As Election Day draws ever closer, President Trump is leaning into the kind of campaigning he feels most comfortable with. He is set to return to holding rallies on Monday, just over a week after he announced he had contracted the coronavirus and with stimulus negotiations in perilous standing.
His looming return to the campaign trail comes as Joseph R. Biden Jr. has been taking an economic populist message to blue-collar counties across the country, framing the election as “Scranton versus Park Avenue.”
The president, still recovering from the virus, held an event on Saturday at the White House where he delivered a brief speech to a few hundred supporters gathered on the White House lawn who called the event a “peaceful protest” in honor of “law and order.” It was not a campaign event, but it often resembled one.
On Monday, Mr. Trump is scheduled to return to the campaign trail in Florida. He will be leaving behind fragile and critical negotiations for the next round of economic stimulus bills. Those negotiations are fracturing his own party in the Senate and are no closer to completion than they were days ago when Mr. Trump abruptly canceled the talks.
Mr. Biden, who does not have publicly scheduled travel on Sunday, hammered home an economic message in Erie County, Pa., on Saturday, quickly ticking through his “Build Back Better” plan with a direct promise to create more union jobs.
In Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s opening statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, as she begins hearings for her nomination to the Supreme Court, she plans to speak of having “humility about the responsibility I have been asked to undertake,” according to a copy of the statement released in advance of the first hearing tomorrow.
Ms. Barrett writes that she has “appreciation for those who came before me” and invokes both former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose seat Ms. Barrett has been nominated to fill.
“I have been nominated to fill Justice Ginsburg’s seat, but no one will ever take her place,” Ms. Barrett says in the statement. “I will be forever grateful for the path she marked and the life she led.” The judge, who currently serves in Indiana, plans to speak extensively about her biography and her family. She will also talk about the late Justice Antonin Scalia, with whom she clerked and to whom her supporters have compared her.
“Justice Scalia taught me more than just law,” she writes in the statement. “He was devoted to his family, resolute in his beliefs, and fearless of criticism. And as I embarked on my own legal career, I resolved to maintain that same perspective.”
“There is a tendency in our profession to treat the practice of law as all-consuming, while losing sight of everything else. But that makes for a shallow and unfulfilling life,” she says in the statement. “I worked hard as a lawyer and a professor; I owed that to my clients, my students, and myself. But I never let the law define my identity or crowd out the rest of my life.”
She also plans to say that courts “are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life. The policy decisions and value judgments of government must be made by the political branches elected by and accountable to the People. The public should not expect courts to do so, and courts should not try.”
She will say that she tries to look at every judicial opinion she writes through “the perspective of the losing party. I ask myself how would I view the decision if one of my children was the party I was ruling against: Even though I would not like the result, would I understand that the decision was fairly reasoned and grounded in the law? That is the standard I set for myself in every case, and it is the standard I will follow as long as I am a judge on any court.”
Jaime Harrison, the Democrat challenging Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, raised an astonishing $57 million in the third quarter of 2020, the highest quarterly fund-raising total for any Senate candidate in United States history.
Mr. Harrison did not so much break the record as shatter it: Before this year, the record was $38 million in a quarter, raised by former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas during his challenge to Senator Ted Cruz in 2018.
Mr. Graham has not yet filed his third-quarter report with the Federal Election Commission, but Mr. Harrison’s quarterly total is more than double what Mr. Graham reported raising in the previous six quarters combined.
Money, of course, does not guarantee victory. Mr. O’Rourke lost his race, and Mr. Graham still has a good chance of winning this one. Two of the three most prominent election forecasters — Inside Elections and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia — say he is slightly favored to win, while the third, the Cook Political Report, calls the race a tossup.
But Mr. Harrison’s enormous fund-raising total, a majority of which came from out-of-state donors, speaks to the intense Democratic energy nationwide that has enabled him to run a competitive race in what would, in a normal year, have been a safe Republican state. President Trump won South Carolina by more than 14 percentage points in 2016, and Mr. Graham won his last race, in 2014, by more than 15 points.
It also speaks to Democratic voters’ specific anger at Mr. Graham, who has become one of Mr. Trump’s most vocal defenders and, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is leading the charge to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court after saying previously that he would not support filling a vacancy in an election year.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Sunday shows Joseph R. Biden Jr. leading President Trump by 12 percentage points, similar both to his margin in a Post/ABC poll last month and to his margins in polls released by several other organizations in the past week.
