With the last presidential debate happening tonight in Nashville, the contest between President Trump and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is entering its final chapter. And once again voters are being reminded just how completely the pandemic has upended this race for the White House.
In a normal election year, both candidates would have left Nashville for a nonstop swing through battleground states, packing their days with big rallies, appeals to both supporters and thecurious who are trying to decide who to support. Mr. Trump has pledged to keep on making live appearances in front of big crowds, in defiance of the counsel of medical experts. But Mr. Biden will defer to the advice of health professionals, largely limiting his campaigning to smaller and more controlled events that respect the rules of social distancing and that have been his staple during this odd campaign.
Will that matter?
This is the time of election season when candidates make their closing arguments and implore supporters to turn out. Mr. Trump, in pushing ahead with his rallies, is well aware of how effective they can be at generating excitement among supporters, as he saw at his huge rallies in 2016. George W. Bush demonstrated the power of showing up in 2004 when he arrived on Election Day for a rally in Ohio having made the correct calculation that the excitement and attention generated by a last-minute visit might pull him over the finish line. He defeated his Democratic rival, John F. Kerry, with just under 51 percent of the vote in Ohio.
But that does not necessarily mean that Mr. Biden is at a disadvantage in these final days. From the beginning of the coronavirus, he ran a constrained campaign in deference to the virus, with significantly less travel, fewer public events and even fewer news conferences. He drew some criticism, but it appears to be working to his benefit, if the polls are to be believed. And one reason he has so much more money on hand than Mr. Trump does in these final weeks, is that he had far fewer expenses. Those planes, motorcades, hotel rooms and catered meals add up.
Should Mr. Biden win, future presidential candidates might compare the Trump and Biden campaigns in the age of Covid as a case study in how to run a campaign in the digital age. All those trappings of the modern-day campaign — the blur of rallies, the fully catered chartered airplanes, the nights at Motel 7 (OK, at the Westin) — might not be needed to win the White House.
WASHINGTON — Iran and Russia have both obtained American voter registration data, top national security officials announced late on Wednesday, providing the first concrete evidence that the two countries are stepping in to try to influence the presidential election as it enters its final two weeks.
Iran used the information to send threatening, faked emails to voters, said John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, and Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, in an evening announcement from the bureau’s headquarters. Intelligence agencies had collected information that Iran planned to take more steps to influence the vote in coming days, prompting the unusual timing of the briefing as an effort to deter further action.
There was no indication that any election result tallies were changed or that information about who is registered to vote was altered, either of which could affect the outcome of voting that has already begun across the country. Nor do the officials claim that either nation had hacked into voter registration systems, leaving open the possibility that it was available to anyone who knew where to look.
The voter data obtained by Iran and Russia was mostly public, according to one intelligence official, and Iran was exploiting it as a political campaign might. Voters’ names and party registrations are publicly available. That information may have been merged with other identifying material, like email addresses, obtained from other databases, according to intelligence officials, including some sold by criminal hacking networks on the “dark web.”
“This data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos and undermine your confidence in American democracy,” Mr. Ratcliffe said.
The administration’s announcement that a foreign adversary, Iran, had tried to influence the election by sending intimidating emails was both a stark warning and a reminder of how other powers can exploit the vulnerabilities exposed by the Russian interference in 2016. But it may also play into Mr. Trump’s hands. For weeks he has argued, without evidence, that the Nov. 3 vote will be “rigged,” that mail-in ballots will lead to widespread fraud and that the only way he can be defeated is if his opponents cheat.
Now, on the eve of the second debate, he has evidence of foreign influence campaigns designed to hurt his re-election chances, even if they do not affect the voting infrastructure.
Some of the spoofed emails, sent to Democratic voters, purported to be from pro-Trump far-right groups, including the Proud Boys. Iranian hackers tried to cover their tracks, intelligence and security officials said, first routing the emails first through a compromised Saudi insurance company network. Later they sent more than 1,500 emails using the website of an Estonian textbook company, according to an analysis by researchers at Proofpoint, a cybersecurity firm.
Until now, some officials had insisted that Russia remains the primary threat to the election. But the new information, both Republican and Democratic officials said, demonstrates that Iran is building upon Russian techniques and trying to make clear that it, too, is capable of being a force in the election.