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GOP pickups vs. 2016: (None)
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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Biden, Trump Hold Dueling Town Halls
      •  Full Speed Ahead for Barrett
      •  COVID-19 Hits the Biden/Harris Campaign
      •  Smoking Gun Isn't Smoking at All
      •  (Money) Can't Buy Me Love
      •  California Republicans Stick to Their Guns
      •  Sen. Ben Sasse Excoriates Trump
      •  Today's Presidential Polls
      •  Today's Senate Polls

Biden, Trump Hold Dueling Town Halls

Yesterday night, the two major-party presidential candidates answered questions from voters, town-hall style. That part has been scheduled for months. The unscheduled part is that they did it on two different channels, and in two different cities, with Joe Biden in Philadelphia and Donald Trump in Miami. It's too bad they weren't on the same channel, with the feed alternating between venues, and the music from "Deliverance" playing during transitions. Then they really would have had something.

Here are our five main takeaways from the Biden event:

  1. Takeaway of the Night: On a night where Biden was otherwise solid, the moment that will most stand out is the one question he fumbled, because he always fumbles this one. Here he is, addressing his views on court packing for the umpteenth time:

    It's long and meandering (over 6 minutes), so you might not want to watch it. When all is said and done, he seemed to say that he's not a fan of court packing right now but, if Amy Coney Barrett is quickly confirmed (a near certainty; see below), then he may just become a fan. Whatever his position is, you would think he and his team would have figured out a clear and consistent answer to that question by now. Apparently they haven't and, with less than three weeks left in election season, apparently they won't.

  2. The 1994 Crime Bill: The other particularly notable answer came when Biden admitted that the 1994 crime bill that he shepherded through the Senate was a mistake. He passed much of the blame to the states, for their implementation of the bill's provisions, but he also conceded his own culpability. Who knew it was possible for a president or presidential candidate to admit to being fallible on occasion?

  3. And Speaking of Bills: Most of the evening, the person that Biden most resembled was Bill Clinton. The former president tended to have 10 thoughts in answer to any given question, and would run through them all if given the chance. So it was with the Democratic nominee last night. For example, a young Black voter asked why people like him should keep voting Democratic when the Party doesn't deliver. Biden gave four or five different answers over the course about five minutes. When host George Stephanopoulos asked the voter if he'd heard what he needed to hear, the voter responded, "I think so," which prompted Biden to extend his answer by another three or four minutes and to invite the young man to join him after the town hall to discuss it more. All of that is classic Clinton.

  4. Stephanopoulos in the Passenger's Seat: George Stephanopoulos spoke up when necessary, asking for follow-up or clarification as needed. However, he also stayed out of the way for much of the evening, and made clear that it was Biden and the questioners driving the conversation and not the host. We would not be surprised to see complaining from some quarters that Stephanopoulos "took it easy" on Biden, but that's really not the case, since Biden didn't evade (most) questions or tell blatant falsehoods. You don't need the shepherd to do all that much when the sheep are behaving. Or, as Politico put it, "It was civil. But kid gloves, it wasn't."

  5. Go Joe: Thanks to Donald Trump, the thing that viewers might be most interested in is not the substance of the answers, but whether or not the cheese is slipping off Biden's cracker. Clearly, it is not. As noted, his answers were sometimes long and covered a lot of ground, but they were clearly on point. And he was just as strong at the end of the evening as at the beginning.

And now, our five main takeaways from the Trump event:

  1. Takeaway of the Night: Once again, Trump got a seeming slam-dunk question. And once again, he hemmed and hawed, for fear of angering even a tiny sliver of his base. Previously, it was white supremacy, but this time it was QAnon:

    As he so often does, he claimed he knows nothing about the subject (and then he promptly turned around and listed all the things he does know). In any event, this answer is going to find its way into more headlines than any other.

  2. A Mountain or a Molehill of Debt?: In response to a question from host Savannah Guthrie, Trump conceded that he does carry $400 million in debt, but that it is "a tiny fraction" of his net worth. He also said he doesn't believe any of the debt is held by foreign entities. If you believe either of those qualifiers, you're much more trusting than we are. In any event, the President effectively confirmed that The New York Times' reporting on his finances was accurate.

