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2020 Daily Trail Markers: The Senate races to watch

Susan Collins faces tight Senate race in Maine
Susan Collins faces tight Senate race in Main... 05:35

Maine, Colorado, North Carolina, Arizona, Michigan and Alabama: These are the biggest battleground states that Democrats and Republicans are targeting in the fight for control of the Senate in 2020. There are 35 seats up for election this year, and Democrats are hoping to crack the GOP's slim 53-47 majority in November.

Republicans have to hold onto 23 to keep their 53-47 majority. Democrats need to pick up three seats to win control if a Democrat wins the White House, enabling a Democratic vice president to preside over the Senate. If President Trump wins reelection, then Democrats will need to pick up four seats to overcome a tie.

Both parties are defending incumbents in two states the opposing party won in 2016, but Democrats, with just 12 seats to defend, have more bandwidth to go on the offensive in states that voted for Mr. Trump and have seen Democratic successes since 2016. Republicans came into this cycle already on defense but strong recruits and fundraising have expanded Democrats' potential beyond the initial two to three states on the frontlines of the battle for control.

Read more about the battleground races here from CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson.

FROM THE CANDIDATES

JOE BIDEN

Joe Biden's latest rebuke of the president's handling of the pandemic includes a swipe at his recent Twitter usage, CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson reports. 

"Donald Trump should be laser-focused on getting relief out as fast as possible to the people who actually need it — with no favoritism and no fraud," Biden said in a statement on Thursday. "That he continues to occupy himself with self-pitying tweets and dangerous conspiracy theories in the face of an ongoing, world-historic crisis killing thousands of Americans each day and putting millions more out of work is beyond comprehension. I pray that the President thinks of them." 

Within Biden's own campaign, we now have a clearer look at his ongoing search for a running mate. Biden told donors last night he hopes to name his VP pick around August 1. He also confirmed CBS News' reporting from last week on where the process stands: the campaign vetting committee has already spoken with the approximately dozen women under consideration, and the next phase of deep background checks and personal interviews will begin soon. 

Biden in a CNN interview two days ago continued to sidestep calls for him to choose a woman of color. Several women of color are under consideration.

Biden's campaign issued a stern statement Thursday over a report from The Washington Post that the Trump administration is considering resuming U.S. nuclear testing, describing the idea of resuming tests in Nevada "as reckless as it is dangerous." 

CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin says debate over resuming the nuclear weapons testing comes as some Democrats and environmental activists in the swing state have fought to block a proposal to expand the Nevada Test and Training Range. The range surrounds the Nevada National Security Site, home to America's last nuclear weapons test in 1992 and currently the only location where the federal government says it can conduct so-called "HE-driven plutonium experiments" at "weapon scale."  

Meanwhile, the Biden campaign is leaning into its push for people to wear masks. It is even selling a Biden-branded mask in its online campaign store, according to CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice. The black mask with Biden's name on it is selling for $20. 

According to the website, the masks were made based upon CDC specifications, but they are not medical grade. For every mask purchased, the campaign states it will be donating an additional unbranded mask to an organization. This comes after the president has avoided wearing a mask in public, but campaign manager Brad Parscale tweeted an image of himself sporting a Trump-branded mask in the White House.  

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP

The president was briefed by Attorney General Bill Barr and Deputy FBI Director David Bowdich Thursday about the case of George Floyd, following the Minnesota man's death Monday night. A graphic, bystander video released this week showed a Minneapolis police officer pressing his knee against Floyd's neck for several minutes. In the video, Floyd, who is black, pleads with the officer, repeatedly telling him he could not breathe. President Trump called the video "a very shocking sight" Thursday, adding "I didn't like it." In a tweet Wednesday night, the President indicated he asked both the Department of Justice and FBI to "expedite" the investigation into Floyd's death. The president would not comment on whether Minneapolis police officers involved should be prosecuted. "I can tell you I think what I saw was not good," Mr. Trump added. "Was not good. Very bad." He said he has not yet spoken with the family of George Floyd.

The president signed an executive order taking aim at the legal shield social media companies possess for content posted by users on their platforms, CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga reports. The president's unilateral action calls for new regulations under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and aims to curb legal protections for social media companies that shield them from liability for content such as comments, posts and videos. 

"That's a big deal," Mr. Trump said Thursday in the Oval Office, speaking about tech giants such as Facebook, Youtube and Twitter. "They have a shield. They can do what they want. They have a shield. They're not gonna have that shield." 

The president has ramped up his attacks on tech giants this week over alleged censorship following the first-ever fact check on his own tweets, even threatening to shut down Twitter. Mr. Trump doubled down on that warning today. 

