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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Joni Ernst unveils new child care proposal amid tough re-election battle

WASHINGTON — Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, unveiled a new proposal Tuesday to help ensure that child care is available for parents returning back to work after either being furloughed or working from home during the coronavirus pandemic. The proposal could appeal to women — a demographic she needs to win re-election this year. 

The legislation, which she co-authored with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chair of the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee, would authorize federal grants to states for child care centers and providers to help them stay open amid financial troubles during the pandemic. Child care has become more difficult to obtain for working parents as some child care centers close, or don't have the funds to operate under new health and safety requirements.  

“This pandemic has only made our child care crisis worse,” Ernst said in a statement. “This new effort will help relieve anxiety for families by ensuring our kids are in safe environments and stabilizing the child care sector as a whole.”

Sen. Joni Ernst speaks after the Senate Policy luncheons in the Capitol on March 3, 2020.Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call via AP

Ernst is locked in an increasingly competitive re-election effort in Iowa. Recent polls show her tied or slightly trailing her Democratic opponent Theresa Greenfield. Ernst’s numbers in the state have fallen alongside President Trump’s. Trump won Iowa by 10 points in 2016, but a recent poll shows he has lost his edge over presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.  

And Trump's falling support among independent voters, especially women, appears to also be taking a toll on Ernst. In a recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll, Ernst trailed Greenfield by 20 points among women. Ernst fared even worse among white women without a college degree. 

While the proposal helps to ensure that child care is available, it does not address the cost of child care for families, which is also a challenge for parents who have lost jobs, lost wages or lost hours. And though the measure authorizes funding, it doesn't appropriate any new money. However, Ernst is calling for $25 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant program that could also be used to help alleviate cost of child care.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee said the bill is akin to putting "out a fire with an empty bucket." 

"I’m very glad to see that my Republican colleagues have recognized that we need to do something about the child care crisis in this country — but their proposal doesn’t even invest a single dime in actually solving the problem. Frankly, it’s like they’re trying to put out a fire with an empty bucket," Murray said. 

MJ Hegar outspends Royce West on airwaves 102-to-1 ahead of Tuesday's primary runoff

WASHINGTON — As Air Force veteran MJ Hegar and state Sen. Royce West face off in Texas' Democratic Senate primary runoff today, it's worth noting the massive spending discrepancy between the two candidates. 

Hegar and her allies have flooded the airwaves in recent months, leaving West in the dust. Hegar’s campaign, Women Vote! (the EMILY’s List super PAC) and the DSCC have combined to spend $2.2 million on behalf of Hegar on TV and radio, according to Advertising Analytics.

West’s campaign has spent a paltry $22,000 since the two advanced to the runoff, for an ad-spending ratio between the two campaigns of about 102:1.

That spending disparity, plus Hegar’s big-name backers and significant fundraising advantage, has given her an advantage going into the runoff as she runs a race reminiscent of the strategy that helped win Democrats many pivotal House seats in 2018, leaning in on health care issues and her military experience.

But West, a longtime state senator, has bristled at Hegar’s support from outside groups like the DSCC, and has played up his legislative career and work on issues like police reform amid the national upheaval on policing and racial injustice.

And he may have received a bit of a boost from an ad launched by Republican Sen. John Cornyn last week, which frames West as a "liberal politician," highlighting his positions on abortion, guns and taxes. The campaign has spent more than $100,000 on the ad, according to Advertising Analytics.  

But while the spot seems negative and could hurt West with general election voters, campaigns from opposing parties have long used these kinds of ads as a way to meddle in a primary and boost their preferred candidate amongst the opposing party's base by highlighting policies those voters support. 

Pro-Trump super PAC set to launch $23 million ad campaign in critical states next week

WASHINGTON — A top super PAC supporting President Donald Trump's re-election, America First Action, will launch a $23 million ad campaign targeting presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden next week in the key battleground states of Arizona, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, the group confirmed to NBC News. 

