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2020 Daily Trail Markers: Trump campaign's merchandising booms during pause in rallies

Trump swag keeps 2020 campaign in swing

Ten weeks have passed since President Trump held his last campaign rally. But even as the president's campaign migrates online indefinitely, CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice and campaign reporter Nicole Sganga note that one aspect of the Trump campaign brand is booming: merchandise sales.

In these times of coronavirus, President Trump's digital campaign is showcasing a rotating display of branded merchandise catering to life under shutdown: heart-emblazoned wine glasses, Trump-Pence playing cards and a jigsaw puzzle. Some $4 million in merchandise in March and April alone was sold, according to the campaign.

FEC filings show the single largest campaign expenditure in March was a nearly $1.2 million payment to its supplier – Ace Specialties – for "buttons, stickers, hats, signs, and rally signs."

Since the beginning of 2017, the Trump campaign has spent more than $10.5 million on campaign swag. Trump "merch" infiltrates digital ads and email fundraising blasts. Tracking by Bully Pulpit Interactive indicates the campaign has spent $7.3 million on Facebook advertisements and nearly $4.3 million on Google from the end of February through the beginning of May.

A CBS News review of over 31,000 Facebook advertisements run within the past 30 days found approximately 3,200 — over 10% — pushed viewers to the Trump campaign store. Since April, the campaign has sent over 35 emails to supporters offering a new product or chance to win a photograph autographed by the president.

By comparison, the Biden campaign has not run a single merchandise advertisement in the past 30 days, based on a CBS News review. Like its in-person events, Biden's campaign paused its merchandise operation because of the pandemic.

"We have temporarily suspended order fulfillment for the safety of our printing and fulfillment staff, due to COVID-19," the message on the Biden campaign's online store page has read for several weeks. "Orders may still be placed, and we will ship them as soon as we are able to return to normal operations. We will notify all supporters who place an order at this time by email as soon as normal operations resume."

That message was removed, as of Thursday morning indicating systems go. Despite having suspended merchandise sales, Biden has had little trouble keeping up with the fundraising campaign gear contributes to. In April, the campaign announced it along with the Democratic National Committee raised $60.5 million. By comparison, the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee raised $61.7 million. 

Read more about the presidential campaign "merch" here.

FROM THE CANDIDATES

JOE BIDEN

In a statement addressing today's updated unemployment rate Joe Biden said the "failures" of the Trump administration made our jobs disappear while other countries' unemployment rates are lower. 

"The difference isn't the threat the virus posed to any of these countries. The difference is a failure of leadership by our president." Biden reiterated this message of unemployed Americans being "clobbered" during short virtual remarks to a weekly strategy session arranged by former New York City mayor and 2020 presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg bringing together mayors to discuss how best to respond to the pandemic, CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson reports. 

As he introduced Biden, Bloomberg first complimented him for his shared commitment to public service but then joked about their primary battle: "We didn't work quite as closely this past winter." 

Biden spoke to the challenges of running local government during this time and said they do not have the federal tools and support they need. "I was smart enough never to run for mayor.  It's too hard of a job — everyone knows where you live," Biden said, retooling an old joke. 

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP

President Trump ventured outside White House grounds Thursday – his second visit to a battleground state this month – on his tour to reopen America, CBS News campaign reporters Nicole Sganga and Zak Hudak report. The visit to a medical equipment company Owens & Minor brought the commander-in-chief square into political bellwether Lehigh Valley, just over sixty miles northwest of his Democratic rival's campaign headquarters, in a state he won in 2016 by a slender margin of less than 1%. 

Mr. Trump took the stage to his campaign tune – Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" – a departure from the traditional "Hail to the Chief" anthem that typically accompanies official White House events. Much like rallies past, the President solicited applause, poked his political rivals and pointed out the press. 

"There they are, right there," the President interjected. "They are a disaster." Referring to a shortage of N95 masks following the 2009 H1N1 swine flu epidemic, President Trump said, "Under the previous administration the stockpile was depleted and never fully refilled," President Trump said. "Most of the N95 masks were distributed during the N1H1," Trump continued. "Now you know who says that, right? N1H1. Who says that? Sleepy Joe Biden." The president jabbed his likely Democratic opponent, who mistakenly referred to H1N1 as N1H1 during a March debate.

