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The Morning Dispatch: Steady As She Goes
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The Morning Dispatch: Steady As She Goes

With counts ongoing in several swing states, Joe Biden is a hair's breadth away from a win.

Happy Thursday! We’re getting there, folks. Not there yet, but we’re getting there.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden picked up key battleground states Wisconsin and Michigan on Wednesday, setting him well on his way toward rebuilding the “blue wall” that flipped for President Trump in 2016. President Trump won a single electoral vote from Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.

  • After weeks of trailing in the polls, Maine Republican Susan Collins beat out her Democratic challenger Sara Gideon and won reelection to the Senate, all but assuring the GOP will retain its Senate majority. Sen. Gary Peters—a Michigan Democrat—eked out a win against Republican challenger John James. Meanwhile, with ballots still trickling in in Georgia, GOP Sen. David Perdue is hovering right at the 50-percent mark he needs to win his race outright and avoid a runoff against Democrat Jon Ossoff. 

  • DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Chris Krebs released a statement Wednesday stating that the federal agency had found “no evidence any foreign adversary was capable of preventing Americans from voting or changing vote tallies.”

  • The United States confirmed 97,675 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 8.1 percent of the 1,207,119 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 1,036 deaths were attributed to the virus on Wednesday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 233,663. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 52,049 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

Biden is Trending Closer to a Victory—But He’s Not There Yet 

When we hit send on TMD yesterday morning, North Carolina, Georgia, Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania remained too close to call, and Joe Biden was 32 electoral votes away from reaching the 270 necessary to secure the presidency. He’s still not quite there, but the former vice president is much closer to that mark than he was 24 hours ago. Here’s the latest:

Wisconsin (10 Electoral Votes): At publish time yesterday, Biden maintained an approximately 20,000-vote lead in the Badger State, with 97 percent of the expected vote reported. His advantage held mostly steady from then to now, expanding slightly to 20,558, and multiple networks officially called the state for the former vice president yesterday midday. In a statement just before 1 p.m. ET, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien announced the president will request a recount due to “reports of irregularities in several Wisconsin counties which raise serious doubts about the validity of the results.” 

Stepien did not say what supposed irregularities he had in mind. A spokesman for the Wisconsin Elections Commission told PBS that “we are not aware of any irregularities in the election,” but that this would not preclude the Trump campaign from seeking a recount.

Trump ally and former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker tweeted that “requesting a recount is a legitimate legal option for the Trump Campaign considering the slim margin,” but pointed out that the past two statewide recounts in Wisconsin resulted in a swing of only 131 and 300 votes. “20,000 is a high hurdle,” he said.

Michigan (16 EVs): Like Wisconsin before it, Michigan followed the “red mirage” path; Trump staked out an early lead as day-of votes were counted, only to have that lead dwindle as heavily Democratic absentee ballots were added to the tabulation. Biden did what he needed to do in Kent, Oakland, and Wayne counties—and networks called the state for the former vice president as he took the lead. He currently leads Trump by 120,175 votes—2.2 percentage points—with more than 95 percent of the vote counted.

Trump campaign officials said they filed a lawsuit in Michigan “to halt counting” because their campaign “has not been provided with meaningful access to numerous counting locations to observe the opening of ballots and counting process, as guaranteed by Michigan law.”

A spokesperson for Michigan’s Attorney General told the Detroit Free Press that “Michigan’s elections have been conducted transparently, with access provided for both political parties and the public, and using a robust system of checks and balances to ensure that all ballots are counted fairly and accurately.”

Arizona (11 EVs): Fox News and the Associated Press called Arizona for Biden on Election Night, but other networks and decision desks did not follow suit. Their rationale? A bucketload of outstanding mail-in ballots that were likely to break Trump’s way. Fox’s Decision Desk has adamantly stood by its projection; its director said Wednesday evening “we strongly believe our call will stand.”

