Macon, Ga., evokes a few things. Southern delicacies, like peaches, the Allman Brothers or both. But presidential politics had not been something that came to mind when one considered middle Georgia.
Until Friday night.
In a sign of the shifting electoral map, and the rising prospect of a Democratic rout, President Trump brought his re-election campaign to a conservative region in a traditionally conservative state less than three weeks before the election.
Georgia is changing. The growth around Atlanta is making the state no Democrat has carried this century far more competitive. And that means that Mr. Trump must maximize his vote share and turnout in smaller metropolitan and rural areas across the state.
But it would be harder to paint a more vivid picture of a Republican on the defense, scrambling to protect his coalition rather than expand it, than that of an incumbent president standing in Macon in mid-October.
Mr. Trump may still win Georgia — even Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s own advisers think it may remain just out of reach — but he will not be the last Republican who struggles to win there. The G.O.P.’s “solid South” is giving way to a more competitive region, with Virginia becoming blue, North Carolina a deeper shade of purple, and Georgia and Texas close behind.
And unless Republicans turn around their fortunes in places like Atlanta, they will run out of voters in communities like Macon to make up for it — and soon they will be singing the “Statesboro Blues.”
For nearly four years, congressional Republicans have ducked and dodged an unending stream of offensive statements and norm-shattering behavior from President Trump, ignoring his caustic and scattershot Twitter feed and penchant for flouting party orthodoxy and standing by quietly as he abandoned military allies, attacked American institutions and stirred up racist and nativist fears.
But now, less than three weeks away from the election, facing grim polling numbers and a flood of Democratic money and enthusiasm that has imperiled their majority in the Senate, Republicans on Capitol Hill are beginning to publicly put distance between themselves and the president. The shift indicates that many Republicans, having concluded that Mr. Trump is heading for a loss in November, are grasping to save themselves and rushing to re-establish their reputations and political brand for a coming struggle for the G.O.P.’s identity.
Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska unloaded on Mr. Trump in a telephone town hall with constituents on Wednesday, eviscerating the president’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and accusing him of “flirting” with dictators and white supremacists and alienating voters so broadly that he might cause a “Republican blood bath” next month. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the president’s most vocal allies, predicted that the president could very well lose the White House, and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas recently warned of a “Republican blood bath of Watergate proportions.”
Even the normally taciturn Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, has been more outspoken than usual about his differences with the president, rejecting Mr. Trump’s calls to “go big” on a stimulus bill and divulging that he has been avoiding the White House for months because of the president’s refusal to put in place coronavirus precautions.
“Voters are set to drive the ultimate wedge between Senate Republicans and Trump,” said Alex Conant, a former aide to Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and a former White House spokesman. “It’s a lot easier to get along when you’re winning elections and gaining power. But when you’re on the precipice of what could be a historic loss, there is less eagerness to just get along.”
Republicans could very well hang onto both the White House and Senate, and Mr. Trump still has a firm grip on the party base. But the recent behavior of congressional Republicans has offered an answer to the long-pondered question of whether there was ever a point when Republicans might repudiate a president who so frequently said and did things that undermined their principles and message. The answer appears to be: the moment they believed he would threaten their own political survival.
With 17 days remaining before the election, more than 2.4 million voters in Florida, a critical battleground state, have already cast their ballots by mail, surpassing the total number of votes cast by mail during the primaries this year.
The milestone was reported Saturday morning as part of the daily report compiled by the state Division of Elections. In that report, officials also said that more than 3.3 million mail ballots have yet to be returned.
About 2.7 million people voted by mail in Florida in 2016, according to state records.
Of the mail ballots that have already been returned, roughly half were sent in by Democrats, 30 percent by Republicans and the remaining 20 percent by voters with no party affiliation. As of Saturday morning, registered Democrats had returned about 460,000 more mail ballots than Republicans had. Roughly 800,000 more Democrats than Republicans have requested mail ballots over all.
With 29 electoral votes, Florida is the largest battleground state and one of the most closely watched heading into Election Day.
