The Latest Updates on Tonight's Presidential Debate – The New York Times


Credit…CBS News/60 Minutes

President Trump on Thursday made good on a threat to post unfiltered footage from a “60 Minutes” interview he participated in earlier this week with the anchor Lesley Stahl — an interview that Mr. Trump abruptly cut short, complaining that Ms. Stahl was unfair.

In posting the 38-minute clip on Facebook, Mr. Trump urged viewers to “look at the bias, hatred and rudeness on behalf of 60 Minutes and CBS.”

But a review of the footage shows Ms. Stahl calmly and firmly asking the president questions on the coronavirus and other topics — and Mr. Trump growing increasingly irritated.

From the outset of the interview the president suggested that Ms. Stahl was not being “fair,” before proceeding to complain about the topics that the anchor brought up, including the flagging economy and the rising numbers of coronavirus cases in more than 40 states.

He spent much of the interview complaining about Ms. Stahl or insulting her, accusing her of being “negative” in her approach. “You brought up a lot of questions that were inappropriately brought up, right from the beginning,” Mr. Trump says toward the end of the clip.

“Don’t you think you should be accountable to the American people?” Ms. Stahl replies.

The footage released by Mr. Trump was filmed by White House staff members; CBS said that the president’s aides had pledged to use the footage “for archival purposes only.”

“The White House’s unprecedented decision to disregard their agreement with CBS News and release their footage will not deter ‘60 Minutes’ from providing its full, fair and contextual reporting which presidents have participated in for decades,” CBS News said in a statement.

Later on Thursday, the Trump campaign released more unfiltered footage — this time, of Ms. Stahl’s interview with Vice President Mike Pence, which occurred immediately after Mr. Trump walked away from his sit-down.

“So what just happened with the president?” Ms. Stahl asks.

“Lesley, uh, President Trump is a man who speaks his mind,” Mr. Pence replies. “I think it’s one of the great strengths that he’s had as president.”

The interviews are set to air on Sunday episode of “60 Minutes,” which also features interviews with the Democratic candidate, Joseph R. Biden Jr., and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris.

In the interview, Mr. Trump makes a notable pronouncement about his opinion of the Affordable Care Act, telling Ms. Stahl that he wants the Supreme Court to abolish the policy, commonly known as Obamacare.

“I hope that they end it; it’ll be so good if they end it,” Mr. Trump says. Pressed by Ms. Stahl on how he would handle a scenario where millions of Americans abruptly lost their health insurance, Mr. Trump said repeatedly that he had “a plan.” When Ms. Stahl pointed out that he has not shown a plan publicly, Mr. Trump falsely claimed that he had.

At one point, Mr. Trump falsely claimed he had never said a version of “lock her up” about Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, who was recently the target of a foiled kidnapping plot. In fact, after his rally crowd chanted, “Lock her up” as he campaigned in Michigan last weekend, Mr. Trump said, “Lock them all up.

Toward the end of the clip, Mr. Trump complains that “60 Minutes” had been tougher on him than on Mr. Biden. (In fact, “60 Minutes” interviewed Mr. Biden for the same program, and pressed him on the sensitive issue of whether he would expand the Supreme Court.)

“I see Joe Biden getting softball after softball; I’ve seen all of his interviews, he’s never been asked a question that’s hard,” the president complains.

“Well, forget him for a minute — you’re president!” Ms. Stahl replies.

“Excuse me, Lesley, you started with me, your first statement was ‘Are you ready for tough questions?’” the president interjects. “That’s no way to talk. No way to talk.”

From off-camera, a man can be heard saying that Mr. Pence was set to join them in five minutes. Mr. Trump objects, “Well, I think we have enough. I think we have enough of an interview here. OK? That’s enough. Let’s go. Let’s go.”

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Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

While senior Trump administration officials said this week that Iran has been actively interfering in the presidential election, many intelligence officials said they remained far more concerned about Russia, which has in recent days hacked into state and local computer networks in breaches that could allow Moscow broader access to American voting infrastructure.

The discovery of the hacks came as American intelligence agencies, infiltrating Russian networks themselves, have pieced together details of what they believe are Russia’s plans to interfere in the presidential race in its final days or immediately after the election on Nov. 3.