The effort will kick off July 24 and last through Labor Day, with $5.6 million dedicated to Wisconsin and Arizona each, $7.5 million to Pennsylvania, and $4.5 million to North Carolina.

The majority — 52 percent — of the multi-million dollar purchase is invested in broadcast advertising while almost 20 percent of the buy is dedicated to cable TV. Fourteen percent will go to digital and mail advertising each.

President Donald Trump arrives to address a "Keep America Great" rally in Colorado Springs, Colorado on Feb. 20, 2020.Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images file

America First Action has spent a total of $5.5 million in Pennsylvania, $2.8 million in Wisconsin, and $2 million in Michigan on ads up to this point in the cycle, according to Advertising Analytics. The new buy appears to be the first time the group is actually spending money on spots in Arizona and North Carolina (though it has booked $26.6 million for Florida and North Carolina for the fall), signaling its expanding out its 2020 strategy.

“The President won AZ and WI by slim margins last cycle. All of the states we chose to invest in, Democratic outside groups are also investing in,” America First Action communications director, Kelly Sadler, told NBC News of the latest targets. “We're looking at the map and basing our investment decisions on the most reliable pathway to 270 electoral votes.”

America First Action’s previous spots have accused Biden of failing to hold China accountable and argued that his presidency would be bad for economic recovery — messaging the group will continue to deploy in its soon-to-come ads, which will be customized for specific groups and focus on different concerns within each state, per Sadler.

“The tone of these ads will be similar to what we've already run this cycle,” she said. “We're currently polling and focus grouping to help craft our next round of messaging.”

The ad campaign comes as recent 2020 polling shows presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden leading President Trump nationwide by a sizable margin and in several critical states.

The group’s new ad buy was first reported by Axios.

—Ben Kamisar contributed.

Md. Gov. Hogan on school reopening: 'We're not going to be rushed into this'

WASHINGTON — Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said Sunday during an exclusive interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he will not be "rushed" into opening up schools and is working on a balance between providing students the "best education we can" in a safe way. 

"Everybody would like to get our kids back to school, as quickly as we can, but we also want to do it, and make sure that our kids are going to be as safe as possible. So, we're not going to be rushed into this," he said.

"From the beginning of this crisis, we've always been working very closely with our doctors, our scientists and our epidemiologists to make sure that we're doing the things that make the most sense." 

With the school year drawing closer, the number of daily, new positive tests continues to rise in the vast majority of American states. That's further complicated the already herculean task of deciding when and how to reopen schools, many of which open in a matter of weeks. 

President Trump has insisted that schools reopen in the fall, threatening retribution against schools that don't fully open and raising political concerns about the impact of reopening. 

During a Thursday event at the White House, he called the idea of not reopening schools "political nonsense." 

"They don’t want to open because they think it will help them on November 3rd.  I think it’s going to hurt them on November 3rd.  Open your schools," he said. 

Also on "Meet the Press," Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, said that his school system and others will likely need the federal government to earmark "additional resources" to help schools reopen while following best practices to keep the school community safe. 

"Our reopening plan has been, from the very beginning, informed by health experts, individuals who have distinguished themselves in the area of medicine and public health. And our plan, as we modify, will continue to be informed by those same individuals," he said. 

Veepstakes roundup: Background checks intensify as time for pick nears

WASHINGTON — During a week of spiking coronavirus cases, high-profile Supreme Court decisions, and continued calls for racial justice reform, the guessing game over who Joe Biden will select as his vice presidential running mate continued to make headlines as well with the presumptive Democratic nominee’s self-imposed Aug. 1 deadline approaching

“The final deep dives have not been done,” Biden said of the V.P. vetting process Thursday. “They are doing the background checks — they've not been finished. And so, I can't tell you what that will be.”

With that next stage of the veep search yet to come, here are the most significant developments from this week:

Sen. Tammy Duckworth: The Illinois senator started out the week in a rough spot after she suggested in a CNN interview that there should be a “national dialogue” about whether statues of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington should be removed. 

