As President Trump battled the coronavirus on Monday, Joseph R. Biden Jr. ventured onto the campaign trail, where he wished the president a speedy recovery but criticized his leadership. Seeking to draw contrasts with his rival on some of the most searing matters of the day for South Florida voters, Mr. Biden denounced Mr. Trump’s stewardship of the pandemic and lashed him for embracing autocrats.
Mr. Biden, whose campaign said he had tested negative for the coronavirus on Sunday, traveled to Miami to speak to Haitian-Americans, Cuban-Americans and others from immigrant backgrounds, working to strengthen his standing with a range of constituencies in a state widely regarded as a must-win for Mr. Trump. The former vice president was also slated to appear later Monday at a town hall hosted by NBC News.
Mr. Biden has moved to take down negative advertising and has limited his criticism of Mr. Trump in recent days, but on Monday, after the president unleashed a flurry of all-caps tweets urging his supporters to vote, Mr. Biden issued several sharp remarks about the administration’s approach to the virus, even as he also expressed well wishes for the president’s health.
“I was glad to see the president speaking and recording videos over the weekend,” Mr. Biden said during an address that he delivered in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami while wearing a mask. “Now that he’s busy tweeting campaign messages, I would ask him to do this: Listen to the scientists. Support masks. Support a, mask mandates nationwide.”
The Democratic nominee’s trip came nearly a week after he and Mr. Trump shared a debate stage in Cleveland. Early Friday, Mr. Trump said he had tested positive for the virus. Later in the day he was hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, though he briefly left on Sunday to greet supporters from an S.U.V., which some medical experts called reckless. On Monday evening, Mr. Trump left the hospital after tweeting in reference to a disease that has killed more than 209,000 people in the United States: “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.”
“This week at least 5,000 more will die,” Mr. Biden warned. “Cases and deaths are climbing in many states. I hope the president’s recovery is swift and successful, but our nation’s Covid crisis is far, far from over.”
In his remarks, Mr. Biden also appealed to other concerns of vital interest to many Floridians, such as climate change, immigration and American leadership on the world stage, including the United States’ posture toward “the massive humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.”
“Maduro, who I’ve met, is a dictator, plain and simple,” he said of the Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro, a nod to the many Venezuelans who fled that country and settled in South Florida. (Mr. Trump’s administration has opposed Mr. Maduro and has sought to oust him from power, but the president told Axios in June that he would consider meeting with the Venezuelan leader.)
“President Trump cannot advance democracy and human rights,” Mr. Biden said, “when he has embraced so many autocrats around the world, starting with Vladimir Putin.”
His first stop in Florida, where residents are already voting, was at the Little Haiti Cultural Center. Haitian-Americans have generally leaned Democratic, and the president has crudely disparaged Haiti.
“Wouldn’t it be an irony, the irony of all ironies, if on election eve it turned out Haitians delivered the coup de grâce in this election?” Mr. Biden said there.
Yet some Haitian-Americans were critical of Hillary Clinton in 2016, and a number of leaders and activists in the community in South Florida have said this year that Mr. Biden and the Democratic Party have not conducted sufficient engagement, according to local reports.
“This is the last day you can register to vote in Florida,” Mr. Biden said, promising to return. “The Haitian community itself can determine the outcome of this election.”
Then he headed to Little Havana. Cuban-Americans in South Florida have typically leaned more conservative, and there have been signs that Mr. Trump improved his standing with Cuban-American voters after encountering some opposition in 2016.
Republicans are seeking to cast the relatively moderate Mr. Biden as a socialist. It’s an effort that Mr. Biden has responded to with incredulity — “Ask yourself: Do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters?” he said last month — but it has appeared to gain some traction with some South Florida voters. Some of Mr. Biden’s remarks on Monday appeared designed to rebut that characterization as he described himself as a person who stands “against dictators of the left and the right.”
He also called for a Cuba policy that emphasizes “empowering the Cuban people to determine their own future.” The United States restored diplomatic relations with Cuba under the Obama administration, but Mr. Biden acknowledged that in Cuba “there’s more political prisoners, the secret police are as brutal as ever, and Russia is once again a major presence in Cuba, in Havana.”
“Cuba is no closer to freedom and democracy than it was four years ago,” he said, arguing that “the administration’s approach is not working.”
A New York Times/Siena College poll conducted last week found Mr. Biden leading Mr. Trump by five percentage points in Florida.
“It’s a sign that the vice president and his campaign are well aware that Florida is won by managing the margins and maximizing every single last potential voter in a state that will likely be decided by a few thousand votes or a single percentage point,” Fernand R. Amandi, a longtime Democratic pollster and strategist in the state, said of Mr. Biden’s itinerary.
Thomas Kaplan and Patricia Mazzei contributed reporting.