As the coronavirus death toll marches toward 200,000 in the United States, President Trump again played defense on Thursday. “We’re hopefully beyond our spike and we’ll see,” Mr. Trump told reporters at a White House briefing. “We’re doing very well all over our country.” But in nine states — particularly in the Midwest — cases are on the rise. In Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. case spikes last week exceeded all previous seven-day stretches of the pandemic. According to revelations from journalist Bob Woodward’s upcoming book, Mr. Trump told Woodward on February 7th the coronavirus was “more deadly” than “even your strenuous flus,” and difficult to address because “it goes through air.” Mr. Trump told Woodward in February “it goes through air, Bob. That’s always tougher than the touch. You know, the touch, you don’t have to touch things. Right? But the air, you just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed.” The president added, “And so, that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one.” Mr. Trump dismissed his earlier warnings, Thursday, when probed by reporters about why he did not inform the American public of what he told Woodward seven months ago. “People knew it was airborne. This was nothing,” Mr. Trump said. “When I say it was airborne, everybody knew it was airborne. This was no big thing.”

But CBS News digital politics reporter Grace Segers and campaign reporter Nicole Sganga report that even after privately acknowledging COVID-19 was a virus transmitted through the air in early February, Mr. Trump participated in several campaign rallies in indoor venues before states began to shut down in early March to mitigate the spread of the virus. Despite raising serious concerns with Woodward, Mr. Trump held six rallies indoors between February 7 and March 2. Public health experts have raised concerns about holding large events in indoor venues, given the risk of spreading the virus. Mr. Trump participated in rallies in New Hampshire on February 10, Arizona on February 19, Colorado on February 20, February 21 in Nevada, South Carolina on February 28, and in North Carolina on March 2. No social distancing measures were put in place for these rallies. The president’s campaign rallies in New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and North Carolina occurred in the days before the Democratic primaries in those respective states. The Trump campaign canceled its planned March 19 rally in Wisconsin due to the coronavirus.

FROM THE CANDIDATES

BIDEN-HARRIS CAMPAIGN

Joe Biden had no public events on Thursday, a day after he returned from campaigning in Michigan, where he centered on jobs and manufacturing. But while in the battleground state, Biden also responded to Mr. Trump’s comments to Woodward regarding the pandemic, CBS News campaign reporter Bo Erickson notes. “He waved a white flag. He walked away, he didn’t do a damn thing [the pandemic],” Biden told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview that aired Thursday evening, “Think about what he did not do, it’s almost criminal.” Biden was pressed in the interview about his record on jobs and supporting NAFTA and the former vice president insisted he would revoke the benefits for American corporations to send jobs overseas. Biden also laughed about Mr. Trump ridiculing his physical health. “And when it comes to Donald Trump versus me, just look at us. OK? Just look at us. Who seems to be in shape? Who’s able to move around?” Biden asked.

While campaigning in Southern Florida, Senator Kamala Harris also blasted Mr. Trump for the his comments to Woodward about the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in January and February. CBS News campaign reporter Tim Perry reports that Harris opened her remarks saying, “This is the same man, Donald Trump, who for days, weeks, if not months thereafter, called it a hoax. Dismissed the seriousness of it to the point that he suggested people should not wear masks. He knew it was airborne, that people would breathe it.” Harris added, “We continue to have examples of the fact that this is an individual who is not concerned about the health, safety and well-being of the American people and is frankly engaged in a reckless disregard of the lives and the health and well-being of the people of our country. I find it so outrageous.” Harris made the comments at a community round table discussion at the HBCU Florida Memorial University with prominent Black leaders from the Miami/ Miami-Dade area on issues facing the Black community. The panel focused mainly on healthcare, the economy and education. Harris said that if elected, she and Biden would call for free tuition for students who come from families that make under $125,000 and who are enrolling in either public universities or private and public HBCUs. This was her second official campaign trip on the road since accepting the Democratic vice presidential nomination, and Harris was joined in the state by her husband Doug Emhoff, who participated in his own campaign event.

Separately, the Biden campaign confirmed reports from Microsoft about foreign hackers from Russia and China unsuccessfully attempting to infiltrate non-campaign emails of individuals associated with the campaign. In a statement, the campaign said, “We have known from the beginning of our campaign that we would be subject to such attacks and we are prepared for them. Biden for President takes cybersecurity seriously, we will remain vigilant against these threats, and will ensure that the campaign’s assets are secured.” The Washington Post was the first to report this story.