  3. Lies, Lies, Lies: Consistent with his style, Trump often lied outright, or else lied by omission. For example, when asked if he'd passed a COVID-19 test the day of the first presidential debate, he said he didn't know, but that he takes a lot of COVID tests. In other words: "No, I did not pass a test that day." He similarly refused to either endorse or repudiate a conspiracy theory he recently retweeted that Osama bin Laden is still alive and his death was a cover-up. The President also told whoppers about "thousands of ballots dumped in a garbage can," whether or not masks help prevent COVID, his alleged "efforts" to protect the health insurance of people with preexisting conditions, and how well the economy is doing right now, among other subjects. If you would like to read more, here are fact checks from CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and NBC News comparing both candidates' town halls.

  4. Guthrie in the Driver's Seat: Whereas George Stephanopoulos was mostly passive, Savannah Guthrie—who apparently is familiar with Trump's "debate" style—was more assertive. She not only handled the questioning herself for the first 15 minutes of the event, she was also no shrinking violet when it came to challenging the President on vague, misleading, or dishonest answers. Undoubtedly, he will complain that he was treated very unfairly, but beyond the members of Team Trump, Guthrie is getting rave reviews (see here, here, here, and here for examples). Of course, Trump does not like to be challenged, especially when it's a woman doing the challenging. His body language and his verbiage were often patronizing or dismissive, something that presumably will not sit well with some women voters.

  5. No Joe: Remarkably, for a man who is running for president, and who is trailing in the polls, Trump made virtually no mention of his opponent. Odd strategy, to say the least.

In the end, all of this was manufactured by Trump. It was Trump who killed the second debate. And it was Trump who went to his former employer (it's not a coincidence that NBC is the network that aired "The Apprentice") and set up a competing town hall event to take place at the exact same time as Biden's. The President badly wants to "win" the ratings battle, and to spend days crowing about his victory. And the odds are pretty good that he will "win," since NBC carried the town hall across all of its platforms (NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, etc.) whereas ABC only put it on their main channel (which, incidentally, is not available to some Americans, such as those who subscribe to SlingTV).

What Trump doesn't seem to realize (or maybe he just doesn't care) is that ratings do not equate to votes, and if he pulls a 4.9 and Biden pulls a 4.2, that will not make one damn bit of difference at the polls. In fact, our guess is that between his lousy answer to the QAnon question (and others) and his treatment of Guthrie, the President actually hurt himself a bit last night. At very least, he didn't materially help himself. And way down in the polls, with nearly 20 million ballots already cast, and another 30 million or so to be cast before the next (and last) presidential debate—if it happens at all—failure to gain ground is implicitly a big loss. (Z)

Full Speed Ahead for Barrett

This week's kabuki theater performance, "The Amy Coney Barrett Confirmation Hearings" has concluded. And now that the niceties have been observed, Senate Republicans can get down to business. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has scheduled his committee's vote on the nomination for October 22. The full Senate will vote soon thereafter, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says he definitely has the votes for confirmation.

The Democrats are doing what they can to derail the process, but it's really a case of bringing a slingshot to a gun fight. Some are trying to shame their Republican colleagues, but anyone who thinks that might work has not been paying attention for the last 20 years or so. Other Democrats are making noise about (convenient) omissions in Barrett's paperwork that speak to her political leanings. However, if credible accusations of sexual assault had virtually no effect on Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation, then "Barrett 'forgot' to mention her talk before a couple of pro-life student groups" will barely be a blip on the radar. In short, Ruth Bader Ginsburg's replacement will take her seat right around Nov. 1, just in time to rule on any election-related disputes, something she repeatedly said she will not recuse herself from doing. (Z)

COVID-19 Hits the Biden/Harris Campaign

It's been about two weeks since the Trump 2020 campaign had an outbreak of COVID-19, one that affected the President, the First Lady, their son, and about a dozen folks in close orbit to them. This may have something to do with the administration's generally careless attitude about preventative measures, including social distancing and masking. Our staff scientists are looking into it.

Now, COVID-19 has hit Biden 2020 as well, albeit in a more limited fashion, it appears. Kamala Harris' communications director, along with one of the members of her flight crew, have tested positive for the disease. Consequently, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate has canceled all travel through the weekend, "out of an abundance of caution." Harris' policy, one that is not universal among major-party presidential and vice-presidential candidates this year, is to share honest and accurate information about her COVID test history. And so we know that she's already tested negative three times this week, including on Thursday.