"If it were able to be legally shut down I would do it," Mr. Trump said. "I think I'd be hurting it very badly if we didn't use it anymore." Mr. Trump's executive order is expected to face legal challenges, something he acknowledged to reporters. "I guess it's going to be challenged in court — what isn't? But I think we're going to do very well." 

The president's re-election campaign weighed in on the executive order on Thursday. "Social media has been allowed to operate unchecked for years while enjoying the protection of federal law," campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement. "These Silicon Valley giants have set themselves up as the arbiters of truth, censoring or labeling posts they disagree with, but they have shown that they cannot be trusted to be honest and fair." 

Twitter defended its decision to fact-check the president's Twitter feed, Wednesday night. "Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves," Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey wrote, in part, in a statement. "More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions."

VEEPSTAKES

CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO

Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto announced this afternoon that she was taking herself out of the veepstakes conversation. "I support Joe Biden 100% and will work tirelessly to help get him elected this November. It is an honor to be considered as a potential running mate but I have decided to withdraw my name from consideration," Cortez Masto said in an official statement. The senator said her focus will remain on Nevadans in the wake of COVID19.  The announcement is not much of a surprise — earlier this month, CBS News campaign reporter Cara Korte reported that while CCM had an appealing resume, there was no evidence that she was actually interested in being Biden's running mate. 

GRETCHEN WHITMER

In an interview with Time, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer commented on vice presidential vetting, saying that she had an "initial casual conversation" with the Biden campaign, reports CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman. "An initial casual conversation was had and there's not been anything since," Whitmer said in the interview. 

Whitmer also said that there is "no question" that political rhetoric escalated in Michigan after the president criticized her response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

"I think that the whole tenor changed when the president made it political," Whitmer added. "I think that that's an unfortunate thing as you, you know, analyze what we have accomplished in terms of the stay home order and the flattening of the curve and the undeniability that we've saved thousands of lives in this process." 

In her press briefing, Whitmer urged President Trump and the Senate to provide federal assistance for states as they face looming state budget shortfalls. She outlined her budget priorities, which included funding for school programs and literacy programs, police and fire protection and vaccine research. In addition, Whitmer said she will continue to push an agenda that includes greater access to health care and paid sick and family leave. "I'm hoping that President Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell will do the right thing and provide states like Michigan with the budget support we need to protect our families," Whitmer said.

RINGING ENDORSEMENTS

ERIC HOLDER

Eric Holder, the chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), endorsed 67 state legislative candidates in North Carolina and Texas, according to CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman. The NDRC also announced that it is investing $300,000 in contributions to some of the endorsed candidates to aid their campaigns during the coronavirus pandemic. The latest investment builds upon a $150,000 donation from the National Democratic Redistricting PAC to North Carolina and Texas in February. 

In a press call, Holder, a former U.S. attorney general, said the committee is invested in candidates who advocate for a fair redistricting process in 2021. 

"These races at the state level — at the state level this year will determine who is involved in drawing the maps next year," Holder said. "If we don't get redistricting right, President Biden could be hobbled by a gerrymandered House of Representatives and gerrymandered state legislatures across the country."

LIFE AFTER 2020

JULIAN CASTRO

Today the former Democratic presidential candidate and Obama administration housing and urban development secretary announced the launch of his "People First Future," a political action committee (PAC) aimed at electing progressive Democrats ahead of the 2020 elections. 

CBS News campaign reporter Tim Perry reports that the PAC will identify the candidates whose campaigns prioritize "the most vulnerable and marginalized Americans." In a statement Castro said, "I'm proud to launch People First Future to elect bold leaders across the country who will fight for an America where everyone counts and where people ⁠— not special interests ⁠— are put first in our politics."  

He added, "It's never been more important to elect leaders in our statehouses, governor's offices, school boards, and halls of Congress who will stand up for the most vulnerable Americans."  CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice previously reported that Castro first registered the PAC with the FEC back in March. 

"People First" was a slogan used during Castro's historic presidential bid.  The only Latin-American candidate in the crowded 2020 field, Castro dropped out in January before early state voting began. This is not the first PAC Castro has created. In 2018 Castro launched the Opportunity First PAC aimed at electing new progressive leaders for the 2018 midterms.  People First Future PAC has already identified eight candidates it will support ahead of the 2020 election including Castro's brother, Representative Joaquin Castro, Democrat of Texas.

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM

PARTY PLANNING

Governor Roy Cooper said during a press conference Thursday that the Republican National Comittee has not submitted safety plans to his office for review, days after President Trump reiterated a threat to relocate the Republican National Convention if Cooper doesn't make clear whether the Charlotte convention would be allowed to take place at full occupancy in the fall. 

