The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Less than three months from Election Day, five states hold competitive primaries Tuesday
WASHINGTON — With less than three months left until Election Day, five states — Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Washington — are holding down-ballot primaries Tuesday.
Here are the contests the NBC News political unit has its eyes on:
Kansas Senate: One of the most pivotal primaries left on the calendar, some Republicans fear that if polarizing candidate Kris Kobach wins the GOP primary, they risk losing this open seat in November to Barbara Bollier, the likely Democratic nominee who is a state senator and former Republican. Kobach recently lost the gubernatorial race in 2018 to Democrat Laura Kelly and a group tied to Democrats is spending big in the race in the hopes of boosting him. If Bollier is victorious in the fall, she'd be the first Democrat to represent Kansas in the Senate since the 1930s.
Kansas 2nd District: Many Republicans have sounded the alarm on Republican Rep. Steve Watkins for months, actively encouraging the primary playing out Tuesday. Watkins was charged with voter fraud last month, but calls the charge politically motivated. He has a serious primary challenger in state Treasurer Jake LaTurner who scuttled his Senate bid to run for this seat after the former governor urged him to primary Watkins, well before the charges were filed.
Kansas 3rd District: The GOP will determine who gets to face off against Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids in a Republican seat then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton narrowly carried in 2016.
Michigan 13th District: Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a member of the progressive “Squad” faces a rematch against Brenda Jones, the Detroit City Council President who briefly represented the district in 2018 after beating Tlaib in a special election to fill the seat (Tlaib won the primary for the full two-year term starting in 2019 on the same ballot). Tlaib has declined to back presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, and Jones has the backing of the other candidates who ran in 2018.
Missouri 1st District: One of the biggest progressive versus establishment Democrat clashes left on the calendar, registered nurse Cori Bush is trying to knock off Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo. Clay beat Bush last time, but Bush now has the backing of Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Arizona 6th District: Republican Rep. David Schweikert has been dogged by allegations he violated campaign finance laws for years, but Democrats haven’t been able to capitalize on them to defeat him. Those attacks could stick better now that the House Ethics Committee punished Schweikert last week after finding he did violate House and campaign finance rules. The Democratic candidates vying to replace him include Hiral Tipirneni, the well-funded doctor who ran and lost in the 2018 special election to replace GOP Rep. Trent Franks.
Arizona 1st District: Democratic Rep. Tom O'Halleran has been a constant target for Republicans in an R+2 district Trump won by 1 point. Before the moderate Democrat gets the chance to defend his seat in a general election he will have to defeat Eva Putzova, a former local councilwoman who is attacking O’Halleran from his left and supports policies like Medicare for All.
Arizona and Michigan Senate: While these primaries are less competitive, the races will determine which challengers will face incumbents in states critical for Republicans to hold onto in order to maintain their Senate majority. In Arizona, Democratic astronaut Mark Kelly is expected to win the nomination to take on GOP Sen. Martha McSally while in Michigan, veteran Republican businessman John James will win the primary to take on Democratic Sen. Gary Peters.
Maricopa County Sheriff: While not a national race, Joe Arpaio, the controversial former sheriff pardoned by President Trump after violating a court order related to his immigrant crackdown, is running for his old position Tuesday.
—Liz Brown-Kaiser contributed.
Pro-Biden super PAC launches new ad on Trump's pandemic leadership
As President Donald Trump’s campaign returns to the airwaves tying Joe Biden to his party’s progressive flank, the Democrat’s allies are providing air cover by connecting the fragile economy to the president's handling of the pandemic.
Priorities USA, a leading pro-Biden super PAC, will spend more than $1 million a week on its new ad on cable and broadcast television in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Arizona.
“He downplayed the virus, ignored experts, insisted everything was going to be OK,” a narrator says. “Now, cases are surging and he’s making the same mistakes again.”
The spot closes with Biden’s recent remarks, saying Trump “hasn’t grasped the most basic fact of this crisis: To fix the economy, we have to get control over the virus.”
