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Harrison announces record $57 million third quarter haul in S.C. Senate race against Lindsey Graham
WASHINGTON — South Carolina Democrat Jaime Harrison's campaign says he raised $57 million in the third quarter of 2020 as he looks to dethrone Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, far more than any Senate campaign has ever raised in one quarter.
The new total, released by the campaign on Sunday morning, comes as Democratic Senate candidates across the country report eye-popping fundraising hauls in their bids to unseat Republican incumbents.
Previously, former Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke held the record for most raised in one quarter with $38.1 million.
And to put Harrison's total in more context, it's slightly more than what Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren raised for their presidential campaigns in the final quarter of 2019, just ahead of the Iowa caucuses.
Harrison did not release his campaign's cash-on-hand figure. Congressional campaigns don't have to file their official reports to the Federal Election Commission until later this month.
There have been increasing signs of life in the deep-red South Carolina Senate race, where Republicans have been sounding the alarms about Graham's chances. Graham recently took to Fox News airwaves to ask for help keeping pace with Harrison's fundraising pace, and Senate Republican outside groups have recently flocked to his defense.
Graham has not yet released his third-quarter fundraising total, but even a herculean effort by the Republican will almost certainly leave him tens of millions of dollars behind Harrison's third-quarter haul. Through June, the most recent date where fundraising totals for both candidates are available, Harrison had raised $29 million to Graham's $31 million.
Harrison has been relying on his campaign's vast resources to significantly outspend Graham on the Tv and radio airwaves — $38.5 million to $13.8 million through Sunday, according to Advertising Analytics.
Other Democrats have announced huge third-quarter hauls in recent days too. Iowa Democrat Theresa Greenfield's campaign says she raised $28.7 million, North Carolina Democrat Cal Cunningham's campaign says he raised $28.3 million and Colorado Democrat John Hickenlooper's campaign says he raised $22.6 million.
South Carolina debate format changes after Covid-19 test disagreement between Graham and Harrison
WASHINGTON — Thursday's South Carolina Senate debate is changing format after a stand-off over Covid-19 testing between Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democrat Jaime Harrison.
Harrison was demanding that Sen. Graham get a Covid-19 test ahead of tonight’s debate, something Graham said he didn’t do because his doctor said it wasn’t necessary.
Host WCBD-TV has changed the format to be separate interviews of each candidate by the moderator and voters. They will not appear on stage at the same time.
“We're disappointed that Lindsey has failed to take a simple coronavirus test, but we appreciate our hosts were able to change the event format to make it safer for everyone,” Guy King, a Harrison spokesperson said. “Jaime will be there in Spartanburg tonight to talk to the voters.”
In a tweet thread Thursday night, Graham said that Harrison is “demanding special treatment.”
“South Carolinians do not appreciate Harrison putting himself above others. If Mr. Harrison is not able to interact with South Carolinians on the same terms they live their lives, he should not be their senator,” he adds.
Philadelphia Judge rejects Trump campaign lawsuit over poll watchers at satellite sites
PHILADELPHIA — A Philadelphia judge has denied President Trump’s campaign the right to have poll watchers inside the city’s satellite elections offices. A spokesperson for the Trump campaign tells NBC News that they immediately appealed the decision, calling it “irresponsible.”
The judge wrote in a 14-page opinionFriday that Pennsylvania law doesn’t allow campaign representatives to observe in elections offices — backing the city’s stance that these satellite locations don’t qualify as polling places. Therefore, poll watching certificates cannot be issued.
“There's no provision in the law for a poll watcher to sit down at my kitchen table and watch me fill out my ballot. I'd be highly offended by that; it’s entirely inappropriate,” David Thornburgh, the CEO of Committee of 70, an independent advocate for better elections, noted in a recent interview with NBC News. The Philadelphia satellite offices are meant to serve as locations for voters to register, apply for, fill out and return their mail-in ballots, all in one place.
The ruling comes just over a week after the campaign sued the city after election officials refused to let people hired by the Trump campaign to enter satellite sites and monitor voters applying for and completing mail-in ballots ahead of election day, triggering President Trump to call out the city during the first presidential debate saying, “bad things happen in Philadelphia.”
The Philadelphia City Commissioners, who run the city’s elections, celebrated the ruling.
