President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. have waged two very different campaigns during the coronavirus pandemic. Mr. Trump has plowed ahead with his aggressive schedule of signature rallies packed with thousands of supporters, while Mr. Biden has proceeded with his socially distanced drive-in gatherings, public health briefings and speeches on unifying the nation.
The two have rarely crossed paths, besides the two debate stages. But Mr. Trump has added a Thursday trip to his itinerary in Tampa, Fla. — where Mr. Biden will also appear later in the day — to hold a rally outside a football stadium.
For a president lagging in the polls, any chance to sharpen a contrast with his rival with only a few days left in the campaign is a welcome opportunity. And Mr. Trump relishes and values the largely maskless crowds he draws by the thousands.
On Wednesday, Mr. Trump posted a video contrasting Mr. Biden’s arrival to a speech in Georgia, where the Democratic nominee appeared before a small group of attendees distanced and demarcated by white circles, with his own arrival in a military helicopter above a large, cheering crowd. In his speeches, the president uses the size of his crowds as evidence that he can’t possibly be losing.
The irony is that the same contrast — Mr. Biden’s adhering to public health guidelines while Mr. Trump flouts them — is exactly the message that the former vice president and his Delaware-centered campaign want to send to voters. Poll after poll shows Mr. Biden more trusted than Mr. Trump to handle the pandemic, just as cases are on the rise and the stock market suffered its worst day in months.
Guy Cecil, the chairman of the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA, said that Mr. Trump’s insistence on holding mass gatherings was “actually hurting himself.”
“He is making a difference,” Mr. Cecil said. “He is making people less favorable and less open to voting for him.”
For Mr. Trump, holding a rally in Tampa amounts to coming full circle. An event there in March, just as the virus was shutting down large parts of the country, was one of the first that he was reluctantly forced to cancel.
“We have over 100,000 requests for tickets, but I think we’ll probably not do it because people would say it’s better to not do,” Mr. Trump said at the time during a bilateral meeting with the prime minister of Ireland. “You know, we need a little separation until such time as this goes away. It’s going to go away. It’s going to go away.”
The president turned to someone for consultation. “What is the number as of this morning?” he asked. “Is it 32? You could tell me. Is it 32 deaths?”
On Wednesday, The New York Times’s coronavirus tracker showed that the country had reported 227,667 deaths.
In a pair of decisions welcomed by Democrats, the Supreme Court on Wednesday at least temporarily let election officials in two key battleground states, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, accept absentee ballots for several days after Election Day.
In the Pennsylvania case, the court refused a plea from Pennsylvania Republicans that it decide before Election Day whether the state can continue counting absentee ballots for three days after Nov. 3.
In the North Carolina case, the court let stand a lower court ruling that allowed the state’s board of elections to extend the deadline to nine days after Election Day, up from the three days called for by state legislators.
The court’s brief orders in the two cases were unsigned and gave no reasons.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who joined the court on Tuesday, did not take part in either case. A court spokeswoman said Justice Barrett said she had not participated “because of the need for a prompt resolution of it and because she has not had time to fully review the parties’ filings.”
The coronavirus pandemic — which has reshaped the presidential race by transforming the conventions, the debates, the way the candidates campaign and how voters cast their ballots — dominated the race on Wednesday as President Trump and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. held fast to the starkly different positions they have staked out.
Rallying supporters in Bullhead City, Ariz., the first of two stops in the state on Wednesday, Mr. Trump claimed that a vaccine for the coronavirus would be available “momentarily,” speeding up an already exaggerated timeline in the final days of the presidential race. (Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said in an interview Wednesday with the JAMA Network that an emergency use authorization for a coronavirus vaccine might not come until January or later.)
Mr. Trump insisted again that the country was “rounding the turn” on the virus, even as it is raging in wide swaths of the country, and the nation set a record by reporting more than 500,000 new Covid-19 cases over the past week. He took aim at Mr. Biden, claiming without evidence that if the former vice president were to be elected, “there would be no graduations, no weddings, no Thanksgiving.” And he mocked a California mask mandate, saying, “You have to eat through the mask.”
And Mr. Trump, who was hospitalized with the coronavirus, played down the impact the virus had on his own family, claiming that Barron Trump, his youngest son, had had it for “two minutes” before it was gone from his system.
Mr. Biden struck a very different note.
“I’m not running on the false promise of being able to end this pandemic by flipping a switch,” Mr. Biden, who received a briefing from public health experts about the coronavirus pandemic, said in remarks at a theater in Wilmington, Del. “But what I can promise you is this: We will start on Day 1 doing the right things. We’ll let science drive our decisions. We will deal honestly with the American people. And we will never, ever, ever quit.”