CBS NEWS COVID CHRONICLES

FOLLOWING-UP – NORTH CAROLINA BLACK-OWNED BUSINESSES

Four months after being forced to close her electronic repair kiosk in a Winston-Salem mall due to COVID-19, Geek in Heels owner Shalisha Morgan returned to the mall but quickly realized that many stores hadn’t. “I’m kind of struggling just a little bit with survivor’s remorse…” said Morgan. “…I feel a little bit of guilt that I’ve been thriving during this time while other people are barely even surviving.” In the latest edition of CBS News COVID Chroniclescampaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell reconnects with North Carolina small minority business owners who were having varied success during the height of the pandemic this summer. Business owners like Patrick Williams, who co-owns Pier 34 Seafood & Pub in Goldsboro, North Carolina. When Mitchell spoke to Williams in June, his business was just months away from a tough decision about whether to close permanently. Now, Williams said things feel steady. “No, we’re not going to close. We’re still pressing on. We’re still holding on,” said Williams. “At times [we] still use our personal funds but like I said, we’re still moving forward.”

Read the full story here to learn how these business owners are recovering and what they think about the upcoming general election.

ISSUES THAT MATTER

UNEMPLOYMENT

The number of Americans filing jobless claims ticked up again last week as the coronavirus continues to impact the job market six months into the pandemic, reports CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster. According to the Labor Department, 884,000 people filed for traditional jobless benefits for the week ending September 5, which was the same as the seasonally adjusted claim from the previous week, but the number of people filing for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance jumped by about 90,000 to 838,916. Combined jobless claims from the two programs have been steadily rising since early August. As of the week ending August 22, 29.6 million Americans were claiming some form of unemployment benefits.

ON THE $$$

PARTY BUDGETS

August has proven to be a massive month for small-dollar fundraising efforts. On Thursday, ActBlue, which is used by Democrats for online fundraising, announced its platform was used to raise a massive $485 million last month. The cash haul came from donors making 10.6 million contributions, and a million of those donors were first time givers. August’s fundraising was the largest month in ActBlue’s more than 15-year history both in terms of dollars raised and number of contributions. By comparison, ActBlue was used to raise just over $40 million in August 2016. To date, ActBlue has brought in $3 billion in the 2020 election cycle alone from nearly 12.5 million donors. The average donation was $35. CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice reports the organization’s announcement comes after Joe Biden and the Democratic party announced raising a whopping $364.5 million in August including $205 million raised online.

Meanwhile, the platform WinRed used by Republicans announced it was used to bring in more than $206 million in August. The cash haul came from 3.8 million donations. WinRed had its two biggest 24 hour fundraising periods in August including the final day of the month during which the platform brought in $18.8 million and the night of Mr. Trump’s Republican National Convention speech on August 27. That day, WinRed brought in $16.9 million over 24 hours. The average donation in August was $54. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump’s campaign announced that along with the RNC and joint committees, it raised $210 million in August, the most in a single month for the president’s reelection bid to date.

PAC ATTACK

AD WARS

Pro-Biden super PAC American Bridge is announcing a $1 million, three-week digital ad buy featuring four new 30-second spots, according to CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga. The new digital ads running in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin highlight Mr. Trump’s admission to Woodward that he downplayed the pandemic, as well as a mix of first-person testimonials illustrating the country’s health and economic downturn amid the nationwide COVID-19 outbreak. “On February 7th, the president knew it was coming,” says a narrator in the new ad spot “Hoax.” The ad goes on to play recordings of Mr. Trump’s conversation with Woodward, warning that COVID-19 is “more deadly” than “even your strenuous flus.” Another new advertisement – “Betrayed” – features Kristin Urquiza, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention in August about her father’s death from COVID-19. “We’re told to follow our leaders in times of crisis. That’s what my father did and it cost him his life,” Urquiza says of her father, who voted for Mr. Trump in 2016. According to American Bridge spokesperson Kyle Morse, the ad buys use ideological models to target President Trump’s defectors, veterans, seniors, and swing voters concerned about the coronavirus’ escalating death toll. Since the coronavirus outbreak began in early March, American Bridge PAC has spent more than $571,000 on digital advertising according to Kantar/CMAG. Last week, CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice reports the PAC announced its first wave of September advertising, a two-week $4 million paid media campaign, also aimed at weakening Donald Trump’s support among seniors, veterans and small-town rural voters. It included television and radio ad buys in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

STATE-BY-STATE

MICHIGAN

A record number of Michiganders have already requested absentee ballots for the November election, reports CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster. According to the Michigan Secretary of State’s office, as of Tuesday, more than 2.1 million voters in Michigan have requested absentee ballots for November. That surpassed the record for absentee ballot requests set in the August primary of just over 2 million. Of the 2.1 million requests, about 1.7 million have come since the day following the August primary. At the same point in 2016, 445,759 Michigan voters had requested an absentee ballot for November. In a press release, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson renewed her call for the state legislature to pass a law to allow clerks to process absentee ballots before Election Day and to extend the deadline for ballots to be received if they are postmarked by Election Day.

