2020 Daily Trail Markers: Trump campaign launches ad blitz encouraging vote by mail

President Trump’s campaign has launched a social media ad blitz aimed at encouraging supporters to vote by mail, a move that follows months of Mr. Trump’s open attempts to discredit the practice and tie it to election fraud. One ad has the headline “VOTE LIKE PRESIDENT TRUMP!” and includes the text, “TIME IS RUNNING OUT! Request your ballot today.” The image shows a close-up of an absentee ballot. The ad, a reference to the absentee ballot the president sent for this year’s Florida Republican primary, is appearing on Facebook in Florida and North Carolina. Another ad includes the text “Absentee ballots are GOOD. I need you to get your application and send in your absentee ballot IMMEDIATELY.” The campaign spent at least $2.5 million on the twelve ads that had the broadest reach, according to Facebook data, targeting at least 11 million voters. Other Facebook ads from Mr. Trump’s campaign about getting an absentee ballot have also targeted Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, Florida, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

The president has for months said without evidence that voting by mail could be tied to widespread fraud and abuse. Palm Beach County election records showed that the president and first lady Melania Trump were mailed ballots at the Mar-a-Lago resort for the Florida August primary. It was not until around that time in early August that the president started claiming voting by mail specifically in Florida was safe. Palm Beach County election records do not currently show absentee ballot requests for the 2020 general election on file for the president and first lady. The deadline to request a vote-by-mail ballot in Palm Beach County is October 24.

“Look, that’s a good campaign doing what it’s supposed to do, getting people to vote. They want people to be out there and doing this independent of what the president is saying on the podium,” said Daniel Kreiss, a University of North Carolina Chapel Hill associate professor whose research looks at digital media, data and analytics in contemporary campaigning. Trump campaign spokesperson Thea McDonald said in an email that Mr. Trump has “rightly and consistently said that when a voter cannot make it to the polls, they should request an absentee ballot, just as he himself has done.” The Trump campaign vote-by-mail ads come as Democrats see a massive advantage in absentee ballot requests across several key battleground states with just under 20 days to go before Election Day. Read more from CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice and CBS News investigative reporter Graham Kates here.

FROM THE CANDIDATES

TRUMP-PENCE CAMPAIGN

Mr. Trump made two stops in the battleground state of Florida on Friday, before heading to Macron, Georgia for another airport hangar rally. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Wednesday showed Mr. Trump in a statistical tie with Democratic rival Joe Biden in Florida. A report by Florida Secretary State Laurel Lee Thursday revealed state Democrats’ longtime voter registration edge is disappearing, down to just 134,000 over Republicans ahead of Election Day, the closest margin in recent history. In 2012, CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga notes Democrats held a 535,987 voter edge when President Obama captured the state. In 2016, Democrats maintained a 327,428 person lead when then candidate Donald Trump won. Mr. Trump hosted an indoor event Friday with more than 300 guests in Fort Meyers, Florida, centered on “protecting America’s seniors.” The president told audience members, “We cannot allow unscientific, panic-driven, fear-based policies to deny our children and grandchildren their future and their dreams.” The president’s diminishing support from older voters comes amid a pandemic that has disproportionately impacted senior citizens. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 8 out of 10 COVID-19-related deaths reported in the United States have been among adults aged 65 years and older. The president receives poor marks, according to CBS News polling, on his handling of the virus.

Both presidential candidates appeared in separate town halls on competing networks on Thursday night after President Trump said he would refuse to participate in a virtual debate. President Trump was in Miami at a contentious town hall hosted by NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie. When asked if he would denounce QAnon, a right-wing conspiracy theory group, Mr. Trump refused to unequivocally do so, CBS digital reporter Caitlin O’Kane reports. While members of the group frequently appear at Mr. Trump’s rallies and campaign events, Mr. Trump insisted he doesn’t know about the group. “What I do hear about [QAnon] is that they’re very strong against pedophila, and I agree with that,” he continued. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), “QAnon is a wide-reaching conspiracy theory popular among a range of right-wing extremists and even some public supporters of President Trump.” The group first surfaced on 4chan in 2017 and adherents follow “the anonymous Q.”

CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice also reports Biden and his entities outraised Mr. Trump, the RNC and their joint fundraising committees by about $135 million last month and have a $180 million cash advantage. Late Thursday night, Mr. Trump’s campaign communications director revealed on Twitter the president and his entities raised a combined $247.8 million in September and had $251.4 million cash on hand. This comes as the Trump Victory Fund faced a quarterly filing with the FEC. It showed the joint fundraising committee brought in $119 million from July through September and transferred out $69.5 million to other authorized committees. Among its $9.5 million in operating expenses were $335,753.76 to the Treasury Department for air travel, $110,510 to Impact Health Biometric Testing Inc. for an “Event Staging Expense,” and at least $769,000 to the Trump Hotel Collection for everything from travel lodging to meetings, parking, facility rentals, and catering services. The Thursday filings also revealed the president accepted more than $1 million from QAnon supporters Caryn and Michael Borland. The donation was first reported by The Associated Press. Last month, CBS News confirmed Vice President Mike Pence would no longer be attending a Montana fundraiser with the couple but a campaign official could not confirm why. The move came one day after the AP reported the couple had “shared QAnon memes and retweeted posts from QAnon accounts.”

BIDEN-HARRIS CAMPAIGN

Biden spoke outside Detroit in Southfield, Michigan, on Friday afternoon, his third trip in the last five weeks to the state according to CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson. Biden was joined by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and both of the state’s Democratic senators, Senator Debbie Stabenow and Senator Gary Peters. Peters is currently campaigning to hold his seat. Biden called the group who allegedly planned to kidnap Whitmer are “domestic terrorists” and compared the their plot to one the radical terrorist group ISIS would engage in. He also accused Mr. Trump of calling the group to action when Mr. Trump tweeted “liberate Michigan.”

And in case you missed it…If you’ve heard Biden talk at all, you know about his Scranton roots. His campaign last month condensed his message to “Scranton versus Park Avenue.” A few days ago, CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson went to Scranton to talk to voters and he saw the election energy – by both campaigns – in the town. Obama/Biden won the area by double digits in 2012, but Hillary Clinton barely won in 2016. The Trump campaign is zeroing in on Biden’s home turf and Democrats are hoping Scranton will remain in the Democrats’ column with a little extra boost. But there is anxiousness. “I don’t care if he was from Timbuktu,” kindergarten teacher Mary Pat Burke, 55, said during a front porch interview a few doors down from Biden’s childhood home. “It just seems that he seems very in tune with the needs of the middle class.” But Burke, like other Democrats in the area, said there is no guarantee. “After last election, I don’t want to be too overly confident.” Read the full story here.

BATTLEGROUNDS IN THE BATTLEGROUNDS

WISCONSIN – *WOW COUNTIES*

The suburbs were America’s battleground in several states during the 2018 midterm elections and are poised to play a major role in determining who wins the presidency. The suburban counties around Milwaukee, known collectively as the WOW counties (Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington), remain solidly Republican territory. They’ve been the heart of the Republican Party in Wisconsin for years and will very likely provide a large chunk of votes for Mr. Trump. But, CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster reports the president struggled in the area four years ago relative to other Republican candidates in recent years and Democrats are hoping to shave off a few more votes. Collectively, Mr. Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 28.3 points in the WOW counties in 2016. That was slightly better than John McCain’s performance in 2008, when he beat Barack Obama by 25.9 points in the WOWs, although Mr. Obama won Wisconsin by the largest margin in decades that year. The counties were much more favorable to Mitt Romney, who won them by 35 points. The WOW counties were even better for former Republican Governor Scott Walker, who won them by about 45 points in 2010 and 2014. When Walker lost to current Democratic Governor Tony Evers in 2018, he carried the WOWs by 35 points.