The spot also hits airwaves as the president, who has been unable to hold large public campaign rallies, has resumed nightly press briefings ostensibly about the pandemic.
“There is no case for a second term for Donald Trump. That’s why his campaign is scrambling to find new ways to spread misinformation and lie to the American people to cover up his obvious failures,” Priorities USA Action executive director Patrick McHugh said in a statement.
Conservatives warn GOP senators they risk angering voters by backing coronavirus aid package
WASHINGTON — Polling prepared for the conservative Club for Growth found Republican senators could risk endangering enthusiasm among their supporters if they back some provisions of the latest proposed coronavirus aid package.
The poll was conducted in seven states where incumbent Republican senators are facing strong challengers and found voters collectively were more inclined to back Democratic candidates, according to a copy of the polling memo exclusively provided to NBC News.
“If Republican Senators vote for a package including these provisions, it is likely to reduce Republican turnout and make the already challenging task of maintaining control of the Senate even harder,” the memo argues, pointing to unemployment and school spending proposals.
Congressional leaders continue to negotiate $1 trillion in additional assistance for those affected by coronavirus, including whether to continue the $600 federal weekly unemployment benefit that expired at the end of July.
Republicans in the Senate are split over the package. Senators facing re-election in November have largely backed the continued jobless benefits and increased state aid, hoping to leverage more funding to sway voters.
Conservative groups like Club for Growth and a group of senators not facing re-election this year are opposed, arguing that Republican voters would be discouraged if their lawmakers back more spending.
On the question of unemployment benefits, the poll found 36 percent of voters were less likely to support the Republican senate candidate if they voted in favor of continued boosted jobless benefits that “pays people to stay unemployed even when they could take available jobs in their area.” Of those polled, 14 percent said they support for the provision would make them more likely to vote for the Republican.
The poll found that 38 percent are less likely to support a Republican who votes for school funding that doesn’t include money for parents who are conducting homeschooling or hire private tutors. The poll found 13 percent were more likely to support the candidate who backed that provision.
The poll also tested whether voters would be swayed by a message about increased deficit — it found that 33 percent of those polled are less likely to support a Republican if they vote “to add another one trillion dollars in debt to be repaid by future tax increases, while over one trillion dollars from the last COVID relief bill previously authorized by Congress remains unspent.”
The online poll by WPAi of 800 voters in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Montana and North Carolina was conducted at the end of July and had a margin of error of 3.4 percent.
RNC still 'working through' press access for Charlotte convention events
WASHINGTON — The Republican National Committee says it is still weighing whether press will be allowed to attend and cover Charlotte convention events in-person later this month.
“No final decision has been made and we are still working through logistics and press coverage options. We are working with the parameters set before us by state and local guidelines regarding the number of people who can attend events,” RNC communications director Michael Ahrens told NBC News in a statement.
“A livestream is one of the press coverage options we are considering,” Ahrens added.
As of now, it’s unclear whether the president will attend any convention business in North Carolina but there’s a possibility he will go to Charlotte on Aug. 24 to thank a smaller footprint of delegates in a private meeting, an RNC official said. It’s also still unknown where Trump will accept his re-nomination formally on Aug. 27.
The president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, AP reporter Zeke Miller, called the possibility of a closed press convention “an ill-advised decision” and urged the GOP to open events in a tweet over the weekend.
“Hopefully they’ll give the American people the access they deserve,” he wrote.
Trump campaign returns to the airwaves in early-voting states
WASHINGTON — President Trump's campaign is getting back up on the airwaves after hitting pause on their TV ad spending last week for a campaign strategy review. On Monday, the campaign announced it is launching two new ads in North Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Arizona.
The campaign's new strategy is to target voters in early-voting states. North Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Arizona all begin early voting in October, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The campaign did not disclose the exact amount being spent for the ad buy, but deputy national press secretary Ken Farnaso said it is in the "high seven figures."
