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Debate’s Online Star Is a Fly Atop Pence’s Head: Campaign Update

Ryan Teague Beckwith
·13 mins read

(Bloomberg) -- A fly dominated the vice presidential debate. The New England Journal of Medicine says President Donald Trump’s administration should be voted out of office. In a jab at Kamala Harris, Vice President Mike Pence’s campaign said it had set aside a ticket for dead rapper Tupac Shakur at the debate Wednesday.

There are 27 days until the election and 68 days until the Electoral College meets.

Other Developments:

Harris Team Is Confident About Health Precautions at DebateTrump Back in Oval Office After Doctor Reports He’s Symptom-FreePence, Harris Meet for Vice-Presidential Debate: Viewers’ GuideJobs Gloom Grips Florida, Midwest Just 27 Days From the Election

Scene-Stealing Fly Draws Debate Attention

Wednesday’s vice presidential debate was so civil that the biggest moment came when a fly landed on Vice President Mike Pence’s head.

With Pence and Senator Kamala Harris engaging in a tough but restrained back-and-forth, the fly’s appearance drew attention -- even more so as it stayed put.

Pence didn’t seem to notice the fly, though Harris appeared at one point to look at it.

Twitter users were quick to make jokes, and Jim Messina, former President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, tweeted a photo of Democratic nominee Joe Biden holding a fly swatter.

Biden then tweeted the same photo with the message, “pitch in $5 to help this campaign fly,” and bought the URL “flywillvote.com” to redirect to a Democratic voting website. -- Jordan Fabian

New England Journal of Medicine Calls for Trump Administration’s Removal

The New England Journal of Medicine is calling for Trump’s administration to be voted out of office for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the first time in the prestigious publication’s 208-year history that it has denounced a political candidate.

In an editorial titled “Dying in a Leadership Vacuum,” the journal’s editors say U.S. leaders “have taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy.” While it doesn’t explicitly endorse Biden, the editorial clearly ascribes blame to the Trump administration and calls for a change of government.

“When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent,” the editors wrote. “We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.”

The editorial itemizes failures that it says are of “astonishing” magnitude, comparing the U.S. response to those of countries that implemented early testing and were able to contain the virus.

“Our current leaders have undercut trust in science and in government, causing damage that will certainly outlast them,” the editorial says. “Instead of relying on expertise, the administration has turned to uninformed ‘opinion leaders’ and charlatans who obscure the truth and facilitate the promulgation of outright lies. -- Max Berley

Pence Sets Aside Ticket for Dead Rapper at Debate (5:42 p.m.)

Pence’s campaign said it has put aside a ticket to Wednesday night’s debate for Tupac Shakur, a jab at Harris’s comment that the performer who died more than two decades ago was her favorite living rapper.

Jason Miller, a campaign senior adviser, confirmed that a seat will be available for the dead rapper when Pence and Harris meet in Salt Lake City for their first and only debate starting at 9 p.m.

Harris drew mockery last month by answering “Tupac” when asked to name the “best rapper alive” at a virtual NAACP conference. When told of her mistake, Harris said: “Not alive, I know. I keep doing that.”

Shakur died at 25 in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles in 1996. -- Mario Parker

Biden Camp to Restart Negative Ads with Trump in Recovery (5:14 p.m.)

Biden’s campaign is preparing to restart television and digital negative advertising now that Trump is recovering from his bout with the coronavirus, a person familiar with the campaign’s plans said Wednesday.

On Friday, the day Trump was hospitalized, the Biden campaign asked TV stations to stop airing negative ads out of respect for the president’s health issues. Biden said on Twitter, “This cannot be a partisan moment. It must be an American moment. We have to come together as a nation.”

But Trump returned to the White House on Monday and has been regularly attacking Democrats on Twitter even as he’s largely stayed out of the public eye.

“Our campaign has always been about making the positive case for Joe Biden, but there’s a stark contrast between Vice President Biden and Donald Trump and their visions for our country,” said Mike Gwin, a spokesman for the Biden campaign.

The Trump campaign complained Monday that the Democrat’s campaign was “still running negative ads” over the weekend. Some stations can be slow to pull ads, especially over weekends. And the Biden campaign continued with what they call “contrast” ads, which describe differences in policy approaches without attacks.

