KENOSHA, Wis. — The usual campaign-friendly stops were spurned. There was no grilled bratwurst or Wisconsin frozen custard to eat for the cameras. The candidates’ motorcades did not pull over at Tenuta’s Deli, a 70-year-old local institution whose walls are lined with the obligatory framed photographs of visiting politicians.
The campaign trail returned in a scaled-back form to Kenosha this week, as President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. arrived in town for back-to-back events, each striking a sharply different tone in a city struggling with civil unrest and the coronavirus pandemic. Here are three takeaways from a week focused on Wisconsin:
Mr. Trump played to his base.
The president arrived on Tuesday, crunching through the rubble of burned buildings in Kenosha’s Uptown district and meeting with a group of local officials at a high school, including the county sheriff and the city’s police chief. He did not meet with the family of Jacob Blake, who was shot by a police officer on Aug. 23 and remains in a hospital.
Mr. Trump struck a law-and-order note, condemning the destruction that has scarred Kenosha. “These are not acts of peaceful protest but, really, domestic terror,” he said.
Mr. Biden pressed his case that he can bridge the nation’s widening divides.
When the Democratic nominee arrived on Thursday, he first met with the Blake family, a conversation that a family representative described as engaging and prayerful. Then he headed to Grace Lutheran, a church that stands out in the community for its warmth, giving away meals and household supplies to Kenosha families.
In front of a carefully selected group of community leaders, Mr. Biden, too, condemned violence, but promised to focus on correcting racial disparities if elected. “I’m going to go down fighting for racial equality, equity across the board,” he said.
In Kenosha, few people showed up for either candidate.
This city of 100,000 people is still boarded up, frozen in place even though it has been a week since any violent unrest. Marches and protests have dwindled. And only a few relatively small, scattered groups seemed interested enough on either day to catch a glimpse of a sitting president or the former vice president.
Aides to Joseph R. Biden Jr. view a report by The Atlantic that President Trump privately referred to American soldiers who had died in combat as “losers” and “suckers” as a major moment in the campaign — and plan to make Mr. Trump’s history of disparaging service members a staple of their attacks down the homestretch, three senior Biden campaign officials said on Friday.
The report adds urgency to a message the Biden campaign had been emphasizing without getting much traction — that Mr. Trump, who avoided service in the Vietnam War, has little respect for the country’s war heroes despite attempting to associate himself closely with the military.
On Friday morning, the campaign plans to hold a conference call with Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father who represented Virginia at the Democratic National Convention last month, and Senator Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat severely wounded while serving as a helicopter pilot in Iraq, who slammed Mr. Trump during the convention as the “coward in chief.”
The call will also feature Representative Conor Lamb, a Pennsylvania Democrat who served in the Marines.
Late Thursday, Jeffrey Goldberg, editor in chief of The Atlantic magazine, reported that Mr. Trump had canceled a scheduled 2018 appearance at a World War I cemetery in France because he was afraid the rainy weather would muss up his hair — and because he believed those who died in combat had made the foolish decision to throw away their lives.
Mr. Trump said: “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers,” according to Mr. Goldberg, a longtime foreign and military affairs reporter, citing four unnamed people with “firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day.”
On the same trip, the article said, he referred to American Marines slain in combat at Belleau Wood — one of most important American engagements of the war — as “suckers” for getting killed. That echoed comments he has made privately over the years about soldiers who served in Vietnam, people close to him said.
“This president has no honor or shame,” said Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, adding that the account had “laid bare Trump’s lack of respect for our brave servicemembers.”
Mr. Trump has come under criticism before for his remarks about veterans. In 2015, he mocked Senator John McCain’s five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, saying, “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
The Associated Press confirmed some aspects of the report in The Atlantic, citing “a senior Defense Department official with firsthand knowledge of events and a senior U.S. Marine Corps officer” with knowledge of the exchanges.
Marching over to reporters under the wing of Air Force One after returning from a campaign rally Thursday night, a visibly angry Mr. Trump rebutted the account and said it had been made up to damage his chances in the election.
“If people really exist that would have said that, they’re lowlifes and they’re liars,” he shouted above the noise of the plane’s engines. “And I would be willing to swear on anything that I never said that about our fallen heroes. There is nobody that respects them more.” He added, “What animal would say such a thing?”
