The Hill’s Campaign Report: Trump, Biden face off for last time on the debate stage

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:


We’re hours away from the last presidential debate before the election. 

Debate organizers are hoping to avoid the chaos that took over the first presidential debate earlier this month by using a mute button to cut down on interruptions — at least in the opening minutes of each segment. 

Trump will be aiming for a knockout performance as he trails Biden in a number of national, state and local polls. On top of that, the president is also facing questions over the state of his campaign, with the most recent FEC filings showing his campaign has $63.1 million in the bank compared with Biden’s campaign which has more than $177 million. 

Tonight’s showdown will likely be filled with drama if the events of the last 24 hours are any indication. 

We found out this afternoon that President Trump is expected to bring Hunter Biden’s former business partner to the debate, as he seeks to make Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s private life the focus of his campaign in the stretch run to the election.

Trump has invited controversial figures to past debates to rattle his opponents and to draw attention to allegations against them.

In 2016, Trump invited women who have accused former President Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct to a debate against then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

In the final days before the election, Trump and his campaign have been going all in to draw attention to a New York Post story alleging that Hunter Biden used his influence to connect a Ukrainian businessman and fellow board member at the gas company Burisma with his father when he was vice president.  

Much of the mainstream media has tread cautiously around the allegations, as Democrats allege the story has the hallmarks of a Russian disinformation campaign.

Trump spent much of the day of the debate online, raising eyebrows when he posted his full “60 Minutes” interview ahead of its scheduled airtime, in an apparent attempt to undercut CBS. 

“Look at the bias, hatred and rudeness on behalf of 60 Minutes and CBS,” the president wrote in a post on his Facebook page. 

The president in the same post swiped at tonight’s debate moderator Kristen Welker, calling her “far worse.” 

Biden on the other hand has had a much more lowkey day, using most of his time to prepare for tonight’s forum. 

His running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, hit the road for him this week visiting Florida and North Carolina. 

Former President Obama on Wednesday also hit the campaign trail for his first in-person campaign event of 2020, delivering a blistering rebuke of Trump and urging voters to turn out in record numbers to vote for Biden. 

However, it’s the news that broke after Obama’s rally that will loom during tonight’s debate: that Russian and Iran are working to interfere in the election. 

The development, which came to light during a news conference with intelligence officials last night, echoes the events of 2016, when Russia worked to sway public opinion in that presidential election. 

Americans will be watching to see how Trump and Biden confront the issue on stage.


Five things to watch in the final presidential debate, by Max Greenwood 

Trump seeks to change race with final debate, by Morgan Chalfant and Brett Samuels 


Biden said that he’ll form a commission to study judiciary reforms and whether more justices should be added to the Supreme Court, punting for now on the question of so-called “court packing.”

It’s a question that Biden has repeatedly refused to answer since Trump announced late last month that he would nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court seat previously held by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

“If elected, what I will do is I’ll put together a national commission of, a bipartisan commission of scholars, constitutional scholars, Democrats, Republicans, liberal, conservative. And 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 way in which it’s being handled,” Biden told CBS’s “60 Minutes” in an interview, an excerpt of which was released on Thursday.

Biden’s proposal to establish a commission instead of saying outright whether he supports adding justices to the Supreme Court drew swift criticism from progressives, who have put pressure on Biden to endorse the idea of packing the court as a bulwark against its increasingly conservative tilt. Here’s what progressives are saying:

  • “We don’t need to be promised a nice report about reform delivered to the White House, we need Vice President Biden to assure Americans that he will take bold action to ensure our courts don’t remain dominated by a right-wing fringe installed by Mitch McConnell to attack abortion rights, destroy health care reform, and dismantle our democracy.” – Yvette Simpson, CEO of Democracy for America.
  • “Joe Biden’s nonpartisan court commission is a gambit. He basically says that if you put conservative legal thinkers in a room with progressive ones, they will agree that Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans have politicized the courts in order to take away health care, worker rights, and voting rights — and that America needs to unpack the courts and restore balance.” – Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

More on Biden’s proposed commission here. 

And Jonathan takes a closer look at the progressive backlash here.


On the national front…

We’re 12 days away from Election Day and the polling outlook isn’t getting any better for Trump. A new national poll from Quinnipiac University out Thursday showed Biden leading the president 51 to 41 percent, a 10-point gap that’s virtually identical to the one Biden held a month ago. 

At the same time, voters prefer Biden over Trump on most major issues — the coronavirus pandemic, health care and the Supreme Court. Even on the economy, the one issue that Trump has consistently led on in polling, the two candidates are statistically tied; 48 percent of respondents say that Trump is better suited to handle the economy, while 47 percent chose Biden.

Who’s driving Biden’s polling strength? Women, Black voters and college-educated white voters, according to the Quinnipiac poll. Trump, meanwhile, is supported mainly by white voters without college degrees, especially white men. And while he continues to lead Biden with white voters overall, his support among those voters is softer than it was in 2016, when he carried that bloc by a 20-point margin. He now leads Biden with white voters by only 3 points, 49 to 46 percent.

Of course, there’s some positive news for Trump. The Quinnipiac poll showed him running relatively strong among Hispanic voters compared to 2016, while Biden is underperforming Hillary Clinton’s numbers. Fifty-one percent of Hispanic voters surveyed say they support Biden, while 35 percent are backing Trump.

Max has more on the Quinnipiac poll here.

Meanwhile, in Kansas…

A new poll from The New York Times and Siena College released Thursday showed Trump leading Biden 48 to 41 percent in Kansas. A 7-point gap may sound pretty good for the president, but remember he won the state by more than 20 points in 2016 and Kansas voters haven’t gone for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964. 

More on that poll here from The Hill’s Tal Axelrod.

Tags Amy Coney Barrett Bill Clinton Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Mitch McConnell Ruth Bader Ginsburg
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