FIRST DAY OF EARLY VOTING IN NC DRAWS 272,000 TO THE POLLS: As the sun rose Thursday, voters at some Triangle polling stations formed lines hundreds of people deep, waiting over hours to cast their ballots on the first day of early voting in North Carolina. The number of ballots crept up all day: 76,000 by noon. The state reported 170,000 as of 3:30 p.m. With two hours left to go, 230,000 ballots were cast. And as the polls closed at 7:30 p.m., North Carolina voters had cast more than 272,000 votes, far surpassing the first day of early voting in 2016, when roughly 166,000 ballots were cast, the N.C. State Board of Elections reported. Combined with absentee ballots also received so far, more than 826,285 North Carolinians had already voted in the election, about 11% of registered voters, the board reported.
TRUMP DRAWS MEAGER CROWD AT AIRPORT PIT-STOP IN GREENVILLE: Trump spoke outdoors, in front of Air Force One, for 79 minutes before an estimated crowd of about 2,000 at the Pitt-Greenville Airport. It was Trump’s fifth visit to North Carolina in six weeks but his first since being hospitalized after testing positive for the coronavirus. He was not seen wearing a mask at all. It was a typical Trump campaign speech, with the president veering from topic to topic, often going away from prepared remarks. He offered quick hits on dozens of subjects and offered an extended retelling of election night in 2016 as the results came in and his chances for victory soared. Trump, as he has in previous stops, called on Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to open up the state and open up the schools. He said children “have the strongest immune systems,” citing his son Barron’s recovery from the coronavirus. “We’ve learned about this disease. You’ve got to open up your businesses, open up your schools. Get it going,” Trump said. “We have incredible therapeutics, we have incredible drugs. We have, in my opinion, a cure.” Trump was referring to the drugs that he took while hospitalized. (What about the teachers and workers, who don't have access to those drugs?)
CONFEDERATE STATUE SET TO BE REMOVED FROM LEXINGTON AFTER CITY/COUNTY BATTLE: A court ruling Thursday morning dissolving the county’s restraining order has cleared a path for Lexington officials to move forward with removing its Confederate monument. Thursday’s ruling comes a week after county officials responded to the city’s attempt to remove the monument with an emergency injunction. Days prior to Thursday’s ruling, leadership from the Daughters of the American Confederacy, the owners of the monument itself, agreed to remove it to an area outside Lexington borders. As of now, it has not been determined where the group will take the monument. As part of the court’s ruling, the United Daughters of the Confederacy must work with the city and county to remove the monument. While the decision will likely bring to a close the months-long tug-of-war between the town and the county, those who demonstrated against the monument believe this victory is only the beginning.
PELOSI AND MNUCHIN ON THE VERGE OF A STIMULUS DEAL, MCCONNELL A MAJOR ROADBLOCK: The rapidly developing changes came late Thursday after a nearly 90-minute conversation between the two negotiators. They both cited progress in resolving one of Pelosi’s top demands, for a national strategic testing plan to better detect the coronavirus. Mnuchin told her that the White House would accept the Democrats’ proposal with some “minor” modifications, according to Pelosi’s spokesman — confirming comments Mnuchin himself had made earlier in the day. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Republicans had already made known their discomfort with any big new spending plan. McConnell next week plans to put a roughly $500 billion package on the Senate floor, close to a quarter the size of the package Mnuchin and Pelosi are working on. “He is willing to go higher than my members are," McConnell said of Trump while speaking at a medical center in Princeton, Ky., Thursday afternoon. McConnell said he didn’t think Pelosi and Mnuchin would reach a deal, anyway. And at an earlier event the majority leader all but ruled out a vote on a large-scale relief bill. “You’re correct we’re in discussions with the secretary of the Treasury and the speaker about a higher amount," McConnell told a reporter. “That’s not what I’m going to put on the floor.” After a huge wave of layoffs in March and April, there has been a noticeable increase in the past few weeks, as well, following the expiration of a number of federal aid programs. The airline and travel industry have been particularly hard hit, while restaurants and other businesses continue to close nationwide. The number of new unemployment claims jumped last week, the Labor Department reported on Thursday. Congress passed about $3 trillion in emergency aid in March and April, but a number of those programs have run their course.
TRUMP REFUSES TO DISAVOW QANON CONSPIRACY NUT-JOBS: In perhaps his most incendiary remarks, Mr. Trump repeatedly declined to disavow QAnon, a pro-Trump internet community that has been described by law enforcement as a potential domestic terrorism threat. The president professed to have no knowledge of the group, and as a result could not disavow it, but then demonstrated specific knowledge of one of its core conspiracy theories involving pedophilia that is entirely false. “I know nothing about it,” Mr. Trump said. “I do know they are very much against pedophilia. They fight it very hard.” When the NBC anchor Savannah Guthrie pressed Mr. Trump to reject the community’s essential worldview, and described some of its most extreme and bogus elements, the president gave no ground: “I don’t know,” he insisted. “No, I don’t know.” Mr. Biden, seated in a chair at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, sought to connect with the voters sprinkled throughout a mostly empty auditorium by making constant references to his plans to confront the major challenges facing the nation, including the coronavirus and school and business reopenings. He concluded many of his lengthy responses by expressing hope that he had answered the voters’ questions, and he stayed after the event ended to chat with attendees. Mr. Trump, by contrast, often flashed impatience with Ms. Guthrie’s persistent questioning as they sparred in an outdoor setting at a Miami art museum. The president sounded especially exasperated when she asked him to condemn white supremacy (“I denounce white supremacy, OK?” he replied). Asked about a recent New York Times investigation that revealed he had paid minimal or no income taxes for years, Mr. Trump attacked the reporting and claimed falsely that it was “illegal.” He denied owing money to Russians and briefly appeared to promise Ms. Guthrie that he would “let you know who I owe” money to, but his verbiage was not entirely clear, and at one point he delivered a kind of miniature filibuster by listing various properties he owns.