The Morning Dispatch: It Ain't Over Till It's Over

The Biden cakewalk polls predicted has turned into a nailbiter.

Happy Wednesday! Spoiler alert: We don’t know who the next president will be, and we don’t know who will control the Senate. But we will soon. As A.A. Milne wrote in The House at Pooh Corner, “There is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Last night’s results showed a far tighter race between President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden than polls had predicted. Trump notched wins in Texas, Ohio, and Florida; Biden secured victories in Arizona and Minnesota. Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania remain too close to call.

  • Democrats are expected to hold the House of Representatives, but Republicans will narrow the gap after surprise pickups in some formerly heavily Democratic areas like Miami.

  • Control of the Senate remains up for grabs after Democrats knocked off incumbents in Arizona and Colorado while Republicans struck back in Alabama and held off strong challenges in Iowa, Montana, Kansas, and South Carolina. Republicans Susan Collins in Maine and Thom Tillis in North Carolina are looking strong, but their races are still too close to call.

  • In the eleven gubernatorial elections that took place last night, three states—including North Carolina and Delaware—elected Democratic governors. Eight states elected Republican governors, including a narrow party flip in Montana. 

  • The Department of Homeland Security has yet to identify significant foreign interference and the American Civil Liberties Union has reported no instances of voter intimidation. 

  • Arizona and New Jersey voted to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults 21 and older, while Mississippi and South Dakota approved a ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana for the treatment of certain illnesses in adults. California voted to allow rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft to continue to classify their drivers as independent contractors. 

  • The United States confirmed 98,356 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 8.7 percent of the 1,126,224 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 1,120 deaths were attributed to the virus on Tuesday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 232,627. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 50,340 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

Presidential Race Too Close to Call

Heading into Election Day, both the Biden and Trump campaigns hinted at a wave in the making. The former vice president and Sen. Kamala Harris spent a portion of the last week campaigning in “reaches” like Texas, Florida, and Iowa—supported by public polling that showed them very competitive in the states. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News Tuesday morning that “under every circumstance, our campaign believes that tonight will be a landslide.” Neither was right.

Democratic dreams of a commanding Election Night victory were washed away early, with Florida remaining in the GOP’s column once again—this time powered by a remarkable surge in support for Trump among voters in Miami-Dade county—and races in Georgia and North Carolina too close to call. After initially exhibiting symptoms of a “blue mirage” as early votes were counted, Ohio and Texas were called for the president as more of the vote was tabulated.

But later in the evening, Joe Biden racked up wins in Colorado, Minnesota, Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, and Arizona—the latter two of which went to Trump in 2016. As of 6 a.m. ET, that left Biden with a slight lead in the Electoral College—238 votes to 213—with North Carolina, Georgia, Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania too close to be called. What we wrote yesterday—“there’s a legitimate chance we won’t have enough votes counted tomorrow night to declare a winner with any degree of certainty”—ended up true.

But we’ll know more today. Let’s break down where things stand in the states that will decide the election; any 32 electoral votes (EVs) from this crop would get Biden to the 270-vote threshold. (This, of course, is just a snapshot of a race that’s still rapidly developing; vote counts are accurate as of roughly 7 a.m. ET.) 

Wisconsin (10 EVs): As the race narrowed over the course of the night, it became clear that Wisconsin was vital for both candidates. Trump won it by 22,748 votes in 2016, and he led it again early on in the count last night—before Milwaukee finished tabulating its absentee ballots just after 4:30 a.m. ET. As of 7 a.m., those ballots had Biden in the lead by about 20,000 votes (about 0.7 points), with 97 percent of the expected vote reported.

Georgia (16 EVs): Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton was the last Democratic nominee to win Georgia, but polling showed it to be a swing state in 2020. And as of early Wednesday morning, that polling was correct. Trump is currently leading the state by 102,134 votes—about 1.8 points—but much of the Democratic vote in and around Atlanta is yet to be counted. Fulton County officials reported late Tuesday night that 40,000 absentee ballots would not be counted until Wednesday because of a water-main break at State Farm Arena, a polling location. CNN reported that tabulation software issues caused delays with as many as 80,000 ballots in Gwinnett County. The New York Times elections desk currently gives Biden a narrow edge.

Pennsylvania (20 EVs): Four years ago, Pennsylvania was the state that pushed Donald Trump past the tape and has been widely discussed as one of the triumvirate—along with Wisconsin and Michigan—that gave Trump an Electoral College victory by fewer than 80,000 collective votes. As of Wednesday morning, Trump held a comfortable 618,840-vote lead, but Pennsylvania has yet to count 56.4 percent of its mail-in ballots—just over 1.4 million in total—due to a state law preventing the tabulation from beginning prior to Election Day. Of the 2,543,229 absentee or mail-in ballots cast in the state, 65 percent were cast by registered Democrats and 23.6 percent by registered Republicans.

