First Thing election special: Barack Obama is back on the campaign trail

Tim Walker
·6-min read
<span>Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Good morning,

Joe Biden’s former boss returned to the campaign trail on his behalf on Wednesday. Barack Obama told a drive-in rally in Philadelphia that this was “the most important election of our lifetime” and urged Americans to deliver a rebuke so resounding to Trump at the ballot box that he could not dispute the result.

Donald Trump isn’t suddenly going to protect all of us. He can’t even take the basic steps to protect himself.

Trump responded to his predecessor’s criticism’s on the stump in North Carolina, saying of his 2016 victory: “I think the only one, the only one more unhappy than crooked Hillary that night was Barack Hussein Obama.”

  • A Maryland man has been charged with making death threats against Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, in a letter left on the doorstep of a neighbour who had put up yard signs in support of the Democratic nominee and his running mate.

Russia and Iran are trying to sow election unrest

Russia and Iran are using US voter registration information to try to sow unrest ahead of the election, the Trump administration’s national intelligence director, John Ratcliffe, said in a press conference on Wednesday. The news comes after Democratic voters in swing states including Florida and Pennsylvania received threatening emails purporting to be from the far-right Proud Boys group, warning the recipients “we will come after you” if they did not vote for Trump.

Ratcliffe characterised Iran’s efforts as “designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage President Trump”, but Democrats pushed back on the idea that the attacks were aimed at the president, describing Ratcliffe – a Trump loyalist – as a “partisan hack”.

Will the final debate be Trump’s last stand?

A worker cleans the plexiglass panel set up as a Covid-19 precaution on the debate stage at Belmont University in Nashville.
A worker cleans a plastic panel set up as a Covid-19 precaution on the debate stage at Belmont University in Nashville. Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

Trump and Biden will travel to Belmont University in Nashville on Thursday for the final presidential debate – which could be the president’s last chance to move the poll needle in his favour. He will probably arrive with a win in his pocket: the senate judiciary committee is set to vote to move Amy Coney Barrett’s supreme court nomination on to the next stage: a full senate ballot.

Meanwhile, the Guardian has learned of accusations of sexual abuse and “emotional torment” being levelled at People of Praise by former members of the charismatic Christian group to which Barrett belongs.

  • Can we trust the polls? Biden seems to have a comfortable lead, but the Guardian US data editor, Mona Chalabi, tells the Today in Focus podcast we should remain sceptical of the same experts who predicted the wrong outcome in 2016.

  • Sign up for the Fight to Vote. Our weekly newsletter comes out every Thursday and covers voting rights, election integrity and the threats to America’s democratic process.

Borat gave Rudy Giuliani his own October surprise

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is released on Friday on Amazon Prime.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is released on Friday on Amazon Prime. Photograph: Timothy A Clary/AFP/Getty Images

While Rudy Giuliani was busy trying to whip up outrage over Hunter Biden’s emails, Sacha Baron Cohen was waiting to spring an October surprise on Giuliani himself. On Wednesday, it emerged that Trump’s personal lawyer would appear in a potentially mortifying sequence from the new Borat movie, featuring a “flirtatious” interview with an actor pretending to be the bumbling Kazakh reporter’s daughter.

Giuliani has denied any impropriety. “At no time before, during, or after the interview was I ever inappropriate,” the former New York mayor told WABC. “If Sacha Baron Cohen implies otherwise he is a stone-cold liar.”

  • Could Borat swing the election? Cohen’s comedy sequel joins a host of urgent documentaries and dramas released in the run-up to 3 November. But most of them preach to the choir, writes Charles Bramesco. And besides, “many subscribers to the Trumpist worldview are not the most receptive to the swaying powers of art”.

  • Borat 2 reviewed. Despite some laughs and a few pointed political moments, says our critic Peter Bradshaw, it is 14 years since Borat’s first cinematic outing – and “the shock of the new is gone.”

In other election news…

Ron Johnson is facing questions about his ethics.
Ron Johnson is facing questions about his ethics. Photograph: Yuri Gripas/Reuters
  • The Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson, who has spearheaded Republican attacks on Hunter Biden, is facing questions over whether he benefited personally from a 2017 change in tax law that he had demanded of the Trump administration.

  • Florida’s Republican secretary of state has been accused of voter suppression after making two last-minute changes to the state’s voting guidance that critics say are likely to lead to intimidation and confusion at the polls.

  • Cameroonian asylum seekers claim they were tortured by Ice to force them to sign deportation orders in what their lawyers and activists say is a scramble to fly African migrants out of the US before the election and a potential change of administration.

Stat of the day

Grassroots Latinx organisations have a secret weapon for getting out the vote, says Xochitl Oseguera: WhatsApp has more than 32 million Latinx users in the US – more than half the country’s entire Latinx population. There are 10 million more Latinos on WhatsApp than on Instagram, and three times as many as on Twitter.

View from the right

Rather than ask serious questions about Hunter Biden’s emails, mainstream outlets have chosen to act like an unofficial arm of the Biden campaign’s communications department – or so Ben Shapiro argues at Fox News.

At a time when our trust in media is already low, the media have thoroughly debunked themselves as neutral arbiters of fact. At a time when social media has consolidated unprecedented power to control the information seen by Americans, social media overseers have decided to bottleneck information they don’t like.

Don’t miss this

For the latest film from our Anywhere but Washington series, Oliver Laughland travelled to Youngstown, Ohio, one of the depressed manufacturing centres to which Trump promised new jobs and economic prosperity. So far, he has not delivered.

Last Thing: Quibi’s quick bites meet a swift end

Anna Kendrick, Sophie Turner, Liam Hemsworth, Chrissy Teigen and Chance the Rapper all had Quibi shows.
Anna Kendrick, Sophie Turner, Liam Hemsworth, Chrissy Teigen and Chance the Rapper all had Quibi shows. Photograph: AP

It attracted almost $2bn in investment and a deep bench of Hollywood talent, but after just six months, the much-heralded short-form video service Quibi – or “quick bites” – is shutting down. There was widespread scepticism about the viability of the platform’s costly content, but its co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg blamed simple bad timing, telling the New York Times in May: “I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus.”

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