President Trump's visit to the state comes amid a clash with Gov. Tom Wolf over how quickly to reopen Pennsylvania. 

"We have to get your Governor of Pennsylvania to start opening up a little bit," Trump told workers Thursday. "You have areas of Pennsylvania that are barely affected and they want to keep them closed. You can't do that." 

On Monday, the President tweeted his support for Pennsylvanians looking to reopen the state. 

"The great people of Pennsylvania want their freedom now, and they are fully aware of what that entails," Mr. Trump wrote. "The Democrats are moving slowly, all over the USA, for political purposes. They would wait until November 3rd if it were up to them. Don't play politics. Be safe, move quickly!" 

Wolf responded that Pennsylvania, with nearly 60,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 this year, needs to move in a "measured" way. "The irresponsible thing to do is to just willy-nilly go off and pretend we can wave a magic wand and go back into business and suspend the reality of this virus that surrounds us," he told reporters. 

The governor has allowed 24 counties in Northern Pennsylvania to begin reopening and plans to do so in another 13 Friday. But restaurants remain takeout and delivery only, businesses like hair salons are closed across the state, and 30 counties have no end set to their stay-at-home orders. Those counties, Wolf has said, have not sufficiently contained the virus or are at too high risk of serious outbreaks to begin reopening.

VEEPSTAKES

ELIZABETH WARREN

Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congressman Andy Levin on Wednesday introduced a bill to require and fund COVID-19 tracking and prevention. CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak says the Coronavirus Containment Corps Act would give the Centers for Disease Control 21 days to develop a national contact tracing strategy for the virus and provide $10 billion in funding for states and tribal nations to prepare for a fall outbreak and to hire more than 100,000 employees to help track the virus. 

"We can't rebuild our economy without stopping the spread of COVID-19," Warren and Levin wrote in an NBC News op-ed about their bill.

IN THE POLLS

GOING VIRAL

As people across the country have remained home for about two months now, the majority of the public is still prioritizing staying at home to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak over reopening the economy – even as some states slowly begin to reopen for business. But the partisan gap over the economy is wide open. 

According to CBS News polling, 65% of Americans believe the top priority in the country should be staying home to slow the spread, while just 35% believe it should be going back to work to get the economy going. However, along party lines, 38% of Republicans believe staying home should be the top priority, while 88% of Democrats do. Sixty-two percent of Republicans believe going back to work should be the top priority. 

While 92% of Americans believe people have a personal responsibility to help stop the spread of the virus, CBS News political unit associate producers Sarah Ewall-Wice and Eleanor Watson report there's a split among Americans on personal responsibility to go back to work to help the economy, including 78% of Republicans, 39% of Democrats and 52% of independents. 

Among those who prioritize staying home to slow the spread, the vast majority acknowledged major economic damage. Seventy-six percent said the economic damage was big but the health risk was bigger. Only 24% said the economic damage would be small, while the health risk was big. While some states have begun steps to reopen, only 21% said they were comfortable right now being in crowded places. Fifty-six percent said they would feel comfortable after treatment or a vaccine, 45% said they would be after medical professionals say it's safe, and 36% said after testing or tracking programs are in place. Sixty-nine percent of Americans say they now wear some kind of mask at least most of the time when they go out. 

More Americans believe the overall handling of the coronavirus is "going badly" than in March. The poll released on Thursday finds that 60% of Americans say the handling of the virus is "going badly" compared to 57% in March. 

Only 39% say the response is "going well." The new polling also shows a decline in support for how President Trump is handling the virus, with only 43% approval, the lowest percentage since polling on the crisis started. 

Thursday's number is 5 points lower than three weeks ago and 10 points lower than in March. Among Republicans, however, Mr. Trump is still one of their most trusted resources. About 85% of Republicans trust the president and vice president for information while less than 10% of Democrats do. 

There is also a growing partisan split over who trusts Dr. Anthony Fauci for information. Overall, 62% of Americans trust Fauci but only 51% of Republicans do, and 31% of conservatives have an unfavorable view of him. That's a 19-point increase since April when only 12% of conservatives had an unfavorable view. 

Americans are also not optimistic about things returning to normal quickly. Only 11% said it would in the next few weeks, 28% said in the next few months. 48% said in the next year or longer, more than double the 22% who said that in March.

