Trump 'kisses dictators' butts,' Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican, tells constituents.

October 15, 2020 
Last Updated Oct. 15, 2020, 7:49 p.m. ETOct. 15, 2020, 7:49 p.m. ET

Kamala Harris's communications director and a flight crew member tested positive, but Ms. Harris tested negative. President Trump and Joe Biden are holding dueling town hall events tonight in lieu of a debate. Mr. Biden's campaign is flush with cash after raising $383 million in September.

This briefing has ended. Follow our live coverage of the Trump and Biden town hall events on Thursday night.

Senator Kamala Harris was scheduled to hold three events in North Carolina on Thursday but has canceled them.
Senator Kamala Harris was scheduled to hold three events in North Carolina on Thursday but has canceled them.Credit...Hilary Swift for The New York Times

The Biden campaign announced Thursday that it was suspending Senator Kamala Harris's campaign travel through Sunday after two people who had traveled with her tested positive for the coronavirus. Hours later, the campaign said a person who had been aboard Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s plane had also tested positive.

The announcements were the Biden campaign's closest known brush with the virus. The two people who had traveled with Ms. Harris -- her campaign communications director, Liz Allen, and a flight crew member -- flew with her last Thursday, when Ms. Harris campaigned with Mr. Biden in Arizona.

The person on Mr. Biden's flights who tested positive, an employee of the company that charters the plane, was aboard for trips to Ohio on Monday and to Florida on Tuesday, but was a great distance from Mr. Biden, the campaign said.

"Our campaign's contact tracing remains ongoing, and my team will continue to share any significant developments with the American people," Mr. Biden wrote on Twitter. "If anything, let this serve as an example of the importance of wearing masks and keeping a safe, social distance."

Ms. Harris had been scheduled to campaign in North Carolina on Thursday and in Ohio on Friday. She will now return to the campaign trail on Monday. The campaign said she had tested negative for the virus on Wednesday and again on Thursday.

Mr. Biden's campaign manager, Jennifer O'Malley Dillon, said in a statement that Ms. Harris "was not in close contact, as defined by the C.D.C., with either of these individuals during the two days prior to their positive tests; as such, there is no requirement for quarantine."

But Ms. O'Malley Dillon said Ms. Harris's travel through Sunday was being canceled "out of an abundance of caution and in line with our campaign's commitment to the highest levels of precaution."

During a virtual fund-raiser on Thursday, Ms. Harris addressed the positive tests and the campaign's response, and drew a comparison with President Trump. "We wanted to make sure that we were adhering to what has been, I think, a very appropriate and strict level of seriousness around the caution that we are exercising to make sure everyone is safe," she said. "Obviously, it's been in stark contrast to you-know-who."

On Thursday afternoon, the campaign said that the person aboard Mr. Biden's plane, an administrative employee with the charter company who had been contacted during contact tracing for the crew member who traveled with Ms. Harris, had also tested positive.

The employee was seated in the last row of Mr. Biden's plane, a Boeing 737, on Monday and Tuesday, and was more than 50 feet away from Mr. Biden at all times, Ms. O'Malley Dillon said. "We have been advised by the vice president's doctor and the campaign's medical advisers that there is no need for the vice president to quarantine," she said.

Mr. Biden will appear at an ABC News town hall event in Philadelphia on Thursday night. The campaign said Mr. Biden tested negative for the virus on Wednesday night and again on Thursday.

Senator Ted Cruz said he planned to subpoena Twitter's chief executive, Jack Dorsey, to discuss the company's decision to block the distribution of an unsubstantiated New York Post article.
Senator Ted Cruz said he planned to subpoena Twitter's chief executive, Jack Dorsey, to discuss the company's decision to block the distribution of an unsubstantiated New York Post article.Credit...Hilary Swift for The New York Times

President Trump called Facebook and Twitter "terrible" and "a monster" and said he would go after them. Senators Ted Cruz and Marsha Blackburn said they would subpoena the chief executives of the companies for their actions. And on Fox News, prominent conservative hosts blasted the social media platforms as "monopolies" and accused them of "censorship" and election interference.

On Thursday, simmering discontent among Republicans over the power that Facebook and Twitter wield over public discourse erupted into open acrimony. Republicans slammed the companies and baited them a day after the sites limited or blocked the distribution of an unsubstantiated New York Post article about Hunter Biden, the son of the Democratic presidential nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr.

The criticism did not stop the companies. Twitter locked the personal account of Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, late Wednesday after she posted the article, and on Thursday it briefly blocked a link to a House Judiciary Committee webpage. The Trump campaign said Twitter had also locked its official account after it tried promoting the article. Twitter then doubled down by prohibiting the spread of a different New York Post article about the Bidens.

