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Debate night for Trump and Biden in final campaign faceoff

By JONATHAN LEMIRE, BILL BARROW and STEVE PEOPLES

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden are set to square off in their final debate Thursday, one of the last high-profile opportunities for the trailing incumbent to change the trajectory of an increasingly contentious campaign.

Worried about losing the White House, some advisers are urging Trump to trade his aggressive demeanor from the first debate for a lower-key style that puts Biden more squarely in the spotlight. But it’s unclear whether the president will listen.

Biden, who has stepped off the campaign trail in favor of debate prep, expects Trump to get intensely personal. The former vice president and his inner circle see the president’s approach chiefly as an effort to distract from the coronavirus, its economic fallout and other crises.

With less than two weeks until Election Day, Biden is leading most national polls and has a narrower advantage in the battleground states that could decide the race. More than 42 million people have already cast their ballots. The debate, moderated by NBC’s Kristen Welker, is a final chance for both men to make their case to a television audience of tens of millions of voters.

“The rule is that last debates before the election have a big impact,” said presidential historian Michael Beschloss, who made clear the legacy of the candidates’ first faceoff: “That was the most out-of-control presidential debate we have seen.”

Biden told reporters Thursday in Delaware before his afternoon flight to Nashville that he had undergone testing for COVID-19 and the test came back negative. The White House was asked whether the president had been tested but had not released an update.

Trump announced on Oct. 1 he had tested positive, and spent three nights in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center before returning to the White House. Last week, during a town hall-style interview on MSNBC, Trump did not specify, when he was asked, when he had last been tested before the Sept. 29 first debate.

Trump, who staged a remarkable comeback in the closing days of the 2016 campaign, believes he can do it again by using the power of the presidency to attack his rival.

Trump on Tuesday called on Attorney General William Barr to immediately launch an investigation into unverified claims about Biden and his son Hunter, effectively demanding that the Justice Department muddy his political opponent and abandon its historic resistance to getting involved in elections.

Biden could also expect questions about his comments in a CBS interview, released Thursday, in which he wouldn’t rule out adding justices to the Supreme Court. The issue has followed him since the Sept. 18 death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the GOP-controlled Senate’s move to confirm Trump’s nominee to succeed her, Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

During the interview for CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Biden didn’t rule out studying the addition of members to the Supreme Court as part of a commission he plans to name to look at court reforms if he’s elected. He said the commission’s charge would “go well beyond packing.”

Trump, for his part, has been focusing on Biden’s family. He is promoting an unconfirmed New York Post report published last week that cites an email in which an official from Ukrainian gas company Burisma thanked Hunter Biden, who served on the company’s board, for arranging for him to meet Joe Biden during a 2015 visit to Washington. The Biden campaign has rejected Trump’s assertion of wrongdoing and noted that Biden’s schedule did not show a meeting with the Burisma official.

Trump’s attacks on the Biden family have been relentless, including his efforts to get Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, which led to Trump’s impeachment. It’s part of a determined, yet so-far-unsuccessful effort to drive up his opponent’s negatives, as he did with Hillary Clinton four years ago.

While Biden will defend his own record and his son, aides have said, he hopes to focus on making the case that Trump is unfit for office and let the nation down during a confluence of crises.

“He knows that people want to hear about how we’re going to help working families get through the end of the month and pay the rent,” his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, said Wednesday in North Carolina. “That’s what people care about, and one of the things I love about Joe Biden — he doesn’t take on or talk about other people’s kids.”

The one-two punch of the first presidential debate and Trump’s the president’s three-day hospital stint after contracting COVID-19 rattled his base of support and triggered alarm among Republicans who fear the White House and Senate could be slipping away.

The initial debate’s belligerent tone was somehow fitting for what has been an extraordinarily ugly campaign. Amid heated clashes over the pandemic, the Supreme Court and the integrity of the election itself, Trump refused to condemn white supremacists who have supported him, telling one such group known as the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”

The two men frequently talked over each other with Trump interrupting, nearly shouting, so often that Biden eventually snapped at him, “Will you shut up, man?”

Aides have urged Trump, who has skipped debate prep, to show some restraint this time, allowing Biden to speak more and get himself in trouble with verbal gaffes and lapses. But the president has made no promises.

