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Politics Updates: What This Means for the Race

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President Trump headed on Thursday to a fund-raiser at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Morristown, N.J. Hours later, he announced that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

President Trump’s announcement early Friday that he had contracted the coronavirus upended the presidential race in an instant, inviting significant questions about his cavalier attitude toward the pandemic and the future of his campaign just 32 days before the election.

Mr. Trump had already been trailing Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the polls, in part because of his mishandling of a virus that has disrupted the day-to-day lives of voters for over six months. The president compounded his difficulties by disregarding and at times belittling the basic precautions, such as wearing a mask, that his health advisers were urging Americans to take to protect themselves.

Strategists in both parties and even senior aides to Mr. Trump said the president would face a harsh judgment from voters for throwing the country into greater uncertainty after one of the most trying years in American history.

“It’s hard to imagine this doesn’t end his hopes of re-election,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican consultant, pointing to Mr. Trump’s “flouting of obvious precautions.”

Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, tested negative for the virus on Friday morning, the vice president’s spokesman said, noting that Mr. Pence was “in good health” and wished Mr. Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, who also tested positive, well as they recover.

Mr. Trump’s political fortunes will depend in part on the severity of his illness. Other world leaders, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, have been sickened by the virus and returned to lead their countries.

The 74-year-old president is older than his counterparts who have contracted the virus, however, and they were not on the ballot when they tested positive.

Even if he does fully recover after his isolation period, millions of Americans are already voting right now, via mail-in ballot or in-person early voting.

After a year that began with Mr. Trump’s impeachment and has included a pandemic, an economic collapse, racial justice protests and urban unrest as well as the death last month of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, this October surprise could also prompt voters to seek a respite from the tumult.

In the White House, advisers to the president acknowledged that the positive test would remind voters of how dismissive Mr. Trump had been about the virus, not only with his own neglect of safety but also in his overly rosy assessments about a pandemic that has killed more than 207,000 people in the United States. Mr. Trump’s recklessness, one adviser admitted, amounted to a political “disaster.”

In late August, the Biden campaign said Joseph R. Biden Jr. would be tested regularly, and that staff members who interacted with him would also be tested regularly
Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

Three days after Joseph R. Biden Jr. encountered President Trump on the debate stage, the effect of the president’s positive coronavirus test on Mr. Biden’s campaign remained uncertain, and it was unclear whether he would go ahead with a planned trip to Michigan on Friday.

As of Friday morning, Mr. Biden, 77, was expected to be tested later in the day, according to someone familiar with his plans.

“Jill and I send our thoughts to President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for a swift recovery,” Mr. Biden tweeted Friday morning, his first remarks on the matter. “We will continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family.”

Senator Kamala Harris, Mr. Biden’s running mate, also tweeted that she was keeping the president “and the entire Trump family in our thoughts.” Ms. Harris was scheduled to campaign in Nevada on Friday, though it was not immediately clear if the trip would still take place.

Ms. Harris was tested on Thursday for the coronavirus and her test was negative, according to a Harris aide.

News of Mr. Trump’s test comes as Mr. Biden — after months of limited travel amid the pandemic — had started to return to the campaign trail. He was scheduled to travel to Grand Rapids, Mich., on Friday, and a train trip through eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania on Wednesday was his most vigorous day of campaigning in months. On Thursday, his campaign said their team would resume in-person canvassing in battleground states.

In a note sent to staff Friday morning, Mr. Biden’s campaign manager, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, asked the team to “refrain from posting about the situation on social media unless otherwise directed by your manager,” and promised that “the health and safety of the entire team has been, and will remain, our number one priority.”

Spokesmen for Mr. Biden did not immediately respond to questions about whether he had been tested since returning from debate travel.

In late August, the Biden campaign said Mr. Biden would be tested regularly, and that staff members who interacted with him would also be tested regularly. The campaign said it would announce publicly if Mr. Biden ever has a confirmed case of the coronavirus.

President Trump is showing symptoms of the novel coronavirus, but mild ones, according to two people familiar with his condition.

