Politico

Turbulence in Texas AG's office to delay Google ad suit


Texas is likely to delay filing a multistate antitrust suit over Google’s control of the advertising technology market amid upheavals in the office related to bribery allegations against Attorney General Ken Paxton, an individual close to the probe said Friday.

Meanwhile, state attorneys general looking into Google’s dominance over online search are aiming to wrap up their work next week with an eye toward filing their own antitrust complaint soon after the Nov. 3 election, three other people close to the investigation said.

The Justice Department and 11 Republican-led states sued Google in D.C. federal court on Tuesday, alleging it has engaged in exclusionary practices to maintain its monopoly in the online search market. The complaint’s main example is the search giant’s use of contracts with mobile device makers and companies like Apple and Mozilla to ensure that its search engine is the default.

Whither the states: A coalition of almost every U.S. state has been probing Google since September 2019. Instead of joining the DOJ’s antitrust complaint, the 37 remaining states said Tuesday they planned to continue their investigation and hoped to reach a decision in the “coming weeks.”

Several state attorneys general, including many Democrats, opposed filing a suit so close to the election. While the states hope to finish by the end of October, any complaint wouldn’t be filed until after Nov. 3, but could come as soon as that week or the week after, the three people said, speaking anonymously to discuss ongoing deliberations.

What’s the matter with Texas: The state took the lead on a probe by 48 states plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico investigating Google’s conduct in the advertising technology market. But turmoil in Paxton’s office has clouded the probe’s future.

Seven top aides to the Texas AG said in a letter to state officials that they had alerted law enforcement to concerns that Paxton may have violated laws against bribery and improper influence. Their concerns stem from Paxton’s actions related to Austin real estate investor Nate Paul, who donated $25,000 to the attorney general’s 2018 reelection campaign.

Paxton said he would not step down — despite calls by Democratic attorneys general to do so — and accused “rogue employees” of making false accusations.

Paxton’s No. 2, Jeff Mateer, resigned after the allegations became public. Paxton told the Southeast Texas Record that he has placed two of the other employees on leave.

This week, two additional employees were fired, the Texas Tribune and other local news outlets reported, raising new concerns about whether Paxton may have violated state whistleblower laws by improperly terminating them.

The remaining two of the seven whistleblowers — Ryan Bangert and Darren McCarty — have been key players in Texas’ Google probe. McCarty, who worked as a litigation partner at law firm Alston & Bird before joining the attorney general’s office, was expected to head Texas’ trial team in the Google advertising case.

As of Friday, both were still employed by the attorney general office, the individual said.

The Justice Department is separately probing Google’s dominance of the ad markets, and the federal investigation remains ongoing.

Biden says he will start working on coronavirus relief during transition if elected


Joe Biden pledged Friday that if elected president he will begin reaching out to state and local leaders during the transition to begin crafting a coronavirus relief bill that he could sign by the end of January.

In remarks in Wilmington, Del., after the final presidential debate, the Democratic nominee said he would look to gauge “what support they need and how much of it they need.”

“I'll ask the new Congress to put a bill on my desk by the end of January with all the resources to see how both our public health and economic response can be seen through the end, what is needed,” he said.

Biden again skewered President Donald Trump’s handling of the virus, reprising key lines of attack he made during Thursday night’s debate. And in pledging to sign off on a relief bill within weeks of assuming office, he offered a contrast to the slow-going response of the Trump administration.

He pointed to an interview earlier this week when the president said there was “not much” he would do differently in combating the pandemic.

“As many as 210,000 avoidable deaths, but there's not much you would do differently?” Biden asked incredulously. “The United States is 4 percent of the entire world's population, yet we make up 20 percent of all the deaths worldwide.”

“If this is a success, what's a failure look like?” he continued. “We're more than eight months into this crisis, and the president still doesn't have a plan.”

Biden’s comments came as the U.S. is seeing a spike in cases across the country, reaching record levels of both new infections and hospitalizations in some areas ahead of what the Democratic nominee has warned will be a “dark winter.”

The former vice president repeatedly emphasized that the political leanings of a particular state would not factor into his efforts to provide relief, but warned that he would work with local leaders to implement precautions like mask mandates if governors resisted such calls at the state level.

“Look, a pandemic doesn't play favorites, nor will I. As I said, no red states, no blue states, just the United States, united in our response, united in our purpose to stop the spread of Covid-19 and beat this virus,” Biden promised.

He issued a broader plea for mask-wearing, arguing that “wearing a mask is not a political statement, it's a scientific imperative. It's a point of patriotic pride so we can pull our country out of this god-awful spiral we're in.”

Biden reiterated prior calls for a nationwide testing strategy, asserting that “what we have right now isn't anywhere near good enough” but that “this isn't impossible to master” with a coordinated effort. He also vowed to put together a national corps of contact tracers and swiped at the Trump administration’s uneven virus messaging by promising “consistent, reliable, trusted, detailed nationwide guidance and technical support” for reopening the country.

“It will still be many months before any vaccine is widely available,” Biden noted. The former vice president added that he would work to ensure that the distribution of any coronavirus vaccine is both equitable and free while ripping Trump for cheering the potential demise of the Affordable Care Act in the Supreme Court.

“Throughout all of this, yes, Mr. President, I'll listen to the scientists and I'll empower them,” he said, doubling down on a promise that previously drew the president’s ire.

During his comments, which were carried live on all three major cable networks, Trump appeared to respond in real time with a swat at Biden’s oversight of the Obama administration’s swine flu response in 2009.

“Joe Biden’s response to the H1N1 Swine Flu, far less lethal than Covid 19, was one of the weakest and worst in the history of fighting epidemics and pandemics,” Trump wrote in a tweet from aboard Air Force One. “It was pathetic, those involved have said. Joe didn’t have a clue!”

But Biden urged Americans to look past the current crisis, even as he admitted that the recovery wouldn’t be quick.

“We don't have to be held prisoner by this administration's failures,” he contended. “We can choose a different path.”

“Imagine older Americans and people with disabilities having the peace of mind that comes with trusting that the public health system is working for them. Imagine, instead of staying locked up in their rooms, they're able to hug their grandchildren or those who they love, and haven't been able to see,” Biden argued.

“Imagine if you're a member of a community that have been hit particularly hard — Black, Latino, Asian American or Native American. Imagine a public health and economic response that treats your needs as a priority, not as an afterthought. Imagine a day in the not-too-distant future when you can enjoy dinner with your friends and your family, maybe even go out to a movie. When you can celebrate your birthday, weddings, surrounded by your nearest and dearest friends. That's the Biden-Harris agenda to beat Covid-19.”

“It's going to take all of us working together — and that's not hyperbole,” he added. “All of us working together, watching out for one another.”

Cyberattacks hit Louisiana government offices as worries rise about election hacking


Hackers breached several local government offices in Louisiana in recent weeks, prompting state officials to enlist the National Guard to stem the attacks, a security researcher familiar with the incidents said Friday.

The intrusions come in the run-up to an election in which Russian hackers are known to be probing state and local government networks.

There were no indications that the Louisiana attacks were part of an effort to compromise election systems, the researcher said. Officials are increasingly worried, however, about hackers testing states' defenses ahead of possible disinformation or sabotage efforts closer to the election.

Whodunnit: The Louisiana cyberattacks involved a remote access trojan, or RAT, the kind of malware often used to lay the groundwork for additional breaches. The hacking tool, called “KimJongRat,” has been linked to the North Korean regime in the past, said the security researcher, who requested anonymity to discuss a private investigation.

But according to the researcher, the malware's code is freely available online on sites like GitHub, complicating a clear attribution to Pyongyang or anyone else.

Identifying the attackers will be a major priority for federal authorities. Cyber criminals have increasingly targeted local governments with ransomware in the hope of extracting massive payments to unlock vital municipal systems. Officials and private-sector experts are trying to determine whether any of these criminals are working with, or taking orders from, foreign adversaries such as Russia, China, Iran or North Korea.

Limited spread: The Louisiana National Guard was able to stop the spread of the infection before it escaped beyond a few government offices in the northern part of the state, according to Reuters, which first reported the attacks.

The hackers’ goal was likely to deploy ransomware, Reuters said, citing a person familiar with the matter.

Spokespeople for Louisiana’s chief information officer and the Louisiana State Police did not respond to requests for comment. A Louisiana National Guard spokesperson declined to comment.

Elsewhere: Washington state also recently experienced a cyberattack that compromised several government offices with malware often used to deploy ransomware, according to Reuters. Last month, Bloomberg reported on a “a sprawling, multifaceted” attack there.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court says ballots can’t be rejected based on signature comparisons


The Pennsylvania state Supreme Court ruled Friday that ballots in the state cannot be rejected because of signature comparisons, backing up guidance issued by the state’s chief elections officer heading into Pennsylvania’s first presidential election with no-excuse mail voting.

The ruling is a defeat for President Donald Trump’s campaign and other Republicans, who had challenged the decision by Pennsylvania election officials, arguing that efforts to match signatures on ballots to signatures on voter rolls were necessary to prevent fraud.

“We conclude that the Election Code does not authorize or require county election boards to reject absentee or mail-in ballots during the canvassing process based on an analysis of a voter’s signature,” the state Supreme Court wrote in an opinion signed by six of the seven justices, including five Democrats and one Republican.

The seventh justice, another Republican, concurred with the ruling.

The court directs “the county boards of elections not to reject absentee or mail-in ballots for counting, computing, and tallying based on signature comparisons conducted by county election officials or employees, or as the result of third party challenges based on such comparisons.”

Already, just under 1.5 million Pennsylvanians have already submitted their ballots in 2020, according to the U.S. Elections Project. That’s a significant share of the vote in Pennsylvania, where about 6.2 million people voted in the 2016 general election.

Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar had issued guidance earlier this year saying local election officials cannot toss ballots because of signature comparisons alone.

“If the Voter’s Declaration on the return envelope is signed and the county board is satisfied that the declaration is sufficient, the mail-in or absentee ballot should be approved for canvassing unless challenged in accordance with the Pennsylvania Election Code,” Boockvar’s mid-September guidance read. “The Pennsylvania Election Code does not authorize the county board of elections to set aside returned absentee or mail-in ballots based solely on signature analysis by the county board of elections.”

The court concluded that there was no clause in the state’s election code that allowed ballots to be rejected based on signature comparisons, and if the state’s lawmakers wanted one, they would have included it.

“It is not our role under our tripartite system of governance to engage in judicial legislation and to rewrite a statute in order to supply terms which are not present therein, and we will not do so in this instance,” the court wrote.

Pennsylvania, like many states, is expected to see a big wave of ballots submitted via the mail this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The critical battleground state is expected to be slow at tallying votes, because it does not allow for election officials to start processing mail ballots until Election Day, meaning definitive results are not expected in the state on Nov. 3.

Republican legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf held talks about extending those processing times, but it appears they have totally collapsed. The state legislature adjourned earlier this week, and is not expected back until after Election Day, with no deal with the governor.


Netanyahu dodges Trump's invitation to slam Biden on conference call


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday passed up an opportunity to knock Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, seemingly deflating President Donald Trump in the presence of reporters in the Oval Office.

The remarks from Netanyahu came on a phone call with Trump, as the American president announced that Sudan would become the third Arab state to normalize relations with Israel under an agreement brokered by the White House.

Addressing his foreign counterpart, who was on speakerphone, Trump asked Netanyahu: “Do you think Sleepy Joe could have made this deal, Bibi? Sleepy Joe? I think — do you think he would have made this deal somehow? I don’t think so.”

Netanyahu hesitated before offering a halting answer: “Well, Mr. President, one thing I can tell you is we appreciate the help for peace from anyone in America. And we appreciate what you’ve done enormously.”

The smile on the president’s face faded as he listened to the prime minister's response. “Yeah,” Trump interjected, gesturing toward a member of the White House press corps to ask a question.

Netanyahu’s refusal to explicitly criticize Biden at Trump’s urging comes 10 days before Election Day in the United States, as virtually all public polling shows the president trailing his Democratic rival nationally and in key swing states.

The prime minister’s apparent effort to put more distance between himself and the president is also notable given the two leaders’ close geopolitical alliance in recent years.

The Trump administration has pursued a Middle East policy largely favoring Israel and focused on safeguarding it from regional threats such as Iran. Meanwhile, Netanyahu has used video of his diplomacy with Trump to promote his Likud party in Israel’s legislative elections.

Trump’s allies exhale after debate, immediately fret about upcoming rallies


NASHVILLE — Before the debate hall even emptied out, the presidential motorcade was whisking Donald Trump back to Washington for a short layover ahead of his return to the campaign trail on Friday, which some Republicans worry could carry new risks in the final sprint to Election Day.

But on the debate stage, the president’s campaign advisers and Capitol Hill allies say their candidate delivered a restrained performance and persuasive closing pitch — one that could pull late-breaking voters into his column and put vulnerable GOP candidates at ease after months of being dragged down by the president’s deteriorating standing in key battleground states.

“His performance last night did what it needed to do to let the Senate candidates win or lose their own races,” said Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. “I didn’t see any drag created.”

“It was helpful for our Senate candidates and hopefully helpful for the president,” added Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri.

