President Trump’s refusal on Wednesday to commit to a peaceful transfer of power enraged Democrats and again put Republicans in a difficult position as their party leader continued to make remarks aimed at delegitimizing the election.
And this was no typical Trump provocation: Acceding to the will of the voters is the linchpin of American democracy.
“Any suggestion that a president might not respect this constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable,” Senator Mitt Romney of Utah said on Wednesday night.
For Republicans hoping to retain the White House and the Senate, it was something else: unhelpful.
G.O.P. lawmakers and strategists have, for the first time in weeks, expressed optimism about their prospects. Their hope: that the coming fight over filling the Supreme Court seat held by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will turn attention away from Mr. Trump and the coronavirus and refocus it on a more partisan, red-and-blue clash.
But Mr. Trump does not appear intent on cooperating with these plans.
His comments about the transfer of power were only his latest provocation — of the day. Earlier Wednesday, he flatly predicted that the presidential election would end up in the Supreme Court and said that was why he wanted a full slate of justices, barely concealing his hope for a friendly majority on the court.
“I think this will end up in the Supreme Court and I think it’s very important that we have nine justices, and I think the system’s going to go very quickly,” Mr. Trump said of the need for a quick confirmation process.
The night before, at a rally near Pittsburgh, Mr. Trump hurled xenophobic attacks at Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who immigrated to the United States from Somalia as a girl in the 1990s.
“She’s telling us how to run our country,” the president said. “How did you do where you came from? How is your country doing?”
The night before that, at another rally, Mr. Trump said the coronavirus “affects virtually nobody” — never mind that the country’s death toll from the virus just crossed 200,000.
This is all to say that the Republican hopes of the Supreme Court fight reshaping the election will have to contend with a president determined, intentionally or not, to keep the focus on himself.
President Trump is on the defensive in three red states he carried in 2016, narrowly trailing Joseph R. Biden Jr. in Iowa and battling to stay ahead of him in Georgia and Texas, as Mr. Trump continues to face a wall of opposition from women that has also endangered his party’s control of the Senate, according to a poll conducted by The New York Times and Siena College.
Based on a New York Times/Siena College poll of likely voters from Sept. 16 to Sept. 22.
Mr. Trump’s vulnerability even in conservative-leaning states underscores just how precarious his political position is, less than six weeks before Election Day. While he and Mr. Biden are competing aggressively for traditional swing states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida, the poll suggests that Mr. Biden has assembled a coalition formidable enough to jeopardize Mr. Trump even in historically Republican parts of the South and Midwest.
A yawning gender gap in all three states is working in Mr. Biden’s favor, with the former vice president making inroads into conservative territory with strong support from women. In Iowa, where Mr. Biden is ahead of Mr. Trump, 45 percent to 42 percent, he is up among women by 14 percentage points. Men favor Mr. Trump by eight points.
In Georgia, where the two candidates are tied at 45 percent, Mr. Biden leads among women by 10 points. Mr. Trump is ahead with men by a similar margin of 11 percentage points.
Mr. Trump’s large advantage among men in Texas is enough to give him a small advantage there, 46 percent to 43 percent. Men prefer the president to his Democratic challenger by 16 points, while women favor Mr. Biden by an eight-point margin.
Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Wednesday shied away from two major issues of deep importance to Democrats, giving cautious responses to reporters’ questions about the police shooting of Breonna Taylor and President Trump’s imminent nomination for the Supreme Court.
Several hours after a grand jury in Kentucky declined to charge any officers in the killing of Ms. Taylor, indicting one for endangering her neighbors during a raid, Mr. Biden said in response to a reporter’s question that he had “not seen the report” and that he knew only broad information.
“I was told going in that there’s one charge against one of the officers. I don’t know the details,” Mr. Biden said, before vowing “to try to find that out” on his plane ride home from Charlotte, N.C.
Pressed for a fuller response, Mr. Biden again responded, “I don’t know the details, so I’m reluctant to comment.”
Two hours later, he issued a statement, sent by his campaign.
“A federal investigation remains ongoing, but we do not need to wait for the final judgment of that investigation to do more to deliver justice for Breonna,” Mr. Biden said in the statement. He said the use of “excessive force” needed to be addressed and made an appeal against violence.
On another critical topic, the Supreme Court, Mr. Biden gave a similarly tentative answer.
Asked what he thought of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who is considered Mr. Trump’s leading contender, Mr. Biden said: “I don’t know her. I just know what’s reported in the press,” before repeating his talking points on the court.
Mr. Biden’s hesitancy to engage with top-of-mind issues reflected the risk-averse approach he has taken to several facets of his campaign, including limited interactions with voters who might challenge him and relatively few exchanges with reporters during a period of restricted travel and press availability because of the coronavirus.