The actions brought the already frosty relationship between conservatives and the companies to a new low point, less than three weeks before the Nov. 3 presidential election, in which the social networks are expected to play a significant role. It offered a glimpse at how online conversations could go awry on Election Day and underlined how the companies have little handle on how to consistently enforce what they will allow on their sites.

"There will be battles for control of the narrative again and again over coming weeks," said Evelyn Douek, a lecturer at Harvard Law School who studies social media companies. "The way the platforms handled it is not a good harbinger of what's to come."

Facebook declined to comment on Thursday and pointed to its comments on Wednesday when it said the New York Post article, which made unverified claims about Hunter Biden's business in Ukraine, was eligible for third-party fact-checking.

In a tweet, Twitter said, "We recognize that Twitter is just one of many places where people can find information online, and the Twitter Rules are intended to protect the conversation on our service, and to add context to people's experience where we can."

Mr. Trump said on Twitter on Wednesday that "it is only the beginning" for the social media companies. He followed up on Thursday by saying he wanted to "strip them" of some of their liability protections.

President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. during the first presidential debate late last month.
President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. during the first presidential debate late last month. Credit...Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. were supposed to debate tonight. But Mr. Trump backed out after the Commission on Presidential Debates ruled that the event could be held only virtually, given the president's coronavirus diagnosis.

The two men will instead engage in a Battle of the Town Halls, appearing in rival events on different networks. That's a far cry from a debate, and most analysts assume that it's unlikely to change minds. Mr. Trump's supporters will presumably tune in to the president on NBC, while Mr. Biden's supporters will check out their candidate on ABC. Since the appearances are at the same time, 8 p.m. Eastern, it will take a dedicated voter to attempt a compare-and-contrast.

What that means is that the third debate, in Nashville on Oct. 22, may be Mr. Trump's last, best chance to change the course of a campaign that is moving against him. It is the final scheduled set piece, all but guaranteed to draw a huge audience and extensive coverage. Unlike, say, tonight.

Mr. Trump's performance at the first debate was marked by his hectoring of Mr. Biden and the moderator, Chris Wallace, and was widely criticized. Polls suggest it cost him some support. From that perspective, Mr. Trump's decision to pull out of the next one, rather than just engage Mr. Biden virtually, mystified members of both parties, particularly because Mr. Biden, given his polling lead, has little incentive to debate again.

Republicans had been hoping that tonight could be a mulligan. Now it's down to Nashville.

"He needs a good debate, practicing common courtesy and restraint, and allowing Biden to speak," said Charlie Black, a Republican consultant and veteran of presidential campaigns.

This is not ideal for Mr. Trump. Historically, third debates do not have a major influence on the course of a campaign. By the time this one happens, Election Day will be less than two weeks away. Millions of people will already have voted.

Even if Mr. Trump heeds the advice of Republicans on changing his debate tone, there might not be enough undecided people in even that huge audience to make a difference.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham at the fourth day of the confirmation hearing for Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham at the fourth day of the confirmation hearing for Judge Amy Coney Barrett.Credit...Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President Trump and Senator Lindsey Graham have established clear but not overwhelming advantages in South Carolina, a heavily Republican state that is showing signs of competitiveness this year, according to a new New York Times/Siena College poll.

Mr. Trump leads Joseph R. Biden Jr., 49 percentage points to 41, while Mr. Graham, who is facing the most serious challenge of his career, is winning 46 percent of the vote compared with 40 percent for his Democratic rival, Jaime Harrison.

The New York Times /
Siena College poll

Donald Trump holds a clear lead over Joe Biden in South Carolina.

+14 Trump
55-41

+8 Trump
49-41

Based on a New York Times/Siena College poll of 605 likely voters in South Carolina from Oct. 9 to Oct. 15.

The Senate race, though, may be even more competitive because the survey finds that 12 percent of Black voters are undecided, which could favor Mr. Harrison, who is African-American. The poll has a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

No Democratic presidential candidate has carried South Carolina since Jimmy Carter in 1976, a streak that appears unlikely to be broken this year. But the combination of Black voters and white transplants there is poised to make the state more of a battleground than an afterthought going forward.

It's this coalition of voters that's pushing Mr. Trump's advantage into single digits, four years after he carried South Carolina by 14 points, and that has made the race between Mr. Graham and Mr. Harrison perhaps the most surprisingly close Senate matchup of 2020.

The New York Times /
Siena College poll

image

The Republican incumbent Lindsey Graham polls ahead of his Democratic challenger in this surprisingly competitive Senate race.