Whether Trump receives the eleventh-hour boost he desperately needs will depend on which version of the president voters see coming out of the final debate in the week that remains before the Nov. 3 election. As he returns to base-revving campaign events where unpredictability reigns, Republicans are worried Trump could quickly undo any gains he might have made here Thursday night.

The president’s hourlong rallies have become ground zero for his worst impulses — from coarse language and meandering monologues to misleading claims about the Covid-19 pandemic — and often result in controversies that aides must spend days cleaning up. Recently, Trump has used the venues to push dubious and unconfirmed reports about Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, that have little resonance with pocketbook voters.

“The president’s job 10 days out is to convince voters that Joe Biden would decimate American industries, pack the courts and send small businesses back into coronavirus lockdowns,” said one adviser to the Trump campaign.

“He’s screwing himself with the Hunter Biden stuff and he needs to cut it out,” the person added.

Though there were plenty of moments Thursday night when Trump trained his focus on the Biden family’s business dealings, there were also times when he seized on policy differences between him and his Democratic opponent that Republicans have long encouraged him to amplify in his closing pitch to voters.

“He was obviously able to rein in his inner self that sometimes gets the better of him,” said West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican.

In one exchange during the final minutes of the debate, Trump latched onto Biden’s promise to transition the U.S. away from fossil fuels if he is elected president.

“That’s the biggest statement because basically what he’s saying is he’s going to destroy the oil industry,” Trump said directly into the cameras. “Will you remember that, Texas? Will you remember that, Pennsylvania?”

By the end of the night, some Trump aides and allies were grappling with simultaneous feelings of euphoria and frustration. Pleased with his decision to ditch the erratic behavior that caused Biden’s poll numbers to rise after the first presidential debate in September and focus on casting the former vice president as a creature of the political establishment, they griped that the past month of intense catch-up could have been avoided if Trump had turned out a similar performance last time around.

“Why didn’t he do this in the first debate?” wrote a second Trump campaign adviser in a text message at the end of the night.

Others offered a more optimistic takeaway, suggesting 11 days is ample time to change the dynamics of the 2020 race, despite Trump’s lagging poll numbers in pivotal battleground states and among demographic groups that were critical to his Electoral College victory four years ago.

“The momentum has been on our side and the president has kept it going,” Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a brief interview as she left the debate site at Belmont University. “The president knocked it out of the park and hit some key differences on policy issues that needed to be addressed.”

To some extent, the praise Trump earned from Republican allies was an implicit acknowledgement that the hot-tempered disposition he typically brings to his campaign rallies — and which millions of Americans saw at the first debate in Ohio — works against his reelection. But Trump will spend the remaining days of the race in just that environment, rallying with devoted MAGA fans across Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin and New Hampshire in the coming days.

Yet Thursday night’s performance had a soothing effect on the GOP: Vulnerable Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who has not endorsed Trump, said Trump “did well” Thursday after criticizing both candidates’ performance last month.

However, at times during Thursday’s debate, Trump reverted to old habits that have previously rankled senators like Collins. During a segment focused on immigration, Trump said undocumented immigrants who show up for court hearings are those “with the lowest IQ.” Against the backdrop of a summer filled with race-related demonstrations and legislative measures to combat police brutality, Trump squandered an opportunity to speak directly to people of color in a calm and empathetic way — using the moment to instead compare himself to Abraham Lincoln, dismiss the Black Lives Matter movement and praise his own push for criminal justice reform, increased funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and so-called opportunity zones in economically-distressed communities.

“As far as my relationship with all people … I am the least racist person in this room,” Trump said, trying to scan the crowd gathered in the darkened debate hall.

“I don’t know what to say,” he added. “I mean, they could say anything. It makes me sad. I am the least racist person.”

In another exchange, Trump demanded to know if Biden’s nickname was “the big man” in unverified emails that emerged last week allegedly documenting his son Hunter’s overseas business dealings.

“Don’t give me this stuff about how you’re this innocent baby. They are calling you a corrupt politician,” he said to Biden, giving viewers a taste of the vitriolic and conspiratorial attacks that have become staples of his rambunctious campaign rallies.

“Clearly they see an advantage of raising the issue of alleged corruption. It seems to be a feature of their campaign,” said Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the intelligence chairman, of Trump’s attacks on Hunter. “I think there are a lot of people interested in the topic, but obviously people who are not going to vote for the president aren’t."

In the week leading up to Trump’s final appearance on the presidential debate stage, the president flouted traditional preparation in favor of maintaining a rigorous campaign schedule. His laser-like focus on Biden’s son — on his Twitter feed, at campaign rallies and in a heated “60 Minutes” interview with Leslie Stahl — gave some Republicans pause, worried that he would bungle his last opportunity to reach undecided and skeptical Republican voters if he eschewed mentions of the economy and policy differences with Biden to focus squarely on Hunter Biden. Hours before the debate began, Trump’s campaign aides announced that Tony Bobulinski, an ex-business partner of Hunter Biden, would attend as a special guest of the president.

But if the president is taking notes from his own campaign, Republican allies who want him to focus on what they perceive as Biden’s more controversial positions — on issues like hydraulic fracking, oil dependency and coronavirus restrictions — may be sorely disappointed in the coming days. Between Thursday night and Friday morning, the Trump campaign and RNC sent out six emails mentioning Hunter Biden and calling attention to “explosive” new reports about his alleged interactions with foreign business firms.

“Joe Biden can no longer ignore this massive and growing scandal and the news media can no longer avoid asking him about it,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement Friday morning.

Senate goes into rare closed-door session as Dems try to delay Barrett confirmation


The Senate went into a rare but brief closed session Friday, as Democrats sought to delay the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

“I believe the Senate majority is on the precipice of making a colossal and historic mistake by rushing this nomination through the Senate only eight days before a national election,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Before we go any further, we should shut off the cameras, close the Senate and talk face-to-face about what this might mean for the country.”

The Senate needed to take a roll call vote to move out of the closed-door session, though the vote was not be public. Senators were in the private session for about 20 minutes.

The Democrats' move is the latest act of protest in their opposition to Barrett’s confirmation. Democrats also boycotted a Senate Judiciary Committee vote on Thursday to advance her nomination to the floor and have forced a series of procedural votes throughout the week. But Democrats do not have the procedural tools to stop the nomination altogether from going forward.

Closing the Senate, however, has not occurred in a decade.



Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is planning to advance Barrett’s nomination to the floor Friday, putting her on track for a final confirmation vote Monday.

Barrett is expected to receive broad support from Senate Republicans and no support from Democrats. Democrats have accused Republicans of hypocrisy for trying to confirm Barrett eight days before the election, after blocking former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland in 2016. But Republicans argue that the situation in 2016 was different because the White House and the Senate were controlled by different parties.

If confirmed, Barrett would replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away Sept. 18.

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

Big GOP donors step up to help fight Democratic Senate tsunami


Facing a tsunami of small-dollar Democratic fundraising, big GOP donors responded with a show of force to protect the party’s imperiled majority.

The GOP’s top super PAC raised nearly $50 million in the first two weeks of October, a huge sum that can help the party defend itself across a broad Senate map with close to a dozen senators in peril. But the total didn’t fix the party’s fundraising problems: Democrats’ online program continued its blistering pace into October, allowing 15 Democrats to outraise GOP senators in the first two weeks of October. Democratic campaigns still have a major cash advantage going into the final weeks of the election.

But Senate Republicans’ outside money ensures that they will be competitive on the airwaves in the run-up to the election. With President Donald Trump trailing in the polls, the Senate is the best hope for Republicans avoiding Democratic control of the presidency and both chambers of Congress next year.

Here are five takeaways from Thursday’s final campaign-finance filing deadline before the consequential Senate elections.

Big GOP donors ride to the rescue

Senate Leadership Fund, the super PAC run by allies of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is flooding the zone with money in the closing weeks of the election. The group brought in $49.6 million in the first two weeks of October, bringing its total haul for the year to more than $280 million. SLF also spent more than $94 million in the two-week period, blitzing the map with TV ads, which is providing Republicans with desperately needed backup against Democratic spending.

The funding came almost entirely from big donors, or from unknown sources. One Nation, the dark money group aligned with SLF, added $27.5 million, more than half the total fundraising; $16 million of the rest came from six people or groups giving seven-figure checks. SLF had $69 million in the bank as of Oct. 14.

Senate Majority PAC, Democrats’ largest outside group, raised more than $24 million and spent $59.8 million, almost all of it on independent expenditures. SMP, which has raised $193.5 million this cycle, went into the final stretch of the election with $19.2 million in the bank.

Democrats made up ground elsewhere. Majority Forward, the nonprofit arm of SMP, spent $3.4 million to fund North Star, a pop-up super PAC spending in the Alaska Senate race, which has become a major target for Democrats. Both parties’ Senate campaign committees raised around $15 million in the time frame. But the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee took out a $20 million loan to help finance the final stretch of the campaign — a much larger addition than the $4 million loan from the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

The DSCC has $31.8 million in the bank for the final weeks of the campaign, compared with $18.3 million for the NRSC.

Dems' disparity grows in closing weeks

Democrats held an enormous advantage in candidate fundraising and spending in the third quarter of this year, and they continued to steamroll Republicans in the first two weeks of October.

In the 14 most competitive races on the map, Democratic candidates raised more than $84 million in the two-week period, more than double the $41 million combined from Republican senators and challengers. Democrats put the money to good use: Their campaigns spent $128 million in that time frame, compared with $69 million for the GOP.

The candidate-to-candidate disparity is critical because campaigns are guaranteed significantly better rates on TV ads than outside groups. The larger the disparity between campaigns, the more money it takes from outside groups to match the level of communication on TV. In several cases, the disparity remained massive. In Alaska, Democratic-backed independent Al Gross outraised GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan by a 6-to-1 margin; in Mississippi, Democrat Mike Espy outraised GOP Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith by a 45-to-1 margin; in Iowa, Democrat Theresa Greenfield more than tripled GOP Sen. Joni Ernst, raising $7.1 million compared with $1.9 million.

In one of the bigger surprises of the period, Democratic Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan more than doubled the haul from Republican John James, who has been a powerhouse fundraiser among his party’s candidates. Peters raised $7.4 million compared with $3.5 million for James, though the Republican still has a large cash advantage for the closing stretch.



Jaime Harrison tops the century mark

South Carolina Democrat Jaime Harrison raised more money in the first two weeks of October than the average senator or challenger raised in the previous three months combined. The $22 million haul for Harrison is another earth-shattering sum of money that has gone into making the South Carolina race the most competitive reelection of GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham’s career. Harrison’s total fundraising for the cycle now sits at nearly $109 million, the only campaign in the country to top nine figures.

He’s spending as quickly as he’s bringing in: Harrison spent more than $26 million in the two-week period — bringing his total spending to more than $105 million — and has just $3.5 million in the bank. But it’s a safe bet his fundraising will allow him to continue eclipsing his own record until Election Day.

Graham has done as well as any Republican senator to try to keep pace. He raised $14.8 million in the two week period, spent $16 million and ended the quarter with $13.1 million on hand.

Cunningham keeps it up — but faces cash crunch

North Carolina Cal Cunningham’s fundraising didn’t show any signs of lagging despite the majority of the fundraising period coming as his campaign was dealing with the fallout over his extramarital affair. But he had less than $1 million in the bank as of Oct. 14.

Cunningham acknowledged the affair on the evening of Oct. 2. But in the two-week period beginning Oct. 1, Cunningham raised $4.1 million, which was just shy of the pace of his fundraising in the third quarter of last year, when he was among his party’s best. GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, his opponent, raised $1.5 million in the same time frame — most of which came while Tillis was quarantined and recovering after testing positive for Covid-19.

Cunningham’s campaign continued to spend heavily to start the month, spending $7.5 million in the two-week period compared with $4.7 million from Tillis. But the Republican senator entered the final stretch of the election with a pretty distinct cash advantage: $3.5 million, compared with just $886,000 for Cunningham, the smallest remaining war chest of any major Democratic challenger. Still, Tillis’ campaign doesn’t have long to put that cash advantage to good use.

Gideon's war chest

Sara Gideon may be the only candidate in the country raising money faster than she can spend it.

The Maine Democrat brought in $5.9 million in the first two weeks of the month — an enormous edge over the $1.8 million GOP Sen. Susan Collins raised. Gideon has now raised $69.5 million for the entire cycle, putting her firmly in the top tier of her party’s fundraisers and easily more than doubling Collins’ total fundraising.

But Gideon hasn’t spent at the same pace. She has the largest war chest in the country entering the final stretch of the campaign with more than $20 million in the bank. That’s only slightly less than the $22 million she spent during the third quarter this year, and it seems unlikely her campaign will be able to run through the entirety of that amount in the closing weeks of the race.

It’s not as if the Maine Democrat’s campaign has been slow to move their funds through. She’s spent $48 million — almost exactly double Collins and more than every Democratic candidate in the country except Harrison, Kentucky's Amy McGrath and Arizona's Mark Kelly. But Gideon’s cash leftover gives her a ton of flexibility for the closing stretch of the race.


Things This Election Will Decide That Have Nothing to Do With Trump or Biden


Every four years, it happens: Coverage of the presidential campaign blots out the sun, throwing all the other important things happening in the election into shadow. But if the race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden is the main thing you’ve been paying attention to this season, then what November will actually decide might come as a big surprise.

