The Morning Dispatch: Last Call on the Campaign Trail

Plus: Alarming pandemic numbers and an absentee ballot PSA.

Happy Friday! We needed this Friday more than we’ve needed a Friday in a long time. Next stop: Election week! (Quick reminder: We hope you’ll join us Tuesday night as we ring in the election results on our final Dispatch Live of this long, insane campaign.)

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The economy grew a record 7.4 percent from Q2 to Q3, according to a Commerce Department report released on Thursday morning, gaining back about two thirds of the losses it incurred earlier this year. The number of new unemployment claims decreased week-over-week from 791,000 to 751,000. Gross domestic product remains about 3.5 percent smaller than it was before the pandemic.

  • At least six are dead and 2.1 million are without power due to Zeta, a post-tropical cyclone that first made landfall in Louisiana on Wednesday as a Category 2 hurricane.

  • A Tunisian national stabbed three people to death in Nice’s Notre-Dame Basilica on Thursday in what French President Emmanuel Macron called an “Islamist terrorist attack.” The attack comes in the wake of the public funeral of Samuel Paty, a teacher who was beheaded in the street after showing his class caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed in a unit on free speech. Macron said the government will deploy thousands of members of its anti-terror security force across the country in the coming days.

  • The New York Times reported Thursday that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan put pressure on President Trump to scuttle an investigation into a Turkish bank suspected of evading U.S. sanctions and funneling billions of dollars into Iran. Top Trump administration officials, in turn, pressured prosecutors to go easy on the bank—and Erdogan associates involved. From 2015 to 2018, President Trump reported receiving at least $2.6 million in net income from business operations in Turkey. John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, told the Times the president “would interfere in the regular government process to do something for a foreign leader. … In anticipation of what? In anticipation of another favor from that person down the road.”

  • A federal appeals court yesterday ruled that absentee ballots in Minnesota arriving after 8:00 p.m. on November 3 must be segregated from other ballots, setting them up for potential invalidation in a later ruling. The state had planned to count all ballots received within a week of Election Day that were postmarked by November 3.

  • The Wisconsin GOP reported that $2.3 million dollars was stolen from their election account after hackers manipulated invoices from several vendors.

  • The UK Labour Party suspended Jeremy Corbyn, its former leader, after he objected to some findings in a report detailing widespread anti-Semitism in the Party under his leadership.

  • The United States confirmed 88,397 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 6.7 percent of the 1,314,850 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 963 deaths were attributed to the virus on Thursday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 228,636. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 46,095 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. (The Johns Hopkins cumulative testing number has skipped around in recent days, but it is now up to date, per the COVID Tracking Project.)

The Closing Messages

The final week of campaign stops in presidential races can give us a glimpse into presidential candidates’ hopes and fears as they round the corner toward Election Day. Joe Biden is in pole position with a nine-point lead nationally and models forecasting him to win the Electoral College 90 times out of 100. Both candidates plan to barnstorm the Midwest in the coming days, hitting Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota.

But before they head north, the two candidates made dueling pitches to voters in the key battleground state of Florida, where Biden is slightly favored to win. “As long as I am president, America will never be a socialist country,” President Trump told a crowd of mostly maskless supporters in Tampa on Thursday. “This election will decide whether our children will be condemned to the misery of socialism or whether they will inherit the glorious legacy of American freedom.”

Trump also continues to hone in on Hunter Biden in the closing days of the campaign, despite allies like Sen. Ted Cruz warning him that it’s not a winning final message. Trump even acknowledged as much in Florida. “I get a call from all the experts, right?” Trump roared to the crowd. “Guys that ran for president six, seven, eight times. Never got past the first round, but they’re calling me up, ‘Sir, you shouldn’t be speaking about Hunter. You shouldn’t be saying bad things about Biden because nobody cares.’ I disagree. Maybe that’s why I’m here and they’re not. But they say, ‘Talk about your economic success. Talk about 33.1 percent, the greatest in history.’ Now, look, if I do, I mean, how many times can I say it?”

In Coconut Creek, Biden criticized Trump’s friendly relationships with North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin. “President Trump can’t advance democracy and human rights for the Cuban people, for the Venezuelan people when he has embraced so many autocrats around the world,” Biden said at a drive-in rally, reminding Floridians just how pivotal their votes are this year. “If Florida goes blue, it’s over.”

In keeping with his campaign’s focus on coronavirus safety, Biden has kept a relatively low profile on the campaign trail this week, holding mostly drive-in campaign events. Trump, meanwhile, has spent the week flouting his own Coronavirus Task Force’s social distancing guidelines by rallying thousands of closely huddled supporters in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona, North Carolina, Nebraska, and Michigan. “All Biden does is talks about COVID,” Trump said in Florida on Thursday. “They say the fact that he has nobody at all show up [to his rallies] is because of COVID. No, it’s because nobody shows up.”