North Carolina (15 EVs): The Tar Heel state is one of several across the Sun Belt that Democrats have been hoping to change from a swingy red to a swingy or solid blue. Changing demographics—more Hispanic and Asian immigrants moving into cities, combined with a smaller rural population—certainly gave Democrats confidence. But as of early Wednesday morning, with over 5.5 million votes cast, Trump holds a 1.4-point, 76,737 vote lead. The director of the state’s Board of Elections tells us there are approximately 117,000 outstanding ballots. North Carolina accepts ballots until Nov. 12, so if the race tightens as absentee and mail-in ballots are counted—a good bet—it might take a while to know the results.

Michigan (16 EVs): Reliably blue for almost a quarter century, Michigan was one of the states that Hillary Clinton famously lost (by fewer than 11,000 votes) after failing to prioritize it during the 2016 race, so it’s garnered considerable attention throughout the campaign. Don’t expect conclusive results until later today or even tomorrow: Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Tuesday night that tallies could be completed “within 24 hours.” But with approximately 86 percent of the vote in, the latest returns (largely absentee ballots from big Democratic counties) have strongly favored Biden: Between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m., Trump’s lead shrank from about 70,000 votes to less than 28,000. According to Politico reporter (and Michigan native) Tim Alberta, there’s more where that came from: 

Nevada (6 EVs): Biden’s hanging on by the skin of his teeth here: With all in-person ballots and mail ballots received prior to Election Day tallied, to the tune of 1.2 million total votes, Biden holds a 7,647 vote edge—just over half a point. Late-arriving mail ballots and provisional ballots will continue to trickle in over the next few days; Nevada has announced to expect the next round of results on Thursday morning.

How the Candidates Responded

Without clear victors in the aforementioned states, both candidates kept mum for much of the night. But Biden broke the silence first, addressing supporters in Wilmington, Delaware around 12:30 a.m. ET.

“We feel good about where we are,” the former vice president said, his wife Dr. Jill Biden beside him. He referenced network calls of Arizona and Minnesota, and expressed optimism about Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. “We believe we’re on track to win this election.”

“We knew because of the unprecedented early vote, the mail-in vote, it was going to take a while,” Biden continued. “We’re going to have to be patient until the work of tallying votes is finished. And it ain’t over until every vote is counted, every ballot is counted. … As I’ve said all along, it’s not my place or Donald Trump’s place to declare who’s won this election. That’s the decision of the American people.”

President Trump disagreed with that assessment. “A big WIN!” he tweeted shortly after Biden left the stage. “We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election. We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after the Polls are closed!” Twitter flagged the tweet as potentially misleading.

After Axios reported over the weekend that Trump planned to declare premature victory on Tuesday night, many of the president’s supporters in D.C. and the media scoffed at the notion. But shortly after 2 a.m. ET, Trump entered the East Room of the White House to address a smattering of supporters, cabinet members, and staffers.

“Millions and millions of people voted for us tonight, and a very sad group of people is trying to disenfranchise that group of people, and we won’t stand for it,” Trump said. He touted his wins in Florida, Ohio, and Texas before prematurely declaring victories in states—Georgia and North Carolina—that remained too close to call. And he insinuated that the only way he could lose Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania was through fraud, despite there being hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots outstanding. 

“This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country,” he said of efforts to count all the legally cast ballots in states across the country. “We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election.”

Trump said he will be “going to the U.S. Supreme Court” because he wants “all voting to stop” before the outstanding absentee ballots are counted. “To me, it’s a very sad moment,” he continued. “We will win this. And as far as I’m concerned, we already have.”

The pushback to Trump’s irresponsible comments was swift—and not just from Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon, who called them “outrageous, unprecedented, and incorrect.” Close Trump ally and former Republican Gov. Chris Christie said on ABC News that he disagreed with what Trump said. “There’s just no basis to make that argument tonight. There just isn’t. All these votes have to be counted that are in now,” he said. “It’s a bad strategic decision, it’s a bad political decision, and it’s not the kind of decision you would expect someone to make tonight, who holds the position he holds.”

Former GOP Sen. Rick Santorum told CNN he was “very distressed” by what he heard the president say. “Using the word ‘fraud’—that there’s fraud being committed by people counting votes—is wrong,” he continued. “They’re counting the absentee and mail-in ballots right now. And some counties have stopped counting. Why have they stopped counting? Because it’s 2:48 in the morning. … They’re not stopping counting because they’re trying to fix anything or create some sort of fraud.”

“Stop. Full stop,” Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger tweeted, responding to Trump. “The votes will be counted and you will either win or lose. And America will accept that. Patience is a virtue.”