Abortion could be illegal after the 22nd week of pregnancy in Colorado. A handful a deep-red states might liberalize their marijuana laws, while Oregon voters will decide whether to legalize medicinal use of psilocybin (aka “magic”) mushrooms. Rhode Islanders could change their state’s name. America could triple the number of states with statewide ranked-choice voting. Floridians will decide whether to implement a top-two primary elections system — meaning that the battleground state’s marquee races in 2022 could see two Republicans or two Democrats facing off against one another in the general election. And Uber and Lyft drivers in California could see their jobs reclassified and subject to a wage floor — pending the results of the most expensive ballot campaign in American history.

These are just a few of the dozens of ballot measures that voters will decide on November 3rd.

And if you’re tempted to brush them aside as unimportant, know this: The recent past shows us that ballot measures give us some sense of the direction the country’s politics are headed. In 1994, California’s Prop 187 hinted at a future in which undocumented immigration would become a central fissure in national politics. Hawaii’s statewide 1998 vote to ban same-sex marriage was a harbinger of the anti-LGBT ballot measures that swamped the rest of the country in the mid-2000s. And a wave of marijuana-legalization ballot measures over the last decade has drastically remade the way the entire country talks about and polices pot.

So, what’s on the ballot this year, and what does that tell us about the direction American politics is headed in the 2020s? To sort through it all, POLITICO spoke with Amanda Zoch, a policy specialist at the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures, where she tracks statewide ballot measures. A transcript of that conversation is below, condensed and edited for length and clarity.

This November, there are around 120 ballot measures up across the country. Overall, what trends are we seeing?

Amanda Zoch: Taxes and civil/criminal justice are always big topics, and this year is no different: About a quarter of the statewide ballot measures up this year relate to taxes in some way. Similarly, marijuana and abortion have long been ballot-measure staples, and this year, we have two abortion-related measures, and several more marijuana proposals. Health and elections-related proposals are also getting a lot of attention this year, which seems appropriate given that there’s a presidential election and both are big issues. Those perhaps wouldn’t have gotten quite as much attention a couple years ago, but they are right now. We’re not really seeing a lot of environment-related measures this year, which is kind of a surprise.

This year, those citizen-driven initiatives were really affected by the pandemic.

Because it was much more difficult to gather petition signatures?

Right. How do you get signatures when you’re not supposed to leave your house or see other people? This year’s general election has 38 statewide citizen initiatives across the country. And that’s a big decrease — there were 60 in 2018 and 72 in 2016. Honestly, that’s a big story.

Let’s start with some of the election-related proposals: There are ballot measures up in Alaska and Massachusetts to implement ranked-choice voting, which lets voters rank the candidates in their order of preference instead of choosing just one — and which a lot of people think will help out third-party candidates because it diminishes the chance they’ll be “spoilers.” Maine voters adopted it in 2016. This seems like the start of a trend.

Definitely. There’s been an increase in interest in ranked-choice voting, both through ballot measures front and legislatively. We’ll see how it goes with Maine this year, if that sparks even more interest or becomes discouraging. There are actually two ranked-choice voting ballot measures up: Alaska and Massachusetts. North Dakota had been planning on having one, but the Supreme Court determined that it actually didn’t have sufficient signatures. But in Alaska and Massachusetts, those measures are generating a lot of interest. And the Alaska measure would also establish a top-four primary, where the top four vote-getters in the primary advance to the general election ballot, regardless of party. So that, plus ranked-choice voting, would be a big election change in Alaska.


Another voting-related ballot trend is the “only a citizen” initiatives in Alabama, Colorado and Florida. Can you explain that a little bit? That one is a less-familiar concept.

This one is kind of odd, because it seems like a minor linguistic change, from “every citizen can vote” to “only a citizen can vote.” Legally, I don’t think these proposals would change much, but it actually would have consequences in Colorado. Unlike Alabama and Florida, Colorado allows 17-year-olds to vote in primaries if they’ll be 18 at the time of the general election. This measure, if passed, would remove that.

Citizenship is already a requirement to vote in the United States, so these proposals seem unnecessary. Some people see them as a get-out-the-vote measure — using concerns that non-citizens are voting to turn people out to the polls.

Using ballot measures to rally the base and get out the vote isn’t anything new — certainly we saw that in 2004, when conservatives used proposals that would ban same-sex marriage as a way of turning out Evangelical voters during George W. Bush’s reelection campaign. Are there any similar dynamics at play this year?

The turnout question is so hard to parse. I think claims that measures are designed to turn out people need to be taken with a grain of salt. But we do see candidates grabbing onto measures and kind of leveraging them to gain support for their party.

For example, I’m in Colorado, and we have an abortion-restriction measure on the ballot. Candidates on the right and left refer to that one as something important, a reason for voters to get to the polls. The proposals related to hot-button social issues can be incorporated into campaigns in ways that both raise the profile of the initiative but also benefit specific candidates.

Tell me more about Colorado’s abortion-restriction proposal. What would it do?

If passed, it would prohibit abortion after the 22nd week of pregnancy. Right now, Colorado doesn’t have any gestational age limits on abortion; this would seek to establish one. It allows an exception for cases where the life of the mother is at risk, but there are no other exceptions, such as for rape or incest.

Colorado also has a ballot proposal about paid family leave. I don’t recall hearing about an initiative on that topic before. Can you walk through that?

This is actually the first time this type of issue has been on a statewide ballot at all. Eight states and D.C. have these paid-leave programs, but they’ve all been created through legislation. It would establish a state-run paid family and medical leave program, and allow Coloradans up to 12 weeks of paid leave — potentially more if there are qualifying complications.

To fund this, it’s basically a new tax deducted from paychecks — 0.54 percent of your paycheck will go into a statewide pool of money to pay for it. Obviously, opponents are interested in that part. But proponents are saying that at a time when people are dealing with coronavirus, paid medical leave is becoming more and more necessary. Anecdotally, it’s the measure I see advertisements for the most in Colorado. It’s getting a lot of attention.

There are a number of proposals on the ballot related to marijuana decriminalization or legalization — many of them in states considered deeply “red.” Is it fair to say that ballot measures to liberalize marijuana policy aren’t just a blue-state trend at this point?

That’s right. Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, Mississippi and South Dakota have ballot measures on the topic. The proposals in Arizona, Montana and New Jersey would all legalize recreational marijuana. South Dakota will actually vote on both medical and recreational marijuana — so that’s potentially a big change, going from not having medicinal marijuana to having legalized recreational marijuana.

Mississippi’s measure is just for medical marijuana. Voters there will actually have two questions in one: There was a citizen initiative to institute a medical marijuana initiative, but the state has an indirect citizen-initiative process, so the proposal went to the legislature, and they suggested an alternative measure that will be on the ballot as well. The first question on the ballot is, essentially, “Do you want either of these measures, or neither of these measures?” And the second is, “Which one do you prefer?”

That’s always a concern with ballot measures — how to make them more readable and easier for people to understand. Here in Colorado, my ballot was long. We had 11 measures. It’s in tiny print, and the way things are worded can be confusing, which makes voter education such an important component of ballot measure campaigns.

There are also drug-related measures other than marijuana. Oregon and Washington D.C. are voting on legalizing mushrooms, correct?

Yes. This is the first time I’m aware of where that have been statewide initiatives related to mushrooms. D.C. has a citizen initiative to decriminalize entheogenic plants and fungi — which includes psilocybin, among other things. Oregon would actually go a step further and not just decriminalize but actually legalize psilocybin. It would become the first state ever to do that.

I do wonder if it’s the start of a new trend on drug-related proposals, which have mostly dealt with marijuana up until now.

So marijuana-legalization proposals are potentially “gateway” proposals for ones about other drugs?

Right.

One initiative that’s very much of this era is California’s Prop 22. It’s also far and away the nation’s most expensive ballot campaign this year. What is it, and why has it attracted such attention?

Prop 22 is really the first smartphone app-related measure we’ve seen. In 2019, California’s legislature passed Assembly Bill 5, which required drivers for app-based rideshare and delivery companies — like Uber and Lyft — to be classified as employees of those companies instead of independent contractors. This proposal would do the opposite: It would exempt those drivers from the provisions of that law and establish a few other labor laws specific only to those drivers — a net-earnings floor, a 12-hour limit on the amount of time they can work in a 24-hour period, and so on.

You mentioned the cost of this campaign — around $200 million has been spent on it. This is a citizen initiative that really defies what we think of as the “citizen” part, because we see such huge financial support from companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash. It’s not uncommon for businesses to support ballot measures; we know that happens. But here, we’re seeing that translate into really massive spending. It’s hard to know how individual people will feel when there’s so much corporate money involved.

Let’s turn to another big state: Florida. They’re considering instituting a “jungle primary” like the system used in California?

Yes. We don’t really use the term “jungle” primary at NCSL, but it would be an open, top-two primary. Florida currently has a closed primary system. That means that as a voter, you have to be affiliated with a party in order to vote in its primary.

This measure would make two really big changes. First, it would allow anyone to vote in the primary — you wouldn’t need to be affiliated with a particular party to do so. Second, it would mean that the top two vote-getters from that primary would advance to the general election, regardless of their party affiliation. So, there could be a situation where the general election is between two Republicans or two Democrats.


There are a variety of tax proposals on the ballot — Illinois, Colorado and California are a couple of the big ones. What can you tell us about those?

I can start with one little theme: there are two proposals on income taxes, one in Colorado, which would reduce them, and one in Illinois, which would get rid of their flat rate and allow the state legislature to enact a graduated income tax. So we have taxes potentially going up in Illinois and down in Colorado — which has interesting implications for those states’ budgets.

In Colorado, our tax rate is 4.63 percent. If this measure passes, it would go down to 4.55 percent. The way that translates to an individual person’s income is essentially this: If your taxable income is $25,000, you’d get a $20 tax cut. If your taxable income is $50,000, you’d save $40. That’s not nothing, but it may come at a high cost to the state: It would amount to around a 1.2 percent cut in general-fund revenue for Colorado in fiscal year 2022.

The other big tax proposal is Prop 15 in California, and that relates to a really important ballot measure they passed in 1978: Prop 13, which established the tax-assessment formula for the whole state. Prop 15 would require all commercial and industrial real estate properties be assessed at their full market value instead of their purchase price. That would be a pretty big change and would generate additional revenue slated to go to schools and local governments.

These are all getting extra attention because of all the state government cuts happening in the wake of the pandemic. Voters tend not to vote for tax increases in ballot proposals, and it will be interesting to see how they feel about the prospect of tax increases when their own pocketbooks are maybe emptier than in the past — and when state and local governments are also running on empty.

Since the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Americans across the country have participated in demonstrations for racial justice. And now we have a couple different proposals that are, broadly speaking, related to reckoning with the history of racism in America. Those are on the ballot in Rhode Island and Mississippi. First, Rhode Island’s has to do with the actual name of the state?

Yeah. When I tell people that Rhode Island is going to change its name, they think it’s not going to be called Rhode Island anymore. But actually, the state’s official name is the “State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.” This year, there’s a legislatively referred measure that would remove “and Providence Plantations” from the state’s name.

And in Mississippi?

This has gotten a lot more attention. Earlier this year, in light of the racial justice movement, a large portion of the Mississippi state legislature decided to change the state’s flag by removing the Civil War-era Confederate battle emblem on their current flag.

Since then, Mississippi has gone through a process to look at possible flag designs. They chose one — it has a big magnolia flower on it — and are submitting that design to voters for approval. If the voters approve it, there will be new flag up at the statehouse. If they don’t, the legislature has to go back to the drawing board and propose something else, since they are committed to getting rid of the Confederate emblem.

You started by mentioning the fact that ballot initiatives are really an outgrowth of the Progressive Era. But over the last several decades, conservatives have had a lot of success in using ballot measures to drive their agenda and energize their voters. We saw this in the 1970s and 80s, with small-government conservatives using ballot proposals to limit taxes. We saw this in the late 90s and 2000s, with social conservatives supporting a wave of proposals to curtail the rights of LGBT Americans.

But over the last decade or so, we’ve seen liberals use ballot measures in a similar way on issues including marijuana reform, criminal justice and ranked-choice voting. And that really seems to be the case this year, when paid family leave and legalized mushrooms are up for votes. Is there any big-picture conclusion we can draw from that?

In general, I think it reflects which parties control the legislative process in individual states. Whichever party is in power in the state legislature is probably going to be able to pass the issues that they want to. The minority party’s issues are maybe not getting the floor time or even advancing out of committee. Because of that, those types of issues are more likely to end up as citizen initiatives in the states that allow it. It can often be a workaround for the issues the minority party cares about.

It’s weird, though, because generally, lawmakers at the state level don’t like the citizen initiative process, regardless of party. They’ll like specific measures if they align with their own views, but they don’t like the process, and it’s sometimes hard to square that.

Voters could remove racist phrases from Alabama Constitution


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Alabama voters once again have the chance to remove the racist language of Jim Crow from the state's constitution, which was approved in 1901 to enshrine white supremacy as state law.

