Trump ties Fauci to Biden — to Biden's delight

President Donald Trump and Joe Biden agree on one thing: The Democratic nominee trusts Anthony Fauci.

Trump ridiculed Biden during a campaign rally on Monday afternoon in Prescott, Ariz., for saying he would heed the advice of scientific experts to combat the coronavirus even if it required ratcheting down certain economic activity.

“You know, Biden wants to lock it down,” Trump said. “He wants to listen to Dr. Fauci. He wants to listen to Dr. Fauci.”

“…yes,” Biden’s Twitter account quipped in response to the president’s line.

The Biden campaign seemed gleeful to be linked with Fauci, who has continually rated as one of the most trusted voices in the country on Covid-19, according to numerous public opinion polls.

Trump had beaten up on Fauci throughout the day Monday after the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases — and a leading member of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force — painted an unflattering portrait of the president on CBS’ “60 Minutes” in an interview that aired Sunday evening.

In it, Fauci said that Trump is reluctant to wear facial coverings in public because “he “equates wearing a mask with weakness,” and that going without one makes a statement.

“Like, ‘We’re strong. We don’t need a mask.’ That kind of thing,” Fauci said.

A week ago, Fauci balked at his inclusion in a Trump campaign ad, which he said was done “without my permission” and included comments that were “taken out of context.” That disavowal also swiftly drew the president’s ire.

During the recent interview, Fauci also said that the White House had at times prevented him from making some media appearances and otherwise placed a “restriction” on the flow of certain information.

The president and his aides pushed back on those assertions, saying that the “60 Minutes” appearance itself was evidence that Fauci was not being muzzled.

“Dr. Fauci has been on an incredible amount of TV,” White House communications director Alyssa Farah said on Fox News on Monday. “It’s hard to turn on the TV and not see him. And we’re certainly not trying to stifle him sharing important information with the public.”

But Trump also said on Monday that “people are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots,” during a call with campaign staff that the media was allowed to listen in on.

The president also needled Fauci on Twitter, saying he “should stop wearing” his signature Washington Nationals-themed face masks and referencing his flubbed ceremonial first pitch earlier this year on Major League Baseball’s Opening Day.

Trump picked up that thread again during his Arizona rally, saying Fauci is “a wonderful guy.”

“He just happens to have a very bad arm,” Trump said before pivoting back to remarking about the stakes of the November election.

Trump campaign protests topics of final presidential debate

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign on Monday protested the topics of the final presidential debate, claiming in a letter that the issues set for the showdown diverted from a central theme previously agreed on by the two campaigns.

The letter, addressed to the Commission on Presidential Debates and signed by Trump's campaign manager, Bill Stepien, insisted that the final debate focus on foreign policy, claiming the campaigns had agreed on the topics months ago. But Biden's campaign retorted that the campaigns and the commission "agreed months ago that the debate moderator would choose the topics."

"The Trump campaign is lying about that now because Donald Trump is afraid to face more questions about his disastrous COVID response," Biden campaign spokesman TJ Ducklo said. "As usual, the president is more concerned with the rules of a debate than he is getting a nation in crisis the help it needs."

The Commission on Presidential Debates also noted last month that the moderators alone choose the questions of the debate, and that the candidates and the commission do not know them until they are asked on stage.

The commission announced Friday that NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker, who will moderate the debate, plans to focus on climate change, the coronavirus pandemic, race and national security, as well as abstract ideas such as “leadership” and “American families.”

The Trump campaign’s letter acknowledged that the topics were “worthy of discussion,” but said they were already covered during the first presidential debate last month. That debate, which was marred with unfiltered crosstalk and personal insults, prompted the commission to announce changes to the format of future debates so the public could better understand the candidates’ positions.

Stepien accused the commission of shielding Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, from having to speak about his foreign policy record. His letter derided Biden’s record as vice president and evoked a frequently repeated Trump campaign line that Biden used his office for personal financial benefit from foreign actors. The Biden campaign has repeatedly dismissed the claims as a smear campaign.

“It is completely irresponsible for the Commission to alter the focus of this final debate just days before the event, solely to insulate Biden from his own history,” Stepien’s letter said.

The letter also suggested Trump was eager to tout his own diplomatic successes at the debate, including overseeing a peace deal between Israel and Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

The Commission on Presidential Debates did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump and his campaign have frequently claimed the commission is working to bolster Biden, particularly after debate organizers announced the second presidential face-off would be held remotely. That decision was largely ascribed to Trump’s positive coronavirus test, but the president refused to debate Biden via computer. The two candidates ended up participating in separate but overlapping town halls.

Trump has also personally ridiculed debate moderators, claiming they’re biased against him. He went after Welker on Saturday, tweeting that she's “terrible & unfair.” Trump shared a New York Post article that claimed to expose ties between Welker and the Democratic Party, citing her parents’ donations to Democratic candidates and a past registration with the party.

An NBC spokesperson afterward said Welker was no longer affiliated with a party and pointed out that Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller had called her “very fair” and “a very good choice” to moderate the debate.

Christopher Cadelago contributed reporting.

Donald Trump has a problem: White women in Pennsylvania

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Juliann Bortz wants to apologize for something she did a few years ago.

The 71-year-old resident of the battleground state of Pennsylvania, a registered Democrat, voted for Donald Trump.

It wasn’t that she was unhappy with former President Barack Obama: She voted for him, too. Bortz, who lives in the Lehigh Valley, a swing area, thought a “new approach, a business approach” couldn’t hurt when she cast a ballot for Trump.

“I was wrong. Boy was I wrong,” said Bortz, who is white. Her change of heart is due to the “lies,” the “division” and Trump’s attacks on veterans. And she said there are friends and neighbors just like her — Democrats who voted Republican in 2016 but are now flipping back.

“We were joking about forming a group, like the, 'We're so sorry, group,’” she said.

Bortz isn’t alone: Women in Pennsylvania and across the country are leaving Trump behind, including the white women who helped power his victory four years ago, according to polling in key states. White women with college degrees in Pennsylvania are especially done with him, rejecting him at even higher rates than they did in 2016. And while Trump is still winning white women without college degrees in the state, he’s doing so by a much smaller margin than in 2016.

In a place like Pennsylvania — a state Trump won by only 44,000 votes in 2016 and which is now widely considered the tipping-point state in the Electoral College — those margins matter. Joe Biden is beating Trump by a polling average of 6.7 points in the state, according to FiveThirtyEight. And white women are a major part of the reason.

Aware of the threat to his reelection bid with 15 days to go, Trump made a direct appeal to women in Pennsylvania last week, baffled by their apparent aversion to him.

“Suburban women, will you please like me?” Trump bellowed into a crowd in Johnstown, a small city east of Pittsburgh on Tuesday. “Please. I saved your damn neighborhood, okay?”

But white suburban women aren’t answering Trump’s plea. In 2016, Trump won white women in the state by 50 percent to Hillary Clinton’s 47 percent, according to exit polls. Now, Biden is ahead by as much as 23 points with white women, according to a Quinnipiac survey from earlier this month. A Washington Post/ABC poll of Pennsylvania voters in September showed a similar lead, with white women preferring Biden by 13 points. Among suburban women overall, he’s ahead by 18 points.

In a Monmouth poll from late September to October, Biden led among Pennsylvania women overall by 26 points — and the large spread is also due Biden’s overwhelming support among Black and brown women. Across polls when women are asked whom they trust more to handle the coronavirus pandemic, they also pick Biden, in most cases by double digits.

The numbers present a serious dilemma for Trump. Trump’s campaign has tried to grow his margins with Black and Latino men, but there are only so many of those voters in the majority-white Pennsylvania — and most favor his opponent.

It leaves the president with two options: Either find a way to ramp up turnout among working-class white voters in the state, specifically white men. Or turn things around with the white women who helped propel him to the White House four years ago. In interviews with voters and party officials throughout the state, however, it's clear the outlook is bleak for Trump. The same women who put him in the White House four years ago appear to now be on track to oust him.

Sarah Longwell, a Republican strategist who frequently conducts focus groups with people who voted for Trump in 2016, said the president is running out of time.

“The bottom is falling out for Trump with women and with college-educated voters in the suburbs,” said Longwell, founder of the political group Republican Voters Against Trump, referring to white voters. “The only way he can win with numbers like that with women is if there's this massive surge of white working-class men in some of these key swing states.”

White men are still mostly with Trump in the Keystone state, backing him by anywhere from 14 to 20 points, according to public polling. Bortz’s household is an example of the gender divide reflected in polls: Her husband supports the president. But across nearly every other demographic, including white women without a college degree, Trump is slipping.

Trump won that voting bloc by 20 points in 2016, according to exit polls. Recent surveys show him now winning the group only by 5 to 10 percentage points.

On the same night Trump insisted suburban women should like him more than anybody else in attendance at his rally, Longwell conducted a focus group with seven white women who had voted for the president in 2016. Not a single one said they were planning to — or even leaning toward — voting for Trump again.

This group of non-college-educated women were from the swing states of Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida and Wisconsin. Two out of the three from Pennsylvania said they were tipping toward Biden, though one of them said voting third-party was an option. The third said she was leaning toward voting third-party. All women in the group, including those from Pennsylvania, had negative things to say about Trump.

“We look to a president to help us. We voted for him. He's divided us more,” said one.

“Donald Trump’s supposed to be a leader and there’s no leadership in that administration at all,” said another from Pennsylvania.

Gloria Lee Snover, chair of Pennsylvania’s Northampton County Republican Party, said there are many women — mainly blue-collar or business owners — who support Trump in her county, which flipped from supporting Obama to Trump in 2016.

But “there is” a gender gap in the state, she acknowledged, particularly when it comes to suburban white women.

“When I look on Facebook, the women that support Biden are a lot of middle-aged suburban white women who are talking about Covid constantly and their fear of it,” she said. “I’ll be honest: They’re obsessed with Covid. Most of them I know are really into Covid. They think the world’s ending with Covid. They’re in their house with Covid. They’re worried about Covid.”

Despite his struggles in the state, Trump has not visited Northampton County, a key swing region: “We’re kind of a red-headed stepchild to them. I kind of don’t really like it,” said Snover.

GOP activists and strategists in Pennsylvania said they’ve tried for months to get Trump to switch gears and campaign predominantly on his management of the economy to win over suburban white women. But he hasn’t taken their advice, instead lurching from criticizing Biden’s son Hunter to retweeting conspiracy theories to airing his grievances at rallies.

Christopher Nicholas, a longtime Republican consultant in the state, said it’s difficult for Trump to find a path to victory if he can’t win back some of the suburban white women in Pennsylvania who supported him in 2016. Even if the president tries to counter their departure by driving up voter turnout in his strongholds, Nicholas said, it may not be enough.

“I don’t think the math adds up for that,” he said, adding that as Republicans “do better with exurban and rural non-college women and worse with those college-educated women in the suburbs, there’s more of the latter than the former. So in the war of attrition, we’re on the wrong side of the equation.”

However, he suggested, there might be a narrow way forward for Trump: “North-Central Pennsylvania is where I would be pushing for more people.”

Trump’s campaign said the president has a “wider pathway” in the state than in 2016, but didn’t provide its internal data.

Their data “does not support the idea” that white women are “squarely behind Biden,” said Nick Trainer, director of battleground strategy for Trump’s campaign. “It says this group of voters is in the same scenario as 2016 in that they’re undecided right now.”

The Trump team also wouldn't say how many undecided voters were reflected in the data. But a campaign adviser said Trump’s largest place to grow in Pennsylvania is among non-college-educated white men. “They're the largest nonparticipant group in the country,” the adviser said.

Rep. Susan Wild, a Democrat whose Lehigh Valley district flipped blue in 2018, is optimistic Biden will do well in the swing Northampton County, which she represents. “The power of the vote this year is going to be driven primarily by women,” said Wild. “It used to be back in my parents' day that women voted for whoever their husband told them to. We're way, way past that. And they're making their own decisions about who they're gonna vote for, and perhaps they are the influencers in their family, not the other way around.”

Both campaigns are blanketing Pennsylvania and making explicit appeals to women voters of all races. The two candidates themselves, Lara Trump, Jill Biden, Mike Pence and other surrogates have visited the state in the past two weeks.

Almost two weeks ago Jill Biden made the rounds in the Philadelphia suburbs, an area where a racially diverse group of suburban women helped propel Democratic victories in the House in 2018 and flip local governments a year later. The Philly suburbs are overwhelmingly white but are increasingly diversifying.

One campaign stop, a socially distanced “Women for Biden” event in Swarthmore, captured the increasingly powerful role of the voting bloc in the Democratic Party. Held in the backyard of Delaware County Democratic Party Chair Colleen Guiney, the predominantly white crowd included women elected to Congress and the state legislature in the 2018 midterms as well as other female community leaders.

