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The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump, Biden brace for dueling town halls

The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump, Biden brace for dueling town halls
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Welcome to The Hill’s Campaign Report, your daily rundown on all the latest news in the 2020 presidential, Senate and House races. Did someone forward this to you? Click here to subscribe.

We’re Julia Manchester, Max Greenwood and Jonathan Easley. Here’s what we’re watching today on the campaign trail:

LEADING THE DAY: DUELING TOWN HALLS

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The second debate between President TrumpDonald TrumpGiuliani used provisional ballot to vote in 2020 election, same method he disparaged in fighting to overturn results Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Fox News' DC managing editor Bill Sammon to retire MORE and former Vice President Biden may have been scrapped, but the two will still be competing on primetime television tonight.

The two candidates are set to participate in dueling town halls, in which they’ll compete for the attention of millions of voters. Biden will sit for an event with ABC News in Philadelphia, while Trump will appear in Miami for a town hall hosted by NBC News. Both town halls are scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. EDT. 

For both candidates, the town halls will be a chance to pitch their visions for the country to voters less than three weeks out from Election Day. But the stakes are particularly high for Trump, given his sagging poll numbers, widely panned performance in the first presidential debate and coronavirus diagnosis earlier this month. 

“The town hall meeting is an opportunity to do one thing and that’s to get people to think about the race as a choice and not a referendum,” Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist, told The Hill on Wednesday, adding that Trump needs to shift the focus of the race away from his own record and toward Biden’s. 

A quick reminder on how we got here…

The Commission on Presidential Debates announced last week that the second debate would be held virtually after Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis. The president rejected that plan, however, and organizers eventually canceled the debate altogether after the parties involved were unable to reach an agreement on the format.

Biden’s campaign quickly set up a town hall with ABC News. NBC News announced on Wednesday that it would hold a similar event with Trump after it received reassurances from top public health officials that the president was “not shedding infectious virus.”

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But NBC’s decision to hold Trump’s town hall on the same night and at the same time as Biden’s town hall prompted an outcry from some critics, who argued that the 8 p.m. time slot would force voters to choose to tune into one over the other.

There’s reason to believe that Trump’s event will draw the bigger audience on Thursday night. In addition to airing on NBC, his town hall will be simulcast on MSNBC and CNBC, giving it a wider reach than Biden’s event, which will only air on ABC. And even Democrats are well aware of Trump’s ability to attract an audience, for better or worse. 

“I think the ratings contest is far less of what matters, because it’s certainly not inconceivable that more voters will pour a drink, get a bowl of popcorn and tune in to see the Trump roadkill,” Jon Reinish, a Democratic strategist, said. “It’s entertainment in the same way as [the Ultimate Fighting Championship].”

READ MORE:

Dueling town halls represent high stakes for Trump, by Max. 

Trump to participate in NBC town hall on Thursday, competing with Biden event, by The Hill’s Morgan Chalfant.

Virtual Event Announcement: "America’s Most Reliable Voter"

According to the Pew Research Center, 52 percent of registered voters are age 50 and over. Women older than 50 account for 28 percent of all registered voters, but in many ways are taken for granted. 

On Tuesday, Oct. 20 beginning at 11AM ET, join The Hill Virtually Live for “America’s Most Reliable Voter.” Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyDemocrats looking to speed through Senate impeachment trial Capitol Police officer hailed as hero for drawing rioters away from Senate chamber Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect MORE (D-Pa.), Rep. David SchweikertDavid SchweikertREAD: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results House Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit House GOP proposed rules change sparks concern MORE (R-Ariz.), Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, Miami Mayor Francis SuarezFrancis SuarezThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Two weeks out, Trump attempts to rally the base The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by the Walton Family Foundation - Why Pelosi set a 48-hour deadline for a coronavirus relief deal The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Tipping point week for Trump, Biden, Congress, voters MORE, League of Women Voters CEO Virginia Kase and more will sit down with The Hill’s Steve Clemons to discuss what the most reliable voters in America have on their minds and what they need from America's political leaders. RSVP today for event reminders. 

Link: https://bit.ly/3nsNPvA

COVID CONCERNS:

The Biden campaign is taking Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisSenate majority offers Biden new avenues on Trump environmental rollbacks Empire State Building lights on eve of Biden inauguration to honor COVID-19 victims READ: Harris letter resigning from Senate ahead of inauguration MORE (D-Calif.) off the campaign trail until Monday after two people that traveled with her recently tested positive for the coronavirus.

Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said neither of the infected individuals were in close contact with Harris or Biden in the 48 hour period prior to their positive tests.

But O'Malley Dillon said they would cancel Harris’s travel through Sunday out of an abundance of caution.

Harris’s communications director Liz Allen and a “non-staff flight crew member” tested positive on Wednesday night.

Harris traveled on an airplane with both individuals on Oct. 8 but both tested negative before and after the flight. Harris tested negative for the coronavirus on Wednesday. The campaign said she’d be tested again on Thursday but hasn’t announced those results yet. 

Biden will continue on with his planned travel.

POLL WATCH:

A pair of polls out Thursday show both Trump and Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyCindy McCain on possible GOP censure: 'I think I'm going to make T-shirts' Arizona state GOP moves to censure Cindy McCain, Jeff Flake Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed MORE (R-Ariz.) trailing in Arizona with less than three weeks to go before Election Day. 

The Arizona Public Opinion Pulse conducted by the Phoenix-based OH Predictive Insights shows Biden leading Trump by a 49 to 45 percent margin. In the Senate race, the same poll showed Democrat Mark Kelly with a 5-point advantage over McSally, 50 to 45 percent. 

A Monmouth University poll of the state released hours later showed Biden and Kelly with larger leads over their Republican opponents. Biden leads Trump in that poll by a 50 to 44 percent margin, while Kelly led McSally by a sizable 10-point margin, 52 to 42 percent.

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The Hill’s Reid Wilson has more on those polls here

Nationally, Biden continues to hold a double-digit lead over Trump. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on Thursday showed Biden garnering 53 percent of the vote nationwide to Trump’s 42 percent. That lead is driven in part by strong support among Black and Latino voters, as well as the former vice president’s edge among independents, who back him over Trump 46 to 39 percent. 

The Hill’s John Bowden has more on that here.

THE MOST EXPENSIVE ELECTION EVER 

The 2020 election cycle is the most expensive one in U.S. campaign history, according to a review of Federal Election Commission data from our own Reid Wilson. 

Candidates, outside groups, and political parties have spent more than the $7 billion that was spent in 2016 on state-level spending and planned television advertising. 

But that’s not all…

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The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that the total spent on elections in 2020 could reach as high as a whopping $11 billion. 

At the presidential level, Trump, Biden and those backing them are expected to spend more than $5.1 billion. If you want a comparison, close to $2 billion was spent in the 2016 presidential election. 

“This is already the most expensive presidential election in history and there are still months of election spending to account for,” Sheila Krumholz said in a statement. 

You can check out Reid’s full piece here.