"When NASCAR wanted to run the race in North Carolina, we asked them for plans about how they're going to run the race in a safe way. NASCAR submitted those plans to our health officials, health officials gave feedback, they made some changes and they ended up putting on a very safe and entertaining NASCAR race," said Cooper. "We hope the same thing can happen with the RNC convention. And we've asked the RNC to submit plans to us. We have yet received any kinds of any plans." 

Cooper added that they're not working on a timeline. North Carolina Republican Party Chair Michael Whatley told CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell that Dr. Jeffrey Runge—who the RNC brought on as a senior adviser —is making sure that the team adheres to proper safety and health protocols. "We're not going to have a convention that is not going to comply with all of the relevant federal, state, and local regulations and health policies that we need to do," said Whatley. "But I also believe 100% that we can move forward with a safe convention, that we will follow all of those protocols, and still be able to put on a world-class event and re-nominate President Trump." Whatley added that details surrounding the specific format of the event are still being worked out by the RNC, the Host Committee, and the state.  

HOT TOPICS

JOBS

Millions more Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, but in a sign that some people are beginning to return to work, the number of people continuing to receive unemployment benefits fell for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic, reports CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster

More than 2.1 million Americans filed initial jobless claims for the week ending May 23, the Labor Department reported on Thursday. That continued a downward trend for weekly initial claims, which peaked at nearly 6.9 million the week ending March 28. 

Overall, more than 40 million workers have filed traditional initial claims since the pandemic forced businesses to close around the country in mid-March. On top of those claims, the Labor Department reported that in 32 states, 1.2 million workers filed initial claims last week under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which expanded jobless benefits to self-employed and gig workers.

Continuing claims, which counts how many people have already filed for benefits and continue to receive them, fell from 24.9 million to 21.1 million for the week ending May 16. It's the first time during the pandemic this number has dropped and a sign some people may be getting off of the jobless rolls and heading back to work.

MONEY MATTERS

REPUBLICAN RIVALRY

On Thursday, the conservative anti-Trump group Defending Democracy Together announced it was launching a $10 million project called Republican Voters Against Trump. CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice reports the goal is to amplify the stories of Republicans, former Republicans and conservative voters speaking about why they're not voting for the president this November. 

The project launched with 100 video testimonies from voters across the country explaining their reasons for not supporting the president. In most cases, they are also stating why they are voting for Democrat Joe Biden. The group will continue gathering stories from GOP voters throughout the summer and will use some of the stories in targeted ads. 

"Despite the president's claims that he has the total support of the party, there are millions of voters who used to be reliable Republicans but are disgusted by the Trump administration," said Republican Voters against Trump spokesperson Sarah Longwell in a statement. "Some are upset about the skyrocketing debt. Others about how he has debased the office. Some wish he would pursue a more humane immigration policy. Others are disappointed that he hasn't kept his promises. No matter the reason, they are united in wanting the country to move on from this deeply un-American presidency." 

This is just the latest project for Defending Democracy Together, which has previously launched several other initiatives including Republicans for the Rule of Law, which launched a $1 million campaign earlier this month to promote vote-by-mail options ahead of the November election.

STATE-BY-STATE

GEORGIA

The group founded by former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is launching a new initiative to reach out to Georgia voters to track the stories of those who have had trouble getting their absentee ballots for the June 9th primary election. 

First reported by CBS News Campaign Reporter Tim Perry, Fair Fight PAC is launching its outreach efforts Thursday, over social media. It will be asking voters who have not received ballots to contact Fair Fight's voter protection team to talk about their experiences. In a statement to CBS News before the launch, Fair Fight voter protection director Liza Conrad said the primary "has been marred by postponed elections and absentee ballot request forms riddled with errors, causing voter confusion." 

The COVID-19 pandemic caused Georgia's primary to be delayed twice, and to help protect voters from the spread of the virus, the state decided to mail absentee ballot request forms to all of the state's 6.9 million active voters, a process that has suffered a few setbacks. 

Residents of Fulton County, Georgia's most populous county, have experienced long delays. Fulton County Registration and Elections Director Richard Barron said that the backlog of 25,000 applications had been cleared. He explained to reporters that in addition to the fact that the email servers were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of absentee ballot request forms, other delays occurred when the county elections offices had to close after a staff member died of COVID-19, and when another employee in the elections office was forced to take a leave after he was diagnosed with the virus. 

"In 2016, we received 947 absentee ballots for the general primary," Barron said, adding that by Wednesday, the Fulton County office had "already processed over 127,000 applications." 