“Some people think, ‘Let him talk,’ because he loses his train (of thought), he just loses it and he doesn’t speak the train of thought,” Trump said in a town hall discussion taped at the White House Rose Garden and aired by Sinclair Broadcast Group on Wednesday evening. “But we’ll see what happens. I mean, you will have to be there.”

After Trump’s diagnosis, the Commission on Presidential Debates ruled that the second debate, which was to have been held last week, be virtual. Trump balked, leading to the cancellation of the debate and the two men holding dueling town halls instead, speaking at the same time more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) apart.

On Thursday night, in an effort to curtail interruptions, Trump and Biden will each have his microphone cut off while his rival delivers an opening two-minute answer to each of the six debate topics, the commission announced. The mute button won’t figure in the open discussion portion of the debate, but has drawn criticism from Trump.

“The mute is very unfair,” he said Wednesday as he left the White House for a campaign rally.

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Lemire reported from Washington. Barrow reported from Atlanta. Additional reporting by Alexandra Jaffe and Zeke Miller in Washington and Aamer Madhani in Chicago.

Iowa court ruling could block ballot requests

A split Iowa Supreme Court on Wednesday (10/21) upheld a new Republican-backed law that could bar county elections commissioners from mailing absentee ballots to thousands of people who omitted information on their applications.

The 4-3 ruling means that voters who want to cast mail-in ballots in the Nov. 3 election must complete their absentee ballot applications before Saturday’s deadline in order to qualify.

Auditors will not be allowed to use the state’s voter registration system to fix any deficient applications, as they have done in prior elections. Voters must do so themselves.

Dissenting justices said the ruling will “likely cause thousands of voters to not receive their ballot in time to use it” and others will face increased health risks from voting in person during the pandemic.

Those affected would still be able to vote early at the auditor’s office and satellite locations or on Election Day.

The ruling marks another legal victory for Republicans and President Trump’s reelection campaign in Iowa, where his race against Democrat Joe Biden and a key Senate contest are expected to be close.

Republicans who control the Iowa Legislature passed the law in June after the primary saw record turnout with heavy mail-in voting, which was promoted as a way to keep people from contracting coronavirus at crowded polling places.

The law specified that auditors cannot use government databases to fill in blanks on absentee ballot request forms and must contact voters by email, phone and mail to provide the information. Auditors say that task is time-consuming and not always successful.

Under Iowa’s voter identification law, those applying for absentee ballots must provide either a driver’s license number or their voter pin number, which few people know. Auditors say some requesters leave that field blank, or make other mistakes or omissions on the forms, which also ask for addresses and birth dates.

Critics contend the law adds several days of processing incomplete requests and that thousands of them could be left without absentee ballots.

The League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa and Majority Forward, a group supporting Senate Democrats, filed a lawsuit in July claiming the law was an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote that could prevent some people from participating this year.

Trump’s campaign and Republican groups intervened, arguing the law was necessary to protect election integrity. A judge in Johnson County sided with them last month, upholding the law.

Oskaloosa woman arrested on drug charges and more

An Oskaloosa woman is facing several charges after she was arrested Wednesday night (10/21) in Wapello County.  The Wapello County Sheriff’s Office says 24-year-old Claudia Blizzard is charged with possession of a controlled substance–morphine–as well as possessing marijuana and drug paraphernalia, driving under suspension, eluding, forgery and an outstanding warrant for violating her probation.

Trump tends to his electoral map, Biden eyes Obama boost

By ZEKE MILLER, WILL WEISSERT and JONATHAN LEMIRE

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is hopping from one must-win stop on the electoral map to the next in the leadup to a final presidential debate that may be his last, best chance to alter the trajectory of the 2020 campaign.

As Democrat Joe Biden holes up for debate prep in advance of Thursday’s faceoff in Nashville, Tennessee, he’s hoping for a boost from former President Barack Obama, who will be holding his first in-person campaign event for Biden on Wednesday in Philadelphia. Obama, who has become increasingly critical of Trump over the three and a half years since he left office, will address a drive-in rally, where supporters will listen to him over the radio inside their cars.

It comes a day after Trump, trailing in polls in many battleground states, stopped in Pennsylvania on Tuesday. Trump was bound for North Carolina on Wednesday as he delivers what his campaign sees as his closing message.

“This is an election between a Trump super recovery and a Biden depression,” the president said in Erie, Pennsylvania. “You will have a depression the likes of which you have never seen.” He added: “If you want depression, doom and despair, vote for Sleepy Joe. And boredom.”

