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

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

The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Progressive women's groups launch effort to combat disinformation about Harris

SALT LAKE CITY — Progressive women’s groups are putting millions towards a campaign to disrupt disinformation and sexist, racist attacks against Senator Kamala Harris — an escalation of their attempts to combat gendered and racially biased narratives around the Democratic vice presidential nominee. 

Ultraviolet — in concert with other prominent groups like Emily’s List, Black PAC, and Color of Change — formed the Women’s Disinformation Defense Project, an amalgamation of groups collectively set to throw more than $20 million into ads, research, and offensive strategies that will counter biased narratives on social media and online in real time, especially for voters in battleground states.  

“I can’t say ‘this person is seeing this,’” Shaunna Thomas of Ultraviolet told NBC News about those types of narratives and disinformation. “But you can say ‘here’s a group of voters who fit the profile of people who we know are being targeted’ and ensure that they are seeing a different message.”

Even before Harris was even named as Biden’s running mate, prominent female Democrats and women’s groups promised to call out any sexism or racism and take steps to disrupt bias taking hold in political coverage and voter outreach. 

Ahead of the first, and only vice presidential, debate, Thomas is prepared for bias to seep in — in online forums or on the stage. 

Harris allies, including former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, have been vocal warning about the thin line that women candidates often walk on the debate stage because of double standards applied to them. Clinton recently advised Harris to be “firm and effective” when rebutting Pence, but to “do it in a way that doesn’t scare or alienate voters.” 

For Mike Pence’s part, his preparations for the debate stage against Harris have included practicing ways to best Harris without opening himself up to criticism that he is acting in a disrespectful or sexist way. Pence is being advised "not to attack a woman,” one ally told NBC News.

Army Reserves open probe into N.C. Democratic Senate candidate as new texts surface

Just days after North Carolina Democratic Senate candidate Cal Cunningham apologized for sending sexually explicit text messages to a woman who is not his wife, more texts have surfaced suggesting that Cunningham engaged in a physical relationship with the woman. 

And an investigation into the matter has been opened by the U.S. Army National Reserves, of which Cunningham is a member. Adultery can be a crime in the military. 

“The Army Reserve is investigating the matters involving Lt. Col. James Cunningham.  As such, we are unable to provide further details at this time,” Simon B. Flake, chief of media relations, confirmed to NBC News in a statement. The investigation was first reported by WRAL, a Raleigh TV station. 

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham participates in a televised debate with Sen. Thom Tillis in Raleigh, N.C., on Sept. 22, 2020.Gerry Broome / AP

Cunningham has been leading incumbent Republican Senator Thom Tillis in polling in a race that is expected to be a critical battleground in who wins the presidency and control of the Senate.  

In the text messages, Cunningham and Arlen Guzman Todd, who is also married, exchanged explicit sexual messages to each other. And in other messages, Guzman Todd was complaining to a friend about Cunningham’s lack of response to her.  

The NationalFile.com, a conservative outlet, first reported the text messages. WRAL first reported the second batch of messages. 

The text messages indicate that the two had also met twice, including once at his home in July. 

Cunningham’s campaign confirmed the investigation by the Army Reserves but said he he will stay in the race. 

"Cal will participate in this process, but it does not change the stakes of this election or the need for new leaders who will fight for the issues North Carolinians care about instead of caving to the corporate special interests — which is exactly what Senator Tillis has done in his years in Washington,” spokeswoman Rachel Petri said in a statement. 

The last time the media and the public heard from Cunningham was on Friday when the first batch of text messages were released when he said:  

"I have hurt my family, disappointed my friends, and am deeply sorry. The first step in repairing those relationships is taking complete responsibility, which I do. I ask that my family’s privacy be respected in this personal matter. I remain grateful and humbled by the ongoing support that North Carolinians have extended in this campaign, and in the remaining weeks before this election I will continue to work to earn the opportunity to fight for the people of our state."

As polls creep closer, Trump campaign hasn't run TV ads in IA, OH for weeks

WASHINGTON — The polls show the presidential race in Iowa and Ohio tightening, but only Vice President Joe Biden is on the television airwaves there. 

By comparison, President Donald Trump's campaign hasn't run TV or radio ads in Iowa since the end of July, according to Advertising Analytics. And he's been dark on the Ohio airwaves since then too, except for one week in September where his campaign spent about $240,000. 

Since the beginning of August, Biden's campaign has outspent Trump $2.5 million to $240,000 in Ohio and $1.4 million to $0 in Iowa. 

Outside groups have stepped in to try to fill the gap in Iowa — since August, the GOP super PAC Preserve America PAC has spent $6.7 million in Iowa.