Courts have long since struck down legalized segregation, but past attempts to strip the offensive phrases have failed. Even though no organized opposition to the measure has emerged this time, some worry that conservative backlash to the Black Lives Matter movement could quash the proposal, which qualified for the ballot months before the nationwide demonstrations that occurred in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.

A measure on the Nov. 3 ballot would allow the state to recompile its 119-year-old constitution in a process supporters say would remove a lingering stain from the state's era of racial segregation and the legalized oppression of Black people.

“What we are trying to do with this small measure is to bring the Alabama Constitution into the 21st century and be more reflective of who we are as a state now,” said Rep. Merika Coleman, one of the sponsors of the bipartisan legislation.

An amendment would clear the way for excising language from the constitution that bans mixed-race marriages, allows poll taxes, and mandates school segregation. It would also remove duplicate sections from the heavily amended document and put related items all in one section.

While eradicating overt racism might seem like a logical move in 2020, approval isn't a given: Voters in the majority white, conservative state have rejected similar proposals twice since 2000.

In 2004, conservatives helped kill a move to clean up the constitution by arguing the move could lead to increases in school taxes. Eight years later, education groups and others opposed a similar measure because it retained segregation-era language that denied the constitutional right to education in Alabama.

Supporters of the measure are being careful with how they present the issue this year.

Called Amendment 4, the proposal as written on statewide ballots does not even mention race. It just says the amendment would let the Legislature “recompile the Alabama Constitution and submit it during the 2022 Regular Session, and provide a process for its ratification by the voters ...."

Supporters are encouraged because no organized opposition has emerged just days ahead of the vote. But they are also wary that conservatives who dominate the state electorate could oppose the amendment if they perceive it as being tied to anti-racism protests.

“It’s possible that the backlash will rear its head and people will vote against it,” said Nancy Ekberg, a director of Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, a nonprofit that has been pushing for a rewrite for 20 years.

Coleman said there was no connection between the amendment and nationwide protests against racial injustice.

“I don’t understand how anyone would conflate the two issues when we passed the measure in 2019 and it was completely bipartisan,” she said.

The racial justice movement and remnants of racism are tied to measures in some other states. Voters in neighboring Mississippi will decide on a replacement for the Confederate-themed state flag, and Rhode Island voters will decide whether to remove a reference to plantations from the state's official name.

In Alabama, history shows there's reason for supporters of the amendment to worry.

Two decades ago, Alabama voters voted to repeal an unenforceable section of the constitution that made it illegal for Black and white people to marry. About 40% voted against the change, and the amendment either passed narrowly or lost in many rural, mostly white counties.

If voters OK a reworking this year, a final version of the document would still have to be approved by lawmakers and in another statewide vote in 2022.

Republican Gov. Kay Ivey has not taken an official position on the anti-racist measure or any of the five other statewide amendments on the ballot, but she does not oppose any of them, said spokeswoman Gina Maiola.

The 1901 constitution was written to establish a "rigid apartheid” in Alabama, and the white men who wrote it were successful in disenfranchising Black people and poor white people for generations, said historian Wayne Flynt. Large numbers of Black people did not register to vote until after the civil rights gains of the 1960s.

Flynt said someone — including a state competing for an economic development project — could use the remaining racist language in the constitution to argue that “nothing in Alabama has changed.”

“This referendum and the referendum in ’22 will be a way of opening up the soul of Alabama and see what it looks like on the inside,” Flynt said.

Trump: Sudan to recognize Israel


President Donald Trump announced Friday that Sudan will start to normalize ties with Israel, making it the third Arab state to do so as part of U.S.-brokered deals in the run-up to Election Day.

The deal, which would deepen Sudan’s engagement with the West, follows Trump's conditional agreement this week to remove the North African nation from the list of state sponsors of terrorism if it pays compensation to American victims of terror attacks.

It also delivers a foreign policy achievement for Trump just days before the U.S. election and boosts his embattled ally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Recently, the United States brokered diplomatic pacts between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Jordan recognized Israel in the 1990s.

Trump invited reporters into the Oval Office while he was on the phone with the leaders of Israel and Sudan. Trump said Sudan had demonstrated a commitment to battling terrorism. “This is one of the great days in the history of Sudan,” Trump said, adding that Israel and Sudan have been in a state of war for decades.

“It is a new world,” Netanyahu said over the phone. “We are cooperating with everyone. Building a better future for all of us.”

Netanyahu has made it a priority to forge ties with formerly hostile countries in Africa and the Arab world in the absence of any progress with the Palestinians during his more than decade in office. The deal also is aimed at unifying Arab countries against their common adversary, Iran.



These recent recognitions of Israel have undermined the traditional Arab consensus that there can be no normalization with Israel before the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. The Palestinians say the recognitions amount to betrayal, while Israel says the Palestinians have lost what they have seen as their “veto” over regional peace efforts.

The deal with Sudan will include aid and investment from Israel, particularly in technology and agriculture, along with further debt relief. It comes as Sudan and its transitional government teeter on the edge. Thousands have protested in the country’s capital Khartoum and other regions in recent days over dire economic conditions.

Trump’s announcement, the morning after the final presidential debate with Democrat Joe Biden, came after Sudan followed through on its pledge to deliver $335 million to compensate American victims of past terror attacks and their families. The money is meant for victims of the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by the al-Qaida network while its leader, Osama bin Laden, was living in Sudan. Trump said on Tuesday that one the funds were transferred, he would remove Sudan from the list.

The removal of the terror designation opens the door for Sudan to get international loans and aid needed to revive its battered economy and rescue the country’s transition to democracy.

Sudan is on a fragile path to democracy after a popular uprising last year led the military to overthrow the longtime autocrat, Omar al-Bashir. A military-civilian government rules the country, with elections possible in late 2022.

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok thanked Trump for signing the executive order to remove Sudan from the terrorism list and said in a statement that he hoped to complete the process in a “timely manner.”

The normalization agreement had been in the works for some time but was finalized when Trump’s Mideast peace team, led by Jared Kushner and Avi Berkowitz, visited the region earlier this week to mark the first commercial flight between Israel and Bahrain and then went on to the United Arab Emirates, according to U.S. officials.

Unlike with Bahrain and the UAE, there has been a state of hostilities between Sudan and Israel, even if they had not been in direct conflict.

Key to the agreement was Sudan’s deposit of $335 million into an escrow account to pay compensation to victims of the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. A senior U.S. official said Sudan had borrowed the money needed to pay that amount.

Unmentioned in the joint statement was that Sudan has agreed, according to the senior U.S. official, to designate Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement as a terrorist organization, something that Israel has long sought from its neighbors and others in the international community.

Kushner said that other normalization agreements between Israel and Arab nations are in the works but would not predict which countries or when those deals might be completed.

Judge orders Justice Department to verify its filings in Flynn case


The federal judge presiding over the criminal case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn has ordered the Justice Department to conduct an unusual review of its filings in the case and certify by Monday whether any have been manipulated.

The order is a signal of intense distrust between the judge, Emmet Sullivan, and the department, whose filings are typically accepted at face value. In this case, DOJ has already acknowledged that two documents it previously filed — handwritten notes taken by former FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok and former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe — were altered "inadvertently" to include inaccurate dates.

Sullivan's demand will force the Justice Department to confront tricky interpretations of hand-written notes that DOJ and Flynn's legal team have relied on to seek the dismissal of the prosecution.

Flynn pleaded guilty in December 2017 to making false statements about his interactions with Russia's then-ambassador to the United States in the weeks before President Donald Trump's inauguration. Flynn encouraged the Russian envoy, Sergey Kislyak, to resist escalating a sanctions battle with the outgoing Obama administration, which sought to punish Russia for interfering int eh 2016 election. But Flynn told FBI agents in a Jan. 24, 2017 interview — as well as other Trump administration officials — that sanctions were not raised on the calls.

Though Flynn pleaded guilty to lying and cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators for a year, he dropped his legal team in early 2019, hired anti-Mueller firebrand attorney Sidney Powell and reversed his posture, claiming he was entrapped into a guilty plea by corrupt FBI agents and DOJ prosecutors. Earlier this year, Attorney General William Barr appointed a Missouri-based U.S. attorney to review the case and, as Flynn mounted an effort to unravel his guilty plea, Barr moved in May to dismiss the charges altogether.

But Sullivan has resisted pressure to drop the case, instead appointing an outside adviser to argue against dismissal. That adviser, former judge John Gleeson, has accused Barr of an overtly political effort to drop the Flynn case in order to protect a prominent Trump ally. Sullivan's posture has led to contentious litigation, including a failed effort by Flynn's team to ask the appeals court to elbow Sullivan aside while accusing him of bias. In the intervening months, the Justice Department and Flynn have continued to publicly post sets of documents that Flynn's team has characterized as evidence of FBI misconduct.

Two of those documents included the notes that DOJ now acknowledges were altered, a revelation that Sullivan said last month left him "floored" and demanding answers. In his new order, Sullivan notes that DOJ did not respond to his request to authenticate all 14 exhibits it has filed in support of the dismissal motion.

"Although the government relies heavily on these 14 Exhibits, the government has not provided a declaration attesting that the Exhibits are true and correct copies," he wrote Friday. Though he acknowledged there is typically a legal "presumption" that documents filed by the government are authentic, it doesn't apply in this case. "Here, however, the government has acknowledged that altered FBI records have been produced by the government and filed on the record in this case."

In his order, Sullivan demand by Monday a sworn declaration that all other documents in the case are "true and correct copies." That declaration, Sullivan says, must spell out the name, date and author of its contents — aspects that were sometimes left ambiguous by the publicly filed records. Sullivan also asks for DOJ to provide transcripts of the handwritten notes, which could also eliminate ambiguities related to some of the hard-to-read scrawlings.

The alteration in Strzok's notes have already led to significant public confusion about a key aspect of the FBI's investigation of Flynn. Strzok's notes summarize a Jan. 5, 2017, Oval Office meeting at which President Barack Obama, FBI Director James Comey and other national security officials discussed Flynn's contact with Russian officials. The document filed in court included a notation that indicated a date range of Jan. 4-5, 2017 — an addition that DOJ attributes to an inadvertently scanned sticky note.

Despite little ambiguity about the date of the Oval Office meeting, the inclusion of Jan. 4, 2017, as a potential earlier date helped President Donald Trump deploy the issue during a debate last month with former Vice President Joe Biden.

Strzok's notes indicate that Biden mentioned the Logan Act — a mostly defunct 18th-Century law that criminalizes efforts by private citizens to conduct U.S. foreign policy. The FBI internally discussed using the Logan Act as a basis for its decision to interview Flynn a few weeks later as it investigated his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States. Ultimately, FBI and DOJ officials said the interview was conducted as part of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Strzok’s notes provide no context about why Biden raised the Logan Act, if it was in response to anyone else or how any officials responded. Biden has previously acknowledged being present in the Oval Office during the discussion of the Flynn matter and indicated he was broadly aware of the FBI investigation. “But that's all I know about it. I don't think anything else,” Biden said.

Trump, though, accused Biden of dredging up the Logan Act himself to go after Flynn.

"You gave the idea for the Logan Act against General Flynn," the president said at the Sept. 29 debate.

Yet other documents released by the DOJ indicate that the notion of pursuing a Logan Act charge against Flynn originated inside the FBI on Jan. 4, 2017, a day before the Oval Office meeting occurred. Messages exchanged between Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page on that day reveal a discussion of the obscure law. Strzok provided the text of the statute to Page, as well as an analysis by the Congressional Research Service that noted the Logan Act had been in relative disuse for more than 200 years and could be unconstitutional.

Trump campaign spokesperson claims parents of separated children don't want them back


The Trump campaign’s communications director asserted on Friday that the reason some migrant families separated by the Trump administration at the U.S. border have not been reunited is because the parents do not want their children back.

Multiple media outlets reported this week that the federal government remains unable to find the parents of more than 500 children who were separated from their families after crossing the U.S. border. Speaking on CNN’s “New Day, Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said that while “it’s a regrettable situation, certainly,” the work of unifying these families with their loved ones is more complicated for Department of Homeland Security officials than has been portrayed publicly.

“The fact is it's not as simple as you make it sound or Joe Biden made it sound on the stage last night to locate the parents who are in other countries,” Murtaugh said. “And when they do locate them, it has been DHS’ experience that in many cases the parents do not want the children returned.”

Murtaugh also repeated that claim later in the interview with host John Berman.

“You have to locate the parents and when they are located in these other countries in many cases, John, the parents do not want the children sent back to them in their home countries.”

Murtaugh did not provide any evidence that parents are rejecting having their children returned to them once U.S. officials contact them. Spokespeople for the Department of Homeland Security did not immediately return requests for further details on Murtaugh's claims.

President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden sparred over immigration during Thursday night’s debate in Nashville, Tenn., including the plight of the 545 children who remain separated from their parents as a result of the Trump administration's efforts to deter illegal immigration.



Biden was visibly angry when the subject came up during the debate and said that “it’s criminal” that these children have been left in limbo.

“Parents were ripped — their kids were ripped from their arms and separated, and now they cannot find over 500 of sets of those parents and those kids are alone,” Biden said. “[With] nowhere to go. Nowhere to go.”