Fifty-four percent of likely voters in the new poll said they planned to vote for Mr. Biden, and 42 percent said they planned to vote for Mr. Trump. The margin of error was plus or minus four percentage points.
There is no significant difference between these results and the 10-point lead Mr. Biden had in a Washington Post/ABC News poll released Sept. 27, before the first presidential debate and Mr. Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis. None of the earth-shaking events of the past few months have changed the picture very much, and so far, there is no indication that the events of the past couple weeks will be any different.
As has been the case all year, voters trust Mr. Trump more than Mr. Biden to handle the economy, but they trust Mr. Biden more to handle essentially every other major issue, including the pandemic — and the economy isn’t enough to outweigh everything else. In the poll released Sunday, 12 percent of likely voters approved of the president’s handling of the economy but disapproved of his handling of the pandemic, and among those voters, Mr. Biden had a nearly 40-point lead.
Swinging through a county in Pennsylvania that voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and Barack Obama in 2012, Joseph R. Biden Jr. made a direct pitch to union and blue-collar workers on Saturday afternoon, in a speech laden with economic populist tones.
“There’s going to be such a race for job creation for unions, you’re not going to believe it,” Mr. Biden said, in a speech that was slightly truncated to escape the looming rain storms. “The only power we have is union power. You’re the guys who keep the barbarians on the other side of the gate from taking everything.”
But as Mr. Biden, the former vice president, and his campaign try to home in on an economic message in this closing stretch, he has refused to answer questions about his position on potentially expanding the Supreme Court if Republicans confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett, saying he won’t reveal his position until after the election. Mr. Trump, struggling in many polls, and other Republicans have sought to use the issue as a cudgel.
“The only packing going on is this court is being packed now by the Republicans after the vote has already begun,” Mr. Biden said in a brief Q. and A. session with reporters on the tarmac. “I’m going to stay focused on it so we don’t take our eyes off the ball here.”
On Thursday, Mr. Biden told reporters that Americans would know his opinion on expanding the Supreme Court “when the election is over,” and on Friday, he cut off a reporter who had begun to ask whether voters deserved to know his position on the issue, saying he was not going to play the Republican “game.” Last year, he made plain that he opposed expanding the courts but he has in recent weeks sought to cast the question as a Republican distraction.
Before his speech on Saturday, Mr. Biden toured a training center at a local plumbers union, again striking a message directed to blue-collar, working-class voters.
And, offering clear evidence about the importance of winning Pennsylvania, Mr. Biden was emphatic that he would not ban fracking.
“No matter how many lies he tells, I am not, not, not banning fracking,” Mr. Biden said, referring to Mr. Trump.
Before boarding his plane to leave Erie, Mr. Biden sought to clean up a quote he made during his speech — “The only way we lose this is by the chicanery going on relative to polling places” — that was being interpreted as a similar comment to the ones Mr. Trump has been making, falsely depicting a rigged election process.
“What I was referencing is the attempts that are made to try to influence and scare people from voting,” Mr. Biden said, saying his initial remarks were being taken out of context. “We should not pay attention to them. The American people are voting. They’re voting in large numbers. They’re going to determine the outcome, and I’m going to accept the outcome of the election without any question.”
The comments come as Mr. Biden has been leaning into a more populist message, pitching his campaign as Scranton versus Park Avenue, a reference to his hometown in Pennsylvania and the wealthy allies of Mr. Trump’s. He spent the top portion of his remarks at the union center recounting his blue-collar roots and how his father lost his job in Pennsylvania, which led to the family’s relocation to Delaware.
Once a deeply Democratic county, Erie was one of only three counties that Mr. Obama won in both 2008 and 2012 but Mr. Trump carried in 2016. As Pennsylvania is increasingly considered as one of the “tipping point” states that could swing the election, winning back voters in counties like Erie has increasingly been a focus of the Biden campaign. Saturday’s trip marked Mr. Biden’s 11th visit to Pennsylvania, according to his campaign.
Perhaps no one was more surprised to learn that Joyce Jones wanted to defund the police than Joyce Jones herself.
On Aug. 11, Ms. Jones was in the final stretch of her campaign for mayor of Montevallo, a town of 6,674 people in central Alabama, when she appeared in a candidate forum alongside her opponent, Rusty Nix. The moderator asked both candidates how they would work with the town’s police department. Ms. Jones said she was grateful for the work of Montevallo’s law enforcement, and that as mayor she would consider adding social programs to help the town not just respond to crime (of which there is little in Montevallo) but prevent it, too.