NEVADA

For a second time, a federal judge has rejected a bid by True the Vote — a self-described "election integrity" group — to undo Nevada's all-mail primary next month, the court excoriating the right-leaning group for a "confounding" decision to file a new complaint that "glaringly repackages old arguments to achieve a different disposition without necessary justification." 

The court denied the group's first motion for a preliminary injunction in April, writing that "their claim of voter fraud is without any factual basis." CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin says Wednesday's decision marks the latest victory for Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, her state's sole statewide elected Republican, who spearheaded the switch to a vote-by-mail contest due to the pandemic, despite criticism from President Trump and some Republicans in the state. 

NEW MEXICO

Democrats in New Mexico are renewing their criticism of Couy Griffin, the leader of Cowboys for Trump and a county commissioner in the state, after he said in an interview that some Democrats — like Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer — could deserve punishment for treason. "You get to pick your poison: you either go before a firing squad, or you get the end of the rope," Griffin told The Daily Beast. While not officially affiliated with Donald Trump's reelection campaign, CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin says the president recently shared a video posted by the group of a controversial remark Griffin made earlier this month, saying "the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat" to cheers. "Thank you Cowboys. See you in New Mexico!" President Trump tweeted early Thursday. 

PENNSYLVANIA

A Pennsylvania state court has denied an emergency request for an injunction to designate all ballots as emergency ballots and require county boards of elections to count all ballots postmarked by election day and received within 7 days after, according to CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak

In a memorandum filed Thursday, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court President Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt sided with Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar. She wrote that the 2019 bill allowing no-excuse mail-in voting made clear that only the state Supreme Court could hear challenges to the sections of the Election Code questioned in the filing. 

"The relief sought [...] would not merely supplement, but supplant, provisions set forth in Act 77," she wrote. The lawsuit and injunction request were filed by the Priorities USA-funded Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans. The case itself is still active, but Leavitt wrote that she expects a similar ruling to follow.

"The Secretary's arguments on the issue of jurisdiction are compelling and when considered by the full Court may result in a transfer of the Petition to the Supreme Court," she wrote. "This Court does not believe the Alliance is likely to prevail on the question of this Court's jurisdiction." 

The attempt came as over 1.6 million Pennsylvanians have applied for mail-in ballots. They could do so until Tuesday, but to be counted, their ballots must be back at county offices by 8 p.m. on June 2, one week from then. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed a more narrow lawsuit asking for a mail-in extension earlier this month. The Montgomery County Common Pleas Court denied another yesterday. 

WISCONSIN

For the first time in 75 years, there will be no state fair in Wisconsin, reports CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster

The fair, which is the largest event in the state and draws more than one million visitors each year, was canceled on Thursday due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"On behalf of the entire State Fair Park Board of Directors, please know that the decision to cancel the 2020 Wisconsin State Fair was not taken lightly," Wisconsin State Fair Park Board Chairman John Yingling said in a statement. 

"Months of deliberation took place, considering all options to host a Fair that adheres to the highest standard of safety without compromising the experience. We explored countless models, but ultimately safety cannot be compromised. The risks associated with hosting an event of this size and scope right now are just too great." 

The event, which started in 1851, has only been canceled in five years, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, including three times during the Civil War. The most recent cancellation was during World War II in 1945.

CONGRESSIONAL COVERAGE

IN THE HOUSE

The Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund organization endorsed 58 House candidates on Thursday, their first slate of endorsements in 2020, reports CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro

Among the 58 include a majority the DCCC's "Frontline" list of House Democrats in vulnerable districts this November, including the 30 incumbents in districts Trump won in 2016. Eleven Democratic challengers in incumbent-GOP districts were also endorsed, such as Betsy Dirksen Londrigan in Illinois' 13th District and Christy Smith in California's 25th District. 

"These endorsements are the first step in our election efforts, which will be a devastating one-two punch, combining unprecedented resources and unmatched grassroots power to send gun sense candidates from across the country to Washington," said senior political adviser for Everytown, Charlie Kelly. 

The group plans to spend $60 million in 2020, which it says is double what it spent in 2018 and more than any gun lobby spent in 2016. In addition, the Brady PAC, a sister organization of the Brady gun control advocacy group, endorsed its final slate of frontline endorsements. The group says they will be investing financially in eight races: TJ Cox in California's 21st, Abby Finkenauer in Iowa's 1st, Sean Casten in Illinois' 6th, Haley Stevens in Michigan's 11th, Angie Craig in Minnesota's 2nd, Chris Pappas in New Hampshire's 1st, Antonio Delgado in New York's 19th and Matt Cartwright in Pennsylvania's 8th. Both organizations say support has grown for more "common-sense gun safety measures" during the pandemic. 

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