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Biden and Democrats focus on health care messaging

Joe Biden and Democrats are leaning in on health care messaging with less than 50 days to go until the election, reports CBS News associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice.

This morning, Biden's campaign unveiled two new ads as part of what his team said would be a $65 million ad buy this week across multiple platforms. The first ad "Little Brother" is airing on broadcast and digital in Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It focuses on a little boy named Beckett who was diagnosed with leukemia when he was two years old.

"If Donald Trump gets rid of our health care law, my son won't be protected," his mother's voice says in the ad. "We would have to be making some tough decisions about what medications we could afford," she continues.

The other ad, "Anthony," is airing on broadcast and digital in Arizona, Florida and Nevada. The 30-second spot focuses on a boy who was born with a heart condition.

"I think that Joe Biden will be the person to protect Anthony and those with pre-existing conditions," his father says.

The new ads are similar to the messaging by congressional candidates and what was a leading issue for Democrats when they took back the House in 2018. In a call Wednesday with reporters, DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos called health care the "number one issue."

Meanwhile, the president is also talking health care. "We are not going to hurt anything having to do with pre-existing conditions," Mr. Trump said in response to a question at a town hall Tuesday night. But his administration is currently backing a lawsuit to dismantle Obamacare including those protections. The president went on to say he would have a health care plan protecting people with pre-existing conditions and insisted he has it "already."

The president has been talking about health care a plan for more than a year and said in July he would be signing one within two weeks. So far, the plan has not materialized. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump's chief of staff Mark Meadows said the plan is indeed ready, but it's unclear exactly when it will roll out. According to Meadows, it's more of an executive action with a "legislative component."

FROM THE CANDIDATES

TRUMP-PENCE CAMPAIGN

President Trump repeatedly contradicted one of his top health officials Wednesday, telling reporters that Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield "made a mistake" when he told Congress a potential COVID-19 vaccine would not be widely available to the general public until at least mid-2021.

"I think he made a mistake when he said that. It's just incorrect information," the president told reporters during a White House briefing. "That is incorrect information." Mr. Trump did not offer a specific timeline for distribution, saying only that the vaccine would be ready "very soon."

Speaking at a Senate hearing Wednesday, Redfield also testified that wearing a mask is more guaranteed to protect someone from the coronavirus than receiving a vaccine. "We have clear scientific evidence they work, I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine, because the immunogenicity may be 70%," Redfield said. "If I don't get an immune response, the vaccine's not going to protect me, this face mask will."

President Trump rejected Redfield's science-based conclusion. "It's not more effective by any means than a vaccine," the president said of mask-wearing. Breaking with public health officials who agree mask-wearing reduces spread of COVID-19, the president called wearing face coverings "a mixed bag."

When asked by CBS News if Dr. Redfield stood by his comments after the president publicly contradicted him at today's news conference, Redfield said in a statement, "I 100% believe in the importance of vaccines and the importance in particular of a COVID-19 vaccine. A COVID-19 vaccine is the thing that will get Americans back to normal everyday life. The best defense we currently have against this virus are the important mitigation efforts of wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing and being careful about crowds."

Trump campaign surrogate Congressman Dr. Brad Wenstrup told CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga Wednesday that he supports the CDC guidelines on mask-wearing. "I think the advice that has been given throughout, from the CDC has been, has been wise," Wenstrup said. The congressman said he feels the country should be focused on "physical distancing" and "six to eight feet of separation when we did not have masks." The president's re-election bid does not typically enforce social distancing at campaign rallies but offers optional masks to attendees upon entrance to events.

President Trump also confirmed Wednesday another White House staff member has tested positive for coronavirus. "It was one person," Mr. Trump announced in the briefing room. "Not a person I was associated with." The president said he first learned of the positive case, last night, but did not reveal the identity of the staff member.

BIDEN-HARRIS CAMPAIGN

Joe Biden again on Wednesday tried to clarify his position on the possible effectiveness of a COVID-19 vaccine approved by the Trump administration. Last week he said he would take the vaccine "tomorrow" if deemed scientifically sound.

