The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Broad coalition of progressive groups launches effort to aid with voting protection
WASHINGTON — In the closing weeks of a general election, the vanguard of Democratic advocacy groups would typically be focused on electing candidates championing their various issue agendas — from gun safety to veterans and women's issues. But this year, a number of such groups are banding together for what they say is an unprecedented and necessary cause: preserving the integrity of the 2020 vote.
The campaign, which includes gun safety, women's reproductive rights, LGBTQ, Latino and veterans groups, launches Wednesday to "serve as a powerful counterweight to President Trump's and the Republican Party's relentless and unprecedented voter suppression efforts and attacks on the right to vote, especially in the middle of a pandemic," according to a statement given to NBC by organizers of the effort.
In late August, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., joined a video call to encourage representatives of the new campaign to work together to fight voting misinformation, recruit poll workers, register voters and protect voting rights.
Kris Brown, president of Brady, the anti-gun violence organization, said her group began working on the issue and joined the coalition because its activists and supporters have voiced concern about whether the election can be conducted fairly during the pandemic and because of the expected huge spike in ballots cast by mail. Trump has repeatedly attacked mail-in voting, saying without evidence that it is rife with fraud.
"We are not a voting rights organization, and we don't pretend to be," Brown said. "I hope, quite frankly, it's never required this way again."
Brady is dedicating resources, including full-time personnel and its legal team, which is filing amicus briefs in lawsuits filed by state attorneys general over U.S. Postal Service disruptions.
Other participants in the coalition include: NARAL Pro Choice America, J Street, Democracy Docket, the Communications Workers of America, Vote Vets, the Latino Victory Fund, the Human Rights Campaign and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.
Democrats argue that Republican-controlled states have tried to curb voting access for years, citing the closing of polling locations in minority districts in battlegrounds like Ohio and, more recently, Georgia.
"Republicans are fighting for a free, fair, and transparent election," Steve Guest, rapid response director for the Republican National Committee, told NBC News in response to the effort. "Meanwhile, it's Democrats who are the ones limiting voting options which disenfranchises voters. We want to ensure that all votes are counted properly. This is about getting more people to vote, certainly not less."
Tiffany Muller, president of Let America Vote which is organizing the coalition, said the Trump administration's efforts to challenge the work of the Postal Service persuaded her group to mobilize the effort.
"It's not enough to just activate our members or do the typical organizing we would have done during campaign times," Mueller said. "There's an entire infrastructure on the other side fighting people being able to vote. It's needed in this moment of crisis that we're in."
The campaign aims to serve as a clearinghouse for safe voting information; coordinate rapid response to Trump's "efforts at voter suppression, including his attempts to undermine the Post Office"; and combat misinformation related to voting and the election.
Members will also help coordinate the return of absentee ballots and will recruit poll workers, voter registration volunteers and voter protection monitors, as well as conduct a public awareness campaign to remind voters to return their absentee ballots.
Separately, paid digital and mail advertising campaigns will remind voters how to cast ballots, especially during a pandemic.
The coalition adds to a far broader and "unprecedented" infrastructure that has been built over the past several years, beginning with civil rights groups that have been sounding the alarm about voting rights for years, said Guy Cecil, chair of Priorities USA, which says it plans to spend $34 million on voting rights this cycle.
"The investment is unlike anything I've seen," he said, because "it's not just established voting rights groups" heading to the front lines of the battle.
GOP scales down pandemic relief proposal but new bill lands with a thud
WASHINGTON — The Senate this week will vote on a new, slimmed down COVID relief bill put forward by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, which includes just a fraction of what Democrats are demanding and is much smaller in size and scope than what Senate Republicans introduced as their starting offer in July.
The proposal comes as negotiations between Democrats and the Trump administration remain stalemated, but it will do little to break the log jam.
Democrats immediately rejected the latest maneuver, dismissing it as a political stunt and far too insignificant to address the economic needs of the country.