How well the president needs to perform in the WOW counties depends on several factors, including his margins in the Green Bay area and the rural areas of Wisconsin where he blew out Clinton four years ago. “I think he does need to do better in that area,” said Wisconsin Republican strategist Mark Graul, referring to the WOW counties. “He won the state with even getting those lower margins in the WOW counties than historically Republicans have gotten, so I don’t want to say he needs to do that much better if he can increase the turnout in some of these rural areas, which I think he will.” Graul thinks the president’s strongest card in the WOW counties will be the economy, especially before the pandemic hit. “They like lower taxes and less regulation and want to see businesses and employers doing well, so I think the president has a strong message there and that’s one that probably he should focus on with those voters,” Graul said. Pence and Eric Trump both campaigned in Waukesha County this week, a sign that the Trump campaign is taking the Republican stronghold seriously and wants to drive up the margins.

Waukesha is the largest of the WOW counties and in recent years has typically accounted for about two thirds of the votes from the three counties. Democrats in the county are feeling confident that they’ve been able to peel some voters away from their Republican roots and point to flipping Walker’s former State Assembly seat, which is partly in Waukesha county, as evidence that they’re gaining support. “We often say this isn’t the Bush Republican Party or the McCain Republican Party, but this is no longer even the Paul Ryan Republican Party,” said Matt Mareno, chair of the Waukesha County Democrats. The county is highly educated with many wealthy residents, and Mareno believes Democrats can win some of those voters who may be fiscally conservative, yet socially liberal. He said some of the issues driving Democrats and Biden supporters in the county include healthcare, the coronavirus pandemic and Mr. Trump’s response to unrest in Kenosha. Mareno thought Mr. Trump’s law and order message would resonate with Waukesha voters, but said that was not the case. “A lot of people felt he was here to do nothing but fan the flames,” Mareno said. The Waukesha County Republicans have been holding events to showcase the enthusiasm among the president’s supporters in the county and organizing other grassroots events. CBS News reached out to the Waukesha County GOP, but the county chair did not respond to an interview request.

CBS NEWS COVID CHRONICLES

MICHIGAN – WATER FOLLOW-UP

In one of the latest edition of CBS News COVID Chronicles, CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell re-visits the battleground state of Michigan, to explore how matters have changed regarding a moratorium on water shut-offs in the city of Detroit. In March, Whitmer and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggans launched the Water Restart Plan for Detroit residents who were at risk of a service interruption due to nonpayment. When CBS News spoke with water advocates in July, they applauded the effort by the city and state to help residents access water services throughout the duration of the coronavirus pandemic but warned that the plan was a temporary fix to a longstanding issue that needed a permanent solution. In July, the ACLU Michigan filed a lawsuit against the city of Detroit, the DWSD, and the state of Michigan. Jason Bailey is the Special Economic Justice Counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense fund, co-counsel with the ACLU Michigan in the case. Bailey said that since the summer, both the state and the city have filed to dismiss the case. And earlier this month, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that Whitmer doesn’t have the authority to issue or renew COVID-19 related executive orders, a move that water advocates say could complicate water service access to vulnerable communities amid the pandemic. “People that we’re representing had issues affording water before the pandemic and before the governor issued her moratorium…there’s really concern that once things go back to the way they were before the executive order, that they’ll be without water service,” said Bailey. “The threat is very real.”

