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Senate GOP group jumping into Alaska Senate race with $1.6 million in ads
WASHINGTON — Senate Leadership Fund, the top super PAC aligned with Senate Republicans, is making its first ad investment in Alaska, a state that's seen a recent influx of Democratic spending aimed at taking down Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan.
SLF will spend $1.6 million on TV, radio and digital ads there to start on Wednesday and run for 18 days, the group confirmed to NBC News.
Sullivan is facing off against Al Gross, an Independent who is being backed by Democrats and won the state's Democratic primary.
In a statement to NBC along with the announcement of the ad buy, SLF President Steven Law took aim at Gross' independence from Democrats.
“Chuck Schumer and DC Democrats are quietly pouring millions into Alaska, trying to pull one over on voters and buy this seat for far-left fake independent Al Gross. That’s not going to happen on our watch," he said.
It's an argument Sullivan's team has tried to make, focusing in ads on how Gross plans to caucus with Democrats.
But Gross, a physician whose family has deep ties to the state, has been working to stake out that independence, including in a recent ad where he opposes the Green New Deal and Medicare for All.
Groups aligned with Gross have been jumping onto the airwaves in recent weeks — 314 Action has spent more than $530,000 this month, according to Advertising Analytics. A group with Democratic ties launched this month and has already run more than $100,000 in ads in Alaska and Vote Vets, which is backing Gross, started running ads attacking Sullivan.
SLF's investment will help to narrow the pro-Gross ad-spending advantage. As of Thursday evening, pro-Gross groups have spent $1.53 million on television and radio advertising compared to $740,000 for pro-Sullivan groups, per Advertising Analytics.
Progressive groups highlight pandemic death toll with comparisons to U.S. cities in new ads
WASHINGTON — As the number of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. approaches 200,000 — equivalent to the entire population of some major U.S. cities, including Tallahassee, Florida, Tempe, Arizona or Grand Rapids, Michigan — the grim milestone is being noted by two major Democratic-aligned groups with an ad campaign in presidential swing states.
The Center for American Progress Action Fund and Priorities USA have partnered to purchase full-page ads to run Friday depicting gravestones etched with reminders of the death toll. The ads will appear in 11 newspapers in five states: Michigan, Florida, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
The groups are also running digital ads on newspaper websites serving presidential swing state cities with populations of approximately 200,000, including Warren and Pontiac, Michigan; Port St. Lucie, Florida; Allentown, Bethlehem and Scranton, Pennsylvania; and Green Bay, Appleton, Kenosha and Racine, Wisconsin.
The ads call for a national plan to address the pandemic. And while President Trump isn’t mentioned, the intention is clear.
“We have a president who has given up on fighting the coronavirus,” Jesse Lee of the CAP Action Fund said in a statement. “Not one more day should go by without a real national plan, and none of us can become numb to the tragedy that is unfolding day after day.”
The 200,000 number is greater than the populations of 670 major U.S. cities, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. With the exception of Spain, the U.S. is alone in the Western world when it comes to the number of COVID deaths per capita, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Worldwide, only Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Brazil have higher deaths per 100,000 population.
While President Trump has defended his record, insisting his policies have kept the US death toll from climbing even higher, a Columbia University study found 84 percent of deaths and 82 percent of cases could have been prevented if the U.S. had instituted social distancing measures on March 1, just two weeks earlier than many cities instituted lockdowns.
From January to early March, Trump consistently downplayed the threat of the virus. Journalist Bob Woodward recently released audiotapes of Trump privately acknowledging, in early February, that the virus was “deadly stuff.” Days later, on Feb. 10, Trump publicly insisted that “a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat.”
It wasn’t until March 15 that Trump said “this is a very contagious virus” that amounted to a “pandemic.” Around the same time, in mid-March, Woodward privately taped Trump acknowledging he liked to “play it down” when it comes to the virus in order to prevent “panic.”
In response to the ads, Trump 2020 communications director Tim Murtaugh told NBC News that “Americans have seen President Trump out front and leading the nation in the fight against the coronavirus. The President’s task force began meeting in January and he restricted travel from China, and then Europe, early on. At the time, Joe Biden criticized the decision, calling it ‘hysterical xenophobia’ and ‘fear-mongering,’ so we know Biden would not have done it. We would be in far worse position today if Joe Biden had been president in January."
Biden tells Democratic senators he takes 'nothing for granted' during caucus call
WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden called into the Senate Democrats’ daily caucus meeting Thursday afternoon and reassured members that he would mount a vigorous effort in the final stretch of his campaign to be more physically present — particularly in key swing states.
During the 20-minute call, Biden said he takes “nothing for granted” and thanked the senators for their help and support.
“Overall uplifting and engaging call. Took a series of questions, he spoke about the theme of the campaign, fighting for the soul of the country. What were the things that made him decide to run, how optimistic he is about the election,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., told reporters.
“But he must have said this three times, ‘I take nothing for granted’ — he said, ‘I know the polls look okay right now but I’m working tirelessly ... I was just in Florida, I'm about to go to Scranton, I'm heading to Duluth.’ That kind of stuff," Coons added.
Several vulnerable members up for re-election this year urged Biden to join them on the campaign trail in their home states.
“Just basically making the plea for every state, you know, everybody wants him, ‘Please come to our state you come to our state, okay,’ this and that and everything, that type of a thing,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., explained.
Among those making those requests were Democratic Sens. Tina Smith of Minnesota, Doug Jones of Alabama, and Gary Peters of Michigan.
“You can tell he’s real fired up, he’s working hard, he’s going to be out there and be everywhere as much as he possibly can,” Peters said. “I’ve certainly encouraged him and Kamala to be in Michigan as much as they can.”
Notably, policy barely came up during the short call — no talk of the filibuster, election security, and “no time talking about Trump,” per Coons, a longtime Biden ally.