Today, in remarks in Wilmington, Delaware, he focused on the quality of the vaccine trial science: "Let me be clear: I trust vaccines, I trust the scientists, but I don't trust Donald Trump." Biden also expressed more confidence in his ability to implement a national face mask mandate if he is elected, CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson reports. Biden told a small group of reporters gathered he would sign an executive order implementing the national mandate if deemed by administration lawyers as legal.

"Our legal team thinks I can do that based upon the degree to which there's a crisis in those states, and how bad things are for the country. And if we don't do it what happens," Biden explained. Asked by CBSN political reporter Caitlin Huey Burns if he has confidence in the CDC and FDA regarding a vaccine, Biden said broadly, he does, but he questions some of the top political officials.

Biden is set to travel to his native Scranton, Pennsylvania on Thursday for a television town hall. On Wednesday--with his travel much closer to home--his remarks started almost 83 minutes behind schedule.

CBS NEWS COVID CHRONICLES

In July, California small business owner Stephanie Mufson wasn't sure if her company Parade Guys, which builds floats and large displays for outdoors festivals, would make it. She's an independent artist and typically works with a team of contractors who are experts at painting, sculpting, and building floats for outdoors festivals and parades in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The cancellation of more than a dozen parades and large outdoor festivals cancelled this summer has resulted in economic hardship for independent contractors who rely on those events for work. "It is not the same world that I spent most of my life basing my career around," Mufson said, adding that "to survive and thrive, you have to adapt."

While business is on hold because of COVID-19, Mufson has enrolled in graduate school to learn new skills that will supplement her work as an artist. Brain Travis, who works with Mufson at Parade Guys and is also a musician, has been connecting with other artists remotely to produce songs. In July, he told CBS News that producing weekly online music events was helping him buy groceries while he was out of work. Travis said he spent several months learning new software programs to efficiently livestream a weekly show. He added that live streaming content "is another way that people are going to consume media" and "to stay relevant" he had to figure it out as well. More than five million Californians applied for traditional unemployment benefits between March and September, according to the state's Employment Development Department. Additionally, more than 4 million applied for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which covers contract and independent workers during the same time.

Click here to read more from CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar about how Mufson and Travis are adjusting during the coronavirus.

STATE-BY-STATE

OHIO

Franklin County Judge Richard A. Frye filed an order for Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose's counsel to clarify his position on Tuesday's ruling, in which Frye said that LaRose's directive to limit counties to one ballot drop box did not have a legal basis.

After the decision, a LaRose spokesperson said the secretary's directive to limit Ohio's county boards of elections to one ballot drop box per county will remain in place, reports CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman. Maggie Sheehan, LaRose's spokeswoman, said in a statement that "Ohioans deserve a full and immediate review of the ruling by the appellate courts."

"Unfortunately, the way the judge ruled prevents an immediate appeal of his ruling," Sheehan added in her statement. "In response, Secretary LaRose has called upon the judge to allow his ruling to be appealed today. He should immediately rule on the pending injunction of the Secretary's Directive and conclude the entire case to allow an appeal. Doing so will best serve Ohio's voters this fall."

Separately, LaRose's office announced Tuesday evening that Ohio's county boards of elections have received 1,398,347 absentee ballot applications as of September 11.

At that same point during the 2016 election, the state's county boards of elections had received over 524,000 absentee ballot applications.

"Ohioans continue to show incredible confidence in our absentee voting system, and our county boards are well-equipped to handle the surge in requests," LaRose said in a statement. "Whether voting early in-person, at your polling location on election day, or from the comfort of your own home, Ohioans will have their voice heard this fall."

CONGRESSIONAL COVERAGE

IN THE SENATE

new poll from Quinnipiac University on Wednesday finds Republican Senator Susan Collins trailing in Maine, a tied match-up in South Carolina, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell leading in Kentucky, report CBS News associate producers Sarah Ewall-Wice and Eleanor Watson.

In Maine, the poll shows Democrat Sara Gideon leads Collins 54 to 42% among likely voters, and 89% of likely voters say their minds are made up. Of likely voters in Maine, 21% say the economy is the most important issue in deciding who to vote for in the Senate race. That was followed by health care at 15%, law and order at 14% and the coronavirus at 13%.

