The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
White House coronavirus task force has not formally met since Oct. 20
WASHINGTON — Despite an escalating pandemic, there has not been a formal White House coronavirus task force meeting since October 20, according to an administration official. Since then, the United States has repeatedly broken records for daily new infections, with more than 120,000 confirmed Thursday, eclipsing Wednesday’s previous single-day high by more than 15,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Some members of the task force have continued to meet in smaller groups in the last few weeks, with Dr. Anthony Fauci participating in one in-person on Friday, per this official, but the larger team hasn’t met since two weeks before Election Day. It’s unclear when they will meet next.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the response coordinator for the task force, last spoke at a briefing on July 23. Dr. Fauci hasn’t spoken at one since June but he did appear with the president at a Red Cross roundtable on July 30. It’s notable that Birx and Fauci both continue to do local and national media interviews but they no long appear from the White House with any regularity or as they once did.
By contrast, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris have received various coronavirus briefings from their public health experts in that time, including one as recently as Thursday. The Democratic ticket has had regular virtual meetings with their panel of advisers, mostly privately, but at times showcased publicly to drive the message they believe they are taking the crisis more seriously.
Vice President Mike Pence, the chair of the group, hasn’t had anything on his public schedule in several days. NBC News reached out to his office for comment and has yet to hear back.
The last time we saw Pence in public was at the president’s side in the early morning hours of Wednesday during President Trump’s East Room remarks. Pence was notably not in the briefing room for the president’s false claims of voter fraud and election results Thursday evening.
Trump, for his part, has not attended a task force meeting in many months and continues to be updated by Dr. Scott Atlas, a controversial neuroradiologist who does not have a background in infectious diseases.
Republicans confident in winning N.C. in presidential and Senate races
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Republicans in this still-undecided state said Thursday they are confident that President Donald Trump and Sen. Thom Tillis will win re-election after all the outstanding ballots are counted and processed.
“We know that Donald Trump carried North Carolina,” Michael Whatley, chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, said at a news conference Thursday evening.
The North Carolina State board of Elections says that as many as 157,000 potential ballots still need to be tabulated but won’t be reported out until November 12.
Still, the North Carolina Republican Party criticized the board “for their refusal to acknowledge” that Trump has won.
“The reason that they're not being transparent is to be sure that they keep North Carolina in the undecided column for their national press and their national narratives,” Whatley said.
Trump currently leads former Vice President Joe Biden by more than 76,000 votes. Republican Sen. Thom Tillis is leading Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham by 98,000 votes.
The vote totals won’t change much until the county boards of election meet on November 12 and 13 to certify as many as 116,000 absentee ballots and as many as 41,000 provisional ballots.
The Cunningham campaign is also signaling that they are not confident that there are enough outstanding votes to change the outcome.
Cunningham campaign manager Devan Barber said “we plan to allow the process to be carried out so every voter can have their voice heard.”
Cunningham’s top political strategist Morgan Jackson was more direct. In an interview on the “Tying it Together with Tim Boyum” podcast, Jackson said that “President trump certainly has a lead now there are still ballots out to be counted and we’ll see what that looks like at the end of the day but it looks like he may have won North Carolina. Same with Senate race. Looks like Thom Tillis was re-elected at this point.”
Tillis political strategist, Paul Shumaker, said he, too, is confident that Tillis and Trump will win. He said he told Tillis that he expects Tillis’ lead over Cunningham to increase by as many as 2500 votes after all the votes are counted.
He credits Tillis and Trump’s likely win to a lack of Democratic in-person get out the vote effort, noting that black turnout decreased by nearly three points compared to 2016.
“The Democrats’ strategy for ground game was the same as their campaign strategy: to stay at home and talk on the phone. It didn’t turn their base out,” Shumaker said.
He said the Republican National Committee found low-propensity voters who didn’t vote in 2016 and 2018. Of those, Shumaker said, thirty percent of those people voted early. “That was the benefit of the ground game and personal touches,” he said.
Trump's Florida victory powered in part by Miami overperformance
WASHINGTON — A huge story early last night was former Vice President Joe Biden’s swing-and-a-miss in Miami-Dade County, Florida — which he appears to have won by only about 7 points compared with Hillary Clinton’s 30-point romp four years ago.
That collapse was enough to negate Biden’s improvement over Clinton in other swing counties like Pinellas and Seminole.
