President Trump will hold four rallies across Pennsylvania on Saturday and his wife, Melania, will host a fifth event in the swing state, as both the president and his Democratic challenger, Joseph R. Biden Jr., zero in on what could be a linchpin in the race for the White House.
Mr. Trump prevailed in Pennsylvania in 2016 by less than 45,000 votes, and his itinerary on Saturday suggests some of the key demographic and geographic ingredients that he hopes to combine to create another surprise victory.
His first stop is in suburban Bucks County, where Hillary Clinton prevailed in 2016 by less than one percentage point. He will hold two events outside the major media markets, in Reading and in tiny Montoursville (population around 4,400), as he seeks to drive up turnout among the white, working-class and rural voters who overwhelmingly supported him four years ago.
He will also campaign in Butler, in western Pennsylvania, where he hopes his unabashed pro-fracking message holds sway. Melania Trump, meanwhile, will appear in Luzerne County in northeastern Pennsylvania, a historically Democratic region that Mr. Trump flipped into the Republican column in 2016.
The Trumps will hardly have the state to themselves in the last days before Tuesday.
On Sunday, Mr. Biden will deliver one of his final speeches of the campaign in Philadelphia, the state’s biggest media market. And on Monday, both Mr. Biden and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris of California, will “fan out across all four corners of the state” with their spouses on the last full day of campaigning before voters head to the polls, according to the Biden campaign.
Mr. Biden, who represented neighboring Delaware in the Senate for decades, has long considered Pennsylvania something of a second home state, given the media market overlap and his own often-cited roots in Scranton, where he was born. He delivered his campaign kickoff speech in Philadelphia in May 2019; coming full circle, his Sunday speech, which his campaign says will be about “bringing Americans together to address the crises facing the country,” will occur in the same city.
Mr. Trump will return to Pennsylvania on Monday for an event near Scranton, with other stops in North Carolina, Wisconsin and Michigan.
In 2016, Mr. Trump flipped three Rust Belt states that had been reliably Democratic by fewer than 80,000 votes in total: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. And while polls have him trailing Mr. Biden in all three states, Pennsylvania has been the least Democratic-leaning in surveys this year, and its 20 Electoral College votes make it the biggest prize of the three.
At a rally in Michigan on Friday, President Trump repeated an extraordinary and unfounded claim that American doctors were profiteering from coronavirus deaths.
“You know our doctors get more money if somebody dies from Covid,” Mr. Trump said, adding that in Germany and other countries, deaths are characterized differently if there appear to be multiple causes.
“With us, when in doubt, choose Covid,” he said.
Medical professionals and organizations quickly decried those comments and lauded the work of nurses, doctors and other health care workers, many of whom have risked their lives and worried about the health of their families as they cared for people who were infected with the coronavirus.
“The suggestion that doctors — in the midst of a public health crisis — are overcounting Covid-19 patients or lying to line their pockets is a malicious, outrageous and completely misguided charge,” said Susan R. Bailey, the president of the American Medical Association, in a statement on Friday.
“Rather than attacking us and lobbing baseless charges at physicians, our leaders should be following the science and urging adherence to the public health steps we know work — wearing a mask, washing hands and practicing physical distancing,” she added.
At a stop in Minnesota on Friday, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. brought up Mr. Trump’s accusation as he assailed the president over his handling of the pandemic.
“Doctors and nurses go to work every day to save lives,” Mr. Biden said “They do their jobs. Donald Trump should stop attacking them and do his job.”
The United States recorded over 99,000 coronavirus cases on Friday, a level reached for the first time since the pandemic began, as well as more than 970 deaths.
Michigan is one of a number of Midwestern states, including Illinois and Ohio, that are experiencing swift, alarming rises in case counts. This week, it recorded a 88 percent increase in new cases from the average two weeks earlier.
On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump has often declared that the virus was vanishing — even as case counts soared — and attacked Democratic governors and other local officials for keeping public-health restrictions in place.
Last weekend in Wisconsin, another state with a surging caseload, Mr. Trump said that “doctors get more money and hospitals get more money” for reporting more deaths linked to the coronavirus.
