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California Sen. Kamala Harris has assumed a central role in Democratic advertising as the presidential campaign enters its final weeks, a sign that party operatives are counting on the first Black woman to appear on a major party’s presidential ticket to fire up young people and Black voters in key swing states.

A set of new advertisements and mailers from BlackPAC, a political action committee that focuses on turning out Black voters in the presidential race and in key Senate races, puts Harris front and center: A television and digital ad uses the speech that Harris delivered at her own presidential campaign kickoff in 2019 as narration. One of the group’s mailers outlines Harris’ biography, noting her education at Howard University and how she was “raised with the values of the civil rights movement.”

And Joe Biden’s presidential campaign is giving Harris, also the first South Asian woman to run on a major party ticket, a far more prominent role in campaign ads than vice presidential candidates have traditionally warranted. Last week, the campaign released a 60-second digital and television ad, titled “We’re Listening,” featuring Harris speaking directly to the camera about police reform and racial justice.

Democratic operatives said Harris’ outsized role reflects both her ability to reach voters – especially young people – who remain skeptical of Biden and the general jolt of energy she’s brought to the ticket since her selection shortly before the Democratic National Convention last month. (Biden and the Democratic National Committee raised more than $360 million in August, with much of that cash pouring in after the Harris announcement.)

Many Harris allies also see the ads as crucial to protecting a candidate who they think was unfairly treated during her own presidential run, and who has already been the target of misogynistic and racist attacks from President Donald Trump and other Republicans.

“Voters already know how much Trump has hurt their lives. We don’t need to tell them about that,” said Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of BlackPAC. “What feels most important to do is to define Kamala Harris and Joe Biden for Black voters in relation to the issues that Black voters have said they care the most about.”

BlackPAC’s ads are part of a seven-figure buy aimed at boosting Black turnout in Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The group’s other spots and mailers emphasize how voting is a significant part of building political power for the Black community, and how the coronavirus pandemic has hit Black people especially hard.

“This is a crisis. But we can fix it by organizing the power of our community to eject those who deal in hate and elect those who help us elevate,” a narrator says in one of the ads. “This is the time to make our voice, our vote and our power heard.”

BlackPAC is a super PAC, which means it can spend and raise unlimited sums of money as long as it does not coordinate directly with a political campaign. Most of the group’s funding this cycle comes from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a liberal nonprofit that does not disclose its donors, giving $2.25 million. It also received $500,000 from the nonprofit group America Votes and $120,000 from James Murdoch and his wife. (Murdoch, the son of News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch, has donated extensively to Democratic causes this election cycle.)

Biden has held a consistent lead over Trump in most public polls, both nationally and in major swing states. While his advantage among Black voters is massive, it remains smaller than Hillary Clinton’s edge over Trump four years ago, and Democratic strategists are particularly worried about enthusiasm from young Black men. High Black voter turnout could prove crucial in nearly every key presidential swing state: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Florida.

Harris’ campaign travel so far indicates that Biden’s team plans to use her to reach out to voters of color. On Monday, she traveled to Milwaukee, the largest city in Wisconsin, where Black turnout dipped in 2016. There, she met with the family of Jacob Blake, then with a group of Black business owners to discuss the Biden campaign’s economic plans, and finally with a group of Latino community organizers.

“We have to get this done,” Harris told a group of roughly 45 supporters who had gathered on the sidewalk outside her meeting with business owners. “I need your help in Milwaukee, OK? We’re going to get this done.” (A video of Harris’ brief remarks went viral on Tuesday, racking up more than 3 million views, with many people commenting on her footwear: a pair of black low-rise Chuck Taylor All-Stars.)

Matt Hill, a spokesperson for the Biden campaign, said the ads featuring Harris were part of the campaign’s broad advertising strategy, a contrast to Republicans’ Trump-centric approach.

“Donald Trump’s campaign is built around one person: Donald Trump,” Hill wrote in an email to HuffPost. “That’s why they appease him with DC cable news buys, profit his pockets spending millions at Trump properties, and make sure he is the only star of their ads. Joe Biden is running for President not for himself, but for the country ― and that’s why we not only proudly feature the whole ticket across our paid media, but the broad coalition of working Americans who are voting Biden-Harris too.”

Officials at the progressive group NextGen America, which focuses on turning out youth voters, said their polling showed Harris was already making young women, especially Black and Latina women, more excited about voting in November. They noted that both Harris’ inspiring personal story ― she’s the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica who has ascended to the highest levels of American politics ― and her ability to deliver biting attacks on the president could fire up young people.

“They’re going to put Kamala Harris in the key, grabbing rebounds and throwing elbows. Joe Biden gets to be the person floating above all of this, pointing out that Donald Trump is a crazy person,” said Heather Greven, communications director at NextGen. “Our audience is going to love the Kamala debate against Mike Pence.”