NYT/Siena
NYT/Siena
605, Oct. 9-15)

40%

Jaime
Harrison

46%

Lindsey
Graham

+
6 Rep.

8% undecided

Data for Progress
Data for Progress
801, Oct. 8-11)
Dem. pollster

801, Oct. 8-11) Dem. pollster

47%

46%

+
1 Dem.

Morning Consult
Morning Consult
903, Oct. 2-11)

42%

48%

+
6 Rep.

ALG Research
ALG Research
1,011, Sept. 29-Oct. 5)
Dem. pollster

1,011, Sept. 29-Oct. 5) Dem. pollster

46%

46%

Tied

GBAO
GBAO
800, Sept. 24-28)
Dem. pollster

800, Sept. 24-28) Dem. pollster

48%

47%

+
1 Dem.

Quinnipiac University
Quinnipiac
1,123, Sept. 23-27)

48%

48%

Tied

Still, South Carolina remains more conservative than its fast-changing neighbors, Georgia and North Carolina, and quite forbidding for Democrats. The state hasn't elected a Democratic governor or senator since 1998.

While college-educated white voters in other Sun Belt states favor Mr. Biden or break even between the two presidential contenders, they favor Mr. Trump 50 percent to 38 percent in South Carolina. Even more stark, and for Democrats downright daunting, is the gap among white voters without a college degree: 77 percent favor Mr. Trump while just 18 percent support Mr. Biden.

Former President Barack Obama plans to campaign for Joseph R. Biden Jr., his former vice president, in the final weeks before the election.
Former President Barack Obama plans to campaign for Joseph R. Biden Jr., his former vice president, in the final weeks before the election.Credit...Democratic National Convention, via Associated Press

Former President Barack Obama on Wednesday shrugged off President Trump's calls for him to be prosecuted -- and warned that the "insane" QAnon conspiracy theory movement was infiltrating the mainstream of the Republican Party and infecting public discourse.

Mr. Obama plans to hit the road on behalf of his former vice president, Joseph R. Biden Jr., over the next two weeks for socially-distanced appearances in battleground states to encourage Democrats during early voting, according to people familiar with his plans.

Mr. Obama gave a preview of his closing argument in his appearance Wednesday on "Pod Save America," a popular podcast hosted by two of his former White House advisers, Jon Favreau and Tommy Vietor -- appearing relaxed and tie-less, but stone-serious, in a Zoom interview.

Near the start, Mr. Vietor asked Mr. Obama what he thought about Mr. Trump "tweeting that the attorney general should indict you or indict Vice President Biden for spying on his campaign."

Mr. Obama mimicked the response Republicans have often offered in response to Mr. Trump's social media exploits: "Yeah. 'I didn't read the tweet'," he replied.

He went on to discuss the larger implications of incendiary comments like Mr. Trump's.

"One of the central foundation stones of a democracy is the idea that you do not, you do not allow the politicization of the criminal justice system, the intelligence system, the military. Right?" he said. "That is stuff that you keep out of politics right now. Because it's too dangerous."

He said an important question after the election, even if Mr. Biden wins, "is whether you start seeing the Republican Party restore some sense of, 'Here are norms that we can't breach,' because he's breached all of them," Mr. Obama said of Mr. Trump. "They have not said to him, 'This is too far.'"

Mr. Obama pointed to the increasing proliferation of candidates, including Mr. Trump, peddling baseless theories -- most recently the debunked notion that the killing of Osama bin Laden was staged.

"When you look at insane conspiracy theories like QAnon seeping into the mainstream of the Republican Party, what that tells you is that there are no more guardrails within that media ecosystem," he said. "How do we re-establish some baselines of truth?"

Drawing implicit comparisons with Mr. Trump, Mr. Obama said that in addition to having respect for institutions and expertise, Mr. Biden also had the character that voters should look for in presidents.

"Are they people who instinctively care about the underdog?" he asked. "Are they people who are able to see the world through somebody else's eyes and stand in their shoes? Are they people who are instinctively generous in spirit? And that is who Joe is."

Addressing listeners who would have preferred a more progressive candidate, Mr. Obama said that the first priority was to ensure Mr. Biden's victory, but that they should continue to press their agenda after the election.

"The caution I always have for progressives," he said, "is making sure that, as you push for the most you could get, that at a certain point you say, 'All right, you know what? Let's get this done and then let's move on to fight another day.'"

Senator Lindsey Graham spoke to reporters after the Supreme Court confirmation hearing on Wednesday.
Senator Lindsey Graham spoke to reporters after the Supreme Court confirmation hearing on Wednesday. Credit...Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican in a tight re-election race in South Carolina, broke a law that forbids campaign fund-raising inside a federal building when he answered a reporter's question after confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett on Wednesday.

