with Brent D. Griffiths

Good morning and welcome back. It's the Democrats' debate night in America. (Only nine debates left!) Tips, comments, recipes? You know the drill — thanks for waking up with us. 

🚨:  "In a direct and urgent call to address gun violence in America, the chief executives of some of the nation’s best-known companies were set to send a letter to Senate leaders on Thursday, urging an expansion of background checks to all firearms sales and stronger “red flag” laws," the New York Times's Andrew Ross Sorkin reports. 

  • 'Doing nothing about America’s gun violence crisis is simply unacceptable and it is time to stand with the American public on gun safety,' the heads of 145 companies, including Levi Strauss, Twitter and Uber, say in the letter, a draft of which was shared with The New York Times."

The Campaign

BIDEN VS. WARREN: It's the debate night we've all been waiting for — the one where John Yang probably crowd surfs.

Okay, maybe not. But it's definitely the one where Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden will finally be on the same debate stage.

Tonight, their competing theories of the case will be presented alongside one another for voters to get their clearest picture yet of the two candidates who have come to represent distinctly different choices for the Democratic Party. 

Warren is the lone candidate who has been consistently ascendant, inching her way up in the polls — one selfie at a time — to fill out the Democrats' top tier. 

  • In the most recent national poll released by CNN on Wednesday evening, former vice president Biden sits at 24 percent among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, followed by Warren at 18 percent and Sen. Bernie Sanders at 17 percent. 

A less scientifically sound poll from over the weekend also highlighted Warren's momentum — her reception at the New Hampshire Democratic convention was notable:

  • “She won a two-minute standing ovation from thousands of party activists Saturday, came out on top in a poll released Sunday, and is seen as the one to beat, according to interviews with approximately two dozen New Hampshire Democrats this week,” per The Boston Globe's James Pindell. 
  • Meanwhile, Biden's team is scrambling to temper Warren's rise in Iowa: “Joe Biden is flooding Iowa with more organizers than any of his rivals. He’s spending big on TV ads highlighting his personal tragedies. And he’s wooing former supporters of Bernie Sanders to tout his progressive bonafides,” per McClatchy's Dave Catanese. 
  • “I don’t think the vice president has a lock on Iowa and I think that’s why they’re trying to make sure the bar isn’t set too high,” Bret Nilles, the Democratic chairman of Linn County, Iowa, told Dave. “The outreach from the VP’s staff hasn’t been the same level as the Warren and Sanders campaign.”

🚨: But perhaps most importantly, Warren has successfully started to chip away at one of her biggest hurdles: the issue of electability. Meanwhile Biden's edge is narrowing as the Democrat best positioned to beat President Trump. 

  • " … Democrats are more apt to say they want the party to nominate a candidate with a strong chance of beating Trump (55%) over one who shares their position on major issues (39%). But Biden's advantage among those who want a candidate who can defeat the President has shrunk some since August. In that poll, 35% of those who favored someone who can beat Trump backed Biden, 15% Warren and 14% Sanders. Now, that group splits almost evenly between Biden (26%) and Warren (21%), with Sanders at 11%," per CNN's Jennifer Agiesta

On electability: So what would it take for Warren to win the primary? 

  • “Mostly, she needs to keep doing what she's doing,” Democratic strategist Jess McIntosh told Power Up. “It's important to look at electability for what it is, which is a nonsense signifier. Donald Trump was not electable until he was.” 
  • The electability question hurts non traditional candidates and candidates of color, McIntosh continued, because “it’s impossible to see someone as a safe choice until we are used to electing that kind of person as president. We have seen this throughout our history, but the idea of a safe choice just doesn’t really hold much bearing this year. And I would argue that a woman who had run several times and lost would never be viewed as a safe choice versus a man who has lost several times.”

An unaligned Democratic strategist said the real nut Warren has to crack to truly break into Biden's support is black voters, which the strategist says is largely dependent on the electability issue. 

  • “I think Biden is the Escher candidate,” the strategist said, referring to the art of M.C. Escher that depicts endless staircases. “African Americans want to beat Trump, the media says that Joe Biden is the most likely person to beat him, Biden says he's the most likely person to beat Trump because he has the most support, and therefore, he has the most support of African Americans,” the strategist told Power Up. 
  • Biden's lead is primarily due to support from black voters: " … he leads by a wide margin with 42% backing him and his nearest competitor — Sanders — earning just 12% support,” per Agiesta. 
  • “I think there’s no way for her to break into that support until she can look like she has more of a chance of winning that he does,” the strategist added. 

About tonight: The New York Times's Katie Glueck and Thomas Kaplan report that Warren is “unlikely to pursue the kind of personal, premeditated broadside that Senator Kamala Harris launched against Mr. Biden in the first debate.” 

Biden, on the other hand, is expected to attack Warren's campaign mantra, “I've got a plan for that.” 

  • “I expect you'll see Biden echo an important point he made during last week' climate forum: we need more than plans, we need a President who can deliver progress on the most pressing issues facing Americans — which Joe Biden has proven he can throughout his career,” a Biden adviser told CNN's Arlette Saenz and Jessica Dean.

  • At least one of Biden's surrogates has started aggressively attacking Warren: former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell penned an op-ed in The Post last night calling Warren a hypocrite for her fundraising practices.  