“We have ward leaders, we have doctors, we have nurses, we have school superintendents,” said Rep. Mary Scanlon while introducing Jill Biden. “This is the most passionate, organized, effective group of women that you will probably find anywhere in the United States.”

Jill Biden’s speech to a few dozen attendees was centered on a major plank of her husband’s campaign: Trump’s mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic. She also talked about her own experiences with motherhood.

“I’m sure all of you are saying to yourselves, ‘How do I keep my family safe from this pandemic?’” she said. “‘Will I be able to see my grandkids soon? What if a shooting happens at our school? What if I lose my job? And how do I tell my kids to be kind when our leaders don't live up to the same standard?’”

Susan Jacobson, a Biden volunteer at the event, said she's counting on suburban women who voted for Trump to come through for Democrats this time: “That’s what we’re hoping: that all of the women here in the suburbs who might have made some misguided decisions four years ago are all of a sudden getting religion.”

On the same day, in the Trump-friendly western town of New Castle, Lara Trump, a campaign adviser and Trump’s daughter-in-law, held a “Women for Trump” event alongside fellow campaign advisers Mercedes Schlapp and Katrina Pierson.

Held outside with little social distancing and minimal mask-wearing, the jazzed-up, mostly white and female crowd sat shoulder to shoulder.

As the women trickled into the seating area, they told POLITICO they weren’t phased by Trump contracting the coronavirus — “It would have happened sooner or later” — and they didn’t believe the polls.

Carol Rich, 71, said in the final stretch Trump should personalize his experience contracting the coronavirus.

“He's a narcissist, he's a success because of that. You don't become a success when you're a wimp,” she said. But if he spoke at a more personal level, she said, maybe he could win back some voters.

Sitting in front of a bright pink coach bus, the three Trump advisers delivered what resembled comedic routines on everything from Biden’s age, to “media meltdowns,” to false claims of mass voter fraud.

“Donald Trump on Nov. 3 has to win by such an overwhelming margin of victory, it doesn't matter how many dead cats they have voting,” said Lara Trump, referring to a report of a family in Georgia who received a voter registration application from an unidentified third-party group for their dead cat.

And when the routine veered onto the prior night’s vice presidential debate, the Trump surrogates elicited laughs from the mostly female crowd by mocking the correct pronunciation of a female senator’s name.

"Kuh-mah-la had an interesting moment,” said Schlapp.

"You have to say her name right, Mercedes," Lara Trump said.

“I can't get it. Comma-lahh?” Schlapp said, exaggerating her bafflement.


“I don’t know.”

"Very important."

"Very important."

Top military leaders cleared to return to work at Pentagon

The nation's top military leaders have been cleared to return to work at the Pentagon after having self-quarantined as a precaution following the positive Covid-19 test of a senior Coast Guard official in early October.

The go-ahead to resume work from the Pentagon was given last week, in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and after members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had multiple negative tests for the virus, officials said Monday.

Some members of the Joint Chiefs happen to be away this week on personal business unrelated to the virus.

The chiefs began working remotely two weeks ago after learning that Adm. Charles W. Ray, the vice commandant of the Coast Guard, had tested positive. Ray had attended a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff days earlier.

Top military leaders have robust communication systems installed in their homes as a routine matter, and many have sporadically worked from home during the pandemic for a variety of reasons. Some stayed home after having been previously exposed to the virus, and other military leaders have self-quarantined for a short time after returning from travel.

Biden campaign removing retired general from ad after he objects

The Biden campaign says it is removing images of a retired general who led the fight against the Islamic State after he objected to appearing in an ad touting the former vice president's accomplishments.

Retired Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, who led the anti-ISIS fight from 2015 to 2016, wrote on LinkedIn over the weekend that “a number of people” believe he had endorsed Joe Biden for president after the campaign released a video this month showing images of the officer with Biden in Iraq.

“I'm not a political person, but this isn't about just me. I object to the use of ANY military personnel in uniform in political ads - full stop,” he wrote in the post, which has since been deleted.

The criticism came a week after POLITICO reported that the Trump campaign used an image of Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley without his permission.

The Biden video, which was published Oct. 10, features an Iraq War veteran talking about how the Democratic nominee played a critical role in making sure troops had mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles to keep them safe from roadside bombs. Interspersed among many videos of troops in uniform are clips of MacFarland in uniform walking beside the vice president.

A disclaimer at the bottom of the ad when troops in uniform are shown says “the use of U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) visual information does not imply or constitute endorsement of the U.S. military, any military personnel or the Department of Defense.”

MacFarland wrote that when he first asked to remove his photo, the campaign told him it was legal because of both the disclaimer and the fact that MacFarland’s name tape on his uniform was blurred.

“Nobody asked permission to use my image. My request to remove it was denied,” wrote MacFarland, who retired from the military in 2018. “Let’s keep the military out of politics and vice versa. I think our country will be better off if we do.”

The military prohibits uniformed service members from participating in political campaigns. "As a matter of long-standing policy, military service members and federal employees acting in their official capacity may not engage in activities that associate the DOD with any partisan political campaign or elections, candidate, cause or issue," the Pentagon wrote in a 2019 memo.

The campaign told POLITICO on Monday that it is altering the ad.

"In accordance with Lieutenant General MacFarland's wishes we're in the process of removing his image from this ad," said Michael Gwin, the deputy rapid response director at Biden for President. "Donald Trump, in sharp contrast, has shown himself happy to use our armed forces as a political prop and trample over the fundamental line between politics and our military to the extent that he's been publicly rebuked by leading current and retired generals and by his own defense secretary."

MacFarland could not be reached for comment.

Including troops in the campaign has been a problem for both Democrats and Republicans this election cycle. Milley did not agree to appear in an ad for President Donald Trump that shows the president watching the raid on ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from the Situation Room last year alongside his top military adviser, a defense official said last week.

The Pentagon also investigated an incident at the virtual Democratic National Convention this summer where officials from American Samoa were flanked by troops in uniform during the roll call.

Government watchdog will probe Trump officials’ interference at CDC, FDA

The government's independent watchdog will investigate whether Trump administration officials improperly interfered with the coronavirus response at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, Senate Democrats announced on Monday.

The Democrats demanded the probe just over a week ago, citing reports from POLITICO and other outlets that detailed how political appointees sought to steer the science agencies' policies and communications to match with President Donald Trump's efforts to minimize the pandemic.

The Government Accountability Office will "review whether the CDC and FDA’s scientific integrity and communications policies have been violated and whether those policies are being implemented as intended to assure scientific integrity," according to a GAO letter released by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Monday.

A GAO official confirmed to POLITICO that an audit would begin as soon as possible. However, the agency cautioned in its letter to Warren that it would not be able to begin its probe for about three months.

Warren, as well as Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who is the ranking member of the Senate's health committee, formally requested the GAO probe on Oct. 8. In their request, the senators cited POLITICO's report that administration officials sought to interfere with the CDC's flagship Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports in order to align with Trump's more optimistic message about the pandemic. Other incidents cited include pressure on CDC to loosen its guidelines on re-opening schools and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar overruling FDA officials on coronavirus testing rules.

"The GAO's decision to conduct an independent audit is a good first step towards making sure that guidance coming from federal agencies is based on science and facts, not on the Trump Administration's political agenda or the President's whims," the Democratic senators said in a joint statement on Monday.

An HHS spokesperson defended the administration's oversight of its health agencies.

"Under President Trump, HHS has always provided public health information based on sound science," the spokesperson said. "Throughout the COVID-19 response, science and data have driven and will continue to drive the decisions at HHS."

Democrats prepare sweeping budget plans if they win in November

Democrats are eyeing aggressive budget and spending plans if they sweep in November, aiming to deploy every fiscal tool at their disposal to deliver major investments in infrastructure, clean energy, child care and more.

Congress is already heading into a big budget year, regardless of the outcome on Election Day. After a decade of enduring strict budget caps and operating under the threat of automatic spending cuts, lawmakers face no overall limits on defense and non-defense discretionary spending for fiscal 2022. Washington will also have to again grapple with raising the debt limit on federal borrowing next summer in order to stave off calamity.

But the main event — if Democrats control the White House, Senate and House — will be budget reconciliation. Originally designed to reduce the deficit, the procedure has been used by both parties in recent years to enact a sometimes-costly agenda while evading the Senate filibuster. Republicans tapped reconciliation for their 2017 tax overhaul, while Democrats used it to pass much of the Affordable Care Act.

Senior Democrats are already eyeing the special legislative vehicle to disperse trillions of dollars in policy priorities, including for a massive infrastructure plan backed by a prospective Biden administration.

“I don’t think there’s any question of whether we’d use it, if we had to,” House Budget Chair John Yarmuth said in an interview. “The possibilities are endless. I think you’d want to do it for the biggest possible package you could.”

An infrastructure package would be a good start, Yarmuth said, since the price tag will likely top $1 trillion.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a Budget Committee member who also serves as co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said reconciliation presents Democrats with an opportunity to make extensive investments in infrastructure, clean energy, health care and other areas.

“This is the time to do that,” she said. “We have to use every tool in our toolbox … We have to be bold. This is not a time for meekness, this is not a time for incremental change.”

It’s also possible that Democrats would turn to reconciliation for a massive health care expansion if the Supreme Court strikes down the Affordable Care Act, said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), a senior appropriator.

“We’re going to have to be thoughtful,” Wasserman Schultz said. “There’s a lot of pent-up frustration and a lot of pent-up desire.“ The high court will take up a Trump administration-backed case targeting the 2010 health law just days after the election.

Reconciliation will be especially necessary if Democrats win a majority in the Senate and choose not to not eliminate the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold, Yarmuth said. Under reconciliation procedures, only a simple majority is needed to pass legislation in the Senate, though certain limitations apply.

But first, lawmakers may have to address some unfinished business from the previous Congress. Democratic leaders have signaled their first priority would be another multi-trillion-dollar coronavirus relief package if Congress and the Trump administration can’t reach a deal by early next year. Lawmakers may also have to finalize appropriations bills for the current fiscal year if they punt a Dec. 11 government funding deadline into early 2021.

Beyond that, Congress is effectively entering new budget territory. A two-year budget deal struck by congressional leaders and the White House last summer carried lawmakers through the final years of the 2011 Budget Control Act, which established caps on how much money Congress can spend for a decade.

Now, there are no restrictions in place for fiscal 2022, meaning lawmakers will have to decide how to approach overall totals for defense and non-defense discretionary spending next year. Those levels are set at $740.5 billion and $634.5 billion in fiscal 2021, respectively.

For Democrats, that could mean having a more intense discussion about the size of the Pentagon’s budget and how it squares with the party’s ambitious domestic priorities.

“There will be a fight, no question,” said House Armed Services Chair Adam Smith earlier this month of progressive calls to shrink military spending. “There will be those Democrats who want to substantially cut the defense budget. I don't believe it is the majority of my party and I know it is not the position of the Biden-Harris ticket.”

Jayapal, who has long-called for significant defense spending cuts, said there “has to be” a reckoning over the Pentagon’s budget. In particular, she said it’s time to ditch the approach of pursuing equal increases in defense and non-defense spending that has characterized life under the Budget Control Act.

“This will be a top priority of the progressive caucus — to really get some meaningful budget cuts in Pentagon spending this next cycle,” she said. “It shouldn’t be considered patriotic to just sign up for more money for defense contractors.”

As chair of the House Budget Committee, Yarmuth said he’ll look to write a budget resolution — a fiscal roadmap that isn't signed into law — that has broad support from the caucus and a possible Biden administration on issues like military funding.

More broadly, Yarmuth said he wants to shift the conversation away from worries over widening deficits toward how Congress can make sizable but effective investments for the country.

“There’s really been no negative economic impact from a doubling of the national debt,” he said. “I think economists are thinking differently about the national debt and how much room we have in the economy for fiscal stimulus. … We can afford to do almost anything we want to do.”

Yarmuth will have good company if Democrats manage to secure a majority in the upper chamber. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a staunch supporter of Medicare for All, is poised to helm the Senate Budget Committee. Of course, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi — and a President Biden — would have final say over any spending decisions pursued by the party.

Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Wasserman Schultz, who are in the running to replace retiring House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), have both introduced appropriations reform plans that would target greater investments in some of the most underserved communities.

“We have a real opportunity to infuse equity and justice throughout our budget process,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Some House appropriators are also eyeing a return to the politically taboo practice of earmarked spending, albeit with stronger transparency and oversight controls. While the notion has raised some concerns among the most vulnerable House Democrats, there’s growing demand for a system to ensure that members once again have the chance to secure cash for projects at home.