Federal law forbids Senate members or staff from soliciting donations in federal buildings like the Hart Senate Office Building, where Mr. Graham is leading the hearings. In an interview shown on C-SPAN, the senator discussed fund-raising numbers and referred people to his website, saying, "If you want to help me close the gap, lindseygraham.com, a little bit goes a long way."

Mr. Graham's Democratic opponent, Jaime Harrison, raised a record $57 million from July to September, blowing away the previous quarterly record of $38 million. Mr. Graham raised $28 million in the same quarter, a record for Senate Republicans.

Kevin Bishop, a Graham campaign spokesman, told ABC News 4, a TV station in Charleston, S.C., that the senator was responding to a question about his campaign and fund-raising.

"Confident any reasonable person can see that any violation -- if one even occurred -- was unintentional and does not represent a pattern of behavior," he said.

Campaigning on federal grounds, let alone fund-raising, is considered a potential ethics violation, but senators have not paid a high price when crossing the line. Other senators have made fund-raising statements similar to Mr. Graham's with few consequences.

Georgia's elected secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, is the target of a multimillion-dollar campaign to defeat him should he run for re-election in 2022.
Georgia's elected secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, is the target of a multimillion-dollar campaign to defeat him should he run for re-election in 2022.Credit...Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, via Associated Press

The voting rights group iVote announced Thursday that it would spend $10 million to defeat the Republican secretaries of state in Ohio and Georgia if they run for re-election in 2022, accusing both men of taking actions that reduce Black votes.

The group blamed Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, for presiding over a meltdown at polling places in the state's June primary. And it said that the Ohio secretary of state, Frank LaRose, has made it harder for voters to drop off their ballots and vote absentee.

"If that's the way you do your job, we're coming for your job," said Ellen Kurz, iVote's president. Neither man has officially announced plans to run for re-election.

The group, iVote, a left-leaning organization, poured $3.6 million into a successful 2018 campaign supporting Katie Hobbs, the Democrat who was elected secretary of state in Arizona, Ms. Kurz said.

Recently, she said, her group's war chest has grown as donors have become frustrated over what they see as efforts to minimize voter turnout, as well as increasing partisan behavior by some secretaries of state.

"We see the change in our small-donor operations and even with big donors reaching out to us," she said. "We know we're going to have the resources in 2022.".

Maggie Sheehan, a spokeswoman for Mr. LaRose, said the facts did not support iVote's premise. "It's easy to vote in Ohio and successfully running the 2020 election is Secretary LaRose's only focus," she said, citing record registration and turnout.

Mr. Raffensperger's office did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Raffensperger and Mr. LaRose both mounted well-funded campaigns in 2018, each spending more than $2.5 million in their election efforts.

Vice President Mike Pence leaves the stage after he and Senator Kamala Harris faced off in a debate at the University of Utah.
Vice President Mike Pence leaves the stage after he and Senator Kamala Harris faced off in a debate at the University of Utah. Credit...Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

There are 19 days until Election Day. Here are the schedules of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates for Thursday, Oct. 15. All times are Eastern time.

President Trump

1 p.m.: Holds a rally in Greenville, N.C.

8 p.m.: Participates in an NBC town hall event in Miami.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

8 p.m.: Participates in an ABC town hall event in Philadelphia.

Vice President Mike Pence

12:30 p.m.: Visits the Memorial Cubano in Miami

Senator Kamala Harris

Events canceled.

Joe Biden had 1.1 million new donors in September and 5.5 million donors overall.
Joe Biden had 1.1 million new donors in September and 5.5 million donors overall.Credit...Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s campaign announced raising $383 million in September, combined with the Democratic National Committee and their shared committees, and entered October with $432 million cash in the bank, his campaign announced on Wednesday.

"That's more than I've raised in my whole life!" Mr. Biden marveled in a short video posted on Twitter on Wednesday evening.

The total means that Mr. Biden has raised nearly $750 million since Aug. 1, in back-to-back months of record-breaking hauls (he raised $364.5 million in August) that have delivered him a significant financial advantage over President Trump in the closing weeks of the campaign.

Mr. Biden has used those additional funds to spend more on television than Mr. Trump in the key battleground states and to stretch the map, with some ads now even airing in Texas.

That Mr. Biden would have a cash advantage over Mr. Trump was hard to imagine earlier this year. The former vice president had struggled to raise money online for most of the 2020 primary, and the president's re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee entered April with a roughly $187 million edge over Mr. Biden and the D.N.C.

The reversal of financial fortunes is one of the more consequential developments of the general election.