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., testifies during a hearing on Capitol Hill on May 7, 2020.Al Drago / Pool via AP

Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient, was then questioned on her patriotism by conservative Fox News host Tucker Carlson, and the Trump campaign argued that Duckworth was using her military service to “deflect” — moves that spurred Duckworth to write an op-ed and for Biden to come to her defense. 

“He attacks the senator from Illinois who is a literal hero, combat veteran, lost both legs fighting for her country, and he says she’s not a patriot. Folks we cannot let this stand,” Biden said during a virtual fundraiser Tuesday. 

In a New York Times op-ed Thursday, Duckworth clarified her remarks on CNN, writing, “our founders’ refusal to blindly follow their leader was what I was reflecting on this Fourth of July weekend, when some on the far right started attacking me for suggesting that all Americans should be heard, even those whose opinions differ from our own.” 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren: Even as Democrats call for a woman of color to join the ticket, the Massachusetts senator and former Biden primary rival still appears to have a spot in the veepstakes. 

Warren was a loud surrogate for Biden this week, appearing on multiple prime-time cable shows and participating in a campaign event Thursday with one of Biden’s most trusted advisers — his wife, Jill Biden — who will likely have a say in who Biden chooses as a running mate.

Both Warren and Jill Biden are educators — Warren was a public school teacher, and later a law professor, and Biden is a professor at a community college — and used their shared experiences to discuss school reopenings amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“As a fellow educator and advocate and as a senator, you have been an inspiration to so many people across our country for many, many years,” Biden praised Warren.

The Massachusetts senator was also reportedly a major player in formulating Biden’s new “Build Back Better” economic proposal, which could suggest that the presumptive Democratic nominee’s team considers her a valuable policy voice. 

Sen. Kamala Harris: While Harris’ name continues to be whispered about as an obvious V.P. choice to some, there also seems to be some overlap between Harris’ 2020 team and the Biden campaign. The Biden camp announced its new Florida leadership team Monday and Brandon Thompson — who was Harris’ director of national campaigns — is now the coordinated director for Biden’s Florida strategy. 

As Harris’ name has grown more popular though, her Wikipedia page has come under scrutiny. According to some reports, Harris’ page saw a surge of activity over the week which were comparable edits to those made on Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine’s page before he was announced as the 2016 Democratic V.P. pick, and on former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s page before she was chosen in 2008. 

Even though it’s just one sign that the page may be getting more traffic, it adds to the flurry of assumptions that Harris’ background and relationship with Biden shoots her to the front of the pack.

Check out the NBC News political unit’s coverage of the veepstakes here.

Biden releases new digital ads on restoring empathy

WASHINGTON — A day after Joe Biden lambasted President Trump as "exactly the wrong person to lead us," the presumptive nominee's campaign released a new digital ad, with three different versions, building off of the message of restoring core American values in the White House.

The ads don't mention the president’s name directly but instead hone in on their candidate’s commitment to family in an effort to stress his kitchen table values that have guided him throughout the trials and joys of life.

The Biden campaign unveiled their first digital ad narrated by actor Jeffrey Wright, who describes how the then-senator of Delaware commuted four hours on Amtrak from Wilmington to the nation’s capital to be with his two sons every night following the death of his wife and infant daughter weeks before he was sworn in to the U.S. Senate. 

“People in Washington didn’t get why Joe Biden would travel all that way. But in neighborhoods all over this country, there’s no distance parents won’t go for their kids,” Wright stresses in the minute-long ad. “When Joe Biden traveled those four hours, he wasn’t just going home for his kids, he was going to work for them too, just like he will for yours.”

Biden and his campaign have long pointed to his sense of empathy following numerous tragic losses in his life as a way for the former vice president connects with voters suffering personal and economic losses due to the coronavirus pandemic. The campaign hopes to build a message Biden stressed in a Dunmore, Penn. speech Thursday where he mentioned how his own life experiences guided him to personally connect with voters who have dealt with loss.  