What Does It All Mean?

Shortly after sunrise here in Washington, D.C., Trump is still very much in this race—in stronger shape, certainly, than many were giving him credit for this time yesterday. But it’s fair to say that barring any major surprises or changes in trajectory—and that’s a caveat that’s doing a lot of work—Joe Biden seems poised to come out ever so slightly ahead in Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Maine’s second congressional district when the counting is all done. If we leave North Carolina in the Trump column, that’d give Biden an Electoral College victory of 307 to 231. Biden could lose any two of those states and still prevail. We could of course see surprises in one or more of those states and nothing is certain at this point.

Long before voting began yesterday, both parties had put together teams of lawyers prepared to fight for every vote—and to disqualify the votes of their opponents. They will be hard at work in the coming days. For weeks, the president has told his supporters that Democrats will work to steal the election from him—a sentiment he renewed with emphasis last night. So, we could well face a situation where partisans on both sides believe they’ve won—taking our negative polarization to new heights.

One other thing is clear. Whatever the final result, the 2020 election was not the repudiation of Trumpism that the polls suggested it might be and that Democrats (and, secretly, many Republican elected officials) had hoped. In spite of a global pandemic and poor marks in handling it, Trump managed to fight a better-funded Democrat opponent to a virtual tie (at least in the Electoral College). That’s no mean feat.

Don’t Forget the Senate!

With five Senate races still uncalled in Maine, North Carolina, Alaska, Michigan, and Georgia, Mitch McConnell’s Republican majority is still hanging in balance. The GOP lost two incumbent seats in Colorado (Cory Gardner) and Arizona (Martha McSally). But those Republican losses were expected, and the party made up for one of them by securing a victory in Alabama with Tommy Tuberville’s easy defeat of Democratic incumbent Doug Jones. Here’s a breakdown of the Senate’s most competitive races of the night: 

North Carolina: With 99 percent of ballots counted, Republican incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis holds a 1.8 percentage point lead over Democratic challenger and military veteran Cal Cunningham, who is currently under investigation by the Army Reserve following a recent infidelity scandal. 

Maine: Vulnerable Republican incumbent Susan Collins’ race against Democratic challenger Sara Gideon is still undecided going into Wednesday morning. “It’s clear this race will not be called tonight and we are prepared to see it through to the finish,” a spokesperson for Gideon’s campaign said early Wednesday morning. Nevertheless, with north of 80 percent of the vote counted, Collins maintains a seven-point lead.

Arizona: Former astronaut and Democrat Mark Kelly defeated Republican incumbent Martha McSally early Wednesday morning. Kelly is the husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who resigned from Congress after sustaining brain damage in a 2012 assassination attempt. McSally was appointed to the seat in December 2018 by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey after the passing of Sen. John McCain.

Alaska: While there has not yet been an official call, Republican incumbent Dan Sullivan is poised to beat independent challenger Al Gross, and he appears to be doing so handily

Georgia: With 91 percent of the estimated vote total recorded, Republican Sen. David Perdue maintains a three-point lead over challenger Jon Ossoff. But we won’t know who won Georgia’s other Senate matchup, between incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler—who was appointed to her seat in January—and her Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock, until the state’s runoff on January 5: Neither candidate won a majority of votes in the state’s special election last night, but Loeffler did beat Rep. Doug Collins, who had hoped to carry the GOP banner into the runoff, 26 percent to 20 percent.

Iowa: Republican incumbent Sen. Joni Ernst beat her Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield by a not-so-close 6 point margin, despite predictions from forecasters of a tight race that she could lose. A Des Moines Register poll had raised eyebrows over the weekend when it found Ernst leading by four points (and Donald Trump ahead by 7).

Michigan: As of early Wednesday morning, Republican challenger John James was defying his polling odds, holding a narrow two-point lead over incumbent Democrat Sen. Gary Peters. Outstanding mail-in ballots are likely to break heavily Democratic, however, throwing what would otherwise be a slam-dunk race in doubt. On Tuesday, Michigan’s secretary of state said she believed there would  be a “very clear” picture of results by Wednesday evening.

Colorado: In one of the few early results that was widely expected, popular former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper defeated Republican incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner. Gardner, considered one of the few Republican moderates left in Colorado (as well as the U.S. Senate), struggled to overcome very low approval ratings for the President in his state. For his part, Hickenlooper ran on his bipartisan record and said his immediate priorities would be passing COVID-19 relief legislation and addressing climate change. 