The president has had what one person described as cold-like symptoms. At a fund-raiser he attended at his golf club at Bedminster, N.J., on Thursday, where one attendee said the president came in contact with about 100 people, he seemed lethargic.

A person briefed on the matter said that Mr. Trump fell asleep at one point on Air Force One on the way back from a rally in Minnesota on Wednesday night.

A White House official said that as of Thursday night, the president’s treatment plan was still being discussed. So was a possible national address or a videotaped statement from the president to demonstrate that he was functioning and that the government is uninterrupted.

Vice President Mike Pence announced Friday that he and his wife, Karen, had tested negative for the coronavirus, just hours after President Trump and the first lady announced they had both tested positive and were quarantining at the White House.

“As has been routine for months, Vice President Pence is tested for Covid-19 every day,” said Devin O’Malley, his spokesman. “This morning, Vice President Pence and the second lady tested negative for Covid-19. Vice President Pence remains in good health and wishes the Trumps well in their recovery.”

President Trump’s daughter Ivanka, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his son, Barron, all also tested negative, the White House said.

Mr. Pence, who has been campaigning separately from the president on Air Force Two, was last with him on Tuesday morning in Washington.

Earlier this week, he was also on Capitol Hill, meeting with the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and Judge Amy Coney Barrett, the president’s nominee for the Supreme Court.

It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Pence, who has been traveling extensively since March in battleground states, would keep up his travel schedule while the president quarantined.

An official would say only that more details would be coming later in the day. Mr. Pence’s communications director, Katie Miller, tested positive earlier this year.

Ronna McDaniel has tested positive for the coronavirus and is experiencing mild symptoms, according to people briefed on the situation.
Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times

Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, has tested positive for the coronavirus and is experiencing mild symptoms, according to several people briefed on the situation.

Ms. McDaniel is the latest person who is in frequent contact with President Trump to test positive for the virus.

She was last with Mr. Trump last Friday, and has been at her home in Michigan since then, the people briefed on the matter said.

She received her diagnosis on Wednesday, they said. After a crowded donor event in March at Mar-a-Lago, the president’s private club in Florida, Ms. McDaniel fell ill, but she tested negative at the time.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Once again, the world shuddered at news about President Trump. This time, it wasn’t something Mr. Trump said or did, but rather the announcement that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Mr. Trump is not the first world leader to be infected. Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil both tested positive. And Mr. Johnson suffered a serious bout of Covid-19, ending up in an intensive care unit where, he said later, “things could have gone either way.”

But Mr. Trump, 74, is older and at higher risk than either of those men. The news of an American president contracting a potentially lethal virus carried global repercussions beyond that of any other world leader. Financial markets fell in Asia and looked set to open lower in Europe and the United States.

Expression of concerns and good wishes for Mr. Trump’s speedy recovery — as well as that of first lady Melania Trump — poured in from leaders in India, Britain and other countries.

“Wishing my friend @POTUS @realDonaldTrump and @FLOTUS a quick recovery and good health,” the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, said in a tweet.

Britain’s housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, said, “All of us want to send our best wishes to President Trump, the first lady and the Trump family and wish them a speedy recovery.”

“We know what it’s like to have, in our case a prime minister who tested positive for Covid and setting aside politics we all want to see him and his wife get better soon,” Mr. Jenrick said on Sky News.

Some foreign commentators, however, took note of Mr. Trump’s cavalier handling of the pandemic, saying it was a grim reminder of a virus that drew on distinctions between rich or poor, weak or powerful.

Others suggested a degree of justice in his diagnosis, given his record of diminishing the threat of the virus, refusing simple precautions like wearing a face mask and holding campaign rallies without social distancing.

“When the president of the United States, the most powerful person in the world, can catch this, the virus has no boundaries,” said Wang Huiyao, the founder and president of the Center for China and Globalization, an influential research group in Beijing.

