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Why Trump could bring down Sen. Joni Ernst in the Iowa Senate race

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When Joni Ernst was first elected to the US Senate in 2014, it seemed like she had come to Capitol Hill to stay.

She earned a spot in Senate Republican leadership in her first term and even landed on the vice presidential shortlist in 2016. Many thought she’d be the latest in a long tradition of Sens. Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin, powerful senators who outstripped the size of their state.

Ernst, a military veteran, had won her race by 9 percentage points, powered by a Republican wave election year and an unforgettable ad in which she promised to castrate the corrupt “pigs” in Washington. Two years later, Donald Trump won the state by the same margin. Iowa seemed to be getting more solidly Republican.

But now, less than a month from Election Day 2020, something has clearly shifted. Ernst has trailed Democratic candidate Theresa Greenfield by roughly 5 points in recent polls. And Trump is running behind his 2016 numbers, with former Vice President Joe Biden holding a slim advantage in the polls.

Democratic senate candidate Theresa Greenfield in Greenfield, Iowa, on August 11, 2019.
Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

“She’s had six years, and she’s forgotten Iowans,” Greenfield, a business leader who has never held elected office, told Vox of Ernst in a phone interview. “She has sold out Iowans for her big corporate donors.” It’s an argument that has some resonance; polls show most Iowa voters say that Ernst hasn’t done enough to help the state in her first term.

Ernst has a few problems; the state’s suburbs are growing, and like suburbs everywhere, those voters don’t like Trump. She also voted to repeal Obamacare in 2017 (Iowa is a Medicaid expansion state) and has been saddled with the effects of Trump’s ethanol policies on the state’s farmers. And in the past few months, Covid-19 cases have been rising in the state.

Ernst has been emphasizing her work on issues like domestic violence and sexual assault in the military, while leaning on support from Iowa’s senior senator, Chuck Grassley, and her Iowa bona fides. Fundamentally, Ernst needs to pull ahead of Trump, rather than run behind him, and she is running out of time to do it.

Both the presidential and Senate races should be close in Iowa this year. But it is still a stark reversal from 2014 and 2016, a sign of Republicans’ struggles in the Midwest that could doom their Senate majority and Trump in 2020.

Iowa is stubbornly competitive despite recent Republican success

Ernst’s sizable 2014 win seemed to portend a more permanent rightward shift in Iowa, and Trump’s convincing 2016 victory appeared to confirm it. This is a state that’s 91 percent white. The percentage of people with a bachelor’s degree is below the national average, while the share of Iowans who identify as evangelical Christians is higher than it is in the US as a whole. Those are demographics most favorable to Republicans in the Trump era.

The problem for Ernst, and Trump, is that the parts of the state that are more urban and suburban are where the population is growing — and where voters are defecting from the Republicans.

The easiest way to understand Iowa politics is to look at each of its four congressional districts. Because the state has a nonpartisan redistricting commission, the four districts form a pretty neat squared grid.

A map outlining Iowa’s four congressional districts.
Iowa’s four congressional districts offer a road map for winning a statewide Senate race.
Wikipedia

The First District covers the northeastern part of the state, including the cities of Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, and Waterloo. About two-thirds of the population lives in or near the cities; the other third lives in rural communities. The Second District covers the southeastern part of the state, including Iowa’s third-largest city, Davenport. Like the First District, it’s about two-thirds urban and one-third rural.

These are the battlegrounds. Barack Obama won the First District by 13 points over Mitt Romney, but Ernst eked out a victory in 2014, and Trump won it by 3 points against Hillary Clinton. Then in 2018, the district swung back toward Democrats. Abby Finkenauer was elected to the US House, reclaiming the seat for her party after two terms in Republican hands, and the Democratic candidate for governor, Fred Hubbell, also won the First District by a single point, a 4-point swing from the Trump-Clinton race.

The Second District has mirrored the movement in the First, going from a big Obama win in 2012 to small Ernst and Trump triumphs in 2014 and 2016, respectively, and then a rebound for Democrats in 2018.