Alabama: Alabama may lead the all-time Iron Bowl record, with 46 wins to Auburn’s 37, but a strong majority of voters in the Yellowhammer State cried “War Eagle!” on Tuesday night and gave a strong majority to a former Auburn football coach over a University of Alabama grad. Tommy Tuberville, who has never held public office, defeated incumbent Democratic Sen. Doug Jones. Jones famously won in deep-red Alabama in 2018 by defeating Republican Roy Moore after the latter was accused of sexually assaulting, and later admitted to dating, teenage girls. 

Montana: Steve Bullock, another popular Democratic governor of a Western state, was unable to replicate Gov. Hickenlooper’s feat and unseat his own Republican incumbent opponent. Sen. Steve Daines benefited from being the incumbent in an election where both candidates were generally well-liked by voters, and aside from a few polls down the stretch, never relinquished the lead. 

South Carolina: Republican incumbent and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham defeated South Carolina’s Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison by a 14-point margin overnight, even though the Democratic candidate raised record-breaking sums of money in support of his challenge.

Texas: In a state that Democrats hoped would be competitive in the weeks leading up to Nov. 3, incumbent Republican Sen. John Cornyn solidly defeated Democratic challenger—and political newcomer—MJ Hegar.  

Kentucky: GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell swept up a clean win against former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath, paving the way for the majority leader’s seventh term in the Senate.

Kansas: Republican Rep. Roger Marshall defeated Barbara Bollier, a moderate Democrat who switched parties only two years ago. Marshall will fill the seat of four-term GOP Sen. Pat Roberts, who is retiring this year.

Mississippi: Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith beat Democratic challenger Mike Espy for the second time after defeating him in a 2018 special election. 

Easy Senate Wins for Democrats: Delaware (Chris Coons), Virginia (Mark Warner), Illinois (Dick Durbin), Massachusetts (Ed Markey), Oregon (Jeff Merkley), Minnesota (Tina Smith), New Hampshire (Jeanne Shaheen), New Jersey (Cory Booker), New Mexico (Ben Ray Lujan), and Rhode Island (Jack Reed).

Easy Senate Wins for Republicans: Nebraska (Ben Sasse), Arkansas (Tom Cotton), Louisiana (Bill Cassidy), Wyoming (Cynthia Lummis), Idaho (Jim Risch), Oklahoma (Jim Inhofe), South Dakota (Mike Rounds), West Virginia (Shelley Moore Capito), and Tennessee (Bill Hagerty). 

Worth Your Time

  • In a piece for The New York Times, Yuval Levin reminds Americans that win or lose, their chosen presidential candidate is the wrong person to fix some of the deepest problems plaguing our society. From social isolation to suicide and opioid-addiction, the country is reeling from a fundamental lack of communalism. Relying on a president or Congress to fill the gap is both counterproductive and disheartening. “We tend to look at forms of breakdown in our society in terms of what they produce: anger, cynicism, a rejection of tradition,” he writes. “But we would be wise to also consider what they implicitly demand and yearn for: responsibility, integrity and, above all, solidarity.”

  • For an all-too-familiar walk down memory lane, check out Monday’s Commentary podcast: “Eerie Echoes from 2016.” Hosts John Podhoretz, Abe Greenwald, and Noah Rothman revisit some of their conversations from Election Day eve four years ago, splicing together audio to illuminate some of the similarities between the two presidential races. Among them: the idea of systematic polling error, Pennsylvania in play, and the illusive “shy Trump voter.”

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Scott Lincicome pulled out all the stops on his latest Capitolism newsletter to discuss one of the most divisive topics facing our country in 2020: nachos. From proper cheese/chip ratios to definitional accuracy, Scott is here to break down which nachos are supreme and which ones are an abomination to the entire food group (hint, bar nachos!) And as always, he’s got charts to show for it. It’s the perfect break from the intensity of, well, everything else.

  • Jonah took a break from election punditry Tuesday afternoon to talk about dog genetics with Razib Khan on The Remnant. How did Man’s Best Friend become such a highly variegated species—some big, some small, some smart, others dumb, and on and on with countless other variables? Razib fills us in on the state of research into canine development over the last 10,000 years, why the regional variations between lineages of dog are so distinct, and how the new frontiers of this genetic research seek to address “how these animals became what they are, and how they evolved alongside humans in response to environmental pressures.”

  • In case you missed it last night, we had a great election-night Dispatch Live with Sarah, Steve, Jonah, and David, discussing Sarah’s favorite counties, Trump’s path to success in Florida, and the surprising private and public polling errors that came to light last night. 

Let Us Know

We’ll be honest—we’re pretty beat and are probably going to spend our ordinary allotment of comment-reading time today on sleep. Be good to one another!

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

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Correction, November 4, 2020: An earlier version of this newsletter mistakenly referred to Texas’s Democratic candidate for Senate as “political newcomer U.S. Rep. MJ Hegar.” Hegar is a political newcomer, and thus of course has never served in Congress.