In his search for 51 Republican votes in his divided conference, McConnell’s latest bill is estimated to cost around $300 billion. At least half a dozen vulnerable Republican senators up for re-election in November are anxious to vote on a new bill —which would require 60 votes to pass — to provide relief to voters, but a faction of the GOP conference has been opposed to new spending, forcing McConnell to move ahead on a proposal that is far less than the $1 trillion bill that he introduced in July.
With the election upcoming, he is also challenging Democrats to vote against relief.
“It's easy to tell in Washington whether somebody's end goal is political posturing or getting an outcome. One way or another, what Democrats do will be revealing,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “I'll make sure our democratic colleagues get a chance to walk the walk. Every senator who has said they want a bipartisan outcome for the country will have a chance to vote for everyone to see. Senators will vote this week, and the American people will be watching.”
The Senate is expected to vote on the measure Thursday, where McConnell will attempt to fill a symbolic void to the stalled negotiations between Democratic leaders and the Trump administration where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has rejected returning to the negotiating table until the administration agrees to spending at least $2 trillion. The White House this week has signaled that it is willing to move it’s topline number to $1.5 trillion, moving closer to the Democrats’ position.
The GOP measure includes the leader’s biggest priority, liability protection for businesses operating amid the pandemic. It also institutes another round of the small business Paycheck Protection Program and provides a $300 weekly federal unemployment insurance, which is less than the $600 people received until the benefit expired at the end of July. In addition, it provides $105 billion for education, $16 billion for COVID testing as well grants for private and religious schools and tax credits for homeschool.
It doesn’t include another round of direct stimulus payments, which Republicans had previously supported. It also doesn’t include Democratic priorities of food assistance, rental assistance and money for states.
“The Republican skinny bill is less than a skinny bill. As Senator Schumer and I have said, it’s an emaciated bill. It falls short of meeting the needs of the American people,” Pelosi told NBC News.
Trump campaign looks to ease concerns amid fundraising warning signs
WASHINGTON — With concerns swirling about President Trump's evaporating cash-on-hand advantage over Democratic nominee Joe Biden, as well as the Democratic nominee's recent television spending blitz, the president's current campaign team is promising more spending than Trump's 2016 campaign did.
While Trump entered April with a $182 million cash-on-hand advantage over Biden, that edge had all-but evaporated by July. Now, after Biden reported raised over $360 million in August, Trump's campaign manager Bill Stepien told reporters during a call on Tuesday that the campaign plans to spend "by a factor of two or three times" what it did in 2016 from this time to Election Day.
And earlier on Tuesday, President Trump defended his campaign team's fundraising efforts and blamed a potential loss in the cash race with Biden on the coronavirus pandemic. Trump also said on Twitter that if the campaign needs more money, he will personally provide funding.
The campaign also tried to lessen the fundraising blow with reporters by saying that the cash haul isn't everything, and Trump's ability to raise money isn't what put him over the finish line in 2016.
“If money was the only factor in determining winners and losers in politics Jeb Bush would have been the nominee in 2016, and we'd have a second President Clinton right now in the Oval Office,” Stepien said.
The Trump campaign also said that its incumbent advantage allowed the campaign to make early investments in states while Biden was still campaigning for the nomination.
But in recent months, the Trump campaign has taken multiple pauses from the airwaves. And it's been Biden who has been winning the ad wars in key states. Since July, the Democrat has outspent Trump on the TV and radio waves in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada, North Carolina, Michigan, Florida and Arizona, according to Advertising Analytics.
During Tuesday's press call, Stepien did announce a new radio ad targeting Black voters and airing in 11 urban markets like Detroit, Mich., Flint, Mich., Raleigh, N.C., and Charlotte, N.C. The ad hits on several points featured during the Republican National Convention regarding lower rates of Black unemployment before the pandemic and Biden having "47 years" of government service without producing results.
