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Meet the Press Blog: Latest news, analysis and data driving the political discussion

Smart political reporting and analysis, including data points, interesting national trends, short updates and more from the NBC News political unit.
Image: Illustration of photos depicting voters on line, voting booths, the Capitol, the White House and raised hands.
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Kanye West won't appear on Illinois or Ohio ballots

WASHINGTON — Kanye West won't appear on either the Ohio or Illinois presidential ballots this November, the states respectively officially announced on Friday.  

In Illinois, West's home state, the board ruled unanimously that West hadn't submitted enough signatures from registered Illinois voters to be on the ballot. The board of elections requires 2,500 signatures for independent candidates, and West only filed 1,200. 

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced that West failed to meet the requirements to appear on the ballot in that state as well. According to LaRose, the information and a signature on the nominating petition and statement of candidacy submitted to the secretary of state's office did not match the nominating petition and candidacy statement used to circulate "part-petitions", or circulated nominating materials. 

“A signature is the most basic form of authentication and an important, time-honored, security measure to ensure that a candidate aspires to be on the ballot and that a voter is being asked to sign a legitimate petition,” LaRose said in a statement. “There is no doubt that the West nominating petition and declaration of candidacy failed to meet the necessary threshold for certification.”    

One of West's best chances to appear on a battleground state's ballot was Wisconsin. On Thursday, Wisconsin's state election board ruled 5-1 that West's application was submitted too late to be counted. 

West's long-shot presidential campaign has been marred by allegations that Republican operatives are trying to bolster West's candidacy to peel voters away from Democratic nominee Joe Biden. 

Commuted by President Trump, Alice Marie Johnson aims to bolster him with RNC speech

WASHINGTON — When Donald Trump was on the ballot in 2016, Alice Marie Johnson couldn’t vote for him even if she wanted to because she was in prison. Now, even though her voting rights haven’t been restored, Johnson says she’ll do everything she can to ensure the man who granted her clemency is re-elected to a second term.

Johnson was convicted in 1996 of nonviolent drug and money laundering chargers and served nearly 22 years of a life term before the president commuted her sentence.

Next week, she’ll be a featured speaker at the Republican National Convention in Washington D.C. The president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, called Johnson personally to make the ask. 

Alice Marie Johnson speaks at the 2019 White House Prison Reform Summit and First Step Act celebration. Hosted in the East Room of the White House, on April 1, 2019.Cheriss May / NurPhoto via Getty Images

She didn’t hesitate. “It gives me an opportunity to share my heart with America,” Johnson told NBC News in an interview this week. “People can tell when you’re authentic.”

Johnson will use her time to tout the Trump administration’s work on criminal justice reform and outreach to African-American supporters. “I’m hoping that my story will remind everyone that’s there’s many others just like me who are waiting for mercy and a chance for redemption.” 

The 63-year-old great-grandmother is scheduled to deliver her address at the GOP convention live, either from the White House or the Andrew Mellon auditorium nearby.

Her case was championed by Kim Kardashian, who is married to rapper and presidential hopeful Kanye West. Johnson said she hasn’t spoken to either of them since Kanye announced his White House bid but wouldn’t “judge” his decision to get into the race yet.

Johnson didn’t watch much of the Democratic National Convention but she said a portion of former First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech resonated with her.

“It’s very, very important to vote this year. I agree with her that people do need to vote,” she explained.

Johnson has already been featured heavily by the Trump campaign in their re-election pitch to voters, most notably as a part of a $10 million ad buy that aired during this year’s Super Bowl. Johnson was also a special guest at the State of the Union, where she received a bipartisan standing ovation.

For her, participating in this election in any way possible is incredibly personal, even though she won’t be able to cast a ballot this fall.

“From prison to the White House to literally being able to speak to the president and make a difference, this has been a whirlwind,” she said. “It’s not only been an honor. It’s my duty to go.”