“We are happy that even in some states that aren’t traditional battlegrounds where there are Senate races that are important, I mean he and his team are very aware of that and that they're being helpful,” Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said.
“I said Joe, people need to know that you recognize the dignity of the work that people have built this country and I said the coal miners that have been left behind all the hard factory workers that are left behind,” Manchin told NBC News. “He's very, very, just appreciative. It was just Joe. If you don’t like Joe, you don’t like yourself.”
Battleground voting update: A mail-in voting extension in Pennsylvania and a warning in Wisconsin
WASHINGTON — Pennsylvania's Supreme Court issued a handful of rulings Thursday shifting the contours of the vote-by-mail fight in that state, as officials in Wisconsin are warning they likely won't know the state's final results by the night of Election Day.
Pennsylvana's high court ruled Thursday that election officials cannot discard mail ballots solely because of questions about the authenticity of a voter's signature; that ballots postmarked by Election Day and received by Friday, Nov. 6 at 5 p.m. will be counted; that third parties cannot deliver people's ballots; and that counties can use dropboxes or other official addresses for voters to return ballots to, among other decisions.
The state also kicked the Green Party presidential and vice-presidential candidates off the ballot for failing to follow the necessary procedures to make the ballot. In 2016, about 49,000 Pennsylvanians voted for Jill Stein, and Democrat Hillary Clinton lost the state by about 44,000 votes.
The news out of Pennsylvania wasn't the only notable tidbit to come from the swing states on Thursday.
During a virtual forum hosted by Marquette Law School, officials warned that the "unprecedented volume" of absentee ballots, paired with the statutory restrictions in processing these ballots until election day, will result in a delay in posting results.
Municipal clerks started sending out ballots on Wednesday, and the state election commission says more than 1 million voters have already requested absentee ballots.
It's "a volume that's much different than what we've seen in the past," Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator Meagan Wolfe said Wednesday.
Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Claire Woodall-Vogg said that "we are not anticipating that we will be done and have results right at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. but I’m hopeful that by the time the sun comes up on Nov. 4th we will be finished and have election results."
But she cautioned that "a delay does not mean any cause for concern or invalidate the entirety of the election results whatsoever on election night."
Mike Bloomberg funds Dem super PAC's $5.4 million Florida ads to boost Joe Biden
WASHINGTON — Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is bankrolling a new, $5.4 million television ad campaign by a Democratic super PAC, the first part of the $100 million Bloomberg says he'll spend to support Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in Florida.
The spots will begin running across the state on Friday, Priorities USA super PAC announced Thursday. The group says the ads will be "updated versions of ads" it's already running in other states.
One of those spots includes a super-cut of President Trump's comments about the coronavirus, including recent ones he made to journalist Bob Woodward about how he wanted to "play it down," with a graphic showing the rising deaths from the virus in America.
The new buys are the first round of Bloomberg's planned spending in Florida — a new release from Priorities USA says that the former mayor and Democratic presidential hopeful will spend on more ads, voter turnout, as well as a "strategy to reach Black and Latino voters."
Last week's NBC News/Marist University poll found Trump and Biden tied at 48 percentage points, and some Democrats have raised concerns in recent weeks about Biden's underperformance with Hispanics, particularly in Florida.
—Ben Kamisar contributed
Former State Department official who cast doubt on Burisma claims to testify in GOP probe
WASHINGTON — A Republican-led Senate investigation of Joe Biden and his work in Ukraine as vice president will hear testimony Thursday from a former official who has told colleagues that an energy company at the heart of the inquiry was a nonfactor in U.S. policy toward Ukraine, NBC News has learned.
The man, Amos Hochstein, a former Biden adviser who was a State Department energy envoy in President Barack Obama's administration, is scheduled to testify behind closed doors Thursday in the Senate Homeland Security Committee's investigation. The committee is chaired by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., a close ally of President Donald Trump's.
Hochstein is the only witness called by the committee known to have discussed Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, with Biden during his vice presidency. Biden is now the Democratic presidential nominee, and his son's ties to Burisma have been at the center of the committee's monthslong probe.
Hochstein will be among the final witnesses ahead of an interim report the committee is expected to release in late September. Johnson has considered Hochstein's testimony crucial — along with that of Tony Blinken, a top Biden aide who was deputy national security adviser under Obama, who will also testify Thursday. Johnson had considered subpoenas for the two before they agreed to appear before the committee voluntarily. Politico first reported that Hochstein would testify.
Trump and his Republican allies, including Johnson, have argued that U.S. policy toward Ukraine under Obama may have been colored by Biden's desire to protect Burisma — specifically, by advocating for the dismissal of a Ukrainian prosecutor with ties to the Kremlin who had investigated the company. Biden's son Hunter was a member of the Burisma board part of the time that Biden served as the administration's point person on Ukraine, but he was not associated with Burisma during the prosecutor's probe.
Hochstein has told associates that he never changed U.S. policy because of Burisma and was never asked to do so and that Burisma never factored into any policy decisions around energy or Biden's advocacy for a new Ukrainian prosecutor general.
In fact, according to a former Obama administration official, Hochstein has told colleagues that the Obama administration sought to punish Burisma rather than protect it.
Hochstein met with Ukrainian officials in 2015 to urge them to cooperate in the prosecution of Burisma founder Mykola Zlochevsky as the Obama administration sought to clamp down on corruption rampant among Ukrainian oligarchs. That's the same year Trump and other Republicans have alleged Biden was trying to help Burisma.
Democrats have criticized the committee's investigation as overly political, diverting the Senate's most powerful oversight body from issues like the coronavirus pandemic. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, also criticized the investigation as a "political exercise" during a committee meeting Wednesday after Johnson pulled a planned vote on a subpoena related to the investigation.
Critics also argue that the investigation has been premised on Russian disinformation provided to the committee by people including Andrii Derkach, a Ukrainian lawmaker who worked with Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Last week, the Treasury Department said Derkach "has been an active Russian agent for over a decade" in announcing sanctions against him.
