The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
DNC spotlight's Trump's pandemic leadership in new digital video
WASHINGTON — As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States passes the five million mark, the Democratic National Committee’s rapid response arm is out with a new digital video highlighting President Donald Trump’s oft-repeated contention that the coronavirus pandemic will “disappear” and “go away.”
The video features the president's comments juxtaposed against the cautionary words of the White House Coronavirus Task Force’s Dr. Deborah Birx.
The ad, which will appear unpaid on DNC social media platforms, is part of the larger push the committee is making to contrast Trump’s record with the plans presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden says he will offer when it comes to the coronavirus. “As we reach this horrible milestone of 5 million cases, we’re holding him accountable for still not having a plan to control the virus, even as more than 160,000 Americans have died and millions have lost their jobs,” Lily Adams, DNC War Room senior spokesperson told NBC News.
In July, the DNC began its first TV ad campaign of the 2020 cycle, marking the five year anniversary of the announcement Trump’s 2016 candidacy and his now-famous ride down that Trump Tower escalator. That ad, titled “Descent,” focuses on the decline of American jobs, health care, race relations, and immigrant rights.
Anticipation over Biden's running mate pick builds ahead of decision
WASHINGTON — Despite presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s pledge to announce his running mate by the first week of August, the political world still awaits his decision as the clock ticks down to the formal party nomination.
NBC News reported Monday that Biden planned to whittle his vice presidential list down to three or four candidates this week and have in-person meetings with his top contenders.
But Biden’s wife, Dr. Jill Biden, assured that an announcement was coming soon.
“We're close,” she said in an interview on Fox News on Tuesday. “He's close, he's got to make the final decision.”
With the highly-awaited choice just around the corner, here’s what some of the contenders have been up to this week.
Sen. Kamala Harris: The California senator has been highly visible over recent days, continuing to put herself in the public eye as a top pick. And Biden himself confirmed that Harris remains in the veepstakes amid reports that some of his aides were pushing against her as the choice.
“She's very much in contention,” he said during an interview Thursday.
Harris remained vague, however, telling reporters on Capitol Hill, “You probably know more than I do!”
“Sometimes you get cut, sometimes it hurts, but it is worth it,” she added.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: After falling out of the headlines in recent weeks, NBC News reported Thursday that the Michigan governor is still a serious contender.
Whitmer serves as a co-chair for the Biden campaign and has earned the presumptive Democratic nominee’s praise for leading Michigan, a critical 2020 battleground state, through the coronavirus crisis.
And though many have called for Biden to choose a woman of color, Whitmer has voiced her demands for racial justice reform and declared racism a public health crisis this week in an executive order.
Rep. Karen Bass: With more national name recognition comes more scrutiny.
In the past week, there’s been extensive reporting on the California representative’s controversial comments about Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro, and her decision to eulogize Oneil Marion Cannon, a high-ranking member of the Communist Party USA, in remarks entered into the congressional record in 2017.
Bass disputed claims that she’s a socialist or communist this week.
And on a more personal level, Bass opened up about an experience she shares with Biden and has discussed with him — losing a child.
“The most difficult part of it was and it was the same with him, is when those accidents happened, both of us were in public life,” she said during an interview on Sunday. “You don't have an opportunity to grieve privately, the world is watching you as you're grieving.”
Susan Rice: Rice’s leadership during the Benghazi attacks continued to make headlines this week with some suggesting that Rice as Biden’s running mate would make her a “lightning rod” for President Donald Trump’s base.
But in interviews, Rice has largely avoided those criticisms and instead has highlighted how her time in the Obama administration makes her qualified for the V.P. job.
“I think what I would bring is almost 20 years of deep experience at the senior-most ranks of the executive branch,” she said during an interview with CBS News Tuesday.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: Warren has already made herself a key policy-making partner to Biden, and her increasingly close relationship with him could signal that the two are “simpatico” — a must for the presumptive Democratic nominee.
Multiple outlets have reported that Biden and Warren speak regularly, which could be an encouraging sign for progressives who view Biden as too moderate.
