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Election speed read: 12 days to go

CNN Political Director David Chalian breaks down the latest CNN polling results of likely voters in Pennsylvania and Florida, two critical battleground states in the 2020 presidential race.

Posted: Oct 22, 2020 3:21 PM
Updated: Oct 22, 2020 3:21 PM

We're in the final stretch.

Days to Election Day: 12

Number of Americans who have already voted: > 40 million

Among those who already voted: Former Republican presidential nominee and now-Utah Sen. Mitt Romney.

Who did Romney vote for? Not President Donald Trump.

OK, then who? "That's something I'm keeping private at this stage."

Note: Romney's the only GOP senator who voted to remove the President from office during the impeachment trial.

New lashing out from Trump: The President unloaded Tuesday night and into Wednesday, as usual, on his perceived enemies. There's a new one: Lesley Stahl of CBS' "60 Minutes."

He walked out on an interview with her before doing a town hall on Fox News. He's posted pictures of Stahl just after their interview, and threatened to release the interview early.

The biggest binder you've ever seen. There are also photos put out by the White House of press secretary Kayleigh McEnany handing Stahl a massive binder of health care accomplishments. Given Trump has not provided a concrete health care plan, I'd love to see what's inside.

Obamacare premiums declined again this year, for the third year in a row. Click here for Tami Luhby's explanation.

Obama lets out Trump frustration: Barack Obama joined the campaign trail for his former vice president and torched Trump.

"He hasn't shown any interest in doing the work or helping anybody but himself and his friends or treating the presidency like a reality show that he can use to get attention. And by the way, even then his TV ratings are down. So you know that upsets him," the former President said in Philadelphia.

Russia and Iran meddling -- The Director of National Intelligence and the head of the FBI said at a hastily arranged press conference Wednesday that Iran was behind threatening emails sent to Florida and Alaska voters and made to look like they came from the far-right group the Proud Boys.

Deadline Thursday: Last day to request an absentee ballot in Indiana.

Starting Thursday: Early voting in West Virginia.

New CNN/SSRS polls: Biden up in Pennsylvania; jump ball in Florida. Here are the key points from CNN polling director Jennifer Agiesta:

  • Sizable minorities of voters in both states say they have already voted.
  • Early voters break heavily for Democratic nominee Joe Biden in both states.
  • People who haven't voted yet break in Trump's favor, but not by as large a margin.
  • Voters trust Biden more on key issues like Covid, except the economy, where Trump is stronger in Florida and even in Pennsylvania.
  • Enthusiasm about voting is higher among Trump's supporters.

Florida stakes: 29 electoral votes

Polling shows: Biden at 50%, Trump at 46%

(That's right at the poll's margin of sampling error, meaning there is no clear leader in the survey.)

Pennsylvania stakes: 20 electoral votes

Polling shows: Biden at 53%, Trump at 43%

2020's bellwether is North Carolina -- Everyone agrees the results from Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan could take a very long time to count. Here's a map that shows why.

CNN's Harry Enten writes that if Biden wins North Carolina, that would dispense with a lot of the drama. We shall see.

Fiddle with the Electoral College map here.

Inching toward a stimulus bill -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are making progress on a large new package, which would include $1,200 stimulus checks.

Choosing SCOTUS over stimulus -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants no distractions from Amy Coney Barrett. There may not be time for stimulus and SCOTUS before Election Day.

Why Melania skipped the 2020 campaign trail -- A source who knows the first lady told CNN's Kate Bennett that Melania Trump is doing what she often does: whatever she feels like. There's also her lingering post-Covid cough.

These immigrant voters will make you feel very strongly about voting -- CNN's Catherine Shoichet talked to citizens who immigrated to the US and are voting for the first time. These are really thoughtful.

Here's Carlos Garcia, a rigger who was born in Mexico:

Once you actually get there and stand in front of the immigration officer and you raise that hand to pledge allegiance to the United States, it's like -- that's why they call it a dream. Yes, it is a dream, because you can't believe it. This is what you've been working for, so hard, for 21 years, and you're there. You made it, but a lot of your friends didn't. You just let out that big sound from deep inside your gut. You exhale.

I've been silent for 21 years, without any official representation. I couldn't really come out of the shadows. And at this point, I'm ready to scream from the top of my lungs. I'm going to vote in person. I want to experience for the very first time that feeling, that emotion that I'm casting my vote. And I'm voting against my oppression. I waited 21 years for this moment. I can wait 21 hours in line to cast my vote. I don't care what happens. Nobody's going to stop me from voting.

: A DOJ double standard for election matters?

Marshall Cohen, who is on the team tracking voting issues for CNN, wrote this about how the DOJ made a very big deal about an election case in Pennsylvania and almost no deal about a case in Florida and Alaska:

Last month, after local prosecutors in Pennsylvania disclosed an investigation into an incident affecting nine mail-in ballots, the Justice Department issued an unusual statement confirming the investigation and revealing that seven of the ballots were marked for Trump. The White House and Trump campaign quickly capitalized on this announcement to spread baseless allegations that Democrats were rigging the election. (Local officials later said the ballots were discarded due to an error, further undercutting Trump's claims.)

This week, we learned about threatening emails sent to voters in Florida and Alaska, and local authorities say they are investigating and are getting help from federal law enforcement. (The emails said, "Vote for Trump or else!") As of Wednesday night, the Justice Department still hasn't commented publicly about the situation.

It's not a perfect comparison, but it's striking to contrast how the Justice Department is handling both situations. The Pennsylvania incident, and the DOJ widely publicized announcements about it, helped fuel Trump's false attacks against mail-in voting. The threatening emails don't help Trump politically, and could even hurt him by possibly tying his supporters to voter intimidation. And so far, the DOJ hasn't said a peep.

: The legal doctrine that could sway the election

The many many legal fights over deadlines for election officials to receive absentee ballots have been all over the map, partially because each state has its own election law.

But there may be another reason in the way courts, taking guidance from the Supreme Court, approach election law.

It's known as the Purcell Principle: "In a nutshell: Don't step in and change the status quo too close to an election because it's a disservice to voters," writes Ariane de Vogue.

But here are two key problems this year, she writes:

  • What is too close to the election?
  • What is the status quo during the pandemic?

The Supreme Court could be looking at all of this again (after granting a deadline extension in Pennsylvania) for the key state of Wisconsin in the very near future.

Separate story: There's little to suggest courts will decide the election in 2020

Read this from CNN's Katelyn Polantz, who notes the number of election-related cases before the courts right now is dwindling.

She writes: But even with Barrett's confirmation likely next week, which would shift the balance of the high court further to the right, the actual impact that ongoing voting litigation may have on the presidential election before Election Day is little.

That is, unless things are close.

"The first prayer of the elections administrator is, 'Please, God, don't let it be close,'" Steve Vladeck, a CNN legal analyst and law professor, said this week. "And that's increasingly the prayer of the elections lawyer as well."

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