But the Republican president’s pitch that he should lead the rebuilding of an economy ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic has been overshadowed by a series of fights. In the last two days he has attacked the nation’s leading infectious disease expert and a venerable TV newsmagazine while suggesting that the country was tired of talking about a virus that has killed more than 221,000 people in the United States.

Before leaving the White House for Pennsylvania on Tuesday, Trump taped part of an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” that apparently ended acrimoniously. On Twitter, the president declared his interview with Lesley Stahl to be “FAKE and BIASED,” and he threatened to release a White House edit of it before its Sunday airtime.

Also trailing in fundraising for campaign ads, Trump is increasingly relying on his signature campaign rallies to maximize turnout among his GOP base. His trip to Pennsylvania on Tuesday was one of what is expected to be several visits to the state in the next two weeks.

“If we win Pennsylvania, we win the whole thing,” Trump said in Erie.

Erie County, which includes the aging industrial city in the state’s northwest corner, went for Obama by 5 percentage points in 2012 but broke for Trump by 2 in 2016. That swing, fueled by Trump’s success with white, working-class, non-college-educated voters, was replicated in small cities and towns and rural areas and helped him overcome Hillary Clinton’s victories in the state’s big cities.

But Trump will probably need to run up the score by more this time around as his prospects have slipped since 2016 in vote-rich suburban Philadelphia, where he underperformed by past Republican measures. This raises the stakes for his campaign’s more aggressive outreach to new rural and small-town voters across the industrial north.

His aides worry that his opponent is uniquely situated to prevent that, as Biden not only hails from Scranton but has built his political persona as a representative of the middle and working classes.

Trump, who spoke for less than an hour, showed the crowd a video of various Biden comments on fracking in a bid to portray the Democrat as opposed to the process. The issue is critical in a state that is the second leading producer of natural gas in the country. Biden’s actual position is that he would ban new gas and oil permits, including for fracking, on federal lands only. The vast majority of oil and gas does not come from federal lands.

Three weeks of wrangling over the debate format and structure appeared to have subsided after the Commission on Presidential Debates came out with procedures meant to reduce the chaotic interruptions that plagued the first Trump-Biden encounter last month.

This time, Trump and Biden will each have his microphone cut off while his rival delivers an opening two-minute answer to each of the six debate topics, the commission announced. The mute button won’t figure in the open discussion portion of the debate.

Trump was to have been joined in Erie by first lady Melania Trump, in what would have been her first public appearance since she and the president were sickened with COVID-19. But her chief of staff, Stephanie Grisham, said Tuesday that Mrs. Trump has a lingering cough and would not accompany the president.

As Trump was on the road, Biden was meeting at his lakeside home in Wilmington, Delaware, with senior adviser Ron Klain, who is in charge of debate preparation. Also on hand: a group of aides that the campaign has purposely kept small to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

Biden, who taped his own interview with “60 Minutes” on Monday at a theater near his home, had no public events Tuesday or Wednesday and wasn’t scheduled to travel — except to the debate — on Thursday. His running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, was out campaigning.

Biden is now tested about every two days for the coronavirus and has never been found to be positive. He suggested before last week’s planned second debate in Miami that the proceedings shouldn’t happen if Trump was still testing positive for COVID-19 after contracting the virus earlier in the month.

The candidates instead held dueling town halls on separate networks after the commission said the debate should occur virtually, citing safety concerns, and Trump rejected the idea.

___ Weissert reported from Wilmington, Delaware. Miller reported from Washington. AP writers Jill Colvin, Kevin Freking and Deb Riechmann in Washington contributed to this report.

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AP’s Advance Voting guide brings you the facts about voting early, by mail or absentee from each state: https://interactives.ap.org/advance-voting-2020/.

Surge of Covid patients in Iowa hospitals continues

BY 

The state’s coronavirus tracker shows more than 500 Covid patients are in an Iowa hospital today, a higher patient count than at any other time during the pandemic.

An infectious disease expert says it’s no surprise to the medical community as the total number of Covid cases identified in Iowa has jumped 28% in the past two weeks.

“Given the magnitude of the surges we have seen in recent days and the high plateaus after every surge, then this was expected to happen,” said Dr. Rossana Rosa, an infectious disease specialist at UnityPoint in Des Moines.