One Democratic strategist told me that a mixture of Obama-Trump working-class voters who have soured on Trump and suburban voters (especially women) who have abandoned Republicans has boosted the Democrats in these areas. That likely explains Ernst’s struggle to rebuild her 2014 coalition. She won her first race with 52 percent of the vote, but she’s pulling less than 43 percent on average in the 2020 polls.

“Suburban women have said, ‘To hell with this’ and voted up and down the ticket for us,” the strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said. “We’ve also picked up some men outside of suburbia who wanted to see a federal check on Trump. I think that’s part of the trend we’re seeing in the Senate race.”

Sen. Joni Ernst addresses the virtual Republican National Convention on August 26.
Republican National Committee via Getty Images

A Republican operative told me that Ernst has to stanch the bleeding and stay competitive in the First and Second districts in order to have a shot at reelection. If the race is within a few points, as it has been the past few cycles, she will have a chance. But if the Democratic margin grows, it’ll be a struggle.

The Third District, home to Des Moines and the southwestern corner of the state, has flipped toward Democrats under Trump. Obama barely won the Third in 2012, and Ernst saw a commanding 8-point margin in 2014. But then Republican support started to erode: Trump won the district by just 3 points in 2016, and Hubbell beat Kim Reynolds by 3 points in 2018, an 11-point swing toward Democrats since Ernst’s 2014 victory.

Or, to look at it through the lens of its US House races: Republican Rep. David Young won reelection by 13 points in 2016, before losing to Democrat Cindy Axne by 2 points in 2018. This is a serious trouble spot for Ernst and Trump in 2020, according to the GOP strategist, given those recent electoral trends.

“You’ve gotta narrow the window. You’re going to lose, but you want to lose less,” the strategist said. “Joni and the president are down or tied [in the polls] because they haven’t closed the gap enough in the Third.”

The Fourth District, covering the more rural northwestern region of Iowa, is the friendliest territory for Republicans. But the margins still matter: Obama lost the Fourth by “just” 8 points on his way to a win in 2012. But Trump blew Clinton out, with a 27-point victory, and won the state easily.

If Biden and Greenfield can narrow that gap in the Fourth, it would bode well for their chances of flipping the state back to Democrats. A recent Des Moines Register poll found a generic Democrat beating a generic Republican by comfortable margins in the First, Second, and Third districts, while the Republican was running just 5 points ahead in the Fourth.

That translated to a 48-44 lead for Democrats statewide, a good indicator of how a relatively weak performance in the Fourth would be doom for Republicans if they struggle in other parts of the state.

“Gotta run up the margins,” the Republican operative said of the Fourth.

Ernst is trying to recapture her 2014 magic, but Trump is making that hard

Trump dominates the political climate in Iowa, and that’s where Ernst’s struggles begin.

Trump won Iowa with 51 percent of the vote, but he’s lost some support during his first term. A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed the president has a 46 percent approval and 52 percent disapproval rating. Trump’s average support against Biden in the polls is also 46 percent, according to RealClearPolitics.

Timothy Hagle, a political scientist at the University of Iowa, pinned Trump’s troubles on less engaged, less partisan voters. They may not have liked Trump’s style, but they voted for him in 2016 anyway as a political outsider running against Hillary Clinton. But between Trump’s record of trying to roll back the Affordable Care Act and the economy’s downturn during the Covid-19 pandemic, those voters, who are most preoccupied with “pocketbook” issues, may be looking for a change from Trump.

“If the pandemic hadn’t hit, the economy would have been a real selling point,” Hagle told me. “Then, boom, the economy tanked. Not everybody has been helped. A lot of businesses are hurting.”

And because Ernst had only two years in the Senate before Trump took over Washington, her record is largely his. She voted to repeal Obamacare and in favor of the Republican tax bill. She’s been a reliable vote for Trump’s agenda, and that will be a problem for her if Iowa voters don’t like the president.

