Asian American vote carries newfound weight in swing state N.C.

The picture — or the lack of one — was worth a thousand words.

“For one of our mailers, I was looking for pictures of candidates with AAPI voters — and they mostly just don’t exist, because candidates aren’t talking to AAPI voters,” recalls Chavi Khanna Koneru, executive director of the civic engagement organization North Carolina Asian Americans Together.

For decades, Asian American voters haven’t been courted as heartily by presidential campaigns as other groups, but the political world has started to play catch-up. And in battleground states like North Carolina, which President Donald Trump carried by less than 4 percentage points in 2016, the candidates this year really do have to fight for every vote: As of this week, RealClearPolitics polling averages showed Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden in a dead heat in North Carolina, with Biden up by less than 2 percentage points.

According to numbers compiled by APIA Vote and AAPI Data, there are nearly 172,000 eligible Asian American voters in North Carolina, representing about 3.5 percent of the electorate. The state’s total AAPI population came in at just over 363,000 — exploding by 154 percent since 2000. Indian Americans accounted for well over half of the AAPIs in North Carolina, followed by people of Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Japanese descent.

In an era and landscape of close-call races — the state’s 2016 governor’s race was decided by about 10,000 votes — “we’re really focused on the fact that AAPI voters in North Carolina can be the determining factor in this election of a lifetime,” said Koneru, who previously worked on AAPI language-access issues for the voting section of the Department of Justice and is also head of NCAAT’s politically engaged affiliate, NCAAT In Action.

Tom Wong, associate professor of political science and founding director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at the University of California at San Diego, said his research shows AAPI voters may have even more influence in North Carolina than previously believed: Based on a study he conducted in coordination with NCAAT that factored in genealogical information and direct voter outreach and adjusted for errors in self-identification — such as Indian Americans checking boxes for “American Indian” on official forms — Wong believes the number of AAPI voters could be more than 200,000.

While there are currently more registered Democrats than Republicans in North Carolina, Wong notes that AAPI voters are more likely to be registered as unaffiliated than other groups: “The AAPI electorate is not monolithic and is not tied to a particular party,” he said. “In other words, the AAPI electorate is up for grabs.”

However, Wong — who served as a White House adviser on AAPI issues during the Obama years — said his research shows that the 1 out of 5 North Carolina AAPI voters surveyed said they had experienced discrimination during the pandemic. Significant numbers of voters said they were less likely to support a candidate that used terms like “Chinese virus” or “kung flu” in discussing the pandemic, according to Wong, and want a president who tries to understand the issues facing AAPIs.

Overall, then, “when we think about how these data triangulate, then my conclusion is that AAPI voters in North Carolina are likely to vote for Biden, potentially even as a bloc, because of the experience of discrimination during Covid-19,” Wong said.

Team Trump, however, said that its message and its candidate will prove to have broad appeal to AAPI voters in North Carolina and beyond.

“As an Asian American from North Carolina, I know full well that the president’s message of hard work, low taxes, safer streets, and increased opportunity strongly resonates with our community,” said Ken Farnaso, deputy national press secretary for the Trump campaign. “Big government leads to less freedom, and Biden’s communist agenda mirrors that of so many failed governments where many of our families have come from. In two weeks, North Carolina will handily deliver a win for President Trump.”

To score that win in North Carolina, the Trump campaign said it’s assembled more than 100 active AAPI volunteers — 80 percent of them first-timers — to engage in grassroots activities such as phone banking and door knocking. Trump 2020 has also held trainings and meet-ups in Mandarin and Vietnamese, and volunteers have run donation drives to bring personal protective equipment to local hospitals.

In response to questions about whether Trump is damaging his standing with AAPI voters — or stirring up sentiment against them — with his rhetoric, Farnaso said the president “has explicitly called for all Americans to ‘protect our Asian American community in the United States,’ and continued that this ‘is not their fault in any way, shape, or form.’ To insinuate otherwise is a disingenuous attempt to attack our president and breed uncertainty.”