Kanye West has spent almost $5.9 million on presidential bid, new filing shows
WASHINGTON — Rap superstar Kanye West has spent almost $5.9 million on his quixotic presidential campaign through August, a new filing shows, an effort funded almost exclusively by the rapper himself.
West’s new fundraising report, filed with the Federal Election Campaign on Friday evening, shows that the Forbes-designated billionaire loaned his campaign $6.76 million. He raised another $3,850 from 8 additional donations.
The bulk of West’s spending, $5.45 million, went to three consulting firms — Millennial Strategies LLC, Fortified Consulting and Atlas Strategy Group LLC.
Gregg Keller, a Republican operative who has been working on West’s campaign, runs Atlas Strategy.
Fortified Consulting shares an address with a firm co-founded by Meghan Cox, a consultant who has worked with a variety of Republican senators and who NBC News saw with the individuals who claimed to be dropping off petition signatures for West in Arizona.
Millennial Strategies is based in Long Island, New York that's worked for a variety of Democratic clients.
West announced his candidacy in mid-July, and candidates who spend at least $100,000 in a month are required to file their campaign finance reports with the FEC by the 20th of the subsequent month. The new filing shows that West spent almost $3.2 million through July, but his campaign did not file any fundraising reports until Friday.
The rapper is currently on the ballot in a handful of states — Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Utah, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana and Vermont — but will almost certainly not be on enough ballots in the fall to secure the electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
His campaign has been denied ballot access in other states — including Wisconsin, New Jersey, Ohio, Missouri, West Virginia, Arizona, Virginia and Illinois — for various reasons including concerns over the veracity of the petition signatures he filed, concerns his petition-signers or presidential electors were duped into backing him, for missing deadlines, and because he is a registered Republican seeking a spot on the ballot as an independent or third-party candidate.
In recent days, West’s lawyers have sued in the hopes of getting him on the ballot in Wisconsin, Ohio and West Virginia.
The ties to Keller and Cox are among the many between West and Republican operatives and supporters. His lawyer in Ohio is a former 2016 Republican convention delegate, his lawyers in West Virginia have represented the state Republican Party, and his lawyer in Wisconsin is the past Secretary/Treasurer of the Minnesota GOP.
And Keller and other Republicans have been playing key roles in West’s attempt to get on state ballots.
Conservative super PAC launches $3 million digital, $10 million TV ad buy
Club for Growth launched a new ad buy on Friday, spending $3 million on digital ads — the group's largest digital expenditure to date — and $10 million on a TV ad buy.
The conservative super PAC's effort is to boost six Republican candidates in competitive elections this cycle.
The new ads will begin running on Sept. 8 and will target voters on digital platforms like Hulu and Sling, and internet placements on Pandora, iHeart Radio and direct podcasts. The $10 million traditional buy, which will play on broadcast, cable and satellite TV will air ads through Election Day.
“Club for Growth Action is making a game-changing investment in these races,” Club for Growth Action president David McIntosh said in a statement. “We are using cutting-edge technology and techniques to reach voters who are often overlooked to ensure these pro-growth candidates are elected.”
The six candidates the group is looking to boost are Montana Sen. Steve Daines, Texas Rep. Chip Roy, and then Republican challengers in three congressional districts: Rich McCormick in Georgia-7, Victoria Spartz in Indiana-5 and Matt Rosendale in Montana's at-large district and Nick Freitas in Virginia-7.
Daines is facing one of the hardest Democratic challenges in the Senate from Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. While Daines has managed a slight lead in recent polling, the race is listed as a toss-up by the Cook Political Report. It's one of several seats Republicans hope to keep in November in order to maintain majority control of the Senate.
Texas Rep. Chip Roy is also facing a stiff challenge from Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis. Polls measuring the race have the two neck-and-neck, and Roy won the seat in 2018 by just under three points.
Democratic House candidates tout endorsements from U.S. Chamber of Commerce
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a traditionally Republican-leaning lobbying group, has endorsed 23 House Democrats for re-election ahead of their competitive general election match-ups.