“We are pleased that the Court has reaffirmed our position that there is no right under the Pennsylvania Election Code to have poll watchers inside satellite election offices,” Chairwoman Lisa Deeley shared in a statement to NBC News, noting that the Election Code specifies that authorized poll watchers are permitted at polling places on Election Day. “In the meantime, we are continuing to work to ensure that all voters will be able to vote safely and securely.”
Democratic Senate candidates are outspending GOP opponents 2-to-1 over the airwaves
WASHINGTON — Democratic Senate candidates are significantly outspending their Republican opponents in key races that will decide who holds the Senate majority coming into 2021.
Through Sept. 30, Democratic Senate candidates (as well as the Democrat-backed independent Al Gross running in Alaska) are outspending their GOP opponents over the TV and radio airwaves by almost a combined 2-to-1 margin, $135 million to $71 million, according to data from Advertising Analytics. The average Democratic candidate spent $9.7 million over that timeframe, compared to $5.1 million for the Republican candidate (this analysis doesn't include the Georgia special Senate election, where a large field of candidates is running in a jungle primary).
Some of those leads are relatively narrow — Gross outspent Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan $1.2 million to $1 million; Colorado Democrat John Hickenlooper outspent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner $8.4 million to $6.3 million; and Montana Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock outspent Republican Sen. Steve Daines $9.5 million to $7.7 million.
But other spending gaps are massive — Alabama Democratic Sen. Doug Jones outspent Republican Tommy Tuberville $6.4 million to $700,000; Kansas Democrat Barbara Bollier outspent Republican Rep. Roger Marshall $3.9 million to $540,000; Iowa Democrat Theresa Greenfield outspent Republican Sen. Joni Ernst $14 million to $5.4 million; Democrat Cal Cunningham spent $13.5 million to Republican Sen. Thom Tillis' $4.3 million; and Democrat Jaime Harrison spent $26.2 million to Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham $9.4 million.
The only state where the Republican candidate had the spending edge through Sept. 30 was Texas, where Republican Sen. John Cornyn outspent Democrat MJ Hegar $4.4 million to $2.6 million.
Outside groups have helped Republicans narrow the Democratic spending lead to a $345 million-to-$288 million edge. But those outside groups don't get the same discounted ad rates that campaigns do — so they get less bang for their buck.
That dynamic is typified by Alabama, where the total Democratic effort has spent $6.9 million to the GOP's $5.8 million. But measuring in gross rating points — a standard measure used to approximate exposure — Democrats have an edge of 104,000 points to 36,000 points. That's because Democrats are relying on TV spending from the candidate, while Republicans are leaning primarily on outside groups.
In Goergia, Texas and Kansas, Democrats spent less but have bought more gross ratings points. In Michigan and Kentucky, that script is flipped, with Republican ads scoring more gross ratings points.
And that metric allows you to take a good look at the impact of the overwhelming amount of ads — between the two candidates, Greenfield and Ernst have purchased almost 600,000 gross ratings points in Iowa, a sign of how the Senate race has inundated the TV market there.
Barrett disclosure did not include work for troubled hospital group
WASHINGTON — U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett did not include on her Senate Judiciary disclosure forms a notable case in which she was one of two lead attorneys: defending a Pittsburgh steel magnate accused of helping drive a major Pennsylvania Hospital System into bankruptcy.
Coney Barrett, whose experience as a practicing attorney is limited to about two years beginning in 2000, worked on the case for at least six months beginning in June of 2000, according to court documents in Pacer, a database of electronic court records.
Barrett was required, per the questionnaire given to court nominees, to list the “10 most significant litigated matters which you personally handled, whether or not you were the attorney of record” and to “describe in detail the nature of your participation.” Barrett lists just three cases.
A source familiar with Barrett’s work history said her client had “filed only two even arguably substantive filings after she appeared as counsel,” so the work “is not a significant level of involvement.” Still, in two of the three cases Barrett lists, she cites her contribution as having been supporting roles such as assisting with research and briefing materials.
The case was ultimately settled as part of a separate civil suit in which she was not listed. Yet it involves one of the largest nonprofit bankruptcies in U.S. history, at $1.5 billion, which prompted numerous investigations including a criminal probe.
During her 2017 circuit court appointment hearing before the committee, the brevity of Barrett’s listed work experience drew questions from Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., about her resume.
