2020 Daily Trail Markers: Trump and Biden meet for final debate as Americans have started casting their ballots

Thursday’s presidential debate, the final one of the 2020 election, marks the last best chance for President Trump to make his pitch to America’s sliver of undecided voters amid trailing poll numbers in battleground states. Some form of voting is underway in all 50 states, and CBS News campaign reporter Cara Korte reports that according to the U.S. Elections Project, over 47 million votes have already been cast, of which over 33 million have been by mail and over 14 million have been in-person. CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga reports Mr. Trump made the decision to pull out of the second debate after the Commission on Presidential Debates announced the forum would be held virtually following the president’s COVID-19 treatment. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told pool reporters Thursday afternoon that Mr. Trump tested negative for COVID-19 today, a test White House chief of staff Mark Meadows confirmed he took on the plane ride to Nashville, Tennessee.

Days before the final debate, the commission announced that each of the candidates would have two minutes of uninterrupted speaking time at the beginning of each 15-minute segment of the debate, a provision that was agreed upon by both candidates. To enforce it, the commission will mute each candidate’s mic while the other is speaking for two minutes at the beginning of each segment, so that Mr. Trump and Biden each have uninterrupted time to answer. Afterward, both mics will be turned on for open discussion.

Boarding his campaign plane en route to Nashville, Joe Biden sounded auspicious before the debate, according to CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson. “Hopefully he’s going to play by the rules. Hopefully everybody’s been tested. Hopefully it’s all been worked out what the rules are. We’re looking forward to it,” Biden said. The Biden campaign earlier in the day released another negative COVID-19 test result for the Democratic presidential candidate, continuing their public standard of releasing COVD test results. Biden also unveiled a new answer to questions on expanding the Supreme Court in an interview with “CBS Evening News” anchor and managing editor Norah O’Donnell for “60 Minutes.” In a purported attempt to not allow the courts to morph into a “political football,” Biden’s latest proposal if elected is gathering a “bipartisan commission” to form “recommendations as to how to reform the court system because it’s getting out of whack.” In a pre-debate briefing call Thursday, Biden campaign senior adviser Symone Sanders detailed that expanding the court could be considered by the group. “Vice President Biden has said again and again that he’s not a fan of expanding the size of the court but the commission will assess all of the options and make a recommendation to him.” Also on this campaign call, Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield asserted potential attacks from Mr. Trump on Joe Biden’s family Thursday night would be “amplifying Russian misinformation.” Bedingfield added, “If we see tonight from Donald Trump these attacks on Vice President Biden’s family, I think we need to be very, very clear that what he is doing here is amplifying Russian misinformation.” CBS News senior investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge reports former Hunter Biden associate Tony Bobulinski, who is being interviewed by Senate investigators tomorrow about his Chinese business interests, will attend Thursday’s debate as a guest of the president. Bobulinski is a retired lieutenant in the U.S. Navy and the CEO of Sinohawk Holdings.

CBS News digital politics reporter Kathryn Watson runs down what to watch for in Thursday’s debate here.

And CBSN politics reporter Caitlin Huey Burns and Sganga preview the debate and life on the campaign trail here on CBS News’ Facebook Live.

FROM THE CANDIDATES

TRUMP-PENCE CAMPAIGN

Mr. Trump on Thursday violated an agreement with CBS News and released the White House’s recording of an interview with “60 Minutes,” three days ahead of the expected Sunday airing on CBS, CBS News digital editor Lex Haris reports. The full exchange, which runs approximately 37 minutes, was taped Tuesday at the White House and includes questions from correspondent Lesley Stahl about Mr. Trump’s response to the pandemic, the economy and the unverified claim that his campaign was “spied on” by the Obama administration, in addition to other topics. In a statement, CBS News said: “The White House’s unprecedented decision to disregard their agreement with CBS News and release their footage will not deter 60 MINUTES from providing its full, fair and contextual reporting which presidents have participated in for decades. 60 MINUTES, the most-watched news program on television, is widely respected for bringing its hallmark fairness, deep reporting and informative context to viewers each week. Few journalists have the presidential interview experience Lesley Stahl has delivered over her decades as one of the premier correspondents in America and we look forward to audiences seeing her third interview with President Trump and subsequent interview with Vice President Pence this weekend.” In one exchange, Stahl challenges Mr. Trump on his claim that Biden is a “corrupt politician.” Mr. Trump said, “The biggest scandal was when they spied on my campaign. They spied on my campaign, Lesley.” Stahl responded, “Well, there’s no real evidence of that.” She added, “You know, this is ’60 Minutes.’ And we can’t put on things we can’t verify.” The Sunday broadcast will also feature a separate interview with Biden, which was conducted Monday by “CBS Evening News” anchor and managing editor Norah O’Donnell in Wilmington, Delaware, and will also feature interviews with the running mates, Pence and Senator Kamala Harris.

