There are still more people registered as Democrats than Republicans in the battleground states of Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, but Republicans have been gaining ground. There are multiple forces at play, according to CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice and campaign reporter Zak Hudak: Republicans are making strides with registering voters, the two-party system is losing its appeal -- especially with young people -- and Democrats are being purged from the rolls as they either move out of those states or aren't showing up at the polls.
"The people who have been removed from the file since  are more Democrats than Republicans," said Tom Bonier, CEO of TargetSmart, a nonprofit politics data firm. "Overwhelmingly, those people didn't vote in 2016. What that tells you is these are people who had already either moved from the state or already died prior to November 2016, and they just hadn't been removed at that point."
The latest national CBS News Battleground Tracker poll shows Joe Biden with a 10-point lead among likely voters, but that lead narrows to within the margin of error in several key states, meaning the race could come down to who shows up at the polls on or before Election Day. Both the Trump and Biden campaigns are actively working to boost their party registration numbers.With early October voter registration deadlines looming in many states, Democrats' advantage has narrowed.
Read what is factoring into the shifts and what it all means here.
FROM THE CANDIDATES
One day after the Commission on Presidential Debates announced plans to add "additional structure" to future debates, President Trump fired back on Twitter. "Why would I allow the Debate Commission to change the rules for the second and third Debates when I easily won last time?" the president tweeted. On a call with reporters on Thursday, Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller stressed, "There should not be any changes to what's been agreed to" in forthcoming match-ups, CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga reports. Miller said the president "fully plans on participating in and winning both the second and third debates in the presidential contest here." Max Miller - the Trump campaign's representative at the debate negotiating table - alleged the Biden campaign requested several new changes to the debate format: Opening and closing statements, cut down on open discussion and a mute button. Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien told reporters "negotiations occur between the two campaigns and the two campaigns agree to format and specifics regarding the forum." The campaign manager said he hopes the Commission on Presidential Debates would not unilaterally impose the new changes during the second debate.
Meanwhile, at a campaign stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Vice President Mike Pence said he's looking forward to next week's only vice-presidential debate of the campaign cycle. Pence said he will make the Trump Administration's case to the American people and take the fight to the Biden-Harris agenda. Iowa, a likely battleground in this year's presidential election, is also the state that goes first in the presidential primary of...2024. While the 2020 election is less than five weeks away, CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar reports this is Pence's fifth trip to Iowa this year, and recent appearances in the first-in-the-nation caucus state from the several high profile Republicans, is already fueling speculation about the party's potential standard bearer in a post-Trump presidency. "Mike Pence is going to be on the A-list of potential contenders," one senior Iowa Republican official said ahead of the vice president's visit. Other top name Republicans like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley; Senators Tom Cotton, Tim Scott and James Lankford; South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem; and Representatives Ben Sasse and Dan Crenshaw, have all visited Iowa in recent months. Click here to read more about how the 2024 Republican primary is already taking shape.
After primarily holding virtual organizing and virtual campaign events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Democratic nominee Joe Biden's campaign will launch in person canvassing and door knocking with a little over a month until the general election, report CBS News campaign reporters Jack Turman, Alex Tin and Adam Brewster. The move represents a slight shift for the Biden campaign and Democrats at the national level who were critical of Mr. Trump's campaign holding in person organizing events. In-person operations will begin over the next week in several battleground states, including New Hampshire, Nevada, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Several hundred volunteers will be canvassing this week and conversations will focus on voter education, according to a senior Biden official. In addition to in-person canvassing and door knocking, supply centers, which will be used to distribute yard signs, will open. Volunteers will be trained with COVID-19 safety measures and will be provided personal protective equipment. "Our volunteers are fired up and have exceeded every goal we've set," Biden campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon said in a statement. "We're now expanding on our strategy in a targeted way that puts the safety of communities first and foremost and helps us mobilize voters who are harder to reach by phone now that we're in the final stretch and now that Americans are fully dialed-in and ready to make their voices heard."