But in an interview Wednesday afternoon, an Arizona official painted a different picture. “You saw some of the networks come out and call the race shortly after we got our first dump of ballots,” he said. “We were shaking our heads saying, ‘Yeah, this is really premature.’” The official noted that, while Democrats took a big early lead in returned absentee ballots, Republicans began to close that gap about a week ago. Fox and AP are treating early ballots as they would in a typical year, the official said, where Democrats would see a late surge. “This year, we know the voter activity behavior is the reverse.”

The disagreement stems from the fact that it isn’t easy to guess what the electoral split is going to be among Arizona’s remaining ballots. As ballots continue to be tallied in Maricopa County and other areas, Trump has steadily made up ground: the most recent batch of 140,000 ballots released overnight broke for the president by an approximate 57-40 margin, narrowing Biden’s lead in the state to 68,390 votes. 

If Trump picks up an equivalent share of the roughly 470,000 votes that remain outstanding, he is likely to narrowly win the state. But nobody knows whether that share is likely, given that parts of the still uncounted vote come from bluer areas than Maricopa County, and parts of it are composed of early ballots that were dropped off at polling locations on election day. Will those votes more closely resemble early vote patterns—and thus favor Biden—or election day vote patterns favoring Trump? We’ll know more when officials release another round of counts tonight.

Where Does That Leave Things?

In adding Wisconsin and Michigan’s combined 26 electoral votes and subtracting (for now) Arizona’s 11, 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.

 Georgia (16 EVs): Like Michigan and Wisconsin, Trump’s early lead in Georgia has continued to erode as absentee ballots from Atlanta and the surrounding areas are tabulated. 

Pennsylvania (20 EVs): The Keystone State remained up in the air Wednesday night, with Biden continuing to close in on Trump’s early lead as results trickled in. State election officials have said they expect most results to come in by Friday, but as of publishing time, the count stood at about 90 percent of the estimated total vote reported, with Trump leading Biden by 166,146 votes.

At first glance, that’s an uphill climb for Biden given the margins in other states. But a whopping 763,311 mail ballots are yet to be counted—and those are breaking heavily for the former vice president. Perhaps even more ominous for Trump’s chances, just 66 percent of mail ballots from heavy-Democratic Philadelphia County—where Biden currently leads Trump by nearly 70 percentage points—have been tabulated.

Nevada (6 EVs): If Biden holds on to win Arizona, then Nevada’s six electoral votes would be enough for him to hit the election-clinching threshold of 270 on the dot. The state announced no results at all yesterday, so Biden still sits on the 7,647-vote lead we mentioned yesterday. New results are expected to come in at 9 a.m. local time—just after noon for us out here in the East. 

Claims of Election Fraud: A Paper Tiger So Far

As his path to reelection narrowed throughout the day yesterday, President Trump and his allies opted for a well-worn page of their playbook: Denounce the contest—without evidence—as rigged from the start.

With late-reporting absentee ballots from Democratic strongholds like Milwaukee, Detroit, and Atlanta slowly chipping away at his election night lead, Trump went on a Twitter bender, insisting throughout the day that Michigan and other states had “a large number of secretly dumped ballots” and that the ongoing counts should be stopped. Several tweets—including one where Trump baselessly asserted he had “claimed, for Electoral Vote purposes, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (which won’t allow legal observers) the State of Georgia, and the State of North Carolina”—were labelled by Twitter as disputed and potentially misleading. Biden campaign adviser Bob Bauer also prematurely declared victory Wednesday morning, saying “we’re winning the election, we’ve won the election, and we’re going to defend that election.”

In his speech in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Trump had promised that “we’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court” to stop the “fraud on the American public.” Accordingly, the president’s son Eric Trump and personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani traveled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the late afternoon to announce a total-war legal campaign against the ballot totals in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Georgia, states where Biden was creeping up in late-reported votes (though curiously not in Arizona or Nevada, where it is Biden nursing an early lead and Trump who is hoping to benefit from a late push).

“We’re not going to let them get away with it,” said Giuliani, whom Eric Trump introduced as the man “really leading the legal effort” to recapture the election. “They’re not gonna steal the election. This election’s gonna be decided by the people. … The people are the deplorables, the chumps.” Giuliani, who has lately offered a steady flow of bizarre conspiracy theories in support of Trump’s reelection, provided few specifics about the alleged irregularities.