“We have to find a balance,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), who’s also running for Appropriations chair, in an interview last month. “I think that with proper oversight and acknowledging what happened before, we can design a much more open and fair process.”

One other politically dicey reform Democrats may consider as the debt limit approaches next July is whether a cap on the nation’s borrowing authority is really necessary at all. Too often, critics say, the debt ceiling has simply been used to foment political brinkmanship. But it’s unclear if Democratic leaders would want to spend the kind of political capital to eliminate it, especially with so many other priorities in play.

Final tally: Group says 67,000 felons registered in Florida after Amendment 4

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A group that pushed to restore voting rights to Florida felons said Monday that slightly more than 67,000 people registered to vote after passage of its citizen initiative.

That’s a far cry from the roughly 1.4 million people that organizers hoped to add to the voting rolls. Voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 4, which was designed to restore voting rights to most felons, in 2018, but the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed a law a year later placing additional restrictions on felons seeking to register to vote.

Desmond Meade, the executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, still hailed the overall numbers and called it a “historical” moment.

“There is no doubt in my mind that there are thousands upon thousands of energized and inspired returning citizens throughout the state that will not be denied, that will be a voice, and will have an impact in determining who wins Florida,” Meade told reporters on the first day of early voting in the Sunshine State.

Florida had a lifetime voting ban for felons since the immediate aftermath of the Civil War and kept it intact even when the state constitution was overhauled in the late 1960s under Democratic control. After voters approved Amendment 4, GOP legislators passed a law that said a felon could not be eligible to vote unless they paid off all outstanding court debts.

While legislators pointed out that supporters initially agreed with their interpretation of the amendment, critics called it a “modern day poll tax” and a ferocious legal challenge by civil rights and voting rights groups followed. A federal judge initially threw most of the law out. But in a narrow decision last month, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Neil Volz, deputy director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, said his organization requested records from all 67 counties that allowed them to determine those with felony convictions dating back to 2000. He said the group received data from several large counties stretching back to the 1960s.

The group took the criminal justice data — which showed more than 1.1 million felons — and then cross-referenced it with the names of people who had registered to vote between January 2019 and the end of September. The coalition said it found 67,392 felons had registered during that time period.

The law passed after Amendment 4 was approved prohibited many felons from voting. A study conducted by a University of Florida political science professor concluded that nearly 775,000 felons who qualified under Amendment 4 — which excluded those convicted of murder or sexual offenses — owed some sort of court-imposed fees, fines or restitution.

Ahead of the state’s Oct. 5 voter registration deadline, Meade’s group raised money to pay off court debts and received donations from a wide array of celebrities and athletes. Billionaire Mike Bloomberg also raised $16 million for the effort, a move that drew criticism from Republicans who demanded an investigation. So far Florida authorities have said they are reviewing it but have not opened up a formal investigation.

Meade would not say on Monday whether law-enforcement groups have made any inquiries. But he said they spent in excess of $25 million to pay off the debts of more than 40,000 felons.

Last week POLITICO first reported that Florida’s Division of Elections told supervisors that it would start screening the rolls to see if any felons still have outstanding court debts that would render them ineligible. Under state law the division flags potentially ineligible voters but it’s up to local supervisors to remove them.

Democrats sharply criticized the move, and it was questioned by local election supervisors because the process to remove a felon from the rolls takes at least 30 days. That means even if the state identifies someone who still has outstanding court debts, they would still be able to vote.

On Thursday, Meade’s group wrote its own letter to the state that scrutinized the wording of the state's guidance to supervisors and urge caution in proceeding further. The coalition, for example, said its review found 8,400 voters on the rolls who still owe court debts but had their rights restored by the governor and the state clemency board, so the 2019 law does not apply to them.

U.S. charges Russian hackers with sweeping campaign of cyberattacks

A federal grand jury has charged six Russian nationals with a wide-ranging campaign of cyberattacks, including the highly destructive NotPetya malware and the 2018 attack on the Winter Olympic Games, that reflects the scope and intensity of Russia’s digital aggression.

As officers of the Russian military intelligence agency known as the GRU, the six defendants allegedly participated in June 2017 NotPetya malware campaign, the 2015 and 2016 hacks of the Ukrainian power grid and the spearphishing and hack-and-leak operations during the 2017 French elections.

NotPetya, which began in Ukraine, quickly escaped, causing devastating losses for companies around the world. The shipping giant Maersk saw its entire operation temporarily collapse as the malware locked up its computer systems. A White House report estimated the malware’s total damages at $10 billion, according to Wired. It was the most destructive and widespread malware outbreak in history.

“No country has weaponized its cyber capabilities as maliciously or irresponsibly as Russia, wantonly causing unprecedented damage to pursue small tactical advantages and to satisfy fits of spite,” John Demers, the head of the Justice Department's National Security Division, planned to say at a press conference, according to his prepared remarks.

The six Russians also conducted spearphishing attacks against British and international experts investigating the poisoning of former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal, according to the newly unsealed indictment. Experts later attributed the poisoning to the Kremlin.

The hacking campaign allegedly included other attacks that furthered Russia’s strategic interests, including spearphishing and mobile malware campaigns targeting athletes and other people involved in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, from which Russian athletes were banned due to a doping scandal. Those attacks culminated with malware that disrupted the Olympics’ opening ceremonies.

According to the indictment, the men also conducted widespread digital attacks on companies and government agencies in Georgia, the former Soviet republic where Russia has increasingly asserted itself since a short 2008 war.

The campaign also allegedly included the 2015 and 2016 breaches of Ukrainian energy utilities, which caused a series of blackouts and represented the first known instance of a cyberattack disrupting a power grid. Cyber experts have described Ukraine as Russia’s test bed for future cyberattacks on other adversaries.

Russia’s April and May 2017 cyberattacks on the French presidential election represented Moscow’s first major election interference operation since its higher-profile intervention in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

The French attack fizzled due to a media blackout in the final weekend of the race, but it still raised alarms across Europe about the need to prepare for future attacks.

The six Russian men — Yuriy Sergeyevich Andrienko, Sergey Vladimirovich Detistov, Pavel Valeryevich Frolov, Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev, Artem Valeryevich Ochichenko and Petr Nikolayevich Pliskin — face seven counts, including charges of aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to conduct computer fraud and abuse.

Monday’s announcement is notable more for its symbolism — a forceful rebuke of Russian aggression from an administration led by President Donald Trump, who routinely downplays it — than for its factual revelations. Experts had already linked all of the cyber campaigns described in the indictment to Moscow’s digital army.

The indictment does, however, describe the attacks’ specific perpetrators in some detail. All six men are members of the GRU’s Military Unit 74455, prosecutors said.

Andrienko and Pliskin “developed components” of the “Olympic Destroyer” malware that sabotaged the games’ opening ceremony, while Frolov helped develop NotPetya and Kovalev participated in the French spearphishing attacks.

Trump delivers expletive-filled pep talk to campaign staff

Fifteen days before voters seal his fate, President Donald Trump delivered an expletive-laden pep talk in a call to his 2020 campaign staff, slamming reports of discord among his team and proclaiming that he’s “more excited” about his reelection prospects than ever before.

Following a weekend campaign swing through the industrial Midwest and Nevada, Trump told his staff the crowd sizes he saw at each of his stops gave him a jolt of confidence heading into the final stretch before the Nov. 3 election.

“Today is the best single day I’ve ever felt on either campaign. When I felt great about my last campaign, it was the final two or three days, especially the final day,” the president told his staff.

“In this case, today is the best day that we’ve ever had... We’re doing really well. I just want to project that to you,” he told his campaign team. “We are winning right now and they know it. They know there’s trouble brewing, so get off this phone and work your asses off.”

The Monday morning conference call comes as the Trump campaign tries to paint a rosy portrait of the 2020 race in the remaining two weeks, despite internal finger-pointing over Trump’s recent controversies — including his bellicose performance in the first presidential debate and his hospitalization for Covid-19 — as well as polling that shows Democratic nominee Joe Biden steadily leading in most battleground states.

“By the way, my relationship with Bill Stepien and Jason [Miller] and Ronna [McDaniel] is phenomenal,” Trump told his staff, denying that he’s been disappointed with his top lieutenants.

“They always write these stories about conflict. They write that there could be a strain. It’s all bullshit. It’s just made up,” Trump added, citing a new report by The New York Times alleging that he plans to fire White House chief of staff Mark Meadows if he wins reelection.

“There was story today that I don’t get along with Mark Meadows. I love Mark Meadows. The guy is fantastic… I’m not dismissing him,” he said.

In a separate call with reporters Monday afternoon, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien insisted the president has a clear and viable path to reelection due to positive voter registration trends in states that are critical to his victory. Stepien simultaneously announced the Trump campaign’s plan to blanket television airwaves between now and Election Day with a $55 million ad buy.

Last week, Trump openly mused about losing to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden during a campaign rally in Macon, Ga. — a traditional red state where recent polls show him and Biden locked in a dead-heat contest. Apparently speaking sarcastically, the president warned that he might leave the U.S. if he fails to win a second term in the White House, calling the former vice president “the worst candidate in the history of politics.”

“I’m not going to feel so good. Maybe I’ll have to leave the country. I don’t know,” he said.

To thwart Biden’s momentum heading into the November election, both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have added multiple campaign stops each day to their schedules, along with a roster of other surrogates who will be strategically deployed by their campaign. This week alone, Trump will visit Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania and North Carolina before he and Biden face off in the final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. Pence will be on the road every day this week besides Tuesday — when he is scheduled to host a coronavirus task force meeting at the White House. The vice president could hold as many as three campaign events per day next week, according to his chief of staff Marc Short.

“Two weeks ago, I was in the hospital and people were shocked that I came out so fast and so healthy. I came out and within a day... I held a rally. Not easy, let me tell you,” Trump said.

The sudden change in Trump’s tone — from acknowledging his underdog position at rallies last week to promising his team they are “winning right now” — comes just three days before he and Biden meet for their last debate of the 2020 cycle. Recognizing the importance of the event, where both men are expected to deliver their closing pitches to undecided voters, Trump’s advisers have urged him to show more discipline and empathy in his overall message than he did last month during the first debate.

But if Monday’s campaign call was any indication, the president does not plan to hold back when it comes to targeting his opponent over his son Hunter’s foreign business dealings.

“He should be in jail. He’s a criminal and he should be in jail. What he’s done… it’s a criminal enterprise,” Trumps said of Biden.

Pompeo to host Armenian, Azerbaijani foreign ministers amid deadly clashes

What’s happening: The foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia, two countries currently at war with each other, are scheduled to separately meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington on Friday.

It’s not clear whether the envoys will meet with each other or whether U.S. officials will try to convene a trilateral session. But their same-day visits signal that the U.S. is deepening its efforts to tamp down the resurgent conflict, which has reportedly killed hundreds of combatants and civilians since late September.

The visits also offer the Trump administration a chance to showcase an attempt at global leadership just days before President Donald Trump faces re-election.

According to U.S. government documents seen by POLITICO, Azerbaijan Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov will meet first with Pompeo on Friday morning. His Armenian counterpart, Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, will meet shortly afterward with the U.S. secretary of State.

The State Department also did not respond to an email seeking comment.

In an interview on Monday, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the United States, Elin Suleymanov, did not rule out the possibility of an encounter between the Armenian and Azerbaijan ministers during their Washington stay.

Ideally, he said, the two countries can resume meaningful negotiations soon. “We want a substantive conversation,” he stressed.

The background: Armenia and Azerbaijan are battling over a region called Nagorno-Karabakh, the status of which has been a flashpoint between the two countries for decades.

The territory is within Azerbaijan, but it is under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia. The recent violence is the worst in the area since a war over the region paused in 1994.

Outside powers, especially Turkey and Russia, also have interests in the region. Turkey has openly backed Azerbaijan in the recent fighting; Russia has a defense pact with Armenia but has also sought warm ties with Azerbaijan.

The United States, along with Russia and France, co-chairs the so-called “Minsk Group,” a body that has sought to mediate an end to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

As the fighting has progressed over the past few weeks, Pompeo has appealed to Armenia and Azerbaijan to adhere to agreed-upon cease-fires, but such truces have rapidly collapsed.

The Armenian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Canada keeps border closed as Covid-19 cases spike in U.S.

OTTAWA — Canada is keeping its land border with the United States closed to nonessential travel for another month as the Trudeau government expresses concerns about coronavirus caseloads south of the frontier.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced Monday that Canada will extend the border restrictions until Nov. 21. The agreement with the U.S. on the border, in place since March, was due to expire Wednesday.

"Our decisions will continue to be based on the best public health advice available to keep Canadians safe," Blair wrote on Twitter.