Rosa said a big worry is smaller hospitals won’t have the capacity to care for Covid patients, transferring them on to the state’s larger hospitals.

“Resources in our communities are limited not only in terms of the technical resources needed to support patients,” Rosa told Radio Iowa, “but also human resources to actually provide the care.”

Hospitals typically see an increase in patients with respiratory illnesses during the fall and winter. In addition to getting a flu shot, Dr. Rosa said older Iowans and those with lung conditions ask their doctor about getting a pneumonia shot as well.

As for navigating the pandemic, Dr. Rosa said “there is no silver bullet,” but a combination of measures are important, like avoiding poorly ventilated indoor settings.

“It’s still important to maintain physical distancing, avoid crowds,” she said, “wearing your face covering when you are out, washing your hands.”

The springtime peak for Covid hospitalizations in Iowa was on May 9, when 417 patients were being treated for Covid. Today’s tally of 501 is 17 percent higher than that.

Nebraska’s governor has imposed new Covid-related restrictions that go into effect tomorrow after Covid patient surges in Nebraska hospitals. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds said last week that hospital capacity isn’t overwhelmed by Covid patients here. The state’s coronavirus website shows hospitals have 38% of inpatient beds open and available.

Osky to play Norwalk in volleyball playoffs

In high school volleyball, Oskaloosa will face Norwalk Thursday night (10/22) in the semifinals of the Class 4A Region 3 playoffs.  Norwalk defeated Carlisle 3-0 in Tuesday’s (10/20) opening round.  You can hear the Oskaloosa/Norwalk game on KMZN AM & FM.  Coverage starts at 6:45 with the first serve at 7.

Also in 4A Region 3 volleyball, Pella defeated Grinnell three sets to none.  The Dutch will now play at number one ranked Cedar Rapids Xavier Thursday night.

Testimony ends in Kelsie Thomas retrial

Tuesday (10/20) was the final day of testimony in Kelsie Thomas’ retrial for first degree murder.  The Ottumwa woman is accused of killing her 5-year-old daughter Cloe Chandler in July 2018.  Thomas is facing trial again after her first trial in March ended with a hung jury on a first degree murder charge.  On Tuesday, Thomas’ defense team called just one witness—a forensic pathologist who claimed Chandler’s death was an accident.  Last week, the medical examiner who performed Chandler’s autopsy said the girl died from manual strangulation.  Both sides now have until November 3 to turn in written closing arguments.  Judge Lucy Gamon will then decide Thomas’ fate, as Thomas asked for a bench trial for her retrial.

Monday high school volleyball playoff scores

Class 1A: WACO 3, Sigourney 0

                North Mahaska 3, Twin Cedars 0
                English Valleys 3, Tri-County 0
                Lisbon 3, Keota 0
                Montezuma 3, Iowa Valley 0
                Lynnville-Sully 3, Baxter 1
Class 2A: Columbus 3, Pekin 2
Class 3A: EBF 3, PCM 1
                 Knoxville 3, Clarke 0

Justice Dept. files landmark antitrust case against Google

By MICHAEL BALSAMO and MARCY GORDON

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department on Tuesday sued Google for antitrust violations, alleging that it abused its dominance in online search and advertising to stifle competition and harm consumers.

The lawsuit marks the government’s most significant attempt to protect competition since its groundbreaking case against Microsoft more than 20 years ago. It could be an opening salvo ahead of other major government antitrust actions, given ongoing investigations of major tech companies including Apple, Amazon and Facebook at both the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission.

“Google is the gateway to the internet and a search advertising behemoth,” U.S. Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen told reporters. “It has maintained its monopoly power through exclusionary practices that are harmful to competition.”

Antitrust cases in the technology industry have to move quickly, he said. Otherwise “we could lose the next wave of innovation.”

Lawmakers and consumer advocates have long accused Google, whose corporate parent Alphabet Inc. has a market value just over $1 trillion, of abusing its dominance in online search and advertising to stifle competition and boost its profits. Critics contend that multibillion-dollar fines and mandated changes in Google’s practices imposed by European regulators in recent years weren’t severe enough and that structural changes are needed for Google to change its conduct.

The Justice Department isn’t seeking specific changes in Google’s structure or other remedies at this point, but isn’t ruling out seeking additional relief, officials said.

Google responded immediately via tweet: “Today’s lawsuit by the Department of Justice is deeply flawed. People use Google because they choose to — not because they’re forced to or because they can’t find alternatives.”