Added Farnaso, “As a first-generation Filipino American, I am confident that President Trump has taken every necessary step to combat this virus and has been advised by data, science, research and the experts.”

Meanwhile, as part of its broader Coalitions Team work with 22 key constituencies, including AAPI voters, the Biden campaign has a North Carolina Voter Protection Team and a hotline that offers help in Hindi and Mandarin in addition to Spanish, French and Russian. This month, among other events, Biden for President North Carolina hosted an “Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Assemble” virtual bus tour with local AAPI leaders and supporters such as the Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan, the campaign’s director of surrogates.

Signaling how vital North Carolina is to both campaigns, Trump and Biden running mate Sen. Kamala Harris both visited the state on Wednesday.

For North Carolinians like Ronnie Chatterji, a candidate for state treasurer and member of the Biden AAPI Leadership Coalition, seeing Harris on the ticket matters.

“It’s motivated me. When I saw Kamala Harris at the Democratic National Convention, she was quoting her own mother, Shyamala — ‘My mother raised us to be strong black women, but also be proud of our Indian heritage.’ And to me, to hear that was amazing, and I can look at my own daughter and tell her, ‘Only in America is that going to happen.'”

“Kamala Harris being hopefully our next vice president is going to set an example for so many people, myself included,” said Chatterji, who’s also a professor of business and public policy at Duke University.

For his part, Chatterji said he sees that outreach to AAPI voters has adapted to recognize that Asian Americans are not a monolith when it comes to either their origin countries or their political interests.

“It used to be that politicians would come speak to Indian Americans — the community I’m part of — and they’d say the same old line over and over again: ‘We represent the world’s oldest democracy, and India is the world’s largest democracy, and thus, I should get your support.’ Now, it’s a lot more sophisticated,” he said. “People understand that a large part of the Asian American community [might] not necessarily care as much about foreign policy vis a vis Asia, but really care about the issues around health care and economic opportunity in places like North Carolina.”

Still, there’s a lot of room to grow as far as engaging AAPI voters on issues that resonate — a task that’s been complicated by the pandemic: According to the 2020 Asian American Voter Survey, “half of Asian voters reported they were not contacted by either major party in the ramp up to Election Day,” notes the Nielsen research company.

Koneru, of NCAAT in Action, attributed the relatively little emphasis that campaigns have historically put on appealing directly to AAPI voters in potentially pivotal North Carolina in part to the culture of the region.

“We’re in the South, and the conversation — the racial conversation, the political conversation — it’s really always been black and white,” she said.

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The pandemic shopping list: Dolls, detergent and campers

Consumers have been snapping up everything from disinfectant wipes and robot vacuum cleaners to Barbie dolls and motorhomes over the last few months as the Covid-19 pandemic drags on and radically changes shopping habits.

Quarterly results from consumer products giants Procter & Gamble and Reckitt Benkiser this week showed demand for cleaning products, detergents and soaps remained robust, helping the companies beat sales expectations and lift their annual forecasts.

While consumers have been scrambling to get their hands on anything that could potentially slow the spread of the new coronavirus, they have also been spending on items that make living in the pandemic more manageable and comfortable.

iRobot Corp, the maker of Roomba autonomous vacuum cleaners, reported a 43 percent surge in quarterly revenue this week.

“Customers are prioritizing essentials that address safety and hygiene, as well as purchases that enhance life at home,” Daniel Binder, partner at Columbus Consulting, said.

Shoppers are also buying more toys to keep their children entertained. Mattel’s Barbie dolls raked in over half-a-billion dollars in sales in the third quarter —the brand’s highest quarterly sales since 2003.

Americans eager to travel, but wary of hotels, restaurants and airplanes, are also spending on motorhomes. Recreational vehicle maker Winnebago Industries saw its revenue jump nearly 40 percent in the June-August quarter.