The Hill first reported the list of endorsements Tuesday, and a source familiar with the matter who is not authorized to speak about it publicly confirmed the endorsements to NBC News. The source added that the Chamber is backing 29 freshmen House Republicans as well.
While the business-oriented organization has not released its latest round of endorsements, several Democratic House candidates have publicly celebrated their support from the Chamber.
Moderate freshmen Reps. Joe Cunningham of South Carolina’s First Congressional District, Sharice Davids of Kansas’ Third Congressional District, and Kendra Horn of Oklahoma’s Fifth Congressional District touted their endorsements on Twitter.
Cunningham posted the email he received from the Chamber’s Chief Executive Officer Thomas J. Donohue informing him of the official endorsement. Other newly-backed members received similar messages from Donohue.
“The Chamber endorses pro-business leaders in Congress and vigorously supports policies that advance economic growth, help create jobs, and promote fiscal responsibility,” the letter reads, detailing House accomplishments such as the passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
“While just a snapshot of important House activity in 2019, your percentage on the Chamber's How They Voted scorecard was the driving factor in achieving this endorsement for 2020.”
The new endorsements represent a shift from previous cycles for the Chamber, which is known for aligning itself with GOP candidates. In 2018, the group reportedly endorsed just seven Democrats in federal elections. Politico previously reported that the endorsements this cycle have caused friction within the Chamber and among its donors.
Like Cunningham, Davids, and Horn, a dozen other freshmen Democratic members in Republican targets promoted their endorsements on Twitter, including: Reps. Colin Allred (TX-32), Lizzie Fletcher (TX-7), Haley Stevens (MI-11), Josh Harder (CA-10), Abby Finkenauer (IA-1), Cindy Axne (IA-3), Xochitl Torres Small (NM-2), Anthony Brindisi (NY-22), Susie Lee (NV-3), Angie Craig (MN-2), Andy Kim (NJ-3), and Abigail Spanberger (VA-7).
The list of endorsements also includes Reps. TJ Cox (CA-21), Antonio Delgado (NY-19), Elaine Luria (VA-2), Ben McAdams (UT-4), Dean Phillips (MN-3), Harley Rouda (CA-48), Greg Stanton (AZ-9), and David Trone (MD-6).
New Biden ad on Social Security solvency looks to woo voters in key battleground states
WASHINGTON — While issues of policing and safety in American cities have commanded most of the attention in the presidential campaign this week, former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign is trying to remind seniors about President Donald Trump’s record on other key issues that they believe could effectively win battleground voters.
As part of that effort, Biden's campaign released a new ad Thursday in battleground states attacking the president on Social Security solvency, the campaign's first nation-wide general election ad focused on the issue.
The ad, first obtained by NBC News, is targeting voters in Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin with a warning about what could happen if Trump’s proposal for a permanent payroll tax cut came to fruition. The ad uses a recent letter written by the chief actuary of the Social Security Administration warning that such a policy would run Social Security dry by the middle of 2023.
As part of his executive actions aimed at shoring up the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, Trump deferred payroll taxes through the end of the year and has promised to "forgive these taxes and make permanent cuts to the payroll tax." He and other administration officials have said those losses would be offset by both economic growth and pulling money from the general fund.
Biden has raised concerns about Social Security alongside the president's ongoing attempts to fully undo the Affordable Care Act without providing a replacement plan, arguing that Trump does not care about helping Americans amid an ongoing healthcare crisis.
“Put it plainly Trump's plan would wipe out Social Security period. You feel safer and more secure now?” Biden asked viewers during a Monday in Pittsburgh as part of a list of real-world consequences Americans would face if Trump wins re-election.
While the Biden campaign stressed a similar message throughout the primary election warning that re-electing Trump risked cuts to Social Security, they are ramping up their warning with the intention of targeting seniors who overwhelmingly rely on the government program in the final weeks of the general election.