Officials did not make clear what Russia planned to do, but they said its operations would be intended to help President Trump, potentially by exacerbating disputes around the results, especially if the race is too close to call.

There is no evidence that the Russians have changed any vote tallies or voter registration information, officials said. They added that the Russian-backed hackers had penetrated the computer networks without taking further action, as they did in 2016. But American officials expect that if the presidential race is not called on election night, Russian groups could use their knowledge of local computer systems to deface websites, release nonpublic information or take similar steps that could sow chaos and doubts about the integrity of the results, according to American officials briefed on the intelligence.

Some U.S. intelligence officials view Russia’s intentions as more significant than the announcement Wednesday night by the director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, that Iran has been involved in the spreading of faked, threatening emails, which were made to appear as if they came from the Proud Boys, a right-wing extremist group.

Officials briefed on the intelligence said that Mr. Ratcliffe had accurately summarized the preliminary conclusion about Iran. But Tehran’s hackers may have accomplished that mission simply by assembling public information and then routing the threatening emails through Saudi Arabia, Estonia and other countries to hide their tracks. One official compared the Iranian action to single-A baseball, while the Russians are major leaguers.

Nonetheless, both the Iranian and the Russian activity could pave the way for “perception hacks,” which are intended to leave the impression that foreign powers have greater access to the voting system than they really do. Federal officials have warned for months that small breaches could be exaggerated to prompt inaccurate charges of widespread voter fraud.

Officials say Russia’s ability to change vote tallies nationwide is limited.

Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Joseph R. Biden Jr., who for weeks has declined to clarify his position on expanding the Supreme Court, said in an interview that if elected, he would establish a bipartisan commission of scholars to study a possible court overhaul more broadly.

“I will ask them to, over 180 days, come back to me with recommendations as to how to reform the court system because it’s getting out of whack,” the Democratic presidential nominee told CBS News’s Norah O’Donnell, according to an interview excerpt that is expected to be broadcast in full Sunday on “60 Minutes.”

“The way in which it’s being handled, and it’s not about court packing, there’s a number of other things that our constitutional scholars have debated and I’ve looked to see what recommendations that commission might make.”

Mr. Biden, the former vice president who served for decades as a U.S. senator from Delaware, has previously opposed expanding the Supreme Court.

But amid the current battle over Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination by President Trump just before the election — and calls from some Democrats to expand the court to counteract the last-minute addition of a conservative justice — Mr. Biden has declined to take a clear position, though he acknowledged earlier this month that he was “not a fan” of court packing.

However, he said last week that he would make his position known to voters before Election Day. The topic is likely to surface at tonight’s presidential debate.

Mr. Biden’s latest remarks amounted to a recognition that he could not continue to dodge the subject entirely. But they left questions about his personal position unanswered and irked some advocates of court expansion who believe the issue must be addressed with much greater urgency should he win.

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“This proposed commission runs the risk of stalling momentum for serious reform,” said Brian Fallon, executive director of the progressive courts-focused group Demand Justice. “A commission that would allow opponents of structural reform to run out the clock is not a solution; it’s a punt.”

In the past, Mr. Biden has said that taking a firm position would only offer fuel to his opponent.

“The last thing we need to do is turn the Supreme Court into just a political football, whoever has the most votes gets whatever they want,” Mr. Biden said. “Presidents come and go. Supreme Court justices stay for generations.”

He called the issue a “live ball” and said there were “a number of alternatives” that “go well beyond packing.”

President Trump, who won Kansas by more than 20 percentage points four years ago, maintains only a single-digit lead in the state, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll released Thursday, an erosion of support that typifies his struggles in nearly every corner of the country as he fights for a second term.

With the clock ticking down to Election Day, the president leads Joseph R. Biden Jr. by seven percentage points, 48 to 41, among likely voters in a traditionally conservative state.


The New York Times /
Siena College poll

Donald Trump leads Joe Biden by seven points in Kansas, a state Mr. Trump won by a large margin in 2016.

+20 Trump
56-36

+7 Trump
48-41

Based on a New York Times/Siena College poll of 755 likely voters in Kansas from Oct. 18 to Oct. 20.

The abandonment of Mr. Trump by some voters whom Republicans could once rely on unfailingly has filtered down to the state’s Senate race, where the Democratic nominee, Barbara Bollier, trails the Republican, Roger Marshall, by just four percentage points, 46 to 42.