In the brief speech, he continued to assail Mr. Trump’s handling of the virus as well as the president’s desire for the Affordable Care Act to be struck down by the Supreme Court.
In his speech, Mr. Biden declared that Mr. Trump was “on a single-minded crusade to strip Americans of their health care.” The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments a week after Election Day in a case challenging the Affordable Care Act; the Trump administration has asked the court to overturn the law.
Since the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Mr. Biden has emphasized how the sprint by Mr. Trump and his fellow Republicans to appoint Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the court could have far-reaching consequences for health care, particularly for Americans with pre-existing conditions.
In his speech, Mr. Biden quoted from Mr. Trump’s recent interview with “60 Minutes,” in which the president said he hoped the Supreme Court would strike down the Affordable Care Act.
“There’s no question that’s why President Trump nominated Justice Barrett to the court,” Mr. Biden said.
Then Mr. Biden and his wife, Jill, voted by appointment at a state office building in Wilmington, joining more than 70 million Americans who have already cast their ballots. They emerged wearing “I Voted” stickers.
President Trump’s campaign is pursuing a three-pronged strategy in the crucial battleground state of Pennsylvania that would effectively suppress mail-in votes there by tightening the counting time available for absentee votes, limiting the number of late mail-in ballots that can be accepted and intimidating people who are trying to vote early.
The state is one of a handful that by law prevent mail-in votes from counted until Election Day. In Pennsylvania and other swing states, these ballots are expected to skew heavily toward Democrats.
In an effort to accommodate a pandemic-driven avalanche of absentee ballots, Pennsylvania, like many other states, has tried to relax some rules, like the one that requires all votes to be counted within six days after Election Day, by extending the period to nine days. But the Trump campaign has leaned on Republican allies in the legislature to prevent any changes.
Among many other lawsuits, the campaign has mounted litigation in state, local and federal courts to curtail how late mail-in votes can be accepted and to challenge other rules and procedures. On Wednesday evening, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a fast-tracked plea from Pennsylvania Republicans to block the three-day extension of the deadline for receiving absentee ballots in the state.
The Trump campaign has also dispatched its officials to early voting sites, videotaped voters and even pressed election administrators in the Philadelphia area to stop people from delivering more than one ballot to a drop box.
The intensity of the Trump campaign’s efforts in Philadelphia stems in part from the man running its Election Day operations nationwide: Michael Roman, a native Philadelphian who cut his teeth in city politics before running a domestic intelligence-gathering operation for the conservative Koch brothers. Like his boss, Mr. Roman has persistently made public statements undermining confidence in the electoral process.
Neither Mr. Roman nor the campaign would comment for this article.
Some residents have been left bewildered by the Trump campaign’s attention this year. During the primary election over the summer, Adam S. Goodman, an insurance lawyer, posted a photo on Instagram in which he proudly held up two mail-in ballots outside a drop box. He learned the Trump campaign had used the photo in litigation against the city to illustrate an accusation that some voters were dropping off more than one ballot.
But Mr. Goodman said his husband was simply standing out of the frame when the picture was taken.
The president, who was in the state Monday, had ominous words for voters there. “A lot of strange things happening in Philadelphia,” he said during a stop in Allentown. “We’re watching you, Philadelphia. We’re watching at the highest level.”
Law enforcement officials, at least in Philadelphia, were unbowed by the president’s threats.
“Keep your Proud Boys, goon squads and uncertified ‘poll watchers’ out of our city, Mr. President,” Lawrence S. Krasner, the city’s district attorney, said. “Break the law here, and I’ve got something for you.”
As coronavirus cases and deaths were rising in the United States last spring, Jared Kushner, President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, told an interviewer that the president had taken the “country back from the doctors.”
The comment was made on April 18 in a discussion with the journalist Bob Woodward as he was reporting for his book, “Rage,” his second about the Trump presidency. CNN obtained an audio recording of the interview.
Even as the country was falling into the grip of a pandemic that to date has claimed more than 220,000 American lives, Mr. Kushner told Mr. Woodward that his father-in-law had won a battle for control with the doctors struggling to understand how to combat the little-known virus.
Mr. Kushner sounded decidedly optimistic — even triumphant.
“There were three phases,” he said. “There’s the panic phase, the pain phase and then the comeback phase. I do believe that last night symbolized kind of the beginning of the comeback phase. That doesn’t mean there’s not still a lot of pain and there won’t be pain for a while, but that basically was: We’ve now put out rules to get back to work. Trump’s now back in charge. It’s not the doctors. They’ve kind of — we have, like, a negotiated settlement.”
