President Trump during a campaign rally at the Gastonia Municipal Airport in Gastonia,  N.C., on Wednesday.
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.

John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, on Capitol Hill in May.
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.

In a New York Times/Siena College survey on Tuesday, Mr. Trump led Mr. Biden among college-educated white voters by 12 percentage points.
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.”

Former President Barack Obama spoke at a drive-in rally in Philadelphia on Wednesday
Credit…Kriston Jae Bethel for The New York Times

Former President Barack Obama made a fiery first in-person campaign appearance on behalf of Joseph R. Biden Jr. in Philadelphia on Wednesday, ridiculing President Trump for complaining about campaigning in Pennsylvania, contracting the coronavirus and hiding business dealings with China.

“We know that he continues to do business with China because he has a secret Chinese bank account. How is that possible?” Mr. Obama asked a crowd of supporters invited to hear him speak in the parking lot of South Philadelphia Sports Complex.

He was referring to a New York Times report that revealed previously unknown financial holdings in China — at a time when the president is criticizing Mr. Biden for ties to that country.

“Can you imagine if I had a secret Chinese bank account?” he said. “Can you imagine if I had secret Chinese bank account when I was running for re-election?” His voice straining, he added, “They would’ve called me Beijing Barry.”

It is “not a great idea to have a president who owes a bunch of money to people overseas,” Mr. Obama said, adding that he had probably paid more in taxes working a high school job at an ice-cream parlor than Mr. Trump paid during each of his first two years as president — $750.

Mr. Obama’s long-anticipated speech, the first of several he intends to deliver on behalf of the Biden-Harris ticket over the next two weeks, marked a reversal of his initial reluctance to engage Mr. Trump directly.

And even though his remarks, interrupted from time to time by the honking of horns at the drive-in rally, had moments of his signature soaring rhetoric, he seemed to divert somewhat from the kindler-gentler 2016 mantra inspired by his wife, “When they go low, we go high.”

“By the way, his TV ratings are down,” the former president said. “So you know that upsets him. But the thing is, this is not a reality show. This is reality. And the rest of us have had to live with the consequences of him proving himself incapable of taking the job seriously.”

Mr. Obama, who has helped raise millions for his former vice president online but has not appeared in person at campaign events during the coronavirus pandemic, slammed Mr. Trump’s failure to contain the outbreak in more personal terms than he has used before.

“Eight months into this pandemic, cases are rising again across this country,” he said. “Donald Trump isn’t suddenly going to protect all of us. He can’t even take the basic steps to protect himself.”

Mr. Obama, who set aside his lofty campaign style in a go-for-the-jugular moment, seized on a misstep, recalling that Mr. Trump told supporters on Tuesday at a rally in western Pennsylvania that he would not have visited them if his campaign had not been struggling.

“The president spent some time in Erie last night and apparently he complained about having to travel here,” Mr. Obama said, laughing. “Then he cut the event short. Poor guy. I don’t feel that way. I love coming to Pennsylvania.”

In Philadelphia in August, for the virtual Democratic National Convention, Mr. Obama delivered a televised speech that cast the election as an existential battle for the future of American democracy. He struck those same themes in his return visit on Wednesday.

He said that Mr. Trump’s antics were unacceptable and wouldn’t be tolerated if the person were a school principal, coach or even a family member.

“Why would we expect and accept this from the president of the United States?”

He warned Democrats not to let up because of the polling advantage Mr. Biden is now seeing and said that some had become “lazy” in 2016. “I don’t care about the poll,” Mr. Obama said, referring to Hillary Clinton’s polling lead. “There were a whole bunch of polls last time. It didn’t work out.”

“We’ve got to out hustle the other side,” he added, as the Democratic horns began to honk in unison.

Mr. Obama is scheduled to hold his next event on Saturday in Miami, followed by another rally in Orlando next week, according to a Democratic official with knowledge of his plans.

Sacha Baron Cohen, left, features former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in his latest movie.
Credit…Associated Press

President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, has become caught up in Sacha Baron Cohen’s new “Borat” satire, shown in an edited scene following an actress impersonating a reporter into a bedroom and at one point reclining on the bed and putting his hands in his pants in what he later said was an attempt to adjust his clothing.

The excerpt from Mr. Cohen’s new “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” which will be released on Friday, was described on social media early Wednesday after The Guardian reported that the movie contained “a compromising scene” featuring Mr. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor.

Late Wednesday, Mr. Giuliani called into WABC radio in New York to say that he was tucking in his shirt after removing microphone wires, and chalked the scene’s early release up to a scheme to discredit his recent attempts to push corruption accusations against Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son, Hunter Biden.

“The Borat video is a complete fabrication,” Mr. Giuliani, 76, tweeted after he got off the air. “At no time before, during, or after the interview was I ever inappropriate. If Sacha Baron Cohen implies otherwise he is a stone-cold liar.”

“I called the police,” he said in a brief text exchange on Wednesday. “He and all his crew ran away leaving their equipment behind.”

Still photos and descriptions of the scene from those who have screened the movie say the heavily edited clip, in line with the actor’s signature mockumentary format, begins with Mr. Giuliani, seated on a couch answering questions. Soon after, the actress, who speaks with a heavy Eastern European accent, asks the former mayor if they can continue their discussion in the bedroom. Mr. Giuliani agrees, and is then shown sitting on a bed, as she appears to take his microphone off and he appears to pat her.

The segment then cuts to the image of Mr. Giuliani, reclining on the bed, placing his hands down the front of his pants.

