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Politics
AP
Trump wins Florida, locked in other tight races with Biden

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump won Florida, the nation’s most prized battleground election state, and he and Democrat Joe Biden shifted their focus early Wednesday to three Northern industrial states that could prove crucial in determining who wins the White House.

Neither candidate had the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency during an epic campaign that will shape America’s response to the surging pandemic and foundational questions of economic fairness and racial justice.

The two men were locked in tight races across the country, with Trump retaining Texas and claiming the battlegrounds of Ohio and Iowa while Biden won Minnesota and New Hampshire, two modest prizes the president had hoped to take.

Races were too early to call in some of other fiercely contested and critical states on the map, including North Carolina, Georgia and Pennsylvania. The president, by early Wednesday, had retained many states he won in 2016 and, as long predicted, the race in part seemed to rest on the three northern industrial states where Trump most surprised the Democrats four year ago — Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Biden, briefly appearing in front of supporters in Delaware, urged patience, saying the election “ain’t over until every vote is counted, every ballot is counted.”

“It’s not my place or Donald Trump’s place to declare who’s won this election,” Biden said. “That’s the decision of the American people.”

Trump said he would make a statement.

Millions of voters braved their worries about the virus — and some long lines — to turn out in person, joining 102 million fellow Americans who voted days or weeks earlier, a record number that represented 73% of the total vote in the 2016 presidential election.

Early results in several key battleground states were in flux as election officials processed a historically large number of mail-in votes. Democrats typically outperform Republicans in mail voting, while the GOP looks to make up ground in Election Day turnout. That means the early margins between the candidates could be influenced by which type of votes — early or Election Day — were being reported by the states.

Florida was the biggest, fiercely contested battleground on the map, with both campaigns battling over its 29 Electoral College votes.

Trump adopted Florida as his new home state, wooed its Latino community, particularly Cuban-Americans, and held rallies there incessantly. For his part, Biden deployed his top surrogate — President Barack Obama — there twice in the campaign’s closing days and benefitted from a $100 million pledge in the state from Michael Bloomberg.

Control of the Senate was at stake, too: Democrats needed to net three seats if Biden captured the White House to gain control of all of Washington for the first time in a decade. But Republicans maintained several seats that were considered vulnerable, including in Iowa, Texas and Kansas.

The parties traded a pair of seats in other early results: Democratic former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper defeated incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner, and in Alabama Republican Tommy Tuberville knocked off Sen. Doug Jones. The House was expected to remain under Democratic control.

As the results began to come in, the nation braced for what was to come — and an outcome that might not be known for days.

Biden was watching from home with family and close aides. Trump was watching the results come in with a small group of allies in the White House residence as other staff and advisers floated between a party at the White House residence and various offices throughout the executive mansion complex.

Outside, a new anti-scaling fence was erected around the White House, and in downtowns from New York to Denver to Minneapolis, workers boarded up businesses lest the vote lead to unrest.

With the worst public health crisis in a century still fiercely present, the pandemic — and Trump’s handling of it — was the inescapable focus for 2020.

For Trump, the election stood as a judgment on his four years in office, a term in which he bent Washington to his will, challenged faith in its institutions and changed how America was viewed across the globe. Rarely trying to unite a country divided along lines of race and class, he has often acted as an insurgent against the government he led while undermining the nation’s scientists, bureaucracy and media.

Biden spent the day last-minute campaigning in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he was born, and in Philadelphia with a couple of stops in Wilmington, Delaware, where he was spending Election Night.

The momentum from early voting carried into Election Day, as an energized electorate produced long lines at polling sites throughout the country. Turnout was higher than in 2016 in numerous counties, including all of Florida, nearly every county in North Carolina and more than 100 counties in both Georgia and Texas. That tally seemed sure to increase as more counties reported their turnout figures.

Voters braved worries of the coronavirus, threats of polling place intimidation and expectations of long lines caused by changes to voting systems, but they appeared undeterred as turnout appeared it would easily surpass the 139 million ballots cast four years ago.

