Briefs: It's Midwest day on the campaign trail

President Donald Trump throws a hat to the crowd after speaking at a campaign rally at the Central Wisconsin Airport in Mosinee, Wis. Hackers stole $2.3 million from the Wisconsin Republican Party's account that was being used to help reelect President Donald Trump in the key battleground state, the party's chairman told The Associated Press on Thursday, Oct. 29. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

Associated Press

Four days until the election and more than 80 million votes already cast

The Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa — When Joe Biden was last in Iowa, his presidential campaign was on the verge of collapse and he was soundly trounced in the caucuses by a former Indiana mayor nearly 40 years his junior. He returns Friday as the Democratic nominee, believing he's just days away from becoming president-elect.

Biden's trip reflects the growing confidence among Democrats in the closing days of the campaign. Iowa, which Donald Trump won by 9 points in 2016, is among the clutch of GOP-leaning states that Biden is trying to bring back into the Democratic column. He'll also swing through Wisconsin on Friday while his running mate, Kamala Harris, courts voters in Texas, a longtime GOP bastion that Democrats insist is in play this year. 

Trump, meanwhile, is playing defense in Michigan and Wisconsin, states he won four years ago. Trump and Biden will both be in Minnesota, a longtime Democratic state that the Republican president is trying to flip.

The arc of Biden's rise is eclipsed only by that the challenges faced by Trump — whose confidence in his reelection was dealt a devastating blow by the coronavirus pandemic this spring, with the public health and economic crises still rearing their heads in the days leading up to the close of polling.

With four days until the election and more than 80 million votes already cast, time is running out for Trump and Biden to change the shape of the race. Biden is leading most national polls and has a narrow advantage in the critical battlegrounds that could decide the race.

Election emerges as referendum on race relations in America

DETROIT — Every day feels like a raw wound for Omari Barksdale.

His sister, Laneeka Barksdale, died of COVID-19 in late March in Detroit — and since then, so have more than 228,000 Americans. Many were Black Americans whose communities were disproportionately devastated by the virus. 

Omari Barksdale, a Black man, watched with alarm as the toll of the country's racial injustice mounted. People of color bore the brunt of pandemic-related job losses. Police shot and killed Breonna Taylor inside her Kentucky home, and a Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into George Floyd's neck for nearly eight minutes as Floyd gasped, "I can't breathe," in his final moments.

The convergence of the pandemic, joblessness and police brutality has forced the U.S. to confront its centuries-old legacy of systemic racism this year. And for Barksdale and many Black Americans, it's turned next week's presidential election into a referendum on the future of race relations, an opportunity to take steps toward healing or the potential of a deeper divide. 

"It feels like half of me was taken away," said Barksdale, who, in the weeks after his sister's death, began leading a team of volunteers canvassing Michigan voters. "For many years, we've had this commentary about how far we've come, but if you look at the landscape and dynamics right now of America, we're back in the '50s and '60s. The reasons for protesting are the same now as they were then: for the protection of Black lives, the opportunity for Black lives, and the understanding and value of Black lives."

As virus surges, Trump rallies keep packing in thousands

WASHINGTON — There are no crowds at Disneyland, still shut down by the coronavirus. Fewer fans attended the World Series this year than at any time in the past century. Big concerts are canceled.

But it's a different story in Trumpland. Thousands of President Donald Trump's supporters regularly cram together at campaign rallies around the country — masks optional and social distancing frowned upon.

Trump rallies are among the nation's biggest events being held in defiance of crowd restrictions designed to stop the virus from spreading. This at a time when public health experts are advising people to think twice even about inviting many guests for Thanksgiving dinner.

"It doesn't matter who you are or where you are, when you have congregate settings where people are crowded together and virtually no one is wearing a mask, that's a perfect setup to have an outbreak of acquisition and transmissibility," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, recently told Yahoo News. "It's a public health and scientific fact."

The Trump campaign, which distributes masks and hand sanitizer at its rallies, says those who attend are peaceful protesters who, just like Black Lives Matter demonstrators, have a right to assemble. The president says he wants to get the country back to normal.

On virus, Trump and health advisers go their separate ways

WASHINGTON — A multi-state coronavirus surge in the countdown to Election Day has exposed a clear split between President Donald Trump's bullish embrace of a return to normalcy and urgent public warnings from the government's top health officials.

It's the opposite of what usually happens in a public health crisis, because political leaders tend to repeat and amplify the recommendations of their health experts, not short-circuit them. "It's extremely unusual for there to be simultaneous contrary messaging," said John Auerbach, who heads the nonpartisan Trust for America's Health.

The president and the health officials appear to be moving farther apart since White House chief of staff Mark Meadows declared last Sunday "we're not going to control the pandemic."

Since then, Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Adm. Brett Giroir has done a round of interviews warning that the country's situation is "tenuous" but that Americans can indeed control the virus by practicing what he calls the "3W's" — watching your distance from others, wearing a mask, and frequently washing your hands.

White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Deborah Birx, touring the states to raise prevention awareness, lamented in Bismarck, North Dakota, that she hadn't seen such disdain for mask wearing elsewhere. "We find that deeply unfortunate because you don't know who's infected and you don't know if you're infected yourself," she told reporters. The state's positive test rate is 11%, above the level indicating widespread transmission.

'So frustrating': Grave missteps seen in US virus response

NEW YORK — A president who downplayed the coronavirus threat, scorned masks and undercut scientists at every turn. Governors who resisted or rolled back containment measures amid public backlash. State lawmakers who used federal COVID-19 aid to plug budget holes instead of beefing up testing and contact tracing.