Pelosi endorses Kennedy ahead of tight Massachusetts Senate Democratic primary

WASHINGTON — Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi endorsed Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., Thursday in what is expected to be a close Senate primary race against incumbent Democratic Sen. Ed Markey on Sept. 1.  

“Never before have the times demanded we elect courageous leaders as today. And that is why I'm proud to endorse Joe Kennedy for Senate,” Pelosi says in a video released by the Kennedy campaign.

The Speaker credits the congressman for his work campaigning across the country to help Democrats reclaim the House in 2018, adding that Kennedy “knows that to achieve progressive change you must be on the frontlines leading movements of people.”

“Massachusetts and America need Joe Kennedy's courage and leadership in the Senate to fight for the change we need,” Pelosi concludes.

The Speaker’s endorsement of Kennedy, the 39-year-old grandson of late Sen. Robert Kennedy and grandnephew of former President John F. Kennedy, comes less than two weeks before the primary, where polls show a close contest

Both Kennedy and Markey are viewed as progressives with little daylight between their policies, though the four-term congressman has cast himself as a representative of the next generation of politicians.

Markey, 74, is nearly twice Kennedy’s age and has served in Congress for decades (overlapping with Pelosi in the House for many of those years), but earned the support of one of Democrats’ youngest and most progressive members — New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — last year.

Ocasio-Cortez and several progressive groups immediately criticized the Speaker's endorsement, arguing that a party establishment that regularly backs incumbents over challengers shouldn't now support a candidate running against a progressive incumbent.  

Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez are not the only prominent Democrats to weigh in on the race.

Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., debates Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, D-Mass., in Boston on Aug. 11, 2020.WBZ-TV via AP, Pool

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and fellow Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren have both endorsed Markey. The incumbent is also backed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

In the Kennedy camp are late Rep. John Lewis, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and now the House Speaker, who selected the congressman to give the Democratic response to President Trump’s State of the Union address in 2018.

“Nancy Pelosi is a force. No one has done more to take on Donald Trump and build our Party’s future. Proud and humbled to have her with me in this fight,” Kennedy tweeted in response to the Speaker’s endorsement. 

Biden’s DNC speech will reflect how Trump’s presidency has shaped his campaign, source says

Joe Biden will deliver what in many ways is the speech of his political life tonight. And his preparation reflects that, a source close to the process tells NBC News. 

Biden’s acceptance speech was developed and written over the course of the summer. While it has evolved through the process, it was largely “locked” weeks ago — "which is nearly unheard of in Bidenland,” as one source put it. 

Biden began rehearsing the speech at least two weeks ago — a timeline that lines up with an unexpected trip he made to the Chase Center in Wilmington even before the venue was announced as the location for his remarks. 

Biden, as always, has a heavy hand in writing his own words. Others involved include his chief strategist Mike Donilon and Vinay Reddy, a speechwriter who has been with him off and on since the second term as vice president. He’s also been preparing with Michael Sheehan, an experienced speechwriter and coach who, like Biden, overcame a stutter. 

“He knows exactly what he wants to say and he’s been saying it from the outset,” one source said, pointing to his consistent case that this election represents “a battle for the soul of the nation.” 

“It was mocked in the early part of the campaign but it feels like the world, or at least a large share of the electorate, has caught up to where Biden has been,” the source added. “Joe Biden, however this campaign ends, will have no regrets or questions. He is running as himself and he has been saying this from day one.”

The theme of a battle for the soul of the nation reflects the degree to which Biden’s candidacy, and his success in winning the nomination, has been shaped by Donald Trump’s presidency. 

“If someone else were president other than Donald Trump, I believe with every fiber of my body that he would not be running for president now,” Valerie Biden Owens, Biden’s sister, longtime campaign manager and a close confidante, told NBC News this week. 

But Biden will also make a case for himself tonight.

“You'll hear him lay out his positive vision for the country and reaffirm his core belief that we can unite this country, even in these divisive times,” deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield told reporters. "He has been tested by historic recessions, global conflicts, pandemics, divisive politics and the never ending quest for justice and fairness in America, and every step of the way he has risen to the moment with steady and effective leadership.”

