Obama hits the trail for Biden in Pennsylvania

With less than two weeks to go before Election Day, former president Barack Obama hit the 2020 campaign trail for the first time in person — heading back to the Keystone State to stump for his former vice president, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice.

“You guys delivered for me twice, and I am back here tonight to ask you to deliver the White House for Joe Biden,” said Mr. Obama, who won Pennsylvania in both 2008 and 2012. “Philadelphia, we’ve got thirteen days. That’s our lucky number right here. Thirteen days until the most important election of our lifetime, and you…don’t have to wait for November 3 to cast your ballot.”

Mr. Obama sang Biden’s praises, noting that his vice president was the last one in the room with him when he made big decisions. He said that Biden made him a “better president” and that Biden has shown himself o be a “friend to working people.”

He also touted Biden’s plans to combat the coronavirus pandemic, expand health care, and create clean energy jobs. But when Mr. Obama wasn’t talking up his former number two, he was slamming President Trump over the coronavirus pandemic, his alleged bank account in China, the $750 he paid in taxes, and even his use of Twitter.

“He hadn’t shown any interest in doing the work or helping anybody but himself and his friends, or treating the presidency like a reality show that he can use to get attention,” Mr. Obama said. “And by the way even then his TV rating are down, so you know that upsets him.”

At other times, Mr. Obama marveled at some of the reports over the last four years. “How is that possible? How is that possible? A secret Chinese bank account. Listen, can you imagine if I had a secret Chinese bank account when I was running for reelection?” he said, addressing a recent New York Times report.

He also quipped that Mr. Trump might be “sending more to foreign governments than he pays in the United States.”

But he took a more somber tone, too. “At least 220,000 Americans have died. More than 100,000 small businesses have closed, millions of jobs are gone, our proud reputation around the world is in tatters,” Mr. Obama said of the pandemic. “Presidents up for reelection usually ask if the country is better off than it was four years ago. I’ll tell you one thing, four years ago, you’d be tailgating here at the Lincoln, instead of watching a speech from your cars,” he added, a nod to the fact that he was speaking at a drive-in rally.

The former president vowed Biden and running mate Kamala Harris would get the country out of the COVID-19 “mess,” believed in science, and would protect pre-existing conditions rather than try to dismantle his signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act.

“We cannot afford four more years of this, Philadelphia,” he said.

FROM THE CANDIDATES

TRUMP-PENCE CAMPAIGN

President Trump heads to Gastonia, North Carolina for a rally this evening – his 10th stop in the key battleground state this year. The trip marks the president’s final rally before heading into the last presidential debate in Nashville Thursday.

After driving down case counts and hospitalizations last month, Gaston County, North Carolina has seen a dangerous reversal in coronavirus trend lines in October. Daily case counts have doubled since August according to local officials, while hospitalizations have tripled in the past month. CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga reports Gastonia city officials have also been made aware of efforts by GOP leaders and the Trump campaign to bus in thousands of people from neighboring South Carolina ahead of the president’s airport hangar remarks.

CBS News has exclusively learned the Republican National Committee has launched a new five-figure ad buy to engage Black voters in a final push before the general election. The ads highlight President Trump’s policy initiatives, including school choice, criminal justice reform and entrepreneurship and they direct voters to the party’s website.

CBS News correspondent Nikole Killion reports they will run in Black newspapers in several battleground states, including Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The outreach expands on a six-figure print and online ad buy by the RNC over the past three weeks and is part of a ramped-up effort by the GOP and Trump campaign to target communities of color.

“The RNC continues to show Black America how serious we are taking earning their respect and their vote through regular engagement, training and GOTV efforts on the ground in the community, with Black media, radio, TV and print outlets nationwide and now with these targeted ad buys in Black owned newspapers,” said Paris Dennard, RNC Senior Communications Advisor for Black Media Affairs.

BIDEN-HARRIS CAMPAIGN

While speaking to reporters before boarding a plane in Asheville, North Carolina, Harris gave some insight on what to expect from Biden as he takes on the president in their final debate before the election. CBS News campaign reporter Tim Perry reports that Harris was asked if Biden would respond to any personal attacks against him or his family, in the wake of unsubstantiated reports about Biden’s son that have been pushed by conservatives and the president himself.

“One of the things I love about Joe Biden, he doesn’t take on or talk about other people’s kids.” Harris said, and added, “Joe Biden knows that what the American needs to hear is they need to hear a conversation about how we’re going to put food on the American table when people are standing in food lines.”

