More Americans than ever are likely to cast a ballot by mail for the first time in this year's presidential election, and voters could face a learning curve in completing it properly and ensuring it arrives in time to be counted, CBS News Campaign Reporter Adam Brewster and CBSN Political Reporter Caitlin Huey-Burns report.
In the primary elections held during the pandemic this year in five key battleground states, rejection rates of returned absentee and mail-in ballots ranged from a little under 1% to nearly 2%, according to a CBS News analysis of state data and a report from the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. The number seems small and suggests that in the vast majority of cases votes cast by mail are counted.But in a close election, it's a number that signals potential challenges ahead for voters, campaigns, and election officials in November. Rejected ballots could become a key source of contention that could further stall results.
A missing signature, an unverified signature, or late arrival are the most common reasons for a ballot to be rejected, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission report from the 2016 election. Election officials and experts say the best way to make sure your ballot is counted is to read the ballot instructions carefully, make sure you sign it, and send it in as early as possible. Nearly every state allows voters to return ballots to a local clerk's office, according to the National Conference of States Legislatures, and several states set up ballot drop boxes.
FROM THE CANDIDATES
It's interview week: CBS News has learned Joe Biden is expected to interview his top running mate prospects sometime this week. Sources with insight into the process are unsure who will be officially asked to interview and whether the conversations will take place in-person or virtually. Another source says with this latest veepstakes timeline, an announcement of Biden's decision is expected next week, on or after August 10.
CBS News also got the first look at Biden campaign's first structural investment into Texas, a historically conservative state that a Democratic presidential candidate has not won since 1976 by Jimmy Carter. The campaign insists they are making a real play for the state by hiring a leadership team and additional organizers who will focus currently on virtual outreach due to the COVID-19 pandemic. CBS News political correspondent Ed O'Keefe and campaign reporter Bo Erickson report the swell in Democratic voters in congressional and statewide races since 2018 is motivating the Biden campaign investment, along with more support in polling from suburban, Latino and African American voters. The Biden campaign was briefly on Texas TV airwaves recently, criticizing President Donald Trump's pandemic response, but CBS News was told decisions about future television ads in the large state have not yet been made. Texas conservatives remain skeptical about additional Biden investments in the state due to the amount of money expected to sufficiently compete in the state's 20 media markets. Read more about the Biden Texas strategy here.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP
After pressing pause on TV advertisements, the Trump campaign is back on the airwaves in Florida, North Carolina, Georgia and Arizona with two new advertisements - "Takeover" and "Cards" - targeting Biden. The latter 30-second spot appeals directly to President Trump's frequently cited "silent majority" of Americans who campaign officials anticipate will turn out en masse on Election Day. "It's a different style than the ads that we have run to this point," Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga. Mr. Trump has tweeted 11 times about the "silent majority" in June and July alone. CBS News' battleground tracker poll released Sunday shows Biden up four points in North Carolina, 48% to 44%. Biden is up one in Georgia, 45% to 44%, where Democrats haven't won a presidential race since 1992.
After going dark for 6 days to re-evaluate strategy, the president's reelection bid has pushed reset again under the new leadership of campaign manager Bill Stepien. "You can either spend $10 million dollars a week by keeping the spigot wide open while you're thinking about it, or not," Murtaugh said. "It's a responsible use of resources." Mr. Trump on Friday made the final call to return to the airwaves, following a phone call with Stepien and campaign senior adviser Jason Miller, a campaign official confirmed. The new advertising spend zeroes in on states boasting early voting with a greater influx of absentee ballots anticipated amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In a first for a sitting president, Mr. Trump suggested last week that the date of the election be moved "until people can properly, securely and safely vote," decrying an uptick in voting by mail. Mr. Trump told reporters Monday he has yet to consider an executive order curbing absentee voting. "I have the right to do it. I haven't got there yet," the president said. Mr. Trump does not have the constitutional authority to move the date of the election. His claim that mail-in voting would lead to mass voter fraud is not supported by legal experts and a database of election fraud cases compiled by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, shows few instances of absentee voter fraud in battleground states. In North Carolina, absentee ballots will be sent out to voters beginning on September 4. In Georgia, that day is September 15, and in Florida, September 24. Early voting begins in Arizona the first week of October. Campaign officials point to