WISCONSIN – TEACHER FOLLOW-UP

Students in the Milwaukee Public Schools last saw their teachers in-person in mid-March before the COVID-19 pandemic forced Governor Tony Evers to shutter the schools. This set off a chaotic effort to ensure students were still receiving basic needs, including free breakfast and lunch, and figuring out remote instruction once it became clear students wouldn’t be returning to the classroom. Seven months later, virtual learning continues in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), Wisconsin’s largest school district, and it’s not clear when students will return, reports CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster. When the decision was made in July to start the year virtually, some parents applauded the district for taking the safe route, while others spoke out against the plan. Those parents didn’t think the spring semester had worked out well and feared students would fall behind. “When it happened in the spring, it was crisis management,” said Nicolo Onorato, a special education teacher, referring to the frantic aftermath when schools closed. “We’re better than we were last year because we understand a little bit better. And if we’re going to keep understanding it better, we’re still going to get better.” Joyce Peoples, a middle school English language arts teacher, said things are going more smoothly in her class now, compared to the spring, but worries about prolonged virtual learning. “I don’t think this is sustainable,” Peoples said. She added, “After three or four months of this, you might see students just start to like go into this slump again about ‘I’m not getting up and doing this this morning.'” She feels she’s “more effective” now than in April, and there are fewer disruptions and more students are doing the work. But still, she said of her students, “I think it’s just very hard for them to sustain an excitement about learning through a screen.”

STATE-BY-STATE

CALIFORNIA

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Attorney General Xavier Becerra told reporters on Friday that the state Republican Party has agreed to “no longer deploy unstaffed, unsecure, unofficial, and unauthorized ballot drop boxes,” reports CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar. “The Republican Party’s deployment of these unofficial and deceptive drop boxes were in violation of state law and they created voter confusion,” Padilla said. But the state GOP said Padilla and Becerra “didn’t bother to learn the facts before accusing us” of wrongdoing. “They want to do anything to confuse to confuse voters and our supporters, and let our detractors describe our efforts as criminal,” California Republican Party chairwoman Jessica Milan Patterson told reporters Friday afternoon. California Republicans say they never used unauthorized, unstaffed and unsecure drop boxes and insist they didn’t make any concessions to Padilla and Becerra. “In two phone calls with nine Attorney General lawyers, they never requested the California Republican Party to do anything except provide information about our program and to turn over records, including names of voters which we have declined to do,” Hector Barajas said, a spokesman for the CRP said in a statement Padilla and Becerra told reporters their investigation is ongoing, and they have issued a subpoena for more information about the state GOP’s ballot collection efforts. The California Republican Party General Counsel Tom Hiltachk said as of Friday afternoon he hasn’t received a subpoena. Becerra said the cease and desist order earlier this week was issued “after getting information and reports of activity with regard to voter and ballot drop boxes.”

Over the weekend, local news outlets reported ballot drop boxes in Los Angeles, Orange and Fresno counties. One of the reports included a California Republican Party staffer posting a photo of a drop box in Orange County with the label “official” on it while another report showed a similar box outside a church in Fresno County. The California Republican Party admitted the “official” label that appeared on the boxes was a mistake from an “overzealous” staffer. That was corrected within hours of the GOP finding out about it, according to Hiltachk. Regarding the ballot box outside the church, Hiltachk said the pastor who posted the photo online “was taking a picture of the box as it was being delivered to his church.” Hiltachk said on Wednesday that the box was in transit from a vehicle to the church and never left unattended on the sidewalk as it appeared in the photo. “It’s understandable that if you thought that was our program that perhaps a local registrar or voter would be concerned about that,” Hiltachk said earlier this week. “But that is not the program that’s being undertaken here and any characterization of it in that way is simply false,” he added. In a letter responding to the cease-and-desist order, the California Republican Party said it intends to “accept VBM ballots voluntarily delivered by voters to a local Party office or headquarters through Election Day.” The state party also said it would secure the ballots in a locked box until they are delivered to election officials, no later than 72 hours from receipt. Furthermore, California Republicans said they will “ensure that such boxes are attended to at all times the office is open to the public” and make the boxes available to any person or organization wanting to participate in ballot harvesting. “The California Republican Party has not and will not place boxes unattended, outdoors, or in other places where the general public gather; and represented that such boxes are ‘official’ VBM drop boxes,” the California GOP wrote in a letter to Padilla and Becerra.

