NEW YORK — With Kamala Harris’s ascension to the vice presidency on Jan. 20, a coveted California Senate seat is about to open up. And that means all eyes are on the state’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, who will choose Harris’ successor.
But don’t expect an answer anytime soon.
The timeline to choose a replacement for Harris is “truly fuzzy,” according to one California Democrat with knowledge of Newsom’s thinking. The fact that there is no rush to name a candidate ahead of Jan. 20, along with Newsom’s inclination to be a “careful process person” as this person calls him, means that a decision could take some time.
Newsom also wouldn’t entertain much serious talk about naming a replacement for Harris prior to the election, this person added.
And he bristled a bit Monday when asked by reporters about a timeline, saying the surging coronavirus pandemic in the state was his major concern.
“My weekend was not focused on that. It was focused on seeing these new case rates go up,” Newsom said.
But even as he takes his time weighing his options, Newsom is facing considerable pressure from competing interest groups about who to select.
Many Latino activists are pressing Newsom to choose the state’s first Latino senator. Names under consideration are California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, whose office has tangled frequently with the Trump administration, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, former California Senate president Kevin De Leon, who challenged Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 2018, Long Beach, Calif. Mayor Robert Garcia. Garcia would be the first openly gay senator from California, and he’s become a visible activist around efforts to contain Covid-19 after losing his mother and stepfather to the virus earlier this year.
Newsom may also want to replace Harris with another woman, particularly a woman of color. Some of those under consideration include Rep. Karen Bass, whom Biden considered for vice president, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Rep. Barbara Lee and State Controller Betty Yee. Rep. Katie Porter, a progressive favorite and proven fundraiser, may be considered as well.
The California Democrat with knowledge of the process said Newsom has not yet spoken to Harris about who she’d like to see succeed her.
Newsom is also weighing whether to name a placeholder to fill the seat, leaving others to mount a full-blown campaign in 2022 when Harris would have faced re-election. Former California Gov. Jerry Brown would likely be under consideration in that case.
Rick Scott to lead GOP Senate campaign arm, as parties elect their leaders
WASHINGTON — While the battle for Senate control remains underway, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer were re-elected unanimously by acclimation to their posts by their respective caucuses on Tuesday.
Republicans kept their party heads the same, re-electing McConnell, Republican Whip South Dakota Sen. John Thune, Conference Chair Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, Policy Committee Chair Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt and Conference Vice Chair Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst.
Florida Sen. Rick Scott replaced Indiana Sen. Todd Young as the next National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair — the campaign arm for Senate Republicans.
“It’s a hard job — I’m going to take it very seriously. I know the job is to make sure we have a Republican majority in the Senate. First, we’ve got to go win in Georgia and we’re going to win in Georgia,” Scott told reporters on Tuesday.
On the Democratic side, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto were added to Democratic leadership positions on the larger team that includes Schumer, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.
While Democrats only picked up two Senate seats in the 2020 election cycle so far, senators said the caucus still has faith in Schumer’s leadership.
“I know [Schumer] has that personality that can sit down and work with anybody,” Manchin told NBC News. “But as people have pushed him one way or the other, that sometimes gets you off track.”
Republicans overperforming in House races with more still to be called
WASHINGTON — It’s clear the blue wave many Democrats had been hoping for never materialized, and with more than a dozen House races still left uncalled by the NBC News Decision Desk, that has implications for Democratic control of the House.
Heading into the election, Democrats held 235 seats in Congress, compared to 199 for the GOP. And while the party was fresh off a strong 2018 midterm election where it made gains deep into Republican-leaning districts and netted 39 seats, most analysts expected the Democrats to expand their majority.
But with NBC’s Decision Desk having called all but 17 House races, Republicans so far have net five seats. And all of the GOP candidates who flipped seats so far are either women or people of color.
Of the 19 NBC-called races characterized before the election by the Cook Political Report as toss-ups, Republicans is projected to win all of them and flipped four seats in the process (IA-01, MN-07, NM-02 and OK-05).
The GOP also swept all 14 of Cook’s “lean Republican” seats and is projected to win three seats rated as “lean Democratic” (FL-26, SC-01, and TX-23).
Republicans appear to have picked off one “likely Democratic” seat held by Florida Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala. The GOP was also able to hold all “likely Republican” seats.
