In this edition: The fight to turn out Democrats in the cities, the two parallel campaigns of the final stretch, and the war over voting gets uglier.

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HOPKINS, Minn. — On Saturday afternoon, between stops at a Halloween car parade and a socially distanced get-out-the-vote rally, Rep. Ilhan Omar visited a tutoring center for Somali immigrants. She sat in one crowded room, then another, taking selfies with masked adults and questions from masked children. 

What did she do for a living? What was Congress? Why didn't the president like her?

“We don’t know each other,” Omar said, bouncing a toddler on her knee. “But he’s racist and xenophobic, so he hates everything I stand for.”

Omar, who was elected to represent Minneapolis and its closest suburbs in Congress two years ago, has been at war with President Trump since before either of them took office. Minnesota's 5th Congressional District gave Trump just 19 percent of the vote four years ago, shifting left as much of the state galloped right. In Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the Republican found enough votes outside cities to win statewide. In Minnesota, he didn't. In Detroit and Milwaukee, turnout was down relative to 2012. In Minneapolis, it went up.

In the election's final days, Omar is trying to drive Trump's margin lower, delivering 300,000 votes or more for the Biden-Harris ticket and making it “impossible,” in her words, for Republicans to win. State Attorney General Keith Ellison, who represented the district for 12 years, built a machine that prevented the drop-off that doomed Democrats in states such as Michigan and Wisconsin, where Black turnout plunged. Omar, Ellison and other Democrats said, had kept the machine humming and built it bigger. 

“She doesn't need to increase turnout here to win her race,” said Ken Martin, the chairman of Minnesota's Democratic Farmer-Labor Party. “She could take a vacation and she'd get reelected, easy. But she recognizes that she has a responsibility to drive up turnout; it's really important for all of our statewide races, especially the presidential race. She does really intensive, face-to-face contacts, with a lot of personal relationship-building, and building long-term power with communities of color. And, look, a lot of politicians don't do that.”

Trump's hopes in Minnesota, which has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1972, depend mostly on White voters in the 78 counties outside the Twin Cities and their closest suburbs. (See The Trailer's five political states of Minnesota for more.) He has made progress, and Democrats admit as much. In 2016, the president smashed the old Democratic coalition in “Greater” Minnesota, especially the Iron Range, converting longtime DFLers by arguing that a Hillary Clinton administration would throttle the energy and mining industries. At a last-minute 2016 rally here, Trump told supporters that their state was being ruined by outsiders and that he'd stop the “very large numbers of Somali refugees coming into your state without your knowledge, without your support or approval.”

In office, Trump delivered, by drastically cutting down on legal immigration, asylum, and travel from majority-Muslim nations. And he found more opportunities to pit Greater Minnesota against Minneapolis. When protests engulfed the city after the killing of George Floyd, Trump emphasized “law and order,” warning suburbanites that their safety and way of life would be destroyed by protesters. When Omar called for dismantling Minneapolis's police department, Trump and down-ballot Republicans centered her in their messaging, asking rural voters whether they wanted people like her to run the country.

“She’s going to help me win,” Trump said in Michigan this week, before heading back to Minnesota. “She’s going to protest when I go up there, and I’ll say: Thank you very much. Every time you protest, it’s going to add about 25 percent to the vote.”

Omar did not protest Trump's visit to Minnesota. Since the start of early voting in September, her campaign has been working to turn out every potential voter, including tens of thousands who sat out the 2016 election. The towns and counties of the Iron Range cast 180,023 votes four years ago; Hennepin County, home to Minneapolis, cast 679,977 votes. While the Biden-Harris campaign resisted in-person canvassing, Omar's campaign kept doing it, hiring dozens of people to knock on doors and pull out votes. Trump would obviously keep attacking her, she said, so the goal was to motivate the Democrats who were sick of it. 

“A lot of people are saying: Okay, so what?” Omar said in an interview here. “Attacking me isn't allowing him to expand beyond his cultlike base. It's allowing us to expand our base and to invite more people in to a more inclusive, compassionate Minnesota.”

Republicans aren't so sure. In their advertising, especially in the rural, conservative 7th Congressional District still held by Democratic Rep. Collin C. Peterson, Omar is front and center — as living proof that the old DFL has been replaced by a left-wing, radical party. Lacy Johnson, a Black Republican running against Omar, has raised and spent more than $10 million in the district, proof of just how much Omar motivates conservative donors; Jason Lewis, the party's nominee for U.S. Senate here, has raised half as much. 

