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Meet the Press Blog Archive

Catch up with Meet the Press blog posts from past years leading up to May 17, 2022
Image: Illustration of photos depicting voters on line, voting booths, the Capitol, the White House and raised hands.
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

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Lamar Alexander criticizes GOP lawsuit aimed at overturning election

WASHINGTON — In an interview with "Meet the Press," retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., dismissed the attempt by a handful of Republican state attorneys general to get the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate the election results in four pivotal states that helped President-elect Joe Biden win November's election. 

Alexander, in an excerpted part of the interview released Friday, argued the lawsuit would infringe on states' rights. 

"That doesn't sound like a very Republican argument to me," he said of the challenge led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican.

"I mean, our position, my position, Republicans believe that states are in charge of elections. And Texas is a big state, but I don't know exactly why it has a right to tell four other states how to run their elections. So I'm having a hard time figuring out the basis for that lawsuit."

Paxton's lawsuit, filed this week against Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin, argues that the Court should allow state legislators to pick the slate of presidential electors because of what he claims was widespread fraud. 

But a bipartisan group of top election officials in those four states pushed back on allegations of fraud, the president and his allies have lost dozens of lawsuits claiming fraud, legal experts have raised serious questions about the lawsuit, and Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse called the case a "PR stunt" in an interview with the Washington Examiner

Tune in to Meet the Press on Sunday for more of the interview with Sen. Alexander, including his response to the president’s attempts to overturn the election results, and his thoughts on the future of the Republican party as he  prepares to retire after decades in politics.

Outgoing Rep. Max Rose files paperwork for potential NYC mayor run

WASHINGTON — Outgoing Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., filed paperwork on Thursday for a possible run for New York City mayor.

Rose, who lost his House seat to incoming Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., in November, represented New York's 11th district. 

Rose previewed the news in a tweet on Thursday night, after filing the paperwork that will allow him to raise money for a potential run. He hasn't formally announced his candidacy. 

Before losing his re-election bid, Rose said he wouldn't run for mayor if he lost his congressional seat. 

"You think that a short, bald Jewish guy from Brooklyn is gonna get elected mayor? I'm running for reelection and that's the position I want," Rose said at the time. 

But Rose also made criticizing the current mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, a central point in his campaign. Rose cut an ad in September saying, "Bill de Blasio is the worst mayor in the history of New York City." He then added, "That’s it guys. Seriously. That’s the whole ad.”

Rose won New York's 11th District in 2018, ousting Republican Rep. Dan Donovan, and was the first Democrat to win the seat in eight years. Malliotakis will now be New York City's only Republican congressperson. 

And another name from 2020 could follow Rose's lead into the mayoral race. Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang has reportedly told some New York City leaders that he's considering a run. 

Doug Emhoff to join Georgetown Law faculty in 2021

WASHINGTON — Georgetown University Law Center announced Thursday that Vice President-elect Kamala Harris' husband, Doug Emhoff, will join their faculty in January 2021.

Emhoff will join as a "distinguished visitor from practice" and fellow. Prior to President-elect Joe Biden and Harris' electoral win, Emhoff worked as a media and entertainment attorney in California. Emhoff will teach a two-credit course at Georgetown entitled “Entertainment Law Disputes.”

Emhoff and Biden's wife, Jill Biden, both plan to work during their spouses' term. Biden plans to continue teaching after inauguration, making her the first first lady to hold a job outside of the White House. 

Image: Douglas Emhoff
Senator Kamala Harris and husband Douglas Emhoff smile while standing on stage during the Democratic National Convention at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Del., on Aug. 19, 2020.Stefani Reynolds / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

“I’ve long wanted to teach and serve the next generation of young lawyers,” Emhoff said in a statement. “I couldn’t be more excited to join the Georgetown community.”

Emhoff has not yet announced what kind, if any, work he'll do as the vice president's husband. 

“This role at Georgetown will be separate and apart from his official role as Second Gentleman, and Mr. Emhoff continues to work with the Biden-Harris transition team to develop the portfolio he will focus on to support the work of the Administration,” a transition spokesperson said.

During the general election, Emhoff repeatedly mentioned interest in working on “access to justice” in his role as second gentleman. And during a stop in Washington D.C. before Thanksgiving with Harris, he mentioned an interest in food insecurity.

Arizona gov elected chair of Republican Governors Association amid Trump's criticism

WASHINGTON — Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has been elected the chair of the Republican Governors Association despite President Donald Trump's repeated attacks on him for certifying the state's electoral results. 

The association announced Ducey's election in a statement Wednesday confirming Ducey would lead the group and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds would serve as vice chair. Both will serve one-year terms effective immediately. 

Trump publicly turned on Ducey in the last two weeks, tweeting that Ducey has betrayed Arizonans and suggesting that “Republicans will long remember” that Ducey did not fight the state's narrow election results.

Over the weekend, Trump followed in a tweet: “Between Governor @DougDucey of Arizona and Governor @BrianKempGA of Georgia, the Democrat Party could not be happier. They fight harder against us than do the Radical Left Dems. If they were with us, we would have already won both Arizona and Georgia…” 

Image: Doug Ducey, Cara Christ
Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey answers a question about the arrival of a Covid-19 vaccine in Arizona as he holds a news conference regarding the latest Covid-19 information as Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ listens, on Dec. 2, 2020, in Phoenix.Ross D. Franklin / Pool via AP

But despite the push from Trump and his legal team to discredit the state's leaders and its election results, top Republicans in the state, including Ducey, have defended their state's count. 

"I’ve been pretty outspoken about Arizona’s election system, and bragged about it quite a bit, including in the Oval Office. And for good reason," Ducey tweeted last month.

"In Arizona, we have some of the strongest election laws in the country, laws that prioritize accountability and clearly lay out procedures for conducting, canvassing, and even contesting the results of an election."

Biden's Cabinet picks leave House Democrats with a narrow majority

WASHINGTON — President-elect Biden's decision to select Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, to be his Housing and Urban Development secretary could have a major impact on the Democrats' House majority.

As of right now, the 2020 elections reduced the Democratic majority to 222 seats. That majority will get even slimmer with Fudge and Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., departing for jobs in the Biden administration. With the majority, assuming Fudge is confirmed, down to 220, Democrats will hold just two seats more than a majority of a full House (218).  

Special elections will be held for Fudge and Richmonds' seats, but it could take months for those elections to determine a winner in these heavily Democratic districts. 

And narrow majority could be worrisome for Democrats. 

If Biden picks more House Democrats to serve in his administration, or if other Democrats in the House resign or pass away, the party could potentially lose its majority.  

Image: Nancy Pelosi Holds News Conference After Democratic Leadership Elections
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi talks to reporters after she was re-elected to lead her conference along with Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark, D-Mass., Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., and Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., in Washington on Nov. 18, 2020.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images file

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters that he was concerned about the slimming majority and indicated as much to the Biden team.

"I’m certainly concerned by the slimming of the majority. I indicated to the administration very early on that I wanted them to be very careful in terms of the members that they appointed from Congress," Hoyer said.

That means it doesn’t look good for any other House Democrats to get a Cabinet nod — like New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland, who’s a contender for Interior Secretary.  

But even if Democrats do retain the House majority, it won't be an effective governable majority. Democrats are bound to need Republican help to pass big-ticket items, because it's likely they'll see defections from either progressives or moderates on any legislation. 

Terry McAuliffe to announce Virginia governor's bid Wednesday

Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe will announce Wednesday morning that he will run again for his former seat, according to aides involved in his emerging campaign.

McAuliffe, who entertained a run for president in 2020, is up against three other Democrats, all of whom are Black: current Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, state senator Jennifer McClellan and former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy. Either McCllellan or Foy, if elected, would be the nation’s first Black woman governor.

Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe arrives at the election night rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax
Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe arrives at the election night rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia on Nov. 7, 2017.Aaron Bernstein / Reuters file

McAulliffe will announce his candidacy at an elementary school in Richmond to focus on his education plan.

“[McAuliffe’s] plan will call for the largest ever investment in education in the Commonwealth, and will include raising teacher salaries above the national average for the first time in Virginia history,” the campaign says.

Since McAuliffe’s term as governor ended in 2018, he’s stayed heavily involved in engaging and fundraising for Virginia Democrats, particularly in the aftermath of the controversy that engulfed current Gov. Ralph Northam over a picture of him in blackface was found in a medical school yearbook.

McAuliffe’s PAC “Common Good” has raised more than $1.7 million as of July.

McAulliffe will also announce his campaign co-chairs tomorrow, all of whom all Black leaders in the commonwealth, including Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. 

Virginia’s gubernatorial race has long been an early bellwether test for both parties ahead of the next midterm elections since it takes place in an otherwise off-year for elective politics. 

Joe Biden won Virginia by more than 10 points, but with more progressive candidates in the primary like Jennifer Caroll Foy, the conversation could shift left.

McAuliffe is also jumping in the race at a moment when Republicans in Virginia have been battling over how to hold their own party’s primary, and on Saturday decided to hold a convention versus a primary vote to choose their nominee. State senator Amanda Chase, who is running on a far right agenda, initially announced her gubernatorial run as a Republican, but now said she would seek the nominee as an independent. 

Clyburn: Expect Marcia Fudge to be nominated to Biden's Cabinet

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration committee chair, South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, said he expects Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge to be nominated for a position in Biden's Cabinet. 

Fudge, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, would be the second Black woman to be nominated to Biden's Cabinet. Biden nominated Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be the Ambassador to the United Nations in late November. 

"Marcia Fudge, I look for her to be in the Cabinet. I spoke with her last  night, I have been talking with other people, I don't know that she will be the Secretary of Agriculture, that may not be. But she will be a member of the Cabinet. At least to be nominated for a Cabinet position," Clyburn said Tuesday on "Morning Joe". 

Clyburn, whose influential endorsement helped Biden secure his win in South Carolina, he had been disappointed in the lack of Black Cabinet nominees ahead of of Biden decision to nominate Rt. Gen. Lloyd Austin to head the Department of Defense. 

“From all I hear, Black people have been given fair consideration," Clyburn told a columnist in November. "But there is only one Black woman so far."

On Monday, NBC News confirmed that Biden would nominate Austin, who if confirmed, will be the first Black man to lead the Defense Department. 

And Clyburn applauded the pick on Tuesday. 

"I look for this to be a pretty smooth hearing and confirmation and I like him very much. I think he is going to be a good fit for us," Clyburn said. 

Talking policy with Benjy: Big fat beautiful checks edition

WASHINGTON — The big bipartisan deal on COVID relief continues to chug along, but there’s some prominent dissent from the left and right — and, unusually, they both have the same complaint.

On Monday, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., urged President Donald Trump to veto any bill that doesn’t include direct payments to Americans along the lines of the $1,200 checks that went out at the start of the pandemic. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. has also said he opposes the emerging deal on those lines. While not yet threatening to vote against a bill, big names on the left in the House are also pushing for more payments, led by Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and D-N.Y., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

Senate Vote
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., at the Capitol on June 17, 2020.Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call Pool file

Trump is also on record calling for more COVID payments in October — his name went out on the previous round of payments — though he has not done much to push for them in the current round of negotiations. Hawley and Sanders also have other concerns, with the former upset over aid to state and local budgets and the latter worried about protections for business against COVID-related lawsuits.

While the coronavirus is the cause of the current debate over payments, it’s part of a broader trend in both parties towards promoting direct cash benefits to families rather than more complicated benefits tied to specific needs. Andrew Yang was the most prominent evangelist with his push for basic income, but Vice President-elect Kamala Harris also made big refundable tax credits her signature domestic policy.

On the GOP side, some Republicans see it as a way to compete with Democrats on populist grounds. Even before the pandemic, Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee were rolling out a bill to expand child tax credits — and notably pay for it by raising taxes on wealthy heirs, a rare break from conservative orthodoxy.

All of this could present a President-elect Joe Biden with some bipartisan opportunities once he takes office. On paper, Hawley and Sanders could easily work out a bipartisan bill on stimulus and maybe even get Trump to endorse it on Twitter. But in practice, Biden knows from experience that it’s hard getting Republicans to back even tax cuts when it means a victory for a Democratic president. This could be an early test of how much has changed since then.

Mike Pompeo set to deliver speech in Georgia ahead of runoff elections

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will appear in Atlanta on Wednesday for an official speech ahead of next month's Georgia Senate runoff elections, which will determine control of the Senate.

Pompeo’s speech at the Georgia Institute of Technology entitled, “the China challenge to U.S. national security and academic freedom,” will highlight the Trump administration’s tough on China approach including the closing of their consulate in Houston, travel restrictions for communist party officials, and a series of financial sanctions on those responsible for cracking down on Hong Kong.  

But Pompeo's appearance in Georgia could reignite the debate over the traditional non-partisan role of a secretary of state. Pompeo is currently facing two investigations from the Office of the Special Counsel for potentially politicizing his position. 

In September, Pompeo flew to Wisconsin to address Republican lawmakers in a speech to the Madison Senate chamber and to Plano, Texas to address an evangelical church. In October he virtually addressed a conservative Christian organization in Florida.  

Image: U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo and Kuwaiti FM Al-Sabah meet in Washington
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media prior to meeting with Kuwait's Foreign Minister in Washington on Nov. 24, 2020.Saul Loeb / Pool via Reuters

Pompeo's address to the Republican National Convention from Jerusalem prompted an investigation by the anti-corruption Office of the Special Counsel. The office said it was investigating a possible violation of the Hatch Act which restricts U.S. officials from mixing electioneering with official government business. 

While Pompeo has said that he was making the speech in his "personal capacity", he had flown to Israel for an official visit as secretary of state.

In October, House Appropriations Committee Chair, Rep. Nita Lower, D-N.Y., and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. released a statement criticizing Pompeo's "brazen" misuse of taxpayer dollars to fund "vehicles for the Administration's, and his own, political ambitions." 

The Office of the Special Counsel opened a second investigation following Pompeo’s pledge to release more of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's emails ahead of the presidential election.

In 2019, amid talk that Pompeo was considering running for Senate in his home state of Kansas, Pompeo traveled to Kansas on a three-state domestic tour. The secretary of state has also hosted private dinners with potential GOP donors, conservative media hosts and entertainers in the historic Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the State Department.

But as Pompeo is slated to speak in Georgia, all political eyes are on the state's two Senate runoffs. President Trump and Vice President Pence have both recently visited Georgia to campaign for Republican Sens. Kelly Loefller and David Perdue.