President Trump greets Sen. Joni Ernst after she introduced him during a visit to a renewable energy ethanol facility in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on June 11, 2019.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Last month’s Des Moines Register poll found that most Iowans, 56 percent, thought Ernst had not done enough for the state in her first term; 33 percent said she had. Voters were evenly divided on whether she was too close to Trump (37 percent), or whether she gets it about right (43 percent). Her overall job approval rating has been middling.

“You’re a young new US senator. You have a majority in the Senate, you have the House. Then the president comes in, and the ability to stand out and be unique is pretty hard,” the GOP operative told me. “It’s difficult to find your voice.”

The incumbent senator might have also been undermined by Trump’s and Reynolds’s handling of Covid-19. Iowa voters say they disapprove of the job both the president and their governor are doing, recent polls found.

Additionally, coronavirus cases are nearing their previous peak from August, and more Iowans are hospitalized with the virus than at any point in the outbreak. Reynolds has pointedly refused to issue a mask mandate and pushed ahead with reopening schools and businesses. Iowa’s college towns have been the site of notable outbreaks among students.

Ernst may not have helped either when she appeared to entertain conspiracy theories about the Covid-19 death count, comments that she tried to walk back at a debate with Greenfield.

“Between President Trump’s unpopularity and the criticisms of Governor Reynolds, that has all led to a pox on all their houses and dragged down Ernst,” Karen Kedrowski, a political science professor at Iowa State University, told me. “Ernst has been a good soldier on the Republican side, and Greenfield has used that against her.”

Sen. Joni Ernst before the start of the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the US Africa Command and US Southern Command on January 30.
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

The Ernst campaign points to the huge spending by outside Democratic groups — the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Senate Majority PAC have already spent more than $45 million combined — to explain the senator’s apparent weakness in the polls.

They believe a focus on her Iowa bona fides and the issues where she’s distinguished herself from her party (Ernst was ranked as one of the more bipartisan senators of the last 25 years in a Lugar Center analysis) can carry her to a victory.

“As I learned from my time in the Iowa Legislature, not much gets done unless you work with both Democrats and Republicans,” Ernst wrote in a recent Des Moines Register op-ed, which highlighted her opposition to some of the Trump EPA’s policies that she said would hurt Iowa farmers. “From fighting for relief for our farmers to helping our working families, more than 60 percent of my bills have bipartisan support.”

In the final weeks of the campaign, she’s running on her record on domestic violence (seeking more government assistance for victims during the pandemic) and on sexual assault in the military (she has authored bipartisan bills to reform how such crimes are investigated and prosecuted). Ernst is recently divorced from her husband, who she said had been abusive; she has also said she was raped in college.

She’s been appearing at events with Grassley, who has served in the Senate since 1981 and is the most popular politician in the state. The strategy is one reason some experts in Iowa believe Ernst could run ahead of Trump on Election Day, even though she is polling behind the president right now.

Either way, Ernst’s fate will be tied closely to Trump’s — and that could be an advantage for Democrats.

Greenfield is challenging Ernst’s record on health care and agriculture

Reciprocally, Greenfield’s prospects are likely dependent, in large part, on how Joe Biden performs in Iowa because, as a political novice, she is still establishing herself with voters. She has sought to weave her personal story — about growing up on a farm, losing her first husband in her 20s, and later going into business to become a real estate developer— into a message aimed squarely at the voters with whom Republicans are already struggling.

She’s turned that personal story partly into a policy critique of Ernst, by associating the senator with Republican plans to privatize Social Security. The program provided benefits for Greenfield when her husband died in a work-related accident when she was 24.

“I saw what a difference it made,” Greenfield said. “I will carry that with me all my life.”

She’s also focused on some Iowa-centric issues, like biofuel waivers, and tried to undercut Ernst’s image as a born-and-bred Iowan. Her campaign seized on a moment in the candidates’ most recent debate when the senator was asked about the price of soybeans and flubbed the answer.

The Greenfield campaign has accused Ernst of being too close with the oil industry to be a good ally for the ethanol industry, part of her message about the dangers of political corruption. The candidate told me her first priority as senator would be reversing Citizens United.