According to data from Advertising Analytics, the Biden campaign ran ads drawing contrasts between him and the president 7,125 times while negative ads ran 324 times on Thursday, before the president tweeted that he had the coronavirus. By Sunday, those numbers had fallen to 908 and 17, respectively, while positive ads touting Biden climbed from 2,106 spots on Thursday to 5,053 Sunday. -- Jennifer Epstein

Poll Shows Biden Widening Lead in Florida (2:19 p.m.)

Florida has been one of the most closely contested states so far this year, but a new poll shows Biden with a double-digit lead.

In a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday, 51% of likely voters backed Biden and 40% backed Trump.

That 11-point margin is much higher than other recent polls. Before the Quinnipiac poll was released, the RealClearPolitics average showed Biden ahead by 3.5 percentage points in Florida.

Separate Quinnipiac polls released Wednesday showed Biden ahead by 13 points in Pennsylvania and 5 points in Iowa.

The surveys of 1,256 likely voters in Florida, 1,205 likely voters in Iowa and 1,211 likely voters in Pennsylvania had margins of error of 2.8 percentage points. They were conducted Oct. 1-5. -- Ryan Teague Beckwith

Biden Leads Trump in Nevada, Tied in Ohio (1:57 p.m.)

Biden leads Trump in Nevada and is tied in Ohio, according to two New York Times/Siena College polls conducted after the president’s diagnosis for Covid-19.

In both key swing states, Biden has significantly improved his standing compared with Hillary Clinton’s performance in 2016. Clinton won Nevada by 2 percentage points, while Biden leads there by 6 points. And Trump won Ohio buy 8 points four years ago, but Biden now has a thin 1-point lead there.

Biden is winning over twice as many Trump supporters as Trump is winning former Clinton voters, the Times said. But Biden’s advantage is also coming largely from voters who picked a third-party candidate in 2016 or didn’t vote at all.

Significant majorities in both states also said they believe Trump did not take adequate precautions against the virus. The president was hospitalized over the weekend with Covid-19, but has since returned to the White House and has sought to minimize the severity of the virus.

The polls were conducted Oct. 2-6 and had a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points. -- Gregory Korte

Trump Again Says He Can Win California in November (12:24 p.m.)

Trump has a habit of saying he might win reliably Democratic states where he is down by double digits.

On Wednesday morning, it was California’s turn.

Trump twice tweeted about winning the Golden State, arguing that a second term would mean “no more blackouts, shutdowns, ridiculous forrest fires, or water ‘rationing.’”

“We can win in California NOW!” he wrote.

The polls suggest otherwise. In three surveys in September, Biden was ahead by 27 to 39 percentage points in California, which hasn’t gone for a Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan’s second term and backed Hillary Clinton over Trump by 30 points.

But then, Trump has publicly doubted those numbers as well, repeatedly making the debunked claim that millions of Californians voted illegally in 2016, costing him the state.

Harris Tests Negative for Coronavirus Before Debate (11:08 a.m.)

Harris tested negative for the coronavirus on Tuesday, ahead of the vice presidential debate slated for Wednesday.

The Democratic vice presidential nominee underwent a polymerase chain reaction or PCR test, which looks for the virus’s genetic material, according to a campaign aide.

In a memo released Tuesday, Pence’s physician said that he has also tested negative.

Harris and Pence will participate in a 90-minute debate in Salt Lake City tonight, separated by 12 feet of space and a plexiglass shield. Neither they nor the moderator will wear masks.

The Commission on Presidential Debates requires everyone at the debate site at the University of Utah to have been tested for the coronavirus and guests will be required to wear masks, or be escorted out. The First Family declined offers to don masks at the last presidential debate, even though President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, tested positive two days later. -- Tyler Pager

South Carolina Senate Race Now a Tossup (10:27 a.m.)

The Cook Political Report Wednesday rated the South Carolina Senate race a tossup between Republican incumbent Lindsey Graham and Democrat Jaime Harrison, a sign, the report said, of “just how fast the GOP majority is slipping away.”

Jessica Taylor, Cook’s Senate editor, called the race the most surprising in the country, with many people once assuming Graham would cruise to re-election in what has been a reliably Republican state.

“Instead, the Republican incumbent finds himself in a tied race in both public and private surveys with challenger Jaime Harrison, who has proven to be perhaps Democrats’ best recruit and a fundraising behemoth,” she wrote.