Since the November election, Pompeo has yet to formally recognize that Joe Biden won the election, or publicly confirm if he's had contact with his likely successor Anthony Blinken, but Pompeo has acknowledged that the transition process at the State Department has begun.

Clyburn to lead Biden inaugural committee alongside new co-chairs

WASHINGTON — Longtime South Carolina Democratic Rep. James Clyburn, whose key endorsement of now President-elect Joe Biden helped turn the tide in his Democratic primary race, will chair Biden's inaugural committee. 

The Presidential Inaugural Committee made the announcement Monday morning, also unveiling the group's co-chairs: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond and Delaware Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester. 

Clyburn has been a stalwart ally of Biden's who helped him whip support in the pivotal South Carolina Democratic primary. The lawmaker also serves as the House Majority Whip.

Whitmer also served as a key endorser for Biden in the swing-state of Michigan, which he won by about 3 percentage points, and was on his vice-presidential shortlist

Richmond and Rochester are close allies of Biden's who also served as co-chairs of the Biden campaign, along with Whitmer and Garcetti. Richmond is heading to serve in the White House, and Blunt Rochester has long been a friend of the Biden family. 

"These leaders reflect the strength, spirit, and diversity of America and have always held a steadfast commitment to restoring the soul of the nation, building back the middle class, and unifying the country," Biden said in a statement.

"We are proud of their support and know they will help plan an inauguration that will reflect our nation’s shared values."

Mike Memoli contributed

Top Georgia Republican officials buck Trump's call to push legislators to overturn Biden victory

WASHINGTON — Georgia’s Republican leaders poured cold water on any hopes of convening a special session of the General Assembly to override the state’s election results and select presidential electors in favor of President Trump.

In a Sunday night statement, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) & Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan (R-GA) said such a move is “not an option that is allowed under state or federal law.” 

"The judicial system remains the only viable - and quickest - option in disputing the results of the November 3rd election in Georgia,” their statement added.

 

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr tweeted his support of the governor’s office.

“The election of presidential electors has already taken place in the manner directed by Georgia’s legislature at the time set by Congress,” he wrote Monday morning. “There is no applicable legal avenue for replacing the choice of electors after the election.”

Lt. Gov. Duncan expanded on their statement in an interview with CNN.

“To think I would wake up one day and decide that 2.5 million people’s vote didn’t count just because it wasn’t the way I wanted the election to turn out, that’s certainly not democracy,” he said. “So I personally think it’s a bad idea and oh, by the way, I’ve got the benefit of the law supporting that decision.”

The Georgia officials’ rejection of GOP calls to convene a special session comes two days after President Trump called Kemp, a call in which Trump tried to pressure Kemp into leaning on the legislature to make the extraordinary decision to overrule the voters and elect pro-Trump delegates to the Electoral College. 

On Sunday night, Trump tweeted that both Kemp and Duncan could "easily solve this mess" by re-checking signatures on ballot envelopes and with a "special session," an allusion to the plan he and some allies have floated, which would require state legislatures in key swing states to dismiss the election results.

Trump campaign pushes challenges in Georgia ahead of president's visit

SAVANNAH, Ga. — With just one month until the two runoffs here that will determine control of the U.S. Senate for the next two years, President Donald Trump's campaign and the chairman of the state Republican Party filed a lawsuit Friday to block last month’s recertification even as Vice President Mike Pence and other Georgia Republicans are pleading for voters to turn out despite “doubts about the last election.”

The Trump campaign’s latest litigation, filed Friday night in Fulton County superior court, calls for the decertification of the state’s election results, a new presidential election, and injunction and allowing the state legislature to appoint electors.

The lawsuit — filed against GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and multiple county election directors — alleges that, “due to significant systemic misconduct, fraud, and other irregularities occurring during the election process, many thousands of illegal votes were cast, counted, and included in the tabulations.”

The Georgia Secretary of State’s office has yet to recertify the election results based on the recount requested by the Trump campaign, which shows President-elect Joe Biden with a margin of victory of 11,769 votes.

As Trump continues to sow distrust in Georgia’s election system, Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are trying to harness a Republican electorate whose president explicitly said the runoffs should be “called off” because they will not be fairly administered.

Pence joined in on that message Friday, arguing that a Republican Senate majority could be the party’s “last line of defense” against Democrats in the House and White House.

“I know we've all got our doubts about the last election,” Pence told the crowd of supporters in Savannah as he rallied for the GOP incumbents. “I actually hear some people saying, just don't vote. My fellow Americans. If you don't vote they win.” 

Former Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the state's last federal runoff winner and signatory on a recent letter from 18 Republican leaders in the state calling for the GOP to unify and focus on the Senate runoffs, is concerned about Trump’s arguments when he visits Georgia Saturday.

“I do worry about the president coming down and being focused on something other than and his total unabashed support of the election of Kelly and David on January 5,” he told NBC News. 

“Clearly, Trump has the opportunity to put to rest any theory of ‘this election was stolen from us, and therefore you ought not to get out and vote again because it's already done.’ If he comes down and says, ‘Look, I want everybody here to vote I don't care whether you vote by mail early voting, or voting on January 5, every Republican needs to turn out and vote,’ then I think he puts to rest that undercurrent that's out there. And I hope that's what he does.”

Trump will be addressing his base days after Rudy Giuliani appeared at a state senate committee meeting to share debunked conspiracy theories about the Dominion voting system and “connection” to Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.

“This is not a machine, you want counting your votes,” he said Thursday at the state capitol. “It does cast doubt on the entire legitimacy of the vote.”

Such rhetoric — echoed by Trump in his White House video statement this week — is what worries Republicans like Chambliss.

“I think you can look at the vote on November 3, and it's pretty easy to reach a conclusion that from a presidential standpoint, that was a referendum on Trump,” Chambliss told NBC News of the tens of thousands of Biden-Perdue voters. 

“I think that we won't have that scenario this time around, it's going to be just people coming up to vote for David, and that gives me confidence. If we can get the turnout, then we're going to be successful on January 5. But if you have these continued distractions, then you just wonder if those folks who did cross over are going to come back again.”

New campaign filings show Trump's fundraising haul off claims of voter fraud

WASHINGTON — President Trump's full campaign effort raised $495 million between Oct. 15 and Nov. 23, according to new FEC filings, a total that includes the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and other affiliated committees. 

Nearly half of that — $207.5 million — was raised since Election Day (between Nov. 3 and Nov. 23). Much of this haul has come from fundraising appeals that include unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, and it's an enormous amount for the GOP effort to be able to raise after losing an election. The Trump fundraising effort has sent more than 500 fundraising emails since Nov. 4, plus hundreds of text messages soliciting donations. 

Image: President Donald Trump returns from Camp David
President Donald Trump waves as he walks on the South Lawn of the White House upon his return from Camp David on Nov. 29, 2020.Yuri Gripas / Reuters

Much of the money being raised to help fund election challenges, like donations being solicited through requests to challenge the election outcome, isn't being funneled to a specific group. The campaign is allocating some money for recount efforts, and the same "election defense" rhetoric is being used to direct money to Trump's new political action committee, “Save America”. 

Trump started "Save America" in mid-November to fuel his post-presidency plans. It will allow the president to raise money for potential future travel, rallies or pay political consultants. But this money can't be used for any future campaign, should Trump decide to run for president again in 2024. The group raised about $570,000 through Nov. 23. 

The campaign filings also show more than $4.7 million in legal fees between Oct. 15 and Nov. 23. Legal adviser Jenna Ellis was paid $30,000 in consulting fees over that timeline, and overall the campaign has spent about $8.8 million on fees related to the recount effort in the same timeframe. 

Tweet the Press: A look into Michael Flynn's firing, and eventual pardon, with Carol E. Lee

WASHINGTON — In case you missed Thursday's Tweet the Press, we spoke with NBC News Correspondent Carol E. Lee about the events that led up to President Trump firing, and then pardoning, his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Lee reported on the timeline from when Flynn was first contacted by the FBI about his phone calls with Russia’s ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, to the moment he was fired, his guilty plea and the once wavering, but now full-throated support, from the White House. 

Click the link here to read the full conversation. 

Kamala Harris adds to V.P. team with a majority of women of color

WASHINGTON — Vice President-elect Kamala Harris announced on Thursday she hired three more women to be on her senior staff. Harris’ chief of staff, domestic policy adviser and national security adviser will all be women, two of whom are women of color.

Harris has a long history of hiring and elevating women of color in her senate office and primary campaign and in the general election, as well.

“Together with the rest of my team, today’s appointees will work to get this virus under control, open our economy responsibly and make sure it lifts up all Americans, and restore and advance our country's leadership around the world,” Harris said in a press release.

Tina Flournoy, who currently serves as former President Bill Clinton's chief of staff, will become Harris' chief of staff. Flournoy is a member of "The Colored Girls", a group of Black women who work in public service. Other members include Donna Brazile and Minyon Moore. Harris pointed to Flournoy's "deep experience, public policy expertise and accomplished career in public service" as her reasons for the pick. 

Image: U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris visits the Downtown Holiday Market in Washington
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris talks to reporters in Washington on Nov. 28, 2020.Hannah Mckay / Reuters

Harris' domestic policy adviser will be Rohini Kosoglu. Kosoglu was a senior adviser on Harris' presidential campaign and worked in Harris' office. She previously held positions with Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow. 

Nancy McEldowney, who most recently worked as the director of the school of foreign service at Georgetown University, will serve as Harris’ national security adviser. McEldowney worked in the U.S. foreign service for 30 years and is a former ambassador to Bulgaria. 

Harris' announced staff is so far a majority women of color. Symone Sanders, who will serve as Harris' senior adviser and chief spokesperson, and Ashley Etienne, who will be Harris' communications director, are also both Black women. 

Georgia Secretary of State: Trump's rhetoric causes 'growing threat' to election workers

WASHINGTON — Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger doubled down on his condemnation of President Trump's repeated false claims of voter fraud on Wednesday. 

“Even after this office requests that President Trump try and quell the violent rhetoric, being born out of his continuing claims of winning the states where he obviously lost, he tweeted out, ‘expose the massive voter fraud in Georgia’ — this is exactly the kind of language that is at the base of a growing threat environment for election workers who are simply doing their jobs,” Raffensperger said.

In a passionate speech at the state capitol on Tuesday, Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling said the rhetoric “has gone too far,” citing violent threats against ex-Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency director Chris Krebs, Raffensperger and his wife and a young local contractor for a voting system company in Gwinnett County, Ga.

“Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language,” Sterling said. “Senators, you've not condemned this language or these actions. This has to stop. We need you to step up and if you're going to take a position of leadership, show some."

He added, "This is elections. This is the backbone of democracy and all of you who have not said a damn word are complicit in this.”

Raffensperger also tried to lower the temperature on Wednesday.

“I want to extend grace to those that seemingly have hate in their heart,” Raffensperger said. “We've all been through an awful lot. As many of us have said, we wish that our guy would have won the election, but it doesn't look like our guy has won the election, and it looks like Vice President Biden will be carrying Georgia, and he is our president-elect.”

President Trump is set to visit Georgia this Saturday to campaign for both of the state's Republican senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, ahead of their respective runoff elections on Jan. 5.

Iowa congressional race likely to be one of closest in modern history

WASHINGTON — When Iowa's State Canvassing Board certified its 2020 election results on Monday, Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks edged out Democrat Rita Hart in the state's Second Congressional District by just six votes, making it one of the closest U.S. House races in modern history. 

Hart had requested a recount after the Secretary of State's unofficial results found her 47 votes behind the Republican. But while the margin narrowed during the recount, Miller-Meeks remained on top. 

NBC's Decision Desk has not yet projected a winner, and it's possible that the contest may move to the courtroom. 

Such narrow margins were more common in the 18th and 19th Centuries, when the electorate was far smaller than it is today. But over the last half-century, there have still been some House nail-biters almost as close, or in some cases, closer. 

Here's a non-exhaustive look at some of the closest U.S. House races in recent memory:

2014: Arizona Republican Martha McSally defeats Democrat Ron Barber by 161 votes 

After then-Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords resigned months after she was shot, her district director, Barber, won both the 2012 special election and the general election later that year. McSally lost the GOP special election primary, but was the party's nominee that fall and fell short to Barber by just a few thousand votes. 

The 2014 rematch made that tight race look like a breeze — McSally ultimately defeated Barber by 161 votes after a long recount that stretched into December.  

2006: Connecticut Democratic Rep. Joe Courtney defeats Republican Rep Rob Simmons by 83 votes

The 2006 midterms were good for Democrats in the House — the party took back the body's majority for the first time in more than a decade. But Courtney, then a state representative running against Simmons for the second time, eked out a victory after a mandatory recount

2002: Colorado Republican Bob Beauprez defeats Democrat Mike Feeley by 121 votes

Long before his gubernatorial bids, Beauprez (then the state GOP chairman) entered the House after the first-ever election in Colorado's 7th District, which was newly created after redistricting. The tight race forced a recount with Beauprez narrowly ahead, but according to reporting from UPI, the Republican lost a net of just one vote during that recount and was declared the winner. 

1994: Connecticut Democratic Rep. Samuel Gejdenson defeats Republican Edward Munster by 21 votes 

There must be something about Connecticut's 2nd Congressional District, which appears on this list twice. Twelve years before Courtney's narrow victory, Gejednson won a nailbiter of his own. Two years prior, the incumbent edged out Munster by a few thousand votes, and the 1994 race was one of the closest in recent history, needing a 98-page state Supreme Court decision to settle.  

1986: North Carolina Republican Rep. Howard Coble defeats Democrat Robin Britt

Long before the 2000 election came down to "hanging chads," the ballots played a key role in the controversy surrounding this House race. According to the Greensboro News and Record, the Democrat pushed for a full recount after a partial count of ballots accidentally left at two precincts ended up in her picking up a few votes, but that request was denied by the GOP-led county and state election boards. 

1984: Democratic Rep. Frank McCloskey defeats Republican Rick McIntyre by 4 votes

One of the most infamous House elections in modern American history can best be described by two of NBC's biggest election junkies — Steve Kornacki and Chuck Todd. 

Perdue, Ossoff race slated to be most expensive Senate race in ad spending

WASHINGTON — There's been an enormous amount of money pouring into Georgia ahead of the two pivotal Senate runoffs in the state, with one of the races already slated to shatter Senate advertising spending records. 

More than $293 million has already been spent and booked on TV and radio ads for both runoffs combined, according to Advertising Analytics, just between Nov. 4 and the Jan. 5 election. 