Mattel and P&G still expect demand growth in the holiday season, but concerns remain over the state of the economy and if Congress can pass another round of fiscal stimulus.

“Purchases will likely decline over the winter after government stimulus funds dries up and with the jobless rate still very high,” said Amar Singh, principal analyst at Kantar Consulting.

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Confederate monument removed from Alabama courthouse

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — A 115-year-old Confederate monument that was the subject of protests in Alabama this year was removed from outside a county courthouse early Friday.

News outlets reported that a small group of onlookers cheered at the Madison County Courthouse in Huntsville as crews took away the stone memorial, which was topped by the likeness of a soldier, in pieces. Music blasted during part of the work.

“I’m speechless, literally speechless. It’s an amazing time for our culture and for people of all colors. I’m excited that I’m able to watch this event happen during this time,” said Joretha Wright.

The statue atop the Confederate monument outside the Madison County Courthouse in Huntsville is lifted away from the monument early on Oct. 23, 2020 in Huntsville, Ala.Paul Gattis / via AP

Demonstrators sought its removal amid nationwide protests against racial injustice following the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota in May. City and county officials went back and forth over legal authority to take it down.

Madison County Commissioner JesHenry Malone, in a statement, said the county finally took action after a state commission created in 2017 to protect historic monuments failed to respond in a timely way to the commission’s request to remove the memorial.

“The staff of the Madison County Commission executed the plan outlined in my June 2020 resolution for the legal removal of the Confederate Monument,” he said.

First erected in 1905 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the monument is expected to be moved to a cemetery. It went up at a time when Confederate descendants were trying to portray the South’s cause in the Civil War as noble rather than linked to slavery.

It’s unclear whether the county will have to pay a $25,000 state fine imposed in 2017 to discourage the removal of Confederate memorials.

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Is Trump really "working very hard" to reunite migrant families?

WASHINGTON — In Thursday night’s debate, President Donald Trump said his administration is “working very hard” to reunite parents with 545 migrant children who were separated when they crossed the U.S. border in 2017.

But advocacy groups say that since a federal judge ordered that the families be found more than 18 months ago, the task has largely fallen to them. Those pro bono groups say the Trump administration is only now offering assistance because of the “backlash” from media reports about the number of kids still awaiting reunification with their parents.

Hours before the debate, lawyers representing the government in a federal lawsuit brought on behalf of separated parents said they “could certainly be of some assistance” in helping track down the missing parents and children.

Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, said yesterday’s offer to help was “a PR move in response to the public’s backlash.”

“There have never been serious specific offers to help in concrete ways in the past,” Gelernt told NBC News.

In 2019, when Judge Dana Sabraw ordered that the parents of the children be tracked down, Justice Department lawyers said the task was “onerous” and estimated it would take one to two years to complete.

Steven Herzog, the lawyer heading the team of law firms and nonprofits working to reunite families, said in Thursday’s hearing that “what would be most helpful for us now is updated data and contact information,” such as phone numbers and addresses to help track down parents.

It is estimated that two-thirds of the parents who have not been reached have been deported back to Central America.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Georgette Gomez could make history as the first queer Latina in Congress

Georgette Gomez, president of the San Diego City Council, was born and raised in the city she now serves, just 15 miles from the Mexican border that her parents, Eusebia and Miguel Ángel Gomez, crossed without documents in 1973. Her parents worked multiple jobs to make ends meet and instilled in their daughter a dual sense of industriousness and hope.

“I don’t take that for granted that they left their own country, their own language, their culture, their family, just to create a better path for us, and when they came here it wasn’t easy,” said Gomez, 43, the youngest of three children. “This was not a welcoming country to them and still isn’t to immigrants.”

Georgette Gomez, President of the San Diego City Council and candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives.David Poller

Immigrant rights is an issue that weighs heavily on Gomez, who is vying this November to become the next representative of California’s 53rd Congressional District.