Kansas has voted for the Republican presidential nominee in the last 12 elections and is home to the party’s 1996 nominee, Bob Dole (who is now 97 years old). It is unlikely to stray this year. But the fact that the contest is so close in the state may presage a brutal self-examination for Republicans if Mr. Trump becomes the first president to lose re-election in a quarter-century.

Barely more than half of Kansans, 51 percent, approve of the job Mr. Trump is doing. Forty-five percent disapprove.

The survey of 755 likely voters had a margin of error of four points. About 12 percent of voters said they preferred a third-party candidate, were undecided or refused to name a preference.

Mr. Trump’s final big opportunity to shift the race may come tonight in the last debate. But with one in five Kansas voters reporting that they have already cast their votes, the president’s window is closing. Nationally, more than 45 million Americans have already voted, equivalent to 33 percent of all votes cast in 2016

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

The briefing in wildfire-ravaged California last month was a time-honored staple of White House agitprop, the president around a horseshoe-shaped table with local emergency responders and politicians discussing a natural disaster.

But President Trump made news on Sept. 14 at Sacramento’s McClellan Airport. State leaders were urging him to recognize the role of global warming in the record breaking wildfire season, when he smiled, shrugged, and said, “It will start getting cooler. You just watch.”

When a participant lamented that the science does not agree, the president quipped, “I don’t think science knows, actually.”

To Mr. Trump’s supporters, it was a signal that his denial of climate change has not shifted. To his detractors, it was still more proof that he will not accept established science. But according to three people who witnessed the event, it was all theater. A few minutes later, out of the range of television cameras, Mr. Trump readily agreed with Gov. Gavin Newsom that climate change in fact did exacerbate the wildfire season.

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He called its responsibility “probably like 50-50,” along with poor forest management, the people familiar with the discussion said.

Judd Deere, a White House spokesman said in a statement the remarks were “not a correct reading of the conversation.”

But the president’s casual, semiprivate acknowledgment of climate change stunned several observers, some of whom likened it to the president’s admission to journalist Bob Woodward that he deliberately downplayed the coronavirus despite knowing it was “deadly stuff.”

At the California event, Governor Newsom approached Mr. Trump after the briefing had ended and the press pool had departed. He said he hoped the president understood that California leaders felt it was important to raise the issue of climate change despite their different views, according to the observers, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to discuss the conversation.

“Gavin, I totally get it, and really it’s probably like 50-50,” President Trump replied, according to those who overheard.

Scientists said whether or not Mr. Trump was purposely provoking outrage on the left to delight his base, his equivocating on climate change is dangerous.

“Published science shows that pollution from human sources causes 98 percent of the heat of climate change and that human-caused climate change has doubled wildfire over natural levels in the western U.S. On both issues, Mr. Trump is wrong,” said Patrick Gonzalez, a forest ecologist and climate change scientist at the University of California, Berkeley.

“When Mr. Trump denies science and blocks action on climate change, he puts people’s lives and homes at risk,” Dr. Gonzalez said.

Credit…Octavio Jones/Reuters

Law-enforcement officials in St. Petersburg, Fla., said Thursday that they would station deputies at five early voting sites as a precaution, the day after two armed men dressed as security guards were seen at a campaign tent outside a polling station.

The men told a law-enforcement official that they had been hired by the Trump campaign to provide security, said Deputy Chuck Skipper of the Pinellas County sheriff’s office. But the county sheriff, Bob Gualtieri, said that he had “absolutely no confirmation” that the men were hired by the Trump campaign. The men said they were guards for a Florida-based security company, Mr. Gualtieri said.

Thea McDonald, a spokeswoman for President Trump’s campaign, said in a statement, “The campaign did not hire these individuals nor did the campaign direct them to go to the voting location.”

The men’s presence came at a time of tension and fears of unrest at the polls following the Trump campaign’s promise to send “an army” of poll watchers to voting sites . During the first presidential debate, Mr. Trump urged supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully.”

Mr. Gualtieri said that while the men may have made some voters feel uneasy, they had not violated laws.

“All of a sudden two people arrived, they were wearing tan khaki pants, they had on blue polo shirts with a security guard insignia on them,” Mr. Gualtieri said. “They were also armed and they were wearing gun belts and they had firearms. That caused some concerns because of the heightened awareness.”