In a memo to the FBI, Democratic lawmakers said in July that the investigation has become a vehicle for "laundering" a foreign influence campaign to damage Biden.
Derkach has held a number of news conferences in Ukraine in which he has made unproven corruption allegations against Biden and other officials, including Blinken and Hochstein, using heavily edited tapes. Contacted by NBC News in July, Johnson's office wouldn't say whether it had received "materials" on the Bidens from pro-Kremlin Ukrainians.
The Democratic-controlled House impeached Trump late last year over allegations that he improperly pressured Ukraine to manufacture damaging information about Biden to boost his chances of re-election. The Republican-led Senate acquitted him in February.
Johnson has made it clear that his committee's investigation is intended in part to help Trump, who is trailing Biden in national and many battleground state polls with less than seven weeks left before the election. Johnson has repeatedly acknowledged that the investigation is in sync with the presidential election calendar, including at least twice this week.
The committee is preparing to release its report days before the first presidential debate on Sept. 29.
"We are working to get [the report] out as quickly as possible," Johnson told reporters at the Capitol on Monday.
Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Biden, said the investigation amounts to "an attack founded on a long-disproven, hard-core, right-wing conspiracy theory."
Democratic super PACs support Biden with Florida and Arizona Latinos
WASHINGTON — As some Democrats sound alarm bells about Joe Biden's strength with Latino voters, the Democratic presidential nominee is getting some help from outside groups in the key battleground states of Florida and Arizona.
The major Democratic super PAC Priorities USA and the American Federation of Teachers union, are partnering to spend $1.9 million on Spanish language TV in Miami. Priorities USA and Latino Victory Fund are also running $726,000 worth of radio ads in the Phoenix, Tucson, Arizona and Orlando, Florida, which Priorities says is part of a larger $6.8 million campaign focused specifically on Latinos.
“Florida and Arizona each have a huge role to play in Joe Biden’s path to victory, and Latino voters are an essential part of a winning Democratic coalition in these crucial battleground states,” said Guy Cecil, Chairman of Priorities USA.
Recent polls show Biden may be underperforming 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton in the Miami area, where he made his first trip of the campaign Tuesday, especially with Cuban-Americans and others who fled Latin American dictatorships and are now receptive to Republicans' message that Biden is aligned with socialists.
"To win, we need to be vigilant at GOP leadership’s ongoing attempts at voter suppression targeting communities of color, particularly the Latino community. This campaign in Arizona and Florida is a strong reminder to our Spanish-speaking neighbors about the importance of voting in this historic election," said Luis A. Miranda Jr., Chairperson of the Latino Victory Fund.
Billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced he will spend up to $100 million in Florida to support Biden.
Obama urges young voters to plan how they'll vote
WASHINGTON — If you had time to bake sourdough from scratch and do the “Renegade Challenge,” you have time to plan how you’ll vote. That’s the message from former President Barack Obama in a new video Wednesday in which he urges young voters not to play into “cynical” strategies designed to depress the voter turnout.
"Because young people have always been the ones to make change in this country, making change this fall is once again going to depend on you,” Obama said in the new video, released by ATTN. "Since we're still dealing with a pandemic, we've got approach voting just like we do everything else these days — shopping, ordering dinner, pulling off a surprise birthday party over Zoom. We got to plan.”
Aimed at millennial and Gen-Z voters, Obama laid out the different options available to make sure their votes are counted: Voting early in person where available, voting in person on Election Day, or voting by mail.
“Some places call this absentee voting. You might hear it called voting from home. It's all the same, like Donald Glover, and Childish Gambino,” Obama said. Alluding to some of the concern about voting by mail, Obama urged voters to request a ballot “right now, because it might take a little while to arrive.”
"We're not talking Gmail, we are talking throwback, vintage, O-G mail,” he said.
Obama doesn’t mention Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the video, but both Obama and the former vice president’s campaigns have emphasized educating Americans about their voting options. Former First Lady Michelle Obama participated in a network broadcast about voting this week for her nonpartisan group, When We All Vote.
"There are a lot of people out there trying to confuse and mislead you about this election. They're trying to make you cynical. They're trying to get you to believe that your vote doesn't matter,” Obama said in the video. "Do not let them do that. Our democracy is a precious thing, and it's up to all of us to protect it.”
Obama ended the video by pretending he is about to do his own version of the Renegade Challenge, which was a viral Tik-Tok trend this summer. Renegade, in fact, was Obama’s Secret Service code name.
Pennsylvania lawsuit delays sending out mail-in ballots
PHILADELPHIA — Several legal battles are plaguing Pennsylvania’s election officials as they prepare for the Nov. 3 election, the state's first election processing an expected 3 million mail-in ballots, according to Pennsylvania Secretary of State Katy Boockvar.
Officials across the state had planned to send out mail-ballots this week, but the certification of the ballot has been held up due to a lawsuit from the state Democratic party over whether Green Party candidates can be listed on the ballot. Without an official candidate list, county officials can't print the ballots.
Boockvar told reporters on Tuesday that she expects the case to be decided this week. But one county official told NBC News that even if the decision came through on Tuesday, the county would need at least two weeks before ballots could be sent to voters.
“The circumstances of this election are sure to be unique,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf told reporters Tuesday. “What is most important in every county throughout Pennsylvania is that every vote is counted and the results are absolutely accurate even if that takes a little more time.”
Wolf called on the statehouse to consider four actions to alleviate the voting process: Allow counties to pre-canvass and pre-process ballots three weeks before Election Day, rather than begin on Nov. 3; allow counties to count eligible ballots postmarked by Election Day and received by the Friday after Nov. 3; and require counties to send mail-in ballots at least 28 days before the election to give counties more flexibility in appointing poll workers to vacant positions.