ISSUES THAT MATTER

JOBS

Nearly three million Americans filed jobless claims last week, the Labor Department reported on Thursday, meaning more than 36 million Americans have filed for unemployment insurance since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the mass closing of businesses around the country. The report also said that 22.8 million workers have been receiving their unemployment benefits, as of the week ending May 2.

CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster says the news comes less than a week after the April jobs report indicated that the unemployment rate was 14.7%, the highest since the Great Depression. Economists are projecting that more grim numbers will come before the situation improves. Goldman Sachs predicted in a new report that unemployment could reach 25% this year, which would match the peak during the Great Depression.

While growth could pick up in the second half of the year, the investment bank forecasted that unemployment will stay at 10% by the end of the year. One of the big questions is how many of the millions of layoffs will last. A new analysis from the National Bureau of Economic Research estimates that 42% of recent layoffs will result in permanent job loss.

CONGRESSIONAL COVERAGE

IN THE SENATE

Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina stepped down as chairman of the intelligence committee while the FBI investigates his sell-off of stocks after attending a closed briefing on the coronavirus earlier in the year. In a statement released Thursday, Burr said he had informed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of the decision to step down until the investigation is resolved. 

"The work the Intelligence Committee and its members do is too important to risk hindering in any way," said Burr in the statement. "I believe this step is necessary to allow the Committee to continue its essential work free of external distractions." 

Asked about the investigation on Capitol Hill Thursday by reporters, Burr said that "everybody ought to let this investigation play out." 

CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell reports that in March, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission issued a statement warning people with access to nonpublic information that they, "should be mindful of their obligations to keep this information confidential and to comply with the prohibitions on illegal securities trading." 

The SEC statement came just three days after Burr sent a letter to the Senate Ethics Committee asking for an investigation into his February sales of stock that are in question. In a statement to CBS News, Burr's attorney Alice Fisher said Burr "has been focused on an appropriate and thorough review of the facts in this matter, which will establish that his actions were appropriate." 

Burr is not up for reelection until 2022, but according to North Carolina law, if he decides to step down before September 4, there would be a special election in November to fill his seat, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson

If Burr decided to leave after September 4, whomever Governor Cooper appoints to the seat would serve until 2022. Even though Cooper is a Democrat, he would have to pick an appointment from three candidates provided by the state GOP party, according to state election law. Burr has not indicated that he will step down.

IN THE HOUSE

new report from House Republicans on ballot harvesting says Democrats in California politically weaponized the practice to gain an advantage during the 2018 midterm elections and alleges the state's legalized ballot harvesting practices "lacks any oversight mechanisms to prevent and detect fraud."

According to the report, written by Rep. Rodney Davis, Republican of Illinois, and ranking member of the Committee on House Administration, the body responsible for all matters related to election law, minority staff traveled to California to observe and document how state election officials administered the 2020 primary election, and special elections for California's 25th and 50th Congressional Districts.  

CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar reports in addition to observing "highly irregular" means of collecting and tallying votes without oversight mechanism, the report says minority staff also noticed that Los Angeles County "lacks adequate security protocols in its custody of vote-by-mail ballots." 

The report claims that the Los Angeles County Registrar's Office used a large bin outside of its building to serve as a deposit location for vote-by-mail ballots without election officials or registrar office staff there to supervise. 

"One concern with this practice is that there is no way to track who drops off ballots, whether they are affiliated with a campaign organization, or what their relationship is to the voters whose ballots they have been entrusted with," Davis wrote. Furthermore, Davis says that minority staff went to the Los Angeles County Registrar's office and observed unopened vote-by-mail ballots sitting in an unsecured room open to the public. "In addition, there was no way to clearly distinguish election officials from the voting public and observers," the report claims. 

Davis writes that ballot harvesting "destroys the secret ballot." He also suggests it breaks anti-electioneering laws. "A voter cannot wear a campaign button to a polling location, but a political operative can collect your ballot in your living room?" the report reads. The 12-page report was also guided by "incidents" during the 2018 Midterm elections in California and North Carolina, as well as "the observations of official Committee election observers." Allegations of fraudulent ballot harvesting in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District involving the Republican candidate forced a do-over of the congressional race.

In the report, Davis calls for reforms such as "restricting who may turn in another's ballot, requiring a documented chain-of-custody of each ballot, requiring a record of the individual who is harvesting ballots, and recommending that county officials must count and track harvested ballots." 