But he added, “Their mere presence does not constitute voter coercion or intimidation. Some people may see these people here and it doesn’t give them a great feeling. On the other side of the coin, it may give others a good feeling, because they feel protected.”

The League of Women Voters immediately expressed concern that the presence of deputies at polling sites could itself deter voters from appearing, noting a history of barriers to voting in St. Petersburg.

“While in intention it is really meant to make voters feel at ease, given the events yesterday, it isn’t necessary for law enforcement officers to be inside poling places,” said Linsey Grove, the organization’s local president.

The head of the security company that employs the men, Syotos, based in Crestview, Fla., blamed the episode on a misunderstanding involving an off-duty employee. “We had an off-duty employee who was picking up a family member who happened to be in the vicinity of a polling location,” the chief executive of Syotos, Trei McMullen, wrote, saying that the employee was “in no way engaging in poll watching.”

In another Florida incident, in Miami-Dade County, State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle said on Thursday that her office would look into the case of a Miami city police officer who wore a face mask with a profane pro-Trump slogan to an early voting site on Tuesday while in uniform. The department has said that officer, Daniel Ubeda, will be disciplined.

Elsewhere in the country, in Minnesota, Attorney General Keith Ellison, said his office was investigating a Tennessee company that has been recruiting armed guards as poll-watchers.

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Republicans Move Barrett’s Nomination to Senate Floor

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted on Thursday to advance Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination despite Democrats boycotting the session in protest.

“As you know, our Democratic colleagues informed the committee last night that they will not participate in the hearing — that was their choice. It will be my choice to vote the nominee out of committee. We’re not going to allow them to take over the committee. They made a choice not to participate. Each of you, when this is over, I hope you feel like a sense of accomplishment. This is why we all run. It’s moments like this that make everything you go through matter. It’s moments like this where you can tell young conservative women there’s a place at the table for you.” “So I just wanted to take a minute and thank you for your patience, to lay out my thoughts and observations with regard to this — these theatricals with which our Democratic colleagues are presenting us today. This is all for show. This is to try to capture a narrative, which is simply false, and to cover up what they are really about.” “As I’ve since — as I’ve said, ever since she was nominated to this position, Judge Amy Coney Barrett is one of the most impressive legal minds in the United States. She’s a thoughtful and fair-minded lawyer, a loving daughter, wife and mother, and a devout believer in her faith and in the Constitution. She was arguably the most impressive judicial nominee that I’ve ever seen in any of these hearings, and I’ve been watching them intently since I was a kid. Judge Barrett is going to make an absolutely outstanding Supreme Court justice, and the American people will be really lucky to have her on the bench. It is a shame that our colleagues on the other side, having failed to lay a glove on Judge Barrett during the hearings, have chosen to walk out on this process. And in so doing, walk out on the American people.”

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The Senate Judiciary Committee voted on Thursday to advance Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination despite Democrats boycotting the session in protest.CreditCredit…Pool photo by Caroline Brehman

WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted to advance President Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, with majority Republicans skirting the panel’s rules to recommend her confirmation as Democrats boycotted the session in protest.

The lopsided 12-to-0 outcome set up a vote by the full Senate to confirm Judge Barrett on Monday, a month after President Trump nominated her to fill the seat vacated by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. If all goes according to plan, Mr. Trump and his party would win a coveted achievement just eight days before the election.

“This is why we all run,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and the chairman of the committee, said. “It’s moments like this that make everything you go through matter.”

The 10 Democrats on the 22-member committee, livid over the extraordinarily speedy process, spurned the vote altogether and forced Republicans to break their own rules to muscle through the nomination. Without the votes to block the judge in either the committee or the full Senate, though, their action was purely symbolic.

Democrats have sharply opposed Judge Barrett, a conservative in the mold of former Justice Antonin Scalia, on policy grounds. But their goal on Thursday was to tarnish the legitimacy of her confirmation, arguing that Republicans had no right to fill the seat vacated just over a month ago by the death of Justice Ginsburg, when millions of Americans were already voting.

Democrats were particularly angry that Republicans had reversed themselves since 2016, when they refused to consider President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, citing the election nine months later.