“The legal challenges Pennsylvania is facing are frustrating. Earlier ballot processing would be a game changer. Anything would be better than on Election Day,” Philadelphia City Commissioner Omar Sabir, who works to run the city’s election, told NBC News.
Op top of the candidate listing complications, the Trump campaign is currently challenging the state’s use of ballot drop boxes.
These setbacks for Pennsylvania are only the first of many hurdles this November's election will include. Sabir told NBC News that given all the challenges this year, he doesn't want an expectation of calling Pennsylvania's results on Election Day.
"Everything's not gonna be done" Sabir said. "I don't even want that expectation set up right now. The elections will not be done tonight."
Pompeo hosts RNC chairwoman at revived Madison Dinners
WASHINGTON — Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel was a guest on Monday at the latest installment of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s “Madison Dinners,” three people with knowledge of the dinner tells NBC News.
The chair of the Republican Party came to the State Department for the taxpayer-funded dinner in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms. Also at the dinner were UPS executive Laura Lane, who oversees the shipping giant’s government affairs, and India’s ambassador to the U.S. NBC News saw many of the guests arriving in evening wear.
The State Department says the dinners are foreign-policy focused. But they have come under scrutiny from congressional committees over concerns that Pompeo is using government resources to build a political and future donor network. As RNC chairwoman, McDaniel oversees the GOP’s fundraising operations.
The Republican National Committee and the State Department did not respond to requests for comment. The Indian Embassy in Washington and UPS had no comment.
Pressure grows from rank and file on Hill to find deal on pandemic relief
WASHINGTON — As the stalemate in negotiations between Democrats and the administration on another round of pandemic relief enters its sixth week, a bipartisan group of House members is trying to put pressure on negotiators by releasing what it calls a compromise proposal.
The members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of 50 lawmakers divided equally between Republicans and Democrats, say their $1.5 trillion measure is an attempt to meet Democrats and the administration in the middle and provide a path forward. They say that while their bill is not meant to be signed into law, it is meant to get negotiators back to the table.
Talks among House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York and the administration have been frozen since early August, when the two sides couldn't agree on how much money to spend.
Some lawmakers in both parties, fretting over inaction ahead of the November election, are calling for a deal. Senate Republicans voted on a slimmed-down Covid-19-related assistance bill last week. While it did not pass, it allowed vulnerable Republicans to campaign on the effort.
The Problem Solvers began meeting shortly after those talks broke down, and they even sat down with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows at least twice.
Their proposal is cheaper than what Pelosi wants, but it includes some of her priorities.
It would extend the federal weekly unemployment benefit at $450 per week, higher than the administration's support of $300 per week and lower than the Democrats' demand of $600 per week. It includes Republican demands for liability protection, and it addresses one of the biggest sticking points between Democrats and the administration in negotiations, state and local funding, by proposing to provide $500 billion for states that have gone into the red during the pandemic.
The proposal also includes funding for a new round of $1,200 payments to eligible Americans and for the Paycheck Protection Program, as well as more money for health care, schools and child care than the Republicans wanted. And it would provide funding for broadband and food assistance programs, which the administration has not supported.
As the election nears, some Democrats are pressuring Pelosi to put a new pandemic relief bill on the floor during the three-week congressional session to show that Democrats are willing to compromise and keep working toward an agreement.
“Families and business in my district have all told me the same thing: they want help getting through the Covid crisis, not the same-old political games," Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., co-chair of the the Problem Solvers Caucus, told NBC News. "With so many people suffering, it’s time for pragmatic solutions, and that’s what this bipartisan roadmap is all about. We hope it will help the negotiators recognize that there is hope for real bipartisan progress."
Some lawmakers are advocating for an updated, cheaper version of the $3.4 trillion House-passed HEROES Act, while others are advocating for votes on individual components of the bill, including unemployment insurance.
"We want a deal on a robust, comprehensive package, and barring that, we'd like the House to take some sort of action on Covid relief," Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., the chair of the New Democrats Coalition, a group of more than 100 moderate-minded, economic-focused Democrats, told reporters on a conference call Monday evening.
Freshman Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., said, "We want to see something done before we leave."
Trump campaign pivots to the economy with eight-figure ad campaign
WASHINGTON — The Trump campaign plans to launch an eight-figure ad buy highlighting the economy as a focus of the presidential race, spokesman Tim Murtaugh said Monday.
The move is designed to elevate a rare issue on which the president holds an advantage over rival Joe Biden in polls, as reported Friday by NBC News. It comes after Trump's recent focus on crime and safety has failed to deliver gains. The news of the upcoming ad campaign was first reported by Fox News.
One Trump ad titled "Kim" features a woman who says: "Joe Biden could never handle the economy after Covid. There's no way." A second ad called "Jobs President" criticizes Biden for the fact that American jobs were "lost to Mexico and China" during his four decades serving in government.
A Fox News national poll released Sunday found that Trump leads Biden by 5 points on the issue of the economy. But Biden leads Trump on who voters trust to handle the coronavirus, law-and-order, racial inequality and Supreme Court nominations. Overall, Biden led 51 percent to 46 percent with likely voters.
Election Day is 50 days away.
Harrison makes Senate race competitive but must beat Graham as Trump is favored to win South Carolina
WASHINGTON — Jaime Harrison is running the strongest race that any Democrat has made in years for a U.S. Senate seat in deep-red South Carolina.
In fact, he raised a whopping $10.6 million in August, outraising incumbent opponent Sen. Lindsey Graham's, R-S.C., entire second-quarter haul in a single month, according to The State newspaper.
But Harrison’s ultimate challenge in this presidential year is getting more votes than Graham when President Trump is the clear favorite to win the state at the top of the ticket in November.
“Jaime Harrison is a strong candidate,” said Jordan Ragusa, a political scientist at the College of Charleston. “He’s definitely the strongest candidate Lindsey Graham has faced. He’s a moderate running in a red state, he’s an African American in a state with a large percentage of African Americans, and he’s a highly visible, well-known figure in South Carolina.”
