The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
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."