Democrats, by comparison, haven’t won any “toss-up” districts so far. They are projected to flip two GOP seats in North Carolina rated “likely Democratic,” and hold the majority of the seats in which they were favored.
Since several races haven’t been called, the landscape is likely to change. A historic amount of mail-in ballots is drawing out the vote tabulation process across the country — in several states, Democrats have outperformed Republicans with those mail-in ballots.
And the majority of “toss-up” seats this year – 17 of 26 – were seats where Republicans were on defense (plus another held by retiring Rep. Justin Amash, who was a Republican before leaving the party this year).
But even though Democrats may go on to win some of those toss-up districts, Republicans are poised to gain seats in a year they were expected to lose seats. And that reality could have an impact on the Democratic majority’s governing power, as well as the midterm math in 2022.
Georgia ad wars: The only game in town
WASHINGTON — After an election that spanned dozens of battleground races up and down the ballot, there’s now only one game in town, Georgia.
Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed earlier this year to replace GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson, will face off against Rev. Raphael Warnock, the Democratic candidate.
While NBC News has not yet projected a winner in Georgia’s other seat — a clash between GOP Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff — a runoff there is a serious possibility too, although it’s currently too close to call. (Both races were so-called “jungle primaries,” which pit all candidates, regardless of party, against each other on Nov. 3. The top two candidates in each race move onto a runoff unless one wins a majority of the vote).
Tens of millions of dollars expected to flood the Peach State in the next eight weeks, with the Senate majority likely hanging in the balance. Here’s a look at some of the top ads from each candidate, including new spots hitting the airwaves ahead of the Jan. 5, 2021 runoff.
Georgia Special Senate Runoff — Loeffler v. Warnock
This is the matchup that’s already set in stone, and one where the dynamics are about to change, fast.
Loeffler had to jockey for Republican voters with Georgia GOP Rep. Doug Collins, an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump’s in the House who played a key role in the impeachment hearings. So to counter that, Loeffler hugged Trump tight and repeatedly touted her conservative credentials, to the point that her campaign ultimately turned to humor to prosecute the point.
Outside of her attacks on Collins, Loeffler ads included: an endorsement from Trump supporter and Georgia football legend Herschel Walker, many spots touting her support of Trump and his agenda, and even spots about how she’s “more conservative than Attila the Hun.”
Warnock, on the other hand, faced no serious Democratic competition and had more room to run.
In his top spots, he ran a voter education effort letting them know that the alphabetized ballot placed him all the way at the bottom, testimonials from Georgians telling the story of his biography and touting him as an everyman, an endorsement from former President Barack Obama and a spot where he backed expanding Medicaid in the state.
Locked in that fight for the conservative base, Republicans allowed Warnock to skate through the primary without facing negative ads. Expect that to change soon. But in the meantime, Warnock is making light of the attacks to come, arguing he’s “staying focused” on his message instead of the attacks.
(The possible) Georgia Senate Runoff — Perdue v. Ossoff
While the Associated Press has projected this race will need a runoff, NBC News’ Decision Desk still sees it as “too close to call,” with Perdue’s 49.7 percent just shy of the majority he needs to avoid a runoff.
If that race moves to a runoff, you’ll likely see much of the same trends on the airwaves as over the past few months.
The Democrat has already hit the ground running with new ad buys ahead of the likely runoff, and a new spot about his “path to recovery” from the virus. But the Republican hasn’t hit the airwaves yet, with the fate of his election still uncertain.
Biden to reach out to state and local officials on mask mandates
President-elect Joe Biden in the coming days will begin calling governors and the mayors of major cities from both parties to encourage them to institute mask mandates as the coronavirus pandemic enters a potentially deadlier phase with winter arriving, according to a senior Biden adviser who briefed NBC News.
“If a governor declines, he’ll go to the mayors in the state and ask them to lead,” the official said. “In many states, there is the capacity of mayors to institute mandates.” Roughly 20 states already have mask mandates, and research suggests that universal use of masks could save more than 100,000 lives.
The conversations follow on Biden’s plans to announce the names of scientists and other experts on his coronavirus task force Monday.
The Biden team is also looking at a possible mask mandate for federal buildings, a step the Trump administration has not taken even after the president and a number of his top officials and aides, most recently chief of staff Mark Meadows, have become infected.
