The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Harry Reid predicts Democrats will flip the Senate
WASHINGTON — Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., made a bullish prediction Thursday that his party will flip six or seven Republican-held seats in the 2020 election and seize the majority.
“I think we’re going to retake the Senate,” the Nevada Democrat told NBC News. “I think we're going to win in Colorado, Montana, Maine, North Carolina, (Sen. David) Perdue’s seat in Georgia — we're going to win in Arizona. And we’re in good shape in Iowa.”
He added, “If I’m only right on three of those we’ll still take the Senate.”
Reid served as minority leader and majority leader during the last decade of his 30-year tenure in the chamber.
It's a challenging cycle for Senate Republicans, who hold a 52-48 majority and are defending 23 seats, compared to just 12 Democrats are defending. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates Republican Arizona Sen. Martha McSally's seat as "lean Democrat", and rates the other six mentioned by Reid as toss-ups.
And while Republicans are defending seats in vulnerable areas, Democrats are mostly defending seats on favorable terrain with the exception of Sen. Doug Jones, Ala., who is in a race that Cook rates as “lean Republican”.
Mark Kelly apologizes for offensive 2018 comment
WASHINGTON — Arizona Democratic Senate candidate Mark Kelly apologized on Thursday for 2018 remarks where he joked about the changes his astronaut brother underwent after an extended time in space, saying in jest that he's begun acting like a monkey and they've started calling him "Rodrigo."
Kelly made the remarks during a 2018 appearance in New Jersey.
"There was a lot written about his DNA, and how his DNA has changed from his year in space," Kelly said.
He added, "It's gotten so bad that we recently had to release him back into the wild. He's like halfway between an orangutan and a howler monkey. We even changed his name to Rodrigo."
Kelly's twin brother, Scott, is white.
"The video was recirculated earlier on Thursday by Republican Moses Sanchez who ran for Phoenix mayor in in 2018. Sanchez called the comments 'racist.'"
The National Republican Senatorial Committee also tweeted the video and asked for Kelly to answer for the "offensive quote."
"My brother's year in space was really hard on him and we tried to bring some light to his difficult ordeal, but this comment does not do that and I apologize and deeply regret it," Kelly said in a statement.
Trump campaign back on Michigan airwaves for first time in seven weeks
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's campaign has returned to the airwaves in Michigan this week for the first time since mid-July.
The re-elect started running ads in Michigan on Tuesday, data from Advertising Analytics shows. The campaign has reserved $1.2 million in television and radio time in Michigan through Monday, and has another $4 million booked there through the end of the month.
At least three different ads have run in Michigan, according to Advertising Analytics trackers, ads that typify the different strategies Trump is taking in the hopes of closing the gap with Biden.
- One focused on the coronavirus, arguing that America is near the "finish line" for developing a vaccine and that the economy is "coming back to life" but "Joe Biden wants to change that."
- One accusing Biden of being a tool of the "radical left" and a Trojan Horse for their policies
- And one on that claims that while "lawless criminals terrorize Kenosha, Joe Biden takes a knee" while President Trump is trying to protect Wisconsin
Before this week, the Trump campaign hadn't run ads in Michigan since July 21. The campaign is still dark in Pennsylvania, where it hasn't run an ad since July 28.
Biden's campaign has massively outspent Trump in swing states recently — the Democratic campaign spent $86.4 million in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin from July 28 through Sept. 7, compared to the $17.3 million spent by Trump over the same period.
But big spending by GOP outside groups have cut into Biden's large TV spending edge in those states.
GOP Super PACs have helped Trump narrow Biden's TV advantage
WASHINGTON — As President Trump and his campaign deflect worries about the campaign's war chest, GOP super PACs have helped the president chip away at the significant TV and radio ad-spending deficit between him and Democratic nominee Joe Biden on the television and radio airwaves.
When just comparing spending by the two campaigns, Biden consistently outspent Trump in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin over the six-week span from July 28 through Sept. 7 by a 5-to-1 margin. Biden's campaign spent $86.4 million in those states over that time period, according to Advertising Analytics, to Trump's $17.3 million.
But if outside spending is included, that margin is cut to a 2-to-1 Democratic advantage — $111.9 million by the Democrats and $65.1 million by Republicans.
The six-week span includes two periods where the Trump campaign went off the battleground airwaves, once at the end of July in what the campaign called "a review and fine-tuning of the campaign's strategy" after it changed campaign managers, and another during the Republican convention, where campaign officials was only running national ads or in Washington D.C.