The special runoff, pitting Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democratic Rev. Raphael Warnock, already has $159 million devoted to it ($95 million from Republicans and $64 million from Democrats). The runoff between Republican Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff has drawn $135 million in spending and bookings ($81 million from Republicans and $54 million from Republicans). 

Image: Jon Ossoff, Raphael Warnock
Georgia Democratic Senate candidates Raphael Warnock, left, and Jon Ossoff hold a campaign rally in Marietta on Nov. 15, 2020.Brynn Anderson / AP

And if all that spending and booked spending is combined with what was already spent in the general elections, both elections begin pushing into the most expensive Senate races in history. In total, there's been $271 million booked and spent on TV and radio ads in the general election matchup between Perdue and Ossoff so far, with $208 million booked and spent on the Loeffler seat. 

That puts the Perdue v. Ossoff race in a position to break the record for most advertising spending across a Senate race, a record set by the North Carolina Senate race this cycle, which drew $251 million in total TV/radio spending and $265 million with digital spending included. 

The totals for these races aren't set in stone, as groups can shuffle around money that's only been booked but not spent. But there's likely to only be more money flooding into the state as both parties dig deep into the piggybank for two races that will decide control of the Senate for the next two years.

Biden meets, outpaces Trump and Obama's Cabinet nomination timelines

WASHINGTON — Even though President-elect Joe Biden's 2020 victory took a few days longer than usual to determine, that lag time hasn't stopped Biden from outpacing or matching President Trump and former President Obama's timelines for nominating cabinet members. 

Biden has so far announced his picks for Secretary of State, Treasury, Department of Homeland Security, Ambassador to the United Nationals, National Security Adviser, Director of National Intelligence and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. For the nominees that will have to go through the Senate confirmation process, his nominees for State, DHS and DNI were all announced earlier than Obama's first term picks and Trump's picks. 

The president-elect rolled out his national security team first: Announcing Antony Blinken as his Secretary of State nominee on Nov. 23 — 21 days after Election Day. Trump announced Rex Tillerson as his nominee 36 days after Election Day, and Obama named Hillary Clinton 28 days after Election Day. 

Similarly, Biden announced Alejandro Mayorkas would be his pick to lead DHS three weeks after Nov. 3. Trump issued his first DHS pick, Gen. John Kelly, 35 days after Election Day 2016. Obama named Janet Napolitano 28 days after his election in 2008. 

Image: US-VOTE-POLITICS-SECURITY-DIPLOMACY-TEAM
President-elect Joe Biden announces members of his cabinet in Wilmington, Del., on Nov. 24, 2020.Chandan Khanna / AFP - Getty Images

Biden outpaced his two most recent predecessors by over a month when it came to picking a Director of National Intelligence. Biden nominated Avril Haines on Nov. 23 — 21 days after Election Day — while Trump and Obama took 59 and 67 days, respectively. 

So far the one office that Trump filled before Biden was the spot for U.N. Ambassador. Trump nominated Nikki Haley just 16 days after the 2016 election, while Biden announced his pick three weeks after Nov. 3. Obama nominated Susan Rice 28 days after the 2008 election. 

Obama outpaced both Trump and Biden when it came to naming who would lead the OMB. Obama announced Peter Orszag 22 days after Election Day, while Trump and Biden took 39 and 27 days to announce their nominees, respectively. 

NBC News confirmed that Janet Yellen would be Biden's Treasury nominee on Nov. 23, however the official announcement from the Biden camp didn't come until Nov. 30. The official call was 28 days after Election Day — Trump nominated Steven Mnuchin 23 days after Election Day 2016, and Obama named Timothy Geithner to the post 21 days after the election in 2008. 

Bipartisan group of senators seek compromise on a Covid-19 relief package

WASHINGTON — As the stalemate over Covid-19 relief continues between Republican and Democratic leadership in Congress, a bipartisan group of senators have been holding informal discussions about compromise legislation, two sources tell NBC News.

The discussions, which have been taking place over the Thanksgiving recess, could evolve into a new “gang", like the team that put together immigration reform legislation that failed in 2013. But sources warn that the current environment is difficult for success: Covid-19 has kept in-person meetings from happening and leadership has shown little willingness to compromise even if this group does succeed in creating a legislative package.

The lawmakers include Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va.,  Joe Manchin, D-W.V., Dick Durbin, D-Ill.,  Chris Coons, D-Del., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Susan Collins, R-Maine., Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, according to two sources.  

On Monday, Warner told MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports" that “people of good faith are working together to see if we can get a meaningful package.”

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., speaks at a Senate Intelligence Committee Hearing on Sept. 9, 2020.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., speaks at a Senate Intelligence Committee Hearing on Sept. 9, 2020.Michael Brochstein / Sipa USA via AP

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have yet to discuss another round of Covid-19 relief with each other, and talks between Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin haven't resumed since Election Day. However, there have been preliminary discussions to include some Covid-19 relief provisions to a must-pass government funding bill. Government funding runs out on December 11. 

Up to 14 million people are set to lose their unemployment benefits right after Christmas because of expiring provisions from the CARES Act. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provides unemployment benefits for freelancers and gig workers, as well as the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which extended insurance benefits an additional 13 weeks beyond states’ allowance of 26 weeks, are both set to expire.  

In addition, the rent eviction moratorium and student loan deferment programs are set to expire at the end of the year, putting new pressure on Congress to act soon. 

The bipartisan group of senators agree that the small business paycheck protection program, unemployment insurance and money for vaccine distribution should be central to any deal, one Senate aide said. But the major sticking points are the same ones that have plagued earlier leadership negotiations: State and local funding, which Democratic leadership is demanding, and liability protection, which Republican leadership insists upon. 

Pelosi has maintained that the modified HEROES Act, which costs $2.2 trillion is the baseline for negotiations while McConnell is backing the $500 billion package the Senate voted down in October.

What's at stake if Congress doesn't pass restaurant stimulus

PHILADELPHIA — With the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on the nation’s economy, Congress will face increasing pressure to pass a new stimulus bill when members return to Washington this week — one that includes targeted relief for the restaurant industry.

Eating establishments across the country have hemorrhaged business since last spring, when the virus forced them to offer limited service or to close outright. With winter coming and the new wave of illness likely to force even tighter restrictions, owners increasingly worry that they’ll have to shut their doors for good. 

Advocates say the RESTAURANTS Act, short for the “Real Economic Support That Acknowledges Unique Restaurant Assistance Need to Survive” Act, could be key to the industry’s survival. The legislation, which boasts bipartisan support, was introduced in the Senate by Republican Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and in the House by Democrat Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Republican Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania. 

The legislation proposes a $120 billion dollar grant program focused on independent operators, especially targeting women and minority-owned businesses. The grant would cover a wide range of expenses, including supplies, payroll, rent and personal protective equipment for employees. 

There are some 500,000 independently owned restaurants across the United States, employing millions of people, according to a study by CHD Expert, which analyzes food service and hospitality data.  The average restaurant is still seeing about a 35 percent loss from last year, every day, according to Rally for Restaurants data

Without aid, the Independent Restaurant Coalition — a new organization founded to save small restaurants and bars affected by COVID-19 — estimates that 85 percent of independent restaurants, which annually contribute $760 billion sales to the U.S. economy, could close permanently. 

“I have lived through working during the 1987 stock market crash. I worked through 9/11. I’ve worked through the 2008 recession. I’ve never seen what happened to us in our industry starting March 17 when we were asked to close with about 24 hours notice,” Bobby Stuckey, cofounder of Colorado’s Frasca Hospitality, told NBC News.

The legislation faces an uncertain future — it’s unlikely to pass on its own without being part of a larger deal, and discussions on Capitol Hill over a new broad-based relief package have been at a standstill for weeks. 

President Donald Trump on Friday urged Congress to act, tweeting:

Money granted through the so-called Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) last spring was in the form of a loan, rather than a grant, and for many restaurants it was just a small down payment on a larger crisis. 

“The PPP loans were an eight-week fix to what’s probably an 18-month problem,” Stuckey said. “The restaurant business works on very, very small margins. To make these businesses take on loans to survive this 18 months is punitive; it’s not going to help the survival rate.” 

There were additional frustrations around the paycheck protection loans as restaurant chains like Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse cashed in on benefits meant for small businesses. Ruth’s Chris ultimately returned the $20 million loan following public pressure.

The RESTAURANTS act stipulates that the businesses not be publicly traded or part of a chain with 20 or more businesses of the same name. Plus, money awarded through the act would come in the form of a direct grant, rather than a loan. Owners say that’s essential as establishments across the country face closure through the cold winter months. 

“The reality is restaurants do not need more short-term loans right now — restaurants need grants that would help us get through a tough-looking winter,” Leigh Habegger, Executive Director of the Seafood Harvesters of America told NBC News. 

Some Senate Democrats question Durbin's bid to helm Judiciary Committee

WASHINGTON — With a Democratic opening at the top of the Judiciary Committee now that Sen. Dianne Feinstein has stepped aside, some Senate Democrats are questioning whether the heir apparent, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., should ascend to the post and also keep his Senate leadership position, according to two sources familiar with the situation. 

The debate among Democrats is a rare internal personnel dispute that could be resolved by an even rarer vote among the caucus in December if not settled before then. The vote, if necessary, would be to determine if Durbin can both be the party's top member on the committee and also be the second-ranking Democratic leader in the Senate as party whip, according to the two sources who were granted anonymity to speak freely about internal dynamics. 

Feinstein stepped aside from the top post on the committee — which oversees judicial nominations to the Supreme Court, the Justice Department and immigration authorities — after progressive groups and some Senate Democrats questioned if she was equipped to handle the partisan nature in the current state of politics. Feinstein's hug with Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., at the end of Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation hearings drew ire from Democrats and helped seal her fate. 

Durbin announced his intention to seek the top spot Monday night, pointing to his experience on the committee.

Image:
Dick Durbin, D-Ill., speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Nov. 10, 2020.Jason Andrew / The New York Times via AP, Pool

“I intend to seek the top Democratic position on the Judiciary Committee in the 117th Congress. I have served on the Committee for 22 years, and I am its most senior member who does not currently serve atop another Senate Committee,” Durbin wrote in a statement. “We have to roll up our sleeves and get to work on undoing the damage of the last four years and protecting fundamental civil and human rights."

But some Senate Democrats are concerned that Durbin's other big job, as chief vote counter, will be a critical and time consuming position in a narrowly divided House and Senate. Durbin is also the top Democrat on the Senate Defense Appropriations subcommittee, which is also adds to the Democrats’ discontent.

His office argues that holding multiple senior positions is not without precedent, noting that Senate Democratic rules that allow it, and that three previous Democratic whips — Alan Cranston, Wendell Ford and Harry Reid — did the same. 

Senate Republican and House Democratic party rules do not allow a top member of leadership to also hold a committee chair. 

One of the last times the Democratic caucus held a vote on a committee leadership issue was in 2008 when the Democratic caucus voted to allow then-Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., to remain chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee after he campaigned for Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential election.

After Durbin, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., would be next in line for the Judiciary spot. He has not publicly announced that he’d like the position but progressive groups would likely not be opposed.

“In the wake of Ranking Member Feinstein’s announcement, I look forward to the question of succession on the Senate Judiciary Committee being decided by the caucus.  I will abide by the caucus’s decision,” Whitehouse says in a statement Tuesday night. 

Sahil Kapur contributed.

What House races are still left to call?

WASHINGTON — Election Day may be three weeks in the past, but there are still a handful of competitive House races still left to be called by NBC'S Decision Desk. 

The vast majority are in California and New York, two states that take a while to count ballots. And there's one race in Iowa that appears to be headed to a recount. 

Here's a look at the uncalled races and where they stand (the incumbent or the candidate representing the incumbent party is listed first): 

California-21: Democratic Rep. TJ Cox v. former Republican Rep. David Valadao 

Valadao, who Cox defeated in the 2018 midterm elections, leads Cox by less than 2,000 votes (1 percentage point) in the Decision Desk's count, as final results keep trickling in. 

California-25: Republican Rep. Mike Garcia v. Democrat Christy Smith 

Garcia v. Smith is a rematch of the spring special election, one of the first general elections run in the coronavirus era, when Garcia won by a comfortable margin. Garcia has declared victory, a decision Smith has criticized, with the margin sitting at just 400 votes. 

Iowa-02: Democrat Rita Hart v. Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks

The race to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack could turn out to be the closest House race of the cycle. The two candidates were separated by just a few dozen votes, with Hart requesting a recount that's prompted a dust-up between the two candidates. 

New York-02: Republican Andrew Garbarino v. Democrat Jackie Gordon 

These two candidates are running to replace Republican Rep. Peter King, who is retiring at the end of the year. While the election has still not been called yet, the Democrat conceded last week. 

New York-11: Democratic Rep. Max Rose v. Republican Nicole Malliotakis 

This is another race that hasn't been called yet, but where one candidate, Rose, has conceded.  

New York-22: Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi v. former GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney 

This rematch of 2018 is extremely tight, with the election ending up in court.

New York-24: Republican Rep. John Katko v. Democrat Dana Balter 

In another 2018 rematch, Balter has conceded to Katko. 

Freshman Republicans look to form conservative 'Squad'

WASHINGTON — There’s a new crew on Capitol Hill — "The Squad" is facing opposition from a record breaking diverse republican class of freshman members. And they are calling themselves "The Force."

“I want to create a force within my freshman class that will have to be reckoned with. A force of reason, a force for freedom, a force for democracy,” Florida Republican Congresswoman-elect Maria Elvira Salazar, a Cuban-American former journalist, told NBC News.

Salazar is part of the most diverse freshman Republican class in history with eight members who identify as a person of color or minority. And they plan to be a counter the progressive “Squad”, led by New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, with what they say is a message against socialism. 

“When I hear this Democratic socialism that is being presented within the Democratic Party, I can only tell you that only brings misery, oppression and exile. And how do I know? Because I have lived it and I have covered it,” Salazar said.

Newly elected Nicole Malliotakis, a Greek-American and the only Republican New York City will send to Congress, embraced the conservative crew. 

Image: Newly-Elected Members Of Congress Attend Orientation On Capitol Hill
Congresswoman-elect Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., arrives at the Capitol on Nov. 13, 2020.Samuel Corum / Getty Images

“We need to form our own ‘squad.’ We have a group of new Republicans who love America. We value freedom, liberty and opportunity,” Malliotakis told The New York Post last week. 

And Congresswoman-elect Victoria Spartz of Indiana, who grew up in Ukraine, claimed ‘The Squad’ brings a kind of message she didn’t think she’d see in the United States.