But several surrogates and campaign aides for Mr. Trump said they thought the report could undermine his core law-and-order message and the tough-guy image he has projected.
A poll by The Military Times taken before the party conventions last month and released this week showed Mr. Biden leading Mr. Trump 41 percent to 37 percent among active-duty troops, a stark departure from the military’s longstanding support for Republicans.
Drawing a sharp contrast with President Trump, Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Thursday aligned himself strongly and sympathetically with protesters of racial injustice and with Black voters during an afternoon of raw interactions with people in Kenosha, Wis., who are still grappling with the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
The former vice president repudiated Mr. Trump’s divisive approach to matters of racial injustice and civil unrest and offered an alternative vision focused on national unity.
In his first day of campaigning outside his home state of Delaware or neighboring Pennsylvania since the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, Mr. Biden met for about an hour with Mr. Blake’s family and legal team immediately after landing in the critical battleground state of Wisconsin, and spoke with Mr. Blake himself by phone.
Mr. Biden also hosted a listening session with activists, elected officials, clergy members, businesspeople and a few law enforcement officers, aiming to appeal to a broader cross-section of the community than Mr. Trump did on his trip. The former vice president emphasized his commitment to correcting decades of systemic racism, as he acknowledged racial disparities in health care, education and the criminal justice system and said that “we’re finally now getting to the point” of addressing “the original sin: slavery. And all the vestiges of it.”
“Win or lose, I’m going to go down fighting,” Mr. Biden said as he described the possibility of a more just future. “I’m going to go down fighting for racial equality, equity across the board.”
President Trump on Thursday reiterated his desire to “get along” with Moscow despite an international uproar over the poisoning of the Russian dissident Aleksei A. Navalny with a deadly nerve agent, saying that when the subject of Russia appears on the news, he turns it off.
Speaking at a small campaign rally in Latrobe, Pa., Mr. Trump did not mention Mr. Navalny on a day when his press secretary issued a stern statement about the apparent assassination attempt against the dissident, who is the most prominent domestic critic of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Nor did he address new warnings from his own intelligence officials that Russia is seeking to interfere in the 2020 election on his behalf.
Instead, he boasted that he had kept the United States “out of wars,” and he pointed to his persistent efforts to thaw relations between Washington and Moscow. “It’s good that I get along,” Mr. Trump said. “If I get along with Russia, is that a good thing or bad thing? I think it’s a good thing.”
His remarks came hours after the White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, called Mr. Navalny’s poisoning “deeply reprehensible” and said the United States would “hold those in Russia accountable wherever the evidence leads.” But she also insisted to reporters that “no one has been tougher on the Russian government than this president.”
While the Trump administration has taken some punitive actions against Russia’s government, including the expulsion of diplomats and an array of economic sanctions, it has done so mainly under pressure from Congress or European allies — and often only with Mr. Trump’s grudging approval, according to several former White House officials.
Eris Eady, a project organizer at the Alliance for Safety and Justice, began a Zoom call this week with a request to the hundreds of participants: Tell us why, or for whom, you are here.
The answers poured into the in-meeting chat. “For my son,” who was fatally shot. “For survivors of mental and emotional abuse.” “For myself.” “For all our Black men and boys.”
And then: “For those who don’t think that voting makes a difference.”
For all that narratives about crime shape American politics, crime survivors are rarely centered in the conversation, if they are heard at all. Many express a sense that their voices and their needs don’t matter at the polls, just as they didn’t matter to the person who shot, assaulted or otherwise harmed them.
Hence the Zoom call, which served as the introductory event for a new campaign called #HealTheVote that aims to turn out 100,000 crime survivors for the coming election.
The Alliance for Safety and Justice, an advocacy group that supports crime prevention and rehabilitation programs instead of mass incarceration, will announce the initiative on Friday.
Its premise is that crime survivors are, like women or working-class voters or people with disabilities, a constituency with distinct needs that elected officials should be pushed to address — and also that engaging in the political process can help survivors themselves.
The campaign is nonpartisan, and it includes both Democrats and Republicans promoting a shift away from the 1990s-era “tough on crime” approach that led to mass incarceration of people of color.
Jake Auchincloss, a moderate Democrat and local city councilor who was a registered Republican as recently as President Barack Obama’s second term, has won Tuesday’s nine-way Democratic primary in Massachusetts’s Fourth Congressional District to become the likely successor to the outgoing Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III.