Pence will spend Thursday night in his home state of Indiana, reports CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar. He and second lady Karen Pence will vote in Indiana on Friday before heading to Pennsylvania for a campaign rally. Pence started Thursday with a rally in Waterford Township, Michigan. It was Pence’s second trip in as many weeks to Michigan, where he once again attacked Biden on trade and the economy. Summarizing the last three years, Pence said the Trump administration rebuilt the military, revived the economy, and stood for the sanctity of human life. In contrast, Pence claimed that Biden will raise taxes, bury the economy under regulations, and his policies will lead to the loss of millions of jobs. “Democrats for years used to talk about how bad NAFTA was, but Joe Biden never lifted a finger to renegotiate it or reform it,” Pence said. “USMCA is here to stay and it is a win for Michigan and a win for America,” Pence added. The vice president also attacked Harris for voting against the USMCA. “She said the USMCA didn’t go far enough on climate change. Kamala Harris put her environmental radical agenda ahead of Michigan auto workers and Michigan jobs,” Pence said. Pence has picked up his travel schedule in the final days. His visit to Pennsylvania Friday will be his eighth since July and 12th of the year. Pence said he spoke with Mr. Trump Thursday morning and previewed the upcoming presidential debate. “He is going to take the stage in Tennessee, and he is going to take the fight straight to Joe Biden and I can’t wait,” Pence said.

BIDEN-HARRIS CAMPAIGN

Looking beyond Thursday’s debate, Biden’s campaign is launching some of their most famous backers into battleground states after being confined mostly to virtual events and fundraisers as the race nears its final week, reports CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin. Singer and actor Cher will campaign for the former vice president with stops in Nevada and Arizona this weekend, the campaign officially announced Thursday. Hollywood star Kerry Washington and her husband Nnamdi Asomugha, a former NFL player, also plan to stump for Biden in Arizona on Friday. Singer Lizzo also will hit the campaign trail on Friday in Michigan.

BATTLEGROUNDS IN THE BATTLEGROUNDS

MICHIGAN

Black voters in Michigan backed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election 92%-6%, according to exit polls, and accounted for 15% of the state’s voters. For Democrats, turnout is critical. For Republicans, shaving the margins among the loyal Democratic voting bloc can be the tipping point in a tightly contested race. The 2020 election comes as many Michigan Black communities have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, reports CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster. Detroit, which has about 80% Black residents, took a major hit from COVID-19 in the spring, though the virus has remained more under control in recent months. Overall, there have been more than 15,000 confirmed cases in the city, over 1,500 confirmed COVID-19 deaths and many people have lost jobs at some point during the pandemic. Democrats are hoping to energize Black voters in Detroit and around the state after Black turnout in Michigan fell by 12.4 points from 2012 to 2016, according to analysis published in the Washington Post. Detroit saw about 41,000 fewer voters compared to the 2012 presidential race.

Biden held a drive-in rally in Detroit last week to boost support during early voting. In September, Harris made stops in Flint, another city with a majority Black population, and held an event in Detroit that focused on Black men and the impact of COVID-19 on the Black community. High-profile surrogates like Lizzo and Magic Johnson have been deployed to Michigan to campaign. The campaign has been canvassing in Detroit regularly during October. Still, some voters remain skeptical about whether Biden would offer something different than the Obama administration, said Branden Snyder, the executive director of Detroit Action, a group focused on housing and economic issues for Black and Brown communities. However, he said many voters feel a strong desire to remove Trump from office. “I don’t sense a level of enthusiasm comparable to Obama, nor do I sense a level of enthusiasm comparable to Clinton,” said Snyder, who worked on Clinton’s 2016 campaign. “People are tired of Trump.” The top issues he hears from voters include healthcare, improving the job market and increasing wages, people struggling paying rent during the pandemic and frustrations with Trump’s rhetoric. Snyder said his group’s top concern between now and Election Day is chasing down absentee ballots. As of Monday, 46% of Detroit residents had returned absentee ballots and 58% of voters in Flint returned their ballots.

