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2020 Daily Trail Markers: Campaigns get creative as fundraising deadline looms

It's the last day of the first quarter, which means candidates are facing FEC fundraising deadlines while navigating the growing financial hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemicCBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice says presidential and congressional hopefuls have taken different approaches to keeping the cash flowing. On Tuesday, the Biden campaign sent a text to supporters saying "your health and safety are our top priority. But, we are also keeping a close eye on fundraising to ensure we have the resources to take on Donald Trump this fall." If people were in a position to give, they were asking for $10. The Biden campaign has already said it's raised more than $30 million in March, the most they've raised in a month to date, but as social distancing has forced the campaigns into pursuing creative new ways to raise money, it remains to be seen what kind of impact the virus has had on their war chest. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders has stopped campaign fundraising all together. In an email on Tuesday, his campaign manager asked supporters to pitch in $10 to split between six charities that are helping Americans impacted by the pandemic.

Congressional candidates are also trying to move forward with fundraising in uncertain times as they finish out the quarter. On Tuesday, Senator Martha McSally of Arizona sent an email with "Tiger King" in the subject line, acknowledging the Netflix show people across the country are binge-watching right now. "If you're at home watching Tiger King right now, apologies for the interruption – we'll make this quick," the email read while seeking support ahead of the midnight deadline. "National Democrats are going to be watching our results like they're the latest thing on Netflix, so if you're able to, help us put up numbers so strong they leave the Left in disbelief." Alabama Democratic Senator Doug Jones' team went a different route, pointing out that they too are social distancing but are seeking funds for their digital operations. "The bottom line is that we can't stop organizing. And we're not going to stop organizing," his email read. "We're replacing those rallies and door to door canvasses with phone banking, texting, and digital organizing." According to the campaign, their first round of targets is 255,400 people in what they called their turnout universe and 216,600 people in their persuasion universe. No matter what approach candidates take, they face either an April 15 quarterly deadline or a April 20 presidential monthly deadline to file with the FEC.

FROM THE CANDIDATES

JOE BIDEN

Now in his second week of broadcasting from his in-home studio, Joe Biden finds himself often repeating thinly-veiled criticism of President Trump's handling of the coronavirus during his more-regular cable news appearances, CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson reports. "Many of the things he says are simply not accurate," Biden on CNN said about Mr. Trump's coronavirus-related comments. Biden cited the president's call with governors on Monday when Mr. Trump said he hasn't heard of testing issues. Asked for the second time this week by the national media if Mr. Trump is responsible for the deaths of Americans due to COVID-19, Biden once again pushed back and said the president is only responsible for his administration's response to the pandemic. Online, Biden's campaign is hoping to seize on the former vice president's well-known empathy as they began targeting in Wisconsin (set to vote next week) a new digital ad praising first responders and medical professionals for their work combating COVID-19. "This is a war and these are our soldiers," Biden says straight to camera, advocating for surging personal protective equipment to the medical front lines.

STATE-BY-STATE

KANSAS

The Kansas Democratic primary, originally scheduled for May 2, will now be conducted completely by mail, the state party announced on Monday. The Democratic National Committee has approved the move, which was made in an effort to help stop the spread of coronavirus. The Kansas Democratic Party said over 10% of polling locations originally secured as in-person sites independently canceled their contracts with the state Democratic Party due to safety concerns. In a statement, Kansas Democratic Party chair Vicki Hiatt said that "removing our in-person voting locations for the 2020 Primary was an extremely difficult decision to make but the unprecedented gravity of the COVID-19 has required significant changes to our operations to ensure the safety of all Kansans during this electoral process." Hiatt told CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar that the state party is sending out nearly 390,000 ballots to registered Democrats in Kansas. Hiatt added the state party's delegate selection plan, which was originally approved by the DNC in December, included a mail-in ballot component in addition to in-person voting. She said that in January and February, her team was preparing and designing ballots to be mailed to voters who couldn't participate in person. "We're going entirely mail ballot but fortunately we already had it put together," Hiatt said. "We ended up being in a very good place." Ballots are being mailed to all registered Democrats in the state, along with a secrecy sleeve and a return envelope to enclose and return their ballot. The ballots are pre-paid and do not require a stamp. On April 7, the Kansas Democratic Party will send a supplemental ballot to recently-registered Democrats who were not included in the first batch that started going out on Monday. And if registered Democrats have not received a ballot by April 10, they have until April 24 to request a mail-in ballot by calling the Kansas Democratic Party or filling out a request form online. Hiatt said "the most obvious" thing now is to "look at ways to continue to make voting very accessible." She added, "if that means voting by mail across the country, then that may be the way we need to go." 

MASSACHUSETTS

The Massachusetts Democratic Party announced Monday it plans to cancel the 2020 state nominating convention because of the COVID-19 pandemic, report CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga and CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson. The party will give Senator Ed Markey the state party's endorsement going into the September 1 primary. The party also agreed that Joe Kennedy III would reach the 15% threshold necessary to appear on the ballot. "While it is unfortunate that the current circumstances do not allow for our annual gathering of Democrats, this is the right decision for the Party to make," said Gus Bickford, Massachusetts Democratic Party chair, in a statement. He added that "while these changes require that we not hold a convention this year, they do not mean that Democratic activism has slowed." Democratic Party officials tell CBS News they explored alternatives before moving forward with their decision. The Massachusetts Democratic Party Committee will finalize the move at a virtual meeting on April 4. 

