For once, it is Joseph R. Biden Jr. who is headed out on the campaign trail as his rival remains confined to quarters on the East Coast.
With President Trump still hospitalized near Washington, Mr. Biden is making a concerted push in the Sun Belt this week, starting with a visit to Florida on Monday and a joint appearance in Arizona with his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, later in the week.
It is a telling shift in geographic focus for the former vice president, who has largely concentrated his travel in the Midwest so far, and it comes as polls show that the traditionally Republican belt of states stretching from North Carolina down to Florida and across the South to Texas and Arizona has become increasingly competitive in this campaign.
If Mr. Biden wants to assemble not just a winning map but an Electoral College landslide, these are the states he must bring into his column.
Yet for the time being, Mr. Biden’s activities are unlikely to command the national spotlight. In most places, the electorate may not process much else while Mr. Trump is battling the coronavirus — and while the president, his advisers and his physicians continue to share partial, misleading or false information about his condition. His doctors have disclosed enough about the treatments he is receiving to indicate that he is dealing with a serious case of the disease, but not enough to really understand the state of his health.
Still, one presidential physician, Dr. Brian Garibaldi, furnished one potential gauge of Mr. Trump’s progress in a Sunday briefing. “If he continues to look and feel as well as he does today, our hope is to plan for a discharge as early as tomorrow to the White House,” Dr. Garibaldi said.
We may know in a matter of hours whether Mr. Trump can clear that test, or whether that suggestion was another instance of cheery misdirection from a medical team that has been far from forthcoming.
Either way, Mr. Trump’s bout with the coronavirus remains a severe challenge to his campaign, which this weekend saw its improvisational attempts to keep communicating with voters collide with a wall of questions about the indifference to public-health guidelines that seems to have led to the president’s infection.
In his hour of maximum uncertainty, battling a deadly virus and facing possible political defeat, President Trump on Sunday grasped for the singular certainty he craves as a person and requires as a politician: the adulation of his fans.
Republican officials — seeking to spin something positive from Mr. Trump’s announcement he had the coronavirus on Friday — quietly floated the idea over the weekend that his illness could give voters a sense that he was finally approaching the pandemic with appropriate gravity.
A video posted to his Twitter account Sunday evening seemed to reinforce that idea. Mr. Trump, his voice husky but manner relaxed, called his illness “a very interesting journey.”
“I learned a lot about Covid,” Mr. Trump said of a scourge that has killed more than 200,000 Americans. “I learned it by really going to school. This is the real school, this isn’t the let’s-read-the-book school. And I get it and I understand it and it’s a very interesting thing and I’m going to be letting you know about it.”
Then, moments later, he proved how little had really changed.
Guidelines published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tell caregivers to “limit transport and movement of the patient outside of the room to medically essential purposes” to stem the spread of the disease. But Mr. Trump loaded up his Secret Service detail (he wore a black cloth mask; they appeared to don N95 masks) for a slow-roll past supporters gathered outside the gates of the hospital.
“God bless our president — I will die for him. I will die for that man happily!” shouted a man in the crowd, according to audio and video posted by C-SPAN.
On Twitter, many others pointed out that Mr. Trump, who is still infectious, had unnecessarily exposed his security detail to risk.
Mr. Trump’s actions on Sunday were not just about making himself feel better, but also reflected his deepening worry. His two main imperatives as a politician are to project strength, even invincibility — and staying in a hospital bed deprives him of that — and to control his own narrative, which simply is not possible when fighting such an unpredictable disease.
In an apparent attempt to do so, the president’s Twitter account was active Monday morning, issuing a series of all-caps exhortations: “LAW & ORDER. VOTE!” “RELIGIOUS LIBERTY. VOTE!” “MASSIVE REGULATION CUTS. VOTE!”
This week, the severity or relative mildness of the president’s illness may become more apparent, as well as the extent of the infection’s spread among his staff and other contacts.
And then there is the matter of the looming confirmation fight over Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Mr. Trump’s appointee to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.
Senate Republicans, spurred on by the White House, had hoped to push her nomination through quickly, but three Republican senators so far have tested positive for the virus, throwing the future of Judge Barrett’s confirmation hearings into question.