But there’s another wrinkle: While Biden lost big, it wasn’t because he missed Democrats’ mark in the state dramatically when it comes to votes.
At this hour, Biden has received about 617,000 votes in the county. That’s not too far below Clinton’s 624,000.
The difference? President Donald Trump piled nearly 200,000 additional votes onto his 2016 tally.
In 2016, Trump got about 334,000 votes in the county. That’s compared with 532,000 to date this cycle.
Despite record-breaking fundraising, South Carolina Democrat Harrison falls short
WASHINGTON — South Carolina Democrat Jaime Harrison shattered fundraising records in his Senate bid against Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, but the Democrat couldn't get over the hump despite that historic fundraising.
Harrison raised more during the third fundraising quarter — $57 million — than any Senate candidate in history. Overall, he raised $109 million as of Oct. 14 and spent $105 million. By comparison, Graham raised $74 million over that time period and spent $63 million.
And the Democrat really flexed his muscles on the advertising airwaves, spending almost $64 million on TV and radio compared to Graham's $32.5 million, according to the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics.
But Graham pushed hard to close that ad-spending gap in the race's final days, actually outspending Harrison on those airwaves Monday.
McConnell cruises despite facing well-funded opponent
WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will return to the Senate in 2021 whether or not his party keeps control of the Senate, as NBC News projects he will defeat Democrat Amy McGrath.
McGrath gained significant national attention, a former fighter pilot who proved to be a strong fundraiser during her ill-fated 2018 House bid and an even stronger one in 2020. Through Oct. 14, she raised more than every other Senate candidate this year except for South Carolina Democrat Jaime Harrison.
She put that money to use, spending more than $75 million in total through Oct. 14, more than all but two other Senate candidates this cycle.
And when you look at TV and radio spending, where there’s up-to-date data, McGrath spent $22.8 million (as a part of that $75 million-plus total).
But despite all that money raised and spent, McConnell’s victory was a quick call on Tuesday night.
McConnell spent $45.5 million, with about $17 million of that coming on TV and radio.
Late-emerging super PACs play big role on airwaves for Trump, Biden
WASHINGTON — With November's presidential election shattering TV and radio ad spending records, it's worth pointing out how big of a role outside groups played, particularly in the final months of the election.
On top of the $485 million former Vice President Joe Biden spent on TV and radio ads in the general election, there's been another $364 million spent through Monday by allied outside groups (as well as the Democratic National Committee). For Trump, his $235 million was bolstered by another almost $270 million from outside groups and the Republican National Committee.
But a staggering amount of that outside spending, 80 percent, has come since Sept. 1. And the two largest outside spenders since then, one on each side, are groups that just recently sprung to life.
On the left, Future Forward has spent $109.5 million on television and radio ads since Sept. 1 (virtually all since the start of October). Here's how the group's ad spending broke down over that span:
- Pennsylvania: $27.3 million
- Michigan: $19.9 million
- National TV: $14.6 million
- Wisconsin: $9.9 million
- Florida: $9.8 million
- Nevada: $9.5 million
- Minnesota: $6.4 million
- Arizona: $5.1 million
- Texas: $3.6 million
- Georgia: $2.7 million
- Nebraska: $700,000
- Maine: $75,000
Future Forward has been integral to the pro-Biden effort's overall spending advantage in all of these states (except Georgia).
Future Forward is backed by a handful of well-known tech millionaires, including Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and former Google executive Eric Schmidt.
Then there's the GOP side, where Preserve America PAC sprung up overnight over the summer and went on to spend $90.6 million from Sept. 1:
- North Carolina: $24.7 million
- Florida: $15.1 million
- Arizona: $14.5 million
- Iowa: $11.9 million
- Georgia: $10.1 million
- Pennsylvania: $9.3 million
- Wisconsin: $4.8 million
Preserve America's spending shows its top focus has been on the red-leaning states that Trump has to defend if he wants to win re-election (with the exception of Florida, which has long been one of the most important swing states on the map). The pro-Trump effort has actually outspent team Biden in North Carolina, Iowa and Georgia, the only three swing states where that is the case.
That group has been overwhelmingly funded by GOP megadonors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, campaign finance filings show.
Trump narrowly won Michigan in 2016. Kent County could predict how he'll do in 2020.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — President Donald Trump won Michigan in 2016 by just over 10,000 votes, making him the first Republican to carry the state since 1988. But despite the victory, Trump struggled in one of the Michigan's Republican strongholds of Kent County— struggles that could be a warning sign for his 2020 re-election bid.