The prime minister's view: Last week, when asked about Canadians hoping to travel south this winter, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Winnipeg podcast The Start that the virus is far less under control in some parts of the U.S. than in Canada. Trudeau also said the American health care system is facing challenges with overloading.

"We have committed to keeping Canadians safe and we keep extending the border closures because the United States is not in a place where we would feel comfortable reopening those borders," Trudeau said. "We will continue to make sure that Canadians' safety is top of mind when we move forward. We see the cases in the United States and elsewhere around the world and we need to continue to keep these border controls in place."

What's next: With Canada dealing with its own second wave of Covid-19, governments are unlikely to ease border restrictions any time soon.

Meadows forecasts lawsuits against social media companies over bias claims

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Monday appeared to warn that the Trump administration would bring “additional lawsuits” against social media companies for attempting to curb the spread of misinformation ahead of the presidential election.

In an interview on “Fox & Friends,” Meadows argued that the online platforms are biased against conservatives and invoked their efforts to stop the sharing of dubious claims about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

“They have two standards: one for one campaign, one for the other. But I do believe that additional lawsuits will be filed perhaps as early as today to go after that,” Meadows said.

“Listen, it’s not just the campaigns,” he added. “They’re now starting to censor, actually, reporters. That’s a dangerous place for them to go when they’re the arbiter of what they deem to be the truth.”

The remarks from President Donald Trump’s top aide follow days of outrage from Republicans over Facebook’s and Twitter’s measures to counter the dissemination of unsubstantiated accusations against the Bidens published by the New York Post.

The allegations, pushed by Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, have drawn widespread skepticism for potentially being part of a Russian influence operation perpetrated in the final weeks before Election Day.

Meadows’ threat of litigation also comes after Twitter briefly locked Trump’s reelection campaign account last Thursday for amplifying the Biden claims, leading the president to predict that the social media controversy is “going to all end up in a big lawsuit.”

“There are things that can happen that are very severe that I’d rather not see happen,” Trump told Fox Business in an interview. “But it’s probably going to have to.”

Supreme Court to hear case over Trump border wall

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether President Donald Trump unconstitutionally usurped Congress’ spending power by diverting Defense Department funds to pay for expansion and reinforcement of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The high court’s announcement in a routine order list Monday morning was widely expected because in July 2019 the justices allowed construction of the wall with disputed funds to proceed by staying a lower court injunction.

The justices typically grant review after issuing a stay like the one last year, particularly in a high-profile legal fight like the one over Trump’s border wall. At issue in the case is the president's February 2019 move to repurpose about $6 billion in military construction and counterdrug appropriations to finance the wall, ending a budget standoff with Congress and a partial government shutdown.

The president’s spending maneuver came after Congress agreed to spend only $1.375 billion in that fiscal year for border wall improvements, billions less than Trump was demanding. Trump’s actions triggered lawsuits from various quarters, including border groups, environmentalists, 20 states and the Democratic-led House of Representatives.

The Supreme Court case could divide the justices along ideological lines if the vote turns out to be similar to the action on the stay, which was granted by the court’s five Republican-appointed justices and opposed by the four Democratic appointees.

One of the liberals, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, died in September. Trump has nominated appeals court Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacancy. The Senate could vote to approve her nomination within days.

The border wall case, which involves interpretation of the executive branch’s authority to shift funds between budget accounts, will likely be heard early next year.

The Supreme Court also announced Monday that it will take up another immigration-related Trump initiative, the so-called Remain in Mexico policy under which most asylum applicants who present themselves at the southwest border are returned to Mexico to await a hearing before an immigration judge.

As with the border wall, the Supreme Court granted a stay that allowed the administration to press on with the asylum policy. The high court’s action in March of this year allowed the program, formally known as the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” to continue.

However, due to the coronavirus, the hearings conducted near the border under the “Remain in Mexico” policy were suspended in March and have not yet resumed. As a result, most asylum applicants who arrived at the southwest border are effectively stranded in Mexico.

The Trump administration has said the policy is needed to prevent a rush of asylum seekers who could overwhelm border posts, endangering border officers and routine border-crossers. Critics say making the asylum applicants return to Mexico is callous because of the dangers they face there, including from widespread drug-related violence.

“Remain in Mexico” could also become a vehicle for the Supreme Court to weigh in on an increasingly contentious legal issue: when and whether individual federal judges have the power to issue an injunction that applies nationwide and protects individuals not party to the litigation. In the asylum case, a district court judge blocked the policy nationwide but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals later narrowed the injunction to only the two southern border states in its jurisdiction: Arizona and California.

California's $100M dialysis battle comes with ancillary benefits for labor union

OAKLAND — In initiative-happy California, one set of ads stands out — those involving dialysis clinics, an industry that's historically been a lower-profile player in politics.

The ads are unusual not only because of their unlikely topic but their volume, which is high because industry opponents of a labor ballot measure are spending more than any group opposing the other 11 proposals California voters must decide on.

The massive spending gap between the $100 million opponents, including DaVita Inc., have raised and the $8.9 million by supporters led by SEIU United Healthcare Workers West means that the dialysis industry has flooded airwaves as it defends itself against organized labor. The same chain of events played out two years ago, resulting in a resounding defeat for the union's ballot initiative.

California's ballot wars have escalated in recent years as industries see little problem spending more than $100 million — and nearly twice that amount in the gig industry's case — to persuade the electorate. Businesses and organizations that don't get their way in the state Capitol often use the ballot to change state laws or as leverage to pressure lawmakers and other powerful interests. Proposition 23 is the third most expensive ballot initiative in 2020, according to data compiled by POLITICO.

While SEIU-UHW says it is committed to passing Prop 23, political strategists suggest that labor backers may simply be playing the long game by placing an initiative on the ballot every two years challenging the industry. Win or lose, the union is putting pressure on dialysis companies to spend gobs of money each general election.

“The threat of a ballot measure is something UHW has used strategically,” said Brian Brokaw, a Democratic strategist in Sacramento who is not involved in the Prop. 23 campaign. “In order for a threat to actually be credible, sometimes you have to put it on the ballot. But appearing on a ballot and actually running a campaign to support something are two different things.”

Proposition 23 faces long odds not just because of the industry's $100 million war chest, but also because it involves a regulatory matter on a crowded ballot — a perfect recipe for voter rejection.

Two years ago, Californians voted 60-40 to reject Prop. 8, another SEIU-UHW-backed initiative that would have capped dialysis profits. But to get that win, the dialysis industry, led by the dominant franchises DaVita Inc. and Fresenius Medical Care, invested about $111 million to defeat it, or nearly six times what the proponents spent.

One day after that Nov. 6, 2018 election, the union vowed to refile the initiative in California and other states. SEIU-UHW did file another initiative, but Prop 23 looks dramatically different, focusing on requirements that clinics must meet such as staffing one doctor on site.

John Logan, director of labor employment studies at San Francisco State University, said unions have long used non-traditional tactics like ballot-box campaigns to get companies to the negotiating table.

“They don’t have to invest any of their money to support it, but the other side has to spend tens of millions because it would be a disaster if it were to pass,” he said.

That David-and-Goliath theme is playing out again this time. The industry has amassed more than $104 million so far to defeat the initiative, compared to nearly $9 million on the yes side.

SEIU-UHW knows it's going to be vastly outspent by the industry, but says it is not part of a strategy to get the dialysis companies to bargain with them. Union officials acknowledged they want to organize the clinics, but say it's an uphill battle and that they haven’t spoken with the clinic operators in more than five years. They say they're in this to improve patient care.

"We have our sights set on them," SEIU-UHW President Dave Regan said. "Part of what we view our mission, our charge and our work is we want to be an organization that puts a spotlight on the worst actors in the health care industry and, frankly, DaVita and Fresenius are at the front of that line."

SEIU-UHW and other health care unions, including the California Nurses Association, have long used patient care as the centerpiece of campaigns against health care entities — both at the ballot box and through legislative efforts.

“The whole idea of using non-traditional tactics to achieve greater leverage in unionizing has been around for years,” SF State’s Logan said. “SEIU, in particular, is one of a number of unions that have used corporate campaigning very extensively and quite successfully over a number of years.”

SEIU-UHW, since 2012, has filed some 23 local and state initiatives. In recent years, they’ve launched a flurry of measures, targeting a number of California hospitals to limit prices and impose executive salary caps, though many failed to qualify or were abandoned.

Still, the union counts as victories its campaign to increase the minimum wage, which in 2016 helped spark a legislative deal. And the failure of Prop. 8 led to a 2019 law authored by Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa), which was designed to control health costs by deterring dialysis clinics from encouraging their patients to enroll in health plans that offer higher reimbursement rates.

But the new law, which was supposed to go into effect this year, is on hold while an industry lawsuit winds through the courts.

The dialysis industry has come under scrutiny for its relationship with the nonprofit American Kidney Fund, which has steered patients toward higher-paying commercial insurance instead of Medicare, resulting in higher clinic reimbursements. DaVita and Fresenius have provided the bulk of funding for AKF, according to an audit of the nonprofit.

That financial situation led to the Wood legislation and fueled the union's 2018 ballot initiative drive targeting dialysis revenues.

The Yes on Prop. 23 campaign, endorsed by the California Democratic Party and the California Labor Federation, now contends the multibillion-dollar industry has put the lives of California's more than 70,000 dialysis patients at risk through substandard care and staffing.

The No on Prop. 23 campaign refutes those claims, emphasizing that the “special interest proposition” would increase health care costs by millions and force clinics to close, jeopardizing access to care most acutely in low-income communities. It notes that no other state requires a doctor to be on site during dialysis treatment.

Brokaw described the dialysis industry as a “non-traditional boogie man."

“These dialysis clinics literally provide a life-saving service so it’s not like you’re taking on the tobacco industry,” he said. But, nonetheless, the campaign is a tactic of “extracting many, many pounds of flesh from your opponent at a smaller cost to yourself. And there is some value strategically in doing that.”

Regan didn't rule out a run at the industry again if Prop. 23 falls short.

"We’ll see what we do in 2021, but this is an industry that needs to be reformed, to modify their business practices and to improve," he said, adding that SEIU-UHW has cost the dialysis industry about a quarter of a billion to fight back. "The reason they’re willing to spend it is this business is so lucrative for all the wrong reasons, and it’s obviously in their interest to do this."

Fauci: Trump ‘equates wearing a mask with weakness’

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, suggested in a new interview that President Donald Trump is reluctant to cover his face in public amid the coronavirus pandemic because he “equates wearing a mask with weakness.”

In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday, Fauci said the president’s frequent refusal to model the personal mitigation measure is “less an anti-science [position] than it’s more a statement.”

“You know, a statement of strength,” Fauci added. “Like, ‘We’re strong. We don’t need a mask.’ That kind of thing. He sometimes equates wearing a mask with weakness.”

Asked whether it made sense to him to view mask-wearing through such a lens of strength or weakness, Fauci responded: “No, it doesn’t. Of course not.”

Still, Fauci said he thought that “deep down, [Trump] believes in science,” because “if he didn’t, he would not have entrusted his health to the very competent physicians at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.”

Trump was treated at the Maryland military hospital for three days earlier this month after contracting Covid-19. But even after being discharged, he has continued to decline to wear masks at many public events.

In fact, upon his return to the White House after his stay at Walter Reed, the presumably still-contagious president ascended the steps to the Truman Balcony and removed his mask to pose and salute for the cameras before entering the executive mansion.

Trump has resumed his campaign schedule in the final weeks of the presidential race, headlining packed rallies in swing states attended by mostly maskless crowds and urging Americans to go about their normal lives with little regard for the pandemic.

Trump was pressed on his failure to more forcefully advocate mask-wearing at an NBC town hall event last Thursday, during which he only expressed approval of masks and did not encourage their use.

Presented with the results of a University of Washington study from July that predicted the nation’s daily death toll could be reduced by more than 66 percent with universal mask-wearing, Trump said there were “other people that disagree” and mentioned Dr. Scott Atlas — the White House’s controversial new health adviser.

“Scott Atkins, if you look at Scott, Dr. Scott,” Trump said, apparently misremembering Atlas’ name. “He's from — great guy. Stanford. He will tell you that. He disagrees with you.”

Atlas is a physician with no expertise in infectious diseases or epidemiology, known for his rosier assessments of the pandemic’s threat and resistance to coronavirus restrictions. He has reportedly been urging the White House to embrace a strategy of herd immunity through mass infection to quash the public health crisis, but has denied advocating such an approach.

Trump also distorted data from a study published last month by the CDC to assert that 85 percent of people who wear masks become infected — a false claim he made on several occasions last Thursday.

Trump noted that Fauci did not endorse mask-wearing in the initial stage of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak. But neither did other administration officials at the time, and the CDC began recommending the use of cloth masks when outside the home by early April.

