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2020 Daily Trail Markers: Could Election Day become "Election Week"?

Election officials across the country and in key battleground states say there could be a delay in reporting election night results in November given the likely surge in mail-in absentee ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic, reports CBSN politics reporter Caitlin Huey-Burns. Citing data from recent primaries, officials and election experts anticipate that more voters will cast their ballots by mail in this election than in years past and say the public should prepare now for the possibility of delays, so as not to undermine the integrity of the election results.

"We need to be talking about "Election Week," not Election Day," former Homeland Security secretary and Republican Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge told CBS News. "We've seen an unprecedented request for absentee ballots and it may take a little longer." Ridge is the co-chair of the new bipartisan group, VoteSafe.

While five states conduct their elections entirely by mail and 29 states don't require an excuse to vote absentee, not all states are equipped to process the huge uptick in ballots as quickly. New York City election officials are still in the process of counting ballots from the June 23 primary, which took place three weeks ago. One major issue is that many states aren't allowed to even begin opening returned ballots before Election Day on November 3, putting extra burdens on Election Day workers. 

In Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — all states that flipped from Democratic to Republican in 2016 by thin margins, fueling Donald Trump's win — officials are urging their state legislatures to pass bills that would allow them to open and process ballots before Election Day. Without it, they say campaigns could be waiting awhile for results.

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FROM THE CANDIDATES

JOE BIDEN

Joe Biden's Twitter account Tuesday evening was one of several accounts apparently hacked, with each account sent out a tweet linking to a donation page for Bitcoin. This message was tweeted to Biden's 6.9 million followers. Former President Obama's account — with more than 120 million followers — also sent out a similar message, as did giant companies like Apple. Biden's campaign tells CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson: "Twitter locked down the account immediately following the breach and removed the related tweet. We remain in touch with Twitter on the matter."

Biden indicated he is making some administrative progress in choosing his running mate, Erickson reports. "We're getting closer. The background checks that have been done are coming to a conclusion within the next week to ten days," Biden told KPNX in Phoenix. 

The campaign vetting committee has been thumbing through personal, employment and business records of the approximately 10 women under consideration. CBS News has been told there have not been any candidates cut, beyond previous contenders like Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who took themselves out of consideration. But Biden said he expected to potentially narrow the list this month before one-on-one interviews. An announcement is expected in early August.  

DONALD TRUMP

The Trump campaign pushed out a new 30-second advertisement billing Joe Biden and his campaign platform as "unsafe for America." The video copy reads in part, "Eliminating cash bail. Letting criminals back on the street. Violent crime exploding. Innocent children fatally shot. Who will be there to answer the call when your children aren't safe?" And while public polling shows Mr. Trump trailing former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump aides insist campaign internal numbers show Mr. Trump in competitive standing against a "defined Joe Biden." CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga reports Wednesday's ad aims to shape public perception of the presumptive Democratic nominee.

According to Kantar/CMAG tracking, the ad first aired Wednesday morning in Dayton. To date, the Trump campaign has already spent more than $2.2 million on TV ads in Ohio, reports CBS News associate producer Sarah-Ewall Wice. He also has another nearly $18.5 million in TV ads already reserved in Ohio through the fall. The Trump campaign has currently spent more on ad reservations in Ohio than in any state except Florida. The Trump campaign also has more than $10 million in TV ad reservations in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Michigan leading up to the election so far.

Vice President Pence weighed in on Republicans' ever-evolving plans for its nominating convention, Wednesday. "I can tell you it is a work in progress," Pence remarked in a Trump campaign call with reporters. "The president has indicated we will be flexible. We will continue to consult with Mayor Curry and other local health officials and Governor DeSantis, as we move forward. There's consideration being given of having the convention in an outdoor setting. And also, putting the kind of measures in place that put the health of all of those participating – our delegates, visitors and anyone else that's present – We'll put the health of everyone participating first." Pence told CBS News correspondent Nikole Killion to expect more GOP convention announcements from the Trump campaign in "forthcoming days."

STATE-BY-STATE

GEORGIA

President Trump visited Atlanta, Georgia Wednesday for a non-campaign event, but like recent official trips to Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin, this visit happens to be to a battleground state his reelection campaign is eager to keep in the "win" column in November, reports CBS News associate producer Eleanor Watson. The latest CBS News Battleground Tracker poll rates Georgia as a toss-up for the presidential election; currently, Biden leads Mr. Trump by two points. Georgia voters have not picked a Democrat to be president since 1992, but the gains Democrats have made in recent elections with key groups have turned it into a state to watch.

In addition to the presidential race, there are two Senate races this fall. Republican Senator David Perdue is facing reelection, and Senator Kelly Loeffler is facing a slew of candidates including Rep. Doug Collins, an ally of the president, in a special election. Perdue, Loeffler, and Collins all attended the event with the president in Atlanta this afternoon.