The speech will try to sum up that arc of Biden’s public service over the years. But it might not necessarily sound like a lot of the speeches he has given at past conventions. Yes, he’ll talk about the middle class and the family values that have shaped him and how he views the task ahead, but there’s a more urgent moment now that he will focus on more. 

The biggest challenge for Biden might well be not having an audience. For Biden, oratory “is not about words on a page, it’s about how it lands with the audience,” the source said. Tonight, his only audience will be a handful of aides and about a dozen reporters in the room.

“It’s like asking the Supreme Court justices to applaud during the State of the Union. You’re not going to get it,” the source said.

Biden, Trump campaigns debut new ads ahead of Biden's DNC speech

WASHINGTON — Ahead of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's acceptance speech Thursday at the Democratic National Convention, Biden and President Donald Trump's campaigns are out with new ads to push their own Biden messaging. 

Biden's campaign unveiled an ad entitled, "What happens now", which documents the former vice president's experience during the economic crisis after the 2008 recession as proof he will be able to build back the economy from the coronavirus pandemic. The television ad is a part of the Biden campaign's latest $24 million media buy next week and will air in key battleground states: Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. 

The Biden campaign will also be expanding a previous ad that's been running in Ohio titled, "Backbone." That ad documents Biden's upbringing in Scranton, Penn. and his understanding and commitment to working class families. Per the campaign, this is the "first major push during the general election" to lay out Biden's biography. Biden's life story has been a marquee of the DNC this week, with several speakers talking about Biden's father losing his job and moving his family to Delaware from Pennsylvania for work.

And, as the DNC closes, the Trump campaign is out with a new digital ad highlighting a Biden figure that hasn't taken part in the week's festivities: Biden's son Hunter. 

Hunter Biden hasn't appeared at the DNC, except for in a short clip when he eulogized his brother, Beau. 

The new ad is the centerpiece of a seven-figure digital buy specifically targeted at the DNC. 

It focuses on a 2013 trip to China where Biden brought his son Hunter, and features 2019 footage of Hunter fielding questions on the potential impropriety of the visit. Both Bidens maintain there was nothing  inappropriate about it and that the two didn’t discuss his business dealings in China. Hunter Biden had been on the board of a Chinese-backed company, and has since left that company

It was not unusual for Biden during his foreign trips as vice president to bring along family members along, including grandchildren. They would usually join him for some ceremonial or cultural parts of the trip while maintaining separate itineraries while Biden conducted official business. 

That was the case with Biden’s trip to China, and the White House said at the time that Hunter was going along for the trip in part to look after his daughter, Finnegan.

The new Trump campaign video ends with text that reads: “With Joe Biden in charge, China is in charge.” 

President Trump has publicly asked China to investigate the Biden family and the pressure exerted on Ukrainian officials to do the same is what ultimately led to Trump's impeachment

Obama and Harris are country's two most popular political figures

WASHINGTON — Tonight’s main speakers at the Democratic convention — former President Barack Obama and V.P. nominee California Sen. Kamala Harris — happen to be the two most popular political figures in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll when it comes to their net-positive ratings (though Obama is much more popular than Harris is).

Digging inside Obama’s 54 percent positive, 34 percent negative rating (+20), the former president gets high marks among Black voters (84 percent to 6 percent), Latinos (63 percent to 19 percent), women (60 percent to 29 percent), voters 18-34 (59 percent to 24 percent), independents (51 percent to 23 percent), and he even breaks even with white women without college degrees (44 percent to 44 percent).

Compare those numbers with Biden’s among those same subgroups: Black voters (65 percent to 10 percent), Latinos (38 percent to 31 percent), women (47 percent to 36 percent), independents (25 percent to 42 percent), voters 18-34 (30 percent to 43 percent), and white women without college degrees (36 percent to 53 percent).