South Carolina has not sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1998, but recent polls have Harrison, a former chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party and currently an associate chairman of the Democratic National Committee, essentially tied with Graham.
And last month, the non-partisan Cook Political Report, which had listed the race as solidly Republican at the start of the election cycle, moved the contest to Lean Republican.
Should he win, Harrison would join Republican Sen. Tim Scott in representing South Carolina, making the state the first to have two Black senators serving concurrently.
But with the president expected to win at the top of the ballot in this traditionally Republican state, Harrison has a narrow path to victory.
He either has to count on a significant number of Trump voters to cast ballots for him or, as Ragusa says is the more likely possibility, he has to see some Trump supporters voting third party — or not vote at all.
“We see that all the time,” Ragusa said. “It’s often the case that a lot of people vote at the top of the ticket, in this case, president, and then leave down ballot boxes unchecked.”
Graham is not the only Republican incumbent underperforming Trump in their individual states. According to Real Clear Politics, Sen. Martha McSally is polling almost 2 points below the president in Arizona, while Sen. Tom Tillis is underperforming Trump in the polls by nearly 4 points in North Carolina.
Explaining why Graham is vulnerable, Democrats observing this Senate race say the three-term senator has become a more partisan and polarizing figure over his years in office.
Despite his previous record of independence and bipartisanship and initially being a vocal Trump critic during his own presidential bid, Graham has since become one of the president’s closest allies in the Senate.
“When you have someone like Lindsey Graham who has left South Carolina behind and just wants to play political games in Washington, people ask, ‘What happened with Lindsey?’” said Guy King, the Harrison campaign’s communications director.
“Jaime is a candidate that upholds the characteristics and values that South Carolinians hold dear,” King added.
Given his prior willingness to buck the party line, Graham has not always been popular with conservatives. But Ragusa says Graham’s staunch defense of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh against allegations of sexual assault in 2018 helped the senator stave off a conservative primary challenge, though it may cause him some problems in the general election.
Republicans with knowledge of the contest question the accuracy of the polls and say that while the Senate race may be more competitive this year, voters in the solidly Republican state will ultimately want to maintain the Senate majority — and they know that Graham will hold the party line.
“Lindsey Graham has always been his own man,” said T.W. Arrighi, Graham’s campaign communications director said.
“Some constituents may not agree with Sen. Graham on every issue, but they’ll know exactly where he stands and can trust that he’s putting South Carolina’s interests first,” he added.
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.
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.
As Kanye West files suits to get on state ballots, more Republican ties to presidential campaign emerge
WASHINGTON — As Kanye West filed a series of lawsuits in recent days aimed at making the ballot as a presidential candidate in key states, he's also revealed more ties between the rap superstar and Republicans.
Like in Ohio, where West is suing to get on the ballot, the lawyer representing his campaign, Curt Hartman, is a former delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention.
In West Virginia, where West's campaign is also suing in federal court to get on the ballot there, his lawyers include J. Mark Adkins, a member of the Republican National Lawyers Association who has represented the Republican National Committee in the past, as well as a lawyer who represented the West Virginia Republican Party during a 2018 lawsuit involving ballot access, Richard Heath Jr.
And in Wisconsin, where the rapper is filing a lawsuit after failing to make the ballot there, one of his lawyers, Erick G. Kaardal, previously served as the Secretary/Treasurer of the Republican Party of Minnesota.
The Wisconsin suit initially included a contact address for the Virginia-based law firm Holtzman, Vogel, Josefiak and Torchinsky, a firm that employs multiple lawyers who served as top counsel to the Republican National Committee, worked for Republican presidential campaigns and in Republican administrations, including current one.
Jill Holtzman Vogel, the firm's managing partner and a former chief counsel to the RNC, directed NBC to a statement from West's lawyers that said the address was listed in error. But she did not respond to an additional question as to whether her firm is doing any work for West.
The contact information in the Wisconsin suit has since been updated to match the Wyoming address West is using across his ballot applications.
While West is suing in these states in the hopes of getting onto the presidential ballot, he's made it onto the presidential ballot in a handful of states, including Colorado, Oklahoma, Iowa, Vermont, Arkansas and Idaho.
The links are just the latest between West and Republicans. GOP operatives and those involved in Republican politics have helped West in his attempts to gain ballot access in other states, including Wisconsin, Missouri and Colorado.
West is a registered Republican voter in Wyoming who has effusively praised President Trump and met with Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner during a recent trip to Colorado.
Gregg Keller, the Republican operative who is involved in West's efforts, recently addressed the campaign's litigation strategy in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon."Kanye is running to compete, to win, and ultimately, to change the nation and world for the better," Keller said. "We'll have aggressive efforts on all fronts: legal, political, grassroots, PR, and otherwise, to ensure Kanye can do so."
Massachusetts primaries to decide two heated contests Tuesday
WASHINGTON — Massachusetts holds its primaries Tuesday, including one of the biggest intraparty Senate contests still left on the calendar, as well as another challenge from the left against a sitting House Democratic committee chairman.
The Massachusetts Senate primary features incumbent Sen. Ed Markey — one of the longest-serving members of Congress (first joining the House in 1973) — and the scion of the Kennedy family in Joe Kennedy III.
From the start, Kennedy cast himself as part of the next generation of progressive voices despite his few policy differences with Markey. And early on in the campaign, Kennedy seemed to have the edge in polling.
But Markey closed the gap in recent months with a hard embrace of his progressive chops, debate performances, viral videos, and a boost from progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and affiliated groups that are rallying around their ally and promoting his work on issues like the Green New Deal.
Now, all of the recent public polling shows Markey with the advantage.