WISCONSIN

Wisconsin's primary is set for April 7, but there are growing concerns about a lack of poll workers and whether there will be enough resources to ensure a flood of absentee ballot requests are processed. Nearly 60% of Wisconsin municipalities reported a shortage of poll workers as of Monday night, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC). Collectively, those jurisdictions said they are short almost 7,000 poll workers. Due to the worker shortage, 111 jurisdictions said they can't staff a single polling place, while another 126 said they aren't able to staff all of their desired locations, leading some cities to consolidate polling locations. On Monday, Waukesha, a Milwaukee suburb with more than 70,000 residents, announced it would only open one polling place on Election Day. In a memo, WEC Administrator Meagan Wolfe acknowledged that clerks are concerned about the "possibility of unexpected absences due to illness or fear on Election Day" and many worry they lack the "adequate depth" to handle those issues. She said the commission can work with jurisdictions to identify places to recruit poll workers, find state workers who may be available, and hopes to train a pool of people the WEC can deploy on election day in emergency situations. "What are we going to tell people if the day before we don't have poll workers for them?" WEC Commissioner Ann Jacobs said during an emergency meeting on Tuesday. "My concern is we are sort of pretending with sort of our fingers crossed and unicorn wishes that we're going to be able to cobble together a way to administer this election."

Local officials have encouraged people to vote absentee to lower in-person turnout due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to a record number of absentee ballot requests. As of Tuesday morning, the WEC says 972,232 absentee ballots have been requested and 337,563 have been returned. Those numbers, though, are likely higher due to delays in reporting from local clerks. In the November 2016 general election, 819,316 absentee ballots were cast. Some WEC commissioners, though, expressed concerns about those ballots being received on time and the ability of clerks to process them. "To create an illusion to the public that somehow everything is working fine is just not appropriate," said WEC Commissioner Mark Thomsen. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is April 2 for nearly all voters, and ballots have to be received by 8:00 p.m. CT on Election Day to be counted. During Tuesday's meeting, Thomsen said he's worried about people receiving their ballots late and being able to return them by that deadline. "We have to have a realistic appraisal as to how many tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of votes, are not going to get back in time to even be counted" on April 7, Thomsen said. "If we advertise go get an absentee ballot and then we don't count them, that's what you call a rigged election." Local officials can use drop boxes for people to turn in absentee ballots and the WEC issued some recommendations for speeding up the process through the postal service. During the meeting, commissioners discussed making sure voters knew where in their city they could go until 8:00 p.m. on Election Day to return their absentee ballots. Some of the concerns raised about thousands of ballots going uncounted were dismissed by other commissioners as "hypothetical" projections that the  "sky is going to fall." WEC Commissioner Bob Spindell added, "As we've talked about, the election is basically set up … I think it's very clear that we need to proceed to the April 7 election."

There are still lawsuits pending to potentially postpone the election or extend the deadline for absentee ballots to be received. "I am hearing constantly from people on the front lines of administering this election that they're terrified about how to conduct a safe and fair election in the middle of this pandemic," Wisconsin Democratic Chair Ben Wikler said in an interview with CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster. The state party has, along with the Democratic National Committee, filed a lawsuit requesting changes for some absentee ballot requirements and deadlines. Governor Tony Evers has called for all registered voters to be mailed absentee ballots, and allow them to be postmarked up until election day, but that would require legislative action and Republican leaders in the legislature have dismissed the idea.

ISSUES THAT MATTER

VOTING RIGHTS

State Democratic party chairs from across the United States, territories and Democrats Abroad released a letter pushing federal and state leaders to take action to improve election infrastructure as the country is dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, according to CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman and CBS News political unit associate producers Sarah Ewall-Wice and Eleanor Watson. The letter, signed by 51 Democratic party chairs, calls for federal lawmakers to allocate $2 billion dollars to state and local officials to implement a variety of measures to protect voting infrastructure. The letter highlights that some of the funds would be used for a universal vote-by-mail system and an extension to early voting periods that would allow voters to participate in social distancing. "We recognize that these proposals are not made in a vacuum and that the debate surrounding electoral reform is mired in partisanship," the letter states. "However, we are also heartened to see political leaders setting aside party affiliation and acting in the best interest of our nation. As our government takes action to protect our economy from COVID-19, we cannot and will not allow our democracy to fall by the wayside."

CONGRESSIONAL COVERAGE

IN THE HOUSE

Congressman Max Rose of New York, an Afghanistan veteran and National Guard Captain, announced Tuesday that he will deploy to the Staten Island's National Guard to help with their coronavirus efforts. He will be serving as an Operations Officer for the next few weeks, though the full length of his stay is still to be determined. In a Zoom conference call with the Jewish Democratic Council of America, Rose said he's going into his deployment with "no illusions of grandeur." 

"When I'm a member of Congress the generals call me sir but when I'm in uniform I'm just a lowly captain," he said on the call, reports CBS News political unit broadcast Aaron Navarro. "But part and parcel of it, in the end is supporting our healthcare institutions, managing a surge of COVID-19 patients and making sure that we're applying a whole of government approach...  dedicating our resources not in a silo, but in a highly integrated, holistic approach."

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