As a powerful new wave of infections sweeps the U.S. just ahead of Election Day, the nation's handling of the nearly 8-month-old crisis has been marked by what health experts see as grave missteps, wasted time and squandered opportunities by leaders at all levels of government.

The result: The country could be looking at a terrible winter.

"The inconsistency of the response is what's been so frustrating," said Dr. Irwin Redlener of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. "If we had just been disciplined about employing all these public health methods early and aggressively, we would not be in the situation we are in now."

Though Redlener sees some of the new wave as inevitable, he estimates at least 130,000 of the nation's more than 227,000 deaths could have been avoided had the country more widely embraced masks and social distancing.

Wisconsin Republican Party says hackers stole $2.3 million

MADISON, Wis. — Hackers have stolen $2.3 million from the Wisconsin Republican Party's account that was being used to help reelect President Donald Trump in the key battleground state, the party's chairman told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The party noticed the suspicious activity on Oct. 22 and contacted the FBI on Friday, said Republican Party Chairman Andrew Hitt.

Hitt said the FBI is investigating. FBI spokesman Brett Banner said that, per policy, "the FBI is not permitted to confirm or deny an investigation." The Wisconsin Department of Justice, which has a center focused on cyber crime able to assist if requested, has not been asked to investigate, said spokeswoman Rebecca Ballweg.

The alleged hack was discovered less than two weeks before Election Day, as Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden made their final push to win Wisconsin and its 10 electoral votes. Trump won the state by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016 and was planning his third visit in seven days on Friday. Biden also planned to campaign in Wisconsin on Friday. Polls have consistently shown a tight race in the state, usually with Biden ahead by single digits and within the margin of error.

Hitt said he was not aware of any other state GOP being targeted for a similar hack, but state parties were warned at the Republican National Convention this summer to be on the lookout for cyber attacks.

"We have been in contact with the state party and are assisting them through this process," said Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Ahrens. "The RNC never left Wisconsin after 2016, and we are confident that our ground game and the millions we are spending on TV and digital will deliver us another win there in 2020."

The reported hack exposed new tensions in the final days of the race between the Trump campaign and the state party, which overspent and failed to properly account for its expenditures in 2018, leading to a shakeup in top party leadership.

New arrest after France church attack, security tightened

NICE, France — A new suspect is in custody Friday in the investigation into a gruesome attack by a Tunisian man who killed three people in a French church, as France heightened its security alert amid religious and geopolitical tensions around cartoons mocking the Muslim prophet.

The suspect is a 47-year-old man believed to have been in contact with the attacker the night before the attack on the Notre Dame Basilica in the Riviera city of Nice, according to a judicial official. The official was not authorized to be publicly named.

The attacker, Ibrahim Issaoui, was seriously wounded by police and hospitalized in life-threatening condition, authorities said. Anti-terrorism prosecutors in France and Tunisia are investigating.

In an interview broadcast Friday with Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV, Issaoui's mother said she was shocked by the events. 

From the Tunisian province of Sfax, the mother, her eyes wet with tears, said she was surprised to hear her son was in France when he called upon his arrival and had no idea what he was planning. "You don't know the French language, you don't know anyone there, you're going to live alone there, why, why did you go there?" she said she told him over the phone at the time. 

As anger rises, thousands of Muslims protest French cartoons

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Thousands of Muslims in Pakistan poured out of prayer services to join anti-France protests on Friday, as the French president's vow to protect the right to caricature the Prophet Muhammad continues to roil the Muslim world.

An estimated 2,000 worshippers celebrating the Mawlid, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, took to the streets in the eastern city of Lahore. Crowds led by Islamic parties chanted anti-France slogans, raised banners and clogged major roads en route to a Sufi shrine. Dozens of people furiously stomped on French flags and cried for the boycott of French products. In Multan, a city in Pakistan's eastern Punjab province, thousands burned an effigy of French President Emmanuel Macron and demanded that Pakistan sever ties with France. 

More gatherings were planned for later Friday in Pakistan, including the capital, Islamabad, where police were out in force to prevent possible demonstrations outside the French Embassy. The atmosphere was tense as police positioned shipping containers to block the roads.

Other protests, largely organized by Islamists, are expected across the region, including in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. 

In Afghanistan, members of the Islamist party Hezb-i-Islami set the French flag ablaze. Its leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, warned Macron that if he doesn't "control the situation, we are going to a third world war and Europe will be responsible." 

'Our heart breaks': South digs out from Zeta's wrath

NEW ORLEANS — Trees on top of buses and cars. Roofs ripped off homes. Boats pushed onto the highway by surging seawater. Hundreds of thousands of people left in the dark. 

The remnants of Hurricane Zeta were far from land over the Atlantic on Friday, but people across the South were still digging out from the powerful storm that killed six people.

The wind effects of Zeta, which came ashore in Cocodrie, Louisiana, and barreled northeast, were felt all the way from the Gulf Coast to southern New Jersey. At the height of the outages, as many as 2.6 million people were without power across seven states from Louisiana to Virginia. Utility crews were out assessing the damage and fixing it. 

In Louisiana, one of the hardest hit areas was Grand Isle, a barrier island community south of New Orleans. Gov. John Bel Edwards called the damage there "catastrophic" and ordered the Louisiana National Guard to fly in soldiers to assist with search and rescue efforts.

Dodie Vegas, who with her husband owns Bridge Side Marina on Grand Isle, said damage was minimal at their waterside complex of cabins, campgrounds and docking facilities, but the rest of the island wasn't so lucky. 

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