Mr. Auchincloss won the highly fragmented race with less than 23 percent of the vote, The Associated Press reported early Friday morning, beating the second-place finisher, Jesse Mermell, a progressive endorsed by Representative Ayanna Pressley, by just over 2,000 votes.
The seat, which includes towns near Boston such as Brookline as well as towns to the south, opened unexpectedly after Mr. Kennedy decided to mount a primary challenge to Senator Edward J. Markey, who prevailed on Tuesday in one of the country’s most bitter intraparty fights.
In Mr. Auchincloss, 32, Massachusetts is replacing a scion of a political dynasty with another descendant of the political upper crust. His family tree includes Jackie Kennedy and Gore Vidal. Mr. Auchincloss is currently a city councilor in Newton, and did not shy away from his Republican past, tying himself to the state’s Republican governor, Charlie Baker.
The race was shaped by several small controversies. Mr. Auchincloss apologized for old statements on social media that seemed to justify the burning of the Quran. He also mocked efforts by a local community to rename Columbus Day “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” in 2016.
And yet, while Mr. Auchincloss trailed candidates in the Boston suburbs, he consolidated support in the heavily Democratic district’s southern regions. There, he cast himself in the image of Mr. Baker, the popular governor who has distanced himself from national Republicans such as President Trump.
Mr. Auchincloss, who is expected to defeat the Republican nominee, Julie Hall, in November, is set to join an all-Democrat congressional delegation in Massachusetts that has a foothold in several of the party’s most important factions.
Mr. Markey remains in the ranks of progressives such as Senator Elizabeth Warren and Ms. Pressley. There are moderates who earn the ire of the party’s left, such as Representatives Stephen Lynch and Richard Neal — who both easily held their seats on Tuesday. Representative Katherine Clark is often tipped as a future member of the party’s congressional leadership and Seth Moulton, a former presidential candidate who easily won re-election, is just 41.
With President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. dueling this week over issues of crime, safety and unrest in American cities, a simple question was on most political observers’ minds:
Which narrative will win?
The answer is anything but simple for pollsters, who use straightforward questions to take a read on the national mood. How can they ask questions that drive to the heart of the debate, when neither side can even agree on its terms?
In recent weeks the standard wordings have felt insufficient, and polling firms have adjusted the questions they’re asking. They’re seeking to determine which candidate’s approach resonates more — not only whether voters are truly worried that the flare-ups of urban violence will reach their homes, but also whom they blame for them and how they think they should be quelled.
“What we want is good measurement, and if past measurements are out of whack with the current situation, then we have to revise them and try to test other approaches,” said Gary Langer, whose polling firm conducts research on behalf of ABC News, The Washington Post and other news outlets.
Take “race relations,” for instance. He said that “may be a term or a phrase that has durability in some circumstances, but is not particularly apt in current circumstances.”
In polls released on Thursday by Quinnipiac University from the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Florida, researchers asked voters who they thought would do a better job guiding the country through a crisis — language that intentionally wasn’t specific to the pandemic or the protests.
In both cases, voters were slightly more likely to choose Mr. Trump than they were when asked about the coronavirus crisis specifically. (Since the start of the summer, he has consistently earned low marks on the pandemic.)
President Trump’s call for people to test the integrity of the elections system by trying to vote both by mail and in person has created new headaches for state election officials, who are already dealing with the formidable task of holding an election during a pandemic.
Douglas A. Kellner, co-chairman of the New York State Board of Elections, accused Mr. Trump on Thursday of fueling concern in the minds of voters and, in doing so, adding more work to county elections boards already “stretched to the limit” by a presidential election and the coronavirus.
“It’s hard to imagine how we could add any more stress to the system,” said Mr. Kellner, a Democrat.
Maggie Sheehan, a spokeswoman for Frank LaRose, Ohio’s secretary of state, a Republican, said, “Ohio voters are encouraged to choose one way to vote, as any additional effort to cast a ballot will not be counted and unnecessarily burdens election officials.”
And Jena Griswold, Colorado’s secretary of state and a Democrat, said, “2020 has been unprecedented in so many ways, but I never imagined that as secretary of state I would have to inform both the president and the U.S. attorney general that it is illegal to vote twice.”
That was after Attorney General William P. Barr suggested during an interview with CNN that he was not sure whether voting twice was illegal in North Carolina.