If the Biden campaign wants to cement a relationship between Harris and young voters of color, it will need to address criticisms of Harris’ record as a prosecutor in San Francisco and as attorney general of California. Throughout the Democratic presidential primaries, progressives assailed Harris as part of the machinery of mass incarceration.

“Some of these negative ads are landing,” Shropshire said, citing both the shorthand perception that “Kamala is a cop” and the idea that Biden only selected her as a way to pander to Black voters. “Some are sticking. Some people are spouting right-wing talking points, since that’s all they’ve heard.”

Harris allies plan to instead highlight her record as a senator, including her lead role in the Justice in Policing Act, the Democratic proposal to reform police departments that was written after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

BlackPAC, along with three other super PACs led by women, is slated to spend $10 million to combat criticisms of Harris online. Republicans have already made it clear that they plan to attack Harris aggressively, with Trump taking direct aim at her during a rally Tuesday night in North Carolina.

“She could never be the first woman president. She could never be. That would be an insult to our country,” Trump said.

Regardless of Trump’s attacks, however, Democratic operatives said the centrality of Harris to the presidential campaign was an inherent shift.

“Going from picking [Clinton’s running mate] Tim Kaine to having ads and messaging that really centered white voters to now, where Kamala Harris is on the top of the ticket, speaking about racial justice,” said Aimee Allison, founder and president of She The People, which advocated for Biden to pick a woman of color as his running mate. “Things really have changed.”

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William Barr Briefed Trump On Probe Over Discarded Pennsylvania Ballots: Report

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump listens to a question as he appears at the "Retired American Warriors" conference during a campaign stop in Herndon, Virginia, U.S., October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Attorney General William Barr personally briefed President Donald Trump on a probe into what the Justice Department is calling “reports of potential issues with a small number of mail-in ballots” in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, a DOJ official told ABC News on Friday.

That information comes a day after the Justice Department took the unusual step of revealing details about an ongoing investigation, which White House critics decried as an attempt to bolster Trump’s repeated and largely baseless claims that mail-in voting is ripe for fraud.

The DOJ did so after Trump began discussing it during an interview with Fox News Radio.

“They were Trump ballots … and they were thrown in a garbage can. This is what’s going to happen,” Trump said in the interview. “This is what’s going to happen, and we’re investigating that.”

Later that day, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania shared more details, saying there were nine discarded ballots for Trump. The office later corrected the statement to say only seven of the votes were for the president, raising questions among election experts about the details of the situation and the way they were announced.

“At this point, we can confirm that a small number of military ballots were discarded,” a statement from the office said. “Investigators have recovered nine ballots at this time. Some of those ballots can be attributed to specific voters and some cannot. Of the nine ballots that were discarded and then recovered, 7 were cast for presidential candidate Donald Trump. Two of the discarded ballots had been resealed inside their appropriate envelopes by Luzerne elections staff prior to recovery by the FBI and the contents of those 2 ballots are unknown.”

The Justice Department also sent a letter to Luzerne County Bureau of Elections director Shelby Watchilla saying the staff appeared to be at fault.

“The preliminary findings of this inquiry are troubling and the Luzerne County Bureau of Elections must comply with all applicable state and federal election laws and guidance to ensure that all votes—regardless of party—are counted to ensure an accurate election count,” the letter read.

Luzerne County Manager C. David Pedri released a statement later Friday saying a “temporary seasonal independent contractor” who started Sept. 14 was the employee who threw out the ballots. The person was fired thereafter.

After discovering what happened, the FBI and other authorities sorted through all the trash from the days that employee was in service in order to retrieve the ballots. Both county- and state-level authorities are providing “supplemental extensive training” to everyone working in the Luzerne elections department, Pedri said. Huffington

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Trump aims to boost rural turnout in critical Wisconsin

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Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

President Donald Trump is aiming to boost enthusiasm among rural Wisconsin voters Thursday, looking to repeat his path to victory four years ago.

The event is scheduled to start at 9 p.m. EST. Watch Trump’s remarks in the player above.

Making his fifth visit to the pivotal battleground state this year, Trump views success in the state’s less-populated counties as critical to another term. He is set to hold a rally Thursday evening in Mosinee, in central Wisconsin, an area of the state that shifted dramatically toward Republicans in 2016, enabling Trump to overcome even greater deficits in urban and suburban parts of the state.

Trump, hinging his campaign on turning out his core supporters, has increasingly used his public appearances to elevate cultural issues important to his generally whiter and older base. Earlier Thursday, in a speech at the National Archives to commemorate Constitution Day, he derided The New York Times’ “1619 Project,” which aims to reframe the country’s history by highlighting the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans.

“For many years now, the radicals have mistaken Americans’ silence for weakness. But they are wrong,” Trump said. “There is no more powerful force than a parent’s love for their children — and patriotic moms and dads are going to demand that their children are no longer fed hateful lies about this country.”