That prompted a backlash from organizations including the Society of Hospital Medicine, the Council of Medical Specialty Societies and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
“These baseless claims not only do a disservice to our health care heroes but promulgate the dangerous wave of misinformation which continues to hinder our nation’s efforts to get the pandemic under control and allow our nation to return to normalcy,” the American College of Emergency Physicians said in a statement.
Mitch Smith contributed reporting.
A federal judge on Friday ordered the U.S. Postal Service to implement “extraordinary measures” in 22 districts across the country — including several in battleground states — where on-time delivery of ballots has dipped below a rate of 90 percent for two days this week.
The postal districts in need of extra measures, according to Washington, D.C., District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, included Atlanta, central Pennsylvania, Detroit, Greater Michigan, Greensboro in North Carolina and Lakeland in Wisconsin — all key battleground areas in the presidential race between President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger, Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Nationally, more than 54 million mail ballots have been returned to election officials, while more than 36 million remain outstanding, according to the nonprofit U.S. Elections Project.
Judge Sullivan also ordered the Postal Service to file with the court “explanations for the current level of service and any corrective measures that are now being implemented.”
In a filing on Friday, the Postal Service said that staffing issues resulting from the coronavirus pandemic were causing problems in some facilities, including in central Pennsylvania and Detroit. Only 78 percent of employees are available, according to the filing.
“At the same time that staffing unavailability has become a factor, there has been an increased volume in package and market dominant products,” lawyers for the Postal Service wrote. “The Postal Service has worked diligently to employ corrective measures to resolve these issues.”
Figures reported by the service in court filings show that the nationwide figure for on-time delivery of mail ballots has bounced around this week, from 89 percent on Tuesday to 97 percent on Wednesday, amid wide variations in individual regions.
However, a video purportedly taken inside a Homestead, Fla., post office in disarray went viral on Friday, after Kionne McGhee, a candidate for Miami-Dade County commissioner and the Democratic minority leader in the Florida House of Representatives, posted it on Twitter. The videoshows numerous bins of undelivered mail piled on top of one other.
Judge Sullivan instructed the Postal Service to look into the video during a hearing on Friday.
Katherine Fernández Rundle, the Democratic state attorney in Miami-Dade County, said in a statement that she had requested an audit of all the county’s postal distribution centers, and asked that any ballots in the centers be taken immediately to the Department of Elections.
To try to alleviate Democrats’ fears, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy — who has disputed criticism that he is trying to sabotage the election — authorized new measures this week that include “expedited handling, extra deliveries and special pickups” to accelerate ballot delivery.
Still, the Postal Service has contested claims that states have a protected right to certain delivery standards. In a separate court case against the Postal Service, the U.S. Department of Justice argued that states did not have a constitutional right to expect “a certain level of service” from the agency, which was reported on Tuesday by Bloomberg.
Patricia Mazzei contributed reporting.
Secretary of State Steve Simon of Minnesota said on Friday that his office will not oppose a federal appeals court decision ordering election officials to set aside any ballots that arrive after 8 p.m. on election night, effectively tossing out a seven-day grace period that had been in place for ballots postmarked by Election Day.
The state, however, has not ruled out the possibility of bringing a lawsuit after the election to “protect voters,” Mr. Simon said.
“We disagree with the court’s decision, and there may be cause for litigation later,” Mr. Simon said. And while he agreed that the state will segregate ballots received after the 8 p.m. deadline, he added that “there is no court ruling yet saying those ballots are invalid.”
Thursday’s decision, issued just five days before the election, came as an estimated 578,000 absentee ballots that had been requested in the state have not been returned, according to the U.S. Elections Project. Many of those ballots could already be in the mail, or voters can still return ballots in person.
Citing the ruling, several officials urged voters to return their ballots in person. “DO NOT put your ballots in the mail,” Representative Ilhan Omar wrote on Twitter.
🗣 Because of this ruling, 500,000 Minnesotans could be disenfranchised.
Hillary Clinton won our state by just 45,000 votes.
DO NOT put your ballots in the mail.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) October 30, 2020
In its 2-to-1 ruling, the court said that the Minnesota secretary of state had “extended the deadline for receipt of ballots without legislative authorization.”
“The consequences of this order are not lost on us,” the court majority wrote. “We acknowledge and understand the concerns over voter confusion, election administration issues, and public confidence in the election.”