Kennedy has had the TV/radio advertising edge over Markey, both in spending by the campaign and its allied super PAC. And he recently snagged the endorsement of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which frustrated progressives who saw the move as the establishment coming after one of their own.
Also taking place Tuesday is a competitive Massachusetts House primary. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass. — Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee — is being challenged from the left by Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse.
In August, students at University of Massachusetts at Amherst accused Morse of inappropriate relationships with college students, but later came evidence that the charges might have been manufactured up by Neal supporters, though the Neal campaign has denied any involvement.
Neal has the endorsements of Pelosi, as well as his home state's Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.
Trump promised a health care plan in 'weeks,' but a month later, it hasn't come
WASHINGTON — Despite promising a health care overhaul by the end of the summer, August came and went without any such action from President Trump and his administration.
He has repeatedly floated legislation that could come together “in two weeks,” often using the timeframe as a placeholder for things that rarely, if ever, materialize.
The president told Chris Wallace in a Fox News Interview on July 19: “We’re signing a health care plan within two weeks, a full and complete health care plan that the Supreme Court decision on DACA gave me the right to do.”
A few weeks later, he amended that statement. “We’re going to be introducing a tremendous health care plan sometime, hopefully, prior to end of the month,” Trump said during a news conference at the White House in early August, adding: “It’s just about completed.”
That hasn’t happened.
The White House claims that could change soon but declined to offer any specifics.
“President Trump recently issued several executive orders to lower the cost of prescription drugs, including making insulin and EpiPens available at low cost to low-income Americans. There will be more action to come in the coming weeks,” according to spokeswoman Sarah Matthews.
Last month, Trump also told reporters during a press briefing that there would be an executive order in the next few weeks “requiring health insurance companies to cover all preexisting conditions for all customers.”
Asked why this unilateral action was necessary when the Affordable Care Act already protects people with preexisting conditions, Trump told reporters it would be “just a double safety net” and “a second platform.”
The Trump administration is suing to overturn the entire ACA, which would include these protections. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments a week after Election Day.
Last cycle, then-candidate Trump ran on a platform to overturn the Affordable Care Act, consistently vowing to abolish it. An effort to do so in 2017 ultimately failed.
The coronavirus pandemic has only heightened the debate over health care, making it a critical voting issue in November, as it was during the 2018 midterms, when more than 40 percent of voters said it was the most important matter facing the country, according to exit polls.
In the same interview with Fox News in late July, the president suggested he would also unveil an order related to immigration in the coming weeks. No such plan has been produced.
Trump campaign announces TV ad buys in five key states
WASHINGTON — The Trump campaign is going on the air this week with TV ad buys in five key states: Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Minnesota, senior adviser Jason Miller told reporters on Monday, returning to the airwaves in battleground states it pulled out of during the GOP convention.
All but Minnesota are seen as essential to Trump's path to re-election as he trails Democrat Joe Biden nationally and in most battleground state polls.
Miller said the new buy is focused on states where voting starts earliest. He said the campaign plans to spend $200 million on air between Labor Day and the election — the Biden campaign has announced it plans to spend $220 million in TV ads over that same time period.
The campaign stopped running television spots in battleground states during the GOP convention, only running national cable ads and spots in Washington D.C. Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign outspent the Trump campaign from the start of the Democratic convention through the Republican convention by $24 million on the airwaves.
Two notable absences from the campaign's newest announcement are Pennsylvania and Michigan — The Trump campaign hasn't run television ads in Michigan since late July and Pennsylvania since early August.
The president's campaign manager, Bill Stepien, added on the call with reporters that Trump has a path to victory even without them. "We will defend the 2016 map," Stepien said. "If he holds all other states that he won in 2016, the president need only win one of the three: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania."
A look back at Trump's 2016 RNC nomination speech
WASHINGTON ― President Trump is set to accept the Republican Party presidential nomination Thursday night with a speech at the White House. In his first acceptance speech in 2016, then-candidate Trump laid out a litany of complaints about President Barack Obama's administration and set some benchmarks for his own plans. Here’s the state of play on just some of those campaign promises:
Law and order
Four years ago, Trump argued that the Obama administration had rolled back criminal enforcement, pointing to increases in violent crime in cities across the country.
“Homicides last year increased by 17 percent in America’s 50 largest cities,” he said. “That’s the largest increase in 25 years.”
That 17 percent rise in the homicide rate from 2014 to 2015 appears to be from an analysis by The Washington Post and does represent the largest increase since 1990 ― though the homicide rate did not increase in every single one of those 50 cities.
While President Trump has recently discussed crime rising in Democratic-run cities, like New York and Chicago, the New York City and Chicago police departments report that violent crime is slightly down this year compared to 2019. And in general, violent crime in New York and Chicago have decreased over the last 20 years.
In 2016, Trump said that nearly 40 percent of African American children and 58 percent of Latinos were living in poverty. A Washington Post fact-check found those numbers misleading. In 2018 the poverty level of Black children had fallen to about 30 percent.
Trump also pledged to lower the national trade deficit but it has actually grown over the last three years. And he talked about reducing the national debt, which rose to $19 trillion under Obama but has now ballooned to over $26 trillion under Trump.
He also highlighted his intention to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with individual trade agreements. However, one of the signature accomplishments of Trump’s first term was the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which keeps several of NAFTA’s principles in-tact ― a multi-country agreement.
One of Trump's first legislative wins as president was his 2017 tax cut bill. The $1.5 trillion tax cut reduced the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent and lowered individual tax rates while doubling the standard deduction.
In 2016, Trump said there were three things needed to curb international terrorism: “have the best gathering of intelligence,” “abandon the failed policy of nation-building” in Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Syria, and work with allies to destroy ISIS.
“We are going to win, we’re going to win fast,” Trump said.
There are differing ideas on what ending “nation-building” means. But through the lens of where troops are, there are currently about 5,200 American troops in Iraq. In Dec. 2016, there were 6,812 troops in Iraq. According to The New York Times, ISIS has been re-establishing itself in areas where it began 17 years ago, and attacks have started to surge.