The next step, according to the adviser, is to assemble a national testing plan. Biden is directing his team to devise a series of options for both legislation and executive orders to institute a testing plan, given the uncertainty around whether Democrats will be able to get legislation passed.
In late October, Biden laid out a plan to tackle the coronavirus that included testing, contact tracing and vaccines as areas that would be prioritized, while the Biden transition aims to quickly announce picks to run the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One issue is whether Biden will also invoke the Defense Production Act to quickly distribute vaccines.
President Donald Trump notably rebuffed calls by the American Medical Association, among other health groups, to invoke the 1950s-era act, which would have directed U.S. manufacturers to quickly distribute medical supplies to hospitals during the virus’s first major surge in the spring.
With the holidays approaching and significant concern among public health officials that indoor gatherings among family members could lead to Covid-19 spread, Biden will use his platform to “fill the void” left by the administration in stressing the need for social distancing and mask-wearing, said the official.
“Daily cases are skyrocketing,” Biden said during remarks Friday evening in Wilmington, Del., just before the election was called. “I want everyone — everyone — to know on Day 1, we’re going to put our plan to control this virus into action.”
A Biden spokesperson said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the coronavirus task force will be led by Dr. Vivek Murthy, a former surgeon general, and Dr. David Kessler, who led the FDA during the 1990s.
Clyburn jokes Biden ‘owes me’ — for interrupting golf outing
At the moment Joe Biden was projected as the president-elect, the man whose critical endorsement put him in position for victory was “on the 14th tee box” on a golf course in South Carolina. But aides implored him to interrupt his round once the result came in.
“It was one of the best rounds moneywise I’ve had all year!” Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., joked in an interview with NBC News, saying he was ahead $30 in his round with some friends. “So when I see Joe, I’m going to let him know he owes me some money.”
The South Carolina congressman said he hasn’t spoken yet with Biden, but expects he will soon. They last spoke on election night, when Biden was “in a cautious mood” — unsure yet if he would be able to overcome the early leads President Trump posted in key states like Pennsylvania. “There was some apprehension there,” he said.
But Clyburn said he was elated now at Biden’s victory and eager to get to work with him.
“He gave my kind of speech last night, so I don’t need to tell him anything,” he said. “What he said was pitch perfect.”
Clyburn said he would listen to any entreaties to join the administration but that it wasn’t his preference. “I would never say never. But I will say this: I do not aspire to be in the administration.”
White House coronavirus task force has not formally met since Oct. 20
WASHINGTON — Despite an escalating pandemic, there has not been a formal White House coronavirus task force meeting since October 20, according to an administration official. Since then, the United States has repeatedly broken records for daily new infections, with more than 120,000 confirmed Thursday, eclipsing Wednesday’s previous single-day high by more than 15,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Some members of the task force have continued to meet in smaller groups in the last few weeks, with Dr. Anthony Fauci participating in one in-person on Friday, per this official, but the larger team hasn’t met since two weeks before Election Day. It’s unclear when they will meet next.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the response coordinator for the task force, last spoke at a briefing on July 23. Dr. Fauci hasn’t spoken at one since June but he did appear with the president at a Red Cross roundtable on July 30. It’s notable that Birx and Fauci both continue to do local and national media interviews but they no long appear from the White House with any regularity or as they once did.
By contrast, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris have received various coronavirus briefings from their public health experts in that time, including one as recently as Thursday. The Democratic ticket has had regular virtual meetings with their panel of advisers, mostly privately, but at times showcased publicly to drive the message they believe they are taking the crisis more seriously.
Vice President Mike Pence, the chair of the group, hasn’t had anything on his public schedule in several days. NBC News reached out to his office for comment and has yet to hear back.
The last time we saw Pence in public was at the president’s side in the early morning hours of Wednesday during President Trump’s East Room remarks. Pence was notably not in the briefing room for the president’s false claims of voter fraud and election results Thursday evening.
Trump, for his part, has not attended a task force meeting in many months and continues to be updated by Dr. Scott Atlas, a controversial neuroradiologist who does not have a background in infectious diseases.
Republicans confident in winning N.C. in presidential and Senate races
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Republicans in this still-undecided state said Thursday they are confident that President Donald Trump and Sen. Thom Tillis will win re-election after all the outstanding ballots are counted and processed.
“We know that Donald Trump carried North Carolina,” Michael Whatley, chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, said at a news conference Thursday evening.