“In many states, more than half of voters will cast their votes well before Election Day and we have adjusted our strategy to reflect that. Joe Biden is continuing to spend millions of dollars a week in states that won’t come online for two months and we encourage him to keep at it," Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said in a statement.
The two new ads, which will be running on local broadcast and cable outlets and on Spanish language channels, attack presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden on raising taxes, immigration policy and trade deals.
The first ad, "Takeover", revisits a popular theme in Trump's rhetoric and advertising that Biden will reduce "police funding", and is a mouthpiece for the "radical left." However, Biden's police funding position is that he would increase funding to the Community Oriented Policing Services program and has suggested redirecting some police funding to social services and prison reform.
The second ad, entitled "cards", focuses on a voter who won't say she supports the president "out loud" making her a part of the "Silent Majority" the Trump campaign credits for delivering Trump his 2016 win. While it's unknown how many voters support the president and won't say it, in a recent Monmouth University poll of registered voters in Pennsylvania, 57 percent said they felt there was a "secret" Trump vote in their communities. Only 27 percent said they believed there was a secret vote for Biden.
Bass on work in Cuba: I 'don’t consider myself a Castro sympathizer'
WASHINGTON — California Democratic Rep. Karen Bass, one of the women being considered by former Vice President Joe Biden as his running mate, said Sunday that she does not consider herself a "Castro sympathizer" and her work in Cuba in the early portion of her career was about humanitarian aid.
Bass told "Meet the Press" she may have been a bit naive, "as any 19-year-old would be" when she traveled to Cuba to build houses in her early 20s.
While she said she's "always believed in bridging the divide between our two countries" and that she's still working with the country on issues like bringing two promising medicines for diabetes and lung cancer to America, she argued that "doesn't excuse the fact that I know the Castro people has been a brutal regime to its people."
"When I went in my late teens and early twenties, you know, one of the reasons was to build relations with the Americans that were there, because there were over 100 young people that were there," she said.
"And all of us worked on different issues. Well, what's interesting is that we had the ability to come home and protest against our own government. But the Cuban people most certainly cannot do that. They couldn't do it then and they can't do it now."
When pressed on her 2016 statement on dictator Fidel Castro's death, where she referred to Castro as "Comandante en Jefe" (Spanish for commander-in-chief), Bass admitted she erred.
"I was expressing condolences to the Cuban people, to the people in Cuba, not Cubans around the world," she said.
"Lesson learned. Wouldn't do that again. Talked immediately to my colleagues from Florida and realized that that was something that just shouldn't have been said."
In a press release this weekend, President Trump's campaign referred to Bass as "Communist Karen," pointing specifically to her work in Cuba.
Just days before likely announcement, VP contenders stay busy
WASHINGTON — Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden is expected to make his vice presidential pick, and perhaps announce that pick, next week.
"I’m going to have a choice the first week in August and I promise I’ll let you know when I do," Biden told reporters on Tuesday.
Ahead of that announcement, Biden made a public in-person appearance with one of the women being vetted, California Rep. Karen Bass. The two were spotted in the Capitol after Biden paid his respects to late Georgia Rep. John Lewis who was lying in state. Biden even joked with NBC News correspondent Mike Memoli that he asked her to be his running mate "and she said no."
Here’s how some women up for the job spent their potential last week of vetting:
Rep. Karen Bass: Aside from her impromptu meeting with Biden in the Capitol, Bass spent the early part of this week cleaning up a part of her record: Comments she made about Cuban dictator Fidel Castro after his death. In 2016, Bass published a statement on Castro’s death, saying, “The passing of the Comandante en Jefe is a great loss to the people of Cuba.”
On Sunday, Bass said on MSNBC that she wouldn’t use those same words today.
“I have talked to my colleagues in the House about that and it's certainly something I would not say again,” Bass said.
She added, “I certainly understand the sensitivity, and to me saying that, the understanding that the translation in Spanish communicated something completely different. Lesson learned.”