CBS News Campaign Reporter Tim Perry reports some Georgia Democrats had low expectations before Mr. Trump began his trip to the state.  During an interview Tuesday night, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said she would be "shocked," if the president kept to his infrastructure message, and challenged the president to put in place federal guidelines to help combat COVID-19. "We are lacking leadership. Now, what I would say to President Trump is please allow the experts to speak, to give us sound information without you countering their information and allow this country an opportunity to get to the other side."

Others, including Stacey Abrams, a 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate and the Founder of the voting rights organization Fair Fight, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson and the Georgia Democratic Party Chair Woman Nikema Williams hosted a virtual press conference and blasted the president for his response to the coronavirus crisis in Georgia. 

"We know that the health impacts of coronavirus are only the first of the challenges in the midst of this public health crisis," Abrams said. "We are also watching an economic collapse and Trump's corrupt recovery has repeatedly favored a very few well connected friends at the expense of working families and small businesses, particularly leaving Black Americans to bear the worst of his cratering economy."

To date, Georgia has had over 100,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 3,000 coronavirus deaths.

OHIO

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced a partnership with Ohio craft breweries for a voter registration campaign, reports CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman. He said over 30 craft breweries have joined the partnership, called "Raise a Glass to Democracy." Beer bottle labels will include the voter registration deadline, which is October 5. LaRose noted that in addition to voter registration campaigns, he has been focused on poll worker recruitment. 

"If we don't have 35,000 Ohioans to staff our polling locations, we won't be able to open them all," LaRose said. "That could result in inconveniences for voters. That's something we don't want to see." Four Ohio state House Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to LaRose pushing him to include pre-paid postage for absentee ballot application forms and for absentee ballots. "With cases of COVID-19 rising, continued inadequate testing, protective gear shortages, and slowdowns at the Post Office, voters are fearful," the letter says. "We are in a crisis and the window to solve it is closing. You must act."

LaRose said he "would love to provide postage paid on absentee ballot return envelopes in the state of Ohio," but that requires approval from the legislature. Democratic state lawmakers say LaRose already has the authority to enact this reform.

PENNSYLVANIA

Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump by 13 points in the crucial battleground state of Pennsylvania, according to a Monmouth University poll released Wednesday. CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak reports the survey found that 53% of registered voters support Biden while 40% support Trump in the state. 

In the 10 counties where the count was closest in the 2016 presidential election, Biden holds an even greater lead, the poll found. But over half of the voters who participated said they think their communities have "secret voters" who plan to vote for Mr. Trump, but don't talk about it. Only a quarter said they believed Biden has similarly silent supporters. 

A Monmouth poll in August 2016 put Mr. Trump 8 points behind Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania. Mr. Trump ended up winning there by fewer than 50,000 votes. "The media consistently reports that Biden is in the lead, but voters remember what happened in 2016. The specter of a secret Trump vote looms large in 2020," said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, in a report on the poll. This latest poll found that voters in the state are split on who they expect to win the presidential contest there.

BY THE NUMBERS

POLLS, POLLS, POLLS

A new Quinnipiac Poll shows Joe Biden with a widening lead nationally in his head-to-head matchup with President Trump, reports CBS News associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice. The former vice president is polling at 52% among registered voters to Trump's 37%. That's up from his 49% to 41% lead over the president in the same poll in mid-June. Biden's lead is aided by independent voters who support him 51% to Trump's 34% according to the new poll. Biden is also gaining ground in terms of how registered voters view him on the issues. The poll found him leading Trump on handling a crisis 57% to 38%, on health care 58% to 35%, on a coronavirus response 59% to 35%, and addressing racial inequality 62% to 30%. The polling also nearly reversed where voters viewed Biden versus Trump on handling the economy. In June, Trump was ahead 51% to 46%, but now Biden is up on that issue, 50% to 45%.

AD WARS

PAC ATTACK

Priorities USA announced Wednesday it's investing $24 million in a mobilization and vote-by-mail effort targeting Black and Latino voters in battleground states, reports CBS News associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice. Ahead of the November election, the pro-Democrat group has set its sights on Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. According to Chairman Guy Cecil, this is the largest effort Priorities USA has undertaken since it was founded, and vote-by-mail is taking particular importance as voters could still be facing coronavirus related health concerns later this year. "We want to make sure that that access to the ballot, especially in the context of an outbreak in the fall, is available to every single American and in particular those that are typically underrepresented in civic life," Cecil said. Priorities USA stated that its polling as well as the recent primaries across the country have indicated high interest in vote-by-mail. As part of its effort, Priorities USA plans to use its digital infrastructure for a combination of education on vote-by-mail and mobilization to get voters to fill out applications and then follow up with them digitally. 

