▶ Watch Video: Republicans and Democrats differ on how to turn out voters during pandemic

Two months from Election Day, amid an enduring pandemic, Democrats and Republicans are heading into the final stretch of the campaign with diverging approaches on how to mobilize their voters. With the first ballots going out Friday in North Carolina, Democrats plan to continue their final push mostly online. Democrats’ efforts include texting and increased phone operations in battleground states.

In Pennsylvania, they’ve conducted outreach to more than 2.1 million voters in two and a half months. The campaign says it held over 200 virtual house parties during the Democratic convention and called 685,000 voters. Democrats have outpaced Republicans in registering voters in the state since 2016, but their overall advantage has shrunk to about 800,000. They highlight their lead in key counties, including in the Philadelphia suburbs.

At the same time, the state party and Biden campaign in North Carolina have hundreds of staff and volunteers on the ground, according to state Democratic party chairman Wayne Goodwinwho also said his team has made 2 million calls. NCDP plans to keep its outreach efforts completely virtual. “More people are not answering their doors…because they don’t know who’s coming to their door,” said Goodwin. “I do not believe voters are going to hold it against any candidate if the strategy is to protect their families and to protect voters’ public health at large by avoiding door-to-door campaigning.”

The Georgia Democratic Party has been hosting virtual campaign events, weekends of action, happy hours and even office openings, said chair Nikema Williams. Her team contacted 1.2 million voters through virtual efforts in the four days ahead of the state’s June primary. Williams said that with Georgia’s high rate of coronavirus cases, the party will “follow the data and not the dates.” Unlike Democrats, Republicans are restarting in-person activities and putting their boots on the ground, despite the pandemic. “We’ve greenlit [ground operations] across the state,” said Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Andrew Hitt. He added, “There are vastly different cultures throughout the state in terms of how people feel about COVID-19. Depending on where you are, there are different strategies.” Where the threat of coronavirus is more prevalent, Republicans are including more digital operations. Mr. Trump won Wisconsin by less than a point in 2016.

Florida GOP Chairman Joe Gruters said his team of 190 paid staffers and 13,000 volunteers — in conjunction with Trump Victory Florida — has knocked more than 1 million doors and has made over 15 million voter contacts. Gruters said this election is about turnout and that’s where the parties “play a major factor.” The Trump Victory Florida team says in-person MAGA meet-ups started again at the end of July and it is following CDC guidelines for in-person gatherings and continuing to host virtual MAGA meet-ups. “It’s gonna be hard to win a campaign from the basement,” said Gruters.

Read more about the diverging efforts from CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice and campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell here.

FROM THE CANDIDATES

BIDEN-HARRIS CAMPAIGN

The Democratic nominee delivered a stinging rebuke of The Atlantic’s bombshell report that accused President Trump of making disparaging comments about United States servicemen. During a speech in Wilmington Delaware, Biden called the president’s reported language “sick,” “deplorable,” and “unpatriotic.” Biden said, “If what is written in the Atlantic is true, it’s disgusting, and it affirms what most of us believe to be true, that Donald Trump is not fit to do the job of President, to be the commander-in-chief.” He added, “If these statements are true, the president should humbly apologize to every Gold Star mother and father and every Blue Star family that he’s denigrated and insulted.” CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson reports that Biden said this was the closest he has come to losing his temper on the campaign. The sentiment was shared during a call with reporters earlier Friday which featured Biden supporters Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Congressman Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania, and Khizr Khan, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2016 and is the father of a Gold Star soldier who was killed in Iraq. Erickson reports that Duckworth, a double-amputee and an Iraq War veteran, said of her sacrifice, “I’ll take my wheelchair and titanium legs over Donald Trump’s supposed bone spurs every day.” During Biden’s remarks in Wilmington, he was asked by CBS News political correspondent Ed O’Keefe about the president repeating the call to his supporters to vote twice in the upcoming election. “It is a felony,” Biden responded. He added, “I think it is all designed to create so much chaos. That no matter what the outcome of the election is. It is thrown up in the air. That must be his reason.” Biden, speaking of his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, told the crowd of reporters that she is “on the road.” While Harris’ only in-person campaign event since officially accepting the party’s vice presidential nomination has been her pre-buttal to President Trump’s Republican National Convention acceptance speech, CBS News campaign reporter Tim Perry reports that the Biden-Harris campaign on Friday announced her first campaign trip with Harris traveling to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Labor Day. The campaign has not yet released any additional information on what Harris will do in the city.

