In an ad that first aired Tuesday in Grand Rapids, Michigan, flames light up the TV screen, ominous music plays, and a narrator states, “While America’s cities burned, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris fanned the flames.” The 30-second spot is part of President Trump’s final messaging push before Election Day that Mr. Trump will keep Americans safe. The ad differs from the TV spots first aired this week by the Biden campaign, “I believe it’s time to unite the country, to come together as a nation,” Joe Biden says in a direct-to-camera appeal, reprising common lines from his campaign trail stump speech. In the video testimonial, images of people hugging, holding hands and voting flash across the screen.
While both ads aired for the first time with less than a week to go before Election Day, they illustrate the diverging approaches of two campaigns in the final months of the campaign season, CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice and CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga report. Since early September, Biden has outspent Mr. Trump by more than $200 million for television advertising, but data shows that’s not the only major difference. An analysis of ads by Kantar/Campaign Media Analysis Group found Trump campaign ads since June took a more negative tone or contrasted with his opponent. In fact, for a period from mid-June through mid-August, all of the president’s TV ads were negative or contrasting. Data shared with CBS News show the president only began infusing positive messaging in his appeals in late August, a trend that soon reversed itself in October with a return to negative and contrasting pitches.
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FROM THE CANDIDATES
Mr. Trump and Biden both converged on Florida on Thursday, pitching their diverging messages to Sunshine State voters as polls show a tight race with five days to go before Election Day, reports CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga. Mr. Trump was also set to travel to Fayetteville, North Carolina, for a rally there, but the campaign postponed the event until Monday “because of a wind advisory issued with gusts reaching 50 miles per hour and other weather conditions.” In a Trump campaign call Tuesday with reporters, White House top economic advisor Larry Kudlow praised the president’s “blockbuster” third quarter numbers. CBS News digital data reporter Irina Ivanova reports the U.S. economy grew at a record annualized rate of 33.1% between July and September, clawing back much of the ground it had lost during the coronavirus-fueled shutdown earlier in the year, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Increased consumer spending, private investment and exports drove the increase, which was partly offset by falling government spending as stimulus funds dried up and states slashed their budgets. The rebound puts the nation’s gross domestic product — the total value of all the goods and products the economy produces — at $21.16 trillion for the three months ending in September. That’s below its level at the end of last year. Yet experts agree large parts of the economy are still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic. In a statement, the Biden campaign accused the Trump administration of “gutting businesses” amid their handling of the coronavirus pandemic, citing double-digit unemployment rates among African Americans and Latinos. For his part, Kudlow warned against future economic shutdowns. “The evidence is very clear that the states that reopened have outperformed in economic terms and job terms than the states that stayed close,” the White House adviser said. Speaking at a rally in Tampa, his first of two events on Thursday, Mr. Trump said former candidates for public office have called him and advised him to talk more about future economic growth, and his accomplishments in office, CBS News digital White House reporter Kathryn Watson reports. But Mr. Trump told his crowd in Tampa he can only talk about those things so much, before it gets boring and prefers to speak about his opponent’s son, Hunter Biden. Meanwhile, first lady Melania Trump remained on message while introducing her husband in Tampa, Florida. “This president and his team are focused on not only destroying the virus and building back the economy, they’re focused on creating ways for people to safely stop isolating and start gathering with friends again in safe distances,” the first lady told supporters.