Obama's political guru David Axelrod did not respond to our request for comment on the Warren vs. Biden matchup but he did provide some advice to  on how the Democratic nominee can beat Trump in a New York Times op-ed: 

  • "Wrestling is Mr. Trump’s preferred form of combat. But beating him will require jiu-jitsu, a different style of battle typically defined as the art of manipulating an opponent’s force against himself rather than confronting it with one’s own force."

Watch The Washington Post’s debate analysis, starting at 7:30 p.m. EST, and tune in afterward for The Fix’s winners and losers. Tune in at washingtonpost.com or wapo.st/debate.

At The White House

TRUMP PREVAILS AT SCOTUS IN ASYLUM FIGHT: "The Trump administration can begin denying asylum requests from migrants at the southern border who have traveled through Mexico or another country without seeking protection there, after the Supreme Court on Wednesday lifted a lower court’s block on the new restriction," our colleague Robert Barnes reports.

  • What it means: "President Trump’s policy is a dramatic change in the way the federal government treats those seeking safe haven in the United States , and is one of the administration’s most significant efforts to deter migrants at the southern border," Bob writes. "It is one of multiple tools immigration officials have deployed to prevent entry by families and others fleeing violence and poverty in Central America."
  • This is administration's second win in an immigration case in recent months: "In July, the court allowed the administration to begin using $2.5 billion in Pentagon money for the construction of a barrier along the Mexican border. Last year, the court upheld President Trump’s ban on travel from several predominantly Muslim countries," the Times's Adam Liptak reports.

The administration will also not be granting temporary protected status to Bahamians displaced by Hurricane Dorian, an administration official told NBC New's Julia Ainsley yesterday. 

  • "The status would allow Bahamians to work and live in the U.S. until it is deemed safe to return home. The same status is currently granted to over 300,000 people living in the U.S. from 10 countries, including the victims of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake...As of Monday, 1,500 victims of Dorian had come to the U.S. after the hurricane swept through the Bahamas." 

QUOTE OF THE DAY: A note for interested parties as Trump searches for his next national security adviser, from my colleagues Ashley Parker and Phil Rucker on Trump's “Kafkaesque” management style. 

  • “There is no person that is part of the daily Trump decision-making process that can survive long term,” a former senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment told Phil and Ashley of working for Trump. “The president doesn’t like people to get good press. He doesn’t like people to get bad press. Yet he expects everyone to be relevant and important and supportive at all times. Even if a person could do all those things, the president would grow tired of anyone in his immediate orbit."

TRUMP MOVES TO BAN FLAVORED E-CIGS: "Trump administration officials, alarmed by new data showing a huge jump in vaping by young people, said they are moving to ban most flavored e-cigarettes, a major development that could result in sweeping changes in the sprawling market," our colleague Laurie McGinley reports.

  • Why now?: "The administration’s move comes as health officials across the country investigate more than 450 cases, including six deaths, of lung disease linked to vaping. Many patients have reported using cannabis-related products, but authorities have not ruled out any specific type of vaping. With the picture still murky, critics have seized the moment to press for tougher regulation of conventional e-cigarettes, which come in sweet and fruity flavors that have been favored by many young people."
  • Melania's role: "... Trump said his wife’s pressure was key," Politico's Sarah Owermohle, Anita Kumar and Adam Cancryn report. "In comparison with past first ladies, she has had a low profile on public policy. Here, in contrast, she persuaded her husband to dramatically shift the government's approach to a massive, growing and politically connected industry. That's something that neither federal regulators nor Capitol Hill had been able to do."
  • Juul spent millions on lobbying with little to show for it: "Juul Labs has spent millions of dollars on lobbying, hired high-profile Trump administration officials, and blanketed Washington with ads touting its efforts against underage vaping," Politico's Theodoric Meyer reports
  • The company went all out in hiring people connected to the White House: "... Vice President Mike Pence’s director of media affairs, Rebeccah Propp, as its communications director, and former White House aide Johnny DeStefano as an outside consultant," Meyer writes. "They joined Josh Raffel, a former White House spokesman who worked closely with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump and is now a Juul spokesman."

Outside the Beltway

THE NCAA IS READYING TO FIGHT CALIFORNIA: "California would allow college athletes to earn money from the use of their names, images and likenesses under a bill passed by the state Legislature on Wednesday and headed to Gov. Gavin Newsom," the Los Angeles Times's Melody Gutierrez and Nathan Fenno reports

  • What the act would do: "NCAA rules bar athletes from being compensated for use of their names, images or likenesses," Gutierrez and Fenno write. "The bill would not allow schools to directly pay athletes, but would permit students to receive compensation from outside sources — for example, from a video game company or for signing autographs or memorabilia."
  • The legislation has been praised by the likes of LeBron James, but the NCAA is furious: "The NCAA has forcefully pushed back against the bill, saying it has the potential to kill amateur athletics if it becomes law," Gutierrez and Fenno write. "The NCAA sent Newsom a letter Wednesday calling the legislation 'unconstitutional' and 'harmful.' The letter contains NCAA's usual defense when it pressed to pay athletes: it would destroy amateurism. NCAA President Mark Emmert says if the bill becomes law California schools would not be allowed to participate in national championships.
  • But the letter also hinted at how a legal fight could play out: The NCAA could argues that the bill is unconstitutional, which Sports Illustrated legal analyst Michael McCann reports could come down to a fight over the Constitution's commerce clause and whether or not a single state has the ability to pass such a law.