To complicate matters further, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who has tried to hold the polarized court together, is facing a succession of major decisions — including the possibility of being called upon to rule on the election — with either one fewer justice on the bench, or one new conservative who might upset the center-right balance he has sought to maintain, especially on challenges to the Affordable Care Act.
President Trump’s hospitalization with the coronavirus has catapulted this week’s vice-presidential debate into the spotlight to an extraordinary degree, putting pressure on Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris to use this forum to reassure an anxious public they are prepared and qualified to step in as president.
For Mr. Pence, Wednesday’s debate will most likely compel him to account for the administration’s record on a virus that has now infected 7.4 million Americans and answer for his own stewardship as chairman of the federal coronavirus task force. For Ms. Harris, a former prosecutor, the debate is a chance to show that she is capable of being president in a national emergency, as well as to demonstrate that she can challenge the Trump record on Covid-19 without seeming overly aggressive against an ailing president.
The vice-presidential candidates bring markedly different styles to the event. Mr. Pence in debates has proved to be a calm and disciplined figure, difficult to fluster and, given his easy bearing, unexpectedly adept at going on the attack.
He speaks quickly, rarely leaving a space between sentences for an opponent to jump in. “He is a very consistent, smooth, regulated debater,” said John D. Podesta, who was Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman in 2016. “His experience as a radio host taught him to be well prepared. He’ll be the anti-Trump in this debate. It will be the opposite of what you saw last Tuesday.”
Ms. Harris has proved to be an intense and effective interlocutor as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. She raised her stock with Democrats with her aggressive questioning of, among other officials, William P. Barr, the attorney general.
Jeff Weaver, a senior adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders, called her a strong debater. “Because of her prosecutorial background,” he said, “she is someone who is good at mastering presentation like you would do in a courtroom.”
“She is better on offense,” Mr. Weaver added. “When she is on offense, she is better scoring points than in a defense.”
Polls since early summer have shown Mr. Trump trailing Mr. Biden, heightening the importance of these kinds of mass-attention events.
For months, Joseph R. Biden Jr. has gone to great lengths to model responsible behavior in the coronavirus era. He wears masks in public. He does not hold crowded rallies. When he gives speeches, reporters sit at a distance from one another, with white circles on the ground to mark their turf.
These actions have so far helped keep Mr. Biden healthy and able to continue campaigning while President Trump, who mocked masks and held large events, is now hospitalized with Covid-19.
But beyond the public examples of safety precautions, Mr. Biden’s health protocols have remained largely under wraps, with his campaign saying little about what steps it is taking to protect the 77-year-old Democratic nominee.
His aides will not answer questions about whether Mr. Biden is tested daily; they say simply that he is tested “regularly.” Until this weekend, they had promised to inform the public only if he had a confirmed positive case. Then, on Saturday night, after two days of refusing to provide details about Mr. Biden’s testing procedures, the campaign committed to releasing the results of all of his tests. He tested negative on Sunday, the campaign said.
Transparency has taken on new significance in the presidential race given the conflicting information about Mr. Trump’s health and the fact that his Democratic rival, who is also in an age group that is particularly susceptible to Covid-19, was exposed to the president during their 90-minute debate on Tuesday. Mr. Biden, who is ahead in national polls and many battleground state surveys, still faces the possibility of a positive test; he is continuing to campaign rather than quarantine, and his campaign has been cagey about his health protocols.
The questions about Mr. Biden’s health come as he is confronting an unprecedented political reality: He would be the oldest president ever elected if he wins in November, and he faces the daily personal risks of a pandemic that has killed more than 209,000 people in the United States. Mr. Trump’s diagnosis, and the apparent health threat he posed during a debate where he was often talking or shouting over Mr. Biden, are forcing the Biden campaign to grapple with its own next steps and disclosures regarding the health of the Democratic nominee.
For Mr. Biden, being fully transparent with the public would not just be the ethical approach, but also a smart one, said Dr. Kelly Michelson, director of the Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“It engenders trust in the community, it helps allay fears and concerns, and I also don’t really see why you would not be transparent about what’s happening,” she said. “I think that it’s important that the public knows what’s going on.”
There are 29 days until Election Day. Here are the daily schedules of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates for Monday, Oct. 5. All times are Eastern time.
Hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
2:45 p.m.: Visits the Little Haiti Cultural Center in Miami.
