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

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

The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

DNC launches new radio and print ad campaign to target Latino voters

HOUSTON — With early voting set to begin in several more key battleground states this week, the Democratic National Committee is rolling out a radio and print ad campaign aimed at boosting turnout among Latino voters for former Vice President Joe Biden.

"Latino communities across the battleground states have a critical voice in this election, that's why we are reaching out directly to these voters and ensuring they have the tools they need to make their plan to vote," Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez said in a statement.

Perez emphasized the ways the Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected Latinos, blaming a "failed response to the pandemic" on the part of the Trump administration. 

The ad campaign, which the DNC says is a six-figure effort, strikes a similar tone with an equally stark message. "This November 3rd, our lives are on the ballot," the ads say in Spanish before imploring those reading or listening to "make your plan to vote" and directing potential voters to visit VoyAVotar.com. The Spanish site, hosted by the DNC, allows prospective voters to check their registration status and register while also making plans to vote absentee, in person early or on Election Day. 

With the latest polls in several battleground states showing Biden ahead or neck-and-neck with President Donald Trump — including FloridaNevadaPennsylvania and Wisconsin — turning out key demographics could be the difference in those states.

The number of eligible Latino voters has grown more than among any other racial or ethnic group in battleground states over the past nearly two decades, but historically Latinos have had lower turnout rates than white and Black voters. According to Pew Research Center data, the number of eligible Latino voters who did not vote in 2016 was higher than the number of those who did. 

In 2016, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton underperformed among Latino voters compared to President Barack Obama. This cycle, the Biden campaign has faced criticism for what some view as slow and lackluster outreach to the community. Even so, the latest Pew Research poll showed Biden with a 34-point lead among Latino voters nationally, but it also revealed a possible area of concern — enthusiasm. The poll showed that while 79 percent of white Biden supporters are extremely motivated to vote for him, only 57 percent of Latino supporters say the same. 

The ads will run in Spanish print publications and on radio shows in Arizona, Florida, Nevada and Wisconsin. Voters in Pennsylvania and North Carolina will also see print ads, while those in California, Texas and Colorado will hear them on the airwaves.

Harris to attend Barrett hearings from Senate office

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., will be attending the Supreme Court nomination hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett this week remotely, from her office on Capitol Hill, her senate communications director, Chris Harris, said Sunday.

The hearings, which begin Monday morning, come just weeks after what has been described as a "superspreader" event to announce Barrett's nomination in the White House Rose Garden just over two weeks ago. President Donald Trump and at least 13 others who attended the event have tested positive for Covid-19 in the wake of the ceremony, including Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who also sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, has frequently tweeted from her senate office twitter account calling the decision to move forward with the hearings “reckless” and putting the health of senate staffers and other workers in the Capitol at risk.

She, along with Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., also sent a letter to Senate Judiciary chairman Lindsey Graham, asking to have testing procedures in place if the hearings were to move forward. 

“We urge you against unsafely moving forward with these hearings while no clear testing regime is in place to ensure that they do not become another super-spreader of this deadly virus,” the senators wrote.

“Without these precautionary measures in place, Senators, Senate staff, press, Judge Barrett and her family will face a serious, unnecessary risk of contracting Covid-19.  We also have a moral responsibility to protect the workers who make it possible for us to do our jobs in the Senate each and every day.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called Democrats’ request for a delay in the hearings “procedural games and shenanigans.” 

“I think they are looking for anything to delay things even a day or two or three,” Cruz said on Meet the Press Sunday morning, “I think that Senate Republicans will follow the guidance, the medical guidance of the Capitol physician," he said. "But the delay tactics of the Democrats aren't going to work.”

While Harris told reporters during a recent trip to North Carolina that she is “definitely going to be involved in the hearings,” she is also missing critical time on the campaign trail, with just 23 days left until Election Day.

Her campaign has said “no day will go on unspared” in terms of reaching out to voters, and it’s possible Harris will continue both virtual and in-person events in the next few weeks.

Progressive groups call for release of all Barrett's records from Notre Dame

WASHINGTON — A coalition of progressive watchdog groups are calling for the full release of more records pertaining to Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett's time at the University of Notre Dame, which accounts for the majority of her professional career.  

The call came after a second previously undisclosed anti-abortion ad Barrett was associated with became public Friday evening. The 2013 ad, signed by Barrett, ran on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established the right to abortion and was sponsored by the Notre Dame Fund to Protect Human Life.  

The ad, and the group’s activities, which among other things include arranging seminars and conferences and participating in the annual March for Life in Washington DC., raises questions about the extent to which Barrett was involved in other activist groups and activities during her tenure at the university, where she’s been a faculty member since 2002, the groups argue. The Senate will begin confirmation hearings on the nomination Monday.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett meets with U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 1, 2020.Anna Moneymaker / Pool via Getty Images

In a letter to Barrett provided to NBC News, Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US, asks Barrett to allow Notre Dame to “make public documents relevant to your nomination, including all communications, including emails, as well as your personnel file, student evaluations, and any information regarding your involvement in faculty groups and committees.” 

In response to the letter White House spokesman Judd Deere told NBC that Barrett has been “extraordinarily transparent throughout this process.” Judge Barrett “has provided more than 1,800 pages of information to the Senate Judiciary Committee. This is in addition to the more than 600 cases that she has participated in that comprise her judicial record.  She has spoken with nearly every member of the Committee and she will answer questions before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week,” said Deere.

On Sunday, Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats also sent a letter to the Department of Justice asking about materials that Barrett left off her initial paperwork, outlining several examples.

The Notre Dame Fund to Protect Human Life aims to educate students in “the rich intellectual tradition supporting the dignity of human life” and to prepare students to “transform the culture into one where every human life is respected,” according to the Catholic News Agency

Barrett’s decision to include the ad in her Senate paperwork comes in response to media reports, including that she failed to disclose a different anti-abortion ad in her nomination questionnaire: her participation in a 2006 ad calling for Roe v. Wade to be overturned and ending its “barbaric legacy,” as well as two talks she gave in 2013 hosted by two anti-abortion student groups.

Accountable.US is among watchdog groups with pending records requests on Barrett through the Freedom of Information Act and state open records laws. 

“Without more disclosure, we are getting a very limited sense of the nominee — and the narrative is being completely driven by what she wants to put forward,” Herrig told NBC. “If she was at a public university, we could’ve gotten her emails. We got emails from federal agencies and even the White House in past nomination fights. To not have any emails or much of a more in depth look at her work history is not normal.”

“There has never been a nominee about whom we know so little,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. “Mitch McConnell would like to keep it that way, but the public has a right to understand who has been nominated to fill the most consequential Supreme Court vacancy in recent memory,” he said in a statement.

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.

People wait in line to cast their vote during early voting at City Hall in Philadelphia on Oct. 7, 2020.Gabriella Audi / AFP - Getty Images

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. 

Jaime Harrison faces off with Lindsey Graham during the South Carolina U.S. Senate debate at Allen University in Columbia, S.C., on Oct. 3, 2020.Joshua Boucher / The State via AP

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.  

(Take a look at the full chart in First Read)

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. 

Amy Coney Barrett begins a series of meetings to prepare for her confirmation hearing at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 29, 2020.Anna Moneymaker / Pool via Getty Images

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. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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