Vice President Mike Pence campaigned in Iowa for the second time this month. A recent CBS News Battleground Tracker showed Mr. Trump and Biden tied in the state, which the president won easily in 2016. A new poll out today from Quinnipiac University showed Mr. Trump ahead 47% to 46% among likely voters. In Des Moines, on a cold airport tarmac with the frigid winds, CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar reports Pence also touted today’s third quarter GDP numbers. Pence said the 33% increase in GDP during the third quarter shows “the Great American comeback is on.” Pence said the “economy is roaring back” and warned that a Biden presidency could shut it all down again. He said the election is a choice between a “Trump recovery” and a “Biden depression.” Pence told supporters to ask their friends and family members who can bring the economy back to full strength: Mr. Trump, “a proven job creator,” or Biden, “a career politician.” Pence said the president has stood up to China and provided billions in aid to farmers who were struggling during the trade negotiations. He touted the USMCA as a win for Iowa and attacked Biden for not reforming NAFTA. Pence also talked about values and religion – he said under Biden’s time as VP, American liberties were “under assault.” Pence criticized the Biden-Harris ticket for their support of abortion and told the crowd the election will decide whether America moves forward on path of family, freedom, patriotism, or takes turn toward socialism. Robert Pilon Jr., from nearby Cresco, said he’s voting for the president because “the biggest thing is getting back to normal.” Pilon Jr, wearing a hoodie that said “Trump 2020: F***k your feelings,” said he’s worried Biden will shut down the economy. He said he’s supporting Mr. Trump again because he wants to see what the economy can really do without a “plandemic.” Retired farmer Ron Cheraal, who’s waiting to vote in-person on Election Day, said he’s not worried about the coronavirus because “it’s the flu.” Cheraal said “when I was a kid we had the polio to worry about.” He added “polio was serious and we made it through that, we could certainly make it through this.”
In his first stop in Florida on Thursday, Biden laid down an election benchmark at his drive-in rally in Broward County: “If Florida goes blue, it’s over, its over!” This is Biden’s fourth general election campaign trip to the state, making the it Biden’s second-most visited battleground, according to CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson. Biden said Mr. Trump’s “super spreader event” across town is sure to sow both the virus and division. As he competes for the voters of Cuban-American and Venezuelan-American voters, Biden called for a “new Cuba policy” and said the president is the “worst possible standard bearer for democracy” in places like Cuba and Venezuela. Biden said he would stand up to “thug” Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela and lashed the president for not granting temporary protective status to Venezuelans fleeing that country. Courting additional Latino supporter, CBS News political correspondent Ed O’Keefe reported Biden’s new promise earlier Thursday that on Day One of his presidency, he will establish a task force to reunite the recently reported 545 immigrant children separated from their families. Tomorrow the Democratic candidate is set to have his busiest day yet on the general election campaign trail as he heads to Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.
BATTLEGROUNDS IN THE BATTLEGROUNDS
PENNSYLVANIA – *CHESTER COUNTY*
Chester is the only county in Pennsylvania that went red to blue in 2016, and it’s emblematic of the suburban resistance to Mr. Trump in the state, reports CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak. Nestled outside Philadelphia, Chester was once a reliable GOP county. President Obama won there in 2008, the first time a Democrat did since Lyndon Johnson, but lost narrowly to Mitt Romney in 2012. But in 2016, when Republicans still outnumbered Democrats in the county, Hillary Clinton won there by 25,000 votes. Since then, Democrats have gained 20,000 voters while Republicans have stayed level. Democrats for the first time in recent history outnumber Republicans in Chester. It’s a trend that came earlier for the other three “collar counties” of Philadelphia – Bucks, Delaware, and Montgomery, all of which turned blue at different points in the last 15 years. The question in this region is whether suburban aversion to President Trump can drive more traditional Republicans to vote for Joe Biden, giving him a boost that could offset blue collar losses.
The Republican Party of Wisconsin says hackers stole $2.3 million from the party’s coffers, which was being used to help election efforts in the home stretch of the campaign, the state party’s chairman said today. According to CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster, the Wisconsin GOP discovered it was the victim of a phishing attack on October 22 and told the FBI the following day that hackers obtained $2.3 million through doctored invoices. The party is working with the FBI as they conduct their investigation. “Cybercriminals, using a sophisticated phishing attack, stole funds intended for the re-election of President Trump, altered invoices and committed wire fraud,” Wisconsin GOP Chair Andrew Hitt said in a statement on Thursday. “These criminals exhibited a level of familiarity with state party operations at the end of the campaign to commit this crime. While a large sum of money was stolen, our operation is running at full capacity with all the resources deployed to ensure President Donald J. Trump carries Wisconsin on November 3rd.” There is no evidence at this point that hackers got their hands on any proprietary information.
News of the hacking comes just days before Election Day in a critical battleground state that President Trump won by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016. Mr. Trump will make his fourth stop in Wisconsin this month on Friday when he visits Green Bay. Biden will also be in the state on Friday, his third trip to the state since becoming the Democratic Party nominee. Wisconsin Democratic Party communications director Courtney Beyer said their party has “been the target of over 800 phishing attempts, with at least half of them seeking financial gains, all of which have been stopped and recorded in some form.” Wisconsin Democrats have raised almost $59 million since 2019, while Republicans have raised nearly $24 million.