The North Carolina State board of Elections says that as many as 157,000 potential ballots still need to be tabulated but won’t be reported out until November 12.
Still, the North Carolina Republican Party criticized the board “for their refusal to acknowledge” that Trump has won.
“The reason that they’re not being transparent is to be sure that they keep North Carolina in the undecided column for their national press and their national narratives,” Whatley said.
Trump currently leads former Vice President Joe Biden by more than 76,000 votes. Republican Sen. Thom Tillis is leading Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham by 98,000 votes.
The vote totals won’t change much until the county boards of election meet on November 12 and 13 to certify as many as 116,000 absentee ballots and as many as 41,000 provisional ballots.
The Cunningham campaign is also signaling that they are not confident that there are enough outstanding votes to change the outcome.
Cunningham campaign manager Devan Barber said “we plan to allow the process to be carried out so every voter can have their voice heard.”
Cunningham’s top political strategist Morgan Jackson was more direct. In an interview on the “Tying it Together with Tim Boyum” podcast, Jackson said that “President trump certainly has a lead now there are still ballots out to be counted and we’ll see what that looks like at the end of the day but it looks like he may have won North Carolina. Same with Senate race. Looks like Thom Tillis was re-elected at this point.”
Tillis political strategist, Paul Shumaker, said he, too, is confident that Tillis and Trump will win. He said he told Tillis that he expects Tillis’ lead over Cunningham to increase by as many as 2500 votes after all the votes are counted.
He credits Tillis and Trump’s likely win to a lack of Democratic in-person get out the vote effort, noting that black turnout decreased by nearly three points compared to 2016.
“The Democrats’ strategy for ground game was the same as their campaign strategy: to stay at home and talk on the phone. It didn’t turn their base out,” Shumaker said.
He said the Republican National Committee found low-propensity voters who didn’t vote in 2016 and 2018. Of those, Shumaker said, thirty percent of those people voted early. “That was the benefit of the ground game and personal touches,” he said.
Trump’s Florida victory powered in part by Miami overperformance
WASHINGTON — A huge story early last night was former Vice President Joe Biden’s swing-and-a-miss in Miami-Dade County, Florida — which he appears to have won by only about 7 points compared with Hillary Clinton’s 30-point romp four years ago.
That collapse was enough to negate Biden’s improvement over Clinton in other swing counties like Pinellas and Seminole.
But there’s another wrinkle: While Biden lost big, it wasn’t because he missed Democrats’ mark in the state dramatically when it comes to votes.
At this hour, Biden has received about 617,000 votes in the county. That’s not too far below Clinton’s 624,000.
The difference? President Donald Trump piled nearly 200,000 additional votes onto his 2016 tally.
In 2016, Trump got about 334,000 votes in the county. That’s compared with 532,000 to date this cycle.
Despite record-breaking fundraising, South Carolina Democrat Harrison falls short
WASHINGTON — South Carolina Democrat Jaime Harrison shattered fundraising records in his Senate bid against Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, but the Democrat couldn’t get over the hump despite that historic fundraising.
Harrison raised more during the third fundraising quarter — $57 million — than any Senate candidate in history. Overall, he raised $109 million as of Oct. 14 and spent $105 million. By comparison, Graham raised $74 million over that time period and spent $63 million.
And the Democrat really flexed his muscles on the advertising airwaves, spending almost $64 million on TV and radio compared to Graham’s $32.5 million, according to the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics.
But Graham pushed hard to close that ad-spending gap in the race’s final days, actually outspending Harrison on those airwaves Monday.
McConnell cruises despite facing well-funded opponent
WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will return to the Senate in 2021 whether or not his party keeps control of the Senate, as NBC News projects he will defeat Democrat Amy McGrath.
McGrath gained significant national attention, a former fighter pilot who proved to be a strong fundraiser during her ill-fated 2018 House bid and an even stronger one in 2020. Through Oct. 14, she raised more than every other Senate candidate this year except for South Carolina Democrat Jaime Harrison.
She put that money to use, spending more than $75 million in total through Oct. 14, more than all but two other Senate candidates this cycle.
And when you look at TV and radio spending, where there’s up-to-date data, McGrath spent $22.8 million (as a part of that $75 million-plus total).
But despite all that money raised and spent, McConnell’s victory was a quick call on Tuesday night.
McConnell spent $45.5 million, with about $17 million of that coming on TV and radio.