Fauci acknowledged in June that the administration was slow to promote mask-wearing because of concerns among the public health community regarding a shortage of personal protective equipment in the U.S.

Everytown pumps $4.4M into closing message in six battleground states

Everytown for Gun Safety is dropping an additional $4.4 million in the closing weeks of the fall election, tying gun safety measures to the coronavirus pandemic in a slew of TV and digital ads.

Everytown, co-founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is spreading its investment across six key battleground states to mobilize supportive votersr. The effort is part of $60 million in spending on 2020 races, doubling what the group spent on the 2018 election cycle.

In Texas, Everytown is targeting two open, competitive House seats, dropping $2 million on negative TV ads. In Texas’ 22nd District, the group attacks Republican Troy Nehls, who is running against Democrat Sri Kulkarni, for his National Rifle Association endorsement. In Texas’ 24th District, the ad hits Republican Beth Van Duyne, who is running against Democrat Candace Valenzuela, for accepting money from the NRA.

Everytown is also spending $1.3 million in TV and digital ads aimed at flipping state legislative chambers to Democrats in Arizona, Iowa, Minnesota, North Carolina and Texas. One digital ad tells voters in North Carolina that “Covid-19 is not the only public health crisis facing North Carolina families,” the ad’s narrator says. “Deaths from Covid-19 and gun violence are on the rise, but Republicans in North Carolina’s legislature have failed to action required to keep us safe.”

Another $1 million will go to TV and digital ads, as well as a direct mail campaign, focused on voter mobilization in Arizona, North Carolina, Texas, Pennsylvania and Minnesota.

Everytown’s ad buy comes at the close of a 2020 election dominated by coronavirus and a struggling economy, topics not central to the group’s core issue: stricter gun laws. In March, when the coronavirus pandemic hit, “Everyone asked, ‘was the political zeitgeist scrambled?’ And we asked ourselves the same question,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety.

Throughout the spring, Everytown researched ways to refine their messaging and found that yoking the coronavirus and gun violence together could be an effective way to move voters.

“Our polling showed us, when you couple the dual carnage of Covid and gun violence to legislative failure to address both emergencies, it's particularly potent,” Feinblatt said. “When you talk about the number of people who have died from Covid, from gun violence, and you lay responsibility at the feet of lawmakers, what you find is that Americans want to know that their lawmakers are going to do to keep them safe.”

One particularly stark example came in a TV ad that aired in Florida and Arizona last month, linking Trump’s inauguration speech to the pandemic and gun violence.

“As he’s sworn into office, Donald Trump warns about American carnage. He was right. Trump’s failed leadership has brought four deadly years,” the ad’s narrator says, over ominous music. “125,000 dead from gun violence, 200,000 more from Covid-19. Now, Trump warns about the carnage to come if he’s not reelected.

“As the death toll continues to rise, downplaying, denying, refusing to act – Donald Trump is failing America,” the ad concludes.

In an analysis done by Civis Analytics, a Democratic analytics firm which performs randomized trials judging the effectiveness of ads, Everytown’s ad was the highest performing 30-second negative ad about President Donald Trump last month.

It “[contextualized] the gun violence crisis within the COVID crisis” and “their fall TV spot effectively moved the needle in increasing support for Democratic candidates,” said Jesse Stinebring, Civis Analytics’ managing director for political research and development.

El Auge de los “Magazolanos” y la Contienda por Sus Votos

En 2016, la dictadura de Nicolás Maduro ya había desatado el caos en Venezuela cuando Donald Trump ganó la elección presidencial de los Estados Unidos. El régimen de Maduro se convertía cada vez más en un mandato de hambruna, enfermedad y persecución. Ese mismo año, la herida nacional produjo cerca de 5 millones de refugiados. De acuerdo con el Departamento de Seguridad Interna, el número de venezolanos que solicitaron asilo en los Estados Unidos se triplicó a casi 15.000 personas.

Ese mismo año, la zona de Doral en el condado Miami-Dade—apodada “Doralzuela” debido a que cerca de un tercio de la población está compuesta por migrantes venezolanos—eligió a Hillary Clinton por una ventaja de 52 puntos en un precinto electoral ubicado a tan solo 10 minutos del club de golf propiedad de Trump.

Sin embargo, Trump ganó la elección, y en enero de 2019 algo empezó a cambiar. Incitado por sus consejeros, Trump reconoció al líder opositor de 37 años Juan Guaidó como presidente legítimo de Venezuela aún cuando Maduro permanecía en el poder. Un mes después, durante un discurso en la Universidad Internacional de la Florida, flanqueado por las banderas de Estados Unidos y Venezuela, y tan solo pocos días después de haber recibido a Guaidó en la Casa Blanca, Trump proclamó que había iniciado “el ocaso del socialismo”. En marzo, cuando Guaidó trató de liderar un fallido levantamiento militar para derrocar a Maduro, Trump y otros funcionarios administrativos de alto rango apoyaron sus esfuerzos. En abril, el Departamento de Estado de los Estados Unidos apoyó a los diplomáticos de Guaidó para que tomaran posesión de la Embajada de Venezuela en Georgetown, en Washington, D.C. Por su parte, el Departamento del Tesoro impuso una nueva ráfaga de sanciones. En febrero de 2020, Guaidó fungió como invitado de Trump durante su discurso del Estado de la Unión, donde el venezolano fue acogido con vítores y ovaciones.

Ningún otro presidente estadounidense había llevado a cabo tal demostración de fuerza en contra del asediado régimen autoritario de Venezuela; y los venezolanos en Estados Unidos lo notaron. “El presidente Trump fue el primer presidente en la historia de Venezuela que ha levantado la voz por nosotros” comenta Andreína Kissane, fundadora en 2019 de la Alianza Republicana Venezolana Americana (VARA por sus siglas en inglés), grupo que busca impulsar el apoyo de los venezolanos a Trump.

Ahora, una nueva y poderosa comunidad política parece estar gestándose en favor de Trump. Con respecto a la elección pasada, la población venezolana en Florida se ha duplicado a más de 200.000 personas; así lo afirma Michael Binder, director del Laboratorio de Investigación de la Opinión Pública de la Universidad del Norte de Florida (UNF). En estas elecciones, al menos 75.000 venezolano-americanos tienen el derecho de votar en Florida, un estado clave que en las dos últimas elecciones presidenciales fue decidido por menos de 150.000 votos. Aunque no se puede desglosar con claridad el voto venezolano de 2016—puesto que la población era demasiado pequeña como para hacer una encuesta profunda—un estudio en línea realizado en agosto por Binder para el sitio venezolano de noticias El Diario, encontró que 66% de los votantes venezolanos en Florida tienen la intención de votar por Trump. Incluso, 53% de los venezolanos que se consideran demócratas afirmaron que votarían por él.

Muchos de estos votantes no solo apoyan a Trump, sino que lo admiran aferradamente. Los más apasionados incluso se autodenominan magazolanos, que es la unión de los términos “MAGA”—Make America Great Again—y el gentilicio venezolano. En su actividad en línea, los magazolanos a veces llegan a los extremos para defender el historial del presidente, entre lo que se incluye aceptar algunas teorías de conspiración sobre el candidato demócrata Joe Biden y otros miembros de su partido. A inicios de octubre de este año, cuando Trump contrajo Covid-19, miembros de un grupo de Facebook llamado “Venezolanos con Trump 2020” publicaron oraciones para su recuperación, e incluso un usuario afirmó que era “el hijo elegido de Dios”. Por otro lado, un video publicado en la página del grupo acusaba al movimiento “Black Lives Matter” de ser un grupo marxista y, además, insinuaba que las protestas por George Floyd eran una estrategia premeditada para desestabilizar al país. No obstante, la perspectiva del magazolano demuestra la fuerza de atracción que Trump ejerce sobre el decisivo estado de la Florida: a escasas semanas de la elección, esta nueva camada de votantes altamente comprometidos podría ayudar a entregar este estado al actual inquilino de la Casa Blanca.

Si bien reconocen la férrea desaprobación de Trump a Maduro, estos votantes también han creído el antiguo pero casi siempre efectivo argumento republicano: “el Partido Demócrata es un agente del socialismo en los Estados Unidos”. Esta creencia se agudizó tras la reunión que Barack Obama y el dictador cubano Raúl Castro tuvieron en marzo de 2016, como parte de la táctica presidencial para el “deshielo” de las relaciones con Cuba. A pesar de que los padecimientos de Venezuela van más allá de sus políticas económicas socialistas y también son resultado del totalitarismo y la corrupción, muchos venezolanos ven al socialismo como un virus que ha infectado al continente, en donde el líder populista Hugo Chávez fue el gran responsable de propagarlo.

La campaña de Trump se ha aferrado a esta retórica. De hecho, Trump ha lanzado en Florida publicidades en español que enseñan al demócrata Biden sonriendo al lado de Maduro durante una toma de posesión en Brasil en 2015, seguido de imágenes de la Representante Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, el Senador Bernie Sanders y el Che Guevara, acompañadas de la palabra “extremistas”. De acuerdo con el diario Los Ángeles Times, el spot salió al aire en más de mil ocasiones para las audiencias de Miami, Orlando y Tampa. “Joe Biden es un TÍTERE de los CASTRO-CHAVISTAS, como el loco de Bernie, AOC y la amante de Castro, Karen Bass”, tuiteó Trump el 10 de octubre de este año.

“Están oyendo a Trump decir, ‘si votas por los demócratas vas a perderlo todo. Será peor que en Venezuela’”, dice María Elena López, migrante cubana y primera vicepresidenta del Partido Demócrata del condado Miami-Dade. “Quieren atraparlos valiéndose de sus peores miedos, porque ya vivieron todo eso.”

Sin importar cuán exagerados puedan llegar a ser estos ataques, Biden no puede ignorarlos. Una encuesta publicada en septiembre de este año por una firma de latinos demócratas mostró que, en comparación con las cifras de Clinton de 2016, el exvicepresidente no está teniendo buenos resultados entre los latinos de Florida. Por su parte, la campaña de Biden ha estado enviando su propio mensaje a los votantes venezolanos; exaltando el apoyo del candidato a los migrantes y mostrando a Trump como un líder autoritario parecido a Chávez. Un spot lanzado en Florida durante el verano mostraba un Trump que reaccionaba con mano dura ante las manifestaciones a favor de la justicia racial como parte de su táctica para suprimir la disidencia. “Cuando alguien es presidente de los Estados Unidos, la autoridad es absoluta,” amenaza Trump en el anuncio publicitario, seguido de los nombres de Fidel, Chávez, Maduro y Trump en pantalla. “Caudillos de la misma tela”, afirma el anuncio, el cual fue realizado incluso antes de que Trump se negara a aceptar una transición pacífica del poder.

Ahora, la batalla por el voto venezolano en Florida podría reducirse a qué candidato tiene más éxito en asemejar al otro a los mandatarios socialistas y totalitarios que han provocado el sufrimiento de tantos venezolanos.

Los republicanos de la Florida llevan décadas cortejando a los votantes latinoamericanos, especialmente a la ya establecida comunidad de exiliados cubanos con su añeja antipatía hacia la revolución comunista de Fidel Castro. Su arma más efectiva ha sido la asociación de sus oponentes demócratas con el comunismo.

En los años ochenta, Jeb Bush, entonces presidente del partido republicano del condado Dade, consolidó el apoyo de los cubanos en Miami con la ayuda de los representantes Lincoln Díaz-Balart e Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, ambos de ascendencia cubana y fervientes opositores de Castro. Para 1988, el 68% de los cubano-americanos radicados al sur de Florida aparecían como republicanos en el registro electoral. En el año 2000, los republicanos reprendieron a la administración de Clinton por haber regresado a Cuba al niño Elián Gónzalez. El entonces candidato Steve Forbes, por ejemplo, afirmó que González era “la ofrenda de Bill Clinton para los sacrificios humanos de Fidel Castro.” Ese mismo año, además de lograr que George W. Bush superara a Al Gore por 250.000 votos, los exiliados cubanos protestaron con el fin de detener el recuento de los votos en Miami-Dade. Hace apenas dos años, a manera de una reflexión “post-mortem” de su campaña de 2018 por la gobernación de la Florida, el demócrata Andrew Gillum le dijo a la Associated Press que su partido “esperó quizá demasiado antes de empezar a rechazar” las acusaciones republicanas que lo etiquetaban de socialista.

