Skip to content
The Morning Dispatch: Fat Lady, Warming Up
Go to my account

The Morning Dispatch: Fat Lady, Warming Up

Joe Biden inches into the lead in Georgia.

Happy Friday! We know. We wish it was over too. (On the bright side, there will be no shortage of things to discuss at our What’s Next event next week. You can find more of what to expect over at the event site: An election post-op featuring Karl Rove and Joe Trippi, a look forward at the future of the GOP and American evangelicalism with Reince Priebus and Russell Moore, an examination of the state of American institutions with Yuval Levin, Jack Goldsmith, and Andy Smarick … and a lot more! We hope we’ll see you there!)

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden overtook President Donald Trump’s narrow lead in Georgia overnight, holding a 917-vote advantage as we publish. Biden has also narrowed the gap in Pennsylvania on the strength of mail-in and absentee ballots that skew heavily in the Democrat’s favor and is expected to cruise into the lead there today when new votes are added to the tally. If Biden wins both states, and holds his narrow leads in Arizona and Nevada, he will win with 306 electoral votes—the same number Donald Trump won in 2016.

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday emphasized the need for a coronavirus stimulus package by the end of 2020. “Hopefully the partisan passions that prevented us from doing another rescue package will subside with the election and I think we need to do it,” he said. “I think we need to do it before the end of the year.”

  • Initial unemployment claims fell last week by 7,000 week-over-week to 751,000, the Labor Department reported on Thursday. A total of 21,508,662 continued to claim some sort of unemployment benefits during the week ending October 17, a decrease of 1,152,854 from the previous week.

  • The United States confirmed 126,077 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 8.2 percent of the 1,537,316 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 1,248 deaths were attributed to the virus on Thursday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 234,911. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 53,322 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

Biden Overtakes Trump in Georgia

Believe it or not, no more states have been called in the presidential race since we were last in your inbox. But all of the states are much closer to being called than they were 24 hours ago. A reminder, from yesterday:

Biden’s Electoral College lead over Trump now sits at 253 to 217—just 17 electoral votes from clinching a victory.

Given the states still up for grabs, Biden could secure those 17 votes by winning a) Pennsylvania or b) any two of Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina. To block Biden’s path, Trump would have to win Pennsylvania and any three of Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina.

As of early Friday morning, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Georgia are looking very likely to end up in Biden’s column. Arizona is close to a toss-up at this point, and North Carolina leans Trump. You can pretty safely expect major network decision desks to call the race for Biden later today.

We’ve gotten some questions about why the tallies in these states are taking so long, and why the late-arriving ballots in Pennsylvania and Georgia are so Democratic. On the first question, it has to do with when state legislature-passed law allows for the processing of absentee ballots. Pennsylvania poll workers, for example, were not legally permitted to begin processing mail-in votes until the morning of Election Day. Predicting months ago this would lead to chaos, counties around the state appealed to the GOP-controlled state legislature to change the law and allow for advanced processing of these absentee ballots. The legislature passed a law doing so, but attached to it several other provisions that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf would not approve. The stalemate led to the status quo remaining in place. (States that allow for early processing, like Ohio and Florida, were able to be called early Tuesday night.)

And why are these mail-in ballots so Democratic? Because A) Democrats on average report being more concerned about COVID-19 than Republicans, leading them to avoid in-person voting at a higher rate, and B) President Trump for months told his supporters voting by mail was risky and fraudulent. His advisers repeatedly warned him over the summer that this rhetoric could cost him votes, but he continued to repeat his claims. “Cancel Ballots and go out and VOTE, just like in past decades, when there were no problems!” he said a little over a month ago. Yesterday, he told reporters “it’s amazing how those mail-in ballots are so one-sided.”

Checking in on the Two Campaigns

In very brief remarks in Wilmington, Delaware on Thursday afternoon, Biden noted he and Sen. Kamala Harris had just wrapped up briefings on the coronavirus pandemic. “Democracy is sometimes messy. It sometimes requires a little patience as well,” he said, turning to the election. “We continue to feel very good about where things stand. We have no doubt that when the count is finished, Senator Harris and I will be declared the winners. So, I ask everyone to stay calm. The process is working, the count is being completed, and we’ll know very soon.”