She awoke the next morning to find her phone clogged with social-media notifications. “‘Defund the police,’” she remembered. “It was like a wildfire.” Citizens on one of the local Facebook groups accused Ms. Jones, who was running to be the town’s first Black mayor, of using the “same language” in her answer as the Black Lives Matter movement, implying that she had a hidden agenda.
Montevallo’s elections are nonpartisan, and there was a time when they felt that way. Candidates would run on proposals like updating the sewage systems, beautifying Main Street and starting a townwide recycling program.
But as Ms. Jones, a 44-year-old lifelong Montevalloan, was finding, not even her tiny town was immune from the divisions roiling the Trump era, the political tremors that once would have felt out of place in casual conversations at Lucky’s supermarket, not to mention local elections, but that now seemed to color everything.
Ms. Jones tried to quash the rumors, but the falsehood continued to ricochet across social media. One man shared a photo of activists in Austin, Texas, holding a giant black-and-white “Defund the police” banner, captioning it, “Montevallo’s future if liberals keep getting elected.”
For Ms. Jones, it was but one partisan-inflected battle in a campaign season of many, an election that would go on to mirror national fights over poll watchers and targeting of Black voters; include sobbing staffers, charges of racism and warnings of Marxism; and culminate in an unsettling feeling among many that, by the time the final vote was counted on the evening of Aug. 25, something in the town had been lost.
“It has always been in my heart this center of civility,” said Montevallo’s outgoing mayor, Hollie Cost. “Before the age of Trump, before all” — she paused — “this, whatever this even is, we all got along. It just ripped us apart.”
When President Trump picked someone to conduct his first on-camera interview since testing positive for the coronavirus, he made the safest of choices: Dr. Marc Siegel, a physician and Fox News personality who has criticized Democratic governors for closing down schools and businesses to fight the pandemic.
At the most politically and physically vulnerable point of his presidency, Mr. Trump has retreated to his safe space: conservative media programs, where he can rely on warm, ego-boosting chats with supporters like Maria Bartiromo, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin.
In these cozy surroundings — his primary way of communicating with the public as he shuns interviews with most other journalists — Mr. Trump has only himself to fear: There is virtually no risk that he will encounter a persistent questioner pressing an uncomfortable topic, or that he will appear as defensive or unruly as he did during the first presidential debate.
But his decision to remain within a right-wing echo chamber has threatened to shut off Mr. Trump from a much larger — and electorally important — audience of potential voters and political independents whose votes he will need if he is to win the election in just over three weeks.
The president’s refusal to participate in the now-canceled second presidential debate because organizers shifted it to an all-virtual event amounted to walking away from a TV viewership of close to 70 million viewers, baffling political media experts. And while Mr. Limbaugh and Mr. Hannity command the biggest audiences in their respective fields, their programs have nowhere near the reach of a debate that airs on a dozen broadcast and cable networks simultaneously.
“Trump should want 10 more debates right now,” Alex Conant, a Republican consultant who has overseen communications strategy on Senate and presidential campaigns, said in an interview.
With Mr. Trump trailing in almost every poll of battleground states, Mr. Conant said, the president’s demands that the debate be held on his terms “was very much an emotional response, instead of a strategic one.”
In Madison, Wis., thousands of people have gone to parks to deliver their ballots during Saturday voting festivals. In Milwaukee, Facebook feeds are inundated with selfies of Democrats inserting ballots into drop boxes. And along the shores of Lake Superior, voters in Wisconsin’s liberal northwest corner still trust the Postal Service to deliver ballots.
Of all the mini-battlegrounds within Wisconsin — perhaps the most pivotal state in November for both President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. — the mother lode of absentee ballots is coming in Dane County, a Democratic stronghold that includes Madison. As of Friday, the number of submitted ballots there amounted to more than 36 percent of the county’s total 2016 election vote, a sign of significant enthusiasm; that figure is 10 percentage points higher than in any other county in the state.
In Wisconsin’s Republican heartland, the suburban counties that ring Milwaukee, the absentee turnout is only at about the state average so far. And in the dozens of rural counties where President Trump won huge victories four years ago, ballots are being returned at a far slower rate than in the state’s Democratic areas.
The yawning disparities in voting across Wisconsin and several other key battlegrounds so far are among the clearest signs yet this fall that the Democratic embrace of absentee voting is resulting in head starts for the party ahead of Election Day. For Republicans, the voting patterns underscore the huge bet they are placing on high turnout on Nov. 3, even as states like Wisconsin face safety concerns at polling sites given the spikes in coronavirus cases.