Barrett at the time said she no longer had records of “the matters upon which I worked” and that she recalled “only three significant litigated matters that I personally handled.” She also said she’d searched her records, asked former associates and searched legal databases. In her 2020 disclosure, she similarly said she’d provided everything “based upon my recollection and searches of publicly available records conducted by others on my behalf.”
Given her limited experience as a practicing attorney, it wouldn’t be usual to have such a short list, said Prof. Stephen Gillers of New York University, an expert in ethical rules and judges. Yet, there’s also no reason to omit the case given the significant length of time she appears to have worked on it relative to her overall work experience as a practicing attorney. “The fact that a client is for some reason disreputable would not impede her confirmation. Prominent firms represent disreputable people,” said Gillers.
The omission is fueling criticism from Democrats about whether the candidate’s full record is transparent amid a hastened confirmation process for a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court.
“Donald Trump is trying to hide the real Amy Coney Barrett from the American people — her extreme positions on Roe v. Wade, her record of attacking the Affordable Care Act and now her significant involvement in the largest nonprofit bankruptcy in American history,” said Kyle Morse, a spokesman for American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic research group that informed NBC about the case.
Read more about the hospital system's collapse here.
The Judiciary Committee is due to conduct hearings, virtually for at least for some members, with the nominee beginning Monday. Democrats have already expressed concern about incomplete disclosure forms.
This week, Senate Democrats sent a letter to the Justice Department asking for “any missing materials from” her questionnaire, citing her 2006 signature on a 2006 newspaper ad calling for Roe v. Wade to be overturned that was not included. “The ad may or may not require recusal in a future case challenging Roe and that will come up,” said Gillers.
“We should get all the information about any nominee,” Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala, said Wednesday. “In this rush,” he said, “we’re not going to get that,” he said. “This is a pattern from Sen. McConnell to rush through a nominee without regard to getting a full fair review,” he said.
Senate Democrats seek investigation into Trump's tax audit
WASHINGTON — Top Senate Democrats on Thursday sent a letter to the Inspector Generals of the Tax Administration and Treasury Departments, calling for an investigation into the IRS audits of President Donald Trump’s taxes — less than four weeks before the Presidential election.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, are asking the IGs to “immediately conduct an investigation into any undue influence on Mr. Trump’s IRS audits.”
The letter comes after the New York Times reported decades-long income tax avoidance by Trump, whose taxes have been under audit by the IRS for more than four years. Trump dismissed the Times’ reporting as “fake news,” saying he paid “millions of dollars” in taxes — not the $750 per year in 2016 and 2017 as reported. Though he hasn’t agreed to release his returns to refute the articles.
“Not only has Mr. Trump broken decades of precedent by rejecting transparency for the American people and refusing to publicly release his federal income tax returns, but he has also made numerous public statements against IRS audits, both as a presidential candidate and after he was elected,” the Senators wrote.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, whose GOP-led committee has jurisdiction over taxes, told reporters he would not seek to obtain Trump’s tax records so soon before an election over concern it would appear political.
“All I've got is the president saying he's paid millions of dollars in taxes, and you've got the New York Times printing what they think, and we don't have the facts to make a judgment," Grassley said, adding that he is “concerned” the audit is taking as long as it is.
The letter is asking for an "immediate" investigation into "any undue influence on Mr. Trump’s IRS audits, either as part of the mandatory audit program or otherwise, including whether any executive branch employee outside of IRS has contacted any IRS employee regarding the audit of the President’s tax returns."
And, they say that the IGs need to "provide reassurance to congressional leadership and the House of Representatives and Senate Committees of jurisdiction in closed executive session that no such interference or influence has been found.”
And in another setback to President Trump’s efforts to keep his finances from the Manhattan District Attorney, a three-judge panel on Wednesday unanimously rejected Trump’s arguments that the subpoena should be blocked.
The President’s lawyers are expected to try and appeal that decision in the Supreme Court, where a fight is brewing over the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
Absentee voting kicks off in battleground Michigan with high volumes expected
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Absentee voting kicked off in battleground Michigan Thursday, and multiple clerks across Kent County spoke to NBC News as they worked to mail out the first big batch of absentee ballots.