In a sign of just how important the state is to the outcome of the election, both candidates are campaigning hard there down the homestretch. President Trump chose to campaign in the state on Monday after his recent hospitalization for Covid-19. His Democratic challenger, Joseph R. Biden Jr., visited the state the next day. Then, on Thursday, Mr. Trump’s town-hall-style event was held in the state and Vice President Mike Pence held two events there the same day. Senator Kamala Harris, Mr. Biden’s running mate, is expected to travel to Florida on Monday for the first day of in-person early voting.
Mr. Trump won Florida narrowly in 2016 on his way to the White House, but polling averages have shown Mr. Biden to be slightly ahead in the state this time around. A poll released early this month by The New York Times and Siena College found Mr. Biden ahead of Mr. Trump by five points.
Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s campaign is urgently warning against complacency in the final stretch of the race despite national and some state polling showing a wide Democratic lead over President Trump.
In a memo that will be sent to supporters on Saturday, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, Mr. Biden’s campaign manager, stressed that polls can be faulty or imprecise — as they were in 2016 — and warned of only narrow advantages in a number of key states. It is a message that appears designed to keep Democratic supporters focused and engaged in the last days of the race despite national attention on Mr. Trump’s challenges, and to motivate Biden backers to turn out and continue donating.
“While we see robust leads at the national level, in the states we’re counting on to carry us to victory like Arizona and North Carolina we’re only up by three points,” she wrote, according to the memo obtained by The New York Times. “We also know that even the best polling can be wrong, and that variables like turnout mean that in a number of critical states we are functionally tied — and that we need to campaign like we’re trailing.”
A number of polls have shown Mr. Biden with a more comfortable lead, but Ms. O’Malley Dillon cited polling averages.
“This race is far closer than some of the punditry we’re seeing on Twitter and on TV would suggest,” she wrote. “In the key battleground states where this election will be decided, we remain neck and neck with Donald Trump.”
“If we learned anything from 2016, it’s that we cannot underestimate Donald Trump or his ability to claw his way back into contention in the final days of a campaign, through whatever smears or underhanded tactics he has at his disposal,” she added.
She wrote that the campaign had budgeted raising another $234 million from supporters — even though it entered October with a record $432 million in the bank. All of that money has allowed the campaign to advertise almost everywhere, “even with ads in salons and barber shops, on campuses and through gas station TVs,” Ms. O’Malley Dillon wrote.
She made a similar pitch against complacency in a call with grass-roots supporters on Friday afternoon, saying that if there was only one takeaway she wanted them to remember from the call, it was that Mr. Biden was not as comfortably ahead as some public polls have shown.
“Please take the fact that we are not ahead by double digits,” she said. “Those are inflated national public polling numbers.” Still, she was particularly bullish on Arizona on the call: “I know we’re going to win Arizona,” she said.
She predicted that the Trump campaign would throw “the kitchen sink at us” in the remaining weeks and pressed supporters to volunteer and to continue donating.
The Toby Keith music blared from loudspeakers as Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, carrying an energy drink, worked a crowd of bikers in Sioux City near the Nebraska border, shaking hands and giving out hugs.
Human-size Trump signs stood in the Harley-Davidson store parking lot beneath a bright, almost cyan blue sky, but there was a note of gloom in the voices of some supporters of Ms. Ernst, a Republican. One number was on their minds: $100 million.
That’s how much allies of her Democratic rival, the businesswoman Theresa Greenfield, are pumping into the most expensive Senate race that Iowa has ever seen. Attack ads bombarding the airwaves — during college football games and conservative talk radio shows — paint the senator as a villain intent on stripping away Social Security and medical benefits for residents.
Six years after storming into office as perhaps the highest-profile member of a vaunted class that took back Republican control of the Senate, Ms. Ernst, 50, finds herself in a tough re-election race that is emblematic of her party’s struggle to keep the Senate majority with a weakened President Trump at the top of the ticket.
Ms. Ernst, who has tightly embraced the president even as his standing has fallen, has trailed Ms. Greenfield in every poll for the past month, and in a recent New York Times/Siena poll, as many Iowans had a negative view of her as those who had a positive one.