And it underscores the gamble Mr. Biden’s campaign has made for months: that American voters will reward his sober, measured approach to politics, which stands in sharp contrast to Mr. Trump’s.
The two Republicans on the North Carolina Board of Elections resigned in protest late Wednesday, after elections officials on Tuesday agreed to extend the deadline for receiving mail ballots in North Carolina by six days.
In their letters of resignation, the two Republicans, Ken Raymond and David Black, both claimed they had been misinformed about the settlement that had extended the deadline for ballots to be counted.
Justin Clark, President Trump’s deputy campaign manager, called the resignations a “courageous stand against the egregious and collusive settlement agreement their Democrat counterparts created that would significantly rewrite North Carolina’s election law — 40 days out from Election Day.”
Mr. Clark also accused “liberal activists” of trying to “rig” the election. In North Carolina, where polls show Mr. Trump tied or narrowly trailing Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Trump campaign has mounted an assault against the integrity of the state elections board. Mr. Clark accused Democratic activists of suing “to move Election Day even further out so they can harvest ballots after the polls close to steal the election for Joe Biden.”
A group called the North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans had sued the state last month demanding changes to election rules to account for mail delays and accommodate voters fearful of the coronavirus.
In an agreement settling the lawsuit that was signed on Sept. 22, the state elections board acceded to several of the group’s demands.
Under the settlement, ballots postmarked by Election Day will be counted if they are received by Nov. 12 — six days after the previous deadline.
In addition, voters who make mistakes on their mail-in ballots, like missing signatures or addresses, may correct those errors until Nov. 12. Drop boxes for mail-in ballots will be set up outside early voting sites and at county elections offices.
The agreement was immediately criticized by the state’s Republican lawmakers and Trump campaign officials, who indicated that they planned to continue a legal fight to overturn it — and that they would pursue similar legal strategies in other battleground states like Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Michigan, where judges could extend the period during which votes can be counted.
North Carolina, which Mr. Trump won by four percentage points in 2016, is critical to his re-election, especially as his polling numbers have recently slipped in the industrial Midwest, and advisers are increasingly worried about his chances in the state.
MILWAUKEE — For 15 years, Johnny Miller worked the polls at a church on Milwaukee’s North Side. He was born in Mississippi, where, he said, his family was terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan for attempting to cast ballots. This background makes him feel “a deep historical tie with trying to get people to vote.”
In 2020, he is aware of a different threat when it comes to working the polls: the coronavirus pandemic. Mr. Miller, who is 70 and has a heart condition, said the risk was too high. Ten of his friends have died from Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.
The pandemic is making voting more complicated, with higher stakes. But, activists note, it’s just one more thing to worry about on top of strict identification and mail-in ballot laws that can disproportionately make it difficult for eligible low-income voters, and Black and Latino voters, to cast their ballots.
In 2016, President Trump won Wisconsin by just 23,000 votes — the first time a Republican presidential candidate carried the state since 1984. Turnout was down that year by almost 19 percent for Black voters and 6 percent for Latino voters, which is part of the reason turnout groups are focused on those populations this year.
Polls show a close race between Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Mr. Trump, but disapproval by a majority of Mr. Trump’s handling of the virus.
Across the city’s predominantly Black North Side and Latino South Side, organizers and activists are registering new voters and helping others navigate the system.
“Black people have been intimidated not to vote since we were three-fifths of a man,” Mr. Miller said, referring to a clause in the original U.S. Constitution. He described a lack of voter education which, in his view, has led to disenfranchisement in the North as a “a different form of Jim Crow.”
Boston’s 2021 mayoral race heated up further on Thursday with the announcement that Andrea Campbell, the first Black woman to serve as City Council president, will enter the race, presumably challenging the city’s popular incumbent and a fellow Democrat, Mayor Marty Walsh.
Ms. Campbell is the second woman to enter the race for a position that has only ever been occupied by white men. City Councilor Michelle Wu, a protégé of Senator Elizabeth Warren and a favorite of city progressives, entered the race last week.
Unlike Ms. Wu, Ms. Campbell, 38, is a native of Boston. She spent her childhood bouncing among foster families, often on public assistance, as her father served a prison sentence before thriving in Boston’s public schools and attending Princeton University. She served as deputy legal counsel in the administration of Gov. Deval Patrick.
Ms. Campbell has focused heavily on the issues of policing and racial injustice, returning often to the painful story of her twin brother, Andre, who served a series of prison terms and died in pretrial custody, at 29, of an untreated illness.
“How did two twins born and raised in the city of Boston have such different outcomes?” she said last week. “It started with a story. My brother continues to be my inspiration, he gives me that oomph.”
Ms. Campbell faces an uphill battle against her two rivals. Mr. Walsh, who has yet to declare a run for a third term, has received high marks for his handling of the coronavirus, and enjoys the considerable benefits of incumbency in Boston. No incumbent mayor has been defeated in this city since 1949.