“Republicans have moved at breakneck speed to jam through this nominee, ignoring her troubling record and unprecedented evasions, and breaking longstanding committee rules to set tomorrow’s vote,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said in a statement on Wednesday. “We will not grant this process any further legitimacy by participating in a committee markup of this nomination just 12 days before the culmination of an election that is already underway.”

Democrats planned to hold a news conference on the steps of the Capitol galvanizing opposition to the process. Left in their places in the hearing room will be large posters of Americans whose health care coverage they argue could evaporate if Judge Barrett were to side with a conservative majority on the court to strike down the Affordable Care Act when it hears a Republican challenge to the law next month.

Credit…Travis Dove for The New York Times

The Trump campaign asked the Supreme Court on Thursday to issue an injunction and reverse a decision in North Carolina that will allow mail-in ballots to be accepted by Nov. 12, provided they are postmarked on Election Day.

Joined by Republican elected officials in North Carolina, the Trump campaign argued that it was too late to make any changes to election law after 150,000 people in the state had already voted by mail, and that any election changes made by the North Carolina Board of Elections violated of state legislators’ authority to make election law.

The Trump campaign also asked the Supreme Court to require North Carolina to enforce stricter rules when it comes to allowing voters to fix errors on absentee ballots.

The appeal follows a ruling from a federal appeals court late Tuesday night, which found in a 12-3 ruling that the State Board of Elections was allowed to extend the deadline that ballots could arrive, because the postmark requirement remained unchanged.

Like in the Trump campaign’s appeal to the Supreme Court, Republicans in the state had argued that the extended deadlines created two sets of rules for voting in North Carolina, an argument the appeals court rejected.

“As for applying different rules to different voters, again, the Board’s change does no such thing,” Judge James A. Wynn Jr. wrote in the appeals court decision. “All voters must abide by the exact same restriction: they must cast their ballots on or before Election Day. The change impacts only an element outside the voters’ control: how quickly their ballots must be received to be counted.”

The Supreme Court has already acted on a number of election-related cases in the past few months, including declining to rule on a ballot deadline extension in Pennsylvania, which kept in place a ruling that allowed for ballots to be counted if they were received three days after Election Day. On Wednesday, the court blocked a trial judge’s ruling that would have allowed, but not required, counties in Alabama to offer curbside voting.

Credit…Mark Makela for The New York Times

When President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. face off in Nashville tonight at their final debate, they will be grilled on six issues, organizers said: the coronavirus, race relations, climate change, national security, “American families” and leadership.

The topics were selected by the debate’s moderator, Kristen Welker of NBC News, and while it is unclear just what she will ask, they are all subjects that have divided the candidates — and the American people. What might we expect tonight?

Two reporters for The New York Times, Thomas Kaplan and Michael D. Shear, have looked into both candidates’ records and positions to give a sense of where they stand on each topic.

And Giovanni Russonello of The Times has looked into the polling data to see what it can tell us about public opinion in all of those areas.

A spate of national and state polls released Wednesday ahead of tonight’s final presidential debate show Joseph R. Biden Jr. holding a significant lead over President Trump, though it has come down a bit from his post-debate peak.

The big picture. Mr. Biden enters the debate up by nine percentage points nationwide, including leads of at least five points in states worth more than the 270 electoral votes needed to win. He leads, even if only narrowly in some cases, in states worth more than 350 electoral votes.

A silver lining for Trump. Mr. Biden’s lead has declined a bit over the last week or so, perhaps because the news of Mr. Trump’s conduct at the first debate and his hospitalization with coronavirus has faded.

An unclear picture in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is probably the most crucial battleground state, and on Wednesday, four new polls showed Mr. Biden ahead there by an average of seven points. But if you look more carefully, there are at least a few reasons these polls weren’t quite as great for him as the topline numbers suggest, and they’re consistent with the broader evidence of modest tightening in the race.

Three of the polls, from Fox, Quinnipiac and CNN/SSRS, are usually more favorable to Mr. Biden than average. And Mr. Biden’s lead was three and five points smaller than in Fox and Quinnipiac surveys conducted about three weeks ago.

A simpler story in Iowa. In contrast with the murky picture in Pennsylvania, Iowa offered only positive news for Mr. Biden. Three polls showed a close race or a Biden lead, including a three-point lead in our Times/Siena poll, in a state Mr. Trump won by more than nine points in 2016.