“I grew up in a socialistic country, the Socialist Republic of Ukraine. I saw what happens when it runs out of money and it is not pretty,” Spartz told Fox News. “And now we’re building socialism. I’m kind of going full circles. I can tell you what is going to be next. It’s very sad for me to see that.”

In 2018, Democrats elected progressive women who became known for challenging the establishment. The group, which includes Ocasio-Cortez and Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., has more than doubled with young progressives winning districts around the country this year. 

Congressman-elect Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., one of the incoming progressive members, says they disagree on the Republican counter-group’s definition of socialism. 

“I believe that some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, when they think of socialism, they think of communism and think of the government controlling everything and people being disempowered within democracy, and I think that's an incorrect definition, that's not how I define it," Bowman said.

He added, “What's going to be important is how we engage the rest of the caucus in these conversations and then the sense of urgency around the issue of climate change, the issue of universal health care, the issue of a federal jobs guarantee and meeting the needs of the American people.”

Congressman Ro Khanna, D-Calif., said the negative connotation used against the progressive faction of the Democratic caucus during the election wasn't successful. 

“It didn’t work, I mean Joe Biden flipped five states against an incumbent president and so I just say that that's ineffective because people see when you have folks in huge wealth generating districts, calling for these policies,” Khanna said. “I don't think that's a very effective attack.” 

“I mean it sounds ridiculous to me. I think they think they’re in high school. We’re in Congress,” Omar said when asked about the new group. 

Trump camp keeps up torrid pace of fundraising appeals post-election

WASHINGTON — The Trump campaign has sent more than 300 fundraising appeals via email since Nov. 4, the day after the election. Most are seeking donations for an “official election defense fund,” as President Trump continues to question the integrity of the race he lost. But the fine print shows as much as 75 percent of that money can be repurposed for the president’s new leadership political action committee, “Save America.” 

Two weeks ago, the GOP effort was sending as many as 24 emails a day, averaging one per hour. More recently, the campaign — which formally ended as a re-elect operation this week — has been requesting funds around 15 times on any given day. 

In that time, they have also fired off more than 80 text messaging, ranging from personal appeals from the president that falsely claim “the Left will try to STEAL this Election!” to messages from the eldest Trump sons saying “We need to FIGHT BACK!”

Michigan lawmakers could be treading on thin legal ice with White House meeting

WASHINGTON — Michigan Republican lawmakers slated to meet Friday with President Donald Trump at the White House could be risking legal exposure back home depending on what actions they take in regards to the state's election results.

Trump has falsely claimed he won Michigan, alleging major voter fraud in Detroit while providing no evidence. After a series of failed lawsuits seeking to prevent election officials in the state from certifying the results for President-elect Joe Biden, the president and his allies have sought to ratchet up the political pressure on GOP officials in the state.

Trump allies, including conservative radio host Mark Levin, are advocating for state legislatures in Michigan, Pennsylvania and other swing states to override voters and appoint their states’ electors. And according to the New York Times, Trump has also pressed his own advisers on the matter.

But Michigan law is clear. According to the secretary of state: The state’s 16 representatives to the Electoral College must go to the candidate who won the popular vote. Trump lost the popular vote to Biden by nearly 150,000 votes in Michigan. That discrepancy remains even with a clerical error that involved 367 votes in Detroit remain at issue, Detroit Free Press.

Following a contentious meeting of the Wayne County canvassing board earlier this week where the results there were certified, Trump personally called one GOP board member, who then said she wanted to change her vote to certify, something the secretary of state in Michigan said is not possible. While individual counties have certified their votes, the full state certification has not yet taken place. 

President Donald Trump sits at his desk in the Oval Office on Nov. 13, 2020.
President Donald Trump sits at his desk in the Oval Office on Nov. 13, 2020.Carlos Barria / Reuters

In the latest apparent attempt to exert political pressure on Republicans, Trump has invited the state's Senate leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield — both Republicans — to fly to Washington to meet with him Friday at the White House. Their offices did not return NBC calls seeking comment.

In recent a local news interview prior to the Trump invitation, Shirkey cited Michigan law and said the idea of the GOP-led legislature attempting to seat a Trump-friendly slate of electors is “not going to happen.” 

And Shirkey and Chatfield are well aware of state law awarding Michigan’s electors on a winner-takes-all basis and requiring the appointment of electors from the party of the candidate who wins the popular vote, according to a Republican close to them.

“Shirkey and Chatfield are going to follow Michigan law,” the individual said. 

But the exposure for the two state lawmakers is real, according to legal experts. 

“If I were their lawyer I would think twice about letting them put themselves in that kind of compromised position,” said Richard Primus, a constitutional law professor at the University of Michigan who also wrote an op-ed recommending the pair cancel the meeting.

Under Michigan law, any member of the legislature who “corruptly” accepts a promise of some beneficial act in return for exercising his authority in a certain way is “forever disqualified to hold any public office” and “shall be guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment in the state prison not more than 10 years[.]” Primus said in his op-ed.

“Why, exactly, does President Trump want to see these two men in person, in his office?" wrote Primus. “It isn’t to offer evidence that Michigan’s election was tainted and should therefore be nullified. If he had any such evidence, his lawyers would have presented it in court."

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel declined to comment to NBC News and said, "we don’t comment on pending investigations.”

Still, University of Michigan criminal law expert Dave Moran said the meeting itself probably isn’t actionable. 

“It’s one thing to actually meet with somebody and corruptly conspire to do something,” said Moran. “But to just have a meeting with somebody at which various options, some of which might be illegal, are discussed, is not a crime."

He added, “I don’t think he would be so stupid as to nakedly offer a bribe but rather appeal to their duty as ‘good Republicans’ to back him up."

Georgia can begin sending absentee ballots in pivotal Senate runoffs

WASHINGTON — It's that time again: Voters can start voting soon in Georgia's Senate runoffs. 

Or at least, voters can start voting. 

Wednesday was the first day that Georgia registrars could begin sending out absentee ballots for the two Senate runoffs between GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democratic Rev. Raphael Warnock, and GOP Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff. 

There were about 1.28 million absentee-by-mail votes cast in the Senate primaries in November, per the unofficial results from the Georgia Secretary of State's office. (Unlike in many states, Georgia pits congressional candidates against each other in a November primary, with the two top vote-getters moving to a runoff unless one candidate wins a majority). That means total made up more than one-quarter of the total votes cast in the rate.)

With the pandemic to new heights in daily cases and hospitalizations, there are likely to be a significant number of mail-in ballots cast for the Senate runoffs too.

The likely influx of absentee voting provides yet another level of uncertainty to the races, particularly as the president refuses to accept the results across the country and makes unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud, zeroing in on mail-in ballots.  

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told Peacock TV’s Medhi Hasan that he believes it was Trump’s own discrediting of mail-in ballots that cost him the election in November.

“I believe so because the numbers show that. There were actually 24,000 Republican voters that voted absentee in the June primary, and those same 24,000 voters, did not show up to vote in either absentee or in person on the day of election or the 15 days of early voting we have. So they just disappeared and they were ripe for the picking, they were there in June for the primary and they should have come home and voted for President Trump in the fall. So that’s 24,000 . That's his difference right there,” he said.

And the president is not relenting in his attacks on mail-in voting, particularly in Georgia, where he continues to attack election officials there amid the presidential recount. 

Obama administration vet Psaki to lead Biden's Senate confirmation team

WILMINGTON, Del. — President-elect Joe Biden's transition team is formally unveiling a team put in place to sherpa nominees through Senate confirmation processes.

The team is being led by Jen Psaki, a former top Obama White House and State Department official, who was part of the communications team at the start of the Obama administration and has experience from Obama’s transition. Others on the team include his Senate aides and former 2020 campaign staffers for Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg. 

Psaki is overseeing the nominations team, with Olivia Dalton, a Democratic consultant and former Biden Senate aide who also served in senior Obama administration and campaign roles, running point on communications.

White House Director Of Communications Jen Psaki And U.S. Council of Economic Advisors Chairman Jason Furman Interview
Jen Psaki during an interview in Washington on Dec. 18, 2015.Drew Angerer / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Additionally, Stephanie Valencia is handling outreach and Louisa Terrell will run congressional affairs for the transition, helping to support the nominations team. 

Reema Dodin, the floor director for Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, will oversee legislative strategy. Jorge Neri, a former senior advisor to the campaign, will be the deputy outreach director for Confirmations. 

Andrew Bates, the rapid response director from the Biden campaign will also serve in a leadership role, as will Saloni Sharma, who was most recently Warren's deputy communications director, and Sean Savett, formerly press secretary to Illinois Democratic Sen. Senator Tammy Duckworth and rapid response director for Buttigieg. 

The confirmations team will expand over the coming days with additional positions. 

The Biden transition team said that they believe there will be substantial pressure on the Senate, which right now stands to be controlled by Republicans unless Democrats can sweep both Georgia Senate runoffs in early January, to act fast in the midst of the pandemic and concerns about the economy. 

The transition added that they also want to "introduce nominees to the American people," which would mean "throwing away the old playbook dictating that nominees say nothing in public until their hearings." 

In an earlier interview, a senior transition official told NBC News that the team learned from the 2008 transition that it needed to build out an infrastructure to prepare to support nominees similar to the ones built out for a presidential nominee's vice-presidential pick or a president's Supreme Court nomination. 

“We built a more robust apparatus ready to tell the story of our nominees post-election, once we start having nominees in November, in a more robust theory of the case then I think has just been done in prior transitions,” the official said. “You need infrastructure. You need really clear process and infrastructure the way a White House has but a transition doesn't have the benefit of having."

Here are the two Wisconsin counties where the Trump campaign wants a recount

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's presidential campaign has requested — and paid for — a partial recount in the state of Wisconsin. But rather than a statewide recount, which would have cost the campaign about $7.9 million, they're zeroing in on two vote-rich, heavily Democratic counties: Dane and Milwaukee. (The partial recount still will cost them $3 million.)  

Biden currently leads Wisconsin by 20,565 votes, and the two counties are where the Democrat racked up his biggest leads. As in other states, Biden's huge vote margins in urban and suburban Democratic strongholds offset Trump's strong performances in more rural counties. 

Together, the two counties alone account for about a quarter of the statewide vote cast.

Image: U.S. President Donald Trump holds a campaign rally at Kenosha Regional Airport in Kenosha, Wisconsin
President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Kenosha, Wis., on Nov. 2, 2020.Carlos Barria / Reuters

Biden won Milwaukee County, 69 percent to 29 percent. (That's 317,270 votes for Biden to Trump’s 134,357.)

Biden won Dane 75 percent to 23 percent. (That's 260,185 votes for Biden to Trump’s 78,800.) 

According to Census data, Milwaukee County is about 51 percent white alone, 27 percent Black, 16 percent Latino and 5 percent Asian.

For Dane County — home to Madison and the University of Wisconsin — it’s 79 percent white alone, 6 percent Black, 7 percent Latino and 6 percent Asian. Dane also has a population of about 51 percent of residents who have bachelor's degrees or more, a rate far higher than the national average. 

Loeffler, Warnock will debate ahead of Georgia runoff, Perdue and Ossoff will not

ATLANTA — After a debate over having runoff debates, there will be at least one ahead of Georgia’s Senate runoff elections. The Atlanta Press Club told NBC News Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., has agreed to debate Democratic challenger Rev. Raphael Warnock on Dec. 6.

“Georgians need to know who he is and I welcome that chance to debate him as many times as he wants,” Loeffler said during a Fox News interview before her participation was announced.

Image: Sen. Kelly Loeffler R-Ga., arrives for the weekly Senate Republican caucus policy luncheon on Capitol Hill
Sen. Kelly Loeffler R-Ga., arrives for the weekly Senate Republican caucus policy luncheon on Capitol Hill on Nov. 17, 2020.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

GOP Sen. David Perdue declined APC’s invitation to debate Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff. Ossoff will still appear during the debate time slot but will be besides an an empty podium representing Perdue.

Perdue's campaign manager Ben Fry said in a statement, "We've already had two debates in this election," and added, “We’re going to take our message about what’s at stake if Democrats have total control of Congress directly to the people." 

“That is not our preference,” the APC wrote in a release, adding the organization will hopes Perdue changes his mind and will “leave the door open” for him to participate.

“The Atlanta Press Club works hard to provide a platform for all candidates running for public office. We believe it is an essential part of the democratic process for voters to have an opportunity to hear an exchange of ideas from the candidates so they can be better informed when they cast their ballots.”

Ossoff attacked his opponent for refusing to debate ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff election.

“If Senator Perdue doesn't want to answer questions in public, or debate his opponent that's fine, he just shouldn't run for re-election to the United States Senate,” Ossoff told reporters on Tuesday.

Ossoff and Perdue debated prior to the Nov. 3 election, but Perdue backed out of the third general election debate against Ossoff in October. 

Graham denies Georgia Sec. State charge he inquired about tossing ballots

WASHINGTON — South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham denied that he asked the Georgia secretary of state about throwing out mail-in votes in certain Georgia counties, an allegation made by Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger earlier this week. 

Graham told NBC News the allegation was "ridiculous" and said that he called Raffensperger, a top election official in a state Graham doesn't represent, because "the future of the country hangs in the balance." He added he’s spoken to Arizona GOP Gov. Doug Ducey as well as “people in Nevada.”

"That's ridiculous. I talked to him about how you verify signatures. Right now a single person verifies signatures and I suggested as you go forward can you change it to make sure that a bipartisan team verifies signatures and if there is a dispute, come up with an appeals process," Graham said. 

In an interview with the Washington Post on Monday, Raffensperger sad that Graham had inquired as to whether the election official could toss ballots in counties that had higher-than average rates of ballot signatures that didn’t match the voter signature on file. He told the paper it seemed that Graham was suggesting throwing out legal ballots. 

Raffensperger doubled down on the accusation in an interview on "CBS This Morning."

"Senator Graham implied for us to audit the envelopes and then throw out the ballots for counties who had the highest frequency error of signatures," he said. 

And in an interview with NBC News, he criticized Republicans for making "bold-faced lies" as they seek to discredit the results of the state's presidential election and said he agreed that former Vice President Joe Biden appears to be the president-elect. 

Garrett Haake, Josh Lederman and Julia Jester contributed.

Small businesses are suffering from the pandemic amid stalemate on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON — Amid an ongoing explosion of Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths, it’s important to remember that some of the damage of the coronavirus is entirely self-inflicted.  

For six months, the White House and leaders of both parties in Congress have failed to reach an agreement on more emergency relief, with each side holding out at various points for a better deal. The political calendar has made things harder — Democrats assumed their leverage would increase post-election with a Biden win, Republicans now have a stronger hand with down-ballot victories — as well as Trump’s chaotic approach.  