Sen. Kamala Harris: The California senator reportedly drew ire from former Sen. Chris Dodd — a member of Biden’s V.P.-search committee. According to a POLITICO report, Dodd felt Harris has shown “no remorse” for her and Biden’s first debate altercation during the Democratic primary.
While Biden has said repeatedly that he has moved on from the incident, and that he doesn’t hold a grudge against Harris, the event could be what keeps Harris from getting the VP nod.
But Biden’s campaign manager may have put some of those rumors that there’s bad blood between Biden and Harris to rest. When attacks over Harris’ ambitiousness came out this week, Jen O’Malley Dillon tweeted:
Susan Rice: Rice’s veep stock has consistently risen over the last few weeks. But her lack of campaigning experience coupled with never holding elected office could be a strain on her chances of being picked.
During an interview on MSNBC last weekend, though, Rice said her other strengths would outweigh her lack of miles on the trail.
“I have not run for elective office, even though I've worked on behalf of others on three presidential campaigns and I feel like I've run on other people's behalf. But my comparative strength,” Rice said, “is my many years of service at the high levels of the executive branch. I know how to make government work and produce results that will be beneficial for the American people.”
Of course, a Rice choice could reignite the Benghazi investigation for Republicans — Rice served as former President Obama’s National Security Adviser during the crisis.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth: The Iraq veteran and Illinois senator has also seen a boost in her national name recognition over the last few weeks of the veepstakes. And on Thursday, she made headlines when she confirmed that she has been interviewed for the V.P. slot by the Biden camp.
“I have been interviewed, yes,” she said during a live interview with The Washington Post. “I'm on Team Biden and it really doesn't matter what position I play as long as we get Joe Biden elected.”
While Duckworth described the interview as “positive,” she wouldn’t go into much more detail, declining to say whether she’s had a private conversation with the presumptive Democratic nominee.
But on Wednesday when the Democratic National Convention schedule was released, the Illinois senator was listed as a convention co-chair — a title that could signal she’s no longer a veep contender, though NBC News has not confirmed that.
As a veep pick nears, Republican groups are starting to weigh in on how they could attack the Biden campaign’s choice. The Committee to Defend the President, a Republican group that supports President Trump, released a new ad on Friday attacking Biden for not picking a Latina as his V.P.
Of course, Biden hasn’t made his choice yet, and while the ad says Biden “promised” to pick a Black woman it should be noted that Biden only promised to pick a female candidate and has said there are at least four Black women on his short list. Other women of color have also been in talks with the Biden campaign like Duckworth and New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Check out the political unit’s coverage of the veepstakes here.
Everytown for Gun Safety launches $2 million ad campaign
Two political action committees under the Everytown for Gun Safety umbrella announced a $2 million ad campaign on Thursday targeting Latino voters. The new campaign marks the one-year anniversary of the El Paso shooting when 20 people were killed by a shooter.
The bilingual digital and TV ads will air in 2020 battleground states and media markets like Tampa, Orlando, Miami, Fort Myers and West Palm Beach in Florida, Maricopa County in Arizona and El Paso, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston in Texas.
The group also rolled out its first digital ad on Thursday. Entitled, "We have not forgotten", is playing statewide in Texas and was a five-figure spend for Everytown. It focuses on the lack of gun control action taken by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump. The English version of the ad can be found here.
Alongside its paid media campaign, Everytown released a new poll conducted by Equis Research and Global Strategy Group of registered Latino voters to show how gun control has become a key issue to Latino voters.
“The one-year milestone of the mass shooting in El Paso is a tragic reminder of the toll gun violence takes on the Latino community," president of Everytown John Feinblatt said in a statement.
He added, “It should come as no surprise that Latino voters are fed up with lawmakers who refuse to take action, and are planning to vote for candidates who will make keeping their families safe from gun violence a top priority.”