When President Trump pulled troops out of Syria, there were several criticisms that Americans were leaving allied Kurdish forces unprotected and unable to hold territory back from ISIS. Kurds helped to guard 30 detention facilities that hold nearly 10,000 ISIS detainees across northern Syria.
Today, there are about 500 troops still in Syria, despite the president’s calls for a withdrawal of all 1,000 troops.
President Trump, however, would point to actions such as the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during a U.S. raid as proof that ISIS has been stymied.
Trump promised in 2016 to “repeal and replace Obamacare.” And in the first two years of his administration, when he had unified control over Congress, there were attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act but they failed.
The one aspect of the law that was repealed was the individual mandate, which zeroed out the tax penalty on Americans who didn’t buy health insurance. But the president and Republicans in Congress have yet to put forward a new health care plan to replace the ACA. The Trump administration is also currently involved in a Texas lawsuit where they are arguing that the ACA is unconstitutional on the whole and should be overturned.
President Trump has teased a new health care plan throughout the summer, saying about a month ago, “We’re signing a health care plan within two weeks.” None of the president’s multiple past pledges have materialized and there are no signs that this next one will either.
Trump made immigration a pillar of both his 2016 and 2020 campaigns, underlining the numbers of illegal immigrants entering the U.S. as a rationale for building a wall at the southern border.
“The number of new illegal immigrant families who have crossed the border so far this year already exceeds the entire total from 2015,” Trump said at his first convention.
“We are going to build a great border wall to stop illegal immigration, to stop the gangs and the violence, and to stop the drugs from pouring into our communities,” he added.
While total apprehensions were higher in fiscal year 2016 than in 2015, those 2016 numbers were lower than those of both 2013 and 2014. And according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the 2016 totals represented “a fraction of the number of apprehensions routinely observed from the 1980s through 2008.”
After President Trump took office, the total number of apprehensions initially decreased to then hit its highest level since 2007 in 2019, which prompted the president to make an emergency declaration to acquire funding for his promised border wall.
Almost all border wall construction during Trump’s tenure has encompassed replacing barriers put in place by previous administrations ― not building up additional wall. As of last month, barriers cover approximately one-third of the border, a number that’s gone barely unchanged under Trump.
Two House Democrats ask for probe into possible Hatch Act violations
WASHINGTON — Two congressional Democrats are asking the U.S. Office of Special Council to investigate whether acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and “other senior members of the Trump administration” violated the Hatch Act during the Republican National Convention on Tuesday evening, according to a letter provided to NBC.
The Hatch Act of 1939 prohibits federal employees from engaging in most political activity inside federal buildings or while working for the federal government.
“They coordinated a citizenship ceremony and a pardon as elements in the convention’s nationally-televised programming,” wrote Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois and Don Beyer of Virginia. “These officials mixed official government business with political activities as part of one of the largest political campaign events of the year,” the two wrote. Krishnamoorthi sits on the House Oversight Committee.
OSC spokesman Zachary Kurz told NBC News the OSC, an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency, does not comment on specific complaints nor confirm whether there are open investigations.
While the president and vice president are exempt from the Hatch Act, administration officials and federal employees are not. The office has previously reprimanded a number of Trump officials, including counselor Kellyanne Conway, even recommending she be removed from her post for being a “repeat offender.”
During the second night of the Republican National Convention, Trump granted a presidential pardon from the White House, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared from Jerusalem, where he was on a taxpayer-funded official business trip, first lady Melania Trump delivered a speech from the Rose Garden and Wolf performed a naturalization ceremony inside the White House and standing next to Trump.
A White House official told NBC News in a statement that the naturalization ceremony and pardon were official events held prior to Tuesday evening. "The White House publicized the content of both events on a public website this afternoon (Tuesday) and the campaign decided to use the publicly available content for campaign purposes," the statement said. "There was no violation of law.”
The House Democrats' letter maintains that is not enough. “The publicization of the event offers no defense for actions clearly orchestrated for the purpose of influencing an election as part of a nationally-televised partisan event carefully planned days, if not weeks, in advance,” it says.
In a Wednesday statement, the OSC said there are certain areas of the White House where the Hatch Act does not prohibit federal employees from engaging in political activity.
“The West Lawn and Rose Garden are two such areas. Therefore, covered federal employees would not necessarily violate the Hatch Act merely by attending political events in those areas,” said the statement, in an apparent reference to the Rose Garden audience.
In the statement, Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner did not address Wolf’s immigration naturalization ceremony but said this: “OSC’s role does not include grandstanding or holding press conferences about potential violations that may or may not occur.”
“Ultimately, officials and employees choose whether to comply with the law. Once they make that choice, it is OSC’s statutory role to receive complaints, investigate alleged Hatch Act violations, and determine which ones warrant prosecution," Kerner said.
Analysis: Trump and the GOP appear comfortable in mixing politics and the federal government
WASHINGTON — Conversations with Americans from inside the White House. The first lady's speech from the Rose Garden. The secretary of state giving an address while on an official overseas trip. The president's acceptance speech from the White House's South Lawn. Fireworks from the Washington Monument.
All are events at this week's Republican convention. And all either approach the fine line of violating the federal Hatch Act — or blatantly cross over it.
But there's an even bigger story at play: The Trump White House simply doesn't seem to care about the Hatch Act's principle of prohibiting executive-branch employees from engaging in political activity while on duty or in government buildings.
For example, when the U.S. Office of Special Counsel recommended last year that outgoing White House counselor Kellyanne Conway be removed from federal service for repeatedly violating the Hatch Act —because she engaged in partisan political activity in her official capacity — the White House objected.
The "overbroad and unsupported interpretation of the Hatch Act risks violating Ms. Conway's First Amendment rights and chills the free speech of all government employees," White House lawyer Pat Cipollone wrote.