“You know, you see growing up rich and looking down on people is a bit different than how I grew up here,” he said in a dig toward Trump. 

The new digital ads — which are part of a $15 million investment in battleground states the campaign announced last month — bring back messages Biden has long stressed throughout his campaign, including in the primary where he sought to contrast himself from Democratic opponents who fought for a more far-reaching approach on health care.

In the two shorter digital ads, that will also be played on social channels including YouTube, Hulu and other channels, the Biden campaign emphasizes their candidate’s personal journey with the health care system and his promise to protect American’s health care as if it were his family’s own.

Steve Bannon, former top Trump aide, applauds Biden "Buy American" event

DUNMORE, Pa. — A former top adviser to President Donald Trump is warning that Joe Biden’s bid Thursday to wrest away one of his few remaining advantages in the 2020 race — the economy — could prove a success.

Steve Bannon, who played a lead role in the closing months of Trump’s 2016 campaign and then in the early stages of his presidency, told NBC News that the former vice president appeared to be “stealing notes from [the] 2016 playbook.”

Biden on Thursday, near his hometown of Scranton, rolled out the first plank of his “Build Back Better” economy plan, focused on attempting to revive American manufacturing through a significant infusion of federal dollars to buy American-made products, while also investing heavily in domestic research and development. 

In a blistering speech, Biden said that the president had failed to live up to the promises he made to working-class voters in communities like the ones near his hometown of Scranton, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Joe Biden stops in front of his childhood home in Scranton, Pennsylvania on July 9, 2020.Spencer Platt / Getty Images

"The truth is: Throughout this crisis, Donald Trump has been almost singularly focused on the stock market, the Dow and NASDAQ. Not you, not your families,” he said. "If I'm fortunate enough to be elected president, I'll be laser-focused on working families, the middle-class families that I came from here in Scranton, not the wealthy investor class.”

To Bannon, it was an effective approach — “run as a populist and economic nationalist to keep Bernie voters.”

"By doing it in Scranton, [it] shows that his people get what he has to sell and where he has to sell it,” Bannon said.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton narrowly carried Lackawana County, where Biden spoke. But neighboring Luzerne County saw one of the biggest swings in the country from Obama’s 2012 vote share to Trump’s four years later — more than 20 points.

But for Biden, Scranton is more than just his hometown, it’s central to his political identity. Allusions to the lessons he learned from family here have been a staple of his public speeches for decades. To reinforce that, Biden even visited that home briefly after delivering remarks at a metalworks factory here.

"You know you see growing up rich and looking down on people is a bit different than how I grew up here,” Biden said, making a direct contrast between his upbringing and Trump’s. "Wall Street bankers and CEOs didn't build this country. …  You can look around your neighborhood or your kitchen table and see who built this country. It was at my grandfather Finnegan's kitchen table in Green Ridge that I learned money doesn't determine your worth."

Pro-Tuberville effort outspending Sessions with days to go before Alabama Senate primary runoff

WASHINGTON — As Alabama's heated and closely-watched Republican Senate primary runoff nears, former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville and his allies have significantly outspent former Attorney General and Sen. Jeff Sessions on the airwaves. 

Through Thursday, Tuberville's campaign has spent $762,000 on TV and radio ads since the March primary, when the two men advanced to a head-to-head runoff after no Republican candidate reached 50 percent support. The Club for Growth, which has endorsed Tuberville, has spent about $615,000, while Grit PAC, a super PAC backing the former football coach, has spent another $73,000. 

Sessions, meanwhile, has spent $660,000 over the same period in a bid to win his old Senate seat back. 

Team Tuberville also has the edge in future spending — he and his allies have another $200,000 booked from Friday through Tuesday's primary, while Sessions has $75,000 booked. 

This spending data is courtesy of the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics.

Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville walks off the field after the team's NCAA college football game against Memphis on Nov. 18, 2016, in Cincinnati.John Minchillo / AP

The primary will decide who has the right to take on incumbent Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in the heavily Republican seat, making it a coveted slot amid a year where Republicans have few chances to go on offense in Senate races. 

In recent weeks, Tuberville has been leaning heavily on his endorsement from President Trump, echoing the president's rhetoric to call Sessions weak for recusing himself in the Russia investigation as attorney general. A recent Sessions spot cribs some footage from that ad to call Tuberville "Washington's choice" and take aim at his football career by saying he's "quit or been fired from every job he's ever had."

Biden rolls out economic proposals to boost manufacturing with spending and investment

SCRANTON, Penn. — Joe Biden is returning to his roots Thursday, kicking off what his campaign says will be a multi-week economic policy rollout with a focus on reviving American manufacturing near his home town of Scranton.

Even as Biden has built a consistent lead in national and most key battleground state polls, surveys also continue to find President Trump enjoying one advantage with voters with his handling of the economy. And so after weekly public events primarily focused on the administration’s response to the COVID-19, the presumptive Democratic nominee will begin to flesh out how a Biden administration would try and restart the economy — both by addressing the immediate needs triggered by the pandemic, and longer-term trends he will argue Trump has failed to address, or even made worse in office.

Where Trump vowed four years ago to “Make America Great Again,” a slogan that proved successful in swing counties like nearby Luzerne County that saw one of the biggest flips in the country from President Barack Obama to Trump, Biden’s team is billing his agenda as designed to “Build Back Better,” by prioritizing small business workers and addressing ongoing inequalities that prevent minorities from reaching a fair economic playing field. 

Previewing Biden’s remarks at a metal works facility in Dunmore, Pennsylvania, three campaign officials argued that despite Trump’s “America First” rhetoric, outsourcing of American jobs has only grown as he has weakened America’s standing internationally. 

Building on a plan released earlier this week focused on rebuilding American supply chains, his “Build Back Better” manufacturing initiative calls for directing $400 billion in federal procurement spending on American-made products while tightening enforcement of so called “Buy American” provisions, and investing another $300 billion on research and development initiatives aimed at developing new technologies that could be marketed globally. 

“Vice President Biden truly believes that this is no time to just build back to the ways things were before with the economy's same old structural weakness and inequalities still in place. This, he believes, is the moment to imagine and build a new American economy for our families and next generations,” a senior campaign official said in a press call with reporters Wednesday.

In coming weeks, Biden will lay out additional initiatives that would both provide a needed boost to the economy while also addressing other challenges — specifically climate change and the pandemic. Next week, aides say, Biden will offer new details on what it calls a “clean energy and infrastructure plan,” followed by a plan creating a 21st century caregiving and education workforce, recognizing a shortage in healthcare providers that has been exacerbated during the pandemic. 

Finally, Biden will discuss an economic agenda focused on closing racial wealth gaps and expanding affordable housing, investing in minority entrepreneurs, and advancing policing and criminal justice reform.

In addition to Biden’s remarks Thursday, the campaign has planned six “Build Back Better” themed roundtable discussions with surrogates across the country in key battleground states Friday that include vice presidential hopefuls Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, as well as former primary rivals. 

Campaign officials would not specify Wednesday how Biden’s new spending would be paid for — a shift from the Democratic primaries when the campaign regularly detailed how he would generate new funding — one significant source being a rollback of some Trump tax cuts. 

Instead, a second official signaled that the administration would consider some of these new initiatives as essential stimulus measures that would not be offset by spending cuts or new taxes — as Congress has already done this year, and as Biden himself oversaw in the 2009 Recovery Act. 

“He wants to retain some flexibility,” the adviser said. “This year alone, we've seen a $3 trillion Cares Act now we're talking about another trillion or two to come in. And the pandemic trajectory is not looking particularly positive. So what's going to be required in terms of additional stimulus spending early next year is a little bit hard to figure.”