The candidates’ advertising choices this week also help clarify the closing messages of their campaigns. “Character is on the ballot,” Biden says in his recently launched “Rising” ad. “And this is our opportunity to leave the dark, angry politics of the past four years behind us. To choose hope over fear. Unity over division. … I believe it’s time to unite the country, come together as a nation.”

The Trump campaign’s ads, meanwhile, cast his opponent as a puppet of the lawless, socialist radical left. “While America’s cities burned, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris fanned the flames, refusing to strongly condemn violence,” a narrator says in Trump’s national ad called “President Trump Will Uphold the Law.” In a clear pitch to Florida’s Hispanic population, another Trump ad says Biden “is the candidate of Castrochavismo,” a term associated with Latin American socialist dictators Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. Relatively sparse on the Trump campaign’s airwaves? Attacks on Hunter Biden.

State of the Virus: Not Great

President Trump, irritated by what he sees as media hype over the coronavirus pandemic, has recently taken to proclaiming that the press will stop covering the virus as soon as the election is over. Unfortunately, it’s starting to look like the opposite will be true. After this grueling year, Americans may be sick to death of thinking and reading about the pandemic, but the trends are alarming enough that we’re all likely to be hearing a lot more about the disease again in the weeks ahead.

New COVID cases and hospitalizations are exploding across the U.S., as virus-weary states largely continue to ignore the fact that plans to reopen their economies this spring were premised on continuing to limit social interactions that could reignite rampant spread. More than half a million new patients were diagnosed with the disease over the last week, with a record 87,000 new cases yesterday alone. Meanwhile, hospitalizations are up nearly 50 percent from this time last month.

European countries, struggling with spikes of their own, have begun to take drastic measures; France and Germany both announced the return of major economic and social restrictions this week. France is returning to a true lockdown, with non-essential personnel ordered to stay home, while Germany is re-closing some businesses, including bars, restaurants, and gyms.

A few states—including California and New York—have begun to reapply some economic restrictions, but most are still either partially or entirely reopened. And while the effects of the pandemic in the spring were felt most powerfully in just a few areas—particularly New Jersey and New York—this time around the virus seems to be accelerating everywhere at once, hitting sparsely populated states as hard as bigger cities.

(We will at least see the end of one form of high-risk transmission event next week: President Trump’s signature rallies, which have abandoned all pretense of social distancing and at which the vast majority of the crowds go unmasked, will likely go on hiatus after election day.)

The good news is that COVID treatment continues to improve at a staggering clip. One study published last week found that a COVID patient hospitalized in August was three times less likely to die than a comparable patient admitted in March. And even more powerful treatments are on the horizon: Drug maker Regeneron announced on Wednesday that its upcoming antibody cocktail reduced recipients’ likelihood of hospitalization by a remarkable 57 percent.

But both of these cheerful data points become far less reassuring in an environment of explosive, out-of-control viral spread. It isn’t just that our treatments have gotten better—the virus has also been less deadly in recent months because, unlike in New York this spring, it hasn’t exceeded hospitals’ ability to handle the caseload. As hospitalizations spike, this may not continue to be true. This week, El Paso shut down businesses and imposed a citywide curfew following the startling news they were over capacity at all regional hospitals. The trend is similar elsewhere. “Our hospitals cannot keep up with Utah’s infection rate,” Utah’s Republican Governor Gary Herbert tweeted yesterday. “You deserve to understand the dire situation we face.”

One of the most cruel and stubborn facts of this spring’s pandemic math was that we didn’t feel the real effects of a given week of transmission until a week or two after the fact. If waiting to lock down until the day hospitals hit capacity is the model for U.S. cities during this phase of the pandemic, things will get very messy very quickly.

Regeneron’s drug, too, must deal with a problem of scale. As of now, the company has only 50,000 doses ready to deploy—an insignificant quantity given that antibody treatments, unlike antivirals and steroids, must be taken soon after diagnosis to have the desired effect. In other words, you can’t save the drug to give only to those people who become very sick, because by the time a person is very sick, it’s too late for them to benefit from it. That dramatically increases the amount of the drug the country needs on hand to deploy it as a useful public health tool.

“We are entering the most difficult phase of the pandemic right now, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said earlier this week. “We are much better prepared to deal with it, but it is going to be a hard stretch ahead.”

Think Twice Before Mailing That Ballot

With the election only four days away and litigation over absentee ballots aflutter, several states have begun urging would-be mail-in voters to instead shift toward official ballot drop boxes and in-person voting. Although election officials across the country have long warned that ballots sent through the U.S. Postal Service after October 27 might not arrive by Election Day, 38 million of the 92 million mail-in ballots requested by voters have yet to be returned as of yesterday evening.