At the time, Mr. Trump was laser-focused on what the pandemic would mean for his presidency, and his re-election prospects, and was trying to convince the public that restrictions several states had imposed were excessive.
Mr. Kushner had several conversations with Mr. Woodward that White House officials have said he believed were on background, and not for quoting.
A White House spokeswoman, Sarah Matthews, defended Mr. Trump’s approach.
“As he has said numerous times, the cure cannot be worse than the disease,” she said. “When it was in the best interest of the country to shut down, he did so at the advice of top health officials. However, as president, he must take a holistic approach to the virus and consider the devastating effects of lockdowns and the consequences of keeping our economy shut down for an extended period of time. ”
When Senator Ted Cruz of Texas spoke with President Trump on the phone last week, he congratulated him on his debate performance, nudged him to keep driving policy-oriented attacks against his opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., and relayed one more message.
“We have a fight” in Texas, Mr. Cruz said he told Mr. Trump, warning him that the country’s second-largest electoral prize was in play and that he should take it seriously. In an interview, Mr. Cruz said he expected the president to win here — but that he also saw the same surging liberal energy in his state that had propelled Beto O’Rourke to a closer-than-expected defeat against him two years ago.
“There’s no doubt that it’s a real race,” said the senator, echoing a similar case Mr. O’Rourke made to Mr. Biden earlier this month in their own phone conversation.
But it’s not clear if Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden fully believe it.
They may be on opposite sides of the partisan divide, but Texas Republicans and Democrats alike believe the long-awaited moment has arrived: The state is a true presidential battleground, and either candidate could prevail next week.
Although a Democrat has not carried Texas since 1976, recent public and private polls suggest a highly competitive race, with some surveys showing Mr. Biden up narrowly and others showing Mr. Trump enjoying a small lead.
Yet even as leading figures in both parties urge their respective presidential nominees to take Texas seriously, the campaigns are still reluctant to spend precious remaining time and money there. Neither Mr. Trump nor Mr. Biden is expected to appear in the state before the election.
Though the state isn’t essential to a Biden victory, Democrats have been more aggressive in the state. Mr. Biden is dispatching his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, to Texas on Friday, and Democrats have also planned a multicity bus tour across the state.
A Biden win would doom Mr. Trump’s chances for re-election. More significantly, it would herald the arrival of a formidable multiracial Democratic coalition in the country’s largest red state. That would hand the Democrats an electoral upper hand nationwide and all but block Republicans from the White House until they improve their fortunes with college-educated white voters, younger people and minorities.
Election officials and cybersecurity experts are keeping a close eye on the ways hackers and foreign governments might interfere, and so far they have uncovered some attempts.
In Georgia, a database that verifies voter signatures was locked up by Russian hackers in a ransomware attack that also dumped voters’ registration data online.
In California and Indiana, Russia’s most formidable state hackers, a unit linked to the Federal Security Service, or F.S.B., bored into local networks and hit some election systems, though it is still unclear why.
In Louisiana, the National Guard was called in to stop cyberattacks that targeted small government offices and that employed tools previously seen only in attacks by North Korea.
And on Tuesday night, someone hacked the Trump campaign website, defacing it with a threat in broken English that there would be more to come.
Although none of these incidents amounted to much, experts, from the sprawling war room at the U.S. Cyber Command to monitors at Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft, are on alert for more “perception hacks,” smaller attacks that can be easily exaggerated into something bigger.
Christopher Krebs, the Department of Homeland Security official responsible for voting system security, is worried less about a vast attack than about a series of smaller ones, perhaps in swing states, whose effect is more psychological than real.
One theory inside American intelligence agencies is that Russians, having made the point that it retains access to key American systems despite bolstered defenses, may wait until it’s clear whether the vote is close. The Russian play, under this theory, would be to fan the flames of state-by-state election battles, generating or amplifying claims of fraud that would further undermine American confidence in the integrity of the election process.
Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, clashed on Wednesday with Sara Gideon, her Democratic opponent and the speaker of the state house, in the final debate of the race. The two women battled over the handling of the pandemic and how to provide health care to thousands of voters, and they traded accusations over negative ads and attached each other’s records.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report has rated the Maine Senate race a tossup, but several polls — including a New York Times/Siena College poll released in September — have found Ms. Collins, who is seeking a fifth term, trailing Ms. Gideon.
Ms. Collins is facing the toughest re-election contest of her career, in part because her decisive vote to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in 2018 infuriated moderate voters who had previously supported her. On Wednesday, she defended both her vote to confirm Justice Kavanaugh and her decision to vote against the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett earlier this week.