4 p.m.: Gives remarks in Miami’s Little Havana on improving the economy for the Hispanic community.
8 p.m.: Participates in an NBC News town hall event in Miami.
Vice President Mike Pence
Traveling to Salt Lake City for Wednesday’s vice-presidential debate.
Senator Kamala Harris
In Salt Lake City preparing for Wednesday’s vice-presidential debate.
DALTON, Ga. — Kelly Loeffler is not just a U.S. senator and a successful businesswoman. She is also one of the social doyennes of Buckhead, the Atlanta neighborhood of the wealthy and aspiring rich, where she has often thrown open the gates of her $10.5 million European-style manse, known as Descante, for charity fund-raisers.
The role requires maintaining a certain unruffled poise. So it was impossible to know what Ms. Loeffler was thinking as she rolled up to a brewpub in Dalton, Ga., in late August for a campaign event and was greeted by Marjorie Taylor Greene, a fellow Republican who had just won a House primary after promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory and making offensive remarks about Black people, Jews and Muslims.
Ms. Loeffler and Ms. Greene exchanged pleasant chitchat near the front door. Later, Ms. Loeffler, who was appointed to her seat in December and must win an upcoming special election to keep it, grabbed a microphone and talked about finishing the wall on the Mexican border, the “fake news” that would never intimidate her and the “dangerous Marxist movement called the Black Lives Matter political organization.”
A reporter asked Ms. Loeffler whether she supported Ms. Greene, and whether she denounced QAnon.
“Marjorie is fighting to defeat socialism; that’s what I’m focused on,” Ms. Loeffler said, adding, “I just thank her for coming out.”
It is a long way from hosting soirees at Descante to joining forces with a right-wing conspiracy theorist at a beer hall. But it is a journey that Ms. Loeffler has undertaken in earnest as she seeks to conform to the tastes of Donald Trump’s Republican Party — just one of the many establishment Republicans who have embraced Trumpism in recent years.
For Ms. Loeffler, a political newcomer, the journey has meant breaking with old allies, picking new fights and struggling to explain away a life before politics when she occasionally gave money to Democrats, like former Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, and rubbed elbows with Stacey Abrams, the Democrat who ran for Georgia governor in 2018.
Her harsh criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement has run afoul of a longstanding convention in her adopted hometown, sometimes referred to as the Atlanta Way, in which the white corporate class has cultivated a level of solidarity with the city’s African-American leaders and civil rights movement.
In and around Buckhead, a version of the same question has been discreetly raised among some members of the senator’s social circle: What happened to Kelly Loeffler?
WILMINGTON, Del. — Lauren Witzke, a dabbler in QAnon, a self-proclaimed “flat earther” and the Republican Party’s nominee in Delaware for the Senate, was exhorting her supporters last month to “Go get ’em — America First,” as they squared off against a handful of Black Lives Matter protesters.
Gathered with her in the parking lot of the Republican Party headquarters here was a self-appointed security guard with a gun on his hip, a political adviser whose losing clients include candidates accused of racism and anti-Semitism, and a smattering of Proud Boys, the far-right brawlers whom President Trump told to “stand back and stand by.”
Ms. Witzke’s ascent in Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s home state may be the nadir of the Delaware Republican Party’s rapid swerve from patrician moderation to the far-right fringe. And its plunge from power to irrelevance is an object lesson for other states like Colorado, Oregon and California, where Republicans running statewide are facing a choice: Appeal to the vocal extreme or find some way to assemble a more centrist coalition that could actually elect them.
Ten years ago, Michael Castle, a former Republican governor, was supposed to be a shoo-in for the Senate seat that Mr. Biden gave up to become vice president. Then he was blindsided in the Republican primary by Christine O’Donnell, a Tea Party candidate with a sideline in witchcraft who was crushed in the general election by Chris Coons, a relatively unknown Democratic county executive, by a vote of 57 percent to 40 percent.
It’s been downhill since.
“This should be laid right at the feet of the Republican Party,” said Charlie Copeland, a former Delaware Republican Party chairman and a member of the du Pont family, the chemical industry titans who once dominated the state’s center-right Republican Party.
The Delaware Republican Party’s conundrum is replicated across the country, where pro-Trump voters have elevated far-right candidates who might be able to win locally but cannot win statewide.