This year marks the first presidential election in which Michigan voters don't need an excuse to vote absentee. This change, combined with safety concerns due to Covid-19, has resulted in an unprecedented number of absentee ballots in the state — approximately two million so far.
Voters can also pick up their absentee ballot in-person from their local clerk's office, where they can fill it out and return it rather than sending it back by mail.
Clerks in the cities of Grand Rapids, Wyoming, Walker, and Byron Township gave NBC an inside look at the process and the challenges they face unique to this presidential election.
The biggest challenge: volume.
“It's really putting a strain on resources. We can do it. It's just to a whole different level than we're accustomed to.” said Kelly Vanderburg of Wyoming. This week her office issued 12,000 absentee ballots. They expect to issue between 16,000 and 18,000 before Election Day.
Grand Rapids City Clerk Joel Hondorp issued 46,000 absentee ballots this week, and he had dozens of people working from 8 a.m to 9 p.m through the weekend to make the Thursday mailing deadline.
Aside from the number of ballots, Hondorp also said the constant changes to this year's voting protocols make his job more difficult.
“We're 40 some days out and we're still changing rules and changing laws. And that just gives a lot of frustration to clerks as we're trying to prepare,” he told NBC. “We had a plan back in January of how we were going to run the 2020 elections that basically got thrown out the window on March 10th here in Michigan when it was presidential primary day and we had three cases of Covid announced in Michigan.”
Just last week, Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens ruled that mail-in ballots postmarked as late as Nov. 2 must be counted even if they arrive after Election Day. If the ruling stands, clerks will have to count mail-in ballots that arrive up to 14 days after the election.
And as recently as Thursday, lawmakers approved a bill allowing clerks to begin opening (but not counting) absentee ballots a day earlier than they are typically permitted — Election Day morning. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to sign it.
The bill comes as election officials have been trying to manage expectations for when election results will be announced. A significant amount of the process is done by hand. But even with the extra day, clerks are asking for patience as they work to process ballots safely and securely.
How Democrats are trying to win over Trump-skeptical veterans
WASHINGTON — Democrats think President Donald Trump has created an opening for them to win over veterans and military families, and one liberal veterans group is running what they say is the largest-ever effort of its kind to do so on the Democratic side.
Military voters have traditionally leaned conservative, but have been trending away from the GOP during Trump’s almost four years in office, with a recent Military Times poll showing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden edging ahead of the president 43-37 percent among active duty service members, while another 13 percent chose a third-party candidate.
VoteVets, the Democratic veterans group founded during the height of the Iraq War in 2006, has been spending millions of dollars working to identify and mobilize 250,000 veterans in key states, assembling what they say is a first-of-its kind voter file of persuadable veterans.
The list, cobbled together from a wide range of data, includes both Democratic-leaning veterans who might not turn out without a push as well as those who voted for Trump or third-party candidates in 2016 but are now open to voting for Biden.
“If you look at the polling data, this is one of the groups that’s moving away from Trump,” said Jon Soltz, a former Army officer who co-founded VoteVets. “The guy didn’t serve, he doesn’t respect service, and he continually attacks veterans and service members from John McCain to [former Defense Secretary James] Mattis and on and on.”
Once the group has identified persuadable veterans, the group’s members, many of whom retired from military careers themselves, reach out via text message to targeted voters, sending up to 60,000 peer-to-peer texts a day drawing on their shared experiences in the military (in-person canvassing is on hold during the coronavirus pandemic.) Direct mail and other messages follow.
Soltz said engagement rates shot up to “astronomical” levels after The Atlantic reported earlier this month that Trump had disparaged service members.
The program is modeled in part on Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, with two former Sanders officers, Chuck Rocha and Blake Silberberg, helping run it for VoteVets.
“In my 31 years, I’ve never seen anyone do this for veterans,” said Rocha. “There’s never ever been one-on-one organizing vet-to-vet inside the presidential campaign.”
The Biden campaign has also been focusing on military outreach, featuring a wounded combat veteran in ads that began airing in battleground states Thursday.
Obama puts political heft behind Democrats in key races up and down the ballot
WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama announced a final round of 2020 endorsements Friday, backing not only a handful of Democratic challengers in Senate races that could tip control of the chamber next year but also dozens state legislative candidates that could shape redistricting for the next decade.