A new national Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday found Biden winning those 65 and older by a margin of 50 percent to Trump's 46 percent, the latest poll showing Biden over-performing with seniors. In 2016, exit polls found Trump winning the 65-and-older vote by a margin of 52 percent to 45 percent.
The Quinnipiac poll found Trump still maintaining his edge among those 50 to 64 years of age, 53 percent to 44 percent respectively.
The campaign has already been stress their Social Security warning in Florida, a state where a win could put him on a faster track to clinching 270 electoral votes. One-fifth of the 2016 Florida electorate was 65 years old or older, exit polls found.
On Tuesday the campaign released their fourth ad directly targeting seniors in Florida, which continues to highlight testimonials from Floridians who worry about catching the virus and express frustration with the administration’s response.
“Our seniors that are being hit will be my responsibility if I’m your president,” Biden said in a digital ad that played across six battleground states last month. “I will not abandon you. It’s a simple proposition folks, we’re all in this together. We got to fight this together.”
Biden campaign raises roughly $365 million in largest monthly haul to date
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential campaign announced Wednesday that it had raised a record monthly haul of $365 million in August, a busy month that included the campaign adding California Sen. Kamala Harris to the ticket as well as the Democratic National Convention.
In a letter to supporters, Biden said that of the $364.5 million raised, $205 million came from online donations. The campaign also disclosed that 1.5 million Americans donated to the campaign for the first time in August.
Indications of a record monthly haul became evident after the campaign announced weeks ago it had raised $70 million during the virtual Democratic National Convention and $48 million in the two days after Biden announced Harris as his running mate.
Biden's fundraising effort has seen a major jolt since the start of 2020, when the campaign only raised $57 million in the first three months, and had a smaller presence on television during the key stretch of primaries. The campaign has raised more in August than it did in the entire second financial quarter of 2020, when it brought in $282.1 million.
The combination of Biden’s comeback to win the nomination and the onset of the pandemic, during which the Biden team stayed off the airwaves for weeks, allowed the campaign to stockpile funds through the spring and slowly cut into President Trump’s once-massive cash on hand advantage.
While the Trump campaign had outraised Biden regularly for months, the Biden campaign began to beat his rival's monthly totals when the former vice president became the apparent nominee in April. However, July proved to be a good month for the president’s re-election campaign — it raised $15 million more than the Democrats.
The Trump campaign declined to comment when asked about the expected monthly haul. It is unclear when the president's campaign will release its August fundraising numbers.
—Monica Alba contributed.
Virginia Republican Bob Good's campaign ad labelled 'racist dog whistle' by DCCC aide
WASHINGTON — Republican House candidate Bob Good debuted his first campaign ad Tuesday in Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District, which a top Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) aide was quick to label a “racist dog whistle.”
Good — a former Campbell County supervisor who previously worked for Liberty University — is running against Dr. Cameron Webb, a physician and public health expert. He would be the first Black doctor in Congress if elected.
“With chaos in our streets, Cameron Webb would make things worse. Webb would defund the police while crime spikes,” the TV spot’s narrator says over dissolving footage of destruction and protests into a photo of Webb.
“Look past the smooth presentation. Webb’s real agenda: Government-run health care, higher taxes on the middle class, police defunded, crime unchecked,” the speaker continues, calling Webb “way too liberal.”
The DCCC took issue with the ad shortly after it went live.
“Let’s say it plainly, this #VA05 ad is a racist dog whistle running because Bob Good knows he can’t explain why voters should trust him over Cameron Webb to keep them safe during COVID-19,” DCCC communications director Cole Leiter tweeted.
Asked to respond to the DCCC’s accusation, the Good campaign told NBC News, "We categorically deny there is anything that is racist or a ‘dog whistle’ in the ad and would ask what specifically are the Democrats claiming would make it so?"
Mia Ehrenberg, the communications director for the Webb campaign, said in a statement that the ad resorted to "distortions and fear-mongering" and that it "does not represent Dr. Webb's views on policy."