But Trump hasn't been getting any air cover in Ohio, as the only GOP group to spend significant money on ads in the presidential race there over that span is Americans for Limited Government, which is actually running ads criticizing the president on health care. 

FiveThirtyEight's polling average shows Biden leading Trump in Ohio by 0.5 percentage points (47.5 percent to 47 percent) and Trump leading in Iowa by the same margin (47.1 percent to 46.6 percent). 

Gov. Whitmer signs bill to help speed vote counting in battleground Michigan

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bipartisan bill Tuesday allowing local clerks in the battleground state’s larger municipalities to begin processing ballots the day before Election Day.

In addition to the extra 10 hours for clerks in cities and townships with a population of at least 25,000 residents, the legislation also allows election inspectors on absentee vote counting boards to work in shifts and requires clerks to contact voters within 48 hours if there are problems with their absentee ballots, such as missing or mismatched signatures.

Gretchen Whitmer speaks during the first night of the Democratic National Convention on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020.Democratic National Committee

Though the bill’s provisions aim to prevent delays in reporting election results, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson noted the state still does not expect complete results until the Friday after the election, since ballot counting cannot begin until 7 a.m. on November 3.

“Now it may be sooner, but we want to manage those expectations and we want all of our voters watching our elections to be patient as our clerks work methodically, carefully, and securely to tabulate every ballot and ensure that the results of our elections once announced are an accurate reflection of the will of the people,” the Democratic governor said.

Benson also said that Michigan has received a record 2.7 million absentee ballot requests and 400,000 Michiganders have so far already returned their ballots, putting the state on track to break its turnout record this fall. 

Whitmer criticized the GOP-led legislature for not sending her SB 117, which allows servicemembers and spouses to return ballots electronically, criticizing Republicans for playing “partisan games.” 

Michelle Obama releases 'closing argument' for Joe Biden

WASHINGTON — Former First Lady Michelle Obama released her "closing argument" for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Tuesday, urging voters to vote for Biden and to "make a plan to vote." 

"Right now our country is in chaos because of a president who isn't up to the job," Obama says of President Donald Trump in the video.  

In an almost 25 minute video that mirror her Democratic convention remarks, Obama reminds voters of how Trump has responded to numerous crises from healthcare during a pandemic to race riots — calling the president “racist” in his response — and the Supreme Court vacancy while acknowledging that it can be a confusing time given the president spreads “these lies and conspiracies” repeatedly. 

“With everything going on in their lives, they don’t have time to fact-check falsehoods being spread throughout the internet. And even reasonable people might get scared. And the one thing this president is really, really good at is using fear and confusion and spreading lies to win,” she said.

“Search your hearts, and your conscience, and then vote for Joe Biden like your lives depend on it,” she said.

Obama adds, "We have the chance to elect a president who can meet this moment. A leader who has the character and the experience to put an end to this chaos, start solving these problems and help lighten the load for families all across the country. And that leader is Joe Biden." 

Mississippi Dem Senate hopeful Mike Espy raises $4 million in Q3

WASHINGTON — If Mike Espy loses his longshot bid to become Mississippi’s first Democrat elected to the Senate since 1982, it won’t be for a lack of cash. The campaign exclusively tells NBC News it raised $4 million dollars in the third quarter of 2020, six times what he raised the previous quarter.

The former Congressman and Agriculture Secretary now goes into the final month of the campaign against Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith with some $3 million cash on hand, according to the campaign. In addition to the money raised between July 1 and Sept. 30, the campaign also says they raised an additional $1 million in just the first two days of October.

Hyde-Smith has so far not released her third-quarter fundraising report, which is common as candidates have until Oct. 15 to file those reports with the Federal Election Commission. A Hyde-Smith campaign official tells NBC news her numbers are still be calculated and will be made public “soon.”

The incumbent senator trailed Espy in campaign fundraising last quarter, raising $210,000 to Espy’s $610,000. At the end of the second quarter, Hyde-Smith led the overall fundraising race by about $700,000.

Mike Espy in 2018.Drew Angerer / Getty Images file

Espy is still climbing a steep hill in the hopes of an underdog victory. But national Democrats have recently joined him in that climb. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is now providing organizational help in the state, including phone banking, and gave his campaign $49,000, the maximum donation the organization can give to him. Espy was also endorsed by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden last week.

This 2020 race is a rematch of a 2018 special election, when Espy ran against Hyde-Smith to fill the seat left vacant by the late Sen. Thad Cochran (who died after his resignation). 