“It’s something that I’ve been fighting for and will continue to push forward, to defend immigrants, to defend immigrant rights, to move this country to start addressing comprehensive immigration reform,” Gomez told NBC News.

Gomez, a Democrat, was elected to the city council in 2016 and unanimously appointed president two years later. In 2017, she introduced a resolution against President Donald Trump’s proposal to build a border wall with Mexico. The resolution was adopted by the council. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a Republican, didn’t sign the resolution but did not veto it either.

“The fact that I was able to get my Republican mayor to support it was pretty significant,” Gomez said, “and shows that I can push on critical issues that, at times, could be divisive.”

The candidate is passionate about affordable housing and protecting the most vulnerable citizens of San Diego, where soaring rents have made life increasingly difficult for the poor and working class. Gomez introduced an ordinance making it illegal for landlords to discriminate against renters who rely on federal housing assistance, and introduced an eviction moratorium to protect renters during the Covid-19 pandemic — both of which influenced similar laws at the state level, she said.

“I’m very proud of that,” Gomez added. “Our state, our city, our nation should be inclusive of all our community members, and they should be allowed to live wherever they are able to find a home that they can afford.”

Gomez, a former community organizer for an environmental justice group, is also a champion for environmental protections. As city council president, she helped pass a policy that aims to move San Diego to 100 percent renewables by 2035.

The candidate is waging a tough battle against a fellow Democrat, Sara Jacobs, who worked for the State Department in the Obama administration and is a former adviser to Hillary Clinton. (In California, the top two candidates in the primary compete in the general election.)

A recent 10News/San Diego Union-Tribune poll put Jacobs ahead of Gomez, but Gomez has fought tough challenges before. In her 2015 City Council campaign, she narrowly beat Ricardo Flores, then the chief of staff to outgoing council member Marti Emerald,by less than 1,000 votes, “against all odds,” she said.

“We were able to build a strong grassroots campaign, and all of that, really, is in honor of my parents,” Gomez said. “They taught me that if you work hard, you push hard, and you get involved, and continue pushing to create a government that is accountable to all of us, then things change, and definitely that value, those principles, I always carry them with me.”

Georgette Gomez with her brother and parents, Eusebia and Miguel Angel Gomez, in California in the late 1970s.Courtesy Georgette Gomez

Gomez, who said she is queer, will be the first openly LGBTQ Latina in Congress if elected. She is part of a rainbow wave of at least 574 LGBTQ candidates who will be on the ballot next month, according to a new report by the LGBTQ Victory Fund, a group that trains, supports and advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer candidates. As women, minorities, and LGBTQ candidates fill the Democratic Party’s ranks, Gomez said there is an “opportunity to have a greater evolution in the party.”

“We need to ensure that we’re electing more progressives that are rooted in community, that understand and have lived through the issues that a majority of our constituents are living through,” she said. “That’s the way that you shape policies. … Our party also needs to understand and reflect those needs.”

A supporter of the Affordable Care Act and “Medicare for All,” Gomez supports making the U.S. health care system more affordable and inclusive. It’s personal for the candidate, who recently discovered that her own health insurance could deny her fertility coverage because she is in a same-sex relationship.

“We still have a health care system that is excluding our LGBTQ community needs, and that has to change,” she said, noting that transgender people can also be denied coverage for transition-related care.

If elected, Gomez said she is “extremely committed” to ensuring “we move forward progressive solutions.”

“I have the leadership to prove that I can move on issues that are normally divisive,” Gomez said. “And that’s the leadership that I’ll be bringing to Congress, and it will be standing against whatever Donald Trump continues to move forward.”

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Judge tosses Trump challenge to New Jersey mail-in ballots

A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit by President Donald Trump’s campaign that had sought to stop New Jersey’s mail-in ballot program.

U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp’s opinion was foreshadowed when he rejected the GOP’s request for an injunction to stop the program on Oct. 6 and wrote the plaintiffs “fail to establish they are likely to succeed on the merits of their claims.”

