statements Thursday.
"It’s a huge slap in the face to Coloradans that Hickenlooper doesn’t have enough respect for our laws to show up at his own hearing. Someone who uses every legal trick in the book to avoid testifying, like Hickenlooper has, doesn’t give the impression of innocence," Colorado Rising PAC executive director Michael Fields said in a statement.
Colorado Rising is affiliated with the national America Rising PAC, a conservative group that primarily does opposition research on Democratic candidates.
Trump super PAC launches multi-million dollar ad campaign in three battleground states
WASHINGTON — President Trump's top allied super PAC, America First Action, has begun airing three new ads in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania as part of a $7.5 million ad campaign aimed at chipping away at former Vice President Joe Biden in key swing states.
The group hits Biden in Michigan and Wisconsin on the loss of manufacturing jobs to China.
And the Pennsylvania ad warns Biden's climate plan would cost fossil fuel jobs in the state.
The super PAC is spending $1.75 million in Michigan's Traverse City, Flint and Grand Rapids markets; $2.25 million in Wisconsin's Wausau, La Crosse/Green Bay and Milwaukee markets; and $3.5 million in Pennsylvania's Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Johnstown, Erie and Wilkes-Barre markets. Those spending figures also include digital and mail ads, as well as television advertising, from Thursday through the July 4th weekend.
Many of those markets cover places Trump won significantly in 2016, and will need to perform well in again to hold the pivotal states in 2020. The Trump campaign just finished a $5 million TV buy that flooded the airwaves in many of those markets too.
Republicans have significantly outspent Democrats over the past week in the presidential race— $5.3 million to $1.9 million on TV and radio between May 27 and June 3, according to Advertising Analytics. With the Biden campaign dark on the airwaves, the top Democratic spender over that span has been the pro-Biden Priorities USA super PAC.
Biden campaign releases digital ad on Floyd protests, swipes at Trump
The one-minute digital ad, released both in English and Spanish, features portions of Biden’s recent speech on civic unrest and though it does not mention President Donald Trump explicitly, Biden suggests that he’s failing to lead at a pivotal moment as the ad shows images of the president, including him holding the Bible.
“I promise you this, I won't traffic in fear and division. I won't fan the flames of hate,” Biden says in the ad over photos of Trump. “I'll seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued our country, not use it for political gain.”
The ad continues with Biden vowing to take responsibility as president, saying that the job is about the American people, not just him.
When Biden says it’s incumbent on Americans to “build a better future,” something that he describes as “the most American thing we do,” pictures of Biden from his meetings with African American leaders in Wilmington and Philadelphia are shown to contrast what he has done in the days after the killing of George Floyd with the recent actions of Trump.
The Biden campaign says the ad will play statewide in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube and target “key constituencies that we need to persuade and turn out like younger and more diverse voters in these battleground states.”
While this is the campaign’s fourth digital ad in battleground states since they pivoted to a digital-only approach due to the pandemic, it’s the first ad to discuss Biden’s leadership outside of the coronavirus lens. The campaign has not spent any money on TV ads, leaving the spending to numerous pro-Biden Super PACs.