Barajas told CBS News the GOP will continue to have ballot drop boxes at locations like churches and party offices where they will always be staffed and remain secure as originally planned. “What they accused us of doing was never done,” Hiltachk told reporters on Friday. “What we’ve told them is that the program we had been undertaking, we are going to continue to undertake under those terms.”

Becerra said he and Padilla “will continue the investigation” and “respond” when “credible evidence” suggests that California election law is not being complied with. “We wait to see what the Republican Party does,” Becerra said. “Based on what we find the evidence to be in terms of their activities, that will determine what we do and that’s why I have said we are in ongoing conversation,” he added.

FLORIDA

Florida is aiming to be the poster child, not problem child, for elections this year reports CBSN politics reporter Caitlin Huey-Burns. Unlike in other key battlegrounds in the Midwest, Florida can start processing ballots weeks before Election Day. Huey-Burns visited a facility in the Sunshine State that is processing 10,000 per day. CBS News also found that the president’s rhetoric on mail in voting is having an impact on his own supporters. Voters that spoke with CBS News casting their absentee ballots were backing Biden. And voters elsewhere in the state who said they were backing Trump noted that they would be casting their ballots in person on Election Day. Dr. Michael McDonald, an elections expert at University of Florida, said 800,000 more Democrats than Republicans requested absentee ballots, when the number is usually at parity. Republicans, however, have been narrowing the registration gap.

MICHIGAN

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced on Friday that people will not be allowed to openly carry guns at voting locations, according to CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster. Benson issued guidance to local clerks that said people can’t openly carry a firearm “in a polling place, in any hallway used by voters to enter or exit, or within 100 feet of any entrance to a building in which a polling place is located.” People can leave firearms in their cars within 100 feet of a building if they are otherwise legally allowed to do so. Further, Benson noted that concealed carry is not allowed in any building that already prohibits the practice. “The presence of firearms at the polling place, clerk’s office(s), or absent voter counting board may cause disruption, fear, or intimidation for voters, election workers, and others present,” Benson wrote in her memo. Benson’s guidance comes eight days after state and federal officials charged more than a dozen men in connection to an alleged kidnapping plot of Governor Gretchen Whitmer that included plans to attack the state Capitol.

OHIO

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced that more than 55,000 Ohioans have volunteered to serve as poll workers on Election Day, reports CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman. In a press release, LaRose’s office noted that 72 of Ohio’s 88 counties have met or are close to meeting their poll worker recruitment goal for the election. LaRose’s office specifically noted that Hamilton and Franklin counties, which have large populations, and Summit County need to recruit more than 500 poll workers in each of their counties. “We’re so close to ensuring a full complement of poll workers to staff our thousands of polling locations across the state,” LaRose said in a statement. “If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to serve your community and perform an important patriotic duty in a time of need, here’s your chance.”

CONGRESSIONAL COVERAGE

IN THE HOUSE

CALIFORNIA

Democratic Representative Harley Rouda of California appears to have violated the STOCK Act, which requires members of Congress to report stock sales and purchases within 45 days reports CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar. According to Rouda’s August 20th periodic transaction report, he waited months to publicly disclose four separate transactions. All but one of the transactions are over a year old. On two of the transactions, Rouda profited at least $200. In April of 2019, Rouda sold his shares of Rock Brands, a footwear company, which was in the amount of $100,000 to $250,000. Rouda sold more stocks of Rocky Brands a few months later in September of 2019. In addition to requiring members of Congress to report transactions within 45 days, the STOCK Act prohibits representatives and their employees from using private information gathered from their official positions for personal benefit. A spokesperson for the Rouda campaign declined to comment while his Congressional office did not respond to requests for an explanation.