Trump countered by criticizing the Obama administration’s immigration policy, including the construction of detention facilities for undocumented immigrants, and repeatedly pressing Biden to answer “Who made the cages?”

Trump also defended his administration’s treatment of child migrants, saying “they are so well taken care of.”


Biden distanced himself from the president he served under, saying Barack Obama “made a mistake” by not achieving comprehensive immigration reform during his tenure.

What global elections have taught Silicon Valley about misinformation


The swift action Twitter and Facebook took to stifle an unverified New York Post article and the crushing political pressure that forced them to reverse course illustrate a key reality: With just weeks until the U.S. election, tech giants have yet to sort out their misinformation problems.

That hasn't just been a challenge in the U.S., moreover. Silicon Valley's social media stalwarts have faced misinformation woes in elections all around the globe since 2016, prompting them to revamp their policies on content moderation or invent new ones, entirely, in response to emerging threats and political demands.

“It’s always an election year on Twitter — we are a global service and our decisions reflect that,” Twitter’s vice president of public policy for the Americas, Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, told POLITICO this summer. “We take the learnings from every recent election around the world and use them to improve our election integrity work.”

The New York Post incident elicited partisan howling last week, which led the companies to rethink how they handle content tied to hacked materials. Ultimately, they changed policies that had been put in place to avoid a repeat of 2016, when emails that were stolen and leaked as part of a Russian interference campaign rocked the race.

Other rules are also in flux. Earlier this month, Facebook announced a moratorium on all political advertising in the period after Election Day, despite CEO Mark Zuckerberg's previous pledge not to make any further election-related policy changes. Google imposed a narrower, post-election ban on its advertising platforms, as well.

And this week, Twitter revamped its process for how users across the globe retweet a post, prompting them to add their own commentary or insight as a way to mitigate the mindless spread of election-related misinformation with a single click.


The social media sites have had to constantly introduce new policies and tweak existing ones to account for emerging threats from domestic and foreign operatives. It’s an iterative process that the companies say is re-evaluated after every major election around the world. Those elections, which have spanned countries from Brazil, to Nigeria to India as well as the European Union and the U.K., have each offered lessons that are now being applied as voters cast ballots in the U.S.

“The ugly American thing to say is that all of those have been attempts to get election systems right in order to not get 2020 wrong here in the United States,” said Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Lab, which studies misinformation around the world.

“2020 is this kind of Super Bowl moment for how we are able to collectively deal with disinformation,” Brookie added.

But elections outside the U.S. have been no less complicated — nor have they come with less scrutiny — for the tech companies. They aim to keep policies simple and consistent, but ultimately have to navigate unique rules and traditions around political speech and activity in each location where they operate. That's led to some hiccups.

In Europe, for instance, Facebook declared in April 2019 that political advertisers must register in each country where they run ads, effectively cutting off the European Parliament and political parties with members across the continent. The policy was meant to curb foreign interference, but didn't suit a system comprised of more than two dozen countries. Facebook amended it weeks later.

Direct messaging misinformation

Voters in Brazil and India were deluged with misinformation in 2018 and 2019 via WhatsApp. The Facebook-owned messaging app, which is more popular outside the U.S., became a breeding ground for fake news and images that spread rapidly through direct messages and private groups.

Facebook's crackdown was complicated by the app’s encryption technology, which makes it so that even the company cannot see what messages are being shared among users. That prompted Facebook to substantially reduce the number of people or groups to which a message can be forwarded, effectively slowing down the rapid spread of misinformation by making it more cumbersome. At the time, it led to a 25 percent decrease in message forwarding globally, the company said.

Facebook has now applied similar restrictions to its Messenger platform in the U.S. and around the globe. In September, the company announced it would only allow users to forward a message to five recipients at a time to provide “yet another layer of protection by limiting the spread of viral misinformation or harmful content.”

Political ad limitations

Google and Facebook have repeatedly amended their rules for political advertisers in the lead up to Election Day 2020, most recently putting limitations on the ads that can be published in the days after the vote, when a winner might still be uncertain.

Google previously curtailed the degree to which advertisers could target their messages to specific audiences, and Twitter did away with its smaller political advertising business, entirely, last year. Each of those changes has drawn criticism from both political parties, as well as created new hurdles for their vast networks of digital consultants.


Before making such moves, the companies first tinkered with political ad policies abroad. In January 2019, for instance, Facebook temporarily stopped allowing advertisers outside of Nigeria to buy ads related to the country’s election, as a way to tamp down on the kind of foreign meddling seen in the 2016 U.S. campaign and others. That policy was subsequently expanded to elections in Ukraine, Thailand and Indonesia, among other places.

Political ad transparency

In 2016, Russian operatives bought political ads on social media platforms, sometimes paying for them in rubles, without tech companies batting an eye. The outcry after the fact prompted Facebook and Google in 2018 to impose new rules requiring advertisers to prove their identity and location. They also created a public database of political ads with information about their buyers.

The companies have since extended similar authentication requirements and public disclosures to much of the globe, with Brazil, India and the European Union being among the first locations brought on board. Indeed, rules created for the 2018 U.S. midterm elections have served as a global model.


And both companies have added to those rules ahead of the 2020 election, requiring additional disclosures and further proof of identity in an effort to cut down on political advertisers who were exploiting loopholes to shield their real identity or funders.

Anti-misinformation policies have not always been applied at the same time around the world, leaving some countries waiting for new rules or transparency measures to take effect. In Europe, for instance, there was grousing that Google and Facebook made more information about political ads available there months later than in the U.S.

Expanded fact checking

Facebook first started working with third-party fact checkers in the weeks following the 2016 presidential election as the volume of fake news on the social network came into focus. Today, Facebook, Twitter and Google all engage in some degree of fact checking and apply labels to potentially misleading posts — a practice that has brought political headaches and accusations of bias.

Facebook’s move to curb the spread of the New York Post story until its independent fact checkers could determine its accuracy fits a playbook it has deployed ahead of elections in other parts of the world.

Facebook has expanded its fact-checking efforts in countries like Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Australia ahead of elections there. Partnering with fact checkers and journalists during elections was a practice Google and Facebook piloted in France in 2017 amid fallout from the U.S. election months prior.

Google started appending "information panels" to election-related YouTube videos in India and Brazil last year to point visitors to additional facts from credible sources. Those information panels were brought to the U.S. in April for videos related to the coronavirus pandemic and the election, and were later expanded to Germany and the U.K.

“Over the last few years, we’ve significantly increased our investments in the systems and processes that enable us to effectively remove violative videos, raise up authoritative content and reduce the spread of borderline content," YouTube spokesperon Ivy Choi said in a statement. "We’ve developed this solution to be scalable globally, and apply it to elections around the world, including the 2020 U.S. election.”


How to Worry About This Election—and When


The coronavirus pandemic was always going to make the 2020 election uniquely complicated, and Donald Trump’s norm-busting style was always going to make it tense, but headlines in recent days have started to read like political thriller plot lines. We’ve seen Iranian skullduggery, dummy ballot boxes and mysterious threatening emails. Congressional Democrats are pleading with the military to respect a peaceful transition of power. A poll shows that barely a fifth of Americans believe this year’s election will be “free and fair.” There’s concern about violence, especially by militias and white supremacists. Some Americans are even laying in extra food and water, fearing what comes next.


Americans have little experience navigating disputed elections at this scale, and none at all doing so with a president hinting he might not leave office if he loses.

So what could we really be in for after November 3? Beyond a vague, crippling sense of dread, a feeling informed by hours of late-night doom-scrolling, what could actually go wrong?



The closer we get to the election, the more the picture comes into focus. Three months ago, POLITICO Magazine surveyed experts about what could go wrong on Election Day itself—from voter suppression to sinister “poll-watchers” to complete voting chaos—and as the day approaches we asked more than a dozen election, constitutional and national security experts about the concrete problems they’re planning for once the polls close.

Some have already been involved in “wargaming” scenarios for a bitterly contested election; others have been busy gathering legal memos to plan for this contingency or that or enlisting corps of lawyers and observers to deploy on Election Day and to any trouble spots in the days that follow. Their fears run from a narrow election night Trump lead in Arizona to a reprise of the 2000 “Brooks Brothers riot”—this time with AR-15 rifles—to the outsized importance that might weigh on Montana’s sole congressional race if the presidential race ends up in the House of Representatives.



One bit of good news: The U.S. election system is relatively resilient and guided by strict legal procedures, so we can expect the uncertainty—tense as it may be—to unfold with distinct phases. “There are different points where we’ll know what kind of world we’re living in,” says Stanford Law School election expert Nathaniel Persily. “Every nightmare scenario begins with the early states not being decisive and the absentee vote in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin being outcome determinative. We’ll know within four hours of polls closing whether we live in that world.”

“If Biden wins by 2, 3, 4 hree-four points, we’re in this world,” says one Democratic strategist who spoke anonymously to avoid letting on that his group is involved in preparing for a contested election. “The 4-to-6-point range is still pretty significant. Even if there are no shenanigans and it’s a clean count, the Electoral College bias probably requires getting to 3 or 4-point margin of victory for a Democrat before you win the Electoral College too.”

What should we start worrying about, and when? Below, we’ve pulled their insights into a chronological guide: What to watch for in the minutes, days, weeks and months after voting ends on Nov. 3.

And one final note of reassurance amid what can be an unsettling picture: Our experts think chances are extremely high that the nation will swear in a duly elected commander in chief on January 20, 2021. Here’s what that road to that moment could look like:


Voting is extended

None of those problems end up mattering in the final, official counts. Normally. But in a year when nothing is normal and everything is under the microscope, these problems will have repercussions we don’t normally see. You can expect perfectly normal swing-state glitches to pump fuel into the right- and left-wing panic machines on Election Day and beyond. And since news organizations have rules against “projecting” winners in states until polls have closed across the entire state—and are planning to be extra-cautious about early calls this year—these issues may delay the unofficial win/loss tallies on election night. So even if everything is buttery-smooth, you can expect an unusually late night, and widespread coverage of even what are routine glitches.

False or premature claims of victory

Changes in voting behavior and reporting patterns in recent years have led to what political scientists have taken to calling the “blue shift” or “red mirage”—a rush of Republican votes reported early that give way to more Democratic votes as more jurisdictions and ballots are counted. (The exact reasons behind this clear and pronounced new trend in U.S. voting remain hotly debated by political scientists, but it’s been steady since 2004.) States like Arizona, for instance, have consistently seen a move of about 4 points in favor of Democrats as final votes are tallied. Nationally, when Trump took the stage to declare victory at 2:49 a.m. ET in 2016, he led Hillary Clinton by a million votes—57 million to 56 million—but the final tally had Clinton beating him in the popular vote by nearly 3 million, 66 million to 63 million.



The way these shifts play out state-by-state may matter a great deal in forecasting the initial trends—and who tries to leap out and claim victory when. “If Donald Trump is up by 2 points at midnight in Arizona, that could create a real problem as his supporters think he’s victorious,” says one Democratic strategist.

So one major anxiety is that Trump will seize on early favorable results to declare victory—before the election has been called either way—and point to any later shift as evidence of fraud. “After the votes are in, the game on his side is tell a different narrative about what happened—there was fraud and we won—and provoke an antagonistic or violent reaction to precipitate a law and order crisis,” says one election strategist, who worries Trump could then put pressure on states to shorten their counts.

The major social media sites are already planning to take steps to block such premature claims from spreading: Facebook will prohibit post-election “victory” ads on election night that are not backed up by independent assessments, and Twitter is preparing to label tweets that, in its words, “claim an election win before it is authoritatively called.” Activists, though, worry that such moves don’t go far enough: A coalition known as Accountable Tech argues that Facebook’s groups function is ripe to be weaponized by bad-faith claims of electoral victory.

North Carolina and Florida, two key bellwethers, both will likely report results relatively quickly on election night itself; early victories for Biden in either or both states will hint that Biden might be the clear winner within a day or so. And while a Trump win in either or both states wouldn’t necessarily foreclose an eventual Biden victory, it would likely mean that the nation would be in for a long period of uncertainty. And the longer the uncertainty, the greater the risk of, well, a lot of other problems cropping up.


Armed groups mobilize

Activists on the left have their own “Stopping the Coup” guide floating around online, urging quick action if Trump tries to claim a false victory or shut down an extended vote counting period. “As these scenarios play out it is our job to engage in action that is calibrated with the scale of what is happening. As attempts to defraud the vote count escalates, it is our obligation to shut things down and demand a true reckoning of the democratic process,” the document says.

Once street protests over the outcome of the election begin, they may be hard to turn off—particularly if Trump seizes on the civil unrest for a heavy-handed federal crackdown akin to this summer’s protests in Washington, D.C.



The good news is that state and local officials have strong legal foundations to confront and shut down such groups and gatherings should they chose to do so. A Georgetown University team led by Mary McCord, a former top national security official at the Justice Department, has examined the nation’s anti-militia laws and prepared state-by-state fact sheets about how officials can confront armed groups. “I am seeing bright spots,” she says, as local and state officials have urged calm and emphasized they’re prepared to confront armed groups that may try to intimidate voters at the polls or protest post-election. “The vast majority of Americans don’t want a civil war or violence.”