Like many Democrats in competitive states, Greenfield doesn’t spend as much time talking about Trump. In one recent tweet, she conspicuously named the renewable fuel standards waiver that she said is harmful for ethanol interests, mentioning Ernst and acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler — but not the president.

Just like her opponent is trying to do, Greenfield is striking a more moderate message. She supports a public option, like Joe Biden, but not Medicare-for-all. It appears to be having the desired effect: The Des Moines Register poll found that 42 percent of Iowa voters thought Greenfield’s political views were “about right” for the state; 34 percent said she was too liberal.

Democratic Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield on August 11, 2019.
Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images
Judge Amy Coney Barrett meets with Sen. Joni Ernst at the US Capitol on October 1.
Caroline Brehman/Getty Images

Ernst has attacked Greenfield’s record as a developer, pointing (with questionable legitimacy) to layoffs and evictions at her company. Business interest groups have also tried to tar Greenfield with progressive policies like the Green New Deal.

So far, with big spending on both sides, Greenfield is holding on to a lead in the polling averages. The Senate election is probably going to be close, no matter what, because this is Iowa. But something about the Democrat’s message seems to be working.

“The thing people like about Joni Ernst, she was real and relatable,” the Democratic strategist said. “Greenfield has that in spades. … Voters want to vote for somebody they think understands the life they’re leading.”


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All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year

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(CNN) —  

Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.

Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.

So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.

Coffee

Best burr coffee grinder: Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder With Digital Timer Display ($249; amazon.com or walmart.com)

Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder
Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder

Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.

Read more from our testing of coffee grinders here.

Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)

Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker
Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker

During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.

Read more from our testing of drip coffee makers here.

Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)

Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus
Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus

Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.

Read more from our testing of single-serve coffee makers here.

Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)

Blue Bottle coffee subscription
Blue Bottle coffee subscription

Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.

Read more from our testing of coffee subscriptions here.

Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)

Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot
Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot

This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.

Read more from our testing of cold brew makers here.

Kitchen essentials

Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)

T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid
T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid

If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.

Read more from our testing of nonstick pans here.

Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)

Breville Super Q
Breville Super Q

With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.

Read more from our testing of blenders here.

Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)

Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set
Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set

The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.

Read more from our testing of knife sets here.

Audio

Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)

Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods Pro

Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.

Read more from our testing of true wireless earbuds here.

Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)

Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4

Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.

Read more from our testing of noise-canceling headphones here.

Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)

Beats Solo 3
Beats Solo 3

The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.

Read more from our testing of on-ear headphones here.

Beauty

Best matte lipstick: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick ($11, originally $22; amazon.com or $22; nordstrom.com and stilacosmetics.com)

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick
Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick

The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.

Read more from our testing of matte lipsticks here.

Best everyday liquid liner: Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner ($22; stilacosmetics.com or macys.com)

Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner

The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.

Read more from our testing of liquid eyeliners here.

Work-from-home essentials

Best office chair: Steelcase Series 1 (starting at $381.60; amazon.com or $415, wayfair.com)

Steelcase Series 1
Steelcase Series 1

The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.

Read more from our testing of office chairs here.

Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)

Logitech Ergo K860
Logitech Ergo K860

We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic keyboards here.

Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)

Logitech MX Master 3
Logitech MX Master 3

The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic mice here.

Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)

Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light
Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light

The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.

Read more from our testing of ring lights here.

Home

Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)

Parachute Linen Sheets
Parachute Linen Sheets

Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.

Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.

Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)

Kohler Forte Shower Head
Kohler Forte Shower Head

Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.

Read more from our testing of shower heads here.

Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)

TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier

The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.

Read more from our testing of humidifiers here.

Video

Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)

TCL 6-Series
TCL 6-Series

With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.

Read more from our testing of TVs here.

Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)

Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra

Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.

Read more from our testing of streaming devices here.

Travel

Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)

Away Carry-On
Away Carry-On

The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.

Read more from our testing of carry-on luggage here.

Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)

Anker PowerCore 13000
Anker PowerCore 13000

The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.

Read more from our testing of portable chargers here.

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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Open Sourced logo

Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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