2020 Daily Trail Markers: Trump and Pence return to critical battleground Michigan this week

President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are returning to Michigan this week, trying to beef up support in the critical battleground state with less than three weeks to go until Election Day. The latest CBS News Battleground Tracker poll shows Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden leading Mr. Trump in the state, 52% to 46% among likely voters.

Michigan was part of a trio of states the president flipped in 2016, along with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, that helped propel him to the White House. He won Michigan by a razor-thin 10,704 votes, becoming the first Republican presidential candidate to win the state since George H.W. Bush in 1988. With the march toward Election Day and more than 1 million votes already cast in Michigan, one of the factors that could determine Mr. Trump’s fate in the Great Lakes State is whether voters choose to back his re-election effort, even if they don’t like his behavior, according to CBS News election analyst Elena Cox and campaign reporter Adam Brewster.

In Michigan, about a third of those who say they are voting for President Trump also say they dislike the way the president handles himself. Jacque Hinds, who owns Blooms By Jacqueline in Kent City, doesn’t like either candidate, but she plans to vote for the president because she opposes abortion rights. “I don’t know what (Trump) says is true. I don’t know what to believe and I guess sometimes when he speaks, things that he says aren’t very polite,” said Hinds. “I’m just not a fan of him as a person.”

And while the state is deadlocked on whether Mr. Trump or Joe Biden would better handle the economy, Trump voters (even ones who don’t like the way he handles himself) overwhelmingly pick the president. That could help the president with voters who may be leaning towards Biden or remain undecided. “I don’t like the things that Donald Trump has to say about women, about minorities, about different ethnic groups. I think it’s very inappropriate,” said Kim Hensley, a financial adviser from Sparta Township, who voted for a third-party candidate in 2016 and is undecided. “But I think he is appropriate to lead an economy and grow. He’s a businessman, so I agree with that.”

FROM THE CANDIDATES

TRUMP-PENCE CAMPAIGN

Mr. Trump heads to Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday and will host his third battleground state rally following his COVID-19 treatment, reports CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga. While Mr. Trump visited the Hawkeye state following the August derecho, the president has not held a rally in Iowa since January 2020. The president captured Iowa handily in 2016, eclipsing Hillary Clinton by 9.4%, but the latest CBS News Battleground tracker poll shows the candidates tied in the state. Biden holds a double-digit advantage with college-educated voters in the Hawkeye state, outperforming Hillary Clinton’s 2016 margins among a group Mr. Trump narrowly won four years ago. The Trump campaign has remained off the TV airwaves in Iowa since early August, according to Kantar/CMAG data. During the same time period, the Biden campaign has poured nearly $2.4 million into the state. And while Iowa offers just 6 Electoral College votes in this election, any fault lines in the agricultural state with deep pockets of evangelical voters could suggest challenges for Mr. Trump in neighboring battlegrounds Wisconsin and Minnesota. Iowa state officials reported 473 hospitalized coronavirus patients on Wednesday, setting a new record for the state. Earlier this week, Iowa surpassed 100,000 total coronavirus cases reported.

Pence is campaigning in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Wednesday, attacking Biden on several issues while leaning heavily into contrasts overs trade, reports CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar. Pence blamed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Biden for the loss of thousands of American manufacturing jobs. “Thanks to the man who wrote the ‘Art of the Deal,’ Americans got a way better deal. NAFTA is gone and the United States, Mexico, Canada deal is here,” Pence said. “The USMCA is a huge win for America but it is a big win for Michigan and Michigan autoworkers,” he added. Pence also attacked Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, for not supporting the USMCA. “She said the USMCA did not go far enough on climate change. The truth is Kamala Harris put her radical environmental agenda ahead of Michigan auto workers and Michigan auto jobs. That’s one more reason why Michigan needs to say no to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris,” Pence said. The vice president also spent a few minutes at the closing of his speech encouraging supporters to go vote early and in person. He even went as far as telling the audience the address and operating hours of the nearby Cascade Township Clerk’s office. He also encouraged them to bring along friends and neighbors. “Friends don’t let friends vote alone,” Pence said. On Thursday, Pence will campaign in Florida for the second time in a week and on Friday he’ll make a return trip to North Carolina.

First lady Melania Trump reflected on her experience with COVID-19 in an essay posted on the White House’s web page Wednesday. The first lady has now tested negative for the virus, but revealed her 14-year-old son, Barron, had tested positive, according to Sganga. “Naturally, my mind went immediately to our son,” Melania Trump wrote. And while Barron Trump initially tested negative after both she and the president were diagnosed with coronavirus, the teenager later tested positive. The first lady said her son had “no symptoms,” calling him “a strong teenager.”