Hyde-Smith won that race by 8 points, which was still the closest a Democrat has come to winning a modern-era Senate seat in Mississippi.

Biden campaign hits new weekly spending highs across battleground states

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign has long had the TV and radio spending advantage over President Trump. But while Trump has increased his spending in a handful of key states, Biden's campaign is hitting new, weekly spending highs across the map. 

The Biden campaign spent more in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin during the week spanning Sept. 22-28 than it had in those states in any previous week, according to Advertising Analytics data analyzed by NBC News. 

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden briefly visits with local labor leaders following a group photo at the state's AFL-CIO headquarters in Harrisburg, PA.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images file

Some of those increases were dramatic — Biden went from spending $3.3 million in Arizona the week of Sept. 15 to $5.5 million the week of Sept. 22, from $651 to $600,000 in Iowa, and from $5.8 million to $7.8 million in Pennsylvania. 

The Trump campaign hit new, weekly spending highs in four states during the week of Sept. 22 — Florida, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania. But even so, Team Trump still spent millions less than Biden in all but Georgia. 

It's another data point that shows the broad breadth of Biden's TV/radio spending advantage over Trump — the Democrat spent more than double Trump's total in Arizona last week; more than triple Trump in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin; almost eight-times as much as Trump in Nevada; and at least $2 million more in Florida, Michigan and North Carolina. 

The only key state where Trump outspent Biden over that week was Georgia, where Trump spent $1.4 million to Biden's $223,000

Senate debate round up: Big Monday night in key races

WASHINGTON — With most of the political world focused on Tuesday' night's first presidential debate, some of the nation's top Senate candidates — in Iowa, Montana and Maine— squared off in key debates Monday night.

Here are some key moments: 

The Supreme Court

President Trump's nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court loomed large on Monday night.

Montana Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock criticized Republican Sen. Steve Daines for supporting Coney Barrett, saying he "flip-flopped" from his position four years ago that the Senate should "not confirm a new Supreme Court justice until the American people elect a new President and have their voices heard." Daines said that it's up to the Senate whether to confirm or reject the president's nominee — and they rejected it in 2016. 

Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who has opposed Trump filling the seat before the election, criticized her Democratic opponent, Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, for not completely swearing off packing the court and that the court needs to be less political.

Gideon countered by pointing to Collins' votes for Trump's past judicial nominees, and said that she wants to see a judiciary that is "independent." She didn't specifically rule out adding justices to the court but made a broad denouncement of "the proposals coming forward" because those changes wouldn't help make the court more independent. 

Masks and fighting COVID-19

In one of the stranger moments in recent memory, Maine independent Senate hopeful Max Linn cut up surgical masks in opposition to government mask mandates. 

But the rest of the candidates across the three debates took the question seriously. 

All three Republican candidates, Collins, Daines and Ernst spoke out against mask mandates— Ernst and Collins agreed that masks help slow the spread of Covid-19 while Daines said that it should be a personal choice and focused his answer primarily on parents' frustration with not being able to watch their kids play sports outside because of restrictions. 

Greenfield supports a statewide mask mandate, while Gideon focused her answer on how masks are effective in fighting the pandemic and Bullock pointed to the effectiveness of masks while saying he doesn't want to see people fined for not wearing masks. 

Collins also touted her work on the Paycheck Protection Program while Gideon criticized the Senate for not making a deal once pandemic aid lapsed this summer. 

Policing

Ernst focused a question on how to solve systemic racism specifically in an attack on Greenfield’s comments about law enforcement: “Theresa Greenfield has stated that our law enforcement system is systemically racist, meaning that our law enforcement officers are racist. I don't believe that. And I believe that our communities can work together.”

Greenfield pushed back, saying systemic racism is more than just bias in policing, detailing: “we need to work together like we did in this state to pass the plan for the more perfect union, where we attack this kind of racism, requiring racial bias training, requiring de-escalation training, a ban on chokeholds.”

DNC hits the streets around debate site

The Democratic National Committee is hitting the ground with mobile billboards aimed at countering President Donald Trump during Tuesday night's presidential debate.

The Biden campaign's rapid response team and over 30 staffers from the DNC War Room will be remotely fact-checking the president and posting their responses on three driving billboards circling the perimeter of the Sheila and Eric Samson Pavilion debate hall in Cleveland. 

The joint effort was launched after both rapid response teams wanted to try and alert as many battleground voters missing the debate while driving or walking around the debate hall about Trump’s record.

"On the debate stage, Trump will continue to lie to the American people about his failed response to the coronavirus, so we're going to hold him accountable in real time,” DNC War Room senior spokeswoman and advisor Lilly Adams said in a statement to NBC News. “The truth is that Trump lied to the country about the severity of the coronavirus and failed to ever come up with a strategy to confront the pandemic.”    