The Wisconsin National Guard will be available to help communities that are short on poll workers, reports Brewster. Governor Tony Evers said about 400 Wisconsin National Guard members will be brought into active duty to support election officials as needed. Across the state there’s a shortage of fewer than 200 poll workers, Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator Meagan Wolfe told reporters on Thursday. The National Guard has helped staff polling sites in Wisconsin’s previous elections this year. More than 2,400 Wisconsin Guard members were mobilized during the April election. During a May special election, 160 members served as poll workers and 700 members were used to staff the polls in the August primary. Guard members can serve in traditional election worker roles or serve as greeters and help sanitize polling sites. Wisconsin has been dealing with a major spike in COVID-19 cases as Election Day nears. Evers said the Wisconsin Guard Members “will be needed to ensure that election day goes smoothly and that voters and election officials alike have the assistance they need.”
Historic voter turnout continues to grow, reports CBS News campaign reporter Cara Korte. Hawaii on Thursday became the first state to surpass their 2016 turnout with their 2020 early vote total. Hawaii is a universal vote by mail state – meaning all registered voters are mailed ballots. Per the U.S. Elections Project, 457,294 have voted so far, and 795,248 Hawaii residents have requested ballots. A total of 437, 664 people voted in 2016. Texas is nipping at their heels – early votes in the Lone Star State has totaled 94% of 2016 turnout. Other states that are working on approaching their 2016 totals in this early voting window: North Carolina (81% of 2016), Georgia (82%) and Florida (77%).
A Michigan appeals court rejected Attorney General Dana Nessel’s appeal of a lower court’s decision that blocked Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s ban on openly carrying firearms at polling places. According to CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster, Nessel is appealing the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court. Benson issued the directive banning openly carrying firearms with 100 feet of polling sites earlier this month, saying it was designed to prevent voter intimidation. Open carry and gun rights activists filed lawsuits challenging the decision and on Tuesday, a lower court blocked Benson’s directive. The state appeals court panel rejected the appeal, saying Michigan already has laws on the books about intimidating voters. “Voter intimidation is — and remains — illegal under current Michigan law,” the court wrote. “Anyone who intimidates a voter in Michigan by brandishing a firearm (or, for that matter, by threatening with a knife, baseball bat, fist, or otherwise menacing behavior) is committing a felony under existing law, and that law is — and remains — enforceable by our Executive branch as well as local law enforcement.” The three judges on the panel were all appointed by Republican governors and one of them is currently running for a seat on the Michigan Supreme Court. Some polling sites may be located at facilities that already ban or limit openly carrying firearms. A poll from the Detroit News/WDIV-TV released Wednesday night showed 73% of Michiganders supported the ban on openly carrying weapons at the polls.
A U.S. District Court judge in Minnesota issued a preliminary injunction against private security firms, including Atlas Aegis, from placing armed security guards at polling locations in the state. CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman. The lawsuit was filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations- Minnesota and the League of Women Voters of Minnesota. The groups alleged that the placing armed security guards at polling locations is a form a voter intimidation. Judge Nancy E. Brasel wrote that Atlas Aegis cannot deploy “armed agents within 2,500 feet of Minnesota polling places or otherwise monitoring Minnesota polling places both during early in-person voting and on Election Day.” In addition, Brasel wrote that the firms cannot threaten to deploy armed agents to polling locations in the state.
Testimony wrapped up Wednesday in the Trump campaign’s hearing over ballot counting in Nevada’s most populous county, after Republicans had sought to pause tabulation of early votes in Clark County over concerns of ballot mishandling and poll observers, reports CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin. The president’s reelection bid and Nevada Republicans also this week filed suit against election officials over records they say the authorities have failed to disclose over processing votes and are demanding the identities of staff on the county’s bipartisan counting boards. Democrats have repeatedly decried the GOP’s flood of election litigation in Nevada, accusing Mr. Trump of seeking “to sow distrust in Nevada’s voting system because he knows he cannot win on merit.” When asked about Mr. Trump renewing his criticism of the Democrat at a rally near the state’s border this week, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak said Wednesday, “Sometimes he gets talking about things and I can’t follow exactly where he’s going.” Sisolak added, “I don’t have anybody’s ballots. I’ve never seen or found any ballots in a garbage can. And I think sometimes this is just exaggeration.”