She spent the day campaigning in Charlotte and Asheville, North Carolina, after being forced to reschedule this trip when one of her staffers tested positive for COVID-19. When asked if she and Biden need to win the state in order to win the White House, Harris replied, “We need North Carolina and that’s why I’m here, that’s why he’s been here. The people of North Carolina are very much going to be a very big part of deciding the outcome of this election.” This is Harris’ second stop in the state since joining the ticket.

BATTLEGROUNDS IN THE BATTLEGROUNDS

GEORGIA – *COBB COUNTY*

As one former election official put it, Georgia’s Cobb County is a “previously core Republican county that is definitely beginning to trend Democratic.”

In the 2010 midterm elections, Republicans won the Senate, governor’s, lieutenant governor’s and secretary of state races by an average of 23 points over their Democratic challengers.

Republican Senator Johnny Isakson won Cobb County with 63% ov the vote in 2010 –a 29-point edge over his opponent. And then Secretary of State contender Brian Kemp beat out his Democratic opponent with 60% during the same election — a 26-point advantage. But due in part to changing demographics and a Democratic trend that has expanded from the more urban center of Atlanta into surrounding suburbs like Cobb, by 2018 the Republican stronghold in Cobb had all but dissipated, reports CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell.

Democrats swept Republicans in Cobb County by an average of 8 points in the governor’s, lieutenant governor’s, and secretary of state races in 2018. In 2016, Hillary Clinton also won Cobb County by 2 points, though Mr. Trump ultimately won the state by 5 points or 211,141 votes.

University of Georgia Political Science Professor Trey Hood said counties like Cobb will be decisive this year. “The real battle is in some of these suburban metro counties like Cobb and Gwinnett…that’s where the real battlefield is,” said Hood, who is also the director of UGA’s Survey Research Center. “We’ve seen a couple of congressional districts flipped in the last couple of years that had been reliably Republican in the past at least, and so the Republicans have been in control of sort of statewide politics since 2002, 2004. Certainly…we’re looking to see if that’s going to be maintained or not.”

AD WARS

TRUMP V. BIDEN

With under two weeks to go before Election Day, Joe Biden is bombarding the airwaves and digital spaces with advertisements and outspending President Trump by tens of millions.

And that trend seems likely to continue, as Federal Election Commission reports show the Trump campaign had only $63 million going into October, while the Biden campaign had nearly three times as much — $177 million.

The Democratic presidential nominee has been outpacing Mr. Trump on ad spending since July and has already spent more than $515 million on advertisements for the general election — that’s over $100 million more than Mr. Trump, who has spent about $409 million, according to tracking by Kantar/Campaign Media Analysis Group.

CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice reports it’s an unprecedented investment in advertising by a presidential candidate and comes in anelection yearthat has already seen historic earlyvoting, with more than 42 million people having already cast their ballots, according to the U.S. Elections Project. And based on states that report party affiliations, the majority of those ballots have been cast by Democrats.

With 14 days to go, Biden has already outspent what Hillary Clinton spent on TV and radio ads across the entire general election from mid-June through Election Day in 2016. Spending more isn’t always a harbinger of victory — the former secretary of state’s campaign put around $270 million into the race four years ago, while then-candidate Trump spent less than $100 million. Biden’s campaign has already placed nearly $400 million in TV and radio ads alone according to Kantar/CMAG.

Eight years ago, President Obama spent an estimated $314 million on local, national and national cable TV ads for his 2012 reelection bid. Republican nominee Mitt Romney spent about $129.5 million on local, national and cable TV in that election. Biden has spent $290 million on the same type of advertising plus another $85 million on local cable and satellite TV.

Biden’s dominance on the airwaves is the result of his surge in fundraising as the Democratic nominee. The former vice president, DNC and their joint fundraising committee have raised a staggering $1.1 billion in less than six months. Over the course of the general election, Biden is currently projected to spend more than $553 million on ads according to Kantar/CMAG. President Trump is currently projected to drop $439 million on ads through November 3.

Read more on the ad spending race here.

ISSUES THAT MATTER

VOTING

More Than A Vote, a voting rights group organized by professional athletes, partnered with Win Black to develop a rapid response campaign to combat misinformation that targets Black voters, reports CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman.

The campaign is titled “Under Review” and will feature videos from athletes and celebrities to educate Black voters on identifying bots and combatting misleading narratives that suppress Black voter turnout. The organizations plan to push the campaign’s message through paid digital advertising and partnerships with state level grassroots organizations. “Harmful disinformation is being weaponized to block the voices and votes of Black Americans — but we have the power to stop it,” said Andre Banks and Ashley Bryant, the co-founders of Win Black, in a statement. “Through this partnership, Under Review will urgently flood the zone with the facts we need to counter the targeted attacks coming from bad actors at home and abroad.”