Davis has also introduced a bill that would require states to forfeit federal funding unless states limit ballot harvesting by individuals other than family members, household members, or caregivers of the voter. Hours after Davis's report, California's Secretary of State Alex Padilla's announced he would be bringing on a team of "expert" consultants to help with the state's vote-by-mail expansion for the general election. 

Padilla said the consultant team will stay on through January 15, 2021. Last Friday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order to automatically send every voter in the state a mail-in ballot. Padilla said in a statement that "rapid expansion" of vote-by-mail in California, a state with over 20 million voters, is "no small task." Padilla said "an operational game plan is imperative," adding, "the expertise" of the consultant team, all former election administrators, "will be invaluable."

STATE-BY-STATE

ARIZONA

Jill Biden was on the virtual campaign trail stumping through Arizona for her husband today, after her first trip to the state of the cycle – initially scheduled for March – was upended by the COVID-19 outbreak. CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin says the Zoom-powered events today included a roundtable with Tucson Mayor Regina Romero, a former Elizabeth Warren backer who endorsed the former vice president this week

The events come as Republicans in the state are touting a "first of its kind" virtual state convention over the past weekend, electing 108 delegates for President Trump over a handful of virtual platforms

"Never before has a political party attempted to plan and carry out a convention of this scale and magnitude – amid a global pandemic – in a similar virtual manner," Kelli Ward, chair of the state GOP, said in a statement.

WISCONSIN

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down Governor Tony Evers' administration's extended "safer at home" order, which was set to expire May 26. It is the first time a state supreme court has struck down emergency orders issued by a governor due to the coronavirus pandemic

Republicans in the state legislature argued that Health Secretary-designee Andrea Palm abused her powers when she issued the extended order in April. In a 4-3 decision, the state's highest court said the order should have been issued as a rule, which would have required working with the legislature. The ruling removes Evers' restrictions on business operations, but still keeps schools closed through the rest of the academic year. 

During a briefing on Thursday, Evers again criticized the court's decision to strike down the order. "Republican legislators have convinced four of our Supreme Court justices to throw our state into chaos," Evers said. "The Supreme Court may have changed the rules for how we operate, but it sure the heck didn't change how viruses operate." Now, Evers, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled legislature will have to work out a compromise on any future plans.  

CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster reports some counties and cities around Wisconsin have begun to issue their own guidelines and stay home orders, creating a patchwork of rules around the state. Evers said when he spoke with Republican leaders on Thursday that they didn't present a plan for enacting statewide restrictions and seemed okay with local leaders creating their own regulations. "They were very pleased with the results, and they're okay having confusion," Evers said.  

Also in Wisconsin, a new analysis of election data reveals racial disparities in voter turnout in the Wisconsin primary last month, reports CBS News correspondent Nikole Killion. The divide was most apparent in Milwaukee, where the average turnout in African-American and Hispanic wards was 30% lower than wards with a higher percentage of white residents. 

The findings were unveiled Thursday by Demos and All Voting Is Local, a project of The Leadership Conference On Civil And Human Rights. 

"What our deeper analysis has showed is that the pandemic has not only exposed cracks in our system, it has also had its own impact on access to the ballot box," said Shruti Banerjee, a senior policy analyst at Demos.  Milwaukee's black community was disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 crisis in the run-up to the April 7th primary. Statistics show African-Americans made up almost half of the cases and 81% of the deaths in the county in the first week of April. 

Nearly 19,000 voters cast in-person ballots, according to the Milwaukee Election Commission, which reduced the number of polling locations from 180 to 5. Many voters waited in long lines for several hours. "I was worried about how I would cast my own ballot," recalled Wisconsin resident Robin Reese, who suffered from coronavirus and drove her absentee ballot to a drop-off site.  "People shouldn't have to risk their lives to vote."

More than one million absentee ballots were returned in the primary. The study did not include racial data for the overall vote count but the authors are reviewing additional information in Wisconsin and other states. They are also advocating for reforms including online voter registration, and expanded vote-by-mail and in-person voting options. 

"We can't go back in time but we can use this knowledge to prepare for the general election, and to stabilize the election for all voters in Wisconsin," said Dr. Megan Gall, data director for All Voting is Local.

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