There’s a severe human cost to the failure to pass even a nominal emergency package, however, and it’s becoming increasingly apparent in American neighborhoods where beloved small businesses are going bankrupt waiting for relief from Washington.  

New York Continues To Struggle With Coronavirus Spread As Parts Of U.S. Look To Reopen
A man walks past a closed business on May 2, 2020, in New York.Noam Galai / Getty Images file

NBC News viewers submitted over a hundred names of their favorite local establishments that had gone under recently, including beloved barbershop in New York City to a quirky boutique in Lincoln, Nebraska, and their owners were acutely aware that of the congressional inaction. 

“I just sort of saw the writing on the wall, that we weren't going to get any money in the near future,” said Jason Rudofky, who closed his family's Jewish deli in Denver, Zaidy’s, after 35 years. “They cared more about the election and they don't realize what’s happening in America.” 

These dilemmas are also exacerbated by the ongoing lack of aid for jobless Americans, whose emergency unemployment benefits expired months ago, for school districts waiting for long-promised funding to help them function in extreme circumstances, and for health care workers trying to fight the pandemic and prepare for vaccination programs. And because state and local governments can’t deficit-spend the way the federal government does, only Washington can fill in the gaps.

“If we're going to control this virus out in our communities right now, we're going to have to support those who are going to be suffering economically,” Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and an adviser to President-elect Joe Biden, said on Meet The Press. “You know, you have a choice: do you want to have schools open, or do you want to keep bars and restaurants open?" 

Biden transition boasts majority-female staff, 40 percent people of color

WILMINGTON, Del. — Women make up the majority of staffers on President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team, and people of color are more than 40 percent of the total transition workforce, according to new diversity data obtained by NBC News from the transition. 

Biden has promised that his administration will “look like America,” as well as the broad coalition of voters who boosted him into the White House. The diversity data released Sunday shows similar levels of gender parity and racial diversity on his transition staff as he had on his presidential campaign staff. And it comes as speculation ramps up about Biden’s Cabinet picks and staffing decisions throughout the administration. 

More than half — 52 percent — of Biden’s transition staff are women, with 53 percent of senior staff identifying as female. And the transition's advisory board is also majority female. 

Image: President-Elect Biden Remarks On ACA As Supreme Court Takes On Case
President-elect Joe Biden listens as Vice President-elect Kamala Harris addresses the media about the Trump administration's lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act on Nov. 10, 2020, in Wilmington, Del.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Five of the thirteen members of Biden's recently-announced COVID task force of public health experts and doctors are women. 

People of color make up 41 percent of transition senior staff, and 46 percent of transition staff overall. They’re also 43 percent of the transition advisory board and nearly 70 percent of the 13 person COVID task force.

The data comes as Biden has promised his administration will reflect the nation's diversity — “from the vice president straight down through Cabinet members to major players within the White House, and the court,” as Biden has said.

Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris made history upon winning the election, becoming America’s first woman, first Black, and first South Asian person elected to that office.

Iowa Democratic House candidate calls for recount as she trails by razor-thin margin

WASHINGTON — Iowa Democrat Rita Hart announced Thursday her campaign would seek a "complete recount" of Iowa's 2nd Congressional District race as results show her narrowly trailing Republican state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

The Iowa Secretary of State's unofficial results show Miller-Meeks ahead by just 47 votes (NBC's Decision Desk has the race at virtually the same margin). The Hart campaign pointed to two reporting errors (which local counties and the Secretary of State caught and are fixing) as part of its reasoning to request the broader recount. 

On Monday, Miller-Meeks issued her own statement after counties certified their count, a count that left her narrowly ahead (the state doesn't officially certify until the end of the month). 

If the result holds through the recount, Iowa's 2nd District would be yet another Republican flip in a seat previously held by the Democrats (Rep. Dave Loebsack chose not to run for re-election in 2020). Democrats outspent Republicans on the TV and radio airwaves there, $10.3 million to $8.2 million, according to ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics. 

Rita Hart speaks with a reporter at her farm in Wheatland, Iowa, in 2019.
Rita Hart speaks with a reporter at her farm in Wheatland, Iowa, in 2019.Caroline Brehman / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file

Big money rolling into Georgia ahead of marquee Senate battle

WASHINGTON — Georgia Senate hopefuls have already begun booking millions of dollars on the television airwaves ahead of the likely two runoffs there in early January that could decide the balance of power of the Senate. 

Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democratic Rev. Raphael Warnock are slated for a runoff after neither cleared the 50 percent threshold needed on Election Day to win the race outright.

And in the state's other race, GOP Sen. David Perdue sits at just 49.7 percent to Democrat Jon Ossoff's 48 percent. While NBC News' Decision Desk hasn't yet called the race, the Associated Press and other media outlets have projected it will head to a runoff. 

As of Wednesday, Warnock has $2.6 million booked on the airwaves for the runoff, according to data from the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics. Loeffler just started booking TV time on Wednesday — about $200,000 with more expected. 

In the other race, Perdue has already booked a whopping $10.6 million to Ossoff's $1.6 million. 

TV spending is not the be-all, end-all — Democrats (or in the case of Alaska, the independent candidate backed by Democrats and his allies) outspent Republicans in Senate races this cycle in Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas, winning just two of those races.

In Georgia, Republicans significantly outspent Democrats in the race for Loeffler's seat (that race included two high-profile GOP candidates), while Democrats narrowly outspent Republicans in the Perdue race. 

But with more money set to flood the race with the battle of the Senate up for grabs (and Loeffler potentially able to help fund her campaign with millions of her own, like she did in the primary), the runoff (or runoffs, if Perdue falls short of 50 percent) are already shaping up to be quite expensive.

Newsom in no rush to choose Kamala Harris' Senate successor

NEW YORK — With Kamala Harris’s ascension to the vice presidency on Jan. 20, a coveted California Senate seat is about to open up. And that means all eyes are on the state’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, who will choose Harris’ successor. 

But don’t expect an answer anytime soon. 

The timeline to choose a replacement for Harris is “truly fuzzy,” according to one California Democrat with knowledge of Newsom’s thinking. The fact that there is no rush to name a candidate ahead of Jan. 20, along with Newsom’s inclination to be a “careful process person” as this person calls him, means that a decision could take some time.

Newsom also wouldn't entertain much serious talk about naming a replacement for Harris prior to the election, this person added. 

Image: Gavin Newsom
Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses the 2020 election, in Oakland, Calif. on Nov. 3, 2020.Noah Berger / AP

And he bristled a bit Monday when asked by reporters about a timeline, saying the surging coronavirus pandemic in the state was his major concern.

“My weekend was not focused on that. It was focused on seeing these new case rates go up,” Newsom said. 

But even as he takes his time weighing his options, Newsom is facing considerable pressure from competing interest groups about who to select. 

Many Latino activists are pressing Newsom to choose the state’s first Latino senator. Names under consideration are California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, whose office has tangled frequently with the Trump administration, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, former California Senate president Kevin De Leon, who challenged Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 2018, Long Beach, Calif. Mayor Robert Garcia. Garcia would be the first openly gay senator from California, and he’s become a visible activist around efforts to contain Covid-19 after losing his mother and stepfather to the virus earlier this year. 

Newsom may also want to replace Harris with another woman, particularly a woman of color. Some of those under consideration include Rep. Karen Bass, whom Biden considered for vice president, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Rep. Barbara Lee and State Controller Betty Yee. Rep. Katie Porter, a progressive favorite and proven fundraiser, may be considered as well. 

The California Democrat with knowledge of the process said Newsom has not yet spoken to Harris about who she’d like to see succeed her.

Newsom is also weighing whether to name a placeholder to fill the seat, leaving others to mount a full-blown campaign in 2022 when Harris would have faced re-election. Former California Gov. Jerry Brown would likely be under consideration in that case.

Rick Scott to lead GOP Senate campaign arm, as parties elect their leaders

WASHINGTON — While the battle for Senate control remains underway, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer were re-elected unanimously by acclimation to their posts by their respective caucuses on Tuesday.

Republicans kept their party heads the same, re-electing McConnell, Republican Whip South Dakota Sen. John Thune, Conference Chair Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, Policy Committee Chair Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt and Conference Vice Chair Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst.

Florida Sen. Rick Scott replaced Indiana Sen. Todd Young as the next National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair — the campaign arm for Senate Republicans.

 

Image: U.S. Senator Scott speaks after the Senate Republican GOP leadership election on Capitol Hill in Washington
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., speaks on Capitol Hill after the Republican Conference held leadership elections on Nov. 10, 2020.Erin Scott / Reuters

“It’s a hard job — I'm going to take it very seriously. I know the job is to make sure we have a Republican majority in the Senate. First, we've got to go win in Georgia and we're going to win in Georgia,” Scott told reporters on Tuesday.

On the Democratic side, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto were added to Democratic leadership positions on the larger team that includes Schumer, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. 

While Democrats only picked up two Senate seats in the 2020 election cycle so far, senators said the caucus still has faith in Schumer's leadership.

“I know [Schumer] has that personality that can sit down and work with anybody,” Manchin told NBC News. “But as people have pushed him one way or the other, that sometimes gets you off track.”

Republicans overperforming in House races with more still to be called

WASHINGTON — It's clear the blue wave many Democrats had been hoping for never materialized, and with more than a dozen House races still left uncalled by the NBC News Decision Desk, that has implications for Democratic control of the House.

Heading into the election, Democrats held 235 seats in Congress, compared to 199 for the GOP. And while the party was fresh off a strong 2018 midterm election where it made gains deep into Republican-leaning districts and netted 39 seats, most analysts expected the Democrats to expand their majority.

But with NBC's Decision Desk having called all but 17 House races, Republicans so far have net five seats. And all of the GOP candidates who flipped seats so far are either women or people of color.

Of the 19 NBC-called races characterized before the election by the Cook Political Report as toss-ups, Republicans is projected to win all of them and flipped four seats in the process (IA-01, MN-07, NM-02 and OK-05). 

The GOP also swept all 14 of Cook's "lean Republican" seats and is projected to win three seats rated as "lean Democratic" (FL-26, SC-01, and TX-23). 

Image: Carlos Gimenez
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez speaks during a protest at PortMiami by workers in the cruise ship industry wanting to return to work on Oct. 21, 2020, in Miami.Lynne Sladky / AP file

Republicans appear to have picked off one "likely Democratic" seat held by Florida Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala. The GOP was also able to hold all "likely Republican" seats. 

Democrats, by comparison, haven't won any "toss-up" districts so far. They are projected to flip two GOP seats in North Carolina rated "likely Democratic," and hold the majority of the seats in which they were favored. 

Since several races haven't been called, the landscape is likely to change. A historic amount of mail-in ballots is drawing out the vote tabulation process across the country — in several states, Democrats have outperformed Republicans with those mail-in ballots.

And the majority of "toss-up" seats this year – 17 of 26 – were seats where Republicans were on defense (plus another held by retiring Rep. Justin Amash, who was a Republican before leaving the party this year).  

But even though Democrats may go on to win some of those toss-up districts, Republicans are poised to gain seats in a year they were expected to lose seats. And that reality could have an impact on the Democratic majority's governing power, as well as the midterm math in 2022. 

Georgia ad wars: The only game in town

WASHINGTON — After an election that spanned dozens of battleground races up and down the ballot, there's now only one game in town, Georgia. 

Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed earlier this year to replace GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson, will face off against Rev. Raphael Warnock, the Democratic candidate.

While NBC News has not yet projected a winner in Georgia's other seat — a clash between GOP Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff — a runoff there is a serious possibility too, although it's currently too close to call. (Both races were so-called "jungle primaries," which pit all candidates, regardless of party, against each other on Nov. 3. The top two candidates in each race move onto a runoff unless one wins a majority of the vote).

Tens of millions of dollars expected to flood the Peach State in the next eight weeks, with the Senate majority likely hanging in the balance. Here's a look at some of the top ads from each candidate, including new spots hitting the airwaves ahead of the Jan. 5, 2021 runoff. 

Georgia Special Senate Runoff — Loeffler v. Warnock

This is the matchup that's already set in stone, and one where the dynamics are about to change, fast. 

Loeffler had to jockey for Republican voters with Georgia GOP Rep. Doug Collins, an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump's in the House who played a key role in the impeachment hearings. So to counter that, Loeffler hugged Trump tight and repeatedly touted her conservative credentials, to the point that her campaign ultimately turned to humor to prosecute the point. 

Outside of her attacks on Collins, Loeffler ads included: an endorsement from Trump supporter and Georgia football legend Herschel Walker, many spots touting her support of Trump and his agenda, and even spots about how she's "more conservative than Attila the Hun."

 

Warnock, on the other hand, faced no serious Democratic competition and had more room to run. 

In his top spots, he ran a voter education effort letting them know that the alphabetized ballot placed him all the way at the bottom, testimonials from Georgians telling the story of his biography and touting him as an everyman, an endorsement from former President Barack Obama and a spot where he backed expanding Medicaid in the state. 

Locked in that fight for the conservative base, Republicans allowed Warnock to skate through the primary without facing negative ads. Expect that to change soon. But in the meantime, Warnock is making light of the attacks to come, arguing he's "staying focused" on his message instead of the attacks. 

(The possible) Georgia Senate Runoff — Perdue v. Ossoff

While the Associated Press has projected this race will need a runoff, NBC News' Decision Desk still sees it as "too close to call," with Perdue's 49.7 percent just shy of the majority he needs to avoid a runoff. 

If that race moves to a runoff, you'll likely see much of the same trends on the airwaves as over the past few months. 

Ossoff's camp has been hammering Perdue for well-timed stock trades ahead of the pandemic, accusing him of profiting off of it. It's a charge Perdue has denied, including in TV ads of his own 

And Perdue's top ads have attacked Ossoff trying to tie him to China and warning about Ossoff's "radical socialist agenda."

The Democrat has already hit the ground running with new ad buys ahead of the likely runoff, and a new spot about his "path to recovery" from the virus.  But the Republican hasn't hit the airwaves yet, with the fate of his election still uncertain. 

Biden to reach out to state and local officials on mask mandates

President-elect Joe Biden in the coming days will begin calling governors and the mayors of major cities from both parties to encourage them to institute mask mandates as the coronavirus pandemic enters a potentially deadlier phase with winter arriving, according to a senior Biden adviser who briefed NBC News.