BIDEN-HARRIS CAMPAIGN

CBS News has not been able to verify a recent tabloid report that resurfaced allegations about Joe and Hunter Biden. CBS News is doing its own reporting to independently assess the veracity of those allegations. Mr. Trump was asked about the report in an interview with Newsmax and said, “Well, they’re crooks, and they’ve always been crooks. They’re grifters and crooks, this is what we’re running against. And its’ a disgrace.” He added, “It’s serious stuff, they’ve got ’em cold. And the news protects them, because they’re in on the deal, probably.” Following the publication of the story and citing company policy against the spreading of misinformation, both Twitter and Facebook took action to limit the spread of the report. Earlier in the day the Trump campaign held a call with reporters regarding the story. Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi repeatedly charged Joe Biden with lying and added, “if the N.Y. Post story is true, we know Joe Biden lied to the American people and he has lied repeatedly to all of you.” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said the campaign had not done anything further to vet the information presented in the report and they were relying on the publisher. When asked if it would become a major centerpiece of the final days of the campaign, Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller said “the contrast between a 47-year swamp creature in Joe Biden and a businessman in President Trump has been a major focus of this campaign, a major theme of this campaign.” In response to the story, the Biden campaign released a statement saying, “Investigations by the press, during impeachment, and even by two Republican-led Senate committees whose work was decried as ‘not legitimate’ and political by a GOP colleague have all reached the same conclusion: that Joe Biden carried out official U.S. policy toward Ukraine and engaged in no wrongdoing. Trump Administration officials have attested to these facts under oath. The New York Post never asked the Biden campaign about the critical elements of this story. They certainly never raised that Rudy Giuliani – whose discredited conspiracy theories and alliance with figures connected to Russian intelligence have been widely reported – claimed to have such materials. Moreover, we have reviewed Joe Biden’s official schedules from the time and no meeting, as alleged by the New York Post, ever took place.”

BATTLEGROUNDS IN THE BATTLEGROUNDS

OHIO – *WARREN COUNTY*

In 2018, Democrats made leaps into cutting into Republican margins in Ohio’s Warren County, which sits outside Cincinnati. Warren County is a Republican stronghold – 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Trump carried the county by over 30 points. But, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown outperformed Hillary Clinton in 2018 by seven percentage points, giving Democrats optimism they can continue to cut into the strong Republican coalition in the county. Bethe Goldenfield, the chair of the county Democratic party, acknowledged that Democrats will not carry Warren County this election cycle. But, she is optimistic that Democrats will improve upon Brown’s gains in 2018 and flip more precincts in the county, citing that suburban women are “turning strongly against Trump,” reports CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman. “We have to push the margins up and we have the ability to do that,” Goldenfield said. Warren County is also located in Ohio’s first congressional district where there is a close congressional race between Republican incumbent Steve Chabot and Democratic candidate Kate Schroder. According to data from the Warren County Board of Elections, 14,797 Republicans have voted absentee compared to 12,656 Democrats who have voted absentee as of October 13.

KEY CONSTITUENCIES

BLACK WOMEN

Ahead of the 2020 election, Black women are increasingly concerned about racism and the rise in hate crimes, according to a new survey released Wednesday reports CBS News correspondent Nikole Killion. 58 percent of respondents identified it as their number one issue while 73 percent perceived it as threat to democracy. The sixth annual “Power of the Sister Vote” poll was conducted by the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP) and Essence, a media company focused on Black women. “Over the past three years we have seen a shift from more aspirational concerns to those rooted in survival and security. The disproportionate impact of the pandemic and the racial reckoning taking place all over the nation has solidified this trend,” said Melanie Campbell, NCBCP President and convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable. The poll also found 49% of African-American women want a candidate to address systemic racism, followed by policing and criminal justice reform and a plan to eradicate the coronavirus. If the election were held today, 90% of participants would support the Biden-Harris ticket compared to 4 percent for Trump-Pence. More than 3 in 4 say they plan to vote by mail, absentee ballot or vote early in person.