President Trump did not heed his opponent’s advice. “If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” he said in a White House press conference marked by multiple false claims. “If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us.”

The president falsely claimed he “won by historic numbers” (nobody has “won” yet, though Joe Biden has already set a record for total number of votes received by a presidential candidate), and Trump accused pre-election polls of being “election interference” because they were “designed to keep our voters at home” (Trump also set a record for the number of votes for a Republican presidential candidate). He said the “election apparatus in Georgia is run by Democrats” (it’s not, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is a Republican whom Trump endorsed in 2018), and pointed to supposed instances of election malfeasance in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Georgia without providing any evidence.

“We think we will win the election very easily,” he concluded. “We think there’s going to be a lot of litigation because we have so much evidence, so much proof. And it’s going to end up, perhaps, at the highest court in the land.”

A judge in Michigan said Thursday she would deny the Trump campaign’s request to halt the counting in the state. Another judge in Georgia threw out the Trump campaign’s case alleging late mail-in ballots were being illegally counted, saying “there is no evidence that the Chatham County Board of Elections or the Chatham County Board of Registrars has failed to comply with the law.” Trump allies Ric Grenell and Matt Schlapp held a press conference in Nevada yesterday asserting thousands of fraudulent votes in the state, but ran away from reporters when asked for proof. It’s of course possible—even likely—that there exist some instances of voter fraud across the country, but the Trump campaign thus far has not produced credible evidence to support their increasingly wild claims.

The Trump campaign did win one lawsuit in Pennsylvania; a judge reversed a lower court decision and allowed campaign observers to be within six feet of ballot counters after previously requiring them to stand further back due to the coronavirus. “We don’t care if your observers are 18 feet away or 15 feet away or 6 feet away—as long as election officials can do their jobs,” a Biden campaign official tweeted in response.

A few hours before Trump’s press conference, his adult sons made a concerted push to whip up support from elected Republicans that they believed were insufficiently outraged on their father’s behalf. “The total lack of action from virtually all of the ‘2024 GOP hopefuls’ is pretty amazing,” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted. “They have a perfect platform to show that they’re willing & able to fight but they will cower to the media mob instead.” In a since-deleted tweet, Eric Trump added: “Where is the GOP?! Our voters will never forget…”

Eighteen minutes later, Sen. Tom Cotton tweeted out a link to donate to President Trump’s legal defense fund, adding that “all votes that are *legally* cast should be counted. There is NO excuse not to allow poll watchers to observe counting.” Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley joined him about 20 minutes later. “We all owe @realDonaldTrump for his leadership of conservative victories for Senate, House, & state legislatures,” she tweeted. “He and the American people deserve transparency & fairness as the votes are counted. The law must be followed. We have to keep the faith that the truth will prevail.”

Fourteen minutes after Trump Jr. called out Sen. Lindsey Graham for his silence the past 24 hours, Graham sent out a tweet announcing he’d be joining Sean Hannity on Fox News later that night; he announced during the show he would be donating $500,000 to Trump’s legal defense fund and called elections in Philadelphia “crooked as a snake.” Sen. Ted Cruz also joined Hannity, spreading conspiracies about vote counting in Philadelphia. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy falsely told Laura Ingraham that President Trump has won the election. “Everyone who is listening: Do not be quiet. Do not be silent about this,” he continued. “We cannot allow this to happen before our very eyes.”

According to ABC-6 Action News, Philadelphia police are now “investigating an alleged plot to attack the Pennsylvania Convention Center” on Thursday night as election officials count votes there.

Not all elected Republicans are going down this path. Sen. Ben Sasse told The Dispatch that “if the President’s legal team has real evidence [of voter fraud], they need to present it immediately to both the public and the courts. In the meantime, all legal votes need to be counted according to relevant state laws. This is our American system and it works.”

Sen. Mitt Romney asserted that “counting every vote is at the heart of democracy.” Sen. Pat Toomey expressed some concern about transparency in Philadelphia, but added that “all votes that comply with Pennsylvania law must be counted, regardless of how long the process takes. … Once a final count is reached and certified, all parties involved must accept the outcome of the election regardless of whether they won or lost.” Sen. Tim Scott said that “any voting irregularities and allegations of fraud must be thoroughly vetted and investigated” while noting “every legally cast vote should be and will be counted, period.” Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said that “There is no defense for the President’s comments tonight undermining our Democratic process. America is counting the votes, and we must respect the results as we always have before. No election or person is more important than our Democracy.”