Jennifer O'Malley Dillon, Mr. Biden's campaign manager, said there were 1.1 million new donors in September and 5.5 million donors over all. She said that $203 million of the total had come online, about the same amount as in August. The biggest share came on the final day of September, the day after last month's debate, when officials had previously said the campaign raised $24.1 million.

Mr. Biden had entered September with $466 million cash on hand combined with the D.N.C. and their joint operations, compared with $325 million for Mr. Trump and the Republican National Committee.

The Trump campaign has yet to announce its September fund-raising haul.

On Tuesday, Joseph R. Biden Jr. made the front page of El Nuevo Dia, Puerto Rico's biggest newspaper.
On Tuesday, Joseph R. Biden Jr. made the front page of El Nuevo Dia, Puerto Rico's biggest newspaper.Credit...Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s campaign has introduced new digital and print ads aimed at mobilizing Puerto Rican voters in swing states. But the ads are not running in Florida or Pennsylvania, where Democrats are heavily targeting Puerto Ricans. They're running in Puerto Rico.

The campaign hopes to build on the deep ties among the vast Puerto Rican diaspora, which outnumbers the roughly 3.2 million Puerto Ricans who live on the island. Those on the island cannot vote for president; those in the states can.

"Hazlo por mi," the people in the ad urge their relatives and friends -- do it for me.

Stateside candidates, especially in Florida, learned long ago that it was smart politics to buy advertising on Puerto Rican television networks that are also carried in Spanish-language cable in Orlando and Miami. Ahead of the 2018 midterms, Florida politicians made repeated trips to Puerto Rico to show their commitment to rebuilding after Hurricane Maria, which tore through the island in 2017.

The storm, which killed at least 2,975 people, exposed Puerto Rico's dependence on a federal government that, under President Trump, has been very slow to release recovery aid. Mr. Trump, who also privately mused about selling the island, has nevertheless insisted, without irony, that he is "the best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico."

"The people of Puerto Rico know that their future is linked to what happens in the election," former Representative Luis Gutierrez, a Chicago Democrat who moved to Puerto Rico after his retirement, said from his home in Vega Alta. "When you talk to people here, Trump is on their lips all of the time."

To try to blunt his unpopularity with Puerto Ricans, Mr. Trump has highlighted his endorsement from Gov. Wanda Vazquez. But she is in a weak position, having lost her primary in August.

On Tuesday, Mr. Biden made the front page of El Nuevo Dia, Puerto Rico's biggest newspaper, after giving the paper an interview as part of his campaign's coordinated push for Puerto Rican voters.

"The traffic of information, of calls, between the Puerto Ricans who live in the United States and those on the island of Puerto Rico is constant," Mr. Gutierrez said. "You're going to call your daughter anyway. You're going to call your aunt anyway. Call them and say, 'We need your help.' We have so many issues that we are confronting on the island."

Tyler Perry, the entertainment mogul, is partnering with a nonpartisan group to increase Black voter engagement in Florida.
Tyler Perry, the entertainment mogul, is partnering with a nonpartisan group to increase Black voter engagement in Florida.Credit...Global Citizen's One World: Together at Home

The entertainment mogul Tyler Perry will help fund a $500,000 Black voter mobilization effort in Florida, continuing a growing trend of electoral involvement from Black celebrities and athletes ahead of the election.

Mr. Perry has partnered with Equal Ground Education Fund, a nonpartisan Florida group that works to increase Black voter engagement throughout the state. The effort, "Park & Praise," which is to be formally announced today, will target 25 counties and 250,000 Black residents including in urban hubs such as Broward County and Miami-Dade County. The "Park & Praise" series will set up events where voters can drop off mail-in ballots while hearing from faith leaders, musical acts and gospel choirs.

The effort is an attempt to bring the "Souls to the Polls" model to the age of social distancing. In previous elections, churchgoing Black voters have been a reliable base for the Democratic Party, taking particular advantage of things like early voting after a Sunday service.

"Despite Florida's historical disenfranchisement of Black voters, our voices will be heard whether we vote by mail or early," said Jasmine Burney-Clark, the founder of the Equal Ground Education Fund. "Our work to provide robust voter education and ensure that accurate information reaches our communities is the highest priority and is exactly what this partnership with Tyler Perry is going to do."

Mr. Perry is the latest Black celebrity to join efforts to get out the vote. Another campaign, led by the basketball superstar LeBron James, called "More Than a Vote," is working to address the shortage of poll workers in Black communities in swing states.