Biden was also asked about new potential debate rules today following the first presidential match-up earlier in the week, reports CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson. The former VP once again committed to the upcoming debates and seemed to note that he was not completely opposed to a mute function as long as candidates had the answer to fully answer questions from the moderator. Earlier in the day when asked about the Trump campaign claiming that the Biden campaign supposedly requested cutting of the candidates' audio, Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said, "There's as much truth to this as the other weak lies the Trump campaign told in advance of the first debate -- before Donald Trump exposed his own record on the pandemic as a failure, told violent white supremacists to 'stand by,' and cratered. From a place of equivalent seriousness, we understand that the Trump campaign insisted Donald Trump be four inches taller for the next debate, and that he exclusively take questions from active 4Chan users - none of which could be about the coronavirus."
BATTLEGROUNDS IN THE BATTLEGROUNDS
PENNSYLVANIA - *LUZERNE COUNTY*
Luzerne County was one of three longtime Democratic strongholds in the state that Mr. Trump won over in 2016, and it's a good example of working class white Democrats propelling Mr. Trump to victory in that election, reports CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak. It was once part of a booming mining and manufacturing region, but the majority of the coal mines and factories there closed by the late 20th century. It now has a growing immigrant population and has gained some jobs in warehousing. But those forces coupled with distrust of government after the 2008 "kids for cash" scandal helped Mr. Trump resonate with longtime Democrats there. The vote swing from the prior election there was over half the total number of votes Mr. Trump won the state by. Democrats still outnumber Republicans by over 13,000 there, but they've have slightly lost their voter registration edge since the 2016 election. The county is in many ways representative of the area that surrounds it in the Northeastern part of the state. Neighboring Lackawanna County, where Biden spent his early childhood in Scranton, also saw major shifts in 2016. Barack Obama won it by 27 points in 2012, but Mr. Trump came within 3.5 points of Hillary Clinton there in 2016.
ISSUES THAT MATTER
Initial jobless applications dipped last week but stayed elevated, signaling that the job market remains weak nearly seven months after the coronavirus hit the U.S. About 837,000 Americans applied for state unemployment benefits in the week ending September 26, the Labor Department said Thursday. Adjusted for seasonal variation, CBS News digital data reporter Irina Ivanova reports that represents a drop of 36,000 from the previous week. Another 650,000 people applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program for the self-employed and gig workers. "Overall, filings are stuck at a high level," Rubeela Farooqi of High Frequency Economics said in a note to investors. "Layoff announcements are also ongoing. Even as jobs are being recovered job losses are mounting, indicative of continuing strains in the labor market." Job cuts announced in September were more than triple their 2019 level, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Large employers this week continued to announce job cuts. Disney said it would cut 28,000 jobs in its California amusement parks. Two airlines, United and American, said late Wednesday they would furlough 32,000 workers unless Congress came through with a rescue deal in the next few days. Insurance company Allstate is laying off 3,800 employees. "All of the data point to evidence that there's still a very high, steady stream of layoffs," Julia Pollak, labor economist at ZipRecruiter, said this week. "Employers who've held on and thought they could recover in a few months, they've been disappointed in the return of customers, and they're now choosing to close." Thursday's jobless claims figures come with a caveat. California, the state with the largest labor force, has frozen applications for two weeks while it works to root out fraud in the system. The economy has recovered only about half of the 22 million jobs that have been lost during the pandemic. And millions of Americans are facing unemployment with diminished government aid since the expiration of a $600-a-week federal benefit this summer. The Labor Department is set to release employment figures for September on Friday. Economists expect to see about 850,000 jobs added, the third month of decreasing job gains.
Living United for Change in Arizona, a prominent progressive Latino activism group in Arizona, announced this week an "unprecedented" $2 million investment in reaching "infrequent" voters of color in the battleground. The organization, which traces its roots to the fight over a controversial state attempt to curb undocumented immigration in 2010, numbers among several groups hoping to boost Democrats' chances in flipping the state with Arizona's booming Latino communities. Of the battleground states, Latinos are estimated to make up a larger share of eligible voters in Arizona (24%) than any other state except Texas (30%). "We are so close to flipping AZ blue, and we are going to do everything we can to make that happen in the biggest election of our lifetime," LUCHA's César Fierros said in an email.