the shifting calendar and competitive senate races to justify spending in states won handily by Mr. Trump in 2016, but GOP operatives have another phrase for it. "Of course Trump is playing defense," major Republican donor Dan Eberhart tells CBS News. "He's fighting to protect states he should be able to ignore." An adviser to Doug Collins' Senate bid, Eberhart calls down ballot boosts in Georgia "a side effect" of new ad spending, adding "it's not the campaign's purpose." But blue tides in North Carolina and Georgia have been a "Republican problem" for years, according to Republican strategist and CBS News contributor Terry Sullivan. "The Black voting age population there is high, which has always been an advantage state for Democrats." Since the coronavirus pandemic first hit the United States, Mr. Trump has visited Florida four times on official White House business, according to CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson's count. Mr. Trump has stopped in Arizona twice, and both North Carolina and Georgia once each.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
Former President Obama rolled out congressional endorsements on Monday. CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson reports that in Senate races, he endorsed candidates who won their primary and have advanced to the general election. His endorsements include former Governor John Hickenlooper in Colorado, Theresa Greenfield in Iowa, Sara Gideon in Maine, Cal Cunningham in North Carolina and Jaime Harrison in South Carolina. Mr. Obama did not weigh in on the races in Georgia, Texas, Kentucky, or Montana where the Democratic nominees have been chosen. He did not endorse Steve Bullock in Montana or Raphael Warnock in Georgia. Montana and Georgia, along with Maine, Colorado, and North Carolina are considered toss-ups by the Cook Political Report. The other toss-up Senate race Mr. Obama did not issue an endorsement in is Arizona, which is holding its Senate primary on Tuesday.
A total of 51 U.S. House candidates and incumbents were endorsed by Mr. Obama, reports CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro. All candidates have already made it past their primaries, which includes progressive candidates like Jamaal Bowman in New York and Marie Newman in Illinois, who upset incumbents. "Wow! To be endorsed by the first Black president means the world to me," Bowman said in a statement. "Obama's candidacy and victory gave me hope that our country was moving in the right direction and that the political system could actually work for people like me." Missing from the list are any candidates still currently in primary battles, such as Cori Bush who is challenging Representative Lacy Clay in Missouri. Ritchie Torres, who won his primary and is slated to become the first openly gay Afro-Latino in Congress, also didn't receive an endorsement. In Texas, which DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos called "ground zero" for Democrats in a press call last week, Mr. Obama endorsed two incumbents and six challengers.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper got the nod from Mr. Obama for his reelection effort against Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest. Mike Cooney in Montana and Ben Salango in West Virginia, two Democratic gubernatorial nominees who won their primaries, did not get the nod from Mr. Obama. In 2012, Obama lost Montana by 14 points and West Virginia by 26 points. Ahead of redistricting in 2021, 54 state legislature races in key battleground states also received an endorsement from Obama. "As a former state legislator himself, President Obama knows better than anyone how crucial it is to ensure our communities have strong representation in their statehouses," Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee president Jessica Post said in a statement.
IN THE HOUSE
Forty-five House districts have primaries on Tuesday. CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro has a preview on some of the House races to watch below:
In Arizona's 6th, four Democrats are looking to take on Congressman David Schweikert, a vulnerable Republican who has been hit with an ethics investigation and has little cash on hand. Hiral Tipirneni, a former emergency room physician, is on the DCCC's "Red-to-Blue" candidate list and leads the pack in fundraising. In 2018, she lost to Republican Debbie Lesko in the state's 8th district, just west of the 6th. The close move to this race has been highlighted by former tech executive Anita Malik, who is running to the left of Tipirneni and ran for this seat and lost by 10 points in 2018. On her website, Malik says she "is the only Democratic candidate who both lives in the district and has the campaign experience to beat Schweikert." Other candidates include Karl Gentles, who runs a public relations agency and was a former staff assistant to Senator John McCain and small business owner Stephanie Rimmer.
In Kansas' 2nd, state treasurer Jake LaTurner is looking to unseat Republican freshman incumbent Steve Watkins, who was recently charged with counts of voter fraud. Watkins trailed LaTurner in the most recent filing showing cash on hand, and a late July internal poll from LaTurner showed him ahead of Watkins in a race against presumptive Democratic nominee Michelle De La Isla, the mayor of Topeka, Kansas. Congressman Ron Estes of Kansas' 4th district took the rare step of endorsing LaTurner instead of his colleague in Watkins. He told KWCH12 Watkins' actions "have unfortunately put this seat in danger of being handed over to a Nancy Pelosi liberal who doesn't represent our Kansas values."
