October 16, 2020

Dismal polls and poor debate performances are predictably not playing well within President Trump's campaign — but campaign manager Bill Stepien is reportedly not doing much to change that.

Stepien's weekly pep talks encourage staffers to look away from "perennially horrible public polls" and find ways they can "win the week," staffers tell Axios. But behind the scenes, Stepien seems "darkly pessimistic," discouraging other staffers who talk to him, they tell Axios.

Stepien is reportedly fond of comparing the campaign to a plane flying through turbulence, saying "It's our job to safely land the plane." To some staffers, that sounds like Stepien is "deeply, perhaps irretrievably pessimistic about the state of the race," Axios reports. "It's not a great feeling when you get the sense the campaign manager doesn't deep down think we're going to win," one campaign source said. But even some advisers who are "paid to believe" in Trump's victory tell Axios that Stepien is right.

But Stepien countered that characterization to Axios, saying "our campaign data presents a clear pathway to 270 for the president that provides me more confidence than ever in President Trump's re-election." Insiders say it's more like "several" optional paths to victory — something that's indicative of hope for some, and of indecision for others. Those critics say Stepien has been afraid to make decisions that could upset Trump, leading to "half-assed" ad buys and other weak steps to shore up a victory, sources tell Axios. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:32 p.m.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden had a powerful response to President Trump's insistence that America should learn to live with COVID-19.

As he has throughout the pandemic, Trump downplayed the severity of the coronavirus during Thursday's final presidential debate. He talked about how he went to the hospital after his COVID-19 diagnosis but recovered quickly, implying that Americans can easily defeat the virus. "We're learning to live with it," Trump insisted.

Biden relayed a different reality. He spoke directly to Americans who didn't have a family member at their kitchen table this morning, and then spun Trump's words into a message about all the people the U.S. has lost. "Learning to live with it?" Biden questioned. "People are learning to die with it."

More than 220,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, and millions have contracted it. Case counts and hospitalizations have started to spike again in recent weeks as businesses and schools reopened. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:28 p.m.

President Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden offered dueling approaches to tackling the coronavirus crisis during their opening comments at the final presidential debate on Thursday.

Trump opened the night by touting his response to the pandemic, claiming that 2.2 million people had initially been "expected to die," quoting a worst-case scenario projection if the government had done nothing to stop the spread of the virus. Trump also downplayed spikes around the country, claiming "it will go away. We're rounding the turn. We're rounding the corner. It's going away."

Biden painted a different picture, describing a "dark winter" ahead for America if more robust action isn't taken to stop the spread of the disease. "Over 200,000 Americans are dead," Biden said. "If we just wore these masks, the president's own advisers told us, we could save 100,000 lives. And we're in a circumstance where the president still has no comprehensive plan."

Biden appeared to be once again citing the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecast, which said as of September that "224,000 more people in the U.S. could die from the coronavirus by January, but with near-universal mask use the number of projected additional fatalities could decrease by more than half, or at least 100,000," CNN reports.

“I will take care of this. I will end this," Biden concluded. "I will make sure we have a plan." Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange

9:06 p.m.

Gap Inc. announced on Thursday it plans on closing 30 percent of its Gap and Banana Republic stores in North America over the next three years in order to focus on outlet stores and e-commerce.

This will affect 220 Gap and 130 Banana Republic stores. The Gap has been a mall mainstay, but that's no longer working, the company said, and after the closures 80 percent of the remaining stores will be outside of traditional malls. "We've been overly reliant on low-productivity, high-rent stores," Gap CEO Mark Breitbard said. "We've used the past six months to address the real estate issues and accelerate our shift to a true omni-model."

Two other Gap Inc. brands, Old Navy and Athleta, are doing well, and there are plans for both to grow over the next three years. Old Navy has 1,200 stores, and last year brought in $8 billion in sales; that number is expected to increase to $10 billion annually by early 2024. Athleta now has 200 U.S. locations, and the goal is to have about 300 by 2024. Catherine Garcia

8:29 p.m.

About 47.5 million ballots have already been cast in the U.S. presidential election, data compiled by the U.S. Elections Project shows.

This is about eight times the number of early votes cast at this same time in 2016, Reuters reports. That year, more than 47.2 million early votes were eventually cast.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic and safety concerns, more people are using mail-in ballots or taking advantage of early in-person voting. University of Florida Prof. Michael McDonald administers the U.S. Elections Project, and he predicts there will be a record turnout of 150 million — the highest rate since 1908. This would represent 65 percent of all eligible voters.

FiveThirtyEight is projecting something similar — forecasting that the total election turnout will be 154 million, with an 80th percentile range between 144 million and 165 million. In 2016, turnout was 137 million. "The primary ingredient in our turnout estimate is polls that ask people whether they're more or less enthusiastic about voting than usual, and those polls are showing record levels of enthusiasm," editor-in-chief Nate Silver tweeted. Catherine Garcia

7:56 p.m.

Kate Rubins joined the 47 million people who have voted in the U.S. election so far on Thursday when she cast her ballot from 254 miles above the surface of the Earth.

Rubins is the only American currently in space, working alongside Russian astronauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov at the International Space Station. Seeing as she isn't due to return to the ol' blue marble before April 2021, she chose to cast her vote from orbit, which has been an option for U.S. astronauts since 1997.

Rubins previously voted in the 2016 election from the space station as well, listing her address at the time as "low-Earth orbit." As she explained to The Associated Press, "I think it's really important for everybody to vote. If we can do it from space, then I believe folks can do it from the ground, too." Jeva Lange

7:44 p.m.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and President Trump will face off for the second and final time Thursday night.

Every major network and cable news outlet — ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, PBS, and MSNBC — will air the debate live on TV from 9-10:30 p.m. EST. ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, Fox News and C-SPAN will all stream the debate on YouTube, as well as Facebook. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other outlets will also air the debate on their websites, as will major networks. Roku users can watch the debate via the Roku TV Channel, while on other devices, Newsy, CBS News, CNN, NBC News, Fox News, and ABC News all have apps that will air it.

NBC News' Kristen Welker will moderate the debate, and will be the first Black woman to do so in decades. Last week's debate was called off after Trump tested positive for COVID-19 and refused to participate in a virtual debate. Kathryn Krawczyk

7:13 p.m.

Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro are urging Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to spend more money in Texas — and fast.

During a virtual news conference on Thursday organized by the Texas Democratic Party, O'Rourke and Castro explained why they think Biden has a chance to win the Lone Star State. Biden has more cash on hand than President Trump, giving him an opportunity to flood the airwaves with ads, and while Trump won Texas in 2016 by nine points, most recent polls show a tight race, with Biden trailing narrowly.

Castro said it makes sense Biden is focusing on battleground states Trump won in 2016, like Michigan and Pennsylvania, but it's close in Texas, and "that's just too much to ignore. The resources and investment ought to be made in this state because ... to win Texas is not just to win an election, it's to win on the issues that matter to our country, it's to send a strong message that Donald Trump can't deny and it will remake the electoral map for generations to the benefit of Democrats everywhere."

With its 38 electoral votes, Texas will likely have all its ballots counted on election night, and O'Rourke wants to see Biden declared the winner on Nov. 3. "This state is theirs to lose," he said of the Biden campaign. "They've invested close to zero dollars in the state of Texas, and they're doing this well already. Imagine if they invested some real dollars." A Biden visit between now and Election Day "would electrify this state," O'Rourke said. "His commitment to the most diverse electorate of any swing state in the country would be powerful not just in Texas but would be powerful across this country." Catherine Garcia

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