As everyone knows by now, the disease can take a few days to manifest, and so the full extent of this outbreak won't be known until the weekend. So, this story is worth keeping an eye on. That said, given the considerably more mindful behavior of the Democratic candidates, it is unlikely that this is going to be as serious or as extensive as what happened to Team Trump. (Z)

Smoking Gun Isn't Smoking at All

The New York Post, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, had a hot story on Hunter Biden earlier this week about how corrupt Hunter and his father Joe Biden are. Secret e-mails proved it! And the Post got them from an unimpeachable source: Rudy Guiliani. He, in turn, got them from a laptop computer supposedly owned by Hunter Biden and brought to a repair shop in Delaware. The shop is owned by a man named John Paul Mac Isaac, who is a noted conspiracy theorist. It was presented as a smoking gun. See how corrupt they are! Only maybe not.

A couple of freelance journalists, Brian and Eddie Krassenstein, looked at the e-mails closely—you know, with a strong magnifying glass. This is what they saw:

forged logo on email

Note the sharp edge on the right-hand end of the Gmail logo inside the red oval (ours, not theirs). The real Gmail logo is perfectly round. This clearly indicates that some amateur extracted the logo from another file badly and then pasted it onto the email alleged to be to Hunter Biden about some nefarious activities. In addition, the resolution of the icon is very different from that of the text of the email, indicating that they came from different sources. In other words, some rank amateur Photoshopper constructed the email images and did a really sloppy job of it.

The email is supposedly from Vadim Pozharskyi, an "adviser" to the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company on whose Board Hunter Biden once sat. It is irrelevant what the email said precisely since it was made up. Suffice it to say that Hunter Biden is not so stupid as to bring a laptop full of incriminating information (including a blurry sex tape) to some random repair shop.

What is interesting is that the FBI is now investigating the matter. The Bureau got a subpoena and seized the laptop so its own experts could scrutinize it. The FBI is concerned that this whole incident could be part of a foreign intelligence operation intended to smear Joe Biden. If so, apparently the GRU is having trouble hiring top tech talent these days. It also indicates the desperation of the Trump campaign, if this is the supposed October surprise. If this kind of story is your cup of (polonium-flavored?) tea, Vanity Fair has a story on it, as do Business Insider and Vice, among many other media outlets. (V)

(Money) Can't Buy Me Love

"But can it buy me votes?" is the question. Earlier this week, it was reported that the Republican online fundraising platform WinRed collected $620 million in Q3, while the Trump campaign collected $248 million in the month of September. Those are both enormous totals, and we bookmarked the stories until the Democratic totals were also available, anticipating an item about how the Republicans have closed the fundraising gap.

Not so much, as it turns out. The Biden campaign's September take was $383 million, or a bit more than 150% of the Trump campaign's take. That $383 million is a record, outpacing the previous record of $364.5 million set by Team Biden in August. Meanwhile, ActBlue's total for Q3 was a staggering $1.5 billion. That's double the WinRed take, with $250 million to spare.

In view of these massive windfalls, it is no surprise that the Biden campaign in particular, and the Democrats in general, are dominating the airwaves. It is also not surprising that records for spending are falling left and right. Here, for example, is a list of the 10 most expensive Senate races in history, as of this week:

Race Expenditures
North Carolina Senate 2020 $242 million
Iowa Senate 2020 $195 million
Florida Senate 2018 $176 million
Arizona Senate 2020 $165 million
Montana Senate 2020 $143 million
South Carolina Senate 2020 $140 million
Maine Senate 2020 $140 million
Pennsylvania Senate 2016 $138 million
Georgia Senate 2020 $128 million
New Hampshire Senate 2016 $127 million

As you can see, seven of the top 10 are from 2020 (and there is still time for other 2020 races to join the list). In all of those seven races, the Democrat has spent more on advertising than the Republican, and in five of the seven the Democrat's spending is double that of their opponent.

Television advertising translates into votes rather inefficiently, with diminishing returns as more and more is spent. So, all those ads will probably help the Democrats, but they might not help all that much, particularly in such polarized times. That said, donations do tend to correlate with enthusiasm, so that's a good sign for the blue team. Further, many of those millions that have rolled in recently (and will continue to roll in this month) will not be spent on ads, but instead on get-out-the-vote operations. And those definitely help.