But, the court said, “we conclude the challenges that will stem from this ruling are preferable to a postelection scenario where mail-in votes, received after the statutory deadline, are either intermingled with ballots received on time or invalidated without prior warning. Better to put those voters on notice now while they still have at least some time to adjust their plans and cast their votes in an unquestionably lawful way.”
Judge Jane L. Kelly, in a dissenting opinion, said that the decision “will cause voter confusion and undermine Minnesotans’ confidence in the election process.” She said it also risked disenfranchising voters in Minnesota.
Elections officials in the state have been instructing voters who had not mailed their ballots by Tuesday to return them by drop box or to vote in person. But the decision still puts the fate of an unknown number of ballots at risk.
Democrats in Minnesota denounced the decision.
“In the middle of a pandemic, the Republican Party is doing everything to make it hard for you to vote,” Senator Amy Klobuchar, the senior senator from Minnesota and a Democrat, said on Twitter. “Stand up for YOUR rights: Vote in-person or take mail-in ballot directly to ballot box.”
Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, whose early efforts to lift pandemic restrictions in his state were deemed too hasty even for President Trump, has quarantined himself after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus, his office said.
The governor spoke at a mask-optional “Make America Great Again” event on Tuesday in Manchester, Ga.; another speaker at the rally, Representative Drew Ferguson, a Georgia Republican, announced Friday that he had tested positive for the virus.
Mr. Kemp was exposed “within the last 48 hours to an individual who recently tested positive” and will be quarantining, the governor’s office said in a statement Friday. The governor tested negative for the virus, the statement said.
It is not clear if Mr. Ferguson was the infected individual the governor’s statement was referring to, but he did interact with Mr. Kemp more than once this week, according to local press accounts.
Pictures of the pro-Trump event, during which Mr. Kemp touted his opposition to the Affordable Care Act, show dozens of attendees standing close together at an outdoor venue, with many not wearing masks.
The event was intended to counter Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s socially distanced campaign appearance in nearby Warm Springs. No infections have been reported in the wake of the Biden event.
Mr. Trump has mocked his opponent for employing social-distance circles at his speeches, including the one at the spa town in Georgia, which was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s favorite vacation and rehabilitation site.
Mr. Ferguson said he had cold-like symptoms on Thursday night, but he downplayed the danger to people he has encountered since contracting the illness. The LaGrange Daily News reported that Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Kemp had appeared together again Thursday night at an indoor campaign event for a local candidate in Hogansville.
“While the vast majority of my recent schedule has been virtual, we are beginning the process of reaching out to anyone I have seen in recent days,” said Mr. Ferguson, adding that he was well enough to work from home.
In yet another illustration of how the coronavirus has upended campaigning and voting — and in many cases deepened partisan divisions — masks, and the mandates over wearing them, have lately become the focus of lawsuits in several states.
One complaint that made it to the Supreme Court this week involves a challenge by a conservative voter-rights group in Minnesota against the governor’s order mandating face masks in public places.
It was one of numerous cases that are testing the boundaries of health directives in public and at polling places, just as the number of coronavirus cases rises toward a third peak.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, had issued an order mandating masks in public in July. In August, a group called the Minnesota Voters Alliance, along with five voters, sued state officials, claiming that the order violated the First Amendment and contradicted an older law that banned disguises in public.
This month Judge Patrick J. Schiltz, a federal district judge in Minnesota, ruled against the plaintiffs, writing, “There is no question that Minnesota has the constitutional authority to enact measures to protect the health and safety of its citizens.”
But this week, the plaintiffs asked the Supreme Court to intervene, according their lawyer, Erick Kaardal. Their emergency application said that “Minnesota’s conflicting mask policies are the constitutional problem” and asked Justice Neil M. Gorsuch to block the governor’s order before Election Day. Justice Gorsuch may rule on the application himself or refer it to the full court.
Other clashes over face coverings and voting are 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. He filed a lawsuit that was dismissed by a county judge on Friday.
In Wisconsin, a poll worker in La Crosse sued Tony Evers, the state’s Democratic governor, 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.
And in Texas this week, a federal judge blocked Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, from exempting voters and poll workers at election precincts from the requirement to wear masks.
Adam Liptak and Neil Vigdor contributed reporting.