"If a governor declines, he'll go to the mayors in the state and ask them to lead," the official said. "In many states, there is the capacity of mayors to institute mandates." Roughly 20 states  already have mask mandates, and research suggests that universal use of masks could save more than 100,000 lives.

The conversations follow on Biden's plans to announce the names of scientists and other experts on his coronavirus task force Monday. 

The Biden team is also looking at a possible mask mandate for federal buildings, a step the Trump administration has not taken even after the president and a number of his top officials and aides, most recently chief of staff Mark Meadows, have become infected. 

The next step, according to the adviser, is to assemble a national testing plan. Biden is directing his team to devise a series of options for both legislation and executive orders to institute a testing plan, given the uncertainty around whether Democrats will be able to get legislation passed.

In late October, Biden laid out a plan to tackle the coronavirus that included testing, contact tracing and vaccines as areas that would be prioritized, while the Biden transition aims to quickly announce picks to run the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One issue is whether Biden will also invoke the Defense Production Act to quickly distribute vaccines. 

President Donald Trump notably rebuffed calls by the American Medical Association, among other health groups, to invoke the 1950s-era act, which would have directed U.S. manufacturers to quickly distribute medical supplies to hospitals during the virus's first major surge in the spring.

With the holidays approaching and significant concern among public health officials that indoor gatherings among family members could lead to Covid-19 spread, Biden will use his platform to "fill the void" left by the administration in stressing the need for social distancing and mask-wearing, said the official.

"Daily cases are skyrocketing," Biden said during remarks Friday evening in Wilmington, Del., just before the election was called. "I want everyone — everyone — to know on Day 1, we're going to put our plan to control this virus into action."

A Biden spokesperson said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the coronavirus task force will be led by Dr. Vivek Murthy, a former surgeon general, and Dr. David Kessler, who led the FDA during the 1990s. 

 

Clyburn jokes Biden 'owes me' — for interrupting golf outing

At the moment Joe Biden was projected as the president-elect, the man whose critical endorsement put him in position for victory was “on the 14th tee box” on a golf course in South Carolina. But aides implored him to interrupt his round once the result came in.  

“It was one of the best rounds moneywise I’ve had all year!” Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., joked in an interview with NBC News, saying he was ahead $30 in his round with some friends. “So when I see Joe, I’m going to let him know he owes me some money.”

The South Carolina congressman said he hasn’t spoken yet with Biden, but expects he will soon. They last spoke on election night, when Biden was “in a cautious mood” — unsure yet if he would be able to overcome the early leads President Trump posted in key states like Pennsylvania. “There was some apprehension there,” he said. 

But Clyburn said he was elated now at Biden’s victory and eager to get to work with him.

“He gave my kind of speech last night, so I don’t need to tell him anything,” he said. “What he said was pitch perfect.”

Clyburn said he would listen to any entreaties to join the administration but that it wasn't his preference. “I would never say never. But I will say this: I do not aspire to be in the administration.”

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.   

Image: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci is reflected in a video monitor behind him on stage as he listens to the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci is reflected in a video monitor behind him on stage as he listens to a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House in April.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters file

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. 

Image: Kamala Harris Campaigns In Pennsylvania On Eve Of Election Day
Supporters of President Donald Trump demonstrate across the street from a venue where Sen. Kamala Harris will hold a campaign event on Nov. 2, 2020 in Bethlehem, Pa.Mark Makela / Getty Images

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.

President Donald Trump at a rally in Waterford Township, Mich., on Oct. 30, 2020.
President Donald Trump at a rally in Waterford Township, Mich., on Oct. 30, 2020.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

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. 

Image: Susan Collins
Senator Susan Collins after the weekly Republican Party caucus luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 26, 2019.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters file

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.  

Image: Supporters of U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden distribute campaign signs in Madison, Wisconsin
Campaign signs at a distribution site for Joe Biden supporters in Madison, Wis., on Oct. 17, 2020.Bing Guan / Reuters

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.

Image: Democratic presidential candidate, former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg speaks  during a rally held at the Bricktown Events Center
Democratic presidential candidate, former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg speaks during a rally held at the Bricktown Events Center on Feb. 27, 2020 in Oklahoma City.Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

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.

Trump narrowly lost the state to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and continues to trail in polls to Biden, but made his third trip to the state this year on Sunday. 

“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. 

Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in Londonderry, N.H., on Oct. 25, 2020.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

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. 

Democratic Senate candidates have ad spending advantage in nearly every competitive race

WASHINGTON — Democratic Senate candidates have outspent Republicans in TV and radio ad spending in nearly every competitive Senate race, according to data from Advertising Analytics. 

In Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, one Georgia seat, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas the Democratic challenger or incumbent has outspent the Republican on TV and radio ads. The only race where Republicans have outspent Democrats is the special election in Georgia which features two Republican candidates, Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rep. Doug Collins, and just one chief Democratic candidate, Rev. Raphael Warnock. 

Democrats are outspending Republicans by nearly 2-to-1. The deficit in spending is tighter, though, when outside groups like the National Senate Republican Senatorial Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and PACs are factored in. Republican groups have boosted funding in Colorado, Georgia, Kansas and Kentucky so much that the combined Republican effort in those races is greater than the Democratic effort.

But in key races that could turn Senate control over to the Democrats, the Democratic candidates are dominating the airwaves. 

Image: Jaime Harrison, Lindsey Graham
From left, Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., from right, debate in the South Carolina Senate debate at Allen University in Columbia, S.C., on Oct. 3, 2020.Joshua Boucher / The State via AP

Mark Kelly, the Democratic challenger in Arizona, has spent over $37 million on TV and radio ads in the general election — incumbent Sen. Martha McSally has spent just about $17.8 million in that same time frame. When the total Democratic and Republican efforts are added in, the Democratic effort has still spent $19.6 million more on the airwaves. 

It's a similar story in Iowa. Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield has spent $29.2 million on ads while Republican Sen. Joni Ernst has spent $10.6 million. Even with outside money, the Democratic spending has over $18 million on Republican spending. 

Republicans' best case to keep Senate control would be to win races currently rated as a toss-up, while flipping Alabama Sen. Doug Jones' seat. 

The Cook Political Report has rated both Georgia seats, Iowa, Maine, Montana, North Carolina and South Carolina as toss-ups. 

The Senate races in South Carolina and North Carolina have brought out the biggest spending. The total Democratic effort in South Carolina  is over $66 million — the total effort to re-elect Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham has been about $44.8 million. In North Carolina, the Democratic effort has topped $112 million, while incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis' total effort is about $95.7 million. 

Democrats' ability to win outright control of the Senate would be netting four seats. They would also maintain control if they had a net gain of three seats and Joe Biden won the White House with would-be Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote. 

Key to that victory could be keeping Michigan's open Senate seat in Democratic hands. Sen. Gary Peters is being challenged by Republican John James, and the race has tightened over several weeks. Plus the two campaigns have spent close to the same amount on radio and TV ad buys. The total effort to re-elect Peters in the general election is about $50.3 million. The total Republican effort to elect James is $46.2 million.  

Democratic presidential effort poised to outspend Republicans $93 million to $41 million in race's final days

WASHINGTON — President Trump's campaign is poised to be heavily outspent on TV and radio ads in the final six days ahead of Election Day.

Trump's campaign has $10.1 million booked on television and radio between Wednesday and Election Day, compared to Biden's $46.9 million, according to Advertising Analytics, an ad-tracking firm. 

The president can still count on a big assist from the Republican National Committee, which is spending another $12.6 million in key swing states, and from outside groups set to spend tens of millions more.

But when all aligned outside groups are combined with the campaign's future spending, Democrats are set to outspend Republicans $93.4 million to $40.7 million on the presidential ad airwaves in the closing days. 

Image: U.S. President Donald Trump holds a campaign rally at Capital Region International Airport in Lansing, Michigan
President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Lansing, Mich., on Oct. 27, 2020.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

In many states, the majority of Trump's spend is coming from a joint effort by the RNC and the Trump campaign. 

Trump has just $400,000 booked between Wednesday and Election Day in Arizona, where he's counting on an assist of $2.3 million in spending from the RNC. Biden is set to spend $5.8 million on ads there in the next six days. 

In Florida, Trump's campaign has just $300,000 booked over that same period, with the RNC set to spend $2.1 million on TV and radio. Yet, Biden has more than $7 million in ad bookings there through Election Day, and Democrats as a whole are set to outspend Republicans there by a factor of four. 

Trump has no spending planned for Iowa, Nevada or Texas in the next six days, three states where the RNC isn't currently planning to spend more than a few hundred thousand dollars. And Trump and the RNC combined have booked $900,000 in spending in Wisconsin, compared to $3 million for Biden and the DNC.

The re-election campaign, both the Trump campaign and the RNC, has its biggest comparative investments in Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina and Ohio, when compared to the amount the Biden campaign has invested there. 

  • In Georgia, Biden and the DNC plan to spend $1.7 million, compared to Trump and the RNC's $1.1 million.
  • In Michigan, Biden and the DNC plan to spend $5 million, compared to Trump and the RNC's $4.8 million.
  • In Minnesota, Trump and the RNC are set to outspend their rivals $1.4 million to $1.1 million
  • In North Carolina, Biden and the DNC plan to spend $4.9 million, compared to Trump and the RNC's $4.1 million
  • And in Ohio, Biden and the DNC plan to spend about $1.2 millon, compared to Trump and the RNC's $1.1 million

All of those states but Minnesota were ones Trump won in 2016. 

The data from Advertising Analytics shows the joint RNC/Trump campaign account paying for more spending in these closing days than the Trump campaign is alone. By comparison, the Biden campaign alone is paying for virtually all of its ads down the stretch.

These spending numbers are not completely final, as groups can still move money around, but represent the current ad reservations by Tuesday afternoon. 

The differing strategies aren't unprecedented — national party committees typically work hand-in-glove with presidential candidates in the general election. 

But Trump's campaign has been battling cash woes for a while — most recent filings with the Federal Election Commission show Trump's campaign committee itself had $43.6 million banked away as of Oct. 14, while Biden's campaign committee had $162 million. 

And Biden has been outspending Trump in key battleground states for weeks — he spent more than Trump from Oct. 20-26 in every single state rated as a toss up or leaning on the NBC News Political Unit's latest battleground map.

The Trump campaign partially addressed the ad disparity in a statement refuting reports that it was "pulling" ads down in Florida.

"The campaign, with the RNC coordinated buy, is up with a seven figure buy in Florida on broadcast TV alone.  In addition in Florida, we are up with six figures in local cable, six figures in Spanish language, and six figures on radio," Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said, touting the campaign's investments over the race's final two weeks. 

"Including Florida, the Trump campaign is on television in 12 states and also nationally." 

Monica Alba contributed

Pence keeps campaign schedule despite Covid-19 outbreak

WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence has continued a robust campaign schedule and will travel throughout the country during the final week of the election, despite a Covid-19 outbreak among close aides and staff.

Five of Pence's aides, including his chief of staff Marc Short, his “body man” Zach Bauer, and his senior political adviser Marty Obst, have tested positive for the coronavirus. Despite being in close contact with several of those aides, Pence is not quarantining because his active campaigning was deemed essential work.

"While Vice President Pence is considered a close contact with Mr. Short, in consultation with the White House Medical Unit, the Vice President will maintain his schedule in accordance with the CDC guidelines for essential personnel," the vice president's press secretary Devin O’Malley wrote in a statement.

Pence traveled on Sunday and Monday to campaign in North Carolina and Minnesota, respectively. The vice president's aggressive travel schedules comes amid renewed scrutiny of the safety precautions being put in place after the outbreak among the vice president's staff. 

A source familiar with the procedures said contact tracing was completed, and that three Pence aides —  Bauer and the two unnamed staffers — began protectively quarantining Tuesday after Obst tested positive.

Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence have reported testing negative for Covid-19 since confirmation of the positive cases close to them were disclosed. 

Image: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence rally in Kinston, North Carolina
Vice President Mike Pence speaks at a rally in Kinston, N.C., on Oct. 25, 2020.Jonathan Drake / Reuters

However, Pence was notably absent at the White House's swearing in ceremony for now-Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett on Monday. Pence was originally supposed to preside over the Senate for her confirmation vote. He announced earlier in the day on Monday that he would not be present at the vote but would be in D.C. if his vote was needed to confirm Barrett's nomination.

Pence’s office did not respond to NBC News’ multiple requests for comment on why he would skip that event but still travel to campaign.

Pence is expected to travel to North Carolina and South Carolina on Tuesday, and visit several battleground for the rest of the week: Stopping in Wisconsin and Michigan on Wednesday, and Iowa and Nevada on Thursday. 

However, while Pence will continue to travel, some new policies have been put in place. 

Both Pence and the second lady are tested for Covid-19 every day, and Pence and his staff that travels have been wearing masks consistently — something that was more relaxed prior to the outbreak. On Air Force Two, Pence has been seen wearing his mask, and is not getting visitors in his private cabin. The travel staff has also been cutdown for several events compared to the dozens that were present before.

Pence has also cutdown on his time interacting with supporters. After both of his events on Sunday and Monday, Pence went straight between his plane and the stage for his speeches. Typically, before the outbreak, Pence would work the rope line without wearing a mask. The vice president has also stopped doing regional interviews while campaigning. Normally, Pence would conduct two to five regional interviews during a day of events to make sure he hit local TV markets. 

Barrett ascendance isn't clear cut winner for Trump among GOP suburban women in focus group

WASHINGTON — When President Trump announced Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court pick last month, GOP strategist Sarah Longwell, a co-founder of Republican Voters Against Trump, threw together an impromptu Zoom meeting with her ongoing focus group of nine college-educated suburban Republican women — all of whom voted for Trump in 2016 but are now undecided — to gauge how it was playing. 

Her assumption, she told NBC News, was that the nomination of a conservative woman to the high court could be a last-minute boon for Trump’s re-election bid.

Based on what she heard, that assumption was wrong.

“Not a single person brought up the courts." Longwell, who opposes Trump, said. Instead, "they were all super upset” about Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transition of power and “a number offered they were leaning more towards Biden because they couldn’t believe Trump said that.”

Barrett was officially sworn in as an Associate Justice on Tuesday.

Weeks later, and with a different group of women who voted for Trump in 2016, Longwell said she still wasn't seeing the pick as a boon to the president politically. “They don’t want the court to go too far right, they want balance, even the ones that are pretty hard-core conservative. And half the groups are always pro-choice,” she said.

Longwell said that her observations revealed that many of these women don’t prioritize the court, especially not over concerns about Trump’s behavior and temperament. A number viewed the rush to confirm before the Nov. 3 election as “unfair.” And others expressed deep respect for former Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who helped uphold Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling guaranteeing access to legal abortion.