Republican presidential candidates won Kent County in every election from 1968 until 2008, when former President Barack Obama squeaked out a victory by just 1,573 votes. But Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney recaptured the county in 2012 with a larger margin than Trump's 3-point victory.
And now, Kent County is beginning to look demographically more like a Democratic-leaning county than a Republican one. Between 2000 and 2019, the white population of the county decreased from 80.3 percent to 73.3 percent, while the Hispanic and Black populations have increased by nearly 4 points (7.0 percent to 10.8 percent) and close to 2 points (8.7 percent to 10.6 percent), respectively.
The county's population has also become more affluent and more educated. Between 2010 and 2018, the percentage of people 25 years old or older in the county with have bachelor’s degrees has risen from 29.9 percent to 35.2 percent. And the median household income has risen by nearly $11,000 based on five-year estimates from 2004-2010 and 2014-2018. To put that into perspective, the United States as a whole saw a closer to $8,000 increase in the same time frame.
Brian Ellis, president of Brooktree Capital Management and a lifelong Grand Rapids, Mich. resident says that those changes have had noticeable impacts. Ellis also challenged Rep. Justin Amash in the GOP primary in 2014.
“I would say growing up I would call [the county] staunch conservative. I would say we’ve moved to the conservative, or ‘moderate minus’", Ellis said.
Part of the uncertainty surrounding how this county will vote on Election Day comes from polling being largely done by the Republican and Democratic parties. But there is a chance that one seat in the county – Amash's — turns blue for the first time since 1993. The Cook Political Report has the race now listed as a toss-up. Amash is not running for re-election.
And that "toss-up" description speaks to the county as a whole. Cindy Timmerman, a west Michigan voter and describes herself as a "repulsed Republican."
“The pendulum has swung so far to the right, and the push back is so far to the left, and the truth is somewhere in between," Timmerman said.
While Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has led in several polls in Michigan, it's a state that Trump will likely need to carry to reclaim the presidency. And Kent County's vote could give insight into how some moderate Republicans choose to vote.
GOP senators try to narrow TV and radio spending gap ahead of Election Day
WASHINGTON — In the week before Election Day, Senate Republican candidates have tried to narrow the spending gap in TV and radio ads compared to the Democratic rivals.
According to data from Advertising Analytics, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Texas Sen. John Cornyn and Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner have narrowed their gap between their spending and their respective Democratic challengers. But aside from Collins surpassing her challenger one day this week, the candidates have not been able to sustain any upper hand in TV and radio buys.
On Tuesday, one week before Election Day, Collins spent over $50,000 less than Democratic challenger Sara Gideon on her TV and radio buys. But in the last two days, Collins was able to outspend Gideon on Thursday — by over $40,000, and then spend just $38,000 less than Gideon on Thursday. Thanks to the help of Republican party efforts, Collins' total spending effort came close to tying Gideon's on Wednesday and Thursday. And the change is notable: Collins recorded her highest single day of spending on Monday, and then beat that by her identical high $200,000 spends on Wednesday and Thursday.
It's an even better story for Graham. Graham has struggled to raise the same amount of money as his challenger, Jaime Harrison, throughout the entire general election. And Harrison has spent more money than Graham on TV and radio ads every day since at least Labor Day. But in the week that started with supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation vote, Graham has gotten closer. By week's end, Graham nearly matched Harrison's Thursday buy — and with the help of Republican groups, Graham's total effort bested Harrisons by $300,000 on Thursday and by about $200,000 on Wednesday.
Of all the challenged Republicans, Cornyn's seat is still rated as a "lean Republican" by the Cook Political Report. But as Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's ratings have gone up in the Lone Star state, and Democratic outside groups have started pouring money into the state, Cornyn spent more money on his TV and radio ads. While Democrat MJ Hegar outspent Cornyn every day in the week before the election, Cornyn spent nearly $200,000 more on Thursday than he did on Tuesday — proving just how competitive the state, and maybe even his seat, is getting.
While Colorado's race seems to be an easier flip for Democrats — Cook as the race as a lean Democrat, and it's on the NBC Political Unit's list of flippable seats — the total Republican spending effort has outspent Democrats every day this week and in the total general election spend. Gardner, the Republican National Committee and outside Republican groups spent nearly $1.8 million this week on TV and radio buys while Democratic challenger former Gov. John Hickenlooper, the Democratic National Committee and outside groups spent around $1.4 million.