In a sign that the Trump campaign knows it's got a problem here, the Republican Party has persuaded casino magnate Sheldon Adelson to write a $75 million check to try to save the White House. That belies Trump's promise that, if money was needed, he would write a check himself. It's also not likely to work, since the money has to go to a Trump-supporting PAC, and not to the Trump campaign itself, and also because $75 million is rather less than the Democrats' multiple-hundred-million-dollar advantage. (Z)

California Republicans Stick to Their Guns

The California GOP's scheme to collect ballots via official-looking, but actually unofficial, deposit boxes remains a big story in the Golden State. It turns out, first of all, that there are far more drop boxes than originally reported. Further, the Republicans have made clear they will not abide by the cease-and-desist letter they received from State Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D).

The precise goal of the California Republican Party here is not entirely clear. The most charitable explanation is that they believe they are engaging in legitimate electioneering in hopes of clawing back some of the House seats they lost in 2018. The less charitable explanation is that they are deliberately bending the rules in order to force an unfriendly-to-Democrats change in state election law, or to generate some unfriendly-to-Democrats PR, or both. The least charitable explanation is that they plan to go through the ballots, cross reference the external signature to voter rolls, and "lose" the ones that appear to be Democratic. Whatever is going on, at least one prominent California Republican is not impressed. Former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the last Republican to win a governor's election in the state, said on Thursday night that the California GOP has gone "off the rails."

In any case, the ball is now in Becerra's court. His certain-to-be-ignored deadline for removing the boxes is Sunday, so we will presumably learn what he will do sometime early next week. (Z)

Sen. Ben Sasse Excoriates Trump

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), a conservative Republican from a state that Donald Trump won by 25 points in 2016, really lit into Trump on Wednesday. In a virtual town hall meeting with 17,000 of his constituents, Sasse accused Trump of cozying up to dictators and white supremacists, ignoring human rights, alienating allies, blowing a giant hole in the budget, pretending that the pandemic is primarily a public relations problem, mistreating women, secretly mocking evangelicals, and starting a nutty trade war with China.

Sasse is not your generic politician. He is something of an intellectual heavyweight. He has a bachelors degree from Harvard, two masters degrees, and a Ph.D. in American history from Yale. He was also president of Midland University in Fremont, NE, before being elected to the Senate. He tends to choose his words carefully.

Sasse is up for re-election in a very Trumpy state, so he is obviously taking a risk here, but the fact that he was willing to make such scathing comments, knowing full well that they would be the lead stories in both The Omaha World-Herald and The Lincoln Journal Star, the top two newspapers in his state, says something. It is doubtful that this will help his reelection campaign (not that he needs any help), but when any politician is willing to go out on such a limb bitterly attacking the leader of his party, you can be pretty sure he is expressing what he really feels. And you can be equally sure that quite a few other Senate Republicans feel the same way, only they don't feel secure enough to say the quiet part out loud.

Although Sasse has no worries about his own reelection (he is running against Democrat Chris Janicek, a small business owner that nobody outside of Omaha has ever heard of), he is definitely worried that Trump's misbehavior on so many fronts is going to cause a blue tsunami that will swamp the Senate and wash the gavel over to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), currently the minority leader, but possibly the majority leader come Jan. 3. Potentially even more amazing is that Sasse is interested in a presidential run in 2024 and apparently thinks that by then, Republicans will realize what an awful mistake they made in 2016 and will look on someone who noticed that in 2020 as a visionary. (V)

Today's Presidential Polls

We're running out of ways to say "Biden is leading in pretty much all the swing states." How about this? "Idenbay isway eadinglay inway ettypray uchmay allway ethay ingsway atesstay." (Z)

State Biden Trump Start End Pollster
Arizona 50% 47% Oct 04 Oct 08 OH Predictive Insights
Arizona 51% 44% Oct 09 Oct 13 Monmouth U.
Colorado 54% 39% Oct 08 Oct 13 Keating/Onsight/Melanson
Colorado 54% 42% Oct 11 Oct 14 Civiqs
Maine 50% 40% Oct 02 Oct 06 Pan Atlantic Research
Michigan 48% 42% Oct 08 Oct 13 RMG Research
Michigan 52% 43% Oct 08 Oct 11 Civiqs
North Carolina 49% 49% Oct 13 Oct 14 Emerson Coll.
North Carolina 51% 46% Oct 11 Oct 14 Civiqs
Ohio 47% 50% Oct 08 Oct 11 Civiqs
Pennsylvania 52% 45% Oct 08 Oct 11 Civiqs
South Carolina 41% 49% Oct 09 Oct 15 Siena Coll.
Virginia 53% 38% Sep 30 Oct 12 Roanoke Coll.
Virginia 55% 42% Oct 11 Oct 14 Civiqs
Wisconsin 53% 45% Oct 08 Oct 11 Civiqs