Credit…Mason Trinca for The New York Times

Enrique Tarrio, the Florida state director of Latinos for Trump, a national grass-roots organization unaffiliated with the Trump campaign, is also the chairman of the Proud Boys, a far-right organization linked with white supremacy and acts of violence.

Mr. Tarrio said in an interview Thursday night that he had “personally knocked on 40,000 doors for the president” and was a close personal friend of Roger J. Stone Jr., a former presidential adviser.

When he was asked at the presidential candidates’ debate on Tuesday to denounce the Proud Boys, the president said, “stand back and stand by.” Mr. Tarrio said he did not interpret Mr. Trump’s comments as a call to arms: “What I took from it personally was to stand by him.”

Mr. Tarrio said that his group has benefited from former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s making an issue out of white supremacy in America.

Mr. Biden “should have focused on Covid,” he said. “To him, the Proud Boys are a bigger threat to the nation than Covid. He’s doubled our numbers.” Mr. Tarrio denied that he was associated in any way with white supremacy.

Still, the Trump campaign on Thursday was quick to distance itself from Mr. Tarrio. “This individual is not affiliated with the Trump campaign, the family, or our official Latinos for Trump coalition,” said a spokesman, Ken Farnaso. “He is also not the state director of our coalition and is not on our advisory board.”

In fact, the Trump campaign in 2019 sent the Latinos for Trump organization a cease-and-desist letter, asking its leaders to stop all activities that suggested any formal affiliation with the campaign.

The group’s new president, Bianca Gracia, said in an interview that since then, the group had new leadership and had willingly attached disclaimers to all of its activities. She said there had been no further friction with the campaign. In fact, she said, her entire leadership team (but not Mr. Tarrio) would be attending a fund-raising lunch in McAllen, Texas, on Friday, where Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, is speaking. The event is hosted by the Hidalgo County G.O.P.

She also defended Mr. Tarrio. “He’s my state director, doing a fantastic, fabulous job,” she said. “A lot of us wear different hats.”

President Trump and Melania Trump, the first lady, on the phone with children tracking Santa Claus on Christmas Eve in 2018.
Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

Melania Trump, the first lady, delivered a profanity-laced rant about White House Christmas decorations and mocked the plight of migrant children who were separated from their parents at the border, during a 2018 conversation secretly taped by her former aide and close confidante.

“I’m working like a — my ass off at Christmas stuff,” Mrs. Trump laments to Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who served as a top aide in the East Wing and has just published a tell-all book, “Melania and Me.” Mrs. Trump continues, “You know, who gives a fuck about Christmas stuff and decoration?”

Later in the conversation, which occurred in July 2018, the first lady complains that President Trump and his administration were being criticized that summer for separating families in a crackdown on illegal immigration.

“I say that I’m working on Christmas planning for the Christmas, and they said, ‘Oh, what about the children?’ That they were separated.” She used another profanity to express her frustration, asking Ms. Wolkoff: “Where they were saying anything when Obama did that?”

The audio recording, which was first aired on CNN’s “Anderson 360” program on Thursday night, puts Mrs. Trump’s frustrations on full display just weeks before her husband faces voters in his bid for another four years in office.

In a statement, Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s chief of staff, accused Ms. Wolkoff of seeking to profit by releasing the recordings as she promotes her book.

“Her only intent was to secretly tape the first lady in order to peddle herself and her salacious book,” Ms. Grisham said. “There is no way to know if these recordings have been edited, and it’s clear the clips were handpicked and presented with no context. The first lady remains focused on her family and serving our country.”

From left, Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman in 2018. On Thursday they were charged with felonies related to voter suppression in connection with thousands of intimidating robocalls.
Credit…Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Two right-wing political operatives were charged Thursday with a series of felonies in connection with a robocall scheme that Michigan’s attorney general said was part of a broad effort intended to intimidate minority voters from casting mail-in ballots.

The operatives, Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl, made automated calls to around 12,000 Michigan residents in August, warning them that their personal information from mail-in ballots could be used to execute outstanding arrest warrants or by credit card companies to collect unpaid debts, the authorities said.

