Election Live Updates: Campaigns Prepare for Debate as Race Enters Final Stage

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Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

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.

Credit…Pool photo by Gabriella Demczuk

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.

Credit…Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

National polling has consistently shown that white college-educated voters are supporting Joseph R. Biden Jr. for president. But in Georgia, even as major demographic and population shifts have pulled the state leftward in recent years, a majority of such voters remain firmly in Mr. Trump’s camp.

Recent polling shows that these voters have helped Trump maintain his razor-thin lead over Mr. Biden for Georgia’s suburban vote. Their continued support is critical to the president’s chances in the state, whose 16 electoral votes are essential for his path to re-election and where polling shows the two candidates neck-and-neck overall.

Georgia may be in the Deep South, but a steady, decades-long influx of young, educated and nonwhite voters, coupled with a shrinking population of white voters without degrees — whose support helped fuel Mr. Trump’s victory in 2016 — have put the state increasingly in play for Democrats. From historic turnout rates among infrequent and first-time voters in support of Stacey Abrams in the 2018 gubernatorial race, to Lucy McBath’s triumph over Karen Handel in Newt Gingrich’s former congressional district that same year, down-ballot Democrats have proven the party’s viability in the Trump era.

For the president, that has made maintaining the loyalty of white, Republican-leaning degree holders all the more important. In a New York Times/Siena College survey on Tuesday, Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden were tied at 45 percent among likely voters in Georgia, but Mr. Trump led Mr. Biden among college-educated white voters by 12 percentage points (though that is a significant contraction from 2016, when Mr. Trump won the same group by 20 percentage points).

According to more than a dozen such voters in and around Atlanta, what’s currently keeping them from jumping ship is not so much a deep affinity for Mr. Trump, but a fear of “lawlessness” taking root should Democrats take the White House. Trump has spent much of the past few months stoking those fears, his campaign sending texts with such warnings as “ANTIFA THUGS WILL RUIN THE SUBURBS!”

Polling suggests that in many battleground states where protests turned violent this summer, that message hasn’t broken through. But in Georgia, many voters said Mr. Trump’s “law-and-order” appeals had struck a nerve, and almost all cited a fear that the call among some progressives to “defund the police” would materialize during a Biden presidency.

“The riots, the push to defund the police — that’s not the direction our country needs to go,” said Natalie Pontius, a 48-year-old interior decorator and University of Georgia alumna. “I feel like the Democratic Party is continually trying to come up with ways to divide us.”

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