CAMPAIGN CASH

While some challengers in crucial districts Republicans need to flip the House posted strong fundraising quarters, incumbent Democrats still have massive overall leads in the money race. CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro reports that in the 30 districts Mr. Trump won in 2016 currently represented by a Democrat, the incumbents raised a collective $43 million and have more than $57 million cash on hand going into these next few weeks. By comparison, Republican challengers brought in a cumulative $30 million and have $16.8 million cash on hand. There are several bright spots for Republicans, as three challengers in these districts have now outpaced their Democratic opponents in both fundraising this quarter and with their cash on hand. Four other Republican challengers in districts Hillary Clinton won in 2016 also posted more than their Democratic opponents, including Young Kim in California’s 39th, who also holds the cash on hand advantage.

Republicans need a net gain of 17 seats to take back the chamber, but that task is made harder by the expanded battlefield House Democrats have been playing in. At least 32 Democratic challengers have out raised their Republican incumbent or candidate for open seats. Navarro reports these Democratic challengers raised about $300,000 more on average between July and September. One of the wider margins is in the open seat in Virginia’s 5th, where Democrat Cameron Webb raised $2.7 million compared to Republican Bob Good’s $722,724.

For competitive districts in presidential battleground states, Democrats continue to have a slight lead. Of the six tight races in Pennsylvania, Democrats raised a collective $6.4 million while Republicans brought in $5.7 million. Two Republicans out raised their opponents: Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick and challenger Sean Parnell. In Florida’s handful of six competitive House races, it was split: three Democrat and three Republican candidates posted higher numbers this quarter. For the 12 competitive races in Texas, nine Democrats had the higher fundraising quarter while eight Republicans still hold the cash-on-hand advantage. For example, in Texas’ 21st, while Democrat Wendy Davis raised $3.4 million in the quarter, GOP Congressman Chip Roy has more cash on hand with $2.4 million in the bank.

GOVERNOR’S MANSION

MARYLAND

Republican Maryland Governor Larry Hogan cast a write-in vote for late former president Ronald Reagan last week, his office confirmed to CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro on Friday. Hogan, a frequent critic of President Trump, is not supporting Mr. Trump nor the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden. Hogan’s decision to vote for Reagan was first reported by the Washington Post. According to the CBS News Battleground Tracker, which tracks races based on CBS News polling and analysis, there is overwhelming support for Biden in Maryland. “I know it’s simply symbolic,” he told the Post. “It’s not going to change the outcome in my state. But I thought it was important to just cast a vote that showed the kind of person I’d like to see in office.” It’s not the first time Hogan chose not to vote for Mr. Trump. In 2016, Hogan endorsed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie during the primary season and then wrote in his father, former Representative Lawrence Hogan, in the general election. He joined Massachusetts Governor Charlie Bakerand Vermont Governor Phil Scott in not supporting Mr. Trump in the upcoming election. Baker’s office said Thursday in a statement obtained by CBS Boston that the “governor cannot support Donald Trump for president and is focused on seeing Massachusetts through the pandemic.” Scott had previously voiced support for the impeachment proceedings and said Trump “shouldn’t be in office.” Scott is favored to win his re-election this year, and Hogan’s office confirmed he would be taking part in a town hall with Baker for Scott’s campaign on October 22.

MONTANA

Democratic candidate and Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney called for his Republican opponent, Congressman Greg Gianforte, to suspend his campaign’s in-person activities until he tests negative for COVID-19. Gianforte attended an event on October 3, two days before a debate between the two, that local health officials approved. But after several positive cases were found linked to the event, they asked other attendees to monitor themselves. “The focus isn’t on whether the event was the right or wrong thing to do, we simply need to quickly identify cases and their close contacts if we are to have a chance at containing disease and preventing an outbreak,” Drenda Niemann, health officer for the Lewis and Clark public health department, told the Associated Press. Gianforte’s campaign said he led the Pledge of Allegiance at the October 3 event, and then left.

Jake Eaton, Gianforte’s campaign manager, told CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro he has shown no symptoms. “As Montanans confront this virus and economic crisis, it’s a shame that career politician Mike Cooney is so desperate that he’s politicizing public health for his personal, partisan gain,” Eaton said. His campaign added that Gianforte’s health care provider did not recommended that he should be tested.

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