“Keith Ellison did a phenomenal job of building an organization in Minneapolis that was about engaging people not only during elections, but year round,” said Democratic Sen. Tina Smith, who holds a lead in polls over Lewis. “The 5th District is really an engineer for statewide majorities. But it wouldn't be if Ilhan showed up six weeks before the election and said, ‘Hey, here I am, vote for me.’ ”

Omar also had to burn through millions of dollars to win an August primary, when she was challenged by an attorney who claimed she was too divisive and scandal-plagued to effectively represent Minneapolis. But that primary, ironically, gave Democrats more confidence in the reason they backed Omar: her ability to turn out votes. From the 2018 primary to the 2020 primary, total turnout in the 5th District rose from 135,318 to 177,948 votes. It happened weeks after the protests after Floyd's death and deep into a pandemic that had thrown wrench after wrench into traditional political organizing. Omar, who had gotten her start as an organizer in the Black Lives Matter movement, translated the activism into votes.

“People who were taking to the streets could clearly see how we were able to translate their cries into legislation,” Omar said. “The Democratic caucus in Congress passed a police reform bill within 30 days. For a comparison, after the Montgomery bus boycotts, it took, I think, 395 days before a single action was taken by Congress.”

Turning those voters into Joe Biden supporters was trickier. Omar herself had been slow to support the Democratic nominee, but it was far easier to excite unlikely Democratic voters this year, she said, than it had been in 2016. That year, when she had won a nomination for a state legislative seat but was not yet a national figure, she had tried to drum up support for Clinton in the Somali immigrant community and kept running into voters who did not see a difference between the nominee and Trump. 

“It's been drastically easier this year,” she said. “I think people are very clear-eyed about their desire to vote Trump out.”

That was easy to see Saturday, which began with a series of virtual get-out-the-vote calls and continued with canvass launches and meet-and-greets. In the morning, Omar joined Alfreda Daniels, a Liberian refugee running for city council, to knock on doors in an immigrant-heavy part of Brooklyn Center. Over an hour, they met just one white voter, a 72-year-old woman who said she'd just voted for the first time since 2004. (“We're turning out John Kerry Democrats!” Omar said.) They met dozens of Black voters who had either voted or planned to on Tuesday, switching between English, Arabic and Liberian Kreyol, depending on who opened the door. 

One Liberian American voter rushed to give Omar a huge, exclaiming she was the one who gave Trump a “heart attack”; in his excitement, he tossed a half-eaten apple like a football.

Not every Biden voter would support Omar, who won 59 percent of the vote in the August primary. Not every Biden voter was thrilled to support him, either, as seen from the signs that dotted some lawns in the city: “KAMALA HARRIS … and also, Joe Biden.” But in every Midwestern swing state, Minnesota included, part of the Democrats' goal on Tuesday is to cut back Trump's gains outside cities and suburbs, then drown the president's vote in places such as this. Omar ended Saturday at a cold outdoor rally in north Minneapolis, standing in front of a mural that displayed both the city's musical icon Prince and a map of ballot drop-off sites. When she reminded volunteers that Trump had joked about never coming to the state again if he lost it, the largely White audience cheered.

“The only way we make sure that he keeps that promise is that we utilize what we know to be true about the 5th: that it is the voter engine of the Democratic Party in Minnesota,” Omar said. “It is our votes, here, that keep our state blue. It is our votes, here, that are going to make sure not only do we strongly win this state, but that we don't see his face ever again." 

Reading list

The bipartisan jitters of the final 72 hours.

What to expect when Trump-aligned “poll watchers” start making accusations of fraud.

How the president's base-first strategy has complicated Republican plans.

The power of disinformation.

Paranoia hits a new peak.

“When to expect election results in every state,” by Nathaniel Rakich and Elena Mejía

A clip-and-save guide to what will come in and when.

The battle for a demographic that Trump believes he should win.

On the trail

DES MOINES Vice President Pence does not walk off Air Force Two. He runs, bounding from the plane’s stairway to the stage set up for him at the tarmacs where he’s closing out the 2020 campaign.