The Democratic enthusiasm to vote is not limited to Wisconsin. Ballot return data from heavily Democratic cities like Pittsburgh; Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Tampa, Fla., and the long lines of cars waiting at a Houston arena to drop off ballots, are signs that many voters have followed through on their intentions to cast ballots well ahead of Nov. 3.
There is still time for Republicans to catch up in many places, and they are expected to vote in strong numbers in person on Election Day. And untold numbers of absentee ballots could be rejected for failing to fulfill requirements, like witness signatures, or could face legal challenges. But in states that have begun accepting absentee ballots, Democrats have built what appears to be a sizable advantage, after years when Republicans were usually more likely to vote by mail.
The second presidential debate, originally scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami, has been canceled by the Commission on Presidential Debates, according to a statement released on Friday by the group.
Organizers first shifted the debate to a virtual format, citing safety concerns about the coronavirus. President Trump rejected that idea, saying he would not participate unless the debate was restored to its original, in-person format. Joseph R. Biden Jr. then committed to attending an ABC News forum that evening in Philadelphia.
Andrew Bates, a Biden campaign aide, said in a statement, “It’s shameful that Donald Trump ducked the only debate in which the voters get to ask the questions — but it’s no surprise.”
The commission reiterated its intentions on Friday to hold the final presidential debate on Oct. 22 in Nashville. The Trump campaign is on board. Mr. Biden’s campaign has agreed to participate, either as a one-on-one matchup with Mr. Trump, or in a town-hall-style format where both candidates take questions from voters.
The Trump campaign and officials at NBC News were negotiating plans for the president to appear at his own town-hall-style event on the network next week, most likely on the night of Mr. Biden’s ABC event, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.
The NBC event is likely to occur only if certain medical conditions are met, according to two people familiar with the conversations, which includes Mr. Trump testing negative for the coronavirus.
Senate Republicans revolted over the contours of a $1.8 trillion relief proposal that is the Trump administration’s latest and largest offer to House Democrats, further jeopardizing already dim prospects for an agreement on a broad stimulus bill before Election Day.
Even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted that the offer remained inadequate, many Republican senators lashed into the administration’s approach to the revived negotiations during a conference call on Saturday morning between close to half of the chamber’s Republicans and top administration officials.
The $1.8 trillion proposal that Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, put forward on Friday was the administration’s biggest offer since bipartisan negotiations began in late summer. The proposal came just days after President Trump abruptly ended negotiations and then, facing a backlash, reversed course and began urgently seeking to secure Democratic support for a deal.
The stark divisions between most Senate Republicans and the White House undercut the potential for an agreement before the election on Nov. 3, even as the country’s economic recovery continues to falter and tens of thousands of Americans, businesses and schools struggle to weather the pandemic without federal relief.
The Republican criticism on Saturday was so severe that Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, at one point told the senators on the conference call that he would relay their concerns to Mr. Trump, but that then “you all will have to come to my funeral.” (Mr. Mnuchin concurred.)
Details of the call were described in some manner by seven people briefed on the discussion, who all insisted on anonymity to disclose details of a private conversation.
Most of the senators who spoke on the call signaled an openness to continuing negotiations. However, there was widespread dissatisfaction with how expensive the administration’s offer had become, as well as with the perception that Mr. Mnuchin, in talks with Ms. Pelosi, was relying far more on the Democrats’ proposed $2.2 trillion plan as a baseline than the two more limited proposals put forward by Senate Republicans.
“There’s no appetite right now to spend the White House number or the House number,” Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said on the call, reflecting longstanding concerns among senators eager to protect their credentials as fiscal hawks and stave off primary challengers in the next election cycle.
Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee warned that accepting a bill with Ms. Pelosi’s support would amount to a “death knell” for Republican ambitions to retain their majority in the Senate and would “deflate” the party’s base.
Ms. Pelosi, for her part, informed Democratic lawmakers on Saturday that she found elements of Mr. Mnuchin’s proposal to be inadequate, writing in a letter that “this proposal amounted to one step forward, two steps back.”
“When the president talks about wanting a bigger relief package, his proposal appears to mean that he wants more money at his discretion to grant or withhold,” Ms. Pelosi wrote, adding “at this point, we still have disagreement on many priorities.” She ticked off a number of unresolved issues, including what she said was insufficient funding for unemployment benefits, child care, funding for state and local governments and “reckless” liability protections that Republicans have insisted are a priority.