During the day ahead of the evening debate, the billboards will flash statistics showing statistics about the 200,000-plus coronavirus deaths in the U.S. and more than 7 million cases so far as passerby’s hear Trump saying he “wanted to always play [the coronavirus] down” and how he “still like playing it down,” remarks he made to famed journalist Bob Woodward at the onset of the pandemic.

The driving billboards will also play up the importance of the Supreme Court vacancy, noting that if a majority of justices find the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional in a hearing set for a week after the election, as many as 133 million Americans with preexisting conditions are at risk of losing protections and 21 million would become uninsured.

Following the debate, the DNC will organize a light display outside the debate hall that will read “Trump lied, 200,000+ died.”

Voter interest surges after Ginsburg death and National Voter Registration Day, group says

WASHINGTON — Voter registration and mail ballot request numbers have surged after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, coupled with National Voter Registration Day.

Vote.org CEO Andrea Hailey told NBC News that the nonpartisan get-out-the-vote technology platform saw an immediate spike the weekend following Ginsburg's sudden passing with a total of 139,046 registration verifications that Saturday and Sunday — a 118 percent increase from the weekend prior. The group also received nearly 41,000 new voter registrations (up by 68 percent) and approximately 35,000 mail ballot requests (up by 42 percent) that weekend.

“I think it means that people are paying attention, that there's a younger generation that's definitely paying attention,” Hailey said in a phone interview. “With 30 some-odd days left to go, people are connecting these major moments in American history with action at the ballot box.”

Volunteers help students register to vote and request their ballots for the upcoming presidential elections as early voting begins in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Sept. 24, 2020.Emily Elconin / Reuters

Hailey noted that there was also a large spike in voter registrations and mail ballot requests during the first week of the protests this summer after the killing of George Floyd

“I think these terrible losses are translating for people into action, or taking that and doing something and connecting the dots between the world they want to create and voting,” she said.

Vote.org saw a surge in interactions last Tuesday too, which was National Voter Registration Day. The day brought Vote.org the most traffic ever for the holiday, doubling the number of users visiting the site from roughly 304,000 in 2018 to 730,000 in 2020. That day also doubled the number of registrations (from about 62,000 in 2018 to 135,000 in 2020) and voter registration verifications (from approximately 268,000 in 2018 to 473,000 in 2020). 

“I think we've gotten to a point in our country where it's not about parties anymore it's just about people who believe in a true and inclusive democracy, and people who don't,” Hailey said. “I do think that there's a younger generation at least what we're seeing on the site that is awake and getting election information. We've had 2 million people register through the site so far this year.”

This past weekend, Vote.org saw 188,009 registration verifications, 53,817 new voter registrations and 40,164 mail ballot requests. 

“What we're seeing is people really wanting just like a lot of information about what their choices are,” Hailey said of people's interests in learning about their state’s different voting options. “The tools for vote by mail and the registration tools on our site are running about even to each other.”

Booker: Supreme Court could be "delegitimized" if Coney Barrett doesn't recuse from a potential 2020 election case

WASHINGTON — New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker said Sunday the Supreme Court could be "delegitimized" if President Trump's court pick doesn't recuse herself from potential rulings related to November's presidential election. 

During an interview on "Meet the Press," Booker said he'll ask Judge Amy Coney Barrett whether she will commit to recusing herself given the political debate around her confirmation. He added that he does plan to meet with Coney Barrett, unlike other Democrats who say they will not out of protest over the timing of the pick in light of how Republicans blocked then-President Barack Obama's election-year nomination.

"One of the things I want to ask her is: Will she recuse herself in terms of any election issues that come before us. Because if she does not recuse herself, I fear that the court will be further delegitimized," he said.

"President Trump has said: 'I will not accept the result of the election unless I win, I'm going to push it to the Supreme Court, and oh by the way, during the election, I’m going to put someone on the court as well."

Trump officially nominated Coney Barrett on Saturday to fill the seat left vacant by the late-Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death earlier this month. For weeks, he's argued that Democratic nominee Joe Biden wouldn't be able to beat him unless the election is "rigged" and recently said that he wants to have a full court in case it needs to decide any cases related to the election. 

Democrats have cried foul over the nomination, put forward with weeks to go before Election Day and after some states have already allowed early voting, and have pointed to the GOP decision to block Obama's nomination in March of 2016. 

But Republicans are defending their move, pointing to the fact that the Senate and White House are of the same party, unlike in 2016.