On Thursday afternoon, the journey took him to 200 or so voters who had huddled in slightly-above-freezing weather for a glimpse at history. For 42 minutes, he talked about “the choice in this election,” repeatedly pausing to compliment the crowd for showing up.

“I’m absolutely convinced, seeing this hearty bunch here in the Hawkeye State” Pence said 40 minutes into his speech, after around a fifth of the crowd had left. He stopped himself. “I’ll tell you what, you all look great today.”

Two days later, the gold standard Iowa Poll would find the Trump-Pence ticket comfortably ahead in Iowa, one of the states that moved most dramatically toward Republicans four years ago. Republicans on the ground were more nervous, which explains why the president campaigned in Dubuque one of those “pivot” areas in the final stretch, and why his daughter Ivanka will return to Des Moines on Monday.

But no surrogate for the president, not even his running mate, energizes the base like Trump himself and few surrogates talk like President Trump does. Unlike four years ago, when the campaign honed a closing message about Hillary Clinton’s future in a jail cell and the economic prosperity a Trump presidency could unleash, there are at least two Republican messages. The one that’s unpredictable and sometimes false draws a crowd; the that hits the party’s usual themes, less so.

In Des Moines, for example, Pence invoked the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the new Democratic willingness to use taxpayer funds to cover abortion, the need to win back the House and hold the Senate, and the cost of Biden’s tax plan as estimated by a conservative think tank. The case for reelecting the president was that he promised to break the Washington establishment, promised to protect life and renegotiate trade deals, and then did so.

At his own rallies in the following days, the president mentioned none of that. He talked about the Supreme Court, for example, only to criticize justices for not invalidating Pennsylvania ballots that arrive after Election Day. (“It was not a good decision.”) He mentioned the Senate mostly to make fun of Biden for accidentally saying he was running for it, and, at a Wisconsin stop, for how it would not pass legislation to defend federal monuments.

“You could never get that passed today with this crazy group, Nancy Pelosi and crying Chuck Schumer,” Trump said, using a nickname for the Senate Democratic leader that he coined almost four years ago. (Schumer welled up when discussing Trump’s travel ban on a number of majority-Muslim countries.) “Crying Chuck Schumer and Nancy would never pass anything like that.”

What's the difference between now and four years ago? There's less raw material to work with. Both Pence and Trump made great use of emails stolen from Clinton's campaign chairman and released online, and both said that the last-minute investigation of Anthony Weiner's laptop, to see whether it contained confidential Clinton email, was a problem that revealed how she'd never stop flouting the law. In the past few weeks, Trump has almost always brought up Hunter Biden's business connections and called his father a “corrupt politician.” Pence, in speeches, hasn't mentioned Biden's son at all from the stages of his rallies.

Ad watch

Joe Biden, “Indivisible.” The Democrat's run of soaring, patriotic TV spots comes to an end with this one, cut from his speech this week in Warm Springs, Ga. “I'll work as hard for those who don't support me as for those who do,” Biden says, emphasizing his quest to “get covid under control.”

President Trump, “Only You Can Prevent This Nightmare, America.” In swing states, the Trump campaign's paid advertising has focused recently on jobs and taxes, warning that Biden won't create the former and will raise the latter. Online, it's mixing in some red meat for the president's most ardent fans. This ad shows a succession of Trump voters tossing and turning as they imagine unlikely news alerts that Biden has put Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York in charge of the EPA, placed Hillary Clinton on the Supreme Court, made Bernie Sanders an economic adviser and persuaded House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to take a demotion to chief off staff.

Future45, “Back to Normal.” The pro-Trump PAC is taking some subtext and making it text, portraying a suburban woman who agonizes over the ballot on her kitchen table. “We have to get back to normal,” she says, regretting that “Democrats aren't what they used to be.” Her solution: “Republicans aren't perfect, but they're the only ones who can bring us back.” 

Collin Peterson, “Kurt.” The most endangered Democrat in the House, a longtime incumbent whose district backed Trump by a landslide, Peterson's campaign is closing out by describing what his chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee can bring back home, as PAC allies bash his GOP opponent as a lobbyist.

Tyler Kistner, “Failed Her Own Test.” The challenger in Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District nearly didn't have an election Tuesday: A state law that scrapped it, after the death of a fringe candidate helped onto the ballot by Republicans, was overturned by courts. That has left Kistner with the campaign he had planned to run anyway, portraying Democratic Rep. Angie Craig as a hypocrite for ousting a Republican who voted overwhelmingly with his party, then voting reliably for Democratic leadership. “Craig can't represent us,” Kistner argues, claiming incorrectly that the incumbent wants to “defund the police.” 

