Joseph R. Biden Jr. will travel to Kenosha, Wis., on Thursday and his campaign has unveiled a new television ad condemning the rioters and looters that have vexed some American cities as he races to cut off President Trump’s efforts to define the Democrats as the party of lawlessness.
Mr. Trump, who flew to Kenosha on Tuesday following the latest police shooting of a Black man and toured burned down areas where the ensuing protests had turned destructive, countered Mr. Biden’s moves with two new ads seeking to leverage civil unrest in incendiary fashion as a wedge to divide the Democratic coalition.
The dueling political trips and ad wars come as the race enters an intense phase following the two party conventions, and as a new poll on Wednesday of a critical battleground state, Pennsylvania, showed a tightening race. Mr. Biden also announced a record-breaking $364.5 million August fund-raising haul — more than Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump raised combined in July — and will immediately invest in a $45 million one-week television and digital advertising campaign that is his largest to date.
Mr. Biden has regularly condemned the violence that has arisen from some peaceful protests for racial justice, and he has accused Mr. Trump of stoking divisions. But Mr. Biden’s new ad is the first time that he has put the issue of crime and public safety into a major paid advertising program.
“I want to make it absolutely clear,” Mr. Biden says as images flash of burned-out cars and buildings and a confrontation with the police. “Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. And those who do it should be prosecuted.”
Since Mr. Biden first went on the airwaves in June, nearly 75 percent of the television ads that his campaign have run have focused on the coronavirus, according to an analysis by the media-tracking firm Advertising Analytics.
Mr. Trump’s ads have been the inverse. Only 5 percent of them have focused on the virus compared to more than 60 percent that highlighted the issue of crime — a reflection of the Trump campaign’s determination to frame the election around law and order and Mr. Biden’s ability to keep people safe, rather than around the coronavirus crisis and Mr. Trump’s leadership over the last three-and-a-half years.
“Communities not criminals. Jobs not mobs,” say the latest Trump ads, which will air in Minnesota, where protests against the police killing of George Floyd launched the ongoing reckoning about race and police violence, and in Wisconsin, where the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha was caught on video.
The intensifying political maneuvers show how both candidates are playing offense and defense at once. Mr. Biden is trying to press his financial advantage and keep the focus on the virus and issues like school re-openings, which he spoke about on Wednesday, and also defend himself against Mr. Trump’s law and order attacks. Mr. Trump is trying to prosecute those arguments and persuade voters to see threats to public safety, which so far have been limited to sporadic violence in some cities, while also gaining momentum in a race where he lagged behind Mr. Biden in most polls for months.
Trump campaign advisers were undeterred on Wednesday by Mr. Biden’s ads or his own remarks. For the second time this week on a call with reporters, Trump aides maintained that Mr. Biden hadn’t sufficiently denounced the violent episodes that grew from the unrest because he hadn’t specifically named Antifa, a loose group of activists that Mr. Trump’s team has tried to paint as a unified, well-financed effort.
“This is exactly the kind of decision-making that we would see emanating from the White House,” said Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesman, calling the large ad buy an effort to “dissuade” Americans that Mr. Biden isn’t a “tool of the radical left.”
“You don’t need polls to understand that Americans can see on the evening news, and all day on cable television, cities on fire,” Mr. Murtaugh said.
Stephanie Cutter, a Democratic strategist who oversaw messaging and planning for last month’s nominating convention, said her party needed to relentlessly focus on the fact that such scenes are playing out under Mr. Trump’s tenure.
“Anytime Trump wants to talk about the state of this country, it’s important to remind people that Trump is president and is responsible for the state of the country,” she said.
The new Pennsylvania poll from Monmouth University showed the race tightening, with Mr. Biden’s lead shrinking, from a 10-percentage point advantage among likely voters in July to a three-point edge now. His lead in a lower-turnout election shrank to a single percentage point, from seven points in July.
“It looks like some of those attacks, some of those messages that are coming out of the Republican convention about threats to the suburbs has caused some doubt among some voters,” said Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Pennsylvania is seen as crucial by both candidates. On the same day that Mr. Biden delivered his speech at the Democratic National Convention, Mr. Trump traveled to Scranton, Pa., where Mr. Biden grew up, for his own event. And Mr. Biden chose to go to Pittsburgh to deliver his speech on Monday rebuking and responding to Mr. Trump’s attempts to redirect the 2020 contest away from the virus and toward law and order.
A presentation on Wednesday by Priorities USA, a leading Democratic super PAC, showed Pennsylvania as the tipping point state of the 2020 race. The group showed findings from a private poll of battleground states that showed Mr. Biden with a wide lead on handling race relations but knotted in a virtual tie on the issue of policing and law enforcement.
Guy Cecil, the chairman of Priorities USA, who had previously predicted a tightening of the polls as the election neared, described the 2020 race as “just structurally close.”
“I don’t think this has to do with Kenosha,” he said. “I think it has to do with the fact that we’re two months before the election.”
In the new ad, Mr. Biden casts himself as a unifying figure who would seek to “lower the temperature” of the national debate and bring the country together. The spot ends with Mr. Biden, who is Catholic, quoting the former pope, John Paul II: “Be not afraid.”
The Biden campaign said the ad would air nationally on cable television and in local markets in nine battleground states: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
His speech in Pittsburgh and the advertising campaign are part of Mr. Biden’s response to a Republican convention last week in which the G.O.P. tried repeatedly to twist the former vice president’s record on crime and policing, with Mr. Trump himself often amplifying the misleading claims on Twitter.
At times, the Republicans have accused Mr. Biden of being too tough on criminals, citing his role in crafting the 1994 crime bill; at others, they have accused him of coddling rioters.
“Ask yourself: Do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters?” Mr. Biden said in Monday’s speech. “Really?”
He then pivoted to try to broaden the definition of safety for voters, arguing that Mr. Trump had eroded the health and economic safety of millions of Americans through his response to the coronavirus.
“I want a safe America,” Mr. Biden said. “Safe from Covid, safe from crime and looting, safe from racially motivated violence, safe from bad cops. Let me be crystal clear: safe from four more years of Donald Trump.”
The sheer size of the new advertising purchase — it is bigger than Mr. Biden’s paid-media budget during the entirety of the 2020 primaries — is a testament to how much money is pouring into the campaign.
Katie Glueck contributed reporting.