Webb has spoken favorably about a "Medicare for All" type solution for health care, but supports a public option.
The Democrat has not explicitly said that he wants to defund the police as the Good campaign’s new spot argues — he has talked about using federal funding to "drive the direction of law enforcement" and said that language about defunding the police is "coming from a deeply rooted sense that hey, all of this extra spending on police is actually part of the problem on policing and over-policing.”
Good's campaign ad is airing in the Roanoke-Lynchburg media market in southwest Virginia, according to Advertising Analytics. The district spans much of central Virginia and includes Charlottesville.
New Biden, DNC ad features Kenosha violence in 'Trump's America'
WASHINGTON — The Democratic National Committee and Democratic nominee Joe Biden's campaign released a new ad on Tuesday depicting "Trump's America" using footage of alleged Kenosha, Wis. shooter Kyle Rittenhouse and what appears to be the car crash in Charlottesville, Va. that killed Heather Heyer in 2017.
The ad has so far only run in the Washington D.C. market, according to Advertising Analytics. DNC spokesman David Bergstein said the party plans to run the ad in several battleground states, including Wisconsin.
The new spot begins with footage of fires and Trump supporters in pickup trucks shooting paintballs, people being tear gassed and clashes between police and protestors while the narration says, "This is Trump’s America: He won’t bring us together, he doesn’t want to and never will. He only divides."
The ad then shifts to what appears to be video of the man driving a car into protestors during the Charlottesville protests in 2017, a photo of a memorial of George Floyd and other footage before landing on video that appears to feature Rittenhouse pointing his gun at people and then later walking toward police with his hand's up.
“It’s Trump’s America, and it’s time to turn the page,” the ad’s narrator says before the requisite comment from Biden approving the message.
The ad's message comes as the Trump and Biden campaigns' responses to protests and violence have taken center stage. The spot's language echoes much of the language used by Republicans during their convention — Trump has argued that Americans wouldn't be safe in "Joe Biden's America", while Biden has sought to blame Trump for what he says his happening on the president's watch.
Espy launches new ad ahead of Mississippi Senate rematch with Hyde-Smith
Mike Espy says Mississippi can go back or go to the future.
Espy, the Democrats' long-shot Senate nominee, is hitting the airwaves across the state with a direct swipe at his GOP opponent, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.
In his first TV ad, set to start airing Thursday and shared exclusively with NBC News, Espy appears in front his high school alma mater talking about how Mississippi has changed — and hasn't — in the decades since he was one of the first Black students to integrate the state's public school system.
"Cindy Hyde-Smith is hurting our ability to recruit new businesses and jobs," Espy says.
Espy refers directly to the senator's controversial remark in November 2018, when she was caught on camera embracing a supporter saying, "If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row." (The senator apologized to anyone who was offended and said her words had been "twisted.")
The ad is part of six-figure buy following a string of strong fundraising months and buoyed by new internal polling showing a race within single digits. It's the first of at least three TV ads set to run across the state over the next few weeks.
"This is my story, and in a campaign like this, you have to get your story out," Espy said.
The 30-second spot is also a reintroduction of a rematch against Hyde-Smith, who defeated Espy in the 2018 special election to fill the seat vacated by Republican Sen. Thad Cochran. Despite losing by 66,000 votes, Espy won more than 46 percent of the statewide popular vote, making the race the best performance by a Democratic Senate candidate in Mississippi since 1982.
An internal Espy campaign poll from mid-August showed him 5 points behind Hyde-Smith. Other independent polls give Hyde-Smith more of an edge, and NBC News does not currently view the race as competitive. Nevertheless, the race is attracting big names in Democratic circles, including Stacey Abrams, who is campaigning with Espy this week.
Espy has agreed to debate Hyde-Smith before the election, but she has yet to agree to any debates, and none have been scheduled.
Messages to the Hyde-Smith campaign were not returned.