No major problems arose on Tuesday, outside the typical glitches of a presidential election: Some polling places opened late, robocalls provided false information to voters in Iowa and Michigan, and machines or software malfunctioned in some counties in the battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Texas.

The cybersecurity agency at the Department of Homeland Security said there were no outward signs by midday of any malicious activity.

The record-setting early vote — and legal skirmishing over how it would be counted — drew unsupported allegations of fraud from Trump, who had repeatedly refused to guarantee he would honor the election’s result.

With the coronavirus now surging anew, voters ranked the pandemic and the economy as top concerns in the race between Trump and Biden, according to AP VoteCast, a national survey of the electorate.

Voters were especially likely to call the public health crisis the nation’s most important issue, with the economy following close behind. Fewer named health care, racism, law enforcement, immigration or climate change

The survey found that Trump’s leadership loomed large in voters’ decision-making. Nearly two-thirds of voters said their vote was about Trump — either for him or against him.

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Jaffe reported from Wilmington, Delaware. Miller reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Robert Burns, Kevin Freking, Aamer Madhani, Deb Riechmann and Will Weissert in Washington, Bill Barrow and Haleluya Hadero in Atlanta, Jeff Martin in Cobb County, Georgia, Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Juan Lozano in Houston, Corey Williams in West Bloomfield, Michigan, Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire, and Natalie Pompilio contributed to this report.

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Find AP’s full election coverage at APNews.com/Election2020.


Business
centerpiece
'Moon shot' as Bristol voters approve casino

BRISTOL, Va. — Watch out, Cherokee, North Carolina. A new casino operation is on the horizon near the Virginia-Tennessee line in the Twin City of Bristol.

Voters on the Virginia side of Bristol by a wide margin decided to take the chance gambling will help rejuvenate the community, the towns’ shuttered mall and maybe even the region.

In unofficial returns released Tuesday night by the commonwealth’s Election Board and Department of Elections, the tally was 5,457 to 2,221 on a referendum that allows a Hard Rock Cafe casino to open in the former Bristol Mall at 500 Gate City Highway.

All told, more than 7,600 of the city’s more than 11,000 registered voters voted, and of those 4,654 voted early.

The results are potentially incomplete and definitely unofficial because mail-in ballots will be accepted until noon on Friday. Results are to be certified Nov. 16.

The vote came despite opposition from a group of nine churches, which used flyers and billboards to get out their message

Proponents of the casino, in contrast, had deeper pockets and launched television, social media and other support.

The casino effort was led by Bristol businessmen Jim McGlothlin and Clyde Stacey. After the General Assembly and Gov. Ralph Northam passed the casino bill, Bristol, McGlothlin and Stacey partnered with Hard Rock International.

Andy Poarch, spokesman for the project, said the proposal also drew support from 50 Bristol area businesses, as well as teachers and educators, hospitality and tourism officials, including Bristol Motor Speedway General Manager Jerry Caldwell, and the city police and fire chiefs.

a “moonshot”

The chairmen of the “Vote Yes For Bristol” referendum committee, Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International; McGlothlin, chairman and CEO of The United Company; and Stacey, president of Par Ventures, issued a joint statement regarding the referendum.

“This is a win for Bristol and a win for the entire region,” they said. “We know this project will transform the economy of this area and make it an even better place to call home.”

McGlothlin has characterized the project as a “moonshot.”

“When Clyde and I launched this idea over two years ago, we called it a ‘moonshot,’ “ McGlothlin said. “Well, thanks to the voters in Bristol, Virginia, for providing the fuel, with passage of the referendum, to launch us to that successful landing.”

The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Bristol will result in more than 2,000 new jobs, $16 to $21 million in annual tax revenue for the city and 4 million tourists each year to the area.

The blueprints call for a two-level casino floor, outdoor entertainment venue with capacity to hold 20,000 people, 3,200-seat indoor theater, seven restaurants, four bars, retail shopping, convention and meeting space and a 350-room hotel. Poarch said a phase two could add more hotel rooms.

