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Losing the SCOTUS battle, Democrats focus on winning the messaging war

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: U.S. Senate holds confirmation hearing for Barrett to be Supreme Court justice in Washington
Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., questions Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett, with a photo of a child who he said benefits from the Affordable Care Act behind him, during the second day of her confirmation hearing on Oct. 13, 2020.Samuel Corum / Pool via Reuters

WASHINGTON — Two days into the hearings on Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, it’s become increasingly clear that Democrats don’t have the votes to stop her nomination.

Instead, they’ve decided to try to win the messaging war for November’s elections — when it comes to issues like health care and abortion.

Look no further than Sen. Lindsey Graham’s opening comments Tuesday on health care, which came after Democrats devoted their opening statements the day before to why they think that Barrett’s confirmation could endanger the Affordable Care Act and its protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

“All of my colleagues on the other side had very emotional pleas about Obamacare, charts of people with pre-existing conditions. I want to give you my side of the story: This is Lindsey Graham, senator from South Carolina talking. This is not a question directed at you. From my point of view, Obamacare has been a disaster for the state of South Carolina. All of you over there who want to impose Obamacare on South Carolina, we do not want it. We want something better. You know what we want? South Carolina Care.”

(Never mind that South Carolina, under the ACA, had the ability to set up its own insurance exchanges and declined. It also declined Medicaid expansion and all of the money that comes with it.)

When Graham, who’s facing the re-election fight of his political life, is starting his Q&A period with a discussion on Obamacare, you know that Democrats struck a political nerve.

All of this is a reversal from two years ago, when Democrats seized on allegations of sexual misconduct to try to stop Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination – which ultimately didn’t help Senate Democratic incumbents in North Dakota, Indiana and Missouri.

The lesson they learned from Kavanaugh is that they still couldn’t beat his nomination.

So they might as well talk about issues that will help them more in November.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

7,900,973: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 55,635 more than yesterday morning.)

217,086: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 805 more than yesterday morning.)

117.36 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

$500 billion: The cost of a narrow coronavirus relief bill that Mitch McConnell plans to put on the floor after Senate Republicans balked at a $1.8 trillion measure offered to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by lead administration negotiator Steve Mnuchin. (Pelosi has rejected that offer, too.)

2020 Vision: An Affair to (Not) Remember?

Earlier this month, we asked if the sexual-texting scandal dogging Democrat Cal Cunningham in North Carolina’s Senate race would hurt him in the polls.

The answer: Not yet.

A Monmouth poll released Tuesday showed Cunningham ahead of Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., by 5 points among likely voters, 49 percent to 44 percent, although the result is within the survey’s margin of error. (The same poll had Biden up by 4 points, 50 percent to 46 percent.)

Also on Tuesday came an online Reuters/Ipsos poll that found Cunningham ahead by 4 points among likely voters, 46 percent to 42 percent.

The numbers raise the question: Is political partisanship so powerful nowadays that these kinds of sex scandals don’t matter? (See Trump in 2016.)

Or do we need to wait for GOP paid advertising to see if it moves the needle?

Or — given the GOP’s virtual silence about Trump — are they flawed messengers when it comes to morality in office?

On the campaign trail today

President Trump holds a rally in Des Moines, Iowa… And VP Pence stumps in Michigan.

Florida, Florida, Florida

The Sunshine State is used to counting votes — including mail-in/absentee ballots — very quickly.

As a result, a Biden win in Florida could tell us how Election Night/Week/Month is going to play out, given that other states won’t be as fast in counting their ballots.

Last night during a campaign event in Florida, Biden said it a bit more clearly: “Here in Florida, you can determine the outcome of this election. We win Florida, and it's all over.”

Recent polling shows a close race in Florida, though, and President Trump made his own appearance in Florida on Monday night and is expected to return to the state later this week.

Ad Watch from Ben Kamisar

In today’s Ad Watch, Joe Biden’s campaign goes right after the president on coronavirus, hitting him both on his policy response and his personal behavior leading to (and since) his diagnosis.

The spot begins by warning that Trump “ignored the evidence” about the virus, holding events and indoor campaign rallies before testing positive himself. Then it pushes back on Trump’s declaration that his illness helped him learn about Covid by arguing “he hasn’t learned a thing … meanwhile, America pays the price.”

It’s a harsh spot in a harsh race, yet another attempt to frame the race as a referendum on the president’s handling of the virus.

The Lid: All the way down the ballot

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at how state legislative races could end being a very big deal.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The Washington Post reports that the DOJ probe into the “unmasking” allegations against Obama administration officials has concluded without finding any significant wrongdoing.

Amy Coney Barrett laid out her view of precedents in her confirmation questioning yesterday.

She also apologized for using the phrase “sexual preference.”

Is the president still contagious? Here’s what experts say.

The wife of the Labor Secretary, who was also at that infamous Rose Garden event, has tested positive for coronavirus.

Here’s the latest on the court fight in Wisconsin over ballot deadlines.

Early voting has started in Texas.

The Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration can stop the Census count now.

Biden is telling Florida seniors that Trump thinks they’re “expendable.”

The mayor of Anchorage is resigning after admitting to an “inappropriate messaging relationship” with a local news anchor.