In South Carolina, incumbent Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is tied with Democrat Jaime Harrison 48% to 48% among likely voters. The Cook Political Report rates this race as leaning Republican, but Harrison's record-breaking fundraising has helped make the race more competitive than recent cycles. In South Carolina, the most important Senate race issues came down to law and order at 23% and the economy at 22%. Likely voters were also focused on the coronavirus pandemic, racial inequality and the Supreme Court.

McConnell in Kentucky leads Democrat Amy McGrath 53% to 41% in the new poll. The most important issues in the race there were the economy at 26%, followed by law and order at 20% and health care at 13%.

Quinnipiac also found that President Donald Trump leads Democrat Joe Biden in Kentucky and South Carolina but is trailing Biden in Maine.

IN THE HOUSE

VOTER EDUCATION

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is investing $9 million for voter education programs and ads across 44 districts, reports CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro.

The committee will be contacting voters through phone banks, mailers, radio and digital ads to inform them of their ballot options. The DCCC said it would also be sending about 3.4 million text messages to ballot holders, as well as to sign people up for mail voting.

During a media avail Wednesday, DCCC executive director Lucinda Guinn said the targeted districts will not overlap with any voter education efforts already being made by the Biden campaign or the Senate committee.

She pointed to states that aren't competitive for the presidential race, but have some battleground House races such as California, New York and New Jersey.

"This is an unprecedented line item in our budget, to put $9 million dollars aside to make sure that voters know exactly when and how to vote. We certainly don't want to get to the middle of November and say that voter confusion was our Achilles heel," DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos said. The group has also invested $10 million in ballot access litigation in 14 states.

AGENDA

A day after House GOP leadership laid out its agenda for the election homestretch and beyond, the DCCC issued a "48 days out" memo detailing the state of the House battlefield.

As shown through its campaign ads, the House committee focused on healthcare as its number one issue, followed by specific claims of corruption involving Republican incumbents and challengers. After consistently high 2019 fundraising by Democrat incumbents, the committee began to expand their offensive targets to multiple Republican incumbent-held seats.

On Wednesday, Navarro reports Bustos and Guinn addressed several campaign topics that'll be in play these next two months. When asked about public safety and the civil unrest over police brutality, Bustos pointed to the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

"Americans have a choice between a party of bipartisan police reform or the party of gassing peaceful protesters," Bustos said. Their counterparts at the Republican House campaign arm and Republican candidates have criticized the bill's removal of qualified immunity for police.

The committee leadership was also asked about the stalled passage of a COVID-19 stimulus bill, after some House Democrats in swing seats voiced displeasure with how negotiations were going. Bustos put the onus on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"We'll be on 24-hour call if we're back in our districts, to come back and vote on whatever the next level of support is. But we've been there all along, important to remember it was Mitch McConnell who was calling for this pause 120+ days ago," Bustos said.

CHINA

While America's relationship and tone with China continues to be debated at the presidential level, House candidate ties to the country are also being magnified. In Pennsylvania's 8th District, CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro reports the largest donor for a single-candidate PAC supporting Republican Jim Bognet, has made more than $1 million in cash fees and stock options from being on the board of a Beijing-based biopharmaceutical company. The donor contributed $60,000 to the "Keep PA Great" PAC, as well as $5,600 to Bognet's campaign.

This comes after an ad from Bognet talking about making China "pay for what they've done" and one interview with a local radio host where he said, "I think China's been stealing our jobs, stealing our intellectual property, they literally hack our factories, hack our companies to get the plans for products-- they're not our friend, they're our enemy."

When asked about his donor's ties to China, Bognet's campaign deflected and pointed to the Democrat-backed House Majority PAC.

"CBS News should take a look at the massive Chinese holdings of House Majority PAC's biggest donors and ask Matt Cartwright how that squares with his election-year religious awakening when it comes to getting tough on China," said Bognet campaign spokesperson Ian Prior.

Financial forms for Amy Kennedy, who's running against Jeff Van Drew in New Jersey's 2nd, show investments with several corporations that are either based in or work with Chinese companies. A majority of these are made through the Buena Vista Asian Opportunity hedge fund, and include two education-related companies and a state-owned life insurance company. The value of her listed assets collectively ranges from $20,000 to $120,000. Earlier this month, the National Republican Congressional Committee sent out a press email with a story about her assets calling her a "pawn of Communist China." Kennedy's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

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