NEVADA

Republicans in Nevada are urging supporters to join a protest Thursday after both of the president’s scheduled rallies there were canceled over the state’s coronavirus caps on large gatherings. In a press call hosted by the Trump campaign, state party Chairman Michael McDonald insisted the president still planned to visit Nevada this weekend, though offered no details on new events or whether the cap would impact Mr. Trump’s planned fundraiser in Las Vegas, reports CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin. “I have been in contact with our legal representatives who represent the Nevada Republican Party and we are researching all legal avenues that we can move forward with,” McDonald told reporters.

Separately, two cases over changes to Nevada’s election laws amid the coronavirus pandemic appear closer to a conclusion Thursday, a little more than a month before early voting is slated to start in the battleground state. In federal court, the Trump campaign has asked a court to move ahead and rule without a trial over part of their complaint. Citing recent examples in New York and Wisconsin of mail ballots arriving without a dated postmark, GOP attorneys argue Nevada’s law could allow fraudulent votes to be cast after Election Day. And in state court, a Southern Nevada judge has granted a motion by former GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle and the “Election Integrity Project of Nevada” to expedite their case claiming the measure violates Nevada’s constitution.

OHIO

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost told CBS News that Ohio State University could sue the Big Ten if the conference does not reverse course to start the college football season. Yost also said that he believes that universities who are withholding to play this upcoming season should also be sued. “It’s one thing if your university acts and your administration feels that it’s just too risky and you don’t want to play football, that’s one thing,” Yost said. “You opt out, okay? Everybody understands. But when you say, ‘not only do we want to opt out, but we want to substitute our judgment for yours and tell you that you can’t,’ that’s where the problem comes in.” A source familiar with Yost’s office told CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman that the attorney’s general office is researching and going through legal documents and would recommend litigation to Ohio State to challenge the Big Ten over a breach of contract. On August 11, the Big Ten became the first major conference to postpone their fall college football season.

PENNSYLVANIA

It’s now up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to decide whether the Green Party will be on the ballot in the state. Lawyers for two Pennsylvania Democrats on Thursday filed a notice of appeal on the Commonwealth Court’s decision to allow the Green Party’s presidential nominee on the ballot in Pennsylvania. Because this case began in the Commonwealth Court, CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak says they have an automatic right of appeal to the state Supreme Court, and don’t need to request that it take the case. Commonwealth Court Judge Drew Crompton, a Republican, ruled Wednesday night that the Green Party’s vice-presidential nominee couldn’t be on the ballot because no candidate affidavit was submitted for him. But Crompton also said that the party’s presidential nominee, Howie Hawkins, could stay on the ballot. The Green Party swapped Hawkins for Elizabeth Faye Scroggin in early August, and lawyers for the petitioners argued that because the original affidavit Scroggin filed shouldn’t be counted because it was submitted by fax, lacked a wet signature and included a seemingly contradictory date. But the judge ruled that it satisfied the candidate affidavit requirement, and Hawkins will be on the ballot. The petition was filed last month on behalf of the Lawrence County Democratic chair and another Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for Wilkes-Barre City Council last year, and the Supreme Court’s decision could potentially influence the outcome of the presidential election. Jill Stein, the Green Party’s 2016 nominee, received more votes in Pennsylvania than the difference in votes between Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton in the state.

WISCONSIN

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is ordering the state’s elections commission to tell local clerks to not send any more absentee ballots to voters until the court decides whether the Green Party is eligible to be on the November ballot, according to CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster. Clerks in Wisconsin are supposed to start sending ballots to voters no later than next Thursday. Additionally, the court asked the Wisconsin Elections Commission to get information from clerks about whether they had already sent any ballots, who those ballots were sent to and when they were sent. The 4-3 ruling came along ideological lines, with the court’s four conservative justices saying the ballots should be halted and the three liberal justices dissenting. The pause on sending ballots comes as officials prepare for a deluge of absentee ballots to be requested and cast in Wisconsin during the general election. Officials have been urging voters to send their ballots in earlier to avoid potential delays with the Postal Service.

CONGRESSIONAL COVERAGE

IN THE SENATE

ARIZONA

In Arizona’s Senate race, Democrat Mark Kelly is touting a list of current and former GOP voters supporting his bid to unseat Republican Senator Martha McSally. In August, Biden’s campaign had unveiled a roster of its own GOP converts in Arizona, though some of the former vice president’s most prominent Republican backers in the swing state – like former Senator Jeff Flake – were not named as backers of Kelly’s campaign, according to CBS News campaign reporter Alex Tin. Kelly also apologized Thursday over remarks he made in 2018 about his twin brother’s time in space, which critics decried as “a racist joke.” In a statement to The Arizona Republic, Kelly said he deeply regretted the comments.

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