Most notably, in a key battleground where Democrats see two potential pickup opportunities, Obama announced support for candidates in both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate races — Jon Ossoff, the party’s nominee against first-term Republican David Perdue, and Raphael Warnock, the leading Democratic hopeful in a more crowded “jungle” primary.
Top Democrats have ramped up pressure on another Democrat in that race, Matt Lieberman, to drop out in hopes of ensuring Warnock advances to a January runoff with polls showing Warnock neck-and-neck against appointed GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Republican Rep. Doug Collins.
In total, the former president is throwing his support behind an additional 111 candidates up and down the ballot, as he urges voters to consider both the near — and long-term stakes this November.
In a statement, Obama says the candidates “will work to get the virus under control, rebuild the economy and the middle class, and protect Americans’ health care and preexisting conditions protections from Republican assault.”
“They’re dedicated to shoring up and strengthening our democracy, a project that’s going to take time and require all of us — but it begins by electing Democrats right now,” he said.
While Obama is urging voters across the country to back Democrats up and down the ballot, his formal endorsements are meant to help draw attention — and potentially boost fundraising and local coverage — for targeted races.
In other Senate races, Obama announced new endorsements for Democratic nominees in Texas and Arizona — seen as battlegrounds — but also Adrian Perkins in Louisiana, one of several Democrats in another multi-candidate field. The only incumbent in the Senate group is Sen. Gary Peters, who is aiming to fend off a serious challenge in battleground Michigan.
Obama is also backing 29 congressional candidates, a mix of incumbents and challengers, and two Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls who are currently underdogs in their races — Dan Feltes in New Hampshire, and Nicole Galloway in Missouri.
The Obama team is also working closely with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee to focus on races that could tip the balance in control of state legislatures with an eye on redistricting.
In a video posted Thursday, Obama said people “don’t completely appreciate how much gerrymandering affects the outcome,” noting how top priorities in his administration, immigration reform and gun control, were stymied by Republicans who benefited from post-2010 redistricting.
Eleven of his legislative endorsements were in Arizona, 10 in Georgia and Wisconsin, eight in Michigan, seven in Minnesota and four in Kansas. Democrats see all as potential opportunities to flip control of one or both chambers, or narrow the gap to gain influence in redistricting.
Of 229 total candidates Obama has now officially endorsed, nearly two-thirds are women. A number are also alumni of his administration, something that has been a priority for the president.
Obama advisers are working with the Biden campaign and other key campaign committees to sketch out a robust campaign schedule for the closing month of the campaign. His team expects most events will be virtual, but in-person events are also possible including for his former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris. Next Friday, he’ll join the California senator for virtual fundraisers, after a similar event in June with Biden raised $11 million.
“President Obama is going to be out in a full-throated way for him,” one official said.
As polls show Iowa tightening, Trump campaign and outside group spending goes in different directions
WASHINGTON — Three recent polls released this week show Iowa a toss-up race between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. But the Trump campaign and its aligned outside groups are moving in different directions as far as spending.
Trump led Biden by 3 percentage points, 49 percent to 46 percent, in Monmouth University's new poll of likely voters; Biden led Trump by 3 percentage points with likely voters in the New York Times/Sienna College poll released this week, a margin of 45 percent to 42 percent; and both candidates were tied in the Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll at 47 percent among likely voters.
The Trump campaign hasn't spent any money on television or radio in the state since July 28, according to Advertising Analytics.
But one Republican outside group, Preserve America PAC, has been spending heavily in the state since the start of September in the hopes of filling that spending gap — it's spent almost $4.2 million over that span, more than 90 percent of the total money spent on TV and radio since the Trump campaign went dark.
Many of Preserve America's ads have centered on either criticizing Biden by linking him to the "Defund the Police" movement that some Democrats are supporting, or saying that Biden can't lead the military.
The Democrats had largely stayed quiet on the airwaves too, but there's been a more recent shift. After not spending a dime on TV or radio in Iowa the entire campaign, Biden's campaign has spent about $280,000 since Sept. 15.