In total general election spending, the total Republican effort in Colorado is about $36.2 million, while the Democratic effort is $32.2 million. But on the candidate level, Hickenlooper has had the clear spending advantage over Gardner.
Presidential battleground TV and radio spending emphasis shifting toward Midwest
WASHINGTON — Both President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential campaigns are upping the ad-spending ante in the Midwest in the home stretch before Election Day, with significant new activity in Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio.
Team Trump (his campaign and the Republican National Committee) has increased its daily TV/radio investments in each of these states over the last few weeks, but have still trailed Biden with few exceptions, according to data from the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics as of the end of Thursday.
Trump and the RNC upped their TV/Radio spending in Ohio to nearly $200,000 on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Prior to then, neither GOP group had spent any significant amount in Ohio since Sept. 14. Now, the daily Republican effort is on par with the Biden campaign, which has been spending about $200,000 a day every weekday in Ohio since early October.
But the late move by the GOP is just a drop in the bucket of the overall spending there since the start of the month — Democrats have outspent Republicans $6.3 million to $610,000 from Oct. 1 through Oct. 29.
In Iowa, Biden has outspent Trump and the RNC by a factor of four since the start of October, with Trump/RNC's spending only really coming on the board in the last two weeks. In recent days, Biden's team has doubled its daily spend, going from about $200,000 a day last week to almost $400,000 on Wednesday and Thursday. Meanwhile, while Trump had been getting a big lift from outside groups, it's dwindled significantly in recent days, leaving Republicans being outspent there on the airwaves about 4-1 since Tuesday.
Team Trump (Trump+the RNC) have been closing the gap in Michigan too, even as Biden and the DNC still hold a slight spending edge. Just last week, Biden and the DNC were doubling the RNC/Trump spend (about a $600,000 disparity). But as of Thursday, the Biden/DNC advantage dropped to about $100,000.
There's also been some noteworthy activity outside of the Midwest, particularly in Georgia, where Biden keeps increasing his spending. His campaign started spending about $300,000 per day on TV/radio ad buys on Oct. 16, and has kept that pace on the weekdays until Thursday, when that daily spend jumped to more than $400,000. Trump and the RNC have increased its spending over the last two weeks up to about $200,000 a day over the last four weekdays.
Meanwhile, traditional battleground states aren't seeing the same tight spending race. Biden continues to hold a significant daily lead in states like Arizona, Florida, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, with the Trump/RNC effort not making any meaningful pushes to close those gaps in recent days.
Mike Bloomberg makes final push in FL as he hits $100M pledged investment for Biden
WASHINGTON — With five days to go until Election Day, Michael Bloomberg is making a final push to mobilize Black voters in Florida as part of the culmination of his $100 million spending pledge to help former vice president Joe Biden in the battleground state.
Bloomberg will donate an additional $600,000 to BlackPAC, helping expand the organization’s canvassing efforts in Duval and Leon counties, a Bloomberg aide exclusively told NBC News. The aide added that Bloomberg's own PAC, Independence USA, is expanding its radio buy by up to $500,000 in the final days with two new mobilization ads featuring former President Barack Obama’s recent remarks Miami and Orlando, targeting Black voters in those cities.
Bloomberg’s total Florida investment helped fund voter persuasion and mobilization efforts through canvassing programs, bilingual paid media, and direct mail campaigns targeting underrepresented voters, according to media reports, press releases and interviews with NBC.
"There is virtually no path to victory for Donald Trump without Florida, which is why Mike invested heavily in the state," Bloomberg senior adviser Kevin Sheekey told NBC.
"In these final days, we're doing everything we can to reach as many Florida voters as possible across to get them to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris."
Though the Biden campaign has also been spending millions in Florida ads, Bloomberg’s contributions fueled direct voter contact too, while the candidate took a cautious approach to in-person campaigning during the pandemic.
Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of BlackPAC, said the face-to-face conversations with canvassing efforts funded by Bloomberg, especially in South Florida, “create a sense of urgency” to vote — she noted more than 80,000 Black voters who did not participate in 2016 have already voted.
“Those face to face conversations are really critical and important, and it's also important that Black communities see people out mobilizing the vote, this is certainly a part of our cultural history,” she said on a press call.
And while Bloomberg’s last push is for Black voters, his investment has had a significant impact on the effort to mobilize Latino voters, in particular with his $14 million investment in Priorities USA and the Latino Victory Fund.