Republican outside groups book millions in ad time to defend Georgia, Kentucky Senate seats

WASHINGTON — Republican-affiliated groups are preparing to spend more than $25 million on new TV ads aimed at shoring up GOP-held seats in Georgia and Kentucky. 

The new buys in typically safe Republican states come as Democrats push to expand the map to challenge Republicans for the Senate majority. 

Two affiliated groups, the non-profit One Nation and super PAC Senate Leadership Fund, are making the ad buys this week, spokesman Jack Pandol confirmed. 

In Georgia, One Nation plans to spend about $8.65 million in August and Senate Leadership Fund plans to book roughly $13.5 million in television ads to start after Labor Day. 

There, Republicans have to play defense in two seats the party currently controls — in a special election to replace former Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, and in Republican Sen. David Perdue's re-election. 

Perdue is set to face off against Democrat Jon Ossoff, the Democrat who built up his name recognition and a strong fundraising network during a failed bid in a 2017 congressional special election. 

And in the special election, Republicans are in the middle of a brutal primary battle between incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rep. Doug Collins, while Rev. Raphael Warnock is the Democratic frontrunner. 

A recent Fox News poll found former Vice President Joe Biden leading President Trump by 2 points (the same poll found Perdue leading Ossoff by only 3 points). A down-ballot drag for Republicans, plus infighting in the Republican special election, could make Georgia more competitive in the fall. 

One Nation also plans to spend $4.3 million on a four-week television buy in Kentucky that starts on August 4. There, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has to fend off Democrat Amy McGrath, who won a tight primary against the more progressive state Rep. Charles Booker, but has an unprecedented warchest for a Democratic Senate challenger who isn't self-funding. 

Kansas' Bollier joins ranks of Senate Democratic challengers raising big money in second quarter

WASHINGTON — Kansas Senate Democratic contender Barbara Bollier broke the record for the largest reported single-quarter fundraising filing of any federal, state, or local candidate in the state’s history, her campaign said Wednesday.

Bollier, endorsed by the DSCC and widely viewed as the favorite to win the August 4 Democratic primary, raised $3.7 million in the second quarter, lasting from April through June, with over $4 million in cash on hand according to her team. That’s over $1 million more than the $2.35 million she raised in the first quarter of 2020. 

The campaign also said that almost 81 percent of those contributions were from first-time donors in a press statement. 

Kansas State Sen. Barbara Bollier speaks at the Statehouse in Topeka on April 26, 2018.John Hanna / AP file

The current state senator’s sizable cash haul is just one example of Senate Democratic challengers raking in big fundraising totals in the second quarter as the party tries to take back the Senate majority. Democrats aiming to unseat GOP Senate incumbents in Maine, the Carolinas, and Montana recently released their own eye-popping fundraising sums.

Bollier, a former Republican herself, hopes to become the first Democrat to win a U.S. Senate race in Kansas since 1932. But despite the state’s history of red representation in Congress, the Senate seat left open by retiring GOP Sen. Pat Roberts is considered winnable for Democrats under the right conditions with some Republicans worried that if former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach becomes their party’s nominee, the seat could be in play. 

Kobach, who lost the state’s 2018 gubernatorial contest to Democrat Laura Kelly, does not have the support of one of the most important trappings of the GOP establishment — the NRSC.

“Just last year Kris Kobach ran and lost to a Democrat. Now, he wants to do the same and simultaneously put President Trump’s presidency and Senate Majority at risk," NRSC spokesperson Joanna Rodriguez said last year after Kobach launched his bid. "We know Kansans won’t let that happen and we look forward to watching the Republican candidate they do choose win next fall.

Kobach's GOP rival, Kansas Rep. Roger Marshall, has racked up a number of significant endorsements and the Republican-aligned group, Plains PAC, also launched a multi-million dollar ad campaign Tuesday opposing Kobach’s candidacy.

And even though Kobach continues to make headlines, the Republican field ahead of next month’s primary remains crowded with almost a dozen candidates vying to advance to an expected general election match-up with Bollier in November.