CONGRESSIONAL COVERAGE

IN THE SENATE

As Republicans face an Election Day that could bring bad news for President Trump and their party, some are beginning to distance themselves from the commander-in-chief, while also trying not to attract the ire of the president and his supporters, reports CBSNews.com White House reporter Kathryn Watson. Some, like Senator Thom Tillis, who’s in a tight reelection battle in North Carolina, are acknowledging that Mr. Trump may not prevail in his re-election bid.

“The best check on a Biden presidency is for Republicans to have a majority in the Senate,” he told Politico in an interview. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said to Democrats last week, “Y’all have a good chance of winning the White House.” And other Republicans, like Senators Ben Sasse and Mitt Romney, are openly criticizing the sitting president of their own party.

Rory Cooper, a veteran political strategist who was Congressman Eric Cantor’s communications director when he was majority leader, observed, “I don’t think that you can find a Republican in Washington who thinks that President Trump’s going to win reelection right now, even inside the White House — not anybody speaking honestly.” So, Cooper said, Republicans are positioning themselves for a likely “post-Trump world.” But many Republicans won’t criticize the president publicly, knowing that a Trump tweet is always only a few taps away.

“They all live in fear of sort of the Trump tweet, right? And so they are just deliberately not going to do anything to bait him,” said Betsy Fischer Martin, executive director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University’s Department of Government.

IN THE HOUSE

THE COUNT

With the influx of mail/absentee ballots, House Democrats are anticipating a long counting period before some of the most competitive races are called.

In a call with reporters, Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee Executive Director Lucinda Guinn said 22 races weren’t called after election night in 2018.

“We’re no stranger to long election nights,” Guinn said. “We’re going to see that on a bigger scale this cycle and we’re working really closely with campaigns across the battlefield to make sure we are declaring victory at the perfect moment, which may be days after the election.”

CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro reports that DCCC Chair Cheri Bustos said Tuesday the DCCC has built a “voting protection unit” and are recruiting lawyers for any disputes with the count. Guinn added that while the committee is partnering with the DNC and the DSCC, they are recruiting lawyers for some of their battleground races in Indiana’s 5th and Missouri’s 2nd as well. “We might need lawyers on the ground in different parts of the state than perhaps a Senate or presidential candidate will,” she said.

The down -allot battlefield saw some recent activity in the closing month with GOP ballot drop boxes being set up in several competitive House districts in California. While Democratic state officials were up in arms about the boxes initially, Republicans argued they were acting within the same ballot harvesting rules mainly utilized by Democrats. They agreed to follow precautions for the drop boxes such as making sure there’s a person attending to it and that ballots are delivered within three days. On Sunday, one official ballot drop box in California was burned.

OKLAHOMA

Democrat Congresswoman Kendra Horn and Republican State Senator Stephanie Bice had their final debate Tuesday night for Oklahoma’s 5th district. The attacks were similar to past debates, reports CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro.

Bice looked to tie Horn, and her votes, to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the more progressive members of the caucus.

“You vote with Nancy Pelosi 90% of the time. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris said there are things that they want to do that are Green New Deal initiatives. So how can Oklahomans trust you when you continue to say one thing but you vote a different way,” Bice said during a segment on the state’s oil and gas industry.

It was also one of the only mentions of the presidential race during the debate. Horn repeatedly said Bice was looking to debate Pelosi instead.

“Those same tired attacks and finger pointing and trying to lump me in with someone else when I’ve clearly stood up to my party, are things that I’m tired of and I know Oklahomans are tired of as well.” Horn maintained she has kept up an independent record in her first term and criticized Bice on education and healthcare.

Recently, Horn and Democrats have been criticizing Bice for an interview where she proposed health savings accounts to replace an insurance option to allow for more individual choice. Horn brought up Bice’s idea during the debate and pointed to the five-figure cost of a COVID-19 related hospitalization. “Do you have that much money to cover those costs? That’s not a plan, that’s a disaster waiting to happen,” she said. Bice defended her comments, and said, “Unfortunately my opponent wants to stick her head in the sand and act like everything’s okay. I don’t see any solutions either – I want to provide ideas.”

The district is one of the most competitive toss up House races this cycle, after Horn narrowly flipped the seat in 2018 despite Mr. Trump double-digit victory there in 2016. Bice secured the Republican nomination after a runoff in late August but upped her fundraising in recent months and narrowly outraised Horn in the last quarter.

Horn still holds a substantial cash on hand advantage. The race was also on the airwaves early, and there’s been more than $11.7 million in outside spending for this race, according to Open Secrets. Early polling in October showed Bice up by four points, but also showed Mr. Trump only leading by six points in a seat he won by 13 points in 2016.

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