McCord says her main concern is that under normal circumstances, the nation’s leaders would be the primary voice for calm—but that this year, Trump has already indicated his willingness to stoke violence. “He’s probably going to egg it on, actually,” she says. “I hope people wake up and agree we don’t want to be a failed democracy. Everyone else—athletes, religious leaders, business leaders, state and local leaders—they’ve got to speak up and show that the vast majority of people don’t want armed conflict.”

The Justice Department intervenes

In the first hours after the polls close—or even before polls close—Barr’s Justice Department might seize on real, over-hyped or imagined questions of fraud or voting irregularities to publicly launch investigations that would help Trump build a narrative of an illegitimate election.



This isn’t just partisan anxiety, and it’s not limited to election wonks: Earlier this month, more than 1,000 Justice Department alumni, from both Republican and Democratic administrations, signed an open letter saying they were worried about what Barr might do. “We fear that Attorney General Barr intends to use the DOJ’s vast law enforcement powers to undermine our most fundamental democratic value: free and fair elections,” they wrote. “Given Attorney General Barr’s demonstrated willingness to use the Department to help President Trump politically, the media and the public should view any election-related activity by the DOJ—including any announcement or findings related to the Durham investigation—with appropriate skepticism.”

The actual legal impact of such investigations—whether they led to criminal charges or uncovered legitimate fraud—would likely pale in comparison with the impact on the public debate around the election, as the president and his supporters seized on any steps or allegations leveled by Barr to impugn the outcome of the election.

hACKERS UNDERMINE RESULTs

The goal of such actions isn’t to officially change the outcome of the election but to undermine voters’ confidence in the legitimacy of the outcome. Given Trump’s demonstrated proclivity to amplify false claims about the election, trouble could particularly arise from the second- and third-order effects of any such claims—for instance, if Trump, Barr, or state election officials use such disinformation to cast doubt on the election, launch investigations and court challenges, or even refuse to certify election results. Overall, while the low-level mischief meter for the election will be off the charts, the impact from most attacks might be short-lived.


Ballots turn up late

The worrisome and well-documented pandemic woes of the U.S. Postal Service, and the concerns about its Trump megadonor-turned-postmaster general, have turned this venerable agency into a point of worry this year. Nearly three dozen states require absentee ballots to arrive by Election Day—Alabama even requires receipt by noon on Election Day—and the post office is warning that it may take 10 days or more for mail ballots to work their way through the system. It’s all but guaranteed that gobs of ballots will turn up late across the country, perhaps through no fault of voters. More nettlesome questions will arise if ballots turn up in suspicious circumstances, either discarded by postal carriers, hidden in election offices or intercepted by campaigns. Expect court fights around accepting or counting late ballots if an election seems close. If innocently misplaced or nefariously concealed ballots turn up late in an “Election Day receipt” state, voters would have no recourse other than a potentially long-shot court challenge.

A counting collapse

The good news is that, despite the fresh logistical concerns of the pandemic, election machinery has in many parts of the country been dramatically improved, tightened and secured since 2016, when Russia’s attack brought fresh attention and resources to election administrators. Many jurisdictions have embraced anew paper ballots, which would make recounts easier and more reliable.



The biggest new challenge to come out of the pandemic will be simply the sheer volume of absentee and mail-in votes likely to land in states that have little experience carrying out large-scale vote-by-mail operations might lead to confusion, slow returns, overwhelmed local officials, and misplaced boxes and bags of ballots. The GOP, meanwhile, is seemingly working to manufacture precisely this type of crisis by preventing local officials from following the best practices of starting to process absentee ballots before Election Day.

Experts have their eyes on Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, crucial swing states that will likely be slow to report results because of their limited ability to process absentee ballots ahead of time. Nevada is mailing all its voters ballots, resulting likely in a slow count, too. There’s a scenario in which, if Trump wins every state he carried in 2016, he will net 260 electoral votes on election night itself and then the nation will settle in for the count—and the fight over the count—in those four remaining battlegrounds.

While the final vote margins are unlikely to be as tight as the 537-vote margin in Florida in 2000, it may take days before anyone feels comfortable declaring even a 10,000 vote or 20,000 vote lead victorious. “Florida 2000 was like trying to track a speeding car and determining whether it was going 72.2 or 72.3 miles per hour—there’s no radar gun in the world precise enough to accurately determine that,” says one Democratic strategist. “This election is like trying to track a car with a stopwatch and a potentially corrupt sheriff.”

Another key fight will likely be around so-called “provisional ballots,” those cast by voters who think they should be registered but aren’t, or, for instance, who show up accidentally at the wrong polling place. Those ballots require additional work by election administrators—and often the voter himself or herself—to verify post-election and may end up being subject to court challenges. Given the certain confusion about relocated and moved polling places for the pandemic—as well as the shockingly higher than expected voter turnout—2020 will surely make heavy use of this mechanism to allow likely eligible voters to participate on Election Day. “There will be more provisional ballots cast this year than normal,” Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund told an Aspen Institute gathering this month. “To the extent that we’ve seen massive voter purges targeted at the African American community, polling place changes targeted at the African-American community and other voter suppression activities, we can expect that the disproportionate number of people who will be casting those provisional ballots will be Black voters.”

It’s entirely possible (perhaps even likely) that the number of disputed or discarded ballots in certain jurisdictions will exceed candidates’ margins of victory or loss. Officials in Pennsylvania, a state Trump won in 2016 by just 44,292 votes, fear the “naked ballot” issue might lead to 100,000 discarded ballots. And that’s likely to affect not just the presidential race, but tight congressional, senate, gubernatorial or legislative races as well.

Legitimate fraud is uncovered

However, localized examples of fraud do occur—the most recent example being Republican campaign operatives scheming to deliver a victory in a North Carolina congressional race. Expect any such localized incidents to be seized upon by national voices as systemic indictments.

Vote counters are intimidated or attacked

That then-novel idea of “working the refs” post-election would now be part of the standard playbook in 2020—and officials and experts worry that this year’s political tension and national backdrop might mean threats or acts of violence or targeted online or real-world harassment of election administrators, both at work and at home. “We expect and fear that there will be intimidation of vote counters,” the NAACP’s Ifill told the Aspen Institute audience last month. “Our fear is that this year rather than wearing khakis, they will be strapped with AR-15s. It’s critical to engage with attorneys general, with governors, to prepare to protect the election counters the week after so that we can ensure that all absentee votes are counted.”

Supreme Court challenge that stops a count or ultimately decides the election

Any party-line Supreme Court decision that benefited Trump’s candidacy would be viewed with great suspicion by Democrats and Biden voters, further politicizing and polarizing the court, and leaving liberal voters—and perhaps members of Congress—openly questioning the legitimacy of his second term. The key figure to watch here could be Chief Justice John Roberts, who has worked carefully in recent years to preserve the court’s reputation as a neutral arbiter, even if that means siding with the more liberal justices on controversial issues, and would be under immense pressure from both sides in any post-election court cases.

Trump or Biden refuses to accept legitimacy of the results

His behavior, threats and rants aren’t altogether surprising, given that he’s been so self-conscious and insecure about winning the 2016 election that he’s repeatedly bragged about his Electoral College victory to world leaders and falsely asserted that millions of illegal votes were cast four years ago. Meanwhile, American politics seems uniquely primed to believe that the election results are illegitimate: Politics has been slowly and insidiously poisoned over the past four years by the spread of QAnon, a quasi-religious Republican cult of falsehoods, elaborate and improbable conspiracy theories, and outright absurdity that has so captured the GOP’s base that as many as five Republican congressional candidates have espoused support for it.

Hillary Clinton, for her part, has urged Biden not to be quick to concede a loss either. “Joe Biden should not concede under any circumstances because I think this is going to drag out, and eventually I do believe he will win if we don't give an inch and if we are as focused and relentless as the other side is,” Clinton told Jennifer Palmieri on Showtime's “The Circus” earlier this fall.

Leaders in both parties have tried to downplay fears that the election results may not be accepted. “The winner of the November 3 election will be inaugurated on January 20,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted, soon after Trump’s remarks. “There will be an orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792.” The obvious wiggle room in McConnell’s framing, though, is that the entire post-election fight will be around just who gets declared—and accepted—as that “winner”?


STATE OR LOCAL OFFICIALS REFUSE TO CERTIFY results

Such a move, though, would hardly take place in a vacuum—it would almost certainly be preceded by a series of cascading problems or controversies upstream in one or more crucial states, and would almost certainly be met with legal challenges. And, it’s ultimately up to Congress to decide which electors to accept, so it’s not even clear that such a move would have a meaningful impact on the outcome.

However, how and where problems at this level would be resolved—either in court or by the House of Representatives—would push into uncharted territory for the U.S. electoral system.

Electors revolt or are replaced

Yes, technically it’s true that the electors could decide on their own to elect Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson president in December, but there’s no real reason to imagine a broad uprising by electors. While electors, in protest or by accident, have voted for other candidates not on the general election ballot—in 2016, for instance, a few cast meaningless votes for noncandidates like Bernie Sanders, John Kasich and Colin Powell—only one elector has ever switched to cast a vote for the opposing presidential nominee.



This year, though, there’s a potential different twist in the Electoral College: The threat of Republican legislatures replacing Democratic electors before they have a chance to vote at all. In an article earlier this fall in the Atlantic, Barton Gellman reported that Republican operatives and the Trump campaign are “discussing contingency plans to bypass election results and appoint loyal electors in battleground states where Republicans hold the legislative majority. With a justification based on claims of rampant fraud, Trump would ask state legislators to set aside the popular vote and exercise their power to choose a slate of electors directly.” Those loyal electors, chosen by the state legislature, would then presumably vote for Trump over Biden, actual results be damned.

Any such plan, however far-fetched and damaging to democracy, would hinge on (a) Trump’s losing, (b) his or the GOP’s casting enough doubt about the outcome and real vote totals that state legislators would feel OK enacting what would be a constitutional coup, and (c) the validity of those electors sustaining an inevitable court and congressional challenge. Plus, in some states, the governor might appoint his or her own set of electors, which could end up meaning that certain states present competing slates of electors to Congress on January 6. Credentials of competing elector slates would ultimately be judged by Congress, which would choose which set of votes to accept—although the process for such vetting is unclear. Some states have their own rules for how to handle a crisis like this, which themselves can be gamed: North Carolina, for instance, says that in the event of “dueling electors,” the slate chosen by the governor should be considered the legitimate one. (Not scared enough yet? A Carnegie scholar sketched out how such a plot would unfold in practice.)



It’s not clear that such a legislative end run would be allowed legally, as the law calls for electors to be chosen ahead of the national vote itself—making any post-election changes legally suspect. And the Supreme Court itself has already said in an unrelated case this year that “legislatures no longer play a role” in choosing electors, which would make the court battle to sustain a legislature overruling the popular vote an uphill battle in the extreme.


The winner is incapacitated or dies

The question of what happens if the winning candidate dies or is incapacitated hinges on when it occurs: If it’s before December 14, when the Electoral College vote officially occurs, party rules for the Democrats and Republicans guide the members of the Republican National Committee or Democratic National Committee through officially recommending a substitute who, with some complication and maneuvering, could then be officially chosen by the Electoral College.

If such an incident unfolded between December 14 and January 6, when Congress officially accepts and certifies the election, the presidential election would go to Congress itself. And if the official president-elect can’t be sworn in on January 20, the vice president-elect would simply be sworn in instead.

The U.S. has never had a presidential winner expire midcount, but it has had a losing candidate die: In 1872, Horace Greeley died on November 29, after losing the election to Ulysses S. Grant but before the Electoral College officially voted; in the end, individual electors chose to cast the 66 electoral votes that Greeley had won for his vice presidential candidate, Benjamin Gratz Brown, as well as three other minor-party candidates, instead.

Congress chooses a president

The congressional election of a president is a process that’s known as a “contingent election,” and it hasn’t been used for the presidency since 1825. In the scenario of a “contingent election,” the House votes for the president and the Senate chooses a vice president, meaning it’s entirely possible, if the opposing parties each control one chamber of Congress, for the two to be of opposing parties.



In the House, each state gets a single vote—meaning that the presidency would likely fall to whichever party controls the majority of state delegations come the new Congress. (The District of Columbia, which normally gets three electoral votes, would be sidelined and cut out of the process in the House.) Nancy Pelosi is already laying the groundwork for such a fight: Right now, Democrats are outnumbered 22 states to 26; Pennsylvania’s delegation is equally split, and Michigan’s delegation is complicated by the wild card of independent, and Trump, foe Justin Amash. “We’re trying to win every seat in America, but there are obviously some places where a congressional district is even more important than just getting the member into the U.S. House of Representatives,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a constitutional lawyer, told POLITICO last month. (For the true constitutional sci-fi fans, there are even proposals afoot about how Nancy Pelosi could selectively challenge certain incoming representatives to the 117th Congress in January to ensure victory in a contingent election.)

If the election looks likely to come down to the House in January, pay special attention to the outcome of state congressional races where Democrats currently hold just a one- or two-seat advantage—places like Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and New Hampshire—as well as Florida and Wisconsin, where Republicans currently hold a narrow lead in the state’s delegation. Pennsylvania is already expected to become a majority Democratic delegation in November, and if Democrats manage to flip the sole congressional seat in either Alaska or Montana, those single at-large seats would secure an entire “delegation” vote in any continent election. A Democratic wave at the congressional level might prove decisive come January 6.