The poll shows that 66 percent of Latino voters said they wouldn't support a candidate who doesn't support a background check on all gun sales — that's on par with Latino voters' feelings on racial equality, health care and job creation. And 47 percent of Latino voters said they became more supportive of stronger gun control legislation since the El Paso shooting.
Other statewide polls have shown President Trump trailing or on par with presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in Florida, Texas and Arizona, and a Pew Research Center survey found that Latino voters could be the largest non-white share of the vote in November. Everytown for Gun Safety endorsed Biden in March.
Health care groups look to boost Democrats again in 2020
WASHINGTON — A number of doctor and nurses groups are backing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden for president amid the coronavirus pandemic, and as health care becomes a main focus of the presidential campaign, these groups are are making the bet that they can help Biden over the finish line like the issue helped House Democrats in 2018.
Biden has support from health care groups like the Committee to Protect Medicare (a coalition of over 400 doctors across 40 states), National Nurses United, Be a Hero (the group affiliated with health care activist Ady Barkan) and the American Federation of Teachers which includes has over 112,000 health professionals as members.
But the groups aren't just offering support, they're also taking their message to the airwaves.
The Committee to Protect Medicare launched a six-figure ad buy in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Arizona on Wednesday tying Biden’s understanding of loss to the struggle frontline health care professionals are in with coronavirus. Its message mirrors that of the Biden campaign: aside from Biden’s health care plans, his empathy is what should set him apart from President Trump.
Executive director of Committee to Protect Medicare and Michigan emergency room doctor Dr. Rob Davidson compared Biden’s empathy to a doctor’s bedside manner in the midst of this crisis.
“There’s a lot of pain and suffering and I think having someone in charge who understands that, someone who has lived it but also can look into someone else’s eyes and sort of walk in their shoes and understand their suffering and pain goes a long way to healing,” Davidson said.
When Democrats won the House in 2018, 41 percent percent of voters said health care was the most important issue facing the country, according to NBC News’ exit polls. When broken down by party, 75 percent of Democrats said health care was the most important issue. Democrats who flipped seats in the House like Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin and Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger ran on expanding the Affordable Care Act — just like Biden has.
And outside groups are pushing for Democratic-led health care legislation again this November.
The American Federation of Teachers launched a $1 million ad campaign in June to push support for the House’s HEROES Act, and National Nurses United and Be a Hero dropped a six-figure digital ad campaign lambasting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for not bringing the HEROES Act to the Senate floor.
The Senate Republican conference announced their coronavirus relief proposal on Monday — a proposal that National Nurses United and Be a Hero reject.
In 2010, Democrats lost their House majority after passing the Affordable Care Act. And Republicans have successfully campaigned on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act for nearly a decade — but they’ve yet to pass a new health care bill since regaining control of the White House and having control of both chambers of Congress for the first two years of President Trump's current term. The president hasn’t released a new health care proposal this calendar year, but teased that a proposal would be coming soon.
The Trump administration joined a Texas lawsuit in June to permanently overturn the ACA, and has faced criticism for the move saying it would strip away health care from people in the midst of a pandemic.
“We're getting rid of it because we're going to replace it with something much better,” Trump said in response to that criticism during an interview on Fox News Sunday.
And while Trump is defending his handling of the coronavirus and his lawsuit efforts, health care will be front and center in November.
According to a June Pew Research Center survey, 58 percent of adults said the coronavirus outbreak is a big issue facing the country and 57 percent said the affordability of health care was a big problem. And prior to the coronavirus pandemic, a January Gallup poll found that health care was ranked as the most important issue for adults.
When asked what he’d say to voters who may be concerned about a larger government presence in health care — a common point in Republican health care advertising — Davidson said voters should remember that Biden’s plan isn’t the same as socialized medicine.
“They have been certainly influenced by an ad campaign from the insurance industry and drug companies that want to keep the status quo as long as they can, because they are the ones who profit off this and patients are the ones who suffer,” Davidson said.
He added, “The plans that Biden’s talking about, and even Medicare for All isn’t [socialized medicine], it’s publicly funded but privately delivered and I think that little mantra probably should be something that messaging should be focused around.”