According to the U.S. Elections Project, a site tracking early voter turnout, many of these unaccounted for voters reside in key battleground states. In Florida, for example, more than 1.7 million ballots out of the nearly 6 million ballots requested are currently outstanding. By party, Florida is missing the ballots of more than 730,000 registered Democrats, more than 553,000 registered Republicans, and around 460,000 unaffiliated voters.

Other swing states have reported similar return rates for mail-in and absentee ballots. Pennsylvania has received 68.2 percent of ballots requested, Arizona has received 59.1 percent, Georgia received 62.6 percent, and North Carolina has received 58.7 percent. In the 20 states that break down ballots by party affiliation, 10 million ballots belonging to registered Democrats are currently outstanding, as well as 7 million ballots belonging to Republicans and 9.5 million ballots requested by unaffiliated voters.

Still, the 2020 early voter turnout has already hit record-breaking levels, surpassing 57 percent of the 2016 election’s total voter participation. And many voters who requested mail-in ballots several months ago may opt instead for in-person or drop-box voting, on or before Election Day.

“We are too close to Election Day, and the right to vote is too important, to rely on the Postal Service to deliver absentee ballots on time,” Michigan’s Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in a statement Tuesday. “Citizens who already have an absentee ballot should sign the back of the envelope and hand-deliver it to their city or township clerk’s office or ballot drop box as soon as possible. Voters who haven’t yet received their ballot should go to their clerk’s office to request it in person. They can fill it out, sign the envelope and submit it all in one trip.”

Worth Your Time

  • In the Washington Post, Michael Miller tells the story of Carol Coates, a 46-year-old teacher who contracted the coronavirus earlier this month. “Carol Coates had battled COVID-19 at the same time as the president,” Miller writes. “But instead of a suite at Walter Reed, the 46-year-old Black teacher self-isolated in the basement of her family’s home. And instead of the experimental cocktail of antibodies that Trump was given, she received get-well cards from her fifth-grade students.” Heading home from his older sister’s funeral, Carlton Coates was met with more heart-wrenching news: His mom had died from COVID-19 too. Nearly eight months into the pandemic, the statistics have (understandably) become the story. But we can’t forget what “another 963 deaths were attributed to the virus yesterday” truly means.

  • Writing for the New York Times, Ernie Tedeschi breaks down the effect coronavirus-induced school closures are having on parents across the country. 1.2 million parents of school-aged children have left the labor force since February, but mothers make up a much larger percentage of that number than fathers do. “Between February and September, participation for mothers declined by 3.3 percentage points, adjusting for normal seasonal variations,” he writes. “For fathers, it declined by 1.3 percentage points. That’s the equivalent of 900,000 fewer mothers and 300,000 fewer fathers in the workforce over the last seven months.” The consequences, Tedeschi argues, are serious: “Declines in the parental labor force suggest that school closings have shaved the equivalent of around a month off the recovery.”

  • If you’re of a certain age (as nearly all of your Morning Dispatchers are), your elementary school library probably had an entire shelf devoted to the children’s horror novels of R.L. Stine. Adrienne LaFrance of The Atlantic explores Stine’s enduring popularity and asks the author why he thinks scaring the bejeezus out of kids is so important. “I talked once to a child psychologist in L.A., and he told me he had a patient, this girl, who came every week, and all she did was recite Fear Street plots to him,” says Stine. “This was her way of dealing with all her fears, going through these books. You’re having all of these horrible things happen, but you’re still safe in your room, reading.” LaFrance argues that creating engrossing worlds for children, even frightening ones, is crucial. Fictional lands are “a tacit acknowledgment of what children already feel so viscerally: that the otherworldly is, in fact, always at hand, if just out of sight.”

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • On yesterday’s episode of Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah provide an update on the staggering early voting numbers before jumping into how judicial oaths of office are administered and all of the election litigation we explored in TMD earlier this week.

  • Before unveiling his final election predictions in the latest French Press (🔒), David makes the case that how people feel on election night goes a long way towards explaining why so many voters love Trump so much: “The combination of an upset win over perhaps the most-disliked Democrat in America and the obvious shock and chagrin of the mainstream media bonded Trump to Republicans in a way that was difficult to put into words,” he writes.

Let Us Know

Tomorrow won’t be a typical Halloween, but it is Halloween nonetheless. Two-parter today: What was your favorite Halloween costume you ever wore, and what is your favorite Halloween candy? Here’s ours:

James: Stanford marching band member, Twix

Audrey: Cow, Butterfingers

Charlotte: Scooby Doo, Reese’s

Alec: Indiana Jones, candy corn

Andrew: Robin Hood, Snickers

Declan: Superman, Almond Joy

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), James P. Sutton (@jamespsuttonsf), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photo by Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images.