But the spending data over those six weeks shows how pivotal outside groups have been at trying to fill the void left by the Trump campaign's television spending strategy, and how their support has helped narrow the spending gap on the airwaves.
A significant portion of the pro-Trump spending in those states, $11.5 million, came from the new super PAC Preserve America, which started running ads at the beginning of this month. Despite the group's recent entry onto the scene, Preserve America outspent the Trump campaign in both Arizona and Pennsylvania over the six-week timeline. Since the group is so new, it's unclear who the PAC's dop donors are. But it's being helmed by veteran GOP strategist Chris LaCivita, and Politico reported the group is expected to be supported by GOP megadonors like casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus.
Alongside his main super PAC, America First Action (which just announced a new $22 million battleground advertising buy), Trump has also been boosted in the Rust Belt by Restoration PAC, a group that's primarily funded by GOP megadonor Dick Uihlein.
The Trump campaign has seen its cash reserves dwindle throughout the summer — by the end of March, Trump's re-election effort had a $182 million cash-on-hand advantage over Biden. But by the end of July, numbers released by both campaigns publicly showed that advantage had dwindled to about $6 million.
Both campaigns haven't filed their campaign finance reports covering August with the Federal Election Commission, but Biden's re-election announced they had raised $364.5 million in August alone, while Trump's re-election said it raised $210 million that month.
Trump sought to downplay concerns about his campaign's cash reserves in a Tuesday tweet where he blamed the heavy spending on needing to counter the message about the coronavirus and pledged to spend his on money if needed.
Joe Lieberman endorses Susan Collins, appears in ad for her in Maine
WASHINGTON — Joe Lieberman, a former U.S senator and the 2000 Democratic vice presidential candidate, endorsed Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, on Wednesday.
Lieberman is also appearing in an ad for Collins as she faces perhaps the toughest race of her career.
"I'm a lifelong Democrat but I put my country first, always. That's why I'm supporting Susan Collins for Senate," Lieberman, a Democrat turned independent, said in the ad, which is paid for by the Republican Jewish Coalition.
RJC is spending $400,000 to run the ad on digital platforms, aimed at persuading women voters in Maine, according to the group's spokesman Neil Strauss. Lieberman called Collins "a fighter for women's issues" in the ad.
Lieberman's relationship with Democrats turned frosty after his strong support for the Iraq war — and he was defeated in a 2006 primary for his Connecticut seat. He ran that year as an independent and won. In 2008, he endorsed Collins for re-election and backed Republican Sen. John McCain's presidential bid. He left the Senate in 2013.
Collins has easily won her past election challenges, but her brand has suffered at home due to her support of many of President Trump's initiatives. She currently trails Democrat Sara Gideon, the speaker of Maine's state house, by 4.5 points in the RealClearPolitics polling average.
Biden campaign releases economic proposals ahead of 'Made in America' speech
WASHINGTON — Ahead of former Vice President Joe Biden’s “Made in America” speech in Michigan Wednesday, his campaign released part of a wide-ranging economic manufacturing plan that pulls from previous proposals and adds new ones that specifically address the offshoring of jobs.
The proposals aim to promote “Made in America” products by establishing a new offshoring tax code, rewarding companies for manufacturing in the U.S. and ending loopholes the Biden-Harris camp says were set by President Trump's administration.
The plan punishes American companies that produce products overseas by adding a 28 percent corporate tax rate and an additional 10 percent “offshoring penalty surtax” totaling a 30.8 percent tax rate on profits. To incentivize “Made in America” production, the administration would give companies a 10 percent tax credit on a number of investments like revitalizing closed factories and expanding payrolls.
"President Trump talks and talks — but he has failed to deliver results for American workers," the plan reads. "That ends under the Biden-Harris administration."
Biden also promises to sign new executive actions during his first week as president that ensure that the federal government uses taxpayer dollars to only buy American products and support supply chains in the nation.
The plan comes after Biden said in a Wilmington, Del. speech Friday that he will continue to draw more explicit contrasts between his vision and Trump’s on numerous issues and this is the first policy decision in which he does that.
For months Biden has tried to bring Trump’s economic record to light by challenging it with new proposals as the president continues to lead on the issue in some battleground states like Michigan and Florida with two months to go until Election Day.
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.