Splitting the difference everywhere else. Some polls released Wednesday showed great results for Mr. Biden, like the Quinnipiac poll showing him tied in Texas and the Fox poll in Michigan (Biden plus-12). Others showed gains by Mr. Trump, like the Fox results in Ohio (Trump plus-3) and Wisconsin (Biden plus-5).

Credit…Oliver Contreras for The New York Times

President Trump’s campaign has far less money than advisers had once anticipated for the final stretch of the presidential election, as rosy revenue projections failed to materialize, leaving aides scrambling to address a severe financial disadvantage against Joseph R. Biden Jr. at the race’s most crucial juncture.

To close the budget gap, Mr. Trump has slashed millions of dollars in previously reserved television ads and detoured from the battleground states that will decide the election for a stop in California last weekend to refill his campaign coffers.

He has also tried to jump-start his online fund-raising with increasingly aggressive tactics, sending out as many as 14 email solicitations in a day.

But Mr. Biden still entered October with nearly triple the campaign money Mr. Trump has — $177 million to $63.1 million — and is leveraging that edge to expand the battleground map just as Mr. Trump is forced to retrench.

Despite raising more than $1.5 billion in tandem with the Republican Party since 2019, Mr. Trump is now in the same financial straits as he was four years ago, when Hillary Clinton had roughly double the money he did.

Mr. Trump has been quick to point out that Mrs. Clinton’s financial advantage did not win her the election.

But the financial pinch has engulfed his advisers and party officials in an internal blame game after years of bragging about their fund-raising prowess, according to current and former campaign and administration officials. Republican allies, meanwhile, are wondering what all the money was spent on.

“Campaigns that are trailing two weeks before the election, there is always a lot of finger pointing,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist and former adviser on Senator Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign. “And asking where the money went is always the first question.”

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

In 2016, Donald J. Trump confounded the polls in part by generating an unanticipated level of enthusiasm and turnout from a group that had grown increasingly apathetic about elections: white voters without college degrees.

But in 2020, Mr. Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. face a drastically changed electorate. The cohort of non-college-educated white voters — who gave Mr. Trump just enough of a margin to win the election in 2016 — has been in a long-term decline.

Since 2016, the number of voting-age white Americans without college degrees has dropped by more than five million, while the number of minority voters and college-educated white voters has collectively increased by more than 13 million. In key swing states, the changes far outstrip Mr. Trump’s narrow 2016 margins.

This demographic divide has become a bellwether for political preference: A Trump coalition of white voters without college degrees and a Biden coalition of college-educated white voters — especially women — and minority voters.

The changes in demographics are driven largely by aging: The non-college-educated white cohort is older and steadily declining as its members die. The Biden coalition is younger and aging into the electorate.

So the changes are mostly at the margins: Those in the silent and older generations are being replaced by younger voters from Gen Z who tend to be better educated, much more Hispanic and generally more liberal. Baby boomers, Gen Xers and millennials will make up about the same proportion of the electorate in 2020 as in 2016.

The good news for Mr. Trump is that young voters are much less reliable — their turnout rate was 15 points below average in 2016. And although the silent generation has recently turned unfavorable toward him in the polls, its decline in the voting population might hurt him less.

Beyond 2020, these trends foreshadow further strengthening of both minority and college-educated white cohorts at the expense of white voters without college degrees.

Credit…Lauren Justice for The New York Times

Wisconsin, the state that helped invent progressive politics at the turn of the last century, today is an exemplar of right-wing policy and political strategy, built during a decade of Republican control nurtured by conservative think-tanks and law firms. Now two progressive lawyers are aiming to reverse that by taking a leaf from the right’s own playbook.

The attorneys, Jeffrey A. Mandell and Douglas M. Poland, said on Thursday that they had founded Law Forward, a donor-supported law firm that will focus exclusively on trying to turn back the conservative tide in Wisconsin policies and state law.

“It’s not just that Wisconsin is a crucial state for electoral reasons,” Mr. Mandell said in an interview. “It’s really the testing ground for the right wing’s most egregious ideas. What we see rolled out here is starting to go national, and we expect to see more of that.”