Harrison, a former state party chairman, congressional aide, Democratic Party official and lobbyist, has spent or reserved more than $60 million in advertising so far, compared to a little over $20 million for Graham. -- Steven T. Dennis

Federal Debt Could Balloon Under Either Biden or Trump (9:56 a.m.)

No matter who wins in November, the federal debt could balloon by trillions, according to a new analysis.

Trump’s campaign plan would increase the debt by nearly $5 trillion over 10 years, while Biden’s plan would add $5.6 trillion to the debt, according to estimates from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

The current federal debt amounts to more than $27 trillion and the deficit, or the difference between what the country spends and the revenue it takes in, is projected to be about $3.3 trillion for this year.

Because of uncertainty about economic conditions and the lack of specificity in some of the plans, the think tank also ran low- and high-cost estimates.

Trump’s plan could increase the debt by as little as $700 billion or as much as nearly $6.9 trillion through 2030. Biden’s plan could reduce the debt by as much as $150 billion or increase it by as much as $8.3 trillion. -- Laura Davison

Michigan May Take Four Days to Count Votes (9:12 a.m.)

If the presidential election comes down to Michigan, be prepared to wait.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Tuesday that it may take the battleground state until the Friday after Election Day to finish counting ballots, even with a new law designed to speed up counting.

The Democratic elections official had been pushing the legislature to change a law that had barred local clerks from processing ballots to prepare them to be counted until the morning of the election.

Under a law signed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday, clerks in cities with at least 25,000 people will be allowed to start the day before the election.

More than 523,000 mail-in ballots have been returned in Michigan so far, according to data compiled by the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida.

White House Taunts Biden on Delaware Founding Father (7:04 a.m.)

The White House issued a proclamation honoring the birthday of a slave-owning Founding Father from Delaware as part of a long-running campaign to taunt Biden.

When a statue of Caesar Rodney was removed in Wilmington this summer, Trump called it a “radical purge of America’s founding generation” and criticized Biden for not speaking up as “his home state’s history” was “dismantled and dismembered.”

Trump then added Caesar Rodney, who rode overnight on horseback in a storm to sign the Declaration of Independence, to the list of statues in his proposed National Garden of American Heroes.

“On June 12, 2020, the Caesar Rodney Equestrian Statue was removed as part of an ongoing, radical purge of America’s founding generation,” Trump said in the proclamation.

Biden Campaign’s New Fundraising Gambit: Yard Signs

The Biden campaign is heavily promoting the idea of yard signs in its latest Facebook ad campaign, though it may be more of a fundraising ploy.

In several related ads, the campaign asks supporters for small donations to cover the costs of putting up yard signs in key states.

“Yard signs are a crucial tool for showing our support among swing voters in battleground states,” the ad copy reads. “The more signs we send, the more voters we reach.”

The campaign may be overselling the effectiveness of yard signs. One extremely thorough study showed they can boost a candidate by around two percentage points, meaning they only make a difference in very close races.

In the RealClearPolitics average of polls, only Iowa, Georgia, North Carolina and Ohio are within a two-point margin currently.

New York Times Comes Around to Biden in the End

When it made an endorsement in the Democratic presidential primary earlier this year, the New York Times pointed out some reasons it was not excited about the front-runner.

Biden, the paper’s editorial board wrote, had an agenda that “tinkers at the ends of issues like health care and climate” and focuses on “restoring the status quo” before Trump. Noting his age, it said it was “time for him to pass the torch.”

But neither of the two candidates the paper endorsed then -- Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar -- won the nomination. So on Wednesday, the paper came around on Biden, endorsing the Democratic presidential nominee as it has in every election since 1960.

In its Biden endorsement, the editorial board called his health care and climate plans, which have grown considerably since the primary, a “bold agenda aimed at tackling some of America’s most pressing problems.” It added that his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, would be a bridge to the next generation.

And it pointed out several ways in which it said he would restore the pre-Trump status quo, including embracing the rule of law, respecting science, working with allies and not courting autocrats.

“Mr. Biden isn’t a perfect candidate and he wouldn’t be a perfect president,” the board wrote. “But politics is not about perfection. It is about the art of the possible and about encouraging America to embrace its better angels.”

Coming Up:

Harris and Mike Pence will meet for the only vice-presidential debate on Wednesday at the University of Utah.

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