En Florida, los votantes hispanos tienden a inclinarse por los demócratas: entre los residentes latinos no cubanos, apenas el 26% votó por Trump en 2016. Sin embargo, los cubanos, particularmente los de mayor edad, han votado sin titubeos por los republicanos y, en 2016, el 51% de los cubanos de Florida respaldaron a Trump. Aunque el número de venezolanos con derecho a voto en Florida es menor al número de cubanos y nicaragüenses, los cuales se elevan en cientos de miles respectivamente, algunos estrategas políticos afirman que la experiencia de todas las personas que han vivido bajo regímenes totalitarios de izquierda reaccionan de manera similar y coinciden en sus preferencias políticas. Por su parte Doral, el área donde Clinton ganó arrolladoramente en 2016, aun se inclina drásticamente por el lado demócrata. No obstante, parece que los republicanos mejoran los márgenes: en las elecciones de mitad de periodo de 2018 el candidato para gobernador por el partido republicano, Ron DeSantis, perdió Doral por 20 puntos menos de los que Trump había alcanzado.

En la primavera de este año, el término “magazolano” comenzó a emplearse en las redes sociales anglo e hispanohablantes como un término despectivo hacia los venezolanos que respaldan a Trump. Germania Rodríguez Poleo, escritora radicada en Miami, tuiteó un meme que afirmaba que los magazolanos y los chavistas compartían su amor por el populismo autoritario. Una cuenta de chistes y memes de Twitter bajo el nombre @magazolano también empezó a compartir bromas que asociaban a los venezolanos pro-Trump con el fanatismo que caracteriza a la base política detrás de Chávez y Maduro. Recientemente, la cuenta sugirió que Trump debería ir a Cuba para recibir tratamiento contra el Covid-19, igual que lo hizo Chávez en 2012, cuando viajó a la Habana para recibir un fallido tratamiento contra el cáncer.

Algunos de los seguidores de Trump decidieron hacer suyo el apodo magazolano. Lo hicieron incluso con más fervor que el que tuvo un grupo de votantes de Trump en 2016, cuando Clinton les llamó “cesta de deplorables”

“Magazolano era como un insulto, una burla”, comenta Helen Aguirre Ferré, directora ejecutiva del partido republicano de Florida y antigua consejera de Trump. “Pero los venezolanos dijeron ‘¿Nos van a llamar magazolanos?, bueno, para ser honestos, sí apoyamos al presidente y eso nos hace sentir muy orgullosos.’”

A finales de agosto, Orlando Avendaño, entonces editor del libertario sitio de noticias PanAm Post, el cual tiene sus mayores audiencias en Estados Unidos y Venezuela, escribió una columna cargada de vulgaridades titulada “Magazolanos, uníos.” Avendaño, de origen venezolano, argumentaba que, aunque Trump puede llegar a ser “insufrible”, prefería tener a un “patán que haga el trabajo a un simpatiquísimo seductor que hunda el barco.” Por otro lado, Avendaño escribió que aquellos que critican a los venezolanos pro-Trump “inventaron la idea de que Donald Trump nunca fue un verdadero aliado de nuestra causa”, y añadió: “Pues, déjeme decirle, compañero magazolano, que esos tipos son unos idiotas.”

En las redes, los magazolanos imaginan un final inminente y trágico si Trump pierde, y a veces incluso difunden las “conspiraciones” que se han urdido para que tal cosa suceda. En el grupo de Facebook, “Venezolanos con Trump 2020”, que tiene cerca de 2.100 miembros; así como en las entrevistas realizadas para este artículo, los venezolanos lanzaron una serie de acusaciones falsas: culparon a Biden por la propagación del coronavirus; afirmaron que en las escuelas primarias estadounidenses se imparten clases de marxismo; y advirtieron que Biden planeaba anunciar que había contraído el virus con el fin de no participar en los debates. Leonardo Camacho, residente de Canadá con raíces venezolanas, dijo que había creado el grupo para “combatir las noticias falsas” y servir como una fuente “alternativa” de información para los hispanos.

Además de Biden, los venezolanos pro-Trump también consideran que la influencia de Ocasio-Cortez y Sanders—cuyas primeras condenas de Maduro como dictador fueron ambiguas—es la evidencia irreprochable del declive socialista del partido demócrata. Alberto Perosch, miembro de la Alianza Republicana Venezolana Americana y votante primerizo lo planteó de la siguiente manera: “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez es la reencarnación de Chávez hecha mujer.”

En Venezuela, los ojos de Chávez te siguen a donde quiera que vayas, literalmente. Desde el año 2012, un reconocido diseño con los ojos del fallecido autócrata ha aparecido en vallas publicitarias, plazas públicas, proyectos de vivienda, e incluso en tarjetas electorales. Maduro, por su parte, se aseguró desde el momento que tomó el poder que esta mirada fuera omnipresente con el fin de inmortalizar el eterno legado de Chávez. Por lo tanto, no es de sorprender que los venezolanos se descontrolaran en redes sociales cuando vieron a un hombre portando una franela similar con este diseño formando parte de las protestas en la Casa Blanca tras el asesinato de George Floyd. Este episodio les dio a los venezolanos pro-Trump un nuevo ataque en contra de los simpatizantes de Biden: “Esas protestas espontáneas no son. La parasitaria izquierda está en todas partes.”

Aunque la mayor parte de los estadounidenses consideran que la manera en que Trump reaccionó a las protestas empeoró la situación, los venezolanos pro-Trump que conversaron con Politico Magazine consideran que su respuesta no debe verse como un impulso autoritario, sino como un esfuerzo presidencial para imponer la ley y el orden ante la anarquía callejera.

“Ahora quieren quitar los fondos de la policía? Esa maravillosa policía que tenemos aquí ya la quisiéramos tener en nuestro país,” comenta Kissane, mientras agrega que sí considera necesario que se implementen reformas en contra del uso injustificado de la fuerza por parte de la policía estadounidense. “¡Los policías que teníamos allá eran criminales!”

La campaña de Biden en Florida asegura que según sus encuestas internas, las cuales están basadas en el registro electoral, la contienda está mucho más cerrada con respecto a la encuesta que la UNF realizó este verano; motivo por el que ahora está enfocándose a las áreas de gran concentración de venezolanos, como Doral y Broward. “El 49% de los votantes del sur de Florida son hispanos no cubanos”, declara Christian Ulvert, consejero estratégico de Biden con raíces nicaragüenses. “En todas las encuestas que he visto, el exvicepresidente va a la cabeza por 30 puntos en la comunidad latina. Estas cifras han sido muy consistentes.” Una encuesta realizada en octubre por la firma consultora internacional Bendixen & Amandi encontró que Biden ha tenido avances modestos entre los latinos del condado de Miami-Dade en lo que va del otoño. Una serie de anuncios en bancas públicas de Miami a favor de Biden, colocadas por el progresista comité de acción política “Win Justice”, proclaman: “Ellos hacen más ruido”—refiriéndose a los simpatizantes venezolanos de Trump—“nosotros somos más.”

Por otro lado, un grupo llamado “Venezolanos con Biden” es el principal responsable de organizar encuentros a nivel nacional para despertar el apoyo venezolano para el demócrata. Este grupo, que oficialmente no forma parte de la campaña de Biden, tiene cerca de 200 miembros y redes de simpatizantes en cada estado del país; así como un grupo privado de Facebook con más de 2.200 miembros. En los meses recientes, algunos de los miembros fuera de Florida incluso se han ofrecido como voluntarios para hacer campaña vía telefónica en dicho estado, el cual representa la poderosa y decisiva cifra de 29 votos electorales.

Diego Scharifker, antiguo concejal del municipio Chacao de Caracas que reside en Estados Unidos desde hace 2 años y medio, fundó el grupo junto con otros dos migrantes venezolanos. Conversando con sus connacionales, Scharifker comenta que ha visto surgir una dicotomía: “O estas con Venezuela y tienes que ser republicano, o estas con Chávez y Maduro y la dictatura.” Pero para Scharifker, es el mismo Trump quien le recuerda a los mandatarios y al lugar de donde tuvo que huir: “Trump personifica lo que yo rechazaba de Chávez y de Maduro: la demagogia; el populismo; el uso de las instituciones del Estado para su conveniencia; el uso del poder para dividir.” Sin embargo, cuando Scharifker anunció su apoyo para el candidato demócrata a sus 70.000 seguidores de Twitter, sus connacionales pro-Trump lo llamaron chavista, comunista y “gusano”. Algunos incluso sugirieron que lo deportaran, a pesar de ser ciudadano estadounidense.

Algunos venezolanos ven en Biden algo así como la antítesis de Trump, quien ha demostrado sentimientos xenófobos y anti-latinos. De hecho, piensan que Biden sería más capaz de poner un fin a la prolongada crisis venezolana, pues podría convencer a sus aliados en Europa que la hora de la diplomacia con Maduro ya acabó. Los simpatizantes de Biden también señalan que, aunque la administración de Trump ha apoyado abiertamente a Guaidó, el exconsejero de seguridad nacional, John Bolton, mencionó en su libro que Trump ha dicho en privado que Guaidó le parece “débil”; e incluso ha comentado que una invasión estadounidense en Venezuela sería “genial”. (En repetidas ocasiones el equipo de campaña de Trump se abstuvo de comentar al respecto).

Los venezolanos a favor de Biden le han dado su propio giro al caos venezolano: a principios de octubre apareció en Doral una valla publicitaria con los ojos de Chávez sobrepuestos en el rostro de Trump con la leyenda: “No nos engañan otra vez. ¡Los venezolanos votamos por Biden!”. Win Justice también financió la valla, la cual incluye el hashtag #tufoatirano.

Y luego está el problema del “Estatus de Protección Temporal”, TPS por sus siglas en inglés; una política que ofrecería protección contra deportación y permisos de trabajo a los más de 200.000 ciudadanos venezolanos radicados en los Estados Unidos. Dos funcionarios enterados de las conversaciones diplomáticas al respecto, y quienes pidieron permanecer en el anonimato, indicaron que los representantes de Guaidó han tratado de impulsar el TPS a través del Departamento de Estado, el Departamento de Seguridad Interna y la Casa Blanca. Sin embargo, los principales consejeros antimigración de Trump lo persuadieron para que desistiera de ofrecer protección a los venezolanos. El mes pasado, los republicanos en el Senado bloquearon el proyecto de ley del TPS, aprobado por la cámara de representantes e introducido por los demócratas Dick Durbin y Bob Menéndez.

Mientras tanto, Biden se ha comprometido a aprobar el TPS para los venezolanos durante sus primeros 100 días de gobierno. “Maduro, a quien he conocido personalmente, es un dictador, simple y llanamente,” declaró Biden en un evento de campaña en Little Havana el día 5 de octubre. “El pueblo venezolano necesita nuestro apoyo para recuperar su democracia y reconstruir su país. Justo por ello, como presidente, aprobaré de manera inmediata el estatus de protección temporal para los venezolanos.”

Durante el evento, Biden apareció con la Representante Donna Shalala, quien no solo ganó el distrito de la republicana Ros-Lehtinen tras el retiro del escaño de esta última en 2018, sino que comanda la causa de los demócratas por Venezuela. De hecho, en este evento Shalala portó un tapabocas con el logo de “Venezolanos con Biden”. En una entrevista para Politico Magazine, comentó que los asesores anti-inmigrantes de la Casa Blanca son los que han retrasado el TPS.

“Ya no quieren más inmigrantes, punto,” dijo la demócrata, y agregó que la Casa Blanca disuadió a Mario Díaz-Balart, su aliado republicano y representante de Doral, de buscar más votos republicanos a favor del proyecto de ley de TPS en la Cámara de Representantes. Díaz-Balart no respondió a una solicitud de comentario al respecto.

En agosto, el enviado especial a Venezuela del Departamento de Estado, Elliott Abrams, testificó en una audiencia del Comité de Relaciones Exteriores del Senado que el gobierno de Trump no estaba deportando venezolanos de vuelta a la nación sudamericana debido a que es sumamente peligroso hacerlo. Sin embargo, en una carta dirigida a los Departamentos de Estado, Seguridad Interina y Transporte el pasado viernes por la tarde, Menéndez, el miembro de más alto rango de ese comité, denunció que al menos 100 venezolanos han sido deportados vía Trinidad y Tobago en lo que va de año de acuerdo con cifras de febrero de 2020. (El año pasado la Administración Federal de Aviación impuso una prohibición a los vuelos directos venezolanos.) Politico Magazine solicitó a cada departamento sus respuestas sobre la carta de Menendez, pero ninguno respondió durante el fin de semana.