Under even wilder scenarios, if the House were to deadlock for a period of time on a presidential vote, the vice president-elect chosen by the Senate might become “acting president” for a period of time after January 20.

Trump refuses to leave office

Presidential power shifts automatically under the Constitution at noon on January 20—it’s not like Trump has to sign a resignation letter or turn over the keys to the presidential limo—and there’s nothing that Trump could do to delay that or prevent his successor from then utilizing those powers. If he loses, as of noon on January 20, Trump would be trespassing at the White House, subject to arrest and removal by the Secret Service the same as anyone who jumps the Pennsylvania Avenue fence.



Given the U.S.’s long, proud history of peaceful transitions of power and civilian control of the military, it’s hard to imagine the scenario in which a president duly elected by 270 electors and certified by Congress who takes office on January 20 has to have U.S. marshals and the 82nd Airborne fight through rings of bikers and sheriffs and physically carry Donald, Melania, Jared and Ivanka out of the West Wing and dump them in Lafayette Park.

Whether a defeated Trump makes it difficult for Biden on his way out the door—or whether a departed Trump moves into his landmark hotel a few blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue and attempts to set up a pretend shadow MAGA government-in-exile? That’s another question entirely.

How coronavirus is reshaping America's job market


The coronavirus recession is forcing a sweeping overhaul of the U.S. workforce, triggering permanent job losses at an extraordinary rate and forcing millions of Americans to seek employment in entirely different industries.

Just two-thirds of Americans were working for the same employer in September as they were in February, with the rest either landing new jobs or unemployed, according to the Real-Time Population Survey, a collaboration between researchers at Arizona State University and Virginia Commonwealth University. Brookings Institution researchers paint an even grimmer long-term picture, estimating that 42 percent of jobs lost due to Covid-19 will eventually be gone for good.

Incomes are also dropping, indicating that many of these workers are transitioning into lower-paying jobs. More than 25 percent of U.S. workers earned less in September than they did in February, according to the Population Survey.

The widespread displacement of jobs has set off a scramble among workers to find new skills and careers — a situation that also presents a challenge for the government as it seeks to keep people employed and off the relief rolls. House Democrats are exploring pandemic aid that would fund efforts to retrain workers, providing them the skills needed to find jobs in other industries.

“When things shut down, there was a lot of delusion" that employment would soon return to normal, said Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute, a former Labor Department chief economist. "Now, people are realizing that in industries where there’s a lot of social contact, many of those [jobs] are just not coming back" until well after there's a vaccine.

Among those industries are restaurants, brick-and-mortar retailers, airlines and event planning, which continue to grapple most with unemployment even as the nationwide jobless rate creeps down. Hotel accommodation and food services have lost 12 percent of employees to different lines of work since February, while the arts, entertainment and recreation have lost 11 percent, Real-Time Population Survey researchers told POLITICO.


The longer the pandemic lasts, Shierholz said, the more likely the job shifts will continue beyond the end of the public health crisis. In September, the number of permanent job losers increased to 3.8 million, or about 30 percent of all those who have become unemployed since the pandemic hit, Labor Department data show.

In the meantime, some economists say, the government and companies should facilitate the shift, including by supporting worker retraining and untying pandemic aid from payroll retention as it was in the massive Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses.

The House-passed revised Heroes Act, Democrats' proposal for the next economic relief package, contained more than $2 billion for worker training. House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.) is among the key lawmakers who support more workforce development efforts.

Rep. Steven Horsford, a Nevada Democrat whom Neal praised as a "leader on this issue," said a comprehensive solution is needed.

"We need to rethink all of our worker training programs," said Horsford. "How do we realign our workforce strategy ... in order to help folks get back in the workforce [by] providing them with the skills and training they're going to need?"

One complication is that this recession is different: Recent economic slumps have depressed demand across the job market and had fewer long-term effects, economists say. The Great Recession "affected people more evenly because it was a really great market downturn," said Elizabeth Hanke, an economist at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

But the public health ramifications of Covid-19, including social distancing requirements and limits on travel, have resulted in certain corners of the workforce taking harder, and potentially more permanent, hits than others.

“Even though employment has been steadily increasing, the number of people working for the same employers [as they were] in February has been pretty steadily decreasing, which means that the increase in employment is coming from people who are working for new employers, rather than old employers,” Adam Blandin, one of the researchers behind the Real-Time Population Survey, said.

The steep wage losses since February were not “just a temporary situation” for many workers, said Kim Parker, social research director for Pew Research Center, which has done its own report.

Yet some economists say the lower-wage trend may be short-lived and pay could bounce back. Still, because wage growth slows most during a recession for workers who earn less, it's just another way in which "low-wage workers are getting hit harder," Shierholz said. And because Black and Latinx workers are overrepresented in low-wage jobs, "inequality is growing — not just inequality between classes, but also inequality between racial groups.”

Job postings and unemployment data also show which sectors the pandemic is hitting hardest. Employment in food services and drinking establishments was down by 2.3 million in September from February, according to the Labor Department.

Manufacturing had 647,000 fewer workers, and retail had 483,000 fewer. And job postings in hospitality and tourism declined more than 46 percent in September from last year, according to Indeed. In these sectors, continually crippled demand and an inability to perform work from home means people must seek work in another industry.

The travel industry “has been hit, and I think they’re going to lose a lot of jobs for several years,” said José María Barrero, one of the researchers published in Brookings. “There’s going to be potentially a lot of flight attendants and a lot of ground crews that are just going to have to look for a job potentially in a different industry.”


Factory workers have been left in the cold, too, with many forming some of the first and largest waves of layoffs. Yet increased automation in their absence has led to a notable recovery in output, with the industrial production index bouncing back to 99 in August — less than 10 points down from February. That will mean many of the job losses are likely permanent.

Laid-off manufacturing workers are most likely to be rehired in the service industry. It’s often lower-skilled workers who are the first to go, and when they do, low levels of education and barriers to relocation mean they will probably end up working in restaurants.

Between 2000 and February 2020, manufacturing lost about 5 million jobs. Over the same period, the food services industry gained roughly the same amount, Labor Department statistics show. The swap comes with a drop in wages — manufacturing workers made an average of $28.78 an hour in July, while food service employees made $15.50.

For many workers, that new job is within the same industry — just performing a different function. While 8 percent of workers were in a different job in a new industry in September than they were in February, another 8 percent were in a new job in the same industry, Real-Time Population Survey researchers said.

In retail, the stay-at-home economy has accelerated decades-old trends toward ecommerce, increasing the popularity of online retail and food delivery and thus creating openings for displaced workers. Loading and stocking, driving and retail job postings — all of which can be tied to ecommerce — are up from or at least on par with last year, according to Indeed. A laid-off restaurant server might find work as a delivery driver; a retail clerk whose store closed may get hired by a distribution center.

“[W]e do think a lot of the shift is going to be within sectors,” Barrero said. “The jobs that we are losing are the in-person jobs like waiters and things like that, and they’re being replaced by things like jobs in warehouses.”

Across sectors, younger workers are more likely than older ones to make the shift, according to Pew. Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 are twice as likely to be working in a new job as those between 30 and 49, and more than three times as likely as workers between 50 and 64.

Hopes dim for nuclear agreement with Russia before Election Day


President Donald Trump has been eager to notch a major foreign policy election-season win on arms control with Russia — and that prospect looked promising early this week when Moscow appeared to give in to a major U.S. demand.

But a top Trump official, and now Russian President Vladimir Putin, are making clear there is still a serious divide between the two nuclear heavyweights.

National security adviser Robert O'Brien is cautioning that an agreement to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty for another year is not “a done deal,” insisting that negotiators must still iron out the procedures for verifying the terms of an agreement “that are suitable to both parties.”

At issue is Washington's requirement that an extension of the 10-year-old agreement include a temporary freeze on all nuclear weapons, including strategic weapons covered by the treaty and tactical weapons that aren't.

“In any negotiation but especially in arms control, the devil is always in the details,” O'Brien said in an interview. “Assuming that we can get suitable verification on the freeze, I think we should be able to get a deal. At least I hope so. I think we will propose something very shortly in the next couple days, or next week.”

Putin on Thursday threw more cold water on the prospect of an imminent victory for Trump.

“The agreement expires in February and what I proposed is very simple,” Putin said in an online appearance at the Valdai forum in Moscow, Bloomberg reported. “Nothing terrible will happen if we extend it for a year, without preconditions, and we can continue to work with determination on resolving all the issues that concern us and the Americans.”

Washington has already rejected an extension without preconditions, so the comments dimmed hopes for an agreement just days after Putin indicated that his government was open to a one-year freeze, including tactical weapons that aren't covered by New START.


Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov also told a Russian newspaper on Thursday that the two sides are far from a deal.

"So far, at this stage, it cannot be said that we are on the verge of agreements, and that an appropriate agreement or even a common understanding of a political nature as to whether START will be extended and, in general, what can happen in this area, is within reach," he told Kommersant, according to a translation provided by the Arms Control Association.

The treaty, which went into force in 2010, caps the U.S. and Russia’s long-range weapons at 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems, such as missiles, bombers and submarines. The pact also stipulates that it can be extended up to five years if both sides agree.

But a number of experts see weakening chances to extend New START unless Russia concedes to U.S. demands or the Trump administration is willing to accept little more than a freeze on paper at this stage and a commitment to keep talking.

The U.S. and Russia both have large undeclared stockpiles of nuclear arms, including tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons that are much more difficult to track than the weapons that are covered by New START, which can more easily be monitored from satellites and other intelligence-gathering means.

For example, the director of national intelligence has estimated that Russia has at least 2,000 and as many as 5,000 tactical weapons that it has never publicly declared.

“You can’t freeze what you can’t count, so you have to get an accurate count,” said Peter Huessy, director of strategic deterrent studies at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. “New START gives us a fuzzy start. The hard part will be to freeze non-strategic systems which are not even accounted for.”

He predicted that fashioning a viable process for verifying a freeze of both sides’ entire nuclear arsenals would take “many months” and “probably over a year." That could mean a freeze will not be formalized until after the treaty extension expires.

The National Academy of Sciences is conducting a study for the Trump administration on what it would take to verify that the Russians have frozen all their “theater systems,” or shorter-range nuclear weapons.

Trump’s top arms control negotiator, Ambassador Marshall Billingslea, was in Europe this week to brief NATO allies on the status of negotiations and to keep pursuing a deal with the Russians. His office did not respond to a request for comment.

Richard Burt, the U.S. ambassador to Germany for Ronald Reagan who negotiated the first START agreement on behalf of George H.W. Bush, agreed that a freeze can only be agreed to in principle at this stage given the major unknowns about the Russian arsenal and the technical nature of any verification regime, which would also likely include on-site inspections as called for in New START.

“Sometimes it can take more than a year,” he said in an interview. “That’s been the history of these agreements. Moving to a complete ban on warheads, including those that are either in storage or in reserve — which were never been limited before — is a very big step.”

But Burt, whose advice was sought by the State Department this year on how to proceed, also said the Trump administration has itself to blame for so little time to finalize an acceptable deal.

He pointed out that Putin, in his first telephone call with Trump in 2017, raised the possibility of extending the treaty but Trump denounced the agreement as an Obama-era relic and a bad deal.

“This administration has known since that very call that they needed to take a decision on this existing treaty,” said Burt, who is now chairman of the disarmament group Global Zero. “And they basically did nothing about it for three-and-a-half years.

“The administration has committed diplomatic malpractice by pushing this very ambitious concept at the last minute,” he added. “It seems to me they're very anxious to demonstrate they've done something in this area. But they didn't approach it in a really thoughtful, professional way that gives them enough time to really work through all the issues and problems.”

The Trump administration’s longer term plans are even more ambitious. It also wants to include China in a broader arms control agreement, but the Chinese have shown no interest in coming to the table.

That’s “really a shame,” O’Brien said, noting that “it would be better for all parties, for the whole world” if Beijing agreed to constrain its relatively small but growing nuclear arsenal.

The Pentagon most recently assessed that Beijing has a total nuclear arsenal in the low 200s, and is on track to at least double that number over the next decade. That is significantly less than both America's and Russia’s stockpiles. According to the Federation of American Scientists’ Nuclear Information Project, which tracks global inventories of atomic arms, the U.S. has 3,800 warheads while Russia has 4,310.

“The Communist Party of China doesn’t seem to be interested at this point, so we will do the best we can with the Russians now and we will deal with the Chinese another [time],” O’Brien said. “I don’t think there’s any reason to have an arms race in 2020.”


Russia also may be dragging its feet in anticipation of a change in U.S. administration. Joe Biden has indicated that he would extend the deal for five years without preconditions to buy time to negotiate a more comprehensive follow-on agreement.

This is not the first time the negotiations between Washington and Moscow have broken down. O’Brien provided a glimpse into the last few weeks of frantic negotiations to clinch a deal on extending New START before it expires on Feb. 5.

