The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Tennessee GOP Senate primary sets up another establishment vs. insurgent battle
WASHINGTON — After Tuesday's Kansas primary results gave Senate Republicans a sigh of relief after Kris Kobach's defeat, the Tennessee GOP Senate primary on Thursday also pits an establishment candidate against an insurgent. And both candidates are trying to brand the other as inauthentically conservative.
Bill Hagerty, a former private equity executive who most recently served as U.S. ambassador to Japan, was long seen as a shoo-in for the seat after Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., announced his retirement last July. President Trump endorsed Hagerty almost immediately, even before Hagerty made his own campaign official. In a state where Trump won by a 26-point margin in 2016, that support initially made the primary seem like a snoozer.
But surgeon and first-generation American Manny Sethi appears to have surged in the closing weeks of a race that has become increasingly nasty and personal. While Hagerty has the financial advantage and the support of the president, a Sethi win could demonstrate the limits of Trump’s backing.
Public polling has been scarce, and Sethi’s internal numbers have shown a closer race than Hagerty’s, but both campaigns have ratcheted up negative attacks.
In a sign of how the GOP tide has turned against its 2012 presidential nominee, Sethi and his allies have lambasted Hagerty as “another Romney” because of his past role as national finance chair for Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign. (Hagerty later served as Trump’s Tennessee Victory Chair in 2016, and he has distanced himself from Romney — even labeling him “weak-kneed” in a recent ad, and Romney has not publicly weighed in on the race.)
Sethi’s ads have also included warnings about “left-wing mobs,” and an “illegal immigrant invasion.” (That last claim came in a spot featuring his mother, who emigrated from India legally.) He’s also suggested that a conservative who objects to coronavirus lockdowns and the Black Lives Matter protests is automatically labeled “a racist [who] wants to kill Grandma.”
Hagerty’s ads have featured a veteran who says he doesn’t trust Sethi to stop flag-burners because he once donated to “a left-wing group that is bankrolling the rioters.” Sethi’s wife says this actually refers to a $50 donation to House Democratic candidate Tom Perriello in 2008 — made as a favor to a family friend — via the commonly-used online donation hub ActBlue.
Hagerty also called Sethi a “liberal elitist” for serving on a medical board that supported the Affordable Care Act and for failing to donate to Trump’s 2016 campaign.
The contest has split Republican officials, with both Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., backing Sethi while Hagerty boasts backing from Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark.
Whichever candidate wins, he will start with a big advantage over likely Democratic candidate and Army veteran James Mackler in the fall.
Ben Kamisar contributed.
Trump campaign requests adding another presidential debate
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's campaign Wednesday asked the Commission on Presidential Debates for a fourth debate to be added earlier than the first CPD-sanctioned one scheduled for Sept. 29. In a letter to the CPD, the Trump campaign argued an earlier date is needed between the president and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden before early voting in any states started.
"For a nation already deprived of a traditional campaign schedule because of the COVID-19 global pandemic, it makes no sense to also deprive so many Americans of the opportunity to see and hear the two competing visions for our country’s future before millions of votes have been cast," Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani wrote in the letter.
The letter also requested that one of the currently scheduled debates be moved earlier if the CPD wouldn't add an additional debate.
Currently, the three debates are scheduled for Sept. 29 at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, Oct. 15 at Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Florida and Oct. 22 at Belmont University in Tennessee. Two of the debate venues have already had to change due to the coronavirus pandemic. The University of Notre Dame in Indiana withdrew from hosting the first debate, and the University of Michigan dropped out of hosting the second debate.
The vice presidential debate is scheduled for Oct. 7 at the University of Utah.
The Biden campaign has agreed to three debates with the president and in response to Trump's ask, the Biden team only affirmed that Biden would appear at the debates already sanctioned by the CPD.
"We have said all along, including in a letter to the commission in June, that Joe Biden will appear on the dates that the commission selected and in the locations they chose. Donald Trump has not, continually trying to insert his choice of friendly moderators, now including one who just published an op-ed offering 'the case' for Trump's reelection. Joe Biden will be there," Biden campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates said.
The Trump team's letter also included a list of journalists and commentators that they would prefer moderate the debates. The CPD has not yet announced who would moderate any of the presidential debates, and they have not yet responded to the Trump team's latest ask.
Kanye West files signatures in hopes of getting on ballot in Ohio and Colorado
WASHINGTON — Music superstar Kanye West's presidential campaign has filed petitions to gain ballot access in Colorado and Ohio, the latest attempt by the musician's team to get on the presidential ballot in key states.
Spokespeople for both the Ohio and Colorado Secretary of State's office confirmed Wednesday that West's representatives filed the necessary paperwork aimed at winning West a spot on the presidential ballot.
West isn't guaranteed a spot on the ballot, as officials will need to certify that his signatures are valid before granting him ballot access. That process is currently ongoing in the other states where West has filed — Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
The only state where West has made the ballot so far is Oklahoma, where he only needed to send a check in lieu of petition signatures.
And West has had issues with his petitions before — his representatives dropped their bid to get the rapper on the ballot in New Jersey after a complaint was raised by a local lawyer. And citizens in Illinois have filed three challenges to his petitions signatures there.
But there are signs that Republican operatives and people connected to GOP politics are working to get him onto ballots — a Missouri Republican operative is listed as a point-of-contact on West's Arkansas application, and Vice both identified a woman delivering West's petitions in Wisconsin as a veteran elections lawyer who has advised the state Republican Party and obtained an email of a veteran Colorado GOP strategist soliciting signatures for West.
A record number of all-woman congressional matchups are set for November
WASHINGTON — The 2020 general election will feature a record-breaking number of congressional races in which two women candidates will face one another, a mark reached after Tuesday’s primaries according to the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University.
Data released by CAWP Wednesday shows that there are officially 38 woman-versus-woman contests at the congressional level this cycle, a new high surpassing the previous record of 33 all-female races set during the 2018 midterms.
“When we began tracking women candidates, having even one woman in a congressional or gubernatorial race was rare,” CAWP Director Debbie Walsh told NBC News. “General election contests with two women competing for a seat show just how much progress has been made."
"I look forward to the day when a woman vs. woman race is as commonplace as when two men run against each other," she added.
The unprecedented number of female match-ups comes after notable primaries in Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, and Missouri produced more women nominees from both parties Tuesday.
In Kansas, where several general election contests are considered competitive, every congressional nominee on the Democratic side is a woman, CAWP data highlights. And Amanda Adkins' victory in the GOP primary in the state's 3rd House District sets up a high-profile all-woman race with incumbent Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids.
Republican Lisa McClain and Democrat Kimberly Bizon won their respective parties' nominations in Michigan's 10th District, likewise setting up a woman-versus-woman faceoff.
And in Missouri’s 1st House District and Arizona’s 6th House District, November wins for newly-crowned Democratic nominees, Cori Bush and Hiral Tipirneni, would guarantee each of their states’ their first women of color representatives in Congress.
The latest peak in the number of all-female congressional races is part of a larger trend involving women in politics. In the 2020 cycle, there’s been a record number of women candidates who have filed to run for the House and Senate, with both Democrats and Republicans eclipsing their previous highs on the House side.
And with primaries in about a dozen states still to come before Election Day, the newly-set record for all-female congressional races could be broken again.
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.