Biden, for his part, was relatively quiet yesterday, but did say in brief remarks in Delaware that he was feeling good about the race. “I’m not here to declare that we’ve won,” the former vice president announced. “But I am here to report, when the count is finished, we believe we will be the winners.”

Is it possible there are actual legal violations at the core of these lawsuits—real misdeeds by election workers in these states? Of course, and the Trump campaign will get its day in court. But it’s impossible to talk about these efforts without remarking on how many of the election fraud narratives Team Trump spent yesterday trumpeting have almost immediately proven to be complete fabrications.

President Trump and assorted media allies spent their Wednesday mornings claiming that an inexplicable and highly suspicious cache of about 138,000 Biden votes had suddenly appeared in Michigan in the dead of night. The source of these claims? Screenshots of a data typo from third-party vote-tracking website Decision Desk HQ, which temporarily showed Biden’s Shiawassee County total as 153,710 rather than 15,731. (Shiawassee County has fewer than 70,000 residents, so trying to get to those numbers via fraud might have been a tall order.)

Many prominent Trumpworld figures, including American Conservative Union chair Matt Schlapp, similarly spread the claim that poll workers in Maricopa County, Arizona, were supplying Trump supporters with Sharpie markers, which they claimed invalidated their ballots. This, too, was flatly untrue: County election officials pointed out that they actually recommend using Sharpies because they dry more quickly than ballpoint pens.

Shortly before his press conference with Giuliani, Eric Trump got in on the action as well, sharing a video which he claimed depicted an unknown person burning 80 Trump ballots. Setting aside the logistical question of why a person committing election fraud would videotape the act and send the footage to the president’s son, a cursory watch made it painfully apparent the “ballots” were photocopies on plain printer paper. Election officials in Virginia Beach, where the not-ballot-burning purportedly took place, announced the video was indeed fake

As the president’s rhetoric surrounding the election results escalated, so, too, did that of some Republicans pushing back on some of his more absurd claims. (Not Sen. Ted Cruz, who continued to spread conspiracy theories about election malfeasance well after they were disproven.)

“Under our Constitution, state legislatures set the rules and states administer our elections,” Sen. Rob Portman said in a statement. “We should respect that process and ensure that all ballots cast in accordance with state laws are counted. It’s that simple.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters that “claiming you’ve won the election is different from finishing the counting,” and Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted that “taking days to count legally cast votes is NOT fraud.” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan called Trump’s remarks “outrageous,” “uncalled for,” and a “terrible mistake,” while Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said that “if it ends up being Biden, all of us will accept that, because that’s what we do in this country.”

Presented Without Comment

Toeing The Company Line

  • Jonah is ready to eat crow in his Wednesday G-File (🔒). Despite months of reading the tea leaves, pollsters and their readers overestimated the likelihood of a huge Democratic victory. Fortunately, that’s good news. “This election was a pretty clear repudiation of unvarnished progressivism,” Jonah writes. “Biden can claim no mandate other than some gauzy efforts at ‘healing’ and taking the pandemic seriously.”

  • David, meanwhile, has a less cheery outlook on our divided government. “I’m reminded of a political version of trench warfare. During World War I the combatants on the Western Front expended an enormous amount of blood and treasure to move the lines a mile here and a mile there, only to see them snap right back after the next counteroffensive,” David writes in the latest French Press (🔒). “The effort was overwhelming. The gains were often nominal.”

  • On Wednesday’s episode of the Dispatch Podcast, Sarah and the guys dissect this year’s polling catastrophe, where their electoral predictions went sour, and how we should analyze the president’s comments about his standing in the race.

Let Us Know

If we end up with what we’re trending towards—a Biden presidency and Republican senate—what are you most looking forward to about the Sleepy Joe/Cocaine Mitch pairing? Least looking forward to?  

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

Photo by Elaine Cromie/Getty Images.