Opponents have battled some of those ideas with lawsuits — Wisconsin’s voter ID law and the gerrymander of its state Legislature, for example, are arguably among the most extreme examples of their kind in the nation — but that opposition has been fragmented and often thwarted in federal court.

More recently, Mr. Mandell and Mr. Poland said, the Republican-controlled Legislature has spent millions of dollars on lawsuits attacking policies of Wisconsin’s Democratic state leadership, including efforts to curb several state policies addressing the Covid-19 epidemic.

The idea behind Law Forward, Mr. Mandell said, is to develop a strategy for stopping and undoing conservative policies, using progressive leaders’ knowledge of how the state works and their expertise in state rather than federal law.

Both founders say they are acting from bitter experience. Mr. Poland was part of a legal team that won federal rulings striking down the partisan gerrymander of the state Legislature, only to see them invalidated by a federal Supreme Court decision that gerrymanders were outside the legal system’s jurisdiction. After a Democratic wave swept Republicans out of higher state offices in 2018, Republicans continued to hold 65 percent of the seats in the State Assembly, the Legislature’s lower house, despite winning less than 45 percent of the vote.

The Democrat who won the governor’s race that year, Tony Evers, was stripped of crucial powers by the Republican Legislature weeks before he took office in 2019. Mr. Mandell helped win a state court ruling undoing the action — and ultimately lost when a conservative majority on the ideologically divided state Supreme Court reversed it.

Law Forward bears more than a passing resemblance to a conservative legal advocacy group, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, that was created shortly after Republicans took controls of the state Legislature and the governor’s office in 2011. That organization, one of a number of nonprofits focused on advancing conservative causes in Wisconsin, has played a role in many of the movement’s legal victories.

“I think the legal left has been lavishly represented,” Rick Eisenberg, the institute’s president, said Thursday, “but we look forward to standing up for our Constitution and the rule of law.”

Mr. Poland and Mr. Mandell said that they were trying to make up for lost time.

“We’ve been late to the game,” Mr. Mandell said. “We’re playing catch-up.”

Ad Watch

Credit… Democratic National Convention

In the last throes before Election Day, President Trump’s campaign has returned to a familiar theme with its latest campaign ad: the foreign business dealings of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son, Hunter.

The president and his allies have repeatedly — and sometimes inaccurately — raised the issue for two years, and an unsubstantiated New York Post story about Hunter Biden has provided another round of ammunition.

The ad begins with a video of Mr. Biden saying that he and his son have never discussed Hunter’s business dealings, before a voice-over interjects: “Oh really?”

“Hunter arranged for his Ukrainian business associate to meet with Joe, and Hunter sought millions of dollars from a Chinese energy company for his family, including the Big Guy,” the voice-over says, alluding to The Post article. “Joe Biden sold us out and his family got rich. Don’t let him do it again.”

The story’s key allegation — that the elder Mr. Biden, while serving as vice president, met with an adviser to a Ukrainian company on whose board Hunter Biden sat — comes from an email that The Post obtained.

But the Biden campaign has said that Mr. Biden’s official schedules showed no meeting between Mr. Biden and the “Ukrainian business associate.” Hunter Biden’s lawyer also said no such meeting took place. The meeting was also not reported in an investigation by Senate Republicans, which found no evidence that Mr. Biden had engaged in wrongdoing over his son’s business dealings. An expert in disinformation has also noted that the email is difficult to verify as authentic, given that it was presented as an image with no metadata.

The claim about the Chinese energy company refers to another purported email obtained by The Post. The email — sent by a man named James Gilliar to three others in May 2017, after Mr. Biden had left office — outlined a proposed equity division “depending on agreement” with a Chinese company and included the line “10 held by H for the big guy?” Fox News has reported that a former business partner of Hunter Biden’s said that “the big guy” referred to the elder Mr. Biden.

Yet Mr. Biden’s tax returns do not show that he was involved in or received a stake in any of these deals — a point noted by the Fox News anchor Chris Wallace and amplified by a spokesman for Mr. Biden.

Doubts have been raised in The Post’s own newsroom over its Hunter Biden story. The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal said they have not independently verified the data in the Post article.

The ad first aired in Washington.

The Trump campaign has continued to focus on Hunter Biden in an effort to portray Mr. Biden as corrupt.





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