Ms. Collins highlighted her work in approving nearly $3 trillion in legislation earlier this year and accused Ms. Gideon, as she has in the past, of failing to provide for Maine during the pandemic. (The Maine State House adjourned in March and has not yet returned.)
“I’ll hold our record in the State Legislature up to the record of Senator Collins and the G.O.P. Senate any day,” Ms. Gideon shot back, pointing out that Congress has failed to reach an agreement on another relief package.
Ms. Gideon, for her part, sought to frame the race as a referendum on the national leadership in Washington, repeatedly tying Ms. Collins to both Mr. Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, characterizations Ms. Collins dismissed. And like other Democratic candidates, Ms. Gideon argued that she would do a better job of protecting health care for voters, particularly given that the Supreme Court is set to hear a case in the coming days that could overturn the Affordable Care Act.
“I will not stop fighting until we have health care that is affordable and accessible to everyone,” Ms. Gideon said. “This is why I am running for the Senate today, and this is what we have to see through.”
Voters and poll workers in Texas will be required to wear masks at election precincts after a federal judge blocked the governor, a Republican, from exempting them.
The case is one of several related to voting that are testing the boundaries of public health orders as the number of infections surge in a majority of states, part of the latest wave of the coronavirus in the United States.
Judge Jason Pulliam of the U.S. District Court in San Antonio ruled on Tuesday that the polling place exemption, carved out of a July 2 statewide emergency order by Gov. Greg Abbott requiring masks in public, “creates a discriminatory burden on Black and Latino voters.”
The judge granted a preliminary injunction to the N.A.A.C.P. and Mi Familia Vota, a national Latino organization, which had asserted in a lawsuit that Black and Hispanic voters face a much higher risk of contracting the virus and developing complications from it than white residents.
“As a result, Plaintiffs argue Black and Latino voters in Texas are forced to make an unacceptable choice with respect to the 2020 election: exercising their right to vote — or — protecting their own health and lives and that of their loved ones and community by staying home,” Judge Pulliam wrote.
The state immediately filed a notice of appeal, which would be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans. Mr. Abbott has said that he did not want to deny anyone the right to vote if they did not have a mask.
The clash over masks and voting is playing out elsewhere.
In Maryland, a Harford County man was arrested on charges of violating a state emergency order and trespassing after he refused to put on a mask at an early-voting precinct on Monday, the county’s sheriff said in a Facebook post on Tuesday.
In Wisconsin, a poll worker in La Crosse sued the state’s governor, a Democrat, and the city clerk last month after he said that he had been stopped from working during the state’s partisan primary in August because he would not wear a mask.
The man said he had a medical condition that exempted him from the state’s mask order. In a July 31 memo, the Wisconsin Elections Commission wrote that cities and towns could not require voters to wear face coverings, even though masks were recommended.
In Kansas, the secretary of state, Scott Schwab, a Republican, reminded local elections officials earlier this month that they could not turn voters away from the polls for not wearing masks.
“Exercising one’s fundamental right to vote is not, and should not be, contingent upon whether or not they choose to wear a mask,” Mr. Schwab said.
Two conservative operatives, Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman, who have been charged in Ohio and Michigan with election fraud for sending out tens of thousands of robocalls intended to deter people from voting, have been ordered by a federal judge to call those voters back and inform them that the original call “contained false information.”
U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero, in the Southern District of New York, said in his ruling on Wednesday that the initial robocall sent in August to 85,000 people, “cannot be described as anything but deliberate interference with voters’ rights to cast their ballots in any legal manner they choose.”
Mr. Wohl, 22, and Mr. Burkman, 54, both of Arlington, Va., were charged last month in Michigan and indicted by a grand jury in Ohio this week, with sending deceptive robocalls to 85,000 people, mostly in minority communities, that stated authorities would use the information on their absentee ballot forms to create a database to track down people with arrest warrants or outstanding debt.
According to Judge Marrero’s ruling on Wednesday, the pair must make calls to everyone who received the robocall and deliver this message: “At the direction of a United States district court, this call is intended to inform you that a federal court has found that the message you previously received regarding mail-in voting from Project 1599, a political organization founded by Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl, contained false information that has had the effect of intimidating voters, and thus interfering with the upcoming presidential election, in violation of federal voting-rights laws.”
In addition to the mandated calls, the pair face up to seven years in prison for the Michigan charges, which include violations of election law and using a computer to commit voter intimidation. A preliminary examination on the Michigan charges is set for Thursday.
In Ohio, Mr. Wohl and Mr. Burkman face charges of telecommunications fraud and bribery, which carry sentences of up to 18 years in prison.