“I actually think it’s a minus” for Trump with suburban women, said Lesa Brackbill, a 37-year-old lifelong Republican who voted for Trump and describes herself as anti-abortion rights. “Integrity matters to me” and the fact that Republicans are “doing this” after blocking President Obama’s election-year nominee “is wrong,” said Brackbill, of Hershey, Penn.

Brackbill said she remained undecided about who to support in the presidential race.

Now the Trump re-election campaign is scrambling to hold on to these suburban women, who have grown skeptical about Trump and are shifting to supporting Joe Biden in large numbers, according to multiple public polls. 

These voters include older women who have experienced decades of political fights over abortion rights as well as their daughters — most born after Roe — who consider it settled law.

Wednesday Hripak, a 45-year-old landscape company manager in North Carolina, is among them: “For me, it is a huge factor,” said Hripak, a registered Republican who is pro-abortion rights and voted for Trump but is now leaning toward Biden. Barrett will dramatically shift the court, she said.

“These older men and figures that have been in politics and running the country for so long shouldn’t be having the final say on women’s health care,” said Hripak.

According to Pew Research Center, even Republican-leaning women are roughly split on Roe v Wade, a decision Democrats say Barrett would likely vote to overturn.

Indeed, the last Supreme Court confirmation fight, over seating Justice Brett Kavanaugh, illustrates that court battles aren’t a motivating factor for many suburban women, especially for the GOP. After his  confirmation, female voter enthusiasm split pretty equally by party, while it pushed independent women to the Democratic side by 12 points.

The court battles — and their focus on abortion rights — is even shifting the political advantage toward the Democrats, experts say. With Trump almost certain to seat his third justice before Election Day, the fate of Roe, once thought irreversible, suddenly appears at risk. “This is the first time we know of since we’ve had data that the Democrats are more energized than the Republicans,” said Celinda Lake, a longtime Democratic pollster.

Battleground ad spending: Biden maintains advantage in key swing states

WASHINGTON — A look at the TV and radio ad spending in the battleground states helps tell the story behind Joe Biden's lead, showing big spending advantages over President Donald Trump in places like Michigan, Wisconsin and even Pennsylvania.

Biden outspent Trump in every single one of the states rated as toss ups or leaning on the NBC News Political Unit's latest battleground map over the last week (Oct 20-26). 

Here’s some state-by-state analysis:

Arizona: Biden and Trump both slightly boosted spending over the last week, with Biden spending more than double Trump — $5.7 million to $2 million. GOP outside groups have tried to close the gap for Trump, but Democrats retained a significant edge with help from their outside groups, too.  

Florida: Biden increased spending here, while Trump decreased spending week-over-week — the Democrat spent three times as much as the Republican ($8.4 million to $2.8 million). Total spending for Republicans (campaigns + outside groups) is virtually stagnant, while total Democratic spending increased week-over-week by 23 percent. 

Georgia: Directionally, both campaigns slightly increased their investment. But Biden spent almost three times Trump over that seven-day stretch, $1.7 million to less than $600,000. When you factor in outside groups, Republicans have a $500,000 edge.   

Iowa: Biden has significantly upped the ante here, going from $700,000 two weeks ago to more than $1.1 million last week. Trump spent just $200,000 over the past week. But with outside spending, it's the red team with the edge, $2.5 million to $1.7 million

Michigan: Biden has outspent Trump here every individual day since well before Labor Day, and it shows. Biden spent more than $4 million over the week, with Trump under $2 million. And when factoring in outside groups (including a big $4.7 million week for Future Forward), it’s a 3-to-1 advantage for the blue team.

A boy holds a sign while waiting for the arrival of Sen. Kamala Harris on Oct. 25, 2020 in Pontiac, Mich.
A boy holds a sign while waiting for the arrival of Sen. Kamala Harris on Oct. 25, 2020 in Pontiac, Mich.Nic Antaya / Getty Images

Nevada: Both campaigns increased their TV/radio ad investment here, but with Biden significantly outpacing Trump. With outside groups, the Democrats are spending about 10 times that of Republicans

North Carolina: Trump is benefitting from a big GOP outside-spending push. Biden spent $3.8 million last week to Trump’s $2.6, but that amounted to a weekly increase for both campaigns. When outside groups are included, the advantage goes to Team Trump by almost $3 million (or almost 40 percent). 

Ohio: Biden decreased his spend here over the past week to $1.1 million, but neither the Trump campaign nor any GOP outside groups have been on the board in weeks. 

Pennsylvania: Biden keeps increasing his spending to the moon, eclipsing $8 million in just one week, a number matched by the Democratic outside group Future Forward. With Trump spending just $1.4 million last week there, the total spending gap that week (when you factor in outside groups) was about $24 million to $8 million.  

Texas: Biden has decreased his spending to about $600,000 for the week (and he’s getting outside help), while Trump and GOP outside groups were dark.  

Wisconsin: A bloodbath similar to Pennsylvania, both on the candidate and outside group sides. Biden outspent Trump by about 10 times ($3 million to under $300,000). And including outside groups, Democrats hold a huge edge of $9 million to less than $4 million. Note: The Trump campaign was the 10th biggest spender in Wisconsin over past week. 

Majority of Americans don't expect to know presidential winner on Election Day

WASHINGTON — A week out from Election Day, a majority of American adults don't expect to know who will win the presidential race on Nov. 3, according to new data from the latest NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Tracking Poll. 

Sixty-eight percent of adults said they don't expect to know if President Trump or Joe Biden won the election on election night, but there's a split in how long people will think it will take to find out. Thirty-eight percent said they expect to know within a few days, 19 percent said within a few weeks and 11 percent said they expect it to take longer than a few weeks. 

Thirty percent of Americans said they still expect to know who won the contest on Nov. 3. 

The data comes as a record number of votes have already been cast in this election either by mail-in ballots or early voting in-person. According to NBC News Decision Desk and Target Smart data, 62 million voters have cast their ballot early. The total early vote in 2016 was 50 million. 

Image: People line up outside a polling station located at the McFaul Activity Center in Bel Air, Harford County, during early voting in Md
People line up outside a polling station located at the McFaul Activity Center in Bel Air, Harford County, during early voting in Md., Oct. 27, 2020.Hannah McKay / Reuters

In the NBC News|SurveyMonkey poll, 38 percent of adults said they have already voted. Another 42 percent said it is "absolutely certain" that they will vote. Just eight percent of adults said they will not vote. A majority of adults who reported that they already voted were Democrats or Democratic-leaners. Fifty-two percent of Democrats and those who lean Democratic said they already voted, while 31 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaners said the same. Nineteen percent of independents said they already voted. 

A stark 69 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaners said they voted by mail and 30 percent said they voted early in-person. Comparatively, 52 percent of Republican and Republican-leaners said they voted by mail and 47 percent said they voted early in person. Sixty-eight percent of independents said they mailed in their ballot while 31 percent said they went to the polls in person. 

The amount of mail-in ballots could be the reason a winner is not declared on election night. In several key states to both Biden and Trump's win, like Pennsylvania, early ballots cannot be counted until Election Day.  Other swing states though, like Florida, expect to have results on Nov. 3 because they begin counting ballots early. 

Both sides ramp up ground games in suddenly battleground state of Texas

HOUSTON — With just a week to go until Election Day both Democrat and Republican groups are on the ground in Texas working to turn-out last-minute voters. 

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican Super PAC has invested $1 million in the state, in an effort to turn out voters in areas where there hasn’t been a robust GOP voter outreach effort.

“We are trying to reach low propensity voters, Republicans who haven’t always gone out to vote,” Gabriela Hernandez, a project manager for the group told NBC News. The organization’s strategy is to talk to voters about local issues and congressional races in hopes that they will turn out to help Republican candidates win up and down the ballot. “Everyone knows how close it can be,” Hernandez said. “So these efforts right now hitting just these 1,000 doors can really make a difference.”

Meanwhile Democratic groups like the Texas Organizing Project are also barnstorming the state alongside Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke. They’re focused on galvanizing Black and Latino voters who are registered to vote, but haven’t done so historically. The goal: to turn Texas, a historically red state, blue. 

“It’s going to pay off on November third because guess what, we’re going to flip Texas,” Texas Organizing Project Deputy Director Brianna Brown, told NBC News. 

And O’Rourke says a win for Democrats in Texas could have implications far beyond just the presidential race. 

“[Texas] is the state that could put Joe Biden over the top on election night, help us win a Democratic majority in the statehouse and help control — help flip control of the us senate.”

More than 7.1 million Texas voters have already cast ballots, more than any other state in the country. The latest polls show Former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump in a dead heat in the Lone Star State. 

Democrats hold big edge in Spanish-language TV and radio spending up and down ballot

WASHINGTON — Much has been made about the significant ad spending advantage enjoyed by Democrats this cycle, but the trend extends to Spanish-language ads too, up and down the ballot. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign has spent $17.3 million on Spanish-language television and radio ads, compared to the Trump campaign's $8.3 million through Sunday, according to Advertising Analytics. 

And that margin is even bigger when outside groups are taken into consideration — overall, Democratic groups have spent $51.6 million on Spanish-language presidential TV and radio ads to the GOP's $9.8 million, per Advertising Analytics. 

Both presidential campaigns are embarking on similar Spanish-language strategies on the TV airwaves, at least at the broad level — a mix of ads that evoke their central campaign themes, along with specific messages targeting the Hispanic community.

For example, many of Trump's Spanish ads evoke his rhetoric on the economy (he regularly boasts about how minority unemployment dropped during his campaign, before the coronavirus pandemic), with people praising the Trump economy. But he also is making explicit arguments to Spanish-speakers by trying to argue that the nation under Biden would resemble the socialist/communist regimes in Latin and South American countries.

Biden's embarking on a similar combination of translating his general campaign message into Spanish, but also running spots targeted specifically on issues the campaign thinks will resonate with Spanish-speakers. Their spots include the sweeping calls for a new direction in America that's become a central message of his campaign, as well as testimonial ads from Spanish speakers criticizing Trump's economic record and coronavirus response. 

But he's also running those more targeted messages, pushing back on the socialist attacks and criticizing Trump's response to Hurricane Maria hitting Puerto Rico. 

The Spanish-language ad advantage can be seen down-ballot too. In Senate races, Democrats have spent $16.1 million on Spanish-language TV and radio ads to the GOP's $1.7 million.

And in House races, Democrats have spent $11.6 million on Spanish-language ads to the GOP's $3.8 million, per Advertising Analytics.

Biden spokesperson on campaign travel: We're trying to keep communities safe

WASHINGTON — A top aide to Joe Biden’s presidential bid defended the campaign’s in-person event schedule as compared to President Donald Trump’s more robust travel during the coronavirus pandemic, arguing that the Democrat is pushing forward “aggressively” while still keeping communities safe.

Trump has personally visited North Carolina, Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania a combined 19 times since Sept. 1, compared to Biden’s 14 in-person visits to those states.

And it’s not just the candidates — the Biden campaign resumed its door-to-door battleground state canvassing in October after the pandemic shifted the campaign largely to virtual organizing. By comparison, the Trump re-election effort re-started its in-person canvassing months earlier.

When asked about the campaign’s strategy regarding in-person events, deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said that Biden’s schedule represents a balance.

“We are campaigning incredibly hard. Vice President Biden has visited all of these battleground states multiple times. He was in Pennsylvania yesterday,” she said

“We have been very aggressively campaigning, but here’s the difference between what we are doing and what Donald Trump is doing: We’re doing it safely. We’re taking into account the safety of these communities that we’re visiting.”

Bedingfield pointed to reports linking Trump’s rallies to Covid-19 cases — some Trump rally attendees have subsequently become diagnosed with the virus, most notably in Minnesota and Oklahoma, although it’s unclear where they were first exposed.

According to Minnesota Public Radio, there has also been one case connected to a Biden campaign stop in the state.

Trump campaign senior adviser Corey Lewandowski told "Meet the Press" Sunday that the president is focusing on his closing argument.

“The president’s message should be, and continues to be, the promises that he’s made and the promises that he’s kept,” Lewandowski.

“Whether you care about Middle East peace, which he’s been able to do, rebuilding our military or building the strongest economy,” he added, “that’s the closing message. The closing message is: We have an opportunity to set our country forth in the next four years for a path we’ve been on the last four years.”

With just nine days to go before Election Day, Biden is heading to Georgia in what Bedingfield called an attempt to “shore up “as many paths to 270 electoral votes as we possibly can,” including one through a state that hasn’t backed the Democratic presidential candidate since 1992.

“We believe that we are seeing energy all across the country for Joe Biden and against Donald Trump,” she said.

Trump hasn't met with coronavirus task force in months, not expected to before election

President Donald Trump has not attended a White House coronavirus task force meeting in months and is not expected to do so in the final days before the election, according to an administration official.

Although nationwide Covid-19 infections reached a new high on Thursday, the president has decided to focus on his re-election campaign and continue a rigorous rally schedule in the closing stretch. It comes as Trump continues to promise the virus will “go away” and claim “we’re rounding the corner,” despite data to the contrary. 

The president has delegated most of the current task force work to Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the group and leads its discussions. Those meetings used to be more frequent in the earlier months of the health crisis but have since become less regular with the 2020 race taking priority for the White House. 

The director of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, said recently it has been “quite some time” since the president met with the group of agency heads navigating the pandemic.

“Obviously it's a bit of a chaotic time with the election,” Collins told NPR.  “There's not a direct connection between the task force members and the president as there was a few months ago. But this seems to be a different time with different priorities.”  

Instead, Trump is “routinely briefed” on the team’s findings and recommendations by Pence, according to press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. 

Notably, Trump is also being closely advised on the pandemic by Dr. Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no background in infectious diseases. He was brought on to the task force in August, after the president saw his appearances on Fox News and appreciated that Atlas’ controversial views on the coronavirus more closely aligned with his desire to reopen states and schools. 

Atlas has repeatedly questioned the efficacy of masks and Twitter recently flagged one of his messages for violating its misinformation policy. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, NIAID director, and Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force response coordinator, have not appeared alongside the president in months. They were a near-constant presence in the briefing room earlier this year, before a shift in strategy that sent Birx on the road to push the administration’s message and left Fauci to do media interviews from beyond the White House grounds. 

NBC’s Kristen Welker pressed the president at the final debate in Nashville on what health experts he is actually listening to, if he considers Fauci to be a “disaster” and other scientists to be “idiots.” Trump responded: “I’m listening to all of them.” 