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced that the state has surpassed the statewide goal of recruiting more than 55,165 poll workers for Election Day. More than 56,000 Ohioans will serve as poll workers on Tuesday, reports CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman. While the statewide goal has been met, five counties – Ashtabula, Greene, Jackson, Pike, and Vinton – have still not met the poll worker recruitment goal for their counties. “Ohioans are stepping up to serve as poll workers this election season at a pace never seen before, showing the world the civic engagement and can-do sense of public service our state has always exemplified,” LaRose said in a statement.
Americans may have to wait longer to find out who won Pennsylvania, since at least two counties in the state will not begin counting mail-in ballots until the day after the election, reports CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak. Election officials in Cumberland and Butler, both Republican-heavy counties, say their staffs are simply too small to tally mail ballots while at the same time running Election Day operations. Under state law, it’s legal for these counties to wait. They’re allowed to open mail-in ballot envelopes, check signatures and scan ballots — a process known as “pre-canvassing” — on the morning of Election Day, but they must wait until polls close at 8 p.m. to report results. The decisions from Butler and Cumberland come as the nation adjusts its expectations on when it will know who won Pennsylvania, a state worth 20 electoral votes. In the state’s primary, the first election in Pennsylvania that allowed any voter to vote by mail, some counties took two full weeks to tally their results. As a result, candidates in 10 races who were winning on primary day ended up losing after the votes were finally counted. Read more here.
Hudak also reports that Pennsylvania’s top elections official today told residents voting by mail that if they haven’t already mailed their ballot back, they should return them in person if possible. “We know the court rulings are confusing but there is one simple way to ensure your vote is counted,” she said. “Submit your ballot today. Hand-deliver your mail ballot as soon as possible to your county election office or authorized drop-off location no later than election day, and you can be certain that your vote will be counted.” Over 3 million Pennsylvanians have applied to vote by mail in the first general election the state has held with no-excuse mail-in voting.
The Board of Elections in Erie County, Pennsylvania, voted Wednesday to ban people from open carrying guns from meeting in groups near polling places or going within 100 feet of them if they aren’t voting, according to Hudak. The resolution was meant to prevent voter intimidation. Pennsylvania voters can legally enter in their polling places armed, and this is likely to face a legal challenge. This decision after the local paper reported in September that racist, threatening fliers about the election apparently from a white supremacist group were found in Erie driveways and after a pro-gun activist from Erie told the Post that Open Carry Pennsylvania will be monitoring the election.
IN THE SENATE
Democratic Senate candidate Mark Kelly has sued “The National File” for defamation in state court after the conservative outlet published yearbook photos they said depicted the Arizonan dressed as Adolf Hitler at a Halloween party decades ago, reports CBS news campaign reporter Alex Tin. Kelly’s campaign had released statements from several of Kelly’s classmates at the Merchant Marine Academy rebutting the claim last weekend, demanding the site “retract the defamatory statements.” In their filing, Kelly’s attorney says, “To disparage his reputation and harm his chances at winning the upcoming November election, Defendants have crossed a line.” Incumbent Republican Senator Martha McSally has trailed Kelly for months, despite repeated attempts by Mr. Trump and fellow Republican senators to buoy her campaign in recent weeks. Kelly’s campaign has suggested the story is part of that bid, citing in their lawsuit efforts by an alleged consultant for a GOP-aligned super PAC to probe the photos.
IN THE HOUSE
First-term Congresswoman Xochitl Torres-Small now numbers among a select few Democrats to have ever received an endorsement from the National Border Patrol Council, her campaign announcing the backing late Wednesday of the outspoken labor group representing Border Patrol agents. The union, which frequently backs conservative candidates and has repeatedly praised Mr. Trump, had initially endorsed Torres-Small’s opponent in 2018, reports CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin. “She has been a voice fighting to put politics aside so that we can address the challenges on the ground, which is why we’re endorsing her reelection campaign,” Brandon Judd, president of the group, said in a statement.