And during a recent fundraiser that raised almost $2 million from over 50,000 grassroots donors, Biden spoke highly of the Massachusetts senator.
“Her fearless work for a just America has transformed lives and inspired millions, including me," Biden said of Warren. "She is something else. You all know her.”
Warren returned the compliment.
“I wake up every single day with a heart full of hope and here is why: Vice President Biden is meeting the moment,” Warren said.
Check out the NBC News political unit’s coverage of the veepstakes here.
Phoenix has become the top individual advertising market in the 2020 White House race
WASHINGTON — Phoenix has been the hottest advertising market in the 2020 presidential race, and this has nothing to do with the city’s blazing summer temperatures.
According to TV and radio ad spending data from Advertising Analytics, pro-Donald Trump and pro-Joe Biden advertisers have spent nearly $14 million in the Phoenix market from April 1 to Aug. 6.
That’s more than any other individual advertising market, and it’s a recognition of Arizona’s battleground status, as well as the importance of populous Maricopa County (where Phoenix is) in winning the state.
The second-biggest individual advertising market is Pittsburgh at $12.4 million, and the state of Pennsylvania has three in the overall Top 10 markets (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Harrisburg/Lancaster/Lebanon/York).
Florida has two markets in the Top 10 (Orlando/Daytona Beach/Melbourne, and Tampa/St. Petersburg/Sarasota), and so does Wisconsin (Green Bay/Appleton and Milwaukee).
But the largest overall market in the 2020 presidential race has been for national broadcast and cable buys — at $25 million.
That’s a significant departure from the 2016 race, which saw far less national and cable spending.
The Top 10 Advertising Markets in the 2020 Presidential Election Since April 1, according to data from Advertising Analytics:
- National: $25.3 million
- Phoenix: $13.7 million
- Pittsburgh: $12.4 million
- Orlando/Daytona Beach/Melbourne, Fla: $10.6 million
- Detroit: $9.9 million
- Tampa/St. Petersburg/Sarasota, Fla.: $9.5 million
- Philadelphia: $8.4 million
- Harrisburg/Lancaster/Lebanon/York, Penn.: $8.1 million
- Green Bay/Appleton, Wisc.: $7.1 million
- Milwaukee: $7.1 million
Club for Growth pushes Biden on school reopening in new battleground ad buy
WASHINGTON — The conservative Club for Growth is launching a $5 million media campaign with a new television spot that attacks former Vice President Joe Biden on the issue of reopening schools as President Trump pushes for in-person schooling this fall.
The new ad laments the possible developmental challenges of schools not returning to in-person classes in order to fight the virus, hitting Biden on his lack of support for school vouchers that the group says can help students find a school offering in-person learning if their public school is closed.
"A lost year is unacceptable, but four under Biden? That's a lost generation," the ad's narrator says.
The ads will begin running on Monday in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the group says, and that $5 million total includes both television and digital spots.
President Trump has pushed hard for schools to hold in-person classes in the fall, despite the recent spike in coronavirus cases and deaths.
Arguing that virtual school would make it harder for students to receive free and reduce meals, mental health services or have adults check in on them to be sure they're not being neglected at home, Trump said during a July White House briefing that "many school districts can now reopen safely, provided they implement mitigation measures and health protocols to protect families, protect teachers, and to protect students."
Recently released guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention focuses heavily on in-person schooling. Those guidelines were released weeks after Trump criticized the CDC for having "very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools" in a tweet.
The president has also threatened to withhold federal funding from schools that don't reopen, accusing schools of making the decision based on politics.
Biden said during the presidential primary that he opposes school vouchers.
And his coronavirus school plan specifically calls for increased funding for public schools and child-care providers, alongside four other main planks: getting the spread of the virus under control, creating new national guidelines while allowing localities to make the ultimate decision, develop best practices on virtual and hybrid learning, and taking steps to ensure equal access to quality education during the crisis.
During a July 15 fundraiser, Biden criticized Trump's comments about cutting funding for schools that don't open. "We should send him back to school for a while so he learns about the Constitution and he learns about the power he does and doesn’t have," he said.
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.