The NBC News/WSJ Poll was conducted between Aug. 9-12, with a margin of error of +/-3.3%

Biden leads Trump in recent TV and radio spending across virtually the entire 2020 battleground

WASHINGTON — Over the past week, former Vice President Joe Biden has had a significant edge in TV and radio advertising spending over President Trump in the presidential battleground, outpacing the incumbent in virtually every state that's key to winning the presidency. 

From Aug. 11 through Aug. 17, the Biden campaign outspent the Trump campaign in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin, according to NBC analysis of TV and radio advertising data provided by Advertising Analytics. 

Biden is also outspending Trump in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Nevada, four states where the Trump campaign hasn't run any TV or radio ads in at least two weeks. 

On the flip side, the Trump campaign is outspending Biden in Georgia and New Mexico, states where neither Biden nor his top affiliated outside groups have spent significant money on TV or radio ads. 

Overall, across all states and on national television, the Biden campaign outspent the Trump campaign over that week by more than a two-to-one margin, $16 million to $7.4 million. 

Joe Biden removes arrives for a campaign event at Alexis Dupont High School in Wilmington, Del., on Aug. 12, 2020.Carolyn Kaster / AP

The Trump campaign briefly paused its TV and radio advertising at the end of July, a move they said was aimed at re-evaluating the campaign's media strategy.

But in the two weeks since it returned to the airwaves, the Trump campaign has effectively leveled off spending in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, New Mexico and North Carolina, while increasing its spending in Wisconsin. 

Meanwhile, the Biden campaign has increased its spending over the same two-week span in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Nevada and Pennslyvania, growing the spending disparity there. The Biden campaign dropped its TV and radio advertising in Wisconsin from Aug. 10 through Aug. 17, but it still outspent Trump by a factor of four. 

Jill Biden to go back to her teaching roots for prime-time DNC speech

Jill Biden sits in a classroom in Brandywine High School in Wilmington, Delaware, where she plans to deliver her keynote address at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday.Biden campaign

Whenever Joe Biden discusses his wife’s work, he’ll inevitably say that teaching “isn’t what she does, it’s who she is.” So, as Jill Biden considered where to deliver her prime-time speech in this unorthodox Democratic National Convention, there was an obvious answer: the classroom.

The former second lady and potential future first lady will deliver Tuesday’s keynote address live from Brandywine High School in her hometown of Wilmington, a city where she taught English in the early 1990s. The choice is a signal of how the self-described reluctant political spouse has always forged her own professional path even as her husband’s career has taken him just shy of the White House. 

A lifelong educator with two master’s degrees and a doctorate in education, Biden continued to teach at a community college in Northern Virginia while her husband served as vice president, a decision her staff initially thought was a nonstarter. She has said she hopes to continue teaching if they move to the White House next year.

“How great would that be?" she asked in an interview with NBC News from the campaign trail last fall. "What would that say about teachers? Wouldn't that lift up the profession and celebrate who they are? It would be my honor.” 

Biden has often talked on the campaign trail about how teaching at community college has been particularly important to her, given that her students come from all walks of life. In an introductory video, the country will hear rare testimonial from one of her former students. 

“She gave 100% of her energy to the students,” the student, Yvette Lewis, says. 

Perez says no more Democratic caucuses

Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez said Monday that the handful of 2020 presidential caucuses should be the last the party ever holds.

He didn’t specifically name Iowa, which for decades has led off the nominating calendar, but his position would represent a seismic shift in the party’s traditions.

Perez’s term as chair will end before the 2024 nominating calendar is determined.

But he told The Associated Press on the opening day of the Democratic National Convention that he plans to “use the bully pulpit as a former chair to make sure we continue the progress” of changes after the bitter 2016 primary fight between nominee Hillary Clinton and runner-up Bernie Sanders.

Read more here.