Hard Rock officials say the jobs forecast will come with an average annual wage of $45,000 per person. Revenue is to spill over into neighboring Virginia localities in direct payments and to Northeast Tennessee indirectly from the spending of folks coming to the region to visit the casino.

Would Jesus vote for a casino?

A group of Bristol area churches formed the “No Bristol Casino” movement: Fellowship Chapel, Friendship Baptist, Victory Baptist, Belle Meadows Baptist, Liberty Baptist, Throne of Grace Baptist Tabernacle, River Bend Baptist, East Bristol Baptist and Parkway Baptist.

Scott Price, pastor of Fellowship Chapel, said he sees no long-term good coming from the casino. A series of billboard ads urged voters to reject the casino project, including one that asked what Jesus would do if faced with such a referendum. Also, a mailer the opposition group sent to Bristol voters claimed “gambling is a psychological addiction,” and “carries the same life-wrecking potential as cocaine” and said gamblers are “harder to rehabilitate than alcoholics.”

The cities of Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth had casino referendums Tuesday under the casino law. Richmond, which has not yet chosen an operating partner, is to have one in November 2021. All had to meet qualifications as economically distressed.

What’s next?

With the voter approval, Poarch said the next step is to apply for a license from the Virginia Lottery Board to conduct gambling and open and operate the casino. By law, lottery officials have up to 12 months to review the application, but Poarch said project advocates hope the appro- val process is quicker.

The timeline includes a temporary casino to operate in the former Belk location in the mall while the rest of the mall is renovated and new portions built. The timeline calls for the permanent casino to open in late 2022.

“Our hope is to be able to open the temporary casino in the old Belk building in either the third or fourth quarter of next year, 2021,” Poarch said, with the full resort opening before the end of 2022.


News
COVID-19 in SWVA: 28 cases

Far Southwest Virginia added nearly 30 new COVID-19 cases, according to Tuesday’s state health data, while Lee County Schools officials reported a new case at Thomas Walker High School.

The Virginia Department of Health (www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus) reported that the state had 1,261 new cases and eight deaths in the prior 24 hours for pandemic totals of 184,679 cases and 3,666 deaths.

The LENOWISCO Health District added 28 cases for totals of 1,855 and 27 deaths during the pandemic. Wise County added 12 cases for 734 and 10 deaths. Scott County had 10 cases for 474 and seven deaths.

Lee County saw three cases for 4592 and 10 deaths, while Norton also added three cases for 52 and no deaths.

The statewide testing rate for people with nasal swab and antigen tests in Tuesday’s VDH report was 2,896,576 of 8.63 million residents, or 33.56%. For nasal swab testing only, 2,685,669 people have been tested to date, or 31.12%. In the LENOWISCO district, 20,111 of the region’s 86,471 residents have been tested via nasal swab sample for COVID-19, or 23.26%.

Pandemic-wide testing rates by locality were:

• Lee County, 6,289 of 23,423, or 26.85%.

• Norton, 1,980 of 3,981, or 49.74%.

• Wise County, 7,422 of 37,383, or 19.85%.

• Scott County, 4,370 of 21,566, or 20.26%.

Lee County Schools Superintendent Brian Austin, in a letter to parents on Tuesday, said that a student or staff case had been reported at Thomas Walker High School. That person was last on campus Oct. 29.

Red Onion State Prison remained at 20 inmate cases and one active staff/contractor case, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections COVID-19 webpage (https://vadoc.virginia.gov/news-press-releases/2020/covid-19-updates/).

Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap remained at no inmate cases and three active staff/contractor cases.

Wise Correctional Center near Coeburn remained at 16 inmate cases and five active staff cases on Tuesday.

The seven-day average rate of positive PCR test results in the LENOWISCO district in Tuesday’s report rose from 17.9% to 18.6%. The statewide positivity rate dropped from 5.8 to 5.7%.