Also in Arizona, Biden and Kamala Harris are scheduled to hit the campaign trail together there next week as the battleground state kicks off early voting, according to a Bloomberg report. CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin reports the visit would mark the former vice president's first stop in Arizona of the year, after an initial visit for a debate during the primary season was cancelled in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. The president also plans to return to the state, his campaign announcing Thursday events in Tucson and Flagstaff next week for his sixth Arizona visit of the year.
Nearly 85% of all eligible voters in California are registered to vote in the November election, the highest percentage heading into a General Election in 68 years, according to Secretary of State Alex Padilla. CBS News campaign reporter Musadiq Bidar reports the latest numbers show that more than 21.2 million Californians were registered to vote as of September 4, 2020. That is an increase of nearly 3 million new registered voters compared to the same time in 2016. "Despite this huge increase, there's still more work to be done. For those who have registered, the next step is making a plan to vote." California will begin sending out vote by mail ballots starting on Monday to all registered voters. The latest numbers show more than 9.8 million registered Democrats in the state, up from 8.2 million in 2016. Republicans have slight more than 5.1 million registered voters but have only gained roughly 300,000 new voters in the last four years. Meanwhile, No Party Preference voters, which pulled ahead of Republicans during the summer report, are now back in third place with slightly more than 5 million registered voters. Their numbers however have increased by nearly 800,000 registered voters since 2016. The traditional deadline to register to vote in the November election is coming up on October 19. If an eligible Californian misses that deadline, they can complete the same day voter registration process at county elections offices or in-person voting centers.
Conservative activists Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman are facing felony charges in Michigan for allegedly orchestrating a series of robocalls aimed at suppressing the vote in November general election, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced on Thursday. According to CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster, Nessel said Wohl and Burkman each face four felony counts, including conspiracy to intimidate voters, which could lead to spending years in prison. The two conservative operatives have a history of staging hoaxes and making false claims. Back in August, Nessel and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson released a recording of the robocall in August and said it was aimed at suppressing Black voters by using "racially-charged stereotypes to deter voting by mail." In a statement, Nessel said "any effort to interfere with, intimidate or intentionally mislead Michigan voters will be met with swift and severe consequences." The statement added that "this effort specifically targeted minority voters in an attempt to deter them from voting in the November election." The calls were made in late August and reached nearly 12,000 residents with phone numbers with 313 area codes, which is Detroit's area code, Nessel said. Attorneys general in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois all reported similar robocalls in their state. It's believed around 85,000 calls were made nationally, but there was not an exact breakdown of the number of calls in each city or state. "I have zero tolerance for anyone who would seek to deceive citizens about their right to vote," Benson said in a statement. "I am grateful to the Attorney General for her swift and thorough investigation, putting anyone else who would seek to undermine citizens' fundamental rights on notice that we will use every tool at our disposal to dispel false rhetoric and seek justice on behalf of every voter who is targeted and harmed by any attempt to suppress their vote." In August, Wohl told The Daily Beast he was "not aware of" any robocalls and Burkman told the Beast "we have no connection to any such robocalls."
Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford on Twitter earlier this week warned Mr. Trump that "voter intimidation is illegal in Nevada" following the president's plea the president's plea at the first presidential debate for "supporters to go into polls and watch very carefully" for voter fraud. State GOP chair Michael McDonald responded in a statement that "our team will be out in full force protecting Nevada's right to a fair election and we hope that Attorney General Ford and Democrats would do the same." CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin reports a spokesperson for the attorney general said past voter intimidation cases were rare in Nevada, adding that most charges over the election tended to be "voter registration related, such as throwing voter's registrations away."
Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an order on Thursday that mail ballots delivered in-person by voters have to be delivered to a single clerk's office in a county, reports CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster. The change is set to go into effect on Friday. That means counties can no longer set up satellite locations for returning mail ballots, as some counties have. The order also requires clerks to allow poll watchers to observe any activity at the early voting clerk's office where mail ballots are being delivered. Texas has strict restrictions on who can vote by mail. To vote by mail, you must be either 65 years or older, disabled, out of the county on Election Day and early voting period or be in jail but otherwise eligible to vote. "The State of Texas has a duty to voters to maintain the integrity of our elections," Abbott said in a statement. "As we work to preserve Texans' ability to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic, we must take extra care to strengthen ballot security protocols throughout the state. These enhanced security protocols will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting." Democrats blasted Abbott's decision. "Republicans are on the verge of losing, so Governor Abbott is trying to adjust the rules last minute," Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. "Courts all over the country, including the Fifth Circuit yesterday, have held that it is too late to change election rules, but our failed Republican leadership will try anyway. Make no mistake, Democracy itself is on the ballot. Every Texan must get out and vote these cowards out!" Texas expanded the early in-person voting period this election. It begins on October 13.