Biden campaign launches first TV ads in Ohio
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign is expanding its paid media effort into Ohio with a message focused on his new economic agenda, a sign of the campaign’s increasingly bullish view of the battleground map and a shot at President Donald Trump on the issue he's counted on to keep him in the White House.
Until Thursday, the Democratic nominee’s campaign has focused most of its advertising on six states Trump carried in 2016 — Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Earlier this week, it added battleground Nevada to a new $14.5 million in ad spending across those battleground states.
And now the Biden campaign is adding a new, seven-figure campaign focused exclusively on the Buckeye State. Airing in the Toledo and Youngstown markets through the Democratic National Convention next month, Biden's new advertisement actually spotlights his hometown of Scranton.
Meanwhile, recent TV and radio ad spending figures from the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics show Trump's campaign drastically ramping down its spending in Michigan, a state key to Trump's victory in 2016.
“Scranton is a long way from Wall Street. You won’t find skyscrapers or big-city bankers. Just hard-working people that make this country work. That’s where Joe Biden’s story starts,” the ad begins.
“Donald Trump? He ran for president for himself and for his friends on Wall Street.”
The ad then promotes Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan, unveiled over the course of this month, to help “the backbone of this nation: working families.”
The Trump campaign has spent $3.5 million on the air in Ohio since April 1, the only other major spending there in that period in a state the president won by 8 points in 2016.
The Lincoln Project, a super PAC opposing Trump, has spent $376,000, while the pro-Trump American First Policies has spent $175,000.
As part of President Obama's ticket in both 2008 and 2012, Biden spent more time in Ohio than almost any other state — especially in the kind of blue-collar communities where his campaign is targeting his new economic message.
Ohio put President Obama over the top for his 2012 reelection, but swung dramatically toward Trump in his surprise 2016 victory. The state could again be decisive in 2020 — if Biden only carried the states that 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won in 2016 and added Pennsylvania, the only battleground state in which he’s campaigned in since April, Ohio’s 18 electoral votes would put him right at 270 — the magic number to claim the White House.
On top of the Ohio ad, Biden's campaign is also promoting his "Build Back Better" plan in another new ad airing in the other seven battlegrounds, featuring his remarks as he kicked off the economic push at a metalworks plant near Scranton earlier this month.
—Ben Kamisar contributed
Lincoln Project hits Sen. Susan Collins as Trump 'stooge' as part of new $4 million ad buy
WASHINGTON — The Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump super PAC founded by disaffected Republican strategists and known for its viral ads, is out with a new TV spot targeting Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins, who is up for re-election in November.
“Great, independent leaders rise from Maine’s hard soil. Always have and always will,” the ad begins over images of the state's past political leaders.
The narrator then pivots to criticizing Collins, labelling her a “Trump stooge.”
“Collins isn’t an independent. She’s a fraud,” the one-minute spot continues. “Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump control her voice. She makes excuses for corruption, for criminality, for cruelty, all while pretending she’s worried.”
“Susan Collins doesn’t work for Maine, she works for them. And Maine deserves a leader, not a Trump stooge,” the ad concludes.
The Lincoln Project’s latest spot is part of a broader $4 million buy focused on Maine, Alaska, and Montana with the Alaska and Montana ads backing Democratic challengers to the states’ GOP incumbent senators. It’s the group’s largest buy to date according to communications director Keith Edwards, with at least $1 million dedicated to each of the three states.
The ads will air on both broadcast and cable television in their respective states for seven to 10 days, the super PAC confirmed to NBC News.
In a statement announcing the Collins spot, the Lincoln Project said that, "Defeating Trump means defeating his network of enablers as well. Come November 3rd, it’s time for Senator Collins to go."
The ad comes just one day after the Collins' re-election campaign released its own one-minute spot, "Character," in which the Maine senator defends herself against the "outrageous attacks on [her] integrity."