COVID-19 Hasn’t Gone Anywhere

There’s no other way to say it: COVID is spreading out of control in America. While the nation has (understandably) been captivated by the political climax of the election, the virus has been breaking new transmission records every week. On October 23, according to the COVID Tracking Project, 83,057 cases were reported across the country—then a single-day record. On October 30, 97,080 cases were reported. Yesterday, we smashed through even that number, racking up 116,225 new cases. (The COVID Tracking Project numbers are tabulated slightly differently from the Johns Hopkins numbers we use in our daily COVID update, so the daily totals don’t line up perfectly.)

These are mind-boggling numbers: During the worrisome summer COVID spike, the highest single day of cases was July 17, when 76,550 cases were reported. Hospitalization numbers haven’t yet reached summer levels, but they’re well on their way: 53,332 Americans are currently hospitalized with the virus, compared to a summer high of 59,311 on July 27. Deaths, a lagging indicator, are climbing steadily as well. The worst single day of the summer in this respect was August 12, when 1,519 deaths were reported; On Wednesday, we reported 1,116.

In that summer data the peak in cases came before the peak in hospitalizations, which came before the peak in deaths. The same will be true with our current wave. Even if we somehow managed to stop viral transmission in its tracks now—a harder task than at any previous point during the pandemic, given the sheer number of infections we’re dealing with—the human toll would still continue to accelerate for at least the next few weeks.

Hospitals are already feeling the crunch, with local news reports from around the country this week—in Utah, Florida, Colorado, Texas—showing doctors concerned about the slow but accelerating increase in COVID patients. At one point this week, Minnesota’s Twin Cities had only nine ICU beds available across the region’s hospitals.

None of this is to suggest that we’re entering the sort of full meltdown we saw in New York hospitals right at the outset of the pandemic. (Only 18 percent of those Twin Cities beds are occupied by COVID patients.) For now, we’re seeing more of a slow burn, with gradually increasing pressure making it more difficult for hospitals to attend to the needs of every patient.

But the slow-burn nature of the increase also makes it less likely we’ll see a dramatic shakeup in the political equilibrium surrounding the virus, with pandemic-exhausted Americans increasingly tuning out the news about it, states loathe to consider reimplementing any shutdown measures, and Congress still unlikely to pass any new stimulus in the lame-duck session. Trump has focused his efforts on contesting the election results, and Biden, of course, won’t take office until January if he does end up winning.

On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested the Senate should tackle such a bill when it returns from recess Nov. 9.

“I think we need to do it, and I think we need to do it before the end of the year,” he told reporters. “I think now that the election’s over, the need is there, and we need to sit down and work this out.”

“We Need to Not Ever Use the Word Socialist, or Socialism, Ever Again”

Democrats went into Election Day with lofty goals of expanding their already firm hold over the House of Representatives, setting their sights on seats in historically safe Republican congressional districts. FiveThirtyEight projected as much; the average scenario forecasted by its House model showed Democrats gaining seven seats. But Republican challengers in Democratic districts, many of whom are new to politics, began to make headway early in Tuesday’s vote count. A far cry from the heavily anticipated “blue wave,” the GOP has, as of Thursday night, flipped eight seats across the country—a net gain of six, as Democrats have flipped two. Democrats are still projected to keep their majority.

On a conference call held by members of the House Democratic Caucus and subsequently leaked to the press, Rep. Abigail Spanberger—a former CIA officer and moderate from Virginia—cut to the chase. “Tuesday, from a Congressional standpoint, it was a failure, it was not a success,” she told her colleagues. “We lost members who shouldn’t have lost.”

She blamed the defeats on the Democratic Party’s progressive fringe. “If we don’t mean ‘defund the police,’ we shouldn’t say that,” she implored her fellow House Democrats. “And we need to not ever use the word socialist, or socialism, ever again. … If we are classifying Tuesday as a success from a Congressional standpoint, we are going to get f***ing torn apart in 2022.”