Poll watch

Presidential election in Pennsylvania and Florida (Washington Post/ABC News, 810/824 likely voters)

Joe Biden: 51% (-3)
Donald Trump: 44% (-1)
Jo Jorgensen: 3%

Donald Trump: 50% (-1)
Joe Biden: 48% (+1)
Jo Jorgensen: 1%

The Post's final polls of swing states found little movement from September, despite a deluge of events since then. The pandemic continues to overwhelm concerns about, well, everything. In Pennsylvania, the president has focused for months on the falsehood that Biden would ban all fracking, which has forced Biden to repeat that he would not. (Biden would ban it on federal lands, while some in the party, but not him, want to go further.) Asked which candidate would “handle” the issue better, Trump has a four-point advantage; he has a six-point advantage on the economy, while Biden leads by nine on handling the pandemic. In Florida, the president's strength comes partly from his clear advantage on the economy and partly from fighting Biden to a draw on the pandemic.

Presidential election in Pennsylvania (Muhlenberg College/Morning Call, 419 likely voters)

Joe Biden: 49% (-2)
Donald Trump: 43% (-)
Neither/other: 4% (+2)

The last Pennsylvania-based pollster to survey the race there, Muhlenberg found no growth for Trump in the past few weeks, and a little resorting by undecided voters; the Libertarian Party is the only option on the ballot besides Biden and Trump. Four years ago, the same poll found a 48-to-42 point lead for Hillary Clinton in the final week, completely missing the break of undecided voters for Trump. Biden doesn't have Clinton's rock-bottom favorable ratings, but the pollster found a curious result on that question: 17 percent of voters had no opinion of Biden either way, compared with 7 percent who took that view of Trump. 

Presidential election in Iowa (Iowa poll, 814 likely voters)

Donald Trump: 48% (+1)
Joe Biden: 41% (-6)
Someone else: 3%

The legend of Iowa's gold standard pollster grew after 2016, when it found a clear advantage for Trump, presaging a surge for Republicans across the upper Midwest. This poll finds the same sort of dynamic, but it's lonelier now: Other polling has not picked up a shift away from Biden, and the internals here find a dramatic shift toward Trump among independents that is hard to square with both campaigns' continued focus on the state. 

U.S. Senate races in Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania (CNN/SSRS, 892/953/932 likely voters)

Mark Kelly (D): 52%
Martha McSally (R): 45%

Gary Peters (D): 52%
John James (R): 40%
Marcia Squier (G): 3%

North Carolina
Cal Cunningham (D): 47% (-)
Thom Tillis (R): 44% (-2)
Shannon Bray (L): 2% (-1)
Kevin Hayes (C): 2% (+1)

CNN's final wave of state polls found uniformly good news for Democrats, frequently better than private polling, and that carried over into some of its Senate numbers. Both parties' chief Senate super PACs have continued pouring money into Michigan, where polling hasn't been close recently, and into North Carolina, where Cunningham's marital scandal chopped away his favorable rating but left him in the lead. The support for third-party candidates in those races is hard to gauge, as that vote can collapse on Election Day, but it may not in North Carolina: In 2014, when Tillis won the seat amid another record-setting ad war, nearly 4 percent of voters backed a Libertarian.

Voting wars

In 24 hours, maybe less, we'll find out whether an audacious challenge to voting rights succeeded in Texas. That's when U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen will hear an argument that 117,000-plus ballots cast in the state's most populous county should be thrown out because voters — all of whom proved they were eligible — dropped them off at a sanctioned drive-through site, instead of mailing them or voting in person.

The complaint, brought by a group of fringe conservative activists, argues that Chris Hollins, the Democratic clerk of Harris County, violated the constitution by allowing drive-through sites open to any Texan, instead of limiting them to voters over 65, as the state's statute required. Republicans hadn't initially objected to the new sites and participated in setting them up. 

But the plaintiffs argue that any change to election management by a local official is unconstitutional; Article I, section IV, clause 1 states that election rules “shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof” and because Texas's other counties didn't follow Harris's lead, the drive-through sites violated the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause. Their demand, if Hanen rules for them, is for the state to “reject any votes it finds were cast in violation of the Texas Election Code” — that is, throw out a pile of ballots equal to 8 percent of what was cast across the county eight years ago.