Al dirigirse no solo a los ciudadanos venezolanos, sino a colombianos, puertorriqueños y nicaragüenses—especialmente a los votantes jóvenes—la campaña de Biden espera contrarrestar el monopolio que el partido republicano tiene de los votantes cubanos de mayor edad; aunque no hay signos que sugieran que la estrategia será un éxito seguro. Cuando la Senadora Kamala Harris, candidata a la vicepresidencia de Biden, se presentó el mes pasado en un negocio local de arepas en Doral, el dueño de “Amaize” le dijo a canal NBC 6 South Florida que él no habría aceptado a Harris en su restaurante porque no quería que su negocio fuera utilizado con fines políticos. Por su parte, VARA también protestó la visita de Harris, y los manifestantes portaron letreros con consignas como “Venezuela no negocia con socialistas estadounidenses.” Algunos días después, miembros del grupo asistieron a una caravana pro-Trump en Doral conformada por más de 4.000 automóviles. Desde entonces, venezolanos partidarios de Trump y Biden han participado en caravanas que también reúnen grupos cubanos y nicaragüenses casi cada semana, inclusive caravanas rivales en Miami el domingo.

“Queremos una Venezuela libre, el TPS es casi como un premio de consolación,” comenta Kissane, presidenta de VARA. También argumenta que, de ser reelecto, Trump será el que por fin derroque a Maduro del poder. “No me cabe duda que Biden come de la mesa de los Castro y de Maduro.”

Independientemente de esto, el verdadero riesgo para Biden reside en que Trump puede debilitarlo muy fácilmente. El presidente posee la autoridad plena de aprobar una de las plataformas principales que el demócrata tiene con respecto a Venezuela: el TPS.

“No me sorprendería,” comenta Shalala, “si la diferencia de votos en Florida está muy cerrada y el presidente termina aprobando el TPS; por fin, después de años de que le rogaramos que lo hiciera por los venezolanos”.

The Rise of the ‘Magazolano’ and the Battle for the Venezuelan Vote

Nicolás Maduro’s dictatorship had already unleashed chaos in Venezuela in 2016 when Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential race. Maduro’s was increasingly a regime of famine, sickness and persecution. That year, the country hemorrhaged close to 5 million refugees, and, according to Department of Homeland Security data, the number of Venezuelans who requested asylum in the United States tripled to nearly 15,000.

Also that year, Miami-Dade’s Doral area—affectionately called “Doralzuela” because nearly a third of the population is Venezuelan émigrés—chose Hillary Clinton by 52 points in a precinct just 10 minutes away from Trump’s golf club.

But Trump won the election, and in January 2019 something began to shift. Trump—pushed by senior advisers—recognized 37-year-old opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the rightful president of Venezuela, even as Maduro remained in power. The next month, Trump heralded “the twilight hour of socialism” at a Florida International University speech, flanked by Venezuelan and U.S. flags, just a few days after he had welcomed Guaidó to the White House. In March, when Guaidó tried to lead a military uprising to oust Maduro (which ultimately failed), Trump and other senior administration officials voiced their support. In April, the State Department helped Guaidó’s diplomats to wrest control of the Venezuelan Embassy in Georgetown. The Treasury Department imposed new rounds of sanctions. This past February, Guaidó was a guest at Trump’s State of the Union address, where he received a standing ovation.

No American president had carried out such a show of force against Venezuela’s embattled authoritarian regime before, and Venezuelans in America took notice. “President Trump was the first president in the history of Venezuela who actually stood up for us,” says Andreina Kissane, who in 2019 founded the Venezuelan American Republican Alliance, a group that seeks to bolster Venezuelan support for Trump.

Now, a new, increasingly powerful political community appears to be coalescing behind Trump. Since the last election, the Venezuelan population in Florida has doubled to more than 200,000, according to Michael Binder, director of the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Lab. This year, some 75,000 Venezuelan Americans are eligible to vote in a swing state that was decided by fewer than 150,000 votes in the past two presidential elections. Although it’s not clear exactly how the Venezuelan American vote broke down in 2016—the population was too small to be extensively polled—an online study Binder conducted in August for the Venezuelan news site El Diario found that 66 percent of Venezuelan voters in Florida intend to vote for Trump. Even 53 percent of Venezuelans who describe themselves as Democrats said they will vote for him.

Many of these voters are not just Trump supporters but impassioned fans of the president. The most fervent among them call themselves magazolanos, a portmanteau of “MAGA” and the Spanish word for “Venezuelan.” Online, magazolanos sometimes go to extremes to defend the president’s record, including embracing conspiracy theories about Democratic nominee Joe Biden and others in his party. As Trump fell ill with Covid-19 in early October, members of a Facebook group called “Venezolanos con Trump 2020” posted prayers for his recovery, and one user said the president was the “anointed son of God.” One recent video posted on the group’s page called the Black Lives Matter movement a Marxist group and alleged that the George Floyd protests had been pre-planned to destabilize the country. Nonetheless, the magazolano worldview offers a glimpse into Trump’s appeal in the decisive state of Florida: With almost two weeks until the election, this new crop of highly engaged voters just might help deliver the state to the incumbent.

While they credit Trump’s rebuke of Maduro for their support, these voters also have bought into a time-honored but often effective Republican talking point: They conceive of the Democratic Party as an agent of socialism in the United States, especially because of a March 2016 meeting between Barack Obama and Cuban dictator Raúl Castro, which was part of the former president’s Cuban thaw. Even if Venezuela’s maladies extend far beyond its socialist economic policy and are also the result of totalitarianism and corruption, many Venezuelans see socialism as the virus that has infected the continent, propagated by the populist strongman Hugo Chávez.

The Trump campaign has seized on this rhetoric. Trump has aired Spanish-language ads in Florida that show Biden, the Democratic nominee, smiling with Maduro at a 2015 swearing-in ceremony in Brazil, before flashing images of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Che Guevara, calling them “extremistas.” According to the Los Angeles Times, the ad has aired more than 1,000 times in the Miami, Orlando and Tampa markets. “Joe Biden is a PUPPET of CASTRO-CHAVISTAS like Crazy Bernie, AOC and Castro-lover Karen Bass,” Trump wrote in an October 10 tweet.

“They’re hearing from Trump, ‘If you vote for the Democrats, you’re going to lose everything. They’re going to be worse than Venezuela,’” says María Elena López, the first vice chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party and a Cuban émigrée. “You’re preying on the worst fears that they have, because they have gone through it.”

Exaggerated as these attacks might be, Biden cannot ignore them. A poll released in September by a Democratic Latino firm showed the former vice president underperforming among Florida Latinos compared with Clinton in 2016. The Biden campaign has been offering its own message to Venezuelan voters, touting the candidate’s support for immigrants and painting Trump as an authoritarian in the mold of Chávez. An ad airing over the summer in Miami depicted Trump’s heavy-handed response to this year’s racial justice uprisings as a tactic to suppress dissent. “When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total,” Trump says ominously in the ad, before the names Fidel, Chávez, Maduro and Trump flash across the screen. Trump is a caudillo cut from the same cloth as the leftist rulers, claims the ad (which was produced even before Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power).

Now, the battle over the Venezuelan vote in Florida might come down to which candidate can cast the other as more like the socialist and totalitarian rulers who have caused suffering for so many.

Republicans in Florida have long courted Latin American voters—especially the state’s deep-rooted community of Cuban exiles, with their long-held antipathy toward Fidel Castro’s communist revolution—by tying their Democratic opponents to communism.

In the 1980s, Jeb Bush, then the chairman of the Dade County Republican Party, solidified Cuban support in Miami with the help of Reps. Lincoln Díaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who were themselves of Cuban heritage and fervently against Castro. By 1988, 68 percent of Cuban Americans in South Florida were registered Republicans. In 2000, Republicans chided the Clinton administration for returning the child Elián González to Cuba, with then-candidate Steve Forbes calling González Bill Clinton’s “human sacrifice to Fidel Castro.” That same year, in addition to casting upward of 250,000 more votes for George W. Bush than Al Gore, Cuban exiles protested to shut down voting recounts in Miami-Dade. As recently as two years ago, in a postmortem of his 2018 gubernatorial run, Democrat Andrew Gillum told The Associated Press that his party “waited a bit too long before we started to push back” on the Republicans who tagged him as a socialist.

In Florida, Hispanic voters overall tend to vote Democratic: Among non-Cuban Latinos in Florida, a paltry 26 percent voted for Trump in 2016. But Cubans, specifically older generations, have voted reliably for Republicans, and in 2016, 51 percent of Florida Cubans backed Trump. Although the Venezuelan voting population in Florida is smaller than that of Cubans and Nicaraguans, which each number in the hundreds of thousands, some Sunshine State strategists say the common experience of having lived under leftist totalitarian regimes generates solidarity and, in turn, similar voting patterns. Doral, where Clinton saw a landslide in 2016, still leans heavily Democratic, but Republicans appear to be making gains: In the 2018 midterms, the GOP gubernatorial candidate, Ron DeSantis, lost Doral by 20 points less than Trump had.

In the spring of this year, the term “magazolano” began cropping up on English- and Spanish-language social media circles—originally as a way to mock Venezuelans voting for Trump. Germania Rodriguez Poleo, a writer in Miami, tweeted that magazolanos and chavistas shared a love for authoritarian populism in a well-known meme format. A comedy Twitter account with the name @magazolano also began sharing jokes tying Venezuelans who support the president to the fanaticism of Chávez and Maduro’s political base. Recently, the account quipped that Trump should be sent to Cuba for his Covid-19 treatment, similar to the way Chávez went to Havana for an unsuccessful cancer treatment in 2012.

Some Trump supporters decided to embrace the term—perhaps even more fervently than the subset of Trump voters who embraced Clinton’s term “deplorable” in 2016.

“‘Magazolano’ was like an insult, like a mockery,” says Helen Aguirre Ferré, executive director of the Florida Republican Party and a former Trump adviser. “But the Venezuelans said, ‘You call us magazolanos? Well, to tell you the truth, we’re very proud and very supportive of the president.’”

In late August, Orlando Avendaño, then editor-in-chief of the libertarian news site PanAm Post, which has its highest audiences in the United States and Venezuela, wrote an expletive-laden column titled, “Magazolanos, unite.” Avendaño, who is Venezuelan, argued that Trump might be “insufferable” but said he preferred “a lout who gets the job done over a charming seducer who sinks the ship.” Critics of pro-Trump Venezuelans “came up with the notion that Donald Trump was never a true ally of our cause,” he wrote. “Well, let me tell you, fellow magazolano, that these people are idiots.”

Online, magazolanos imagine impending doom if Trump loses, and they sometimes promote conspiracies to that end. In the Facebook group “Venezolanos con Trump 2020,” which has almost 2,100 members, as well as in interviews for this article, they falsely blame Biden for the spread of coronavirus, say Marxism is being taught in American elementary school classrooms, and warn of a scheme from the Biden campaign to announce that he had caught the virus in order to skip the debates. Leonardo Camacho, a Canadian resident of Venezuelan heritage, says he created the group to “combat fake news” and serve as an “alternative” source of information for Hispanics.

In addition to Biden, pro-Trump Venezuelans also see the influence of Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders—who were initially equivocal in their condemnation of Maduro as a dictator—as unimpeachable evidence of the Democratic Party’s socialist demise. Alberto Perosch, a member of the Venezuelan American Republican Alliance and a first-time voter, put it this way: “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the reincarnation of Chávez made woman.”

In Venezuela, Chávez’s eyes follow you everywhere you go. Literally: Since 2012, a design of the late autocrat’s eyes has appeared on billboards, public squares, housing projects and even ballots. Maduro made the silhouetted eyes ubiquitous after he took power in 2013 to immortalize Chávez’s undying legacy. It was no surprise, then, that when a man wearing a shirt with the same design appeared on a Fox News broadcast of protests outside the White House on May 30, after the police killing of George Floyd, Venezuelans on social media went haywire. The episode gave Venezuelan Trump supporters a new line of attack against anyone who supported Biden: The Black Lives Matter protests that the Democrats supported were not spontaneous, but a creature of the global “parasitic left” that had infiltrated the United States.

While a majority of Americans thought Trump’s handling of the protests made the situation worse, the Trump-supporting Venezuelans who spoke to Politico Magazine saw in his response not an authoritarian impulse, but an attempt by the president to impose law and order on anarchic streets.

“Now they want to defund the police? The wonderful police we have here, we wish we had that in our country,” Kissane says, while adding that she thinks there need to be some reforms to the unwarranted use of force by police. “The police that we had were criminals!”

The Biden campaign in Florida says its internal polling, based on voter registration files, shows a much closer race than the UNF poll from the summer, which is why the campaign is targeting heavily Venezuelan areas like Doral and Broward County. “In South Florida, 49 percent of the vote is non-Cuban Hispanics,” says Christian Ulvert, a Biden strategic adviser of Nicaraguan heritage. “In all the polling I’ve seen, the vice president has a 30-point lead with the non-Cuban Hispanic community, and that’s been pretty consistent.” An October poll from Bendixen & Amandi International found that Biden had made modest gains among Latinos in Miami-Dade County this fall. A series of pro-Biden bench ads in Miami, put up by the progressive super PAC Win Justice, assert, “They’re louder”—referring to Venezuelan Trump supporters—“but there are more of us.”

