Pulse Newsletter: Worst. Debate. Ever.

Oct 2, 2020

Possibly the worst presidential debate in American history is mercifully over. Yet its ugliness remains.

President Donald Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacists quickly rippled to the high-profile U.S. Senate race in Maine, where Republican Sen. Susan Collins is already under pressure to say whether she supports the president’s reelection.

“Intolerance and white supremacy have no place in our country,” she said in a statement. “The President should always condemn any kind of hate, and he should have done so last night.”

Independent Sen. Angus King noted the extraordinariness of the president’s failure.

“I unequivocally condemn white supremacy — because the America I know is a country constantly striving to better fulfill the principle that all men and women are created equal,” he said. “See, it’s not that hard to say.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s message to “stand down and standby” to the far-right extremist group Proud Boys was enthusiastically embraced by its members.

The president would later claim that he doesn’t know who the Proud Boys are, even though the group counts his longtime advisor Roger Stone as one of its leading supporters.

Many American voters may be unfamiliar with the Proud Boys, but a spike in Google searches during the debate suggests that many of them sought to learn more.

A corresponding surge in the Google search “move to Canada” suggests Americans also explored the prospect of renouncing their U.S. citizenship.

Reluctantly curious expatriates received no reassurances from Luke Skywalker, aka actor Mark Hamill, who said the debate was worse than the Star Wars Holiday Special.

He’s not wrong.

The argle bargle of conspiracy theories, lies, insults, and downright nastiness drew gasps and pity from the international media.

“National humiliation,” declared The Guardian.

“A TV duel like a car accident,” Germany’s Der Spiegel said.

“Never had American politics sunk so low,” an Italian newspaper correspondent wrote.

So here we are: a month away from a huge election and the depths of a well that seems to have no bottom.

As incredulous focus group conveners tried to assess the debate impacts on the undecided voters who could determine who wins the presidency, some observers wondered if the ugliness will depress voter turnout, which along with baseless claims about voter fraud, might have been the goal all along.

With that in mind, it’s useful to consider the best responses to a mischievous tweet by the Russian state television network Russia Today as it basked in the spectacle of another smoldering democratic institution: At least we have choices.

Now go make them.

GOP frets early vote numbers

This week the Washington Post reported that Republican strategists see troubling signals in early vote statistics.

And Maine’s early vote is among the state metrics they’re concerned about.

Registered Democrats had requested more than 233,000 absentee ballots by the end of September, according to data with the Maine Secretary of State. That’s more than six times the number of absentee ballots requested by registered Republicans (37,191) and about four times the amount requested by unenrolled voters (56,172).

There are similar disparities in Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Iowa, according to those states’ publicly available election data. The Post also obtained documents showing Democrats outpacing Republicans in Ohio, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Wisconsin.

Democrats have long been advocates of early voting and absentee balloting, which is what Maine uses, so it’s not uncommon for registered Democrats to outpace the GOP early vote.

But according to the Post’s reporting, the gap is so wide right now that Republican strategists are worried that President Trump’s repeated and unsubstantiated claims that mail-in balloting is wrought with fraud is prompting registered Republicans to wait until Election Day to cast their ballots. And, because the coronavirus pandemic is expected to worsen as the calendar heads deeper into autumn, GOP strategists worry that older Republican voters will be too afraid to vote on Election Day.

Collins gets more support from US Chamber

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced Thursday that it’s investing more money to help Sen. Collins prevail in the highly-competitive U.S. Senate race.

The Chamber has already run ads on behalf of Collins, but a press release says more “issue ads” are on the way and will specifically target seniors and suburban women while stressing the need for more pandemic assistance for small businesses.

The announcement came just days after the U.S. Chamber fired GOP political consultant Scott Reed over allegations that he leaked confidential information. Reed told the Washington Post that he planned to leave anyway because “the Chamber would not let me spend Senate money down the home stretch in North Carolina and Maine.”

It’s unclear whether the subsequent announcement by the Chamber was a response to Reed’s comment about the Maine race.

Nevertheless, Collins has already been boosted by nearly $7 million in spending by the 1820 PAC, a political action committee that’s been linked to the U.S. Chamber.

Ironically, it was Reed who suggested to The Daily Beast that the Chamber was working with the other outside groups to boost Collins’ candidacy, although he did not confirm that the 1820 PAC was one of them.

Hawaiian defense contractor hit with fraud charges

Speaking of the 1820 PAC, one of its biggest donors is linked to a Hawaiian defense contractor who was arrested this week over allegations that he attempted to defraud a coronavirus relief program championed by Sen. Collins.

Martin Kao, whose former company, Navatek LLC, has received millions of dollars in federal contracts. Kao is now the CEO of Martin Defense Group.

This week he was arrested and charged by the U.S. Justice Department for allegedly defrauding the federal government of $12.8 million from the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, which provides forgivable loans to businesses.

Mainers monitoring the U.S. Senate race should be familiar with the program. Collins has been touting it as part of her bid for a fifth term. It has awarded funds to nearly 30,000 businesses in Maine.

Kao’s arrest quickly became an issue in the Senate race.

Credit collins.senate.gov

Collins’ reelection campaign has received donations from Kao and employees at his company. She appeared with him in Maine last year during an announcement that his former company Navatek LLC had received an $8 million Navy contract.

According to the DOJ, Kao allegedly touted his ties to U.S. senators while attempting to convince Hawaii-based banks to authorize fraudulent PPP loans. But according to Annie Clark, a spokeswoman for Collins’ reelection campaign, Collins has not met with Kao since the two appeared in Maine together in 2019.

“Neither Senator Collins nor her office have had any contact with Mr. Kao or anyone else at Navatek regarding the Paycheck Protection Program,” Clark said. “Senator Collins last spoke with Mr. Kao at Navatek’s offices in August of 2019 when she toured the facility and visited the staff.”

Kao and his wife Tiffany Jennifer Lam were also targeted in a complaint to the Federal Elections Commission over a $150,000 donation to 1820 PAC. Lam is the registered agent for the Society of Young Women Scientist and Engineers LLC, which the D.C.-based Campaign Legal Center claims is a front company being used to hide the actual source of the donation.

The FEC complaint has not been adjudicated by the FEC, which has lacked a quorum of commissioners since June.

Absentee ballot tracker

In case you missed it, the Maine Secretary of State has created an online tracker for absentee ballots. It allows people who request an absentee ballot to track its progress, from the request date to its receipt and acceptance by their municipal town clerk.

You can access the tracker and ballot request form here: https://apps.web.maine.gov/cgi-bin/online/AbsenteeBallot/index.pl

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