It's a flimsy case, coming after conservatives on the Supreme Court have ruled, in limited cases, that only legislatures can alter election statutes. That hasn't kept the court from keeping other states' changes approved by election officials in place, and no decision has invalidated ballots that were legitimate at the time they were cast. And it's unclear whether the plaintiffs even have standing, as they offered no proof that the drive-throughs harmed them. Democrats saw bad faith in the timing, with the challenge filed as early voting ended, maximizing the number of voters who could be affected, but they suggested they'd be ready if the court impounded ballots.

“Our office is committed to counting every vote cast by registered voters in this election,” Hollins said in a statement. “In the event court proceedings require any additional steps from these voters, we will work swiftly to provide that information to the public.” Still, Democrats would be shocked, and immediately appeal, if a conservative judge ruled that the drive-through ballots, legal and verified when they were cast, should be thrown out. On Sunday, the state Supreme Court, of which every member was appointed by a Republican, dismissed an identical lawsuit without comment.

In Minnesota, a Thursday night ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit shut down a seven-day grace period for absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day but received afterward. Both Republicans and Democrats had signed off on this, as part of a package of pandemic-ready election changes; Democrats, irate at the decision, plowed ahead with getting out the vote. Secretary of State Steve Simon announced Friday that he would not look for an injunction from the Supreme Court, and Democrats in competitive races said two things: that they had been preparing for any last-minute changes as conservative activists sued, and that they had moved days earlier to telling voters to drop off ballots, not mail them.

“We've been telling voters to turn in their ballots in person for almost a week now,” said Rep. Angie Craig, a freshman Democrat from the St. Paul suburbs. “Democrats have been wary of putting their ballot in the mail, for really a month now, with Louis DeJoy as postmaster general. So, we haven't changed a single thing about what we're doing.”

In North Carolina, the battle for votes spilled out of courthouses and onto the street. A Saturday march to a polling site in Alamance County, a Republican stronghold between the Democratic cities of Greensboro and Durham, was halted after it paused for a moment to remember George Floyd. According to reporters in the state, police informed the marchers that they were part of an unlawful assembly, pepper-spraying some participants, including children.

Candidate tracker

Pennsylvania got the lion's share of attention from both President Trump and Joe Biden this weekend, with polls showing the Democrat running ahead of Hillary Clinton's 2016 numbers there, but Republicans hoping for something unexpected — a surge of Trump fans who did not vote four years ago, a decline in Black Democratic turnout, or massive problems with mail-in voting — to push the president over the top. The president himself is focused on the broader map. He's rallying today in two places he flipped from blue to red — Macomb County, Mich., and Dubuque County, Iowa — and the Republican strongholds of Rome, Ga., and Opa-locka, Fla. (Rome is part of Georgia's 14th Congressional District, which is set to send conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene to Congress.)

On Monday, Trump will start the day in Fayetteville, N.C., where an earlier rally was canceled because of weather, then head to places with special meaning for his campaign. In Scranton, Pa., he'll try to pull back voters who broke his way in 2016 but have been amenable to Biden, who was born there. In Kenosha, Wis., he'll return to the site of unrest that he had hoped, briefly, would push suburban voters away from Biden. And he'll make two stops in Michigan: Traverse City, a blue dot surrounded by red, rural voters, and Grand Rapids, the site of his final 2016 rally, as well as a place where Democrats have been making gains.

Biden is spending most of his final campaign time in Pennsylvania, focusing on turnout in Philadelphia today, including a “souls to the polls” event aimed at bringing out more Black voters. He'll move west on Monday and stop in Cleveland, though most of his paths to the presidency don't include Ohio.

On Sunday, Mike Pence made return trips to Latrobe and Erie, both in Pennsylvania counties where Trump blew away expectations four years ago; Kamala D. Harris campaigned in North Carolina and Georgia, states where Democrats are optimistic but want to drive more voter turnout.


… two days until the general election
… three days until some states and counties begin counting absentee ballots
… 34 days until runoffs in Louisiana 
… 43 days until the electoral college votes 
… 65 days until runoffs in Georgia 
… 80 days until the inauguration