TRUMP-PENCE CAMPAIGN

President Trump emphatically denied a new report that said he had called Americans who died at war “losers” and “suckers” report CBS News White House producer Fin Gomez and CBS News digital politics reporter Grace Segers. “I would be willing to swear on anything that I never said that about our fallen heroes. There is nobody that respects them more. So, I just think it’s a horrible, horrible thing,” he told reporters Thursday night as he returned from a airport rally in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Earlier in the evening, he tweeted, “I never called our great fallen soldiers anything other than HEROES. This is more made up Fake News given by disgusting & jealous failures in a disgraceful attempt to influence the 2020 Election!” The article, published Thursday and reported by The Atlantic editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg, cites four anonymous sources with firsthand knowledge of Mr. Trump’s comments. It says the president canceled his visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris in 2018 in part because he believed the Marines who died in the battle of Belleau Wood during World War I were “suckers.” According to the report, Mr. Trump said, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” Mr. Trump denied this, saying, “I was ready to go to the ceremony,” but weather prevented him from attending. The president seemed to speculate about the sources, “Probably it’s a couple of people that have been failures in the administration that I got rid of. I couldn’t get rid of them fast enough. Or it was just made up. But it’s unthinkable.” Hogan Gidley, who is currently the Trump campaign’s national press secretary, traveled with the president during the trip to France as deputy White House press secretary. In a phone interview, Gidley denied the report. “That is a disgusting grotesque lie. I was there. The president never said that. And he would never even think such a vile thought because I know from firsthand knowledge that the president absolutely loves, respects, and reveres the brave men and women of the U.S. military,” Gidley told CBS News. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said The Atlantic sources are cowardly but also probably made up, blasting the publication but taking no questions from reporters on Friday, according to CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga. But Defense Secretary Mark Esper issued a statement in response to the article that was not a denial. Esper was in France during the events in question. “President Trump has the highest respect and admiration for our nation’s military members, veterans and families. That is why he has fought for greater pay and more funding for our armed forces,” Esper said in a statement issued to the media. A senior Defense official said Esper was in France during the events in question, and recalled that the weather was bad. At the time, according to the official, he was aware the flight was canceled for weather reasons, and never heard any other allegations like those in The Atlantic until the story broke. National security adviser Robert O’Brien said he wasn’t in the meeting in question but called the article’s publication “sad” and insisted the president has always been supportive of the military. O’Brien said he’s never seen anything like that happen.

ISSUES THAT MATTER

UNEMPLOYMENT

The U.S. unemployment rate fell below 10% for the first time since March, reports CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster. According to the Labor Department, the August unemployment rate was 8.4%, down from 10.2% in July, as employers added 1.4 million jobs. The job growth was slowed compared to 1.8 million jobs added in July and 4.8 million jobs added in June, when more businesses began to reopen. The August gains were partly boosted by the government hiring 238,000 temporary Census workers, but also from private sector increases in the leisure and hospitality industry, along with jobs added in education and health services. The unemployment rate has dropped steadily from its 2020 peak of 14.7% in April, but the U.S. economy is still down about 11.5 million jobs compared to February. The August report also found that the number of people who say their job losses are now permanent increased by 534,000 to 3.4 million people. That figure has risen by 2.1 million people since February. On Thursday, the Labor Department reported that about 1.6 million people filed for traditional unemployment benefits or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for the week ending August 29. As of the week ending August 15, more than 29 million people were claiming some type of unemployment insurance benefit.

STATE-BY-STATE

PENNSYLVANIA

A Pennsylvania state court judge on Friday recommended that the state Supreme Court deny a request that counties be allowed to count ballots received a week after election day if they’re postmarked by it. A half dozen additional counties accepted late ballots in the primary due to an executive order from the governor that cited civil unrest, reports CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak. In all, Pennsylvania received 100,000 mail-in ballots after election day in the state’s primary, about 90% of which were counted due to the governor’s order, the Pennsylvania secretary of state presented in during a hearing in the case. The Postal Service also warned Pennsylvania and over three dozen other states in July that it’s delivery standards couldn’t meet the mail-in ballot turnaround dates in the general election. But Commonwealth Court President Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt, who was appointed by the Supreme Court to act as “special master” in the case, wrote that instead individual counties should instead ask their local courts to accept late ballots, as Bucks County did in the primary, if they face special circumstances causing delivery delays. “Petitioners offered no evidence upon which the Court can find, as fact, that the USPS will not be able to deliver absentee and mail-in ballots within 2 to 3 days of their being posted. The credible evidence shows just the opposite,” she wrote. “The USPS is unlikely to be overwhelmed in November.” The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is now set to review Leavitt’s findings and make a ruling of its own. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, will veto a bill passed by the GOP-controlled state House that would ban ballot drop boxes in the November election if it reaches his desk, his spokesperson said Friday. “The governor supports current law which allows counties to use drop boxes,” Lyndsay Kensinger said. “The governor plans to veto HB 2626 in its current form for a multitude of reasons, including the fact that the bill makes it harder, not easier, for citizens to vote.” The bill, which passed in the state House Tuesday, would also move the deadline to apply for mail-in ballots earlier, a provision the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania supports, but Wolf does not.

VOTING INTEGRITY

ABSENTEE BALLOTS

Democrats in key battleground states are showing a big early advantage over Republicans in absentee ballot requests, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice. This year is expected to see record voting by mail amid health concerns over COVID-19. Currently, election data in states including Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida show Democrats are doing more to take advantage of mail-in options. As of September 2, 618,842 absentee ballots had been requested for the November election in North Carolina where the first ballots go out Friday. By comparison, at this time in 2016, just 37,576 voters had asked for mail-in ballots. In 2020, 326,281 of those requests — more than 52% — have come from registered Democrats. Just 98,6000 (less than 16%) have been requested by Republicans. Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, more than one million Democratic voters submitted applications for mail-in or absentee ballots as of Thursday, or about 68% of all applications. By comparison, only 24% of total requests — 388,356 applications — came from Republicans in the state. Ballots in the Keystone State start going out next week. By Friday, more than 938,600 Floridians had also requested to vote by mail in November. Democrats also hold the advantage among requests in the Sunshine State with more than 451,000 having requested vote-by-mail ballots in the state, or about 48% of requests. Republicans have requested 294,951 vote-by-mail ballots to date, or 31%. Michigan and Wisconsin are also reporting a surge in absentee ballot requests for November, but neither state note party affiliation in tracking absentee ballot requests.

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