Trump’s last visit to Wisconsin came on Sept. 1, when he met with law enforcement and toured damage from protests in Kenosha that turned violent after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man hit seven times in the back during an attempted arrest. Trump has sought to use the unrest after the August shooting of Blake and the May police killing of George Floyd to tout a “law and order” message and to paint an apocalyptic vision of violence if Democrat Joe Biden wins on Nov. 3.

Trump won Marathon County, which includes Mosinee, by more than 12,000 votes in 2016 — over three times more than the margin by which 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney won the area. Trump’s team is wagering the 2020 contest on a similar performance in the county and the dozens of others like it across battleground states.

Trump’s path to 270 Electoral College votes may well hinge on Wisconsin, and his campaign is investing tens of millions of dollars on advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts in the state.

Trump’s event was set to take place at an aircraft hangar at the Mosinee airport, his campaign’s preferred format for mass rallies amid the coronavirus, though Trump has been willing to host large events indoors as well, sometimes in violation of state and federal distancing guidelines. – PBS


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Federal Judge Blocks Postal Service Changes That Slowed Mail

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A U.S. judge on Thursday blocked controversial Postal Service changes that have slowed mail nationwide, calling them “a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service” before the November election.

Judge Stanley Bastian in Yakima, Washington, said he was issuing a nationwide preliminary injunction sought by 14 states that sued the Trump administration and the U.S. Postal Service.

The states challenged the Postal Service’s so-called “leave behind” policy, where trucks have been leaving postal facilities on time regardless of whether there is more mail to load. They also sought to force the Postal Service to treat election mail as first class mail.

The judge noted after a hearing that Trump had repeatedly attacked voting by mail by making unfounded claims that it is rife with fraud. Many more voters are expected to vote by mail this November because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the states have expressed concern that delays might result in voters not receiving ballots or registration forms in time.

“The states have demonstrated the defendants are involved in a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service,” Bastian said.

He also said the changes created “a substantial possibility many voters will be disenfranchised.”

Bastian, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, issued a written order later Thursday that closely tracked the relief sought by the states. It ordered the Postal Service to stop implementing the “leave behind” policy, to treat all election mail as first class mail rather than as slower-moving categories, to reinstall any mail processing machines needed to ensure the prompt handling of election mail, and to inform its employees about the requirements of his injunction.

Postal Service spokesman Dave Partenheimer said the organization is reviewing its legal options, but “there should be no doubt that the Postal Service is ready and committed to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives.”

Lee Moak, a member of the USPS Board of Governors, called the notion any changes were politically motivated “completely and utterly without merit.”

Following a national uproar, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major donor to President Donald Trump and the GOP, announced he was suspending some changes — including the removal of iconic blue mailboxes in many cities and the decommissioning of mail processing machines.

But other changes remained in place, and the states — including the battlegrounds of Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada — asked the court to block them. Led by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, the states said the Postal Service made the changes without first bringing them to the Postal Regulatory Commission for public comment and an advisory opinion, as required by federal law. They also said the changes interfered with their constitutional authority to administer their elections.

At the hearing, Justice Department attorney Joseph Borson sought to assure the judge that the Postal Service would handle election mail promptly, noting that a surge of ballots in the mail would pale in comparison to increases from, say, holiday cards.

He also said slow-downs caused by the “leave behind” policy had gotten better since it was first implemented, and that the Postal Service in reality had made no changes with regard to how it classifies and processes election mail. DeJoy has repeatedly insisted that processing election mail remains the organization’s top priority.

“There’s been a lot of confusion in the briefing and in the press about what the Postal Service has done,” Borson said. “The states are accusing us of making changes we have not in fact made.”

Voters who are worried about their ballots being counted “can simply promptly drop their ballots in the mail,” he said, and states can help by mailing registration form or absentee ballots early.

Borson also insisted that the states were required to bring their challenge not in court, but before the Postal Regulatory Commission itself — even though by law the commission has 90 days to respond. Bastian rejected that notion, saying there was no time for that with the election just seven weeks away.

The states conceded that mail delays have eased since the service cuts first created a national uproar in July, but they said on-time deliveries remain well below their prior levels, meaning millions of pieces of mail that would otherwise arrive on-time no longer are.

They also noted some of the effects the changes had already wrought: Michigan spent $2 million earlier this year on envelopes that met election mail standards — only to learn that the Postal Service wouldn’t treat them as first class mail. In Madison, Wisconsin, the number of ballots that weren’t counted because they arrived late for the August primary doubled from the August 2018 primary.

Further, they cited research from information technology consultant Mynor Urizar-Hunter, who helped start a website tracking the USPS changes, noting that 78% of the machines slated for removal were in counties won by Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The states suing are Washington, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia — all led by Democratic attorneys general.

Pennsylvania is leading a separate multistate lawsuit over the changes, and New York and Montana have filed their own challenges.

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