As the election nears, President Trump has used his rallies to attack his perceived enemies, both inside and outside his administration.
As the election nears, President Trump has used his rallies to attack his perceived enemies, both inside and outside his administration.Credit...Doug Mills/The New York Times

The arrest of more than a dozen right-wing extremists who are accused of targeting the governors of Michigan and Virginia is only the latest example of threats of violence, in some cases egged on by President Trump, that loom over the final weeks of a historically divisive race.

In rural Iowa, Laura Hubka, the Democratic chair of Howard County, recently took out a concealed-carry gun permit after signs for Democratic candidates in her region were vandalized with bullet holes and she was personally threatened, she said.

In central Wisconsin, Tom Stepanek's wife sat him down last month at the kitchen table and warned him that the president might not accept a peaceful transfer of power if he lost in November. "Are you sure you want to be doing this?" she asked her husband, who is the chair of the Waushara County Democrats and had also been threatened. "You're going to be a target here," she told him.

With polls showing the president behind Mr. Biden nationally and in key states, Mr. Trump has descended into rants about perceived enemies, both inside and outside his administration, triggering in his staunchest supporters such fears for the outcome -- possibly a "stolen" election, maybe a coup by the far left -- that he is emboldening them to disrupt the voting process, according to national security experts and law enforcement officials.

National security experts said that American elections are usually nonevents for law enforcement, and that transitions from one president to the next were typically a peaceful pageant of democracy.

"But not this year," said Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, who said that multiple police chiefs were extending patrol shifts in the weeks before Election Day. "This year is unlike any year."

Ad Watch

With early voting well underway in most of the country, the cash-rich Biden campaign is turning to television ads as part of their get out the vote strategy, including this one, aimed at Black voters in Michigan.

Four young Black men gather next to a baseball field, hanging on the bleachers. Their tone is casual. "I can't think of the last time it dawned on me to ask somebody, 'Hey, bro, you registered? You know what I'm saying? Do you vote?'" one man says.

The conversation touches on the dire challenges facing the country, from taxes to vaccines, a casual version of "the stakes" that Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee, often invokes in his stump speech.

"We got to encourage our people to get out to vote man," says another. "This basically isn't an option."

The ad makes no verifiable claims.

In Michigan.

More than 1.1 million people in Michigan have already voted this year, and turnout is already at 25 percent of the total 2016 turnout. But in a state where President Trump won by under 11,000 votes in 2016, in part because the Black vote did not keep pace with turnout in 2008 or 2012, the Biden campaign is making a continued push to energize and turn out Black voters.

Using a television ad for a direct get out the vote message, an expensive medium rarely used for a task often left to on the ground operatives and digital tactics, is evidence of both the scale of those efforts and the sense that pandemic precautions have limited traditional door-knocking get-out-the-vote operations. And it highlights the need the Biden campaign sees in making greater inroads with Black voter turnout.

The wrangling over absentee ballots in Iowa came as polls showed a tight race in the state between President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr.
The wrangling over absentee ballots in Iowa came as polls showed a tight race in the state between President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr.Credit...Logan Cyrus/Agence France-Presse -- Getty Images

While President Trump hit the trail on Wednesday night in Des Moines, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in his favor, determining that the state's top election official had the authority to invalidate about 70,000 absentee ballot applications because they had been filled out in advance with voters' personal information.

The ruling upheld a contentious directive by Secretary of State Paul D. Pate, a Republican, that required the applications to be blank when they were sent to voters.

Democrats and immigrant groups had challenged the constitutionality of the directive, which Mr. Pate used to nullify ballot requests from three counties.

Election officials in Linn, Johnson and Woodbury counties ignored the directive and sent out tens of thousands of applications to voters with their names, addresses, birth dates and voter personal identification numbers already filled out.

The wrangling over absentee ballots in Iowa came as polls showed a tight race between Mr. Trump and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the state, which Mr. Trump carried by nearly 10 percentage points in 2016.

Republicans had argued that the reinstatement of the applications would throw the election into chaos, but they were dealt a blow on Monday when a district court judge blocked Mr. Pate from enforcing the directive. The state Supreme Court granted a stay to Republicans on Tuesday that put the matter on hold until Wednesday's ruling.

"I am glad the Iowa Supreme Court once again reaffirmed a commitment to election integrity," Mr. Pate wrote Wednesday night on Twitter. "None of this voter confusion would have happened if not for the irresponsible and unlawful actions of the auditors in Johnson, Linn and Woodbury counties."

It was not immediately clear whether Democrats would appeal the decision.

Tens of millions of voters are expected to rely on mail-in voting to avoid casting ballots in person because of the coronavirus pandemic. Republicans have mounted lawsuits in several states challenging deadlines for returning absentee ballots and the eligibility of voters. Their opposition has often echoed Mr. Trump's unfounded claim that mail-in voting is rife with fraud.

Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts acknowledged that he was considering abstaining in the 2020 presidential election.
Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts acknowledged that he was considering abstaining in the 2020 presidential election.Credit...Nancy Lane/Agence France-Presse -- Getty Images

Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts would not commit on Wednesday to voting for President Trump in next month's election, the latest hedge by a Republican officeholder who is not on the ballot this year.

The question of Mr. Baker's allegiances came up during a news conference about the state budget and preparations for a second wave of coronavirus infections in the commonwealth.

Mr. Baker, whose embrace of mail-in voting has drawn the scorn of Mr. Trump, and who could be looking ahead to the 2022 governor's contest in his deep-blue state, acknowledged that he was considering abstaining in the presidential election.

"You know, I think I may take a pass on that one," Mr. Baker said.

The reservations of Mr. Baker were the latest example of some Republicans' distancing themselves from Mr. Trump. This summer, the Democratic National Convention highlighted a number of prominent Republicans who are supporting Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee. Some of Mr. Baker's Republican predecessors in the Massachusetts governor's office have also come out against Mr. Trump, including William F. Weld and Mitt Romney, who is now a senator representing Utah.

Mr. Trump derided Mr. Baker on Twitter last month as a "RINO," a pejorative acronym that stands for "Republican In Name Only." The barb came a day after Mr. Baker defended the integrity of mail-in voting, which the president has repeatedly claimed without evidence is rife with fraud.

"Mail-in balloting has been with us forever," Mr. Baker said at the time.

In the same news conference on Sept. 24, Mr. Baker rebuked Mr. Trump over his continued refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power should the president lose the election to Mr. Biden.

"It is appalling and outrageous that anyone would suggest for a minute that if they lose an election they're not going to leave, period," Mr. Baker said.

Mr. Baker had previously bucked his party and the president after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg when he urged Republicans to hold off making a nomination for her Supreme Court seat until after the election.

"The Supreme Court is too important to rush and must be removed from partisan political infighting," he wrote on Twitter.

People watched the first debate between President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. in West Hollywood, CA. A second debate set for Thursday night was canceled after Mr. Trump refused to participate virtually
People watched the first debate between President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. in West Hollywood, CA. A second debate set for Thursday night was canceled after Mr. Trump refused to participate virtuallyCredit...Mario Tama/Getty Images

The presidential candidates will respond to questions from voters in prime time on Thursday at two live, nationally televised town-hall-style events. Unusually, the programs will be broadcast at the same time on rival networks, although recordings of each event will be available afterward.

Joseph R. Biden Jr. will appear at an ABC News forum held at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia and moderated by the ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos. The 90-minute event begins at 8 p.m. Eastern time and will be followed by a 30-minute wrap-up featuring analysis from ABC political reporters and pundits.

About 20 voters from across Pennsylvania, of varying political views, will be on hand to ask Mr. Biden questions. Mr. Stephanopoulos will guide the discussion and ask follow-up questions.

Mr. Biden's town hall can be seen on ABC television stations and on ABC News Live, an online service that can be watched on Hulu, YouTube TV, Sling TV and other streaming platforms, as well as on the ABC News website.

President Trump's NBC News event will be held outdoors at the Perez Art Museum in Miami and will be moderated by the "Today" show host Savannah Guthrie. The broadcast starts at 8 p.m. Eastern and is expected to last for about an hour.

About 60 Florida voters will be in the audience to ask the president questions; some of the voters are undecided, and some are leaning toward supporting one of the candidates. NBC said it was not discussing the question topics in advance.

The Trump town hall will air on NBC broadcast affiliates and the cable channels CNBC and MSNBC. It will also be streamed on NBC News NOW, an online service available on numerous streaming platforms, and available to watch on demand after the broadcast on Peacock, the NBCUniversal streaming service.

The event will also be available in Spanish on the digital sites of Telemundo, the Spanish-language television network.

The New York Times will cover the simultaneous events live, with real-time analysis from teams of reporters watching both candidates, on nytimes.com.

Darlene Yazzie, the lead plaintiff in a suit by Navajo voters, at her home near Dennehotso, Ariz.
Darlene Yazzie, the lead plaintiff in a suit by Navajo voters, at her home near Dennehotso, Ariz. Credit...Sharon Chischilly for The New York Times

A federal court declined on Thursday to extend the deadline for Arizona counties to receive the ballots of voters from the Navajo Nation, where polling sites and post offices are few and far between.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the plaintiffs in Yazzie v. Hobbs lacked standing because, it said, they had not shown that they personally would be harmed by the deadline.