Many of the residents who were targeted live in Detroit and other cities, said Dana Nessel, Michigan’s attorney general.

The calls — believed to be among 85,000 made nationally by the operatives — also claimed that mail-in voting information could be used by the government to track people for mandatory vaccination programs, the attorney general’s office said.

Both men have drawn attention for their efforts to smear opponents of President Trump.

“This effort specifically targeted minority voters in an attempt to deter them from voting in the November election,” Ms. Nessel said in a statement. “We’re all well aware of the frustrations caused by the millions of nuisance robocalls flooding our cellphones and landlines each day, but this particular message poses grave consequences for our democracy and the principles upon which it was built. Michigan voters are entitled to a full, free and fair election in November and my office will not hesitate to pursue those who jeopardize that.”

Mr. Burkman, 54, of Arlington, Va., and Mr. Wohl, 22, of Los Angeles, were each charged with intimidating voters, conspiracy to intimidate voters, using a computer to intimidate voters and conspiracy to use a computer to intimidate voters, according to a criminal complaint.

Mr. Burkman, who is well known for peddling right-wing conspiracy theories and who has tried to smear public figures that included the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III with fabricated sexual misconduct allegations, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Efforts to reach Mr. Wohl, who has contributed to The Gateway Pundit, a right-wing news site, were unsuccessful. Mr. Wohl’s Twitter account was suspended. Mr. Wohl was charged last month with a felony in California related to the sale of a security, according to court documents.

It was not immediately clear if Mr. Burkman, a lawyer, and Mr. Wohl would face charges in other states to which they had made robocalls. Those included New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois, the authorities said.

The allegations that the two operatives tried to prevent voters of color from casting mail-in ballots came just days after Mr. Trump again sought to discredit mail-in voting during Tuesday night’s debate, saying it was rife with fraud.

Tens of millions of voters are expected to use mail-in ballots to avoid voting in person because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas on Thursday ordered all satellite drop-off stations for votes closed, limiting each county to only one such location to “maintain the integrity” of the election, he said.
Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas issued a proclamation on Thursday ordering counties to offer only one location for voters to drop off mail-in ballots in person.

Several counties — including Harris County (which includes Houston) and Dallas County — had opened or planned to open satellite drop-off locations in addition to their central election offices. Those satellite locations must close as of Friday.

The state’s decision to reduce options for voters to drop off their ballots comes as questions of voting rights, voter suppression and the integrity of the election have emerged as major issues in the 2020 campaign, and it follows disputes over drop boxes in other states, including Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Courts are examining an order by the Ohio secretary of state that, like Mr. Abbott’s, would allow only one drop-off spot per county. In Pennsylvania, Republicans sought to ban drop boxes entirely, but a court rejected their challenge.

In announcing the change in Texas, Mr. Abbott described it as necessary for security. His spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon about why the governor considered the satellite drop-offs insecure.

“The state of Texas has a duty to voters to maintain the integrity of our elections,” Mr. Abbott said in a statement accompanying his proclamation. “As we work to preserve Texans’ ability to vote during the Covid-19 pandemic, we must take extra care to strengthen ballot security protocols throughout the state. These enhanced security protocols will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting.”

There is no evidence that mail-in ballots lead to widespread fraud.

The move drew immediate criticism from Democrats, who are more competitive in Texas this year than they have been in past election cycles, and from voting rights groups.

“Republicans are on the verge of losing, so Governor Abbott is trying to adjust the rules last minute,” Gilberto Hinojosa, the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, said in a statement.

The Harris County clerk, Chris Hollins, also denounced the change, saying he would have been willing to allow poll watchers at drop-off locations in order to keep those locations open, and noting that the county had been advertising the now-closing locations for weeks.

“To force hundreds of thousands of seniors and voters with disabilities to use a single drop-off location in a county that stretches over nearly 2,000 square miles is prejudicial and dangerous,” Mr. Hollins said on Twitter.