Trump campaign goes for kitchen-sink approach in new Spanish-language ad

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's campaign is out with a new Spanish-language ad that throws the kitchen sink at former Vice President Joe Biden in the hopes of diminishing him among Florida's diverse Hispanic community. 

For Cuban voters, there’s a photo of Biden kneeling superimposed in front of a flag of Che Guevara and the ad also accuses him of betraying Nicaraguans, abandoning the Venezuelans, and being the candidate of Castro-Chavistas. The spot ends with Trump declaring “America will never be a socialist country.” 

Team Trump has been trying to dent Biden's image among Florida Hispanics as polls over the last few months have shown the Democrat underperforming there.  

Meanwhile, the Biden campaign recently started running testimonial spots of Spanish-speaking individuals telling their own stories — combatting the socialist charge against Biden, attacking Trump on Puerto Rican hurricane recovery and the coronavirus, and criticizing Trump's hydroxychloroquine push. 

Biden campaign launches new ads to combat Trump attacks among Latino voters

Cecilia, a young Venezuelan immigrant living in Kissimmee, Florida says that when members of her community tell her they’re not voting for Joe Biden because they have heard he’s a socialist, she stops to tell them that they should worry about President Donald Trump instead.

“Socialism, for me as a Venezuelan, was one of the most important things that destroyed my country. It may sound crazy to compare Trump with [Venezuelan President] Nicolas Maduro, but the reality is they’re very similar,” she says before comparing their authoritative tendencies to criticize opponents in a new one-minute TV ad airing in Cuban and Venezuelan-rich South Florida.

Her story is one of three testimonial ads the Biden campaign is releasing across 10 key states with high Latino populations in the final two weeks of the election as they hope to combat attacks Trump has launched against Biden’s in those communities

Arizona voters will hear from Lidia, a Mexican-American first-time voter whose lupus returned after she was unable to receive hydroxychloroquine to treat her disease because the president falsely declared the drug a treatment for the coronavirus. And to appeal to Puerto Ricans living in Florida and Pennsylvania, the campaign is running a bilingual TV ad featuring a Puerto Rican priest who says Trump “abandoned” the community during Hurricane Maria and again on the coronavirus.  

The campaign considers it most affect to air ads with Latinos who speak to common experiences and similar accents as those living across battlegrounds, a micro-targeting strategy they believe makes the most convincing appeal to support Biden within the community.

Three other TV and digital ads focus on reintroducing Biden’s record to a largely immigrant community who did not live in the U.S. during his early political career by reminding them of how he helped end the 2008 economic and his plan to do so again. The campaign also notably targets younger Latino voters, a huge voting bloc that could swing the election if they turnout, by telling them how Biden and Harris would work alongside them if elected.

Former RNC chair Michael Steele endorses Biden

Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has endorsed Joe Biden, the first such endorsement of a Democratic presidential nominee in the modern era.

Steele was elected party chairman in 2009 as the GOP sought to regroup from President Barack Obama's historic victory in 2008 and he presided over the RNC as it marshaled tea party opposition to the Obama-Biden administration to make significant gains in Congress and across the country in the 2010 midterms.

A former lieutenant governor of Maryland, Steele lost a 2006 bid for U.S. Senate in the heavily Democratic state. He has become an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, serving as a senior adviser of the Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump super PAC. But until Tuesday morning he had not officially endorsed Biden.

His backing comes as the Trump campaign has sought to make inroads among African American voters, especially younger Black men who have tended to support Biden in lower numbers than other age groups.

Because of his role with the Lincoln Project, it's unlikely Steele, who is also a political analyst for MSNBC, would play a direct role in Biden's campaign or act as a surrogate. But he informed the Biden campaign of his plans to publicly support him.

Biden outspent Trump on the airwaves in every key battleground state over past week

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential campaign has outspent that of President Donald Trump on television and radio ads in every key battleground state over the last seven days as the Trump re-election effort continues to fall behind the Democrat in fundraising. 

Over the last seven days, Biden outspent Trump in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin, per the latest figures from Advertising Analytics.

That's every single state listed as a toss-up or leaning Democrat/Republican by the Cook Political Report, meaning that Biden has the TV/radio spending edge in every single one of the most competitive states. 

Biden already had the edge in an overwhelming number of battleground states, but his total supremacy on the airwaves there came this past week when the Trump campaign cut its TV spending in Georgia in half week-over-week to about $720,000. Meanwhile, the Biden campaign boosted its weekly spend in Georgia to $1.5 million over the last seven days. 

TV and radio spending don't make up the full story. Trump's campaign is still spending heavily on digital platforms, and if money meant everything, Trump would have lost the 2016 race to Democrat Hillary Clinton. 

But it's the latest sign of ways in which the resource gap may be having an impact on the race — dueling announcements from the campaigns last week revealed that the effort to elect Biden significantly outraised the Trump re-elect in September, and that the pro-Biden effort entered October with $180 million more in the bank than Trump's re-elect. 

Senate Democrats post historic fundraising totals as battle for Senate control reaches home stretch

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats are riding a wave of historic third-quarter fundraising numbers into the final weeks before Election Day, even as Republicans are raising significant money of their own. 

Before this quarter, no Senate candidate had ever raised more in a single three-month quarter than former Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who raised more than $38 million in the third quarter of 2018. 

But between July and September of this year, South Carolina Democrat Jaime Harrison raised $58 million, Maine Democrat Sara Gideon raised $39.4 million and Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly raised $38.7 million. 

U.S. Senate candidate Sara Gideon speaks at campaign event on Feb. 19, 2020 in Skowhegan, Maine.
U.S. Senate candidate Sara Gideon speaks at campaign event on Feb. 19, 2020 in Skowhegan, Maine.Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Six other Democrats — Kentucky's Amy McGrath ($36.8 million), Iowa's Theresa Greenfield ($28.8 million), North Carolina's Cal Cunningham ($28.3 million), Montana's Steve Bullock ($26.8 million), Colorado's John Hickenlooper ($22.6 million), and Georgia's Jon Ossoff ($21.3 million) all raised more than $20 million last quarter. 

With Harrison raising more than any other Democrat, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham outraised all other Republican Senate candidates with $28.4 million. Arizona Republican Sen. Martha McSally raised $22.7 million, Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell raised $15.7 million, Michigan Republican John James raised $14.4 million and Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines raised $11.5 million. 

It's clear the Democrats have the fundraising edge — when looking at all the Senate races rated "likely" or more competitive by the Cook Political Report (except Georgia's special election, where a slew of candidates are still running in a jungle primary), the average Democrat raised about $26 million last quarter compared to the average Republican's $10.2 million. 

But as Democrats spend big, primarily on television airwaves, the average Democrat has a similar amount of money in the bank than the average Republican candidate — $9.5 million in cash on hand for the average Democrat and $7.1 million for the average Republican. 

For example, despite raising almost $58 million last quarter, Harrison's South Carolina campaign had about $8 million in cash-on-hand, about equal with Graham. And while North Carolina's Cunningham outraised Republican Sen. Thom Tillis by a factor of four, Tillis ended the quarter with $6.6 million in the bank to Cunningham's $4.2 million. 

Biden camp appears to be heading into final stretch with serious cash advantage over Trump re-elect

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden's campaign apparatus appears to have significantly outraised President Donald Trump's re-election effort in September, according to both campaigns, with the Democrat heading into the final stretch of the presidential campaign with a massive resource advantage.

On Wednesday, the Biden campaign announced that it (along with the Democratic National Committee and its affiliated joint-fundraising committees) raised $383 million in September, ending the month with $432 million in cash on hand between them all. 

The Trump campaign tweeted Thursday that the Trump re-election apparatus (the campaign, the Republican National Committee) raised $247.8 million in September and had $251.4 million banked away. 

That means the Biden effort outraised the Trump effort by $136 million, and went into October with a more than $180 million cash advantage. Since all of these groups have to file their campaign finance reports at different times, the campaigns historically announce the top-line totals for their whole apparatus each month. So it's unclear at this moment how much of the money raised by each side is hard money raised directly to the campaign versus how much is controlled by the national parties.

The dynamic hasn't changed in recent months, with the Biden organization significantly outpacing Trump both in fundraising and cash-on-hand. And that's been reflected in how they are spending their money. 

Biden's campaign has spent $355.5 million on TV and radio ads since March 31, compared to Trump's $201.8 million, according to data from Advertising Analytics. And the discrepancies in the battleground states have been striking. 

The Democrat has outspent Trump by about a 2-to-1 margin in Arizona and Minnesota, as well as by roughly a 3-to-1 margin in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

And the spending disparity has exacerbated down the stretch — since Labor Day, the Biden campaign has spent about $166 million in key battleground states (Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin), compared to Trump's $72 million in those states. 

Biden camp taps Hollywood stars, jam bands, retired general for fundraisers

WASHINGTON -- Justin Timberlake, Natalie Portman, Alanis Morissette and more are lending their star power to Joe Biden's campaign coffers for virtual fundraisers in the closing weeks of the campaign, according to a list of invitations to the events obtained by NBC News.

Democrats have long tapped Hollywood stars for money and glitz, but the shift from in-person to virtual events during the coronavirus pandemic has made it easier for campaigns to book stars and put on more elaborate events, such as re-assembling the entire cast of a classic film for the first time ever to perform a live script read.

Meanwhile, retired four-star Gen. Stan McChrystal, the former top commander in Afghanistan who endorsed Biden earlier this month, is hosting a virtual fundraiser with Richard Armitage, a former top State Department official under George W. Bush.

Morissette, the Canadian-American singer, will appear with the cast of the new Broadway musical based on her 1995 hit album Jagged Little Pill. The cast of "The West Wing," a political touchstone for many liberals, will host a trivia night, while the creator and stars of Amazon's "Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" will appear together for Biden as well.

The cast of the 2001 cult-classic comedy "Wet Hot American Summer" and others — including Elizabeth Banks, Chris Pine, Jason Schwartzman and Michael Cera — will perform a live reading of the script later this month.

Vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris will host a virtual reception for Tennessee-based donors with Memphis-native Timberlake and actress Ashley Judd, who once considered a Senate run in neighboring Kentucky. 

Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke will host an event featuring musicians Willie Nelson, David Crosby, the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir and jam band Widespread Panic's Dave Schools. Actresses Fran Drescher and Shannon Elizabeth will also appear, along with TV personality Montel Williams "and more" yet to be named.

The Biden campaign is also holding a Star Trek-themed "Trek the vote" event featuring actors from five versions of the sci-fi franchise, including Patrick Stewart, George Takei, and LeVar Burton along with three Democrats who have spoken publicly about their love of Star Trek: Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg, and Stacey Abrams.

Natalie Portman will appear at food and agriculture-themed virtual event alongside former Obama White House chef and policy adviser Sam Kass and Roots drummer Questlove. Restaurateur José Andrés, who clashed with President Donald Trump over aborted plans to open a restaurant in his Washington, D.C. hotel,  will discuss Biden's plans to help revive the restaurant industry after the pandemic. 

Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr will appear with former Rep. Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, who is running for Senate in Arizona.

Comedians Aasif Mandvi, Aparna Nancherla and Sendhil Ramamurthy will help host a "South Asian Block Party." And Rita Moreno, one of the few Puerto Rican members of the cast of the original "West Side Story" film, will host a conversation with Democratic strategist Maria Cardona.

The Biden campaign has been raking in money at an unprecedented clip after a slow start, which has allowed it to outspend the Trump campaign in key battlegrounds.

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.

Image: Senators Meet With Supreme Court Nominee Amy Coney Barrett
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.

Image: US-VOTE
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. 

Image: Jaime Harrison
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. 

Image: Amy Coney Barrett
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. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle Obama releases 'closing argument' for Joe Biden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Espy in 2018.
Mike Espy in 2018.Drew Angerer / Getty Images file

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

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

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

Biden campaign hits new weekly spending highs across battleground states

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate debate round up: Big Monday night in key races

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

Here are some key moments: 

The Supreme Court

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

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

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

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

Masks and fighting COVID-19

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

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

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

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

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

Policing

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

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

DNC hits the streets around debate site

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 

Image: Early voting begins in Michigan
A woman casts her ballots for the upcoming presidential elections as early voting begins in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Sept. 24, 2020.Emily Elconin / Reuters

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. 

Barack Obama during the Democratic National Convention on Aug. 19, 2020.
Barack Obama during the Democratic National Convention on Aug. 19, 2020.DNC

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. 

Biden's top spots focus on health care, telling a personal story about the crash that killed his first wife and daughter as well as on the importance of health care during the pandemic. 

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.

Image: Joe Biden
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks in Hermantown, Minn., on Sept. 18, 2020.Carolyn Kaster / AP

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."

Image:
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam feeds his ballot into the counting machine in Richmond, Va., on Sept. 18, 2020.Bob Brown / Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP

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. 

Image: Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, leaves a Senate Republican policy meeting on Capitol Hi
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, leaves a Senate Republican policy meeting on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020.Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

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. 

Democratic groups are running ads in some U.S. cities where the pandemic death toll has surpassed the population, such as this one in Tallahassee, Fla.
Democratic groups are running ads in some U.S. cities where the pandemic death toll has surpassed the population, such as this one in Tallahassee, Fla.Center for American Progress Action Fund

“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.

Image: Joe Biden
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks after participating in a coronavirus vaccine briefing with public health experts in Wilmington, Del., on Sept. 16, 2020.Patrick Semansky / AP

“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.

Apr 7, 2020; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Milwaukee resident Jennifer Taff holds a sign as she waits in line to vote at Washington
Milwaukee resident Jennifer Taff holds a sign as she waits in line to vote at Washington High School in Milwaukee on April 7, 2020. "I'm disgusted. I requested an absentee ballot almost three weeks ago and never got it. I have a father dying from lung disease and I have to risk my life and his just to exercise my right to vote" she said, as she'd been in line almost two hours.Patricia McKnight / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY Network

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.

Image: Ron Johnson
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, arrives for a committee meeting on Capitol Hill on May 20.Andrew Harnik / AP file

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

In August, Johnson said the inquiry "would certainly help Donald Trump win re-election." A day later on Fox News, Johnson said, "We've got to speed it up, because we've got an election coming." 

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.”

State Lawmakers Collective Call for Reduction of Gun Violence
Governor Tom Wolf speaks at an event at Parkway Northwest High School for Peace and Social Justice, in Philadelphia, PA, on Feb. 28, 2020.Bastiaan Slabbers / NurPhoto via Getty Images file

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 flex