The case was filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. It alleges that Google uses billions of dollars collected from advertisers to pay phone manufacturers to ensure Google is the default search engine on browsers. Eleven states, all with Republican attorneys general, joined the federal government in the lawsuit.

But several other states demurred. The attorneys general of New York, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, Tennessee and Utah released a statement Monday saying they have not concluded their investigation into Google and would want to consolidate their case with the DOJ’s if they decided to file. “It’s a bipartisan statement,” said spokesman Fabien Levy of the New York State attorney general’s office. “There’s things that still need to be fleshed out, basically,”

President Donald Trump’s administration has long had Google in its sights. One of Trump’s top economic advisers said two years ago that the White House was considering whether Google searches should be subject to government regulation. Trump has often criticized Google, recycling unfounded claims by conservatives that the search giant is biased against conservatives and suppresses their viewpoints, interferes with U.S. elections and prefers working with the Chinese military over the Pentagon.

Rosen told reporters that allegations of anti-conservative bias are “a totally separate set of concerns” from the issue of competition.

Google controls about 90% of global web searches. The company has been bracing for the government’s action and is expected to fiercely oppose any attempt to force it to spin off its services into separate businesses.

The company, based in Mountain View, California, has long denied the claims of unfair competition. Google argues that although its businesses are large, they are useful and beneficial to consumers. It maintains that its services face ample competition and have unleashed innovations that help people manage their lives.

Most of Google’s services are offered for free in exchange for personal information that helps it sell its ads. Google insists that it holds no special power forcing people to use its free services or preventing them from going elsewhere.

A recent report from a House Judiciary subcommittee, following a year-long investigation into Big Tech’s market dominance, concluded that Google has monopoly power in the market for search. It said the company established its position in several markets through acquisition, snapping up successful technologies that other businesses had developed — buying an estimated 260 companies in 20 years.

The Democratic congressman who led that investigation called Tuesday’s action “long overdue” but said it’s important for the Justice Department to look beyond Google’s search business.

“It is critical that the Justice Department’s lawsuit focuses on Google’s monopolization of search and search advertising, while also targeting the anticompetitive business practices Google is using to leverage this monopoly into other areas, such as maps, browsers, video, and voice assistants,” Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island said in a statement.

The DOJ “filed the strongest suit they have,” said Columbia Law professor Tim Wu, who called it almost a carbon copy of the government’s 1998 lawsuit against Microsoft. He said via email that, for that reason, the DOJ has a decent chance of winning. “However, the likely remedies — i.e., knock it off, no more making Google the default — are not particularly likely to transform the broader tech ecosystem.”

Other advocates, however, said the Justice Department’s timing — it’s only two weeks to Election Day — smacked of politics. The government’s “narrow focus and alienation of the bipartisan state attorneys general is evidence of an unserious approach driven by politics and is likely to result in nothing more than a choreographed slap on the wrist for Google,” Alex Harman, a competition policy advocate at Public Citizen, said in a statement.

The argument for reining in Google has gathered force as the company stretched far beyond its 1998 roots as a search engine governed by the motto “Don’t Be Evil.” It’s since grown into a diversified goliath with online tentacles that scoop up personal data from billions of people via services ranging from search, video and maps to smartphone software. That data helps feed the advertising machine that has turned Google into a behemoth.

The company owns the leading web browser in Chrome, the world’s largest smartphone operating system in Android, the top video site in YouTube and the most popular digital mapping system. Some critics have singled out YouTube and Android as among Google businesses that should be considered for divestiture.

With only two weeks to Election Day, the Trump Justice Department is taking bold legal action against Google on an issue of rare bipartisan agreement. Republicans and Democrats have accelerated their criticism of Big Tech in recent months, although sometimes for different reasons. It’s unclear what the status of the government’s suit against Google would be if a Joe Biden administration were to take over next year.

The Justice Department sought support for its suit from states across the country that share concerns about Google’s conduct. A bipartisan coalition of 50 U.S. states and territories, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, announced a year ago they were investigating Google’s business practices, citing “potential monopolistic behavior.”

Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina and Texas joined the Justice Department lawsuit.

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AP Technology Writer Michael Liedtke contributed to this report from San Ramon, California.

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Follow Balsamo and Gordon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeBalsamo1 and https://twitter.com/mgordonap.

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