"Our role in this, in terms of vote-by-mail will be building out a large, aggressive digital operation that can drive people to fill out their ballot, but also to inform them and to deal with any misinformation from the Republican side," Cecil said.

CONGRESSIONAL COVERAGE

IN THE SENATE

In Tuesday's primaries, former Auburn Football Coach Tommy Tuberville beat former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the Republican Senate primary runoff in Alabama. Tuberville will go on to face Democrat Senator Doug Jones, considered the most vulnerable Democrat on the map in 2020. In Texas, Air Force veteran MJ Hegar beat State Senator Royce West and will face GOP Senator John Cornyn in November, reports CBS News associate producer Eleanor Watson. And in Maine, House Speaker Sara Gideon won the Democratic primary and will face GOP Senator Susan Collins in the general election.

IN THE HOUSE

Texas

Texas had fifteen U.S. House runoffs on Tuesday, and unlike recent primaries, almost all of them had a winner by Wednesday morning. CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro reports the outlier is the GOP runoff in Texas' 23rd, where the gap between the two candidates is only 7 votes. Tony Gonzales, backed by Mr. Trump and the district's outgoing Congressman Will Hurd, holds the advantage so far over Raul Reyes Jr. and declared victory on Twitter Wednesday. Reyes Jr. wrote on a Facebook post the "race is far from over" and that there are still absentee, overseas and military ballots to be counted. Both Gonzales (Navy) and Reyes Jr. (Air Force) are veterans. Absentee ballots postmarked by 7 p.m. election day are accepted until 5 p.m. Wednesday, while military and overseas ballots have to be received by July 20. 

Notable winners from Tuesday include former White House physician Ronny Jackson, who won his Republican runoff in Texas' 13th District, a safely Republican district. Congressman Mac Thornberry, who holds the seat and is retiring, had endorsed Jackson's opponent Josh Winegarner. Former Congressman Pete Sessions, who lost in 2018 to Democrat Colin Allred in the 32nd District, won the runoff for the 17th District against Renee Swann. Sheriff Troy Nehls won the Texas 22nd Republican runoff against Kathaleen Wall, who spent more than $8 million on the race. He'll face Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni for this Houston-area seat. 

Among Democrats, Candace Valenzuela won against retired Air Force Colonel Kim Olson in Texas' 24th, and if she wins in November against Republican Beth Van Duyne in this competitive Dallas-metro seat, would be the first Afro-Latina to serve in Congress. Progressive Mike Siegel won against a more moderate candidate in Texas' 10th, and will face Republican Michael McCaul in the general. The Texas Democratic Party says Tuesday's turnout set a record high for Democratic runoffs in the state, with 955,735 in total showing up. The previous record was in 1994, where 746,000 showed up.

Kansas

On Tuesday night, Republican Congressman Steve Watkins was charged with voter fraud related to the state's November 2019 elections. Watkins, who represents Kansas' 2nd District, faces three felony charges and a misdemeanor. The charges stem from a December 2019 investigation over Watkins using the address of a UPS Store in Topeka, Kansas, as his residential address on a voter registration form. Watkins' charges were announced less than an hour before his Republican primary debate, and less than a month before the state's August 4 congressional primaries. At the debate, Navarro reports that he called the charges "clearly hyper-political" and "very suspicious." He also said he hasn't yet seen the specific charges and that he looks "forward to setting the record straight." 

Democrats running include Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla, and University of Kansas graduate teaching assistant James Windholz. Republicans LaTurner and former county commissioner Dennis Taylor are challenging Watkins for the primary. 

GOVERNOR'S MANSION

Gallup poll found that Republican governors are seeing a slight decline in approval ratings over their handling of COVID-19, while levels for Democratic governors remain steady. Forty-three percent of respondents to its early July poll thought their Republican governor "communicated a clear plan of action," down from 54% in early June. The rating for Democrats dropped from 66% in early June to 65% in this newest poll. The slight drop comes as several Sun Belt states (Florida, Texas and Arizona) ran by Republican Governors are seeing high spikes in COVID-19 cases. 

In Oklahoma, Governor Kevin Stitt revealed he has tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday. CBS News digital reporter Melissa Quinn reports Stitt said it wasn't likely caused by attending the Trump campaign rally in Tulsa on June 20. "It's too long ago for it to be dormant based on the science," he said during a virtual press conference. Meanwhile in Missouri, Navarro says the race between Republican Governor Mike Parson and Democrat State Auditor Nicole Galloway is heating up. A poll showed Galloway down two points, and Galloway's campaign announced she raised $1.1 million, compared to Parson's $481,641.07 in Q2

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