In a court filing last month, the campaign alleged the state’s ballot procedures violated the Constitution and opened the door to widespread voter fraud, including that ballots mailed after Election Day would still be counted. Shipp wrote Thursday that the fraud claims rest on “highly speculative fear.”

Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, signed legislation in August that allowed election officials to begin counting mail-in ballots 10 days before Election Day and accept unpostmarked ballots up to two days afterward. All registered New Jersey voters were mailed ballots in what Murphy has said are concerns over potential coronavirus transmission from in-person voting.

The GOP sued New Jersey in August, calling the state’s plan “a brazen power grab” by Murphy that created the possibility of widespread voter fraud. The suit named a recent incident in Paterson in which a campaign worker allegedly admitting stealing ballots out of mail boxes in a local election.

“It is difficult — and ultimately speculative — to predict future injury from evidence of past injury,” Shipp wrote Thursday.

Samantha Zager, deputy national press secretary for the Trump campaign, wrote in an email Thursday night, “Governor Murphy, who has disingenuously quipped that New Jersey has ‘a higher probability of being hit by lightning than we do uncovering voter fraud’ better seek shelter — has himself and his liberal legislature to blame for the chaos and confusion we’ve already seen ahead of November 3.”

The two major political parties are embroiled in dozens of lawsuits across the country over issues including mail-in ballots, ballot drop boxes, witness requirements and time extensions for voting and for counting ballots.

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U.S. joins global anti-abortion pact as Polish women protest

The United States on Thursday signed an anti-abortion declaration along with more than 30 countries representing over 1.6 billion people.

Overnight, women in Poland took to the streets to protest a clamp-down on abortion rights in that country.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Health Secretary Alex Azar took part in a virtual signing ceremony of the “Geneva Consensus Declaration.” Egypt, Uganda, Brazil, Hungry and Indonesia co-sponsored the pact along with the U.S. Thirty-two nations signed it.

The non-binding declaration says it seeks to improve women’s health, preserve human life and strengthen the family unit.

“We, the representatives of our sovereign nations do hereby declare in mutual friendship and respect, our commitment to work together to: Reaffirm that there is no international right to abortion,” the declaration read.

“Under President Trump’s leadership, the United States has defended the dignity of human life everywhere and always,” Pompeo said in his remarks at the signing. “We’ve also mounted an unprecedented defense of the unborn abroad.”

Abortion rouses conservative voters each election and has come to the fore in recent weeks with President Donald Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to replace liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. Democrats have grilled her on abortion amid fears the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling could be overturned if she is confirmed.

After the Geneva Consensus Declaration signing was announced, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was “disturbed” by the announcement and feared the U.S.’s actions would “undercut” the rights of millions.

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“The Geneva Consensus Declaration attempts to undermine bedrock human rights agreements and women’s health and reproductive rights here at home and around the world,” Cardin said in a statement. “Fortunately, same-sex marriage and abortion remain legal in the United States.”

In the Polish capital Warsaw crowds protested after that country’s Constitutional Court ruled abortion due to fetal defects was unconstitutional. Poland is now also a signatory of the Geneva Consensus Declaration.

The Polish court’s decision banned one of the few remaining legal grounds available for ending a pregnancy in the largely Catholic country. Once the ruling comes into effect, it will mean abortion will only be permissible in Poland in the case of rape, incest or a threat to the mother’s health and life.

“We mourn the extinguishing of Polish women’s remaining sliver of access to abortion care,” said Irene Donadio of the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network.

The reproductive health and rights group also condemned the Geneva Consensus Declaration as “a farcical Trump-led document with no legal basis” and said the pledge was signed by “reproductive bullies” and “regressive governments from around the world.”

Protestors in Warsaw face off with riot police guarding the house of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, during a demonstration on Thursday night against a decision by the Constitutional Court to restrict abortions.Wojtek Radwanski / AFP – Getty Images

Hundreds marched toward the house of Poland’s governing party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski overnight, some carrying candles and signs that read “torture.”