The survey underscored a bitter reality for the first woman to represent Iowa in Congress: Mr. Trump’s troubles, particularly with female voters, are doing real damage to Republicans down the ballot.
President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. are scheduled to debate one more time before Election Day, and climate change is on the agenda.
Kristen Welker of NBC News, moderator of the Oct. 22 debate in Nashville, revealed on Friday the six subjects that she planned to focus on during the 90-minute matchup: the coronavirus, national security, race, leadership and “American families,” according to an announcement by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
She also included climate change, which was not initially listed as a topic for the debate in Cleveland last month, although the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News, did end up asking questions about it.
For now, the final debate is expected to be held in-person on the campus of Belmont University in Nashville. The debate commission has not yet decided whether to require independent virus tests for the candidates before they take the stage, according to a person familiar with its planning who requested anonymity to describe private talks.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly refused to say if he took a test for the virus on the day of the Cleveland debate, claiming in a televised town hall on Thursday that he could not remember. The debate commission had asked each campaign to vouch for the health of their candidate before the event began; Mr. Trump tested positive for the virus two days later.
The debate commission had also planned to revisit its rules and format after the unruly night in Cleveland, where Mr. Trump repeatedly interrupted Mr. Biden and Mr. Wallace. The commission has not yet made a decision on any rule changes, the person said.
Senator David Perdue, Republican of Georgia, tried to energize supporters ahead of a rally on Friday for President Trump in Macon, Ga., by mocking the first name of Senator Kamala Harris of California, his colleague in the Senate for nearly four years.
“Kah-MAH-lah or KAH-mah-lah or Kamamboamamla, I don’t know,” he told the crowd. Those were only a few of the iterations Mr. Perdue tried with her name.
Republicans have spent months mispronouncing the name of the California senator, making a repeated error that some Democrats argue is not just disrespectful but also racist — a concerted effort to portray Ms. Harris as not quite American. During his town hall event on Thursday night, Mr. Trump said her name incorrectly, as did multiple speakers during the Republican National Convention in August.
Mr. Perdue’s campaign said in a statement on Friday evening that the senator had “simply mispronounced Senator Harris’s name, and he didn’t mean anything by it.”
Mr. Perdue faces a surprisingly tough race for re-election against Jon Ossoff, a Democrat who became a party star after coming surprisingly close to winning a special election for a House seat in 2017.
Ms. Harris has dealt with mistaken pronunciations of her first name since her earliest days in politics. During her 2016 Senate race, she even created a campaign video showing young children explaining how to pronounce her first name correctly.
Ms. Harris’s first name is pronounced “KAH’-mah-lah” — or, as she explains in her biography, “‘comma-la,’ like the punctuation mark.”
Joseph R. Biden Jr. gave an impassioned pitch for the Affordable Care Act in Michigan on Friday, amplifying the message that Democrats made at the Supreme Court hearings this week when they warned repeatedly that Republicans pose a direct threat to the health care law.
Campaigning in Southfield, a predominantly Black suburb of Detroit, he spoke in highly personal terms about his son Beau’s own experience with the health care system while dying of brain cancer and vowed, “When I’m president, I’ll take care of your health coverage the same way I would my own family.”
Since the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Mr. Biden and Democrats in Washington have tried to tie the Supreme Court vacancy to the future of the Affordable Care Act, which the Trump administration is seeking to overturn in a case that will be heard by the court shortly after the election.
During Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings this week, many Democrats, including Senator Kamala Harris of California, Mr. Biden’s running mate and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, focused on the law, even displaying blown-up photographs of people who would suffer if the law was struck down.
“He wants to get rid of Obamacare in its entirety,” Mr. Biden said during his speech on Friday, as he laced into President Trump for trying to overturn it. “With this nominee, he’s made that incredibly clear as well. Michigan deserves so much better.”
During his speech, Mr. Biden also praised the Obama administration’s work to rescue the auto industry during the financial crisis. “We bet on autoworkers, we bet on the U.A.W., and they came through and it paid off,” he said to applause, in an effort to win back the union workers who flipped to Mr. Trump four years ago.