Although other House members voiced their disagreement—Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly said a House and presidential victory gave Democrats a “mandate”—Spanberger hit at a defining theme of this election: Swing voters are increasingly repelled by the House’s progressive contingency. Identity politics and support for policies and rhetoric Republican challengers could portray as socialist cut into the Democrats’ majority.

In Florida’s 26th District, Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell—who beat out a Republican incumbent in the 2018 midterm elections—lost her race against Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. Gimenez, a Cuban-American, made a persuasive case against some of the left’s more radical economic policies to win over the Latino vote. Miami-Dade County is home to many first generation immigrants from Cuba and Venezuela who have lived the practical realities of socialism.

“Today was a rejection of extremism. Today was a rejection of partisanship. Today was a rejection of socialism and the evils of socialism and communism,” Gimenez said in a victory speech Tuesday night.

The House is also expected to gain at least 13 Republican women, inching toward the possibility of a record-breaking 33 GOP female representatives. Among them are Michelle Fischbach of Minnesota, Yvette Herrell of New Mexico, Maria Elvira Salazar of Florida, state Sen. Stephanie Bice of Oklahoma, state Rep. Ashley Hinson of Iowa, and state Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina. Mace, who was significantly outspent by Democratic incumbent Rep. Joe Cunningham, was notably the first woman to graduate from The Citadel—a military college in Charleston. 

“The story of the night is the success of Republican women at the ballot box,” said Rep. Elise Stefanik. “For all these naysayers, we have proven that strong, Republican women are the best candidates to put on the ballot.”

Worth Your Time

  • Joe Biden may be trending toward a victory, but the former vice president’s coattails are nowhere to be seen. “In the battle for the U.S. Senate, Republicans appear to have pulled off what a few weeks ago looked nearly impossible,” writes former George W. Bush chief of staff Karl Rove. With the exception of Martha McSally in Arizona and Cory Gardner in Colorado, incumbent Senate Republicans held strong and—barring surprises in two runoff races in Georgia—will likely keep their majority. House Republicans are also defying the polling odds and are now projected to gain around a dozen seats. Rove also throws some cold water on claims of widespread voter fraud: “There are suspicious partisans across the spectrum who believe widespread election fraud is possible. Some hanky-panky always goes on, and there are already reports of poll watchers in Philadelphia not being allowed to do their jobs. But stealing hundreds of thousands of votes would require a conspiracy on the scale of a James Bond movie. That isn’t going to happen.”

  • In Politico, Burgess Everett, Alex Thompson, and Marianne Levine have a primer on the two politicians who seem likely to become “America’s new power couple,” Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell. “Biden and McConnell have a real relationship—forged over the years as Senate colleagues and combatants,” the trio write. “McConnell was the only Senate Republican to attend the funeral for Biden’s son Beau in 2015, and he’s largely stayed away from GOP attacks on Biden’s other son, Hunter.” Chuck Hagel, former Republican senator and President Obama’s Secretary of Defense, thinks there’s hope for bipartisanship yet. Biden will be “personally involved. Obama’s style was different,” he told Politico. “Obama didn’t really understand the Congress, the Senate, like Joe does.”

Presented Without Comment

Toeing The Company Line

  • For Thursday’s mythbusters edition of the Advisory Opinions podcast, David and Sarah discussed the nitty gritty details surrounding ballot counting processes and whether the conspiratorial claims surrounding voter fraud allegations have any merit. They wrapped things up with a conversation about exit polls and some Supreme Court punditry.

  • National Review’s Jim Geraghty was Jonah’s guest on the most recent episode of The Remnant. The pair talk about—you guessed it—the election. Whither goes the GOP? Is it now a “multi-ethnic, working class, populist party?” What is the correct story to tell about Latino voters and Trump? Is Mar-a-Lago Trump’s Elba, or his St. Helena?

  • At the site today, Audrey has a piece on the head of Fox News’s decision desk, Arnon Mishkin, who has faced serious pushback from the Trump campaign and even from Fox pundits since he called Arizona for Joe Biden on Tuesday night. 

Let Us Know

Can you tell this newsletter was put together on a combined ten hours of sleep over the past few days? We hope not! Thank goodness for the weekend!

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), James P. Sutton (@jamespsuttonsf), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photo by Tami Chappell/AFP via Getty Images.