Mr. Abbott has also come under fire from fellow Republicans over voting measures. A group of prominent Republican lawmakers and party leaders asked the Texas Supreme Court to stop him from expanding the early-voting period. Mr. Abbott ordered early voting to begin on Oct. 13 instead of Oct. 19 to help protect voters and others from the coronavirus. The group of conservatives argued that only the Legislature, not the governor, has the power to extend the early-voting time.

Texas has long been a center of voting rights disputes. Among other things, it has a strict voter ID law that was subject to several years of litigation before it was ultimately upheld.

Money does not itself win elections. But this year Democrats might be forgiven for wishing it did.

Some of the early fund-raising reports from the third quarter began trickling in on Thursday, and they showed a trend that has been underway throughout 2020: Democratic donors are giving vast sums up and down the ballot for the chance to oust President Trump and his Republican allies.

At the top of the ticket, Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s campaign broke its own record, set in August, of $364.5 million raised in September, according to people familiar with the matter. That sum will almost certainly increase Mr. Biden’s financial lead over Mr. Trump, which already stood at $141 million entering September.

The disparity is playing out on the television airwaves, where Mr. Biden has been outspending Mr. Trump for weeks.

A few Democratic candidates for the Senate volunteered their fund-raising figures on Oct. 1, and all far surpassed their previous totals, with a swell of September donations coming after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

In Texas, M.J. Hegar announced raising more than $13.5 million in her bid to unseat Senator John Cornyn. That total is four times as much as Mr. Cornyn, who serves in the Republican leadership, has raised in a quarter — and a tremendous leap from the $1.7 million she raised in the second quarter.

In Georgia, Raphael Warnock raised $12.8 million in his bid to take the seat currently held by Senator Kelly Loeffler, a Republican who is running to complete a full term.

In Michigan, Senator Gary Peters, one of the most endangered Democratic incumbents, raised $14 million. A leading Republican super PAC announced this week that it was spending $9 million against Mr. Peters and helping the Republican challenger, John James.

And the most breathtaking sum announced — at least so far — came from Cal Cunningham, the Democratic challenger in North Carolina, who is running against Senator Thom Tillis, in a race that many analysts see as at the tipping point for control of the Senate.

Mr. Cunningham announced raising $28.3 million.

“He couldn’t get to 30?” Kevin McLaughlin, the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, wrote wryly on Twitter. Mr. Tillis has not revealed his third-quarter sum, but he raised only $2.7 million in the second quarter.

The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics issued a report on Thursday projecting that total spending on federal races would approach $11 billion this year — and that so far it had decidedly favored the Democrats, by 26 percentage points, the widest margin in at least two decades.

Even without including the spending during the Democratic presidential primary race by two self-funding billionaires, Tom Steyer and Michael R. Bloomberg, who lost to Mr. Biden, Democrats accounted for 54 percent of total spending, compared with 39 percent for Republicans.

President Trump on Thursday night gave a clearer condemnation of the Proud Boys, the far-right extremist group whose members support him, after he gave them a call to “stand back and stand by” during the first presidential debate of the general election this week. Mr. Trump has stopped short of fully condemning the group since that comment, giving indirect disavowals of white supremacists when pressed by reporters since the Tuesday night debate.

In an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, he went further. “I’ve said it many times and let me be clear again: I condemn the K.K.K., I condemn all white supremacists, I condemn the Proud Boys,” the president said.

In fact, Mr. Trump has only sporadically issued such condemnations, and at other times he’s qualified them. In the debate against former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Trump initially said “sure” when the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News, asked him if he would denounce white supremacy.

But Mr. Trump, when pressed, asked to be given a group in particular. It was Mr. Biden who mentioned the Proud Boys, prompting Mr. Trump to say they should “stand back and stand by.” The statement has caused alarm for Republicans in the Senate who are facing difficult contests in their own elections, and who fear being dragged further down by disapproval of Mr. Trump’s behavior.

For two days, several reliable allies of the president have called on him to clarify his initial remark, which the Proud Boys have seized on as proof of the president’s support for them. They’ve sold merchandise with the president’s phrase on it.

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