“We’re already seeing, especially in Florida, that we're turning out more Latinos than ever,” said Latino Victory Fund National Finance Director Daniela Fernandez.
“I think Bloomberg’s investment is key, without these funds we wouldn't have been able to run these culturally competent ads to engage our community in an effective way,” she added of the ability to effectively use his funds as “validators” of their community -- specifically, in multiple dialectics of Spanish -- and collect voter data to use for years to come.
By Election Day, Bloomberg expects to spend nearly $50 million on mixed media advertising in Florida through his own Independence USA PAC, in addition to his investments in partner organizations targeting Black voters, Latino/Hispanic voters (Caribbean, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Venezuelan communities), Jewish voters, seniors and veterans.
Per NBC’s tracking, Bloomberg has spread his donations across at least 17 organizations and PACs.
Both presidential candidates will be in the Sunshine State Thursday, with Biden’s fifth trip since the Democratic National Convention and Trump’s sixth visit since the Republican National Convention.
The final NBC News/Marist poll of Florida shows Biden leading Trump 51 percent to 47 percent, within the margin of error.
Bloomberg's assist to Biden comes after his Democratic presidential primary bid, where he spent about $1 billion of his own money.
N.H. voters are used to being courted on their doorstep. Covid-19 has challenged that tradition.
WASHINGTON — Months ago, New Hampshire was the center of the political universe: its first in the nation primary on Feb. 11 drew candidates, crowds and lots of door-to-door campaigning — the kind of personal attention Granite State voters have long demanded.
But that was before the coronavirus pandemic upended life across the country and transformed the way political campaigns are conducted. It’s been a particular challenge in New Hampshire — a state whose four electoral votes could make a difference in a close general election contest. Biden has not visited the state since his fifth place finish in the primary as his campaign has largely stepped away from in-person voter contact because of Covid-19, while the president's campaign has stuck with it.
“The political science research is really pretty clear, the most effective way you can influence people is direct personal contact,” said Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire survey center.
“You have to have to play the hand you're dealt, and I think both campaigns have been dealt the same hand, I think the difference is that on the Democratic side, they've hamstrung themselves a little bit more than Trump has because the concern about COVID has been amplified,” Smith said.
The Trump campaign and Republican National Committee began building what they call the largest-ever GOP ground operation in the state in 2019. After a pause early in the pandemic, the campaign resumed door knocking in mid-June.
“This is not the crowd that comes in second, okay?” President Trump told thousands of packed supporters in Londonderry, N.H.
Trump’s New Hampshire strategists insist that New Hampshire voters' desire to personally vet candidates and their surrogates gives them a clear advantage. The campaign claims to have made more than 1.8 million direct voter contacts in New Hampshire already so far.
Corey Lewandowski, a New Hampshire resident who served as Trump’s campaign manager in 2016 said the Trump campaign's efforts go well beyond Biden's.
“You juxtapose [our efforts] with the Biden campaign, and they think that you can Zoom into an election and win. It doesn't work. New Hampshire wants to vet people face to face and Joe Biden doesn't respect that or the people in New Hampshire," Lewandowski said.
Though the Biden campaign recently gave the green light for in-person door knocking — which began in limited form in New Hampshire during a canvass kickoff on Saturday — most volunteers in the state are still opting for safer contactless literature drops. And Democrats in New Hampshire are focused on building voter protection programs to ensure ballots are counted.
In March the Democratic state party hired a voter protection director, and in June began investing in a voter assistance hotline, resource website and voter education outreach.
The state is allowing voters to cast absentee ballots amid the pandemic, and more than 200,000 residents have requested absentee ballots, up from 75,000 in 2016.
“With this year Covid being an excuse for someone to cast an absentee ballot, it really just changed the whole landscape and how Granite Staters are voting and making sure that people have that information, and also making sure that the elections are going as smoothly as they possibly can on the ground,” said Liz Wester, director of the Democrats’ coordinated campaign group.
This gamble in both resources and messaging is where Democrats say they have an edge against Republicans in the state.
“That's been a huge part of the campaign more than it has been in past years, really making sure that people's relationships and communities and networks are hearing the information directly from someone that they trust because we're not having in-person events in the same way Republicans are.” said Wester.
Smith, for his part, raised questions about the Democrats’ approach.
“I think the evidence supporting voter education, that just doesn't motivate people emotionally to get them out to polls,” he said.