ISSUES THAT MATTER

AT THE BALLOT BOX

The California Republican Party told reporters on a call Wednesday afternoon that they will not be complying with Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s cease-and-desist order for their ballot drop boxes. CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar reports the California GOP says Padilla “mischaracterized” their ballot collection effort. Padilla is arguing that harvested ballots have to be signed by the voter and the person collecting it. Additionally the person collecting it has to identify their relationship to the voter. Padilla has said collecting the ballots at these boxes means both parties won’t be signing the ballot. Republicans are arguing that Assembly Bill 306 prohibits disqualifying a ballot solely because the person returning it did not provide on the identification envelope his or her name, relationship to the voter, or signature. “There is nothing illegal about the collection of ballots provided by voters, on a certainly volunteer basis, and entrusted to the persons who are operating that local election–or local party office, from transmitting those ballots,” California Republican Party General Counsel Tom Hiltachk said. “We’re going to continue with the program because it complies with the law,” he added. Regarding the boxes that appeared on social media with the label “official” on them, Hiltachk said that was an “unfortunate” mistake from an “overzealous” volunteer. He added that it was an isolated incident that was taken care of within hours. While arguing that ballot harvesting is unsafe and the laws need to be tightened around it, Hiltachk and the California GOP also argued they have put together a safe ballot harvesting program. The California GOP said the ballot boxes are not in public areas, they are secure, and staffed at all times. The staff then drops off the ballots at county elections offices usually the next day but always within the 72 hour allotted timeline. “California Republicans continue to be and would be happy to do away with ballot harvesting, but I have said from day one that we are going to be competitive and we are going to use the same rules and laws that Democrats have been using for years,” said California GOP chairwoman Jessica Milan Patterson.

Since the cease-and-desist order issued by California’s Secretary of State, CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro reports national Republicans are also jumping into the fray to defend the practice. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump tweeted, “Fight hard Republicans. They have been taking advantage of the system for years!” National Republican Congressional Committee deputy chair Ken Calvert said in a statement that “ballot harvesting is legal in the state of California, Democrats legalized it, and it is clear with these ballot boxes Republicans are following the laws Democrats put in place.” California Democrat Congressman Harley Rouda emphasized chain of command issues with Republicans setting up a drop box. “Was there an intent to throw away the Dem ballots? This is why these investigations are so important,” Rouda said on a call with reporters. The freshman Democrat is facing a competitive reelection against Republican Michelle Steel, who said Rouda’s and state Democrats’ attempts to remove the boxes equates to voter suppression. “So long as it is done legally, I have no issue with ensuring that there are increased options to voting, particularly for churchgoers and minority communities. What I do not support are efforts by tax-dodgers like Harley Rouda to suppress the vote of Orange County residents,” Steel said in a statement. When asked what would happen if the boxes are not removed, Democratic lawyer Marc Elias told reporters Wednesday the GOP would risk “significant sanction by the state of California.” He added that even if the drop boxes get slapped with a sticker that designates they’re “unofficial” boxes, it’d be an inadequate measure. “The fact is that California law is clear about the chain of custody that needs to be maintained in order for third party lawful ballot collection.”

STATE-BY-STATE

ARIZONA

A federal appeals court has cut short Arizona’s voter registration deadline for the general election, pausing a lower court’s decision to extend the cutoff initially set to occur on October 5th, reports CBS News campaign reporter Alex TinIn their ruling, the judges for the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said their order was a “prospective stay” and would not disqualify voters who had so far registered to vote from casting general election ballots. “While we are disappointed in this ruling, we are proud that we stood up for the fundamental right to vote and that we won a ten-day extension of the voter registration deadline,” a spokesperson for Mi Familia Vota and the Arizona Coalition for Change said in a statement. The two groups had brought the suit to extend the cutoff last month, citing a drop-off in new registrations under COVID-19 restrictions. “As a result of this victory for our democracy, tens of thousands of more voters in Arizona will be able to participate in the upcoming November election.”

CALIFORNIA

More than 1.5 million vote-by-mail ballots have already been cast in California, according to Secretary of State Alex Padilla. At the same time in 2016, approximately 150,000 vote by mail ballots were returned, reports CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar. “Californians are voting early in historic numbers,” Padilla said in a statement. “We knew the COVID-19 pandemic would pose significant challenges, but elections officials have prepared and voters have responded,” he added. More than 21 million Californians have registered to vote in the November election. Nearly 85% of all eligible voters are registered, making it the highest percentage of voters registered for a general election in 68 years. California began mailing out ballots on October 5.