One of the key races in Michigan's primary elections tomorrow is a rematch between Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, reports CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster. In 2018, Tlaib defeated Jones by 900 votes in the primary election to replace Congressman John Conyers, who resigned in the middle of his term. However, Jones beat Tlaib in the special election primary to serve the rest of Conyers' term and went to Congress for five weeks. Since that race, Tlaib has drawn national attention for her outspoken critiques of Mr. Trump, her progressive politics and being part of "The Squad." Jones and some of her supporters, though, have criticized Tlaib saying she's too occupied with her national profile to be effective for the district. Tlaib has called that argument a "myth." Tlaib told WDET last week, "It has actually made the issues that we stand for in the 13th District stronger." She added, "And look at the results, 35 bills. I mean I actually got the president that I ran on impeaching to sign a bill into law."
Race has also played a role in the campaign. Concerned Citizens of Michigan, a PAC supporting Jones, has an advertisement appealing to the district's majority Black population, saying, "John Conyers served the 13th district for over 50 years with honor. In 2020, we must take our seat back." Jones has said she represents all of her constituents and works with everyone to get things done, but told WDET that she can make a connection with Black constituents. "No one has to tell me how to be Black," Jones told WDET on July 22. "And you have a district that's over 60 percent of African Americans. So...I walk in the same shoes that the African Americans walk in because I am an African American." Tlaib has done some in-person campaigning during the pandemic, including door knocking with masks on, while Jones has done her campaigning virtually, though she told WDET that she has some supporters in the community talking to voters.
Along with Tlaib's race, there are several noteworthy Republican Michigan primaries taking place on Tuesday, reports CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro. In the 3rd district, left open by Congressman Justin Amash, veteran Peter Meijer is considered the front runner to take the nomination for this West Michigan seat due to his campaign operation and fundraising. He'll first have to get past local village trustee Tom Norton and State Representative Lynn Afendoulis, who has attacked Meijer from not tying himself enough to Trump. In the 10th district, three GOP candidates are battling for another open seat, previously represented by Paul Mitchell. Among the candidates include businesswoman Lisa McClain, veteran Doug Slocum and State Representative Shane Hernandez. Targeted freshman Democrats Elissa Slotkin and Haley Stevens will also get their general election opponent this week, after Republican primaries in the 8th and 11th district.
Ten-term Congressman Lacy Clay is facing a rematch with Justice Democrat-backed activist Cori Bush in Missouri's 1st. Clay won by 20 points against Bush in 2018, though Bush has significantly tightened up the spending race. There is also a dynamic of momentum for a candidate with Bush's profile to pull off an upset, after Bowman's win against Eliot Engel in New York and the current national movement for racial justice. This St. Louis district also includes the town of Ferguson, Missouri, where Bush first garnered attention due to her activism in the 2014 protests.
IN THE SENATE
Former astronaut Mark Kelly is running unopposed in Arizona's Democratic Senate primary and will compete in November, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson. Republican Senator Martha McSally is the favorite to win in the Republican primary against Daniel McCarthy. She is fighting to win the seat Republican Governor Doug Ducey appointed her to in 2018 after John McCain's chosen successor, Jon Kyl, decided to step down. McSally lost the race for the state's other Senate seat in 2018 to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema by less than 3 points. This cycle, McSally has not had as contentious of a primary as she did in 2018 against Joe Arpaio and Kelli Ward, but she has been outraised by Kelly since last February.
In Kansas, 11 Republicans are on the Senate primary ballot Tuesday including former Secretary of State Kris Kobach who lost the 2018 gubernatorial race. On the Democratic side, Watson says Kansas State Senator Barbara Bollier, who posted strong fundraising in recent quarters is competing against one lesser-known opponent in Tuesday's primary. On the Republican side, former Senator Bob Dole and allies of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee have endorsed Rep. Roger Marshall. President Trump, who endorsed Kobach in the 2018 race, has not yet waded into the contest in Kansas.
In Michigan's U.S Senate primaries, Democratic Senator Gary Peters and Republican challenger John James are running unopposed, and both will advance to the general election in November, reports Watson. Michigan and Alabama are two states President Trump won in 2016 where Democratic senators are up for reelection. Republicans recruited John James who lost in 2018 to Senator Debbie Stabenow. Peters raised about $5.2 million last quarter which is his best quarter this cycle but behind James' $6.4 million. Peters has over $12 million cash on hand, and the Cook Political Report rates this seat as leaning Democratic.