The Warsaw Police said on Twitter on Friday that 15 people had been detained. Officers reacted with pepper spray and physical force after protesters threw stones and tried to push through police lines, they added.

Conservative values have played a growing role in public life in Poland since the nationalist Law and Justice party came into power five years ago on a promise to defend the nation’s traditional, Catholic character.

The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic said it was “a sad day” for women’s rights.

“Removing the basis for almost all legal abortions in Poland amounts to a ban and violates human rights,” said Mijatovic on Twitter. “Today’s ruling of the Constitutional Court means underground/abroad abortions for those who can afford and even greater ordeal for all others.”

Women’s rights and opposition groups called for further demonstrations on Friday.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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Coronavirus case increase sets new U.S. record, rising to over 77K in one day

The U.S. set a record Thursday as the number of new coronavirus cases rose to over 77,000, topping the previous record in July.

Nationwide, 77,640 new cases were reported for the day, up from the previous record of 75,723 on July 29, according to NBC News’ tally.

The record-breaking daily tally comes as the total number of coronavirus cases in the country has reached nearly 8.5 million, with 224,280 deaths. There were 921 coronavirus-related deaths reported on Thursday.

Public health officials warned this week that the number of cases is rising across most of the country.

Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday afternoon that the agency has noted a “distressing trend” in which coronavirus case numbers are “increasing in nearly 75 percent of the country.”

Much of the increase is centered in the Midwest. States like Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin have recorded rises in case numbers in the last two weeks. Public health officials attribute the spikes, in part, to cooler weather that is forcing people indoors.

“Smaller, more intimate gatherings with family, friends and neighbors may be driving infections,” Butler said, while also acknowledging pandemic fatigue among the public.

“We get tired of wearing masks, but it continues to be as important as it’s ever been,” he said.

This is a developing story. Please check for updates.

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Xi vows to speed up army modernization as U.S.-China tensions mount

BEIJING — Seventy years after Chinese troops entered the Korean War to fight against U.S. troops, President Xi Jinping said on Friday that China will never allow its sovereignty, security and development interests to be undermined.

Xi did not directly refer to the present-day United States, with which relations have sunk to their lowest in decades over disputes ranging from trade and technology to human rights and the coronavirus. Taiwan has a become a growing point of contention and military tension.

“Let the world know that ‘the people of China are now organized, and are not to be trifled with,'” Xi said at the Great Hall of the People, quoting Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China.

Unilateralism, protectionism, and bullying would fail, Xi said on the anniversary of the deployment of Chinese troops to the Korean peninsula to help North Korea fight U.S.-led United Nations and South Korean forces during the 1950-53 conflict.

Xi repeated his call to expedite the modernisation of the country’s defence and armed forces. “Without a strong army, there can be no strong motherland,” he said.

Tensions have risen sharply in recent months over Taiwan, with Washington stepping up sales of military hardware to the democratically-ruled island and sending high-level officials to visit. This week, Washington approved the sale of weapons systems worth up to $1.8 billion, angering China.

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China, which considers Taiwan a wayward province, has been applying increasing pressure to accept Beijing’s sovereignty, including flying fighter jets across the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait, an unofficial buffer.

North Korea went to war in 1950 with the South, which was backed by United Nations forces comprising mainly U.S. troops. In October 1950, Chinese troops crossed the Yalu River on the border with North Korea while the Soviets provided air cover.

Over 2 million Chinese troops were deployed.

“After arduous battles, Chinese and Korean troops, armed to their teeth, defeated their opponents, shattering the myth of the invincibility of the U.S. military, and forcing the invaders to sign the armistice agreement on July 27, 1953,” Xi said.

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Here's what some presidential debate watchers thought of Nashville

Debate watchers in Los Angeles and Nashville responded positively to the “civil” exchanges between the two candidates.

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