As it turns out, Conway is addressing the GOP convention on Wednesday night.
The 1939 Hatch Act exempts the president and vice president, so it doesn't prohibit President Trump delivering his convention acceptance speech Thursday from the White House's South Lawn. (It also most likely doesn't apply to First Lady Melania Trump’s address, either, since she's technically not a government employee.)
But the U.S. Office of Special Counsel recently said in a letter that other employees are covered, "so there may be Hatch Act implications for those employees, depending on their level of involvement with the event and their position in the White House."
That includes any federal staffers who work on the speeches, who directly assist with the fireworks display, or who deliver a speech during a party's political convention, government ethics experts tell NBC News.
“Working on a party convention speech absolutely is partisan political activity, and is prohibited while on duty and while in federal government buildings," said Kathleen Clark, a law professor and expert on government ethics at Washington University in St. Louis.
Republican convention planners have defended convention speeches from prominent administration figures like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by saying that the Republican National Committee is paying for the costs, and that the speakers are addressing the county as a private citizen — not in their official capacity.
Yet government ethics experts say that all of this activity — including the president's convention speech — is at least ethically questionable because of the Hatch Act's underlying principle to not use the federal government for explicit political activity.
“Nobody is supposed to be using the functions of government for political gain,” says Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
But the Trump White House and the GOP convention planners don't seem to care.
Trump campaign off TV airwaves this week with convention in spotlight
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's campaign isn't running any television ads this week in key battleground states, as the Republican National Convention takes center stage.
The only television ads Trump has booked from Tuesday through Friday are in Washington D.C., to the tune of about $171,000, according to Advertising Analytics.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden's campaign has more than $9 million booked on the TV and radio airwaves during that time — including $3 million in Florida, $1.5 million in Pennsylvania, $1.3 million in North Carolina, $1.1 million in Wisconsin and almost $1 million in both Michigan and Arizona.
It's not like the Trump campaign will be absent from the airwaves this week — the Republican National Convention will likely draw millions of eyeballs in primetime, and the coronavirus-related restrictions allow for the party to control its message.
But the decision to go dark on TV outside of it means that if Trump doesn't go back up on the air through Friday, then the Biden campaign will have outspent him $28.4 million to $4.5 million on TV and radio from the start of the Democratic convention through this coming Friday.
Democrats offer counter-programming around GOP convention site
WASHINGTON — With the 2020 Republican National Convention hitting the airwaves this week, the Democratic National Committee is hitting the road with a series of counter-programming measures.
If you’re driving around the nation’s capital Tuesday, you may see a mobile billboard funded by the Democratic National Committee. With stops at the White House, the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium and the Republican National Committee’s offices, the DNC hopes to attract eyeballs and tweets with its message focused on the unemployment rate, small businesses and evictions.
“Over 100,000 small businesses have shuttered for good,” one slide says. “As many as 7 million could close forever by the end of 2020,” says the next, as video of President Trump golfing plays.
The goal is not to respond to what is said each night during the RNC, a DNC spokesperson told NBC News, but to share messages about what they believe to be Pres. Trump’s policy failures.
“Trump’s mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis has cost millions of Americans their jobs, forced small businesses to close, and wrecked our economy,” DNC War Room senior spokesperson Lily Adams said. “He may want to spend their convention avoiding that reality, but we won’t let him escape his record of chaos that has hurt the American people.”
The DNC is also broadcasting its message in a new ad released Monday that called the RNC the "Republican National Chaos", and attacked President Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
And just blocks from the White House, the former site of the Newseum will be lit up this week with a projected slideshow of rising coronavirus statistics.
Biden campaign to air new spot across cable channels during RNC
WASHINGTON — Democratic nominee Joe Biden's campaign announced Monday that it will air a new television spot contrasting Biden's vision for the United States with President Trump's presidency on cable airwaves during the Republican National Convention as part of a $26 million ad campaign this week across broadcast, cable, radio and digital platforms.
The 60-second spot, entitled, "Heal America," argues that the United States needs a team that's "up to the task" of handling the four simultaneous crises plaguing the nation — public health, economic, climate, and racial injustice.
"Together, they'll lead America, unite America and heal America. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris: because a united America will be a better America," the ad narrator concludes.
Everytown booking $6 million in Florida ads to target President Trump
WASHINGTON — Everytown for Gun Safety Victory Fund is booking $6 million in television and digital ads to boost former Vice President Joe Biden in Florida, NBC News has learned.
The group is partnering with Priorities USA, the major Democratic super PAC that's supporting Biden and attacking President Trump, on production and strategy. Everytown plans to spend $4 million in TV ads in the Orlando and Tampa markets and $2 million in statewide digital ads starting after Labor Day and running for five weeks.
“Facing a gun violence crisis that claims 100 American lives every day, President Trump has chosen the gun lobby over the safety of the American people at every turn,” John Feinblatt, the head of Everytown Victory Fund, said in a statement. “Together with Priorities, we're going all-in to make sure Trump’s a one-term president. Everytown has an aggressive plan to mobilize voters in Florida, who know the pain of gun violence all too well and are poised to play a decisive role in electing Joe Biden, a proven gun sense champion.”
The announcement marks the group's first formal entry into the presidential race's TV ad wars of the cycle, and its largest-ever investment in a presidential race. The state has seen a handful of mass shootings in recent years, including at an LGBT-friendly nightclub in 2016 and a Miami-area high school in 2018.
Everytown grew out of two groups aimed at curbing gun violence — Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense — and pushes for reforms like universal background checks. The group was co-founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has sunk millions into the effort.
The group is expecting to play a larger role in the 2020 presidential election than it has in any previous presidential election. It's said it plans to spend $60 million on the 2020 elections up and down the ballot, twice what it spent during the 2018 midterms.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.