Yet in-person campaigning plainly also poses risks — to the candidate, to his staff, to his supporters and to his campaign message that he is the responsible candidate when it comes to confronting the pandemic. Mr. Trump has mocked mask-wearing and scorned social distancing, even though he was hospitalized with the virus this month.
“We already saw the president, by being careless, got sick,” Mr. Axelrod said. “It would be a hell of a thing if, having been as careful as they’ve been, as responsible as they’ve been, if in the last week they allow Biden to get sick. I think that would be something that would be second-guessed till the end of time.”
Mr. Biden’s advisers have long worried about questions of health and safety. For months, as the outbreak spread, they kept him off the trail almost entirely and relied instead on virtual campaigning and on local television interviews, which is a powerful tool for reaching swing voters in key states. And for all of the anxiety among Democrats on the ground and in Washington about that strategy, the low-key approach did not appear to hurt him in polls over the summer.
Still, as fall arrived, and pressure mounted from Democratic officials across the country to be more visible, Mr. Biden returned to the trail in a more consistent way — though his approach would still be highly unusual in any other year. He has rarely ventured west of Michigan, he almost never remains overnight on the trail and he often makes just one or two stops when he does travel. He has embraced drive-in car rallies, but many of his other events are still small and socially distanced.
“Because things have accelerated in terms of the disease, he’s just being extra-cautious,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. “We would love to see him, have him go to as many parts of the country as he can. But this is too, too near the end for him to jeopardize where he’s at by getting sick, and his staff as well.”
Modeling public health recommendations around mask-wearing and social distancing is also an important part of Mr. Biden’s broader argument that he is the only candidate in the race who takes the pandemic seriously, as he seeks to make the contest a referendum on Mr. Trump and his stewardship of the virus. But for all of their precautions, the issue has hit close to home for the Biden-Harris campaign, too.