Republicans tout their investments among Black voters in Michigan, including opening a Black Voices for Trump office in Detroit. Paris Dennard, senior communications adviser for Black media affairs at the Republican National Committee, said voters have been happy with Mr. Trump’s criminal justice reform and the economy before the pandemic. He highlighted the “unprecedented” investments the campaign is making to earn support from Black voters, saying it has gone beyond what Republican presidential candidates have typically done. Dennard said the campaign believes it can improve its standing with Black voters in Michigan, especially among Black men. Mr. President Trump won 9% of Black men in Michigan in 2016, according to exit polls, and Dennard believes Mr. Trump’s work on criminal justice reform can grow his support with Black men, especially given Biden’s ties to the 1994 crime bill. “That is an issue that they understand and care about, especially as a contrast to Joe Biden,” Dennard said. “We have been really hard on exposing Joe Biden’s record.”

Snyder said he’s met people who have been engaged politically but have been frustrated by their options for candidates and elected not to vote. Quran Calhoun, who lives in Romulus, said he felt the 2016 election was prejudged and didn’t think Hillary Clinton ran a good campaign. This time, he’s planning to vote for Biden and called Trump “the worst president I’ve ever seen in my life.” Calhoun added, “I just want a leader who actually tries to implement the wants and desires from the residents of society.”

STATE-BY-STATE

ARIZONA

The Arizona Democratic Party has lost a bid in state court, filed in Arizona’s most populous county, asking a judge to force county officials to supply information on voters whose ballots had been found to have missing or mismatched signatures, according to CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin. In his ruling late Wednesday, Judge M. Scott McCoy dismissed the state party’s case, writing that Maricopa County election officials had met their burden to show that fulfilling the request before November 5th could slow down the county’s “curing” process and risk “mischief and voter confusion.” A similar bid is still pending elsewhere in the state. Democrats could also appeal McCoy’s ruling.

NEVADA

The Trump campaign and Republicans in Nevada are threatening the battleground state’s most populous county with legal action over what they argue is a “blatant disregard for accountability and transparency” in Clark County’s ballot counting process. In a letter dated Tuesday, CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin reports the GOP’s attorneys say the county must allow for additional flexibility to observe election officials – including a request to place cameras throughout the ballot counting facility – and complain counting board members are mishandling ballots in a way that “undermines the American norm of ballot secrecy.” Democrats in Nevada dismissed the letter as an attempt to “cast doubt on the integrity of our election system,” decrying “yet another blatant attempt to suppress voter turnout.” County spokesperson Dan Kulin forcefully disputed the letter in an email on Thursday for “many misleading or inaccurate claims,” saying officials had “gone above and beyond” to accommodate observers and that some of the GOP’s requests – like placing cameras on ballot counting areas – were prohibited by law.

OHIO

In a video message posted to Twitter on Wednesday evening, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose responded to U.S. intelligence officials announcing that Iran and Russia have obtained some American voter registration data in an effort to sow discord in the upcoming election. LaRose ensured that Ohio was not impacted and that Ohioans should trust the US electoral system. “Our foreign adversaries want to degrade the trust that we have in our elections,” LaRose said. “We won’t stand for it. These are enemies of America.” In a press release on Thursday, LaRose announced that 53,981 Ohioans have signed up to become a poll worker on Election Day. CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman says the secretary’s office noted that 74 of Ohio’s 88 counties have met or near reaching their poll worker recruitment goal. LaRose’s office acknowledged there are still recruitment efforts that need to be accomplished, including in Summit County, which LaRose’s office said needs 837 more poll workers.

PENNSYLVANIA

Three days after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a GOP request to stop a court-ordered mail ballot deadline extension, a new lawsuit led by a Republican congressional candidate is asking a federal district court to do so. Jim Bognet, running for Pennsylvania’s 8th district in the Northeast portion of the state, and four Somerset County voters, in Southwestern Pennsylvania, brought the suit to federal court in the Western District of Pennsylvania. The state’s Supreme Court had rejected a constitutional challenge against the extension from Republicans in part because of lack of plain injury, reports CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak. The new suit claims Bognet has faced injury because of an extension not approved by the state legislature. It also argues an equal protections violation because, it says, mail-in voters don’t have to meet the same deadline as in-person ones. The state’s top court in September had extended the deadline for counties to accept ballots arriving by mail up to three days after Election Day, so long as they weren’t clearly postmarked after it. Pennsylvania Republicans had fought against the extension in the state courts, and at the end of September asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the state court’s order. On Monday, the Supreme Court voted 4-4, rejecting the GOP request. In the state’s primary, counties received over 100,000 mail ballots in the days that followed the election, more than twice the margin Mr. Trump won the state by in 2016. Nearly 3 million Pennsylvanians have requested mail-in ballots, and over twice as many Democrats as Republicans have done so.