A group called Venezolanos con Biden has been primarily responsible for rallying Venezuelan support nationwide for Biden. The group, which is not officially part of the Biden campaign, has about 200 members, supporter networks in every state and a private Facebook group of more than 2,200 members. In recent months, some of its members from outside Florida have been volunteering to phone-bank in the state, which carries a mighty 29 electoral votes.

Diego Scharifker, a former Caracas city councilman who came to the United States 2½ years ago, founded the group along with two other Venezuelan immigrants. In conversations with fellow Venezuelans, Scharifker says he has seen a dichotomy emerging: “Either you’re with Venezuela and you have to be a Republican, or you’re with Chávez and Maduro and the dictatorship.” But to Scharifker, it’s Trump who reminds him of the place he fled: “Trump personified the things I rejected in Chávez and Maduro: the demagoguery, the populism, bending state institutions to his own convenience and his own agenda, the use of power to divide.” When Scharifker announced his support for the Democratic nominee to his nearly 70,000 Twitter followers in late April, however, pro-Trump Venezuelans called him a chavista, a communist and a “maggot.” Some suggested he be deported, even though he is a natural-born U.S. citizen.

Some Venezuelans see in Biden something more than the antithesis of Trump, who has demonstrated xenophobic and anti-Latino sentiments. They think Biden would be more capable of putting an end to the protracted Venezuelan crisis because he could convince European allies that the time for diplomacy with Maduro has run out. Biden’s supporters also point out that while Trump’s administration outwardly has supported Guaidó, former national security adviser John Bolton has written that Trump privately sees him as “weak” and has mused about a U.S. invasion of Venezuela as “cool.” (The Trump campaign did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)

Biden-aligned Venezuelans have given their own spin to the specter of Venezuelan chaos: Earlier this month, a billboard of Chávez’s eyes superimposed over Trump’s face appeared in Doral, with the caption: “We won’t be fooled again. We Venezuelans vote for Biden!” The billboard was put up by Win Justice, and includes the hashtag #tufoatirano, which translates as “reeks of tyrant.”

Then there’s the matter of TPS, or “temporary protected status”—a policy that would provide work permits and protection from deportation to the more than 200,000 Venezuelan citizens living in the United States. Two officials familiar with diplomatic talks, who requested anonymity to discuss confidential agreements, said Guaidó’s representatives have tried to lobby for TPS through the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the White House, but that Trump’s anti-immigrant senior advisers have dissuaded him from offering protection to Venezuelans. In the Senate last month, Republicans blocked a House-approved TPS bill introduced by Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois and Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

Biden, meanwhile, has committed to enacting TPS for Venezuelans in his first 100 days. “Maduro, who I’ve met, is a dictator—plain and simple,” Biden said in a campaign event in Little Havana on October 5. “The Venezuelan people need our support to recover their democracy and rebuild their country. That’s why I would immediately grant temporary protected status to Venezuelans as president.”

At the event, Biden appeared with Rep. Donna Shalala, who flipped Ros-Lehtinen’s district after she retired in 2018 and has spearheaded the Democrats’ advocacy for Venezuela. Shalala wore a face mask emblazoned with the “Venezolanos con Biden” logo. In an earlier interview with Politico Magazine, she said nativism was to blame for the White House’s delay on TPS.

“They don’t want any more immigrants, period,” Shalala said. She added that the White House dissuaded her Republican ally Mario Díaz-Balart, who represents Doral, from whipping GOP votes for the House TPS bill. Díaz-Balart did not respond to a request for comment.

In August, Elliott Abrams, the State Department’s special envoy to Venezuela, testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that the administration was not deporting Venezuelans back to their home country because of the dangers of doing so. But in a letter sent to the Departments of State, Homeland Security and Transportation this past Friday afternoon, Menendez, the committee’s ranking member, cited records showing that at least 100 Venezuelans had been deported as of February 2020 via the nearby nation of Trinidad and Tobago. (The Federal Aviation Administration banned direct flights to Venezuela last year.) Asked to respond to the letter over the weekend, the three departments were not immediately available for comment.

By targeting not only Venezuelans, but also Colombians, Puerto Ricans and Nicaraguans—especially young voters—the Biden campaign is hoping to create a counterweight to the Republican Party’s hold on older Cubans. But there are no surefire signs this strategy will work. After Senator Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate, showed up at a local arepa joint in Doral last month, the owner of the restaurant, Amaize, told NBC 6 South Florida that he “would’ve said no” to Harris picking up lunch there if he had known ahead of time because he didn‘t want the restaurant to be used for political reasons. The Venezuelan American Republican Alliance also protested Harris’ visit, with demonstrators holding signs saying, “Venezuela doesn’t negotiate with U.S. socialists.” A few days later, members of the group showed up to a pro-Trump caravan of more than 4,000 cars in Doral. Since then, pro-Biden and pro-Trump Venezuelans have been participating in regular caravans—sometimes by organized by other groups, such as Cubans and Nicaraguans—including dueling caravans in Miami on Sunday.

“We want Venezuela free—TPS is almost like a pat on the back,” says Kissane, president of VARA, arguing that Trump, if reelected, would finally oust Maduro from power. “Biden absolutely sits and eats at the table of the Castro people and Maduro.”

The risk for Biden is that Trump has the sole authority to undercut him as Election Day nears by enacting one of the former vice president’s main Venezuela policy planks: TPS.

“I would not be surprised,” Shalala says, “if the vote gets close in Florida, if the president does it—now, after years of us begging them to do it for the Venezuelans.”

The hidden factors that could produce a surprise Trump victory

By almost every measure that political operatives, academics and handicappers use to forecast elections, the likely outcome is that Joe Biden will win the White House.

Yet two weeks before Election Day, the unfolding reality of 2020 is that it’s harder than ever to be sure. And Democrats are scrambling to account for the hidden variables that could still sink their nominee — or what you might call the known unknowns.

Republican registration has ticked up in key states at the same time Democratic field operations were in hibernation. Democratic turnout is surging in the early vote. But it’s unclear whether it will be enough to overcome an expected rush of ballots that Republicans, leerier of mail voting, will cast in person on Election Day.

There is uncertainty about the accuracy of polling in certain swing states, the efficacy of GOP voter suppression efforts and even the number of mail-in ballots that for one reason or another will be disqualified.

“There are more known unknowns than we’ve ever had at any point,” said Tom Bonier, CEO of the Democratic data firm TargetSmart. “The instruments we have to gauge this race, the polling, our predictive models … the problem is all those tools are built around quote-unquote normal elections. And this is anything but a normal election.”

On a recent video call with Democratic Party state chairs, Bonier laid out an overwhelmingly positive electoral landscape for Biden. But he cautioned that even small variations in turnout projections could have a substantial effect on the outcome. For that reason, among others, Democrats are poring over early vote totals, circulating anxiety-ridden campaign memos and bracing for a long two weeks.

“We don’t know what insanity Trump will hurl into the mix,” said Matt Bennett of the center-left group Third Way. “Every day is a week and every week is a month. It’s going to feel like a long time between now and November 3rd."

Of all the reasons for Democrats to be uncertain, the most worrisome for the party is the one that — for now — is going very well for them: Turnout. More than 27 million people had already voted nationwide as of Sunday, some after standing in line for hours, according to data compiled by the United States Elections Project. In states that report returns by party, Democrats are returning more ballots than Republicans. Republicans and Democrats alike believe early voters in other states lean Democratic, as well.

But political professionals don’t know how great an advantage Democrats will build in the early vote — or whether it will be enough to overcome the wave of votes that Republicans are expected to cast in person.

Flagging “clear warning signs” for Biden, one prominent strategist circulated a memo among Democrats earlier this month citing increasing registration of white, non-college educated voters — Trump’s base demographic — in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. There is no precedent for Trump overcoming such a large polling deficit this close to the election, the strategist wrote. “And yet ...”

For Democrats, uncertainty about who is voting is only part of the equation. It’s also unclear how many mail-in ballots ultimately will be rejected, and in which states.

It’s no small matter. After the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled last month that so-called “naked ballots” — those mailed without a proper envelope — could not be counted, elections officials warned more than 100,000 ballots could be invalidated. That is more than twice the margin by which Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the state in 2016.

Republicans in other states have had some success in court preventing mail ballots that arrive after Election Day from being counted. A Biden victory may hinge not only on persuading Democrats to continue voting in the next two weeks — but to ensure they do so correctly.

There is uncertainty, especially, about younger voters, who are returning ballots at a slower rate than older ones. That is typical, wrote Michael McDonald, who directs the Elections Project, in an analysis of the early vote last week.

Still, he said, “I predict in the coming weeks the Democratic narrative will change from euphoria over the apparent large leads in early voting to concern that a disproportionately large number of younger voters have yet to return their mail ballots.”

In any other year, Democrats would have a time-tested, if imperfect way to address their turnout concerns — thousands of volunteers and organizers knocking on doors to register voters and prod them to return their ballots. But Biden abandoned a door-knocking campaign due to concerns about the coronavirus until the final month of the election, ceding traditional field operations to Trump.

The effect that decision will have on the outcome will be impossible to fully quantify until the election is over. But it is one likely reason that Republicans have been able to make registration gains in several states, including Florida, where the GOP has significantly narrowed the party’s voter registration gap with Democrats.

“One big known unknown right now is how many Democrats return their ballots,” said Nick Trainer, the Trump campaign's director of battleground strategy. “In ‘16, you would have had a Democrat volunteer or operative knocking on a voter’s door in Orlando reminding them to return the ballot on their kitchen table or go to the polls. That’s not happening today.”

Many Democrats will go to the polls, of course. But what they may find there is another source of concern for Democrats. Democrats are spending millions of dollars on voter education and voter protection programs. But in his debate with Biden, Trump called on “my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully,” which was taken by some partisans as a call to arms.

Mathew Littman, a former Biden speechwriter who was helping to organize a phone bank for Biden last week, said, “I worry about turnout. I worry about people being threatened when they go to vote. I worry about these gangs of roving militias.”

One reason that political strategists are focusing so heavily on the mechanics of the election — including turnout and vote-counting — is that little else is likely to alter the course of the campaign. Republicans have all but abandoned hope for a dramatic turnaround on the coronavirus or for a burst of good economic news. The election is still the referendum on Trump that it was six months ago, and Trump is losing.

Whit Ayres, the longtime Republican pollster, said a “major health event” involving either Trump or Biden could still upend the campaign.

But “it’s getting late, in part because so many people have voted,” he said. “This election could be effectively over by the time we get to the election date. We won’t know it, because the results won’t have been reported, but it could be over by the time we get to Election Day … The window for a major event to substantially affect the election is closing.”

Polls suggest that Trump will need every uncertainty to break his way to win a second term. But there is some uncertainty even about that. Trump cannot rely, as many of his supporters do, on a blanket repudiation of public polls. Pollsters of both parties say they are more carefully accounting for white, non-college educated voters some surveys missed in 2016.

Yet many Democrats continue to suspect so-called “quiet” or “shy” Trump voters still exist — those who refuse to tell pollsters they support a deeply polarizing president. Many Republican Party leaders, especially at the local level, are convinced of it.

In addition, while Trump is behind in critical states, he is close to or within the margin of error in many of them. And that’s “after a f---ing historically awful year,” said Jeff Roe, the Republican strategist who steered Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign.

For Trump, he said, “The path ain’t closed.”

It is possible that the race is already cooked. To this point, nothing has changed the basic equation — and that includes a pandemic, a disastrous first debate and Trump’s hospitalization for a coronavirus infection. Ken Martin, chairman of Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, said one reason he is confident “is just how steady the race has been.”

Still, the election four years ago shifted significantly in the final weeks. Acknowledging “a little bit of PTSD from 2016,” Martin said, “You never know what type of issue could move the electorate” in the final days.

For Democrats, there is no political price to pay for projecting caution, which can help to avert complacency among donors and potential voters. Jen O’Malley Dillon, Biden’s campaign manager, wrote in a memo to supporters on Saturday that “the reality is that this race is far closer than some of the punditry we’re seeing on Twitter and on TV would suggest. In the key battleground states where this election will be decided, we remain neck and neck with Donald Trump.”

What is different about 2020 is that in any other presidential election it might not feel that way.

Looking at the polling alone, said Bonier, of TargetSmart, “you’d feel very confident, very confident … You would just be thinking of the extent of the landslide.”

This year, Bonier said, he would “rather be us than them.” But his outlook was as wary as that of many other Democrats.

“It’s just that nagging question of uncertainty,” he said.