Mr. Trump relocated one of his planned Saturday rallies in Wisconsin, reports CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster. The president was scheduled to hold an afternoon rally in La Crosse, a city that has been hit hard by COVID-19 over the past couple of weeks, but it was moved to Janesville on Thursday afternoon. The mayor of La Crosse asked Mr. Trump to cancel or postpone his rally earlier on Thursday. A Trump campaign official said there was an issue with the lease and the move was not related to COVID, according to CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga. Mr. Trump is still holding an evening rally in Green Bay on Saturday night, where cases have been increasing the past couple of weeks. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, more than 80% of hospital and ICU beds are being used in northeast Wisconsin.
Also in the Badger State, the top elections official said there were no Wisconsin ballots in trays of mail that were found in a ditch in the northeastern part of the state last week, reports Brewster. "No Wisconsin ballots were part of what was found. No Wisconsin ballots were involved or impacted by that incident. We also learned from the United States Postal Service that they are conducting a full investigation about why there was mail found in a ditch as it was reported in Outagamie County," said Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe. However, Wolfe said she wasn't sure what pieces of mail were found and if that included any other states' ballots. The Outagamie County Sheriff's office told the Appleton Post-Crescent that there were "several" absentee ballots found. 395,082 Wisconsinites have returned absentee ballots so far, about 11% of the state's registered voters. More than 1.2 million absentee ballots have been requested.
IN THE HOUSE
Democratic Congressman Tom Malinowski of New Jersey has received at least 12 explicit death threats from QAnon supporters after a misleading ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee was shared amongst followers in a "Q Drop" on Tuesday. Malinowski's House office says they've been in contact with Capitol Police and have received hundreds of other threatening messages over social media, phone calls and email. The ad itself says Malinowski lobbied to "protect sexual predators," referencing his background as a lobbyist for the Human Rights Watch organization. QAnon is a conspiracy theory network that believe there's a band of pedophiles and Democratic politicians running a child sex trafficking ring, and that Mr. Trump will expose them. In response, the NRCC has repeatedly been pointing to this form listing Malinowski's name along with all the lobbying issues the firm worked on, including sex offender legislation. Both Malinowski and Jennifer Daskal, also listed on the form as a lobbyist, have told CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro he had no role on domestic issues. In 2006, the organization was lobbying against a crime bill that had provisions related to expanding who would be on the national sex offender registry. "Those I did independently of him, and did not consult or work with him on," Daskal previously said. Malinowski's GOP opponent Thomas Kean Jr. did not respond for comment about the recent threats. Local Republicans have said before that the ad should be taken down. In a statement on Wednesday, the NRCC wrote "the only person who bears responsibility here is Tom Malinowski for his decision to lobby against the creation of a national sex offender registry... And now Congressman Malinowski must live with the consequences of his actions." In late August, Malinowski officially introduced a resolution condemning QAnon. One of the voicemail threats takes specific issue with the resolution, and says, "When this is all done, people like you, if you're not rotting in a prison somewhere you'll never be safe on the streets. Mark my words." So far the bill has three Republican cosponsors: Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Denver Riggleman of Virginia. Riggleman, who was defeated in a "drive thru" convention process earlier this summer, told Navarro he has been getting his own threats from QAnon followers. "I talked to [Malinowski] about it, we're to a point that we really have got to stop the fringes from dictating our debate," he said. Riggleman said he has not talked to NRCC Chair Tom Emmer about the ad but said they should consider taking it down. "If you're fact checked, you know, those things aren't happening, aren't true at this point, and that is leading to death threats because of the perfect storm we're in right now with conspiracy theories and tribalism in politics - I think you got to consider taking those ads down," he said.