NEVADA

Campaigning in Arizona and Nevada for Joe Biden this week, DNC chairman Tom Perez accused Republicans of “dirty tricks” to block voters. “You see the shenanigans in California, you see efforts to suppress the vote elsewhere, you see these voter ID laws that are frankly all about making it harder for Black and Brown people to vote,” Perez said Tuesday in Las Vegas, following an event where local Democrats delivered their mail ballots at a drop box. Perez, who had worked as a federal civil rights prosecutor, later said the party had been proud to intervene as defendants in the suit over Nevada’s election changes due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin. “When I practiced law regularly, I would’ve filed a motion for sanctions because it was such a frivolous lawsuit,” said Perez. Asked about whether Democrats might do away with caucuses to decide the party’s nominee in future years, like was hosted in Nevada, Perez forecasted there would be fewer such contests in coming cycles. “We have seven caucus states in 2020. And I predict we will have less than seven caucus states in 2024,” Perez said, “because I like to have a structure where we have maximum participation.”

PENNSYLVANIA

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Wednesday granted a request from the state’s top elections official to use it’s “King’s Bench” power to decide whether counties can reject mail-in ballots or applications based on subjective signature analysis and whether ballots can be challenged based solely on signatures. The court said on Wednesday that it will make a decision after the Friday deadline for filings. Last month, Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar issued guidance to counties not to reject mail ballots based on an apparent signature inconsistency alone, reports CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak. The Trump campaign fought back in a broad federal court lawsuit that was thrown out late last week. But before the federal lawsuit was dismissed, Boockvar asked the state’s highest court to back her guidance. The dissenting opinion on taking the case argues that because there was no lower level case on the issue, there is nothing for the court to review. In it, Justice Max Baer also argues that the federal district court case already addressed the issue. The concurring opinion acknowledges that first issue but says that the district court ruling is likely to be challenged, so the state’s high court should issue a ruling. Democrats in the state fear that the Trump campaign will challenge as many individual mail ballots as possible if they’re allowed to do so based on signature matches, delaying official results further.

Nearly 29,000 voters in Allegheny County received the wrong mail-in ballots, the county’s elections manager said Wednesday. Midwest Direct, which is contracted by Allegheny County to print and mail ballots, on Tuesday informed Allegheny County that nearly 29,000 voters were sent incorrect ballots. That came after the county announced Friday that 20 voters had reported receiving the wrong ballots. “In this case, an error was made and it mapped each ballot image up one recipient,” Midwest Direct President Sean Gebbie wrote in a letter to the county. “As an example, voter # 1 received voter #2’s ballot.” Gebbie said there is no issue with the county’s data. David Voye, the top elections official in the county, said the Elections Division is manually separating incorrect ballots already returned to be reviewed in the return board process. He said all voters who received incorrect ballots will receive new ones, and within 24 hours the Elections Division website will have a feature to check if you received one of those ballots. “This was a failure on behalf of our contractor that impacts too many of our voters,” he said. “I apologize for it and commit to you that I will do everything in my power to ensure that we are not plagued by any other such issues.” Allegheny County, the second largest in the state, was praised by the State Department after the primary for its speedy results despite a massive influx of mail-in voting.

WISCONSIN

Voting rights and civil rights advocates are asking the United States Supreme Court to review a case that could extend the deadline for returning absentee ballots in Wisconsin, according to CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster. They argue that without the extension, thousands of votes may not be counted. In September, a district court judge in Wisconsin ruled that absentee ballots should be counted in Wisconsin if they are postmarked by Election Day and received by November 9. Wisconsin normally requires absentee ballots to be turned in by the time polls close on Election Day. Judge William Conley said it was possible that “tens of thousands” of voters may not request an absentee ballot in time to receive it, fill it out and return it in time “despite acting well in advance of the deadline for requiring a ballot.” But last week, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals put a stay on the ballot deadline extension after the Republican-controlled state legislature challenged the decision. The appellate court ruling put the normal Election Day deadline for absentee ballots back in place, saying that a judge shouldn’t change the rules “so close to an election” and that political officials rather than judges “are entitled to decide when a pandemic justifies changes to rules.” Tuesday’s filing asks the Supreme Court to keep a six-day extension for returning absentee ballots set by a lower federal court. It also asks the court to allow municipalities to use poll workers from other counties, citing the shortages some cities and towns faced during Wisconsin’s April election. Without those changes, challengers argue that “tens of thousands of voters will likely be disenfranchised by Wisconsin’s ballot-receipt deadline, and countless others will be subject to polling-place closures and consolidation. That disenfranchisement is quintessential irreparable harm.” As of Wednesday, more than 1.3 million Wisconsinites have requested absentee ballots and 756,207 ballots have been returned.