CONGRESSIONAL COVERAGE

IN THE SENATE

ARIZONA

Republican Senator Martha McSally’s campaign is blasting her Democratic challenger Mark Kelly over comments from Harris at a fundraiser this week. According to a pool report from the event, CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin reports the California Democrat thanked Kelly and his wife, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, for their work to support gun control measures and said Kelly would be “a big reason for why we are going to win Arizona.” Kelly, a former NASA astronaut, rose to prominence in part through his work campaigning for new gun restrictions in the wake of the 2011 shooting of his wife. His campaign has rarely focused on the topic in the final months of the election, which a recent CBS News Battleground Tracker showed Kelly leading by 11 points. The Democrat recently recalled the shooting only to discuss another policy: health care. But his opponents have repeatedly doubled down on the issue. At a recent rally with Mr. Trump in Arizona, McSally denounced Kelly’s “radical gun-grabbing organization” for giving California’s firearm laws an “A grade” and Arizona’s “an F.”

IN THE HOUSE

HORSE RACE

Monmouth University poll in Iowa finds Democrats leading in three out of the four House races, with one Democrat tightening the gap in GOP Congressman Steve King’s old district. The state’s two freshman Democratic incumbents, Abby Finkenauer in Iowa’s 1st and Cindy Axne in Iowa’s 3rd, are maintaining or increasing advantages in counties crucial to their 2018 wins. Finkenauer’s Republican opponent, Ashley Hinson, outraised her in the last fundraising quarter by about $150,000 and had a narrow cash on hand advantage as well. She’s down 8 points to Finkenauer among registered voters, a slight uptick from being down 10 points in August. House Republican Whip Steve Scalise will be on the ground Friday campaigning for Hinson in Dubuque, Iowa. In the 3rd district, Axne is leading former GOP Congressman David Young by 9 points, a 3-point change from August. In the state’s open seat in the 2nd district, left by retiring Democrat Dave Loebsack, Democrat Rita Hart is up six points against Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who ran for the seat in 2014. Part of Hart’s gap is attributed to voters 65 years and older, who support her 61% to Miller-Meek’s 33%. In Iowa’s 4th, where Republican Randy Feenstra ousted King, Democrat J.D. Scholten is running again after narrowly losing in 2018. Feenstra had a 20-point lead in an August poll, but has seen that shrink to 6 points. CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro reports that some other notable House polls released Thursday include an internal Republican poll showing Republican incumbent John Katko up by 8 against Democrat challenger Dana Balter in New York’s 24th. Katko is one of two Republicans running for re-election in districts Hillary Clinton won in 2016. A NBC Montana poll shows the open House race there tied between Democrat Kathaleen Williams and Republican Matt Rosendale, 46% to 46% and 8% undecided. The seat is left open by Republican Greg Gianforte, who is running for Governor and is up 7 points against Democrat Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney in the same poll.

AAPI

The Democrats’ House campaign arm launched a seven-figure outreach program for Asian American and Pacific Islander voters on Thursday, using printradioTV, and digital ads as well as direct mailers to target the voting bloc. CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro reports that the efforts will be taking place in Nevada, Texas, Georgia, New York, New Jersey and in California, where the committee says they’ll be running a phone navigation app in Orange County to direct voters to their polling location. The Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) voting bloc is the fastest growing ethnic group in the electorate, according to the Pew Research Center. A September survey by the Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote organization found that the group will be important for House races in southern California (seats like California’s 25th, 39th and 48th), New Jersey (i.e. the 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 7th district) and Texas, which has at least 10 competitive House elections around metro suburban areas with changing demographics. “Let me be blunt, the AAPI vote for me, is crucial,” said Democratic Congressman Harley Rouda, who is running in California’s 48th district against Republican Michelle Steel, a Korean American Orange County Board Chairwoman. “We have spent a lot of time in little Saigon meeting with community leaders, speaking through the different media outlets here, to understand the specific challenges they face.” Democratic challenger Sri Preston Kulkarni said his district in Texas’ 22nd has the largest AAPI population in the southern U.S., with almost 100,000 AAPI voters. “When we first started, people told us don’t bother with the Asian community because they don’t vote… and we said maybe they don’t vote because we don’t bother,” he said in a call with reporters. “We’re going to bring in more Asian American volunteers, constituents and supporters than any other campaign in Texas history. And that’s why we’re going to flip this district.”