—Maura Barrett contributed
Pennsylvania Republicans seek to reverse mail-in ballot deadline decision in battleground state
READING, Penn. — After a state Supreme Court ruling last week allowed Pennsylvania ballots to be counted up to three days after the election, as long as the ballots are postmarked by Nov. 3, NBC News has learned the Republican Party intends to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The GOP argued extending the deadline “creates a serious likelihood that Pennsylvania’s imminent general election will be tainted by votes that were illegally cast or mailed after Election Day,” according to court documents.
The move follows several key decisions last Thursday which ruled in favor of extending the deadline for mail-in ballots to the Friday after Election Day and allows the use of ballot drop boxes in Pennsylvania, two measures seen as wins for Democrats.
The expected petition comes just days ahead of President Donald Trump’s announcement of his Supreme Court Justice nominee, which is expected Saturday, following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday.
State Republicans are also seeking a stay in the commonwealth’s highest court to stop last week’s ruling from taking effect.
In a statement to NBC News, Pennsylvania’s Republican House Speaker Bryan Cutler and Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff said, “The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued an openly partisan decision ignoring the federal and state constitutions that jeopardizes the security and integrity of our elections and will potentially put Pennsylvania in the middle of a disastrous national crisis as the world awaits for our Commonwealth to tally election results days or weeks following Election Day.”
A Supreme Court confirmation weeks before Election Day would be first in modern history
WASHINGTON — As the rhetoric over the push by Senate Republicans and President Donald Trump’s to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg escalates into a series of arguments over historical precedence, one thing is sure: No president has seated a Supreme Court nominee within three months of a presidential election, according to Senate historical records dating to 1900.
The closest comparison to the current landscape would be President Woodrow Wilson’s successful confirmation of John Clarke in July of 1916.
On Monday, Trump said he wanted a vote on his nominee — who he says will be announced on Saturday — to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg before Election Day on Nov. 3. While there’ve been a number of confirmations to the high court in election years, including several in lame duck sessions after an election, none of them have taken place weeks before an election, according to Senate historical records reviewed by NBC.
During the tumultuous election year of 1968, President Lyndon Johnson did attempt to replace retiring Chief Justice Earl Warren by elevating Associate Justice Abe Fortas to be chief justice and naming Homer Thornberry, an appeals court judge, to the high court.
After a filibuster of the Fortas nomination over ethical questions, however, Johnson withdrew those and declined to nominate a new justice, saying then that, “in ordinary times I would feel it my duty now to send another name to the Senate for this high office. I shall not do so." He added that "these are not ordinary times. We are threatened by an emotionalism, partisanship, and prejudice that compel us to use great care if we are to avoid injury to our constitutional system.”
Johnson by then had already declared his intention not to seek re-election and the Democratic nominee, Hubert Humphrey, subsequently lost to Republican Richard Nixon.
“He didn’t try to do something quickly in the fall,” said presidential historian John Meacham of Johnson. “The moment we’re in," he added, "is about the acquisition and use of power. It’s not driven by constitutional principle or practice. The more honest we are about that better.”
Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are defending the push to hold a vote prior to the election on the premise that control of the White House and Senate constitutes a mandate from the voters. In 2016, when he blocked President Barack Obama’s election-year nominee, Merrick Garland, McConnell argued that the “people” should decide in an election year.
Meacham called both those arguments “invented,” but they are heightening political tensions around the nomination.
“Perhaps more than any other single issue,” McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor Monday, “the American people strengthened this Senate majority to keep confirming this President’s impressive judicial nominees who respect our constitution and understand the proper role of a judge.”
Democrats are quick to point out that Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 by 3 million votes. And Democrats picked up 40 House seats in 2018, their biggest House gain in 40 years.
But the House doesn't have a say in the judicial confirmation process, and Republicans expanded their Senate majority during those same midterm elections, a point that GOP senators have said re-enforces their argument.
Of nominations made during presidential election years since 1900 in which a vacancy existed, five were made during years when a President was running for reelection—1912 (Taft/confirmed in March), two in 1916 (Wilson/confirmed June & July), 1932 (Hoover/confirmed February), and 1940 (Roosevelt/confirmed January).
Democratic Pennsylvania election official warns state Supreme Court ruling could lead to 100,000 rejected ballots
READING, Penn. — Philadelphia’s top election official issued a warning Monday that thousands of ballots statewide could be rejected during the November 3rd election, following a recent state Supreme Court decision that required county boards of elections to throw out absentee and mail-in ballots that arrive without a so-called secrecy envelope in the battleground state.