And just days after a kidnapping plot was revealed against Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan, who introduced Mr. Biden at the event, Mr. Biden criticized Mr. Trump for refusing to denounce a white supremacist organization on the debate stage two weeks ago.
“There is no place for hate in America — period, none,” Mr. Biden said. “It will not be tolerated.”
Mr. Biden’s trip to Michigan — his third to the critical battleground in recent weeks — came a day before Mr. Trump is scheduled to hold a rally in Muskegon, on the state’s western shores.
That Mr. Biden delivered his remarks in Southfield reflects the push his campaign is making to engage Black voters, a crucial voting bloc for Democrats, who helped fuel former President Barack Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012.
The diminished enthusiasm among Black voters for Hillary Clinton in battleground states like Michigan — which Mr. Trump won by less than 11,000 votes — contributed to her loss in 2016, a warning sign for Democrats that looms over Mr. Biden’s campaign.
The campaign announced on Friday that Mr. Obama would campaign on behalf of Mr. Biden in Philadelphia next Wednesday.
Amid a raging virus, struggling economy and unrest over racial injustice, President Trump focused on his re-election campaign, recasting some of his failures as a candidate as active choices during a rally Friday evening in Macon, Ga.
Sounding pleased to be in friendly territory, Mr. Trump spoke for close to two hours, making sporadic references to the coronavirus pandemic, trade and the American economy. But most of his remarks focused on his own personal grievances — the joy he alleged his opponents felt at his virus diagnosis, a news media he continues to argue is stacked against him, technology companies and, of course, his Democratic opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., and his family.
At one point, Mr. Trump threatened to leave the country should he lose the election.
“Could you imagine if I lose?” he said. “I’m not going to feel so good. Maybe I’ll have to leave the country, I don’t know.”
Trailing in the polls and at a significant cash deficit compared to Mr. Biden, Mr. Trump attempted to argue that he was opting against raising more money as he enters the final stretch of the election.
“I could raise more money,” he said. “I would be the world’s greatest fund-raiser, but I just don’t want to do it.”
Mr. Trump’s campaign announced this week that he had raised over $247 million last month, far short of the record $383 million raised by Mr. Biden’s campaign and affiliated Democratic committees.
The president also delivered a discursive monologue about what he cast as a choice to not be more presidential, an allusion to the chaotic style that has turned off suburban women, a group that helped boost Mr. Trump to victory four years ago.
“I used to go and I’d imitate a president who’s playing presidential — it’s so easy compared to what we do,” he said. “I said, ‘I can be more presidential than any president in our history with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln when he wore the hat, that’s tough to beat.’”
Mr. Trump acknowledged his losses in the suburbs, seeming to link his slide to his divisive style. Mr. Biden leads by 23 points among suburban women in battleground states, according to recent polling by The New York Times and Siena College. Among suburban men, the race is tied.
“Suburban women,” he said. “I heard they like my policy but they don’t like my personality. I said they don’t care about my personality, they want to be safe.”
Georgia, long a Republican stronghold, should be an easy win for Mr. Trump, but recent polling indicates that it could be closer than some Republicans would like. This week, Mr. Biden beat Mr. Trump in a range of polling averages. Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, the Democratic candidates vying for the state’s two open Senate seats, posted similarly competitive poll numbers against their Republican opponents.
A day after refusing to condemn QAnon, the sprawling, false pro-Trump conspiracy theory community, Mr. Trump praised Marjorie Taylor Greene, the controversial congressional candidate who has embraced elements of the debunked and discordant theories that have led to some real-world violence and that the F.B.I. has labeled a potential domestic terror threat.
“I never, ever want to have her as my enemy,” said Mr. Trump. “She is so unbelievable.”
Here are the daily schedules of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates for Saturday, Oct. 17. All times are Eastern time.
President Donald J. Trump
5 p.m.: Delivers remarks at an event in Muskegon, Mich.
7 p.m.: Holds a rally in Janesville, Wis.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
No public events.
Vice President Mike Pence
12:30 p.m.: Holds a rally in Reading, Pa.
Senator Kamala Harris
5:20 p.m.: Will take part in a pair of virtual campaign fund-raising events.