Michelle Obama speech will stress Biden's empathy

When Michelle Obama headlines the Democratic convention Monday night, she will stress how Biden's character, empathy and faith has made him the necessary leader for the moment as Americans look for honest guidance amid a trio of crises.   

In a clip of her speech released earlier Monday, the former first lady points to the losses Biden has overcome as proof he can relate to those suffering from the broken economy and the coronavirus pandemic.

"His life is a testament to getting back up and he’s going to channel that same grit and passion to pick us all up. To help us heal and guide us forward," she says.

The brief clip also serves as the first look at what Americans will see during the virtual convention, which kicks off tonight. Obama, like so many people speaking to a camera during the pandemic, sits casually on a chair in front of a bookshelf.

Obama is also expected to revive her famous line from the Democrats' 2016 convention— "When they go low, we go high"— redefining what exactly it means to take the higher road when confronted by ideologies Democrats do not agree with. 

"Going high does not mean putting on a smile and saying nice things when confronted by viciousness and cruelty. Going high means taking the harder path. It means scraping and clawing our way to that mountain top," she is expected to say. "Going high means standing fierce against hatred while remembering that we are one nation under God, and if we want to survive, we’ve got to find a way to live together and work together across our differences."

The former first lady remains one of the nation’s most popular political figures, but one who has used her political influence sparingly. She said in her recently-launched podcast that she has been feeling "some form of low-grade depression” amid the quarantine, racial strife following the death of George Floyd and “just seeing this administration.”

Senate Dems call on Postal Service Board to reverse changes amid concerns about mail-in voting

WASHINGTON – Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and other top Senate Democrats are increasing pressure on the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors to “reverse changes” enacted by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy amid concerns those changes could hurt the Postal Service's ability to handle mail-in votes this fall

The letter expands scrutiny of the Postal Service beyond DeJoy and to the six-member Board of Governors, all of whom were appointed by President Donald Trump.  

“You have the responsibility to reverse those changes and the authority to do so,” the senators wrote. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks to reporters with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Capitol Hill on July 22, 2020.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters file

The letter sent to the Board of Governors Monday morning and provided to NBC News is the latest effort by Congressional Democrats to halt and reverse the policy and operating directives implemented by DeJoy. 

The Board of Governors has the authority to intervene in decisions made by the postmaster general. The group selected DeJoy for the position n May.  

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi informed House members this past weekend that they should expect to return to Washington to vote on legislation by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., to prevent any changes made to the Postal Service until the coronavirus pandemic is over. That vote is expected to take place on a rare Saturday session this week.  

The Postal Service has been plagued with reports of delayed mail delivery as DeJoy has cut employee overtime, overhauled the management structure at USPS, removed street-corner mailboxes and dismantled mail sorting machines, causing Democrats to accuse the Trump-appointee and donor of attempting to “sabotage” the upcoming election, which is expected to have a major increase in vote-by-mail. 

“It is time to use your full power and authority on behalf of the Postal Service, the American people, and the ‘public interest’ you are required to represent,” the lawmakers wrote. “We ask that you immediately take action to reverse any and all changes put in place by Mr DeJoy that degrade or delay postal operations and the delivery of the mail.”

Trump defended DeJoy's actions last Saturday as a way to turn around the agency, denying the moves were meant to discourage mail-in voting.

"The steps that he is taking are trying to stop the tremendous losses that have taken place for many, many years. He’s trying to streamline the Post Office and make it great again," Trump said. 

The letter is led by Sen. Warren, who has been actively engaged in oversight of the USPS and signed by Sen. Schumer; Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters, the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security Committee Gary Peters of Michigan; Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee; as well as Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Tina Smith of Minnesota and Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Also on Monday, Democratic Reps. Hakeem Jeffries of New York and Ted Lieu of Calif, asked FBI Director Christopher Wray to “evaluate” if DeJoy or the Board of Governors broke any laws.

“If their intent in doing so was to affect mail-in balloting or was motivated by personal financial reasons, then they likely committed crimes,” the lawmakers wrote.