Click on a state name for a graph of its polling history

Today's Senate Polls

Even Emerson, which has a noticeable Republican lean this cycle, still has Cal Cunningham up in North Carolina (albeit barely). Looks like it's not 1988 anymore, and Cunningham is no Gary Hart. Meanwhile, if all the polls below held, that would be a net gain of four seats for the Democrats. With the White House, and even without Sen. Doug Jones (R-AL), that's enough to control the Senate. And this list doesn't even include Montana, Georgia, Iowa, or Texas. (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Alaska Al Gross 44% Dan Sullivan* 48% Sep 25 Oct 04 Alaska Survey Research
Arizona Mark Kelly 50% Martha McSally* 45% Oct 04 Oct 08 OH Predictive Insights
Arizona Mark Kelly 52% Martha McSally* 42% Oct 09 Oct 13 Monmouth U.
Colorado John Hickenlooper 51% Cory Gardner* 41% Oct 08 Oct 13 Keating/Onsight/Melanson
Colorado John Hickenlooper 53% Cory Gardner* 42% Oct 11 Oct 14 Civiqs
Maine Sara Gideon 47% Susan Collins* 40% Oct 02 Oct 06 Pan Atlantic Research
Michigan Gary Peters* 45% John James 39% Oct 08 Oct 12 EPIC-MRA
North Carolina Cal Cunningham 45% Thom Tillis* 44% Oct 13 Oct 14 Emerson Coll.
North Carolina Cal Cunningham 51% Thom Tillis* 45% Oct 11 Oct 14 Civiqs
New Hampshire Jeanne Shaheen* 55% Corky Messner 40% Oct 09 Oct 12 U. of New Hampshire
South Carolina Jaime Harrison 40% Lindsey Graham* 46% Oct 09 Oct 15 Siena Coll.
Virginia Mark Warner* 54% Daniel Gade 43% Oct 11 Oct 14 Civiqs
Virginia Mark Warner* 55% Daniel Gade 38% Sep 30 Oct 12 Roanoke Coll.

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct15 Two Half-Debates Will Take Place Tonight
Oct15 Barrett Performs Act II of the Kabuki Theater in Which She is Starring
Oct15 Supreme Court Says That the Administration Can Stop Counting Noses Now
Oct15 Appeals Court Upholds One Drop Box Per County in Texas
Oct15 Three Million New Voters Registered in Texas Since 2016
Oct15 The On-Again, Off-Again Coronavirus Relief Bill is Off Again
Oct15 Biden Is Actively Courting Moderates
Oct15 Only Half of Americans Expect to Know Who Won by Nov. 5
Oct15 Republicans Are Enthusiastic about Court Packing
Oct15 How Polling Has Changed Since 2016
Oct15 What's the Big Picture?
Oct15 Today's Presidential Polls
Oct15 Today's Senate Polls
Oct14 Barr "Unmasking" Probe Is a Dud
Oct14 Barrett Speaks Much, Says Little
Oct14 More Funny Feelings About 2020
Oct14 It's the Economy, Stupid
Oct14 Long Lines at Polling Places in Texas and Georgia
Oct14 Pennsylvania Women Sour on Trump
Oct14 Special Election in Georgia Is Getting Interesting
Oct14 Today's Presidential Polls
Oct14 Today's Senate Polls
Oct13 Let the Games Begin
Oct13 Trump Gets "Clean Bill of Health"
Oct13 Biden Win Could Be Called on Election Night
Oct13 Microsoft Shuts Down Hacking Operation
Oct13 California GOP Pushes the Envelope on Absentee Ballots
Oct13 Cunningham Situation Just Keeps Getting Worse
Oct13 COVID-19 Diaries: Open Water
Oct13 Today's Presidential Polls
Oct13 Today's Senate Polls
Oct12 Biden Leads Trump Nationally by 12 Points
Oct12 Time to Rewrite the History Books
Oct12 Absentee Vote So Far Favors the Democrats
Oct12 Drop Boxes Are the New Battleground
Oct12 Young People Aren't Sold on Voting Yet
Oct12 Biden Is Outspending Trump 50-to-1...on Radio
Oct12 Democrats Are Pushing the Flip Zone Outwards
Oct12 Senators Push Back on Coronavirus Relief Bill
Oct12 Cindy McCain Makes an Ad for Biden
Oct12 Mistakes Absentee Voters Make