Talks stalled this fall after the U.S. rejected Putin’s first offer to extend the treaty for five years without any preconditions. Trump dispatched O’Brien to Geneva to meet with his Russian counterpart. Nikolai Patrushev, “to see if we could break that logjam,” O’Brien said.

The U.S. proposed extending the agreement by one year in exchange for a freeze on all nuclear warheads, including those not covered by the original agreement. At the time, the Russians indicated that such a deal would be “acceptable,” O’Brien said. But last Friday Putin appeared to backtrack, making a new offer to extend the treaty for one year without preconditions.

In response, O’Brien called out in public comments and on social media the Russian proposal was a “non-starter” unless Moscow also agreed to a temporary freeze on all nuclear weapons in return. The Russians appeared to relent on Tuesday, offering what they called a new proposal to extend the agreement for one year in exchange for capping nuclear warheads.

“They claimed it’s their proposal, which is fine because I don’t care who gets the credit for it as long as it’s a good deal,” O’Brien said, noting that his tweet likely played a role in their decision to back down. “They referenced social media by a U.S. official — I assume that was referring to me.”

The one-year extension would give the two parties “some breathing space” in which to negotiate a future long-term deal, O’Brien said.

But any such deal now appears to be even further off.

"We have to admit that the degree of our discrepancies is very serious," Ryabkov told Kommersant.

'Warning flare': New swing-state data shows massive Democratic early-vote lead


Democrats have opened up a yawning gap in early voting over Republicans in six of the most crucial battleground states — but that only begins to tell the story of their advantage heading into Election Day.

In a more worrisome sign for Republicans, Democrats are also turning out more low-frequency and newly registered voters than the GOP, according to internal data shared with POLITICO by Hawkfish, a new Democratic research firm, which was reviewed by Republicans and independent experts.

The turnout data does not mean Donald Trump will lose to Joe Biden. Both sides are bracing for a close race and a giant wave of Republicans to vote in person on Nov. 3. Yet the turnout disparity with new and less-reliable voters has forced Republican political operatives to take notice.

“It’s a warning flare,” said veteran Republican strategist Scott Reed.

“Some Republicans are stuck in a model that we always run up the score on Election Day to make up the difference,” Reed said. “I think running an election in a superpolarized electorate, you want to win early voting. Let’s go. Let’s stop talking and making excuses.”

The GOP caught an encouraging glimpse in Florida on Tuesday, when more Republicans began casting in-person, early ballots than Democrats in Trump’s must-win state. But Democrats have dominated voting by mail and on Thursday held a historic lead in total pre-Election Day ballots cast of 463,000, or 10 percentage points, according to the state’s Division of Elections. Gov. Ron DeSantis this week urged Republicans to vote early in person, a message Trump plans to echo on Saturday, when he’s expected to call on his base to get to the polls.

At a glance, the top-line Democratic margins also look huge in Arizona (16 percentage points), Michigan (24 points), North Carolina (14 points), Pennsylvania (46 points), and Wisconsin (22), according to the analysis from Hawkfish, which is funded by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, a Trump foe.

Though the numbers look good for Democrats, they're not cause for complacency for Hawkfish’s chief analyst, Josh Mendelsohn, who echoes Republicans in saying that he expects high-propensity Trump voters to increasingly show up in force. Compared with Republicans, Democrats are exhausting far more of their high-propensity voters and the margins are expected to start tightening, as they have in Florida.

"Democrats are enthused, that's clear," Mendelsohn said, cautioning against a heavy reliance on forecasting models showing the likelihood of a Biden win.

“I find that folks want these models to be forecasts, and they want the forecasts to be like a hurricane forecast and just to be perfect,” Mendelsohn said. “And it's not, because it is like hurricanes, you've got a whole bunch of model tracks, of which some are more reliable than others in certain circumstances.”

With 11 days left until the election, time appears to be Trump’s enemy more than Biden’s.

“The concerning thing for Republicans is that once a Democrat vote is cast, or once a vote is cast in general, it can't be taken back,” said Chris Wilson, a top Republican data analyst who independently reviewed the Hawkfish numbers for POLITICO. “That to me is the bigger issue here: Our window to message and convert any of these voters away from voting Democrat is shorter than the number of days left in the campaign.”

Wilson compared the situation to an analysis for a battleground congressional district he has consulted for in which the Republican leads by a point, but Democrats have poured it on so heavily in early voting that his candidate needs to win Election Day by huge proportions.

“Great news. We lead [in the polls]. But if you look at the early vote, we have to win 2-to-1 on Election Day,” Wilson said. “And that's probably just about every contested race in America.”

While the campaigns and consultants are monitoring the ballots counted by party, the votes will not be tabulated until Election Day, and not every Democrat is voting for Biden nor every Republican for Trump. With some variations, battleground polling indicates each is pulling roughly the same number of votes from his base when averaged out, but Biden has a slight edge among independents, which could prove decisive.

With 47 million votes already cast nationwide in more than half the states, according to the U.S. Election Project, and as many 100 million more or so to go, the election is now being decided. But more than elsewhere, the presidency is expected to hinge on these six states. Here’s what they look like as of now, based on state data and Hawkfish’s analysis. It uses publicly available election data, and ascribes scores to voters that are based on demographic research to determine their likely level of support for a candidate:

Arizona

Total ballots cast of 4 million registered voters: 1.1 million for which Hawkfish has support scores. Biden: 58 percent. Trump: 42 percent.

Ballots cast by newly registered voters: 75,000. Biden: 57 percent. Trump: 43

2020 Ballots cast by sporadic voters (registered in 2016 and 2018 but didn’t vote): 41,000. Biden: 54 percent. Trump: 46 percent.

Democratic takeaway: Polls show Biden leading as well as Democratic Senate candidate Mark Kelly. Compared with 2016, Democratic returns are 74 percent higher while Republican returns are up 29 percent.

Josh Zaragoza (D), Javelina Strategies: "Both Biden and Kelly have been up in virtually every poll — significantly up in many of those polls. This only reinforces that this is the most favorable political environment for Democrats since 2008 and perhaps ever in Arizona — or at least in the 21st century."

Republican takeaway: More than 200,000 conservatives who either refused to vote in the presidential race in 2016, voted for the Libertarian candidate or voted for write-in candidates have come home to Trump now that he has a record appointing conservative judges and cutting taxes.

Sean Noble (R), Encore Strategies: “That Democrats are turning in ballots at a higher rate than Republicans is not a surprise, because Republicans as a bloc are less confident in the mail system ... Republicans are also more concerned about fraud. ... So they will either show up on Election Day and vote in person or they will show up and drop off the ballot in person.”

Florida

Total ballots cast of 14.4 million registered voters: 4.2 million for whom Hawkfish has support scores. Biden: 56 percent. Trump: 44 percent.

Ballots cast by newly registered voters: 422,000. Biden: 55 percent. Trump: 45 percent.

Ballots cast by sporadic voters: 174,000. Biden: 53 percent. Trump: 47 percent.

Republican takeaway: The Republican Party of Florida has 470,000 more high-propensity voters than Democrats who have yet to vote. The Democratic Party also traditionally has more sporadic and newly registered voters as a share of their electorate, so the numbers aren’t out of whack.

Tim Baker (R), Data Targeting: “The absentee and early voting numbers for Democrats are seemingly a reflection of their most reliable voters shifting voting methods and ultimately a cannibalization of voting method and not necessarily a turnout indicator at this stage. We are encouraged by the increase in Republican voter registration and the enthusiasm we are seeing across the state."

Democratic takeaway: No party has ever jumped to a lead like Democrats have in pre-Election Day voting. Factoring in independents, who are largely composed of No Party Affiliation, Biden appears to be winning the swing voters of the swing state.

Kevin Cate (D), CATECOMM: “The Republican spin on turnout and the enthusiasm gap sounds a lot like the Democratic spin in cycles where Democrats lost the top of the ticket. If you cut through it, Democratic turnout is unprecedentedly quick, large, and new — and so is No Party Affiliation turnout.”

Michigan

Total ballots cast of 8.1 million registered voters: 1.8 million for whom Hawkfish has support scores. Biden: 62 percent. Trump: 38 percent.

Ballots cast by newly registered voters: 139,000. Biden: 63 percent. Trump: 37 percent.

Ballots cast by sporadic voters: 96,000. Biden: 53 percent. Trump 47 percent.

Democratic takeaway: While Michigan does not have hard party registration figures like most other states, internal Democratic modeling gives Biden an edge so far.

Steve Pontoni (D), political consultant: "The number that’s most interesting to me is that as of (Wednesday morning) over 250,000 people have voted who did not vote in 2016 and that’s 23 percent of people who have already voted. And the average age is in the high 50s, and when we model them, it’s a strong Biden constituency from what we can see.”

Republican takeaway: Though the Democratic lead before Election Day is big, Republicans are counting on strong white working-class support for Trump and relatively low Black voter enthusiasm for Biden in urban areas.

John Sellek (R), Harbor Strategic in Michigan: “Polling here shows Biden leading amongst those who voted early so far, yet we are consistently seeing Republican voters expressing slightly higher excitement about voting than Democrats. We are also seeing Republicans conducting voter registration in blue-collar areas that's never been possible before. ... However, if turnout is over 5 million, which would break Michigan's 2008 record, it becomes very difficult to find enough Republicans to keep up at the statewide level.”

North Carolina

Total ballots cast of 7.3 million registered voters: 2.1 million for whom Hawkfish has support scores. Biden: 57 percent. Trump: 43 percent.

Ballots cast by newly registered voters: 148,000. Biden: 60 percent. Trump: 40 percent.

Ballots cast by sporadic voters: 61,000. Biden: 51 percent. Trump: 49 percent.

Republican takeaway: Even when Democrats have won early voting in past elections, a surge of Election Day votes has powered Republicans to victory. And while they’re being trounced in mail ballots, the first few days of early in-person voting have been stunningly high for Republicans, already helping close the gap.

Patrick Sebastian (R), Majority Strategies and nephew of former Gov. Pat McCrory: "Right now, it's really about even, as far as both parties having their Election Day voters vote early this year. So I think that's a good thing. I think it is going to all hinge on, though, low-propensity voters.”

Democratic takeaway: Early voting has always favored Democrats in the Tar Heel State, where they’re expected to build out a lead. Democrats are returning mail votes at a significantly greater clip than Republicans, and there are drastically more people voting early than years’ past.

Morgan Jackson (D), Nexus Strategies: “Democrats currently have a pretty broad advantage, not only in registration, but looking at who the unaffiliated voters are that are voting. They're much more urban, and suburban unaffiliated, that are college educated. And that has been a very good demographic for Democrats, not only in North Carolina, but all across the country.”

Pennsylvania

Total ballots cast of 9 million registered voters: 1.2 million for whom Hawkfish has support scores. Biden: 73 percent. Trump: 27 percent.

Ballots cast by newly registered voters: 57,000. Biden: 72 percent. Trump: 28 percent.

Ballots cast by sporadic voters: 88,000. Biden: 64 percent. Trump: 36 percent.

Democratic takeaway: Pennsylvania has slowly drifted from the president in polling and his handling of coronavirus came at the worst time for him.

Neil Oxman (D), The Campaign Group: "When Trump started acting more normally in the summer, he regained ground. But then you had this complete meltdown starting with the debate and him getting Covid and at that point ... people started voting.”

Republican takeaway: The rural areas of Pennsylvania where Trump dominated in 2016 are still highly enthusiastic.

Charlie Gerow (R), Quantum Communications: “There is an army of red-hat wearing folks that are marking their calendar for Nov. 3. They’re champing at the bit. You saw that with his rally in Erie this week. He has these gigantic crowds, enormous, in places where you wouldn’t expect to see a dozen people.”

Wisconsin

Total ballots cast of 3.6 million registered voters: 844,000 for whom Hawkfish has support scores. Biden: 61 percent. Trump: 39 percent.

Ballots cast by newly registered voters: 66,000. Biden: 61 percent. Trump: 39 percent.

Ballots cast by sporadic voters: 10,000. Biden: 53 percent. Trump: 47 percent.

Republican takeaway: The numbers on early voting and polling don’t tell the whole story of Wisconsin. Rural whites are often undersampled in surveys and data on early votes aren’t always reported because smalltown clerks don’t have the resources to quickly process and report the information to the state.

Keith Gilkes (R), the Champion Group in Wisconsin: “In the past year or more, we've held more registration events and had more new registrations in rural parts of the state that Donald Trump won compared to what Hillary Clinton won. So, we have an influx of new voters and new registrants as well. If there’s a slight uptick in white non-college educated in the rural areas of the state, it’s hard to account for that in polls. People take this state for granted all the time, and it comes back to bite them in the ass, which Hillary Clinton learned.”

Democratic takeaway: Coronavirus cases are on the rise in Wisconsin, along with voter anger at Trump’s handling of it.

Sachin Chheda (D), Nation Consulting in Wisconsin: “Nobody's talking about Kenosha. They're talking about Covid. They're talking about these coronavirus numbers. And if you are a Republican counting on an in-person vote on Nov. 3, with the coronavirus numbers spiking, the chances of people showing up to vote are lower, especially if your base is older or more likely to get sick. They have to make up a huge deficit on Election Day in the middle of the biggest pandemic the country has seen in 100 years.”


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