According to Tuesday’s VDH pandemic measures dashboard (https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/key-measures/pandemic-metrics/region-metrics/), cases in the far southwest region of Virginia — including the LENOWISCO Health District — were ranked as rising after a 43-day increase in cases.

The far southwest region ranking for percent positivity of COVID-19 testing results remained increasing based on a 23-day increase in that measure.

All four school systems in the LENOWISCO district — Wise, Lee and Scott counties and Norton — were ranked as highest-risk based on the 14-day case incidence rate in the district.

All three county school divisions were ranked highest-risk for percent change in seven-day case incidences while the Norton system was ranked lowest-risk.

Where to be tested

Do you think you may have COVID-19? Local health departments provide free testing.

The LENOWISCO Health Department, which covers Norton and Lee, Wise and Scott counties, posts regular updates on testing sites across the district and offers free COVID-19 tests at its county offices.

Those seeking a test must call in advance for an appointment. Contact numbers for the county offices are:

• Lee County (Jonesville) — (276) 346-2011.

• Scott County (Gate City) — (276) 386-1312.

• Wise County and Norton (Wise) — (276) 328-8000.

Additional testing and COVID-19 precaution information can be found at the LENOWISCO Health District’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Lenowisco

The Health Wagon will partner with the Virginia Department of Health to offer 17 sessions of free drive-thru testing at Food City in St. Paul through Dec. 31.

Call (276) 328-8850 to schedule an appointment.

In Southwest Virginia, online resources are available to help evaluate whether residents might be infected and where to get a COVID-19 test.

The Virginia Department of Health’s COVIDCHECK (https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covidcheck/) can walk users through symptoms they may be experiencing and help direct them to their local health department office or other available testing sites.


Health-care
featured
15 new COVID-19 deaths reported in Northeast Tennessee

Fifteen new COVID-19 deaths were reported on Tuesday in Northeast Tennessee by the Tennessee Department of Health: seven in Washington County; three in Sullivan County; and one each in Hawkins, Carter, Unicoi, Johnson and Greene counties. Hancock County was the only county in the eight-county region with no new cases or no new deaths from the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

With the 15 new deaths, Northeast Tennessee’s death toll reached 269: 67 in Washington County; 58 in Sullivan County; 57 in Greene County; 37 in Carter County; 30 in Hawkins County; 10 in Johnson County, seven in Unicoi County; and three in Hancock County.

Statewide, 75 new deaths and 1,770 new cases were reported, bringing Tennessee’s pandemic totals to 3,454 deaths (3,249 confirmed as COVID-19 and 205 probable) and 266,357 cases (250,991 confirmed as COVID-19 and 15,366 probable), with 237,736 of that total listed as “inactive/recovered.”

The new case numbers were based on 13,772 new test results statewide, compared to the day before, with a positive rate of 13.52%.

The average positive rate over the prior seven days for Northeast Tennessee’s counties ranged from 12.3% to 20.7%.

The TDH reported 288 new COVID-19 cases in Northeast Tennessee, bringing the region’s total to 15,360.

The 288 new cases by county (and each county’s total cases): 102 new cases in Washington County (4,069 total); 75 new cases in Sullivan County (4,242 total); 50 new cases in Carter County (1,798 total); 40 new cases in Greene County (2,038 total); 12 new cases in Hawkins County (1,324 total); seven new cases in Unicoi County (526 total); two new cases in Johnson County (1,234 total); zero new cases in Hancock County (129 total).

The 75 new deaths reported statewide by age group: 28 in the 71-80 group; 25 in the 81+ group; 16 in the 61-70 group; four in the 51-60 group; one in the 41-50 group; and one in the 31-40 group.


Sullivan County Commissioner Hershel Glover has introduced a resolution on first reading, with no vote until February, that would set the wheels in motion for a liquor by the drink referendum in the November election for non-city Sullivan County voters and those of Bluff City.


Serrel Smith