Lisa Deeley, the Democratic chairwoman of the city commissioners, predicted that could mean more than 30,000 voters in Philadelphia and 100,000 across Pennsylvania could see their ballots rejected this November. She warned this could “set Pennsylvania up to be the subject of significant post-election legal controversy, the likes of which we have not seen since Florida in 2000.”
“When you consider that the 2016 Presidential Election in Pennsylvania was decided by just over 44,000 votes, you can see why I am concerned,” Deeley wrote.
In a letter to leaders in the Republican-controlled state legislature, Deeley urged, "while everyone is talking about the significance of extending the mail-ballot deadline, it is the naked ballot ruling that is going to cause electoral chaos.”
Sixteen states require the use of secrecy envelopes, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures, which require voters to place their ballots into an extra envelope before it’s inserted into a larger one to mail back - preventing officials from seeing how a ballot’s been cast.
Counties were not required to disqualify ballots returned without the added envelope in June’s primary.
Republicans maintain the use of the secrecy envelopes is an important step in ensuring the privacy of voters, and the practice has been in place in Pennsylvania since before the expanded vote-by-mail bill was passed last fall. Deely claims such use of the envelopes is a “vestige of the past” and is not needed because the speed at which ballots are now processed by machines maintains the anonymity of a ballot.
Her letter follows several key decisions late last week which ruled in favor of extending the deadline for mail-in ballots to the Friday after Election Day and allows the use of ballot drop boxes in Pennsylvania.
In a statement to NBC News, a spokesperson for Republican House Speaker Bryan Cutler, said, “The state Supreme Court was very clear in its ruling last week that the law requiring a proper secrecy envelope is clear and fair.”
“This is not a partisan issue,” Deely said, “we are talking about the voting rights of our constituents, whether they be Democrats, Republicans, independents, whose ballots will be needlessly set aside.”
Biden has big cash on hand advantage over Trump
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign says its campaign effort ended August with $466 million in cash on hand, exceeding President Donald Trump’s re-election for the first time since Joe Biden became the presumptive nominee in April.
The Biden campaign, the DNC, and Biden’s joint fundraising committees managed to end August with $466 million cash on hand. The New York Times reported Sunday night that the Trump campaign, RNC and its committees ended the month with $325 million in cash-on-hand.
That difference — roughly $140 million between the two sides — is striking. It shows that while the Biden campaign was criticized heavily for not spending much during the spring and early summer, they have now flipped the script on the Trump fundraising behemoth. And the Biden cash advantage comes as the campaign announced Monday that they're expanding their paid ad strategy, going up with television and digital ads in the red-leaning states of Georgia and Iowa.
Heading into April, the GOP effort had an about $182 million cash-on-hand advantage over Biden and the DNC.
But that gap continued to shrink as Democrats began to donate more to Biden and the Biden Victory Fund’s virtual fundraisers. Trump and the RNC have largely opted to hold in-person fundraisers during the pandemic.
By the end of July, the Biden-effort claimed to have $294 million in cash-on-hand, while the Trump campaign claimed its combined effort had an “over $300 million war chest.”
While campaigns and national party committees have to report their fundraising monthly, their affiliated committees do not have to report as regularly, which is why the campaigns are self-reporting their total cash-on-hand at this time. Since those joint fundraising committees file quarterly, September's Federal Election Commission filings will include the full picture from all the relevant committees.
Biden digital ads target Puerto Rican voters with Marc Anthony
In a continued effort to win over Latino voters with about a month left until Election Day, Joe Biden's presidential campaign is calling on the Puerto Rican community to remember the devastation of the Island caused by Hurricane Maria three years ago Sunday.
The new English and Spanish-language digital ads features singer Marc Anthony, whose family hails from Puerto Rico, saying that it is “Prohibido Olvidar” or “forbidden to forget” how President Donald Trump failed to adequately provide help to the island in the weeks after the hurricane decimated their communities.
“Remembering is not easy for everyone. It’s difficult to relive the destruction of our homes, the crying of those who lost a loved one and the terrifying uncertainty when thinking ‘what will my children eat tomorrow,’” Anthony said referencing the continuing hardships pain Puerto Ricans have endured since Hurricane Maria. “However forgetting is forbidden.”