“I had to take off the electronic equipment,” Mr. Giuliani told the hosts of the “Curtis & Juliet Show.” “And when the electronic equipment came off, some of it was in the back and my shirt came a little out, although my clothes were entirely on. I leaned back, and I tucked my shirt in, and at that point, at that point, they have this picture they take which looks doctored, but in any event, I’m tucking my shirt in. I assure you that’s all I was doing.”

The scene ends with Mr. Cohen, dressed in an outlandish pink costume, bursting in to the room and shouting that the woman, played by the actor Maria Bakalova, was 15 years old (the actor is 24, according to the IMDb).

Mr. Giuliani said Mr. Cohen was frightened by his call to the police, bolted away and left him talking with the filmmaker’s lawyer.

The former mayor is not the first Republican politician to be ensnared in one of Mr. Cohen’s cringe-inducing pranks.

In 2018, Mr. Cohen tricked the former G.O.P. Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama into giving him an interview for the Showtime satire show “Who Is America?”

Later in 2018, a Republican lawmaker in Georgia resigned after he was fooled into repeatedly yelling a racial epithet on Mr. Cohen’s Showtime series.

The former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, accused Mr. Cohen of pretending to be a disabled veteran to land an interview with her, which she said was part of his repeated attempts to humiliate and “devalue” middle-class Americans.

“He’s got a lot of people — Newt Gingrich,” added Mr. Giuliani, who insisted he was not taken in by Mr. Cohen. “He got Donald Trump before he was president.”

Mr. Cohen’s new movie, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” is scheduled to be released on Friday on Amazon Prime.

Joe Malcoun, who owns the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, Mich., appeared in an ad for Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential campaign.
Credit…YouTube

The premise seemed to be a politically savvy one: find an everyman bar owner in a battleground state whose shuttered business was struggling to survive during the coronavirus pandemic.

But things often aren’t what they seem to be, as the Biden campaign proved this week when it emerged that a Michigan businessman who was the focus of one of its television ads criticizing President Trump’s handling of the pandemic also happened to be an “angel investor.” He had once described his inheritance from his wife’s family as “almost like winning the lottery.”

The ad, which the campaign released to great fanfare during Sunday’s N.F.L. game between the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers, and posted on YouTube, has since disappeared.

The ad was removed after the bar owner, Joe Malcoun, and his family faced threats, according to the Biden campaign.

“The price for having a voice in our political process cannot be endless harassment,” Bill Russo, a spokesman for the campaign, said in an email on Wednesday night. “And yet, that is what Joe Malcoun and his family currently face as he was doxxed, harassed and threatened after the Trump campaign has sought to smear a community leader who dared to speak out against Trump’s failed response to the Covid crisis. It is shameful.”

It was not immediately clear if the Biden campaign knew of the bar owner’s background or not. A Trump campaign spokesman seized on the oversight.

“In their desperation to pin something else on the president, they fabricated a story in a last-ditch effort to lie to voters because nothing else has worked — and they got caught,” the spokesman, Ken Farnaso, said in an email on Wednesday night.

Mr. Malcoun, owns the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, Mich., a magnet for musicians for 50 years, attracting acts from Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon to Pearl Jam and Nirvana.

There were cutaways in the ad to an idle microphone, bar stools turned upside down and beer taps gone dry.

“Right now, it’s an empty room,” Mr. Malcoun said in the ad. “This is the reality of Trump’s Covid response. We don’t know how much longer we can survive not having any revenue.”

In a 2018 interview with the website All About Ann Arbor, Mr. Malcoun said he had provided seed money to start-ups and explained how he had became an entrepreneur after his wife’s grandfather, a successful real estate investor, died and left them a substantial amount of money.

“Usually you become a C.E.O. and you make money, and then the money allows you to become an angel investor,” Mr. Malcoun said at the time. “I happened to have different circumstances where I had money.”

Mr. Malcoun characterized the amount of money that he and his wife had inherited in this way: “We knew there was something, but we never knew the extent of it, and it was almost like winning the lottery and we were very young.”

Mr. Malcoun did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday night.

President Trump during a campaign rally at the Gastonia Municipal Airport in Gastonia, NC, on Wednesday.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Trump complained about the news media’s intensive coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at a campaign rally in Gastonia, N.C., on Wednesday evening, describing the disease as an annoying inconvenience even as the country’s case count and death toll continue to soar.

Attacking two television networks, CNN and MSNBC, with barbed epithets, Mr. Trump insisted for the second night in a row, “That pandemic is rounding the corner. They hate it when I say it.”

“All you hear is Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid,” Mr. Trump said, repeating the word 11 times. “That’s all they put on, because they want to scare the hell out of everyone.”

Mr. Trump’s lament about television news followed a familiar line in his recent speeches, insisting in defiance of all evidence that the coronavirus is rapidly disappearing as an issue. It is not a perspective shared by most voters: A national poll published Monday by The Times found that 51 percent of likely voters believed the worst of the pandemic was yet to come, compared with 37 percent who said the worst was over.

And that was not the full extent of Mr. Trump’s dissembling on the pandemic. He repeated a familiar — and false — line claiming that the country only appears to have so many cases because there is so much testing, and telling supporters that his Democratic opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., was seeking to “prolong the pandemic” and “shut down your country,” even though the former vice president has presented a public-health agenda aimed at doing the opposite.

The president also continued taunting Democratic governors who have imposed restrictions on gatherings and commercial activity to counter the spread of the virus, including North Carolina’s Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat seeking re-election whose popularity has risen in response to his handling of the pandemic.

“You got to get your governor to open up your state here,” Mr. Trump said, prodding Mr. Cooper. “Open up your state, governor. It’s time.”