"While the complaint is replete with general allegations concerning the various hardships the Navajo Nation members who live on the reservation generally face with respect to mail voting," the ruling said, "nothing in the record says whether Yazzie and her fellow plaintiffs have experienced 'lack of home mail delivery, the need for language translation, lack of access to public transportation and lack of access to any vehicle' such that the receipt deadline will harm their ability to vote in this election."

The court also concluded that what the plaintiffs had requested -- an extension applying only to ballots cast by Navajo Nation members living on the tribe's reservation -- was unworkable because it would not be feasible for election officials to identify such ballots.

Nobody on the reservation has home mail delivery, and there are only 27 postal locations in 18,000 square miles, roughly the equivalent to having 13 mailboxes in all of New Jersey. The lead plaintiff, Darlene Yazzie, lives in Dennehotso, from which mail sent to other parts of Arizona gets routed hundreds of miles through Albuquerque and Phoenix, and a ballot can take 10 days to reach the county recorder's office.

The lawsuit, filed by the Native American voting rights group Four Directions, argued that the deadline -- which requires all ballots to arrive at county recorders' offices by Election Day -- violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by giving Navajo voters less opportunity to vote than other Arizonans.

OJ Semans, co-executive director of Four Directions, said Thursday evening that the group was discussing its next steps.

"It is a terrible day," he said, when "technicalities supersede common sense and what is right in front of them."

Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, privately told constituents that President Trump "mocks evangelicals behind closed doors."Credit...Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, castigated President Trump in a telephone town hall with constituents on Wednesday, accusing the president of bungling the response to the coronavirus pandemic, cozying up to dictators and white supremacists, and offending voters so broadly that he might cause a "Republican blood bath" in the Senate.

In a dire, nine-minute indictment of Mr. Trump's foreign policy and what Mr. Sasse called his "deficient" values, the senator said the president had mistreated women and alienated important allies around the globe, been a profligate spender, ignored human rights and treated the pandemic like a "P.R. crisis." He predicted that a loss by Mr. Trump on Election Day, less than three weeks away, "looks likely," and said that Republicans would face steep repercussions for having backed him so staunchly over four tumultuous years.

"The debate is not going to be, 'Ben Sasse, why were you so mean to Donald Trump?'" Mr. Sasse said, according to audio obtained by The Washington Examiner and authenticated by The New York Times. "It's going to be, 'What the heck were any of us thinking, that selling a TV-obsessed, narcissistic individual to the American people was a good idea?'"

"We are staring down the barrel of a blue tsunami," he added.

Mr. Sasse also hinted at more drastic consequences: a "Venezuela style" Supreme Court with dozens of justices installed by ascendant Democrats; an empowered China ruling the Pacific because of Mr. Trump's "weak" policies; and American allies doubting whether they can "trust in U.S. strength and U.S. will."

Mr. Sasse's critique played out over just a few short minutes after someone on the call asked the senator about his previous criticisms of Mr. Trump. The senator, who styles himself as a principled conservative, has never pretended to be a fan of the president. But even compared with his earlier remarks, his comments during the call were remarkably scathing.

"The way he kisses dictators' butts," Mr. Sasse said, listing his reservations about Mr. Trump. "I mean, the way he ignores that the Uighurs are in literal concentration camps in Xinjiang right now. He hasn't lifted a finger on behalf of the Hong-Kongers."

He continued: "The United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership, the way he treats women, spends like a drunken sailor."

Mr. Trump, he added, "mocks evangelicals behind closed doors. His family has treated the presidency like a business opportunity. He's flirted with white supremacists."

Mr. Sasse, who is up for re-election on Nov. 3, has never made a secret of his distaste for Mr. Trump. During the 2016 campaign, he compared Mr. Trump to David Duke and said he was not voting for him. In office, he called Mr. Trump's signature trade war with China "nuts."

But he had toned down his criticism in recent years, earning a crucial endorsement from the president he once savaged.

Mr. Sasse told constituents during the call that he was concerned the president's failures and "stupid political obsessions" would empower Democrats.

"If young people become permanent Democrats because they've just been repulsed by the obsessive nature of our politics, or if women who were willing to still vote with the Republican Party in 2016 decide that they need to turn away from this party permanently in the future," Mr. Sasse.

Mr. Sasse did not exactly try to keep his criticism quiet. James Wegmann, a spokesman who confirmed his comments, said 17,000 Nebraskans had been invited to participate in the call, though it does not appear to have been open to the general public.

Mr. Wegmann said that Mr. Sasse would remain focused on Senate races. "I don't know how many more times we can shout this," Mr. Wegmann said. "Even though the Beltway is obsessing exclusively about the presidential race, control of the Senate is 10 times more important."

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