While the ad never mentions Trump, it does show him at the Oval Office’s resolute desk when Anthony reminds voters how “it’s forbidden to forget that in moments of true darkness, when the cries for help fell on deaf ears.” Anthony notes that the only the community can rely on itself to rebuild and fight for a better future in a get-to-vote message to defeat Trump at the ballot box.
The over one-minute digital ad is targeting Puerto Ricans living in Florida and Pennsylvania, two states that saw thousands relocate from the territory to the mainland following the hurricane.
It makes for a ripe set of voters to convince heading into the election in a community that already leans more Democratic. Just last week Biden kicked off Hispanic Heritage Month in Puerto-Rican rich Kissimmee, Fla. while his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, spoke to Hispanic leaders at a Puerto Rican cultural center in Philadelphia, Penn. They both pledged to uplift the community and support their decision for self-determination.
“The way Donald Trump botched Maria was a terrible precursor to Covid-19: He failed to prepare, failed to respond like a president, and failed to protect American citizens from harm,” Biden said in a statement commemorating the anniversary of Hurricane Maria. “We all deserve better. Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans deserve better. There is no place in the United States to ever treat any of our own citizens as second-class.”
Early voting starts in Virginia after expansion of options
RICHMOND, Va. — With over six weeks until Election Day, early voting kicked off Friday in Virginia and the state began mailing out absentee ballots to voters who have requested them.
As voters showed up for early in-person voting in the state Capitol, it resembled any normal Election Day but with Covid-related safety measures: voters checked their registration by speaking to a worker behind a plastic divider, used paper ballots that they filled out behind a cardboard privacy screen, and then inserted their ballots into a machine to be scanned and counted.
“We've had a lot of changes with our voting laws in Virginia,” Gov. Ralph Northam told NBC News after he cast his own ballot early in Richmond. “We now have no-excuse absentee voting, early voting. This is such an important election. All of our elections are important but this this is especially important, rather than wait till November the third."
Long a Republican stronghold, Virginia has become a more reliable Democratic state. Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump here by a 50 percent to 44 percent margin in 2016. Still, the state's 13 electoral votes remain an important part of the presidential contest.
The Virginia General Assembly passed a law that went into effect July 1 allowing voters to request an absentee ballot without a reason for not being able to vote in-person.
And Virginians have options when it comes to voting early — they can cast their ballots ahead of the election in-person, through curbside drop-offs for absentee ballots if they don’t feel comfortable going inside buildings, or by mailing in their ballots.
The in-person early voting period in Virginia runs from Friday, Sept. 18 through Saturday, Oct. 31. Early voting is available for Virginians at their local registrar’s office or a satellite voting location in their city or county.
“In Virginia we don't register by party, so what we've seen is excitement all around,” Christopher Piper, Commissioner for The Virginia Departments of Elections, told NBC. “We've got more than 800,000 requests for absentee ballots through yesterday. We're seeing this huge line here today. Our goal with the Department of Elections is to ensure that anybody who's eligible to vote has the opportunity to vote and this shows that that's working for us today.”
Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine also came out to cast his ballot early in Richmond on Friday, telling NBC after his vote that he feels confident that voters have enough information to make decisions about how best and safely to vote during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The good news is Virginia is finally committed so we want to make it easy for people to vote, not harder.”
At the Richmond registrar’s office, a new building location that opened publicly just days ago in anticipation of voters coming in-person, Virginians that spoke with NBC overwhelmingly expressed confidence in the safety precautions in place to vote in-person on day one.
One early voter, Ramona Taylor of Richmond, told NBC that she had some concerns about voting by mail so decided to come in person for the first day.
“I do have a lot of concern about the fact that the ballot will be received on time, you just never can tell the way things are because this is one of the largest voting elections that I've ever experienced,” Taylor said. “So, I just feel like I'm able bodied and able to come out and vote in-person and that's what I'm going to do.”
“My husband has medical issues and so it was easier to take advantage of this,” said Diane Jay, who along with her husband Jim opted for the curbside drop-off option for voting. Jim was on oxygen in the car when NBC spoke with them about their voting decisions.
“We didn't do absentee, just knew we were gonna do in person,” Diane said. “And so what happened was we saw this and drove up and they said they could take care of us curbside.”
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.