America’s political fate in the balance as key vote counts go on
(CNN) — The election duel between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden is coming down to counts of hundreds of thousands of legal votes in a handful of key battlegrounds after a night of dramatically shifting fortunes that left a deeply divided America’s political fate on a knife edge.
Biden holds a narrow 224-213 lead in the Electoral College. A candidate must reach the 270 mark to win the presidency. Races in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Maine, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are too close to call. In many cases, the tight races could depend on the counting of absentee and mail-in ballots, which tend to disproportionately favor Democrats.
But both candidates still have a path to victory. Biden will capture the presidency if his narrow leads in Nevada, Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin hold. Trump is hoping to cling onto the former Democratic ‘blue wall states” in the Midwest and also Pennsylvania that he won four years ago.
While counts are still ongoing, the President is making baseless claims that the election, which had looked more favorable to him late on Tuesday before hauls of early votes started being tabulated, is being stolen from him and demanding that vote counting should stop. An appearance in the White House East Room in the early hours, in which he falsely claimed victory, represented his most brazen threat yet against the democratic principles that underpin the US political system.
“As far as I’m concerned, we already have won it,” Trump said, painting a picture at odds with the true state of the race. Earlier, Biden had warned each side needed to wait for the votes to be counted, saying “we’re going to have to be patient until we — the hard work of tallying the votes is finished.”
And while the President threatened legal challenges to the election, the voting itself largely passed off peacefully, without violence at polling places or intimidation of people casting their ballots that had been widely feared given, especially given Trump’s attempts to discredit the election ahead of time.
But the election did not turn into the wholesale repudiation of the President and his wrecking ball presidency that Democrats had hoped for. Trump demonstrated a remarkable bond with his base of mainly white voters in rural areas and a new connection with groups of Latino voters in some states. He dashed Democratic hopes to seize the red bastion of Texas and pulled off an impressive Florida win where Biden badly underperformed with Hispanic voters.
A blue wave many Democrats were looking for to end Mitch McConnell’s GOP Senate majority has so far not been realized though some key races still undecided. And despite aiming to expand their House majority, Democrats lost several seats and some threatened Republicans clung onto theirs.
America now seems set for hours or even days of uncertainty with vote counts possibly ceding to legal battles in several states at a time when the country is already being rocked by the worst public health crisis in 100 years. While the nation’s eyes were on the election on Tuesday, another 1,048 citizens died from Covid-19 — a disease the President says has all but disappeared — and from which 232,000 Americans have now perished.
Biden takes the lead in Michigan
Shortly after breakfast time on Wednesday, Biden forged slightly ahead in Michigan after a batch of early votes was posted. Some 10% of ballots remain to be counted in the state — many of them from heavily Democratic areas. In Wisconsin, which also saw a Biden surge when early votes were tabulated, the former vice president has a lead of around 20,000 votes. In Pennsylvania, Trump is ahead by around 600,000 votes with 1.4 million ballots yet to be counted. Biden has thin leads in Arizona and Nevada. Trump is up by about 100,000 votes in Georgia but several heavily Democratic counties have yet to finish their counts.
Pennsylvania’s Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday morning the backlog in votes yet to be processed may delay the result so much so that “we may not know the results even today,” he said.
The clerk of the key suburban Michigan county of Wayne, Cathy Garrett, told CNN election officials are still counting votes, and she would not estimate when officials may conclude. The county is reporting that more than 64% of those cast there have been counted.
Wayne County is the largest county in Michigan and includes Detroit and its metro area.
Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in a tweet Wednesday morning that “hundreds of thousands of ballots in our largest jurisdictions are still being counted including Detroit, Grand Rapids, Flint, Warren & Sterling Heights.”
CNN projects Biden will win Hawaii, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Virginia, California, Oregon, Washington, Illinois, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Delaware, Washington, DC, Maryland, Massachusetts and one of Nebraska’s five electoral votes. Nebraska awards two electoral votes to its statewide winner and divides three others over its three congressional districts.
CNN projects Trump will also win in Montana, Texas, Iowa, Idaho, Ohio, Mississippi, Wyoming, Missouri, Kansas, Utah, Louisiana, Alabama, South Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Arkansas, Indiana, Oklahoma, Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee and four of Nebraska’s five electoral votes.
Trump’s chilling threat to vote counting
Trump attempted to claim victory in the presidential race and called for a halt to legitimate vote counting that is underway.
“This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election. We did win this election,” the President said.
He sought to mislead the country by implying that voters were still casting ballots after the polls closed. But the votes being counted were legally cast. Pennsylvania allows ballots that were postmarked on election day and arrive up until Friday to be counted.
“We want all voting to stop. We don’t want them to find any ballots at four o’clock in the morning and add them to the list,” Trump said and vowed to take the election to the Supreme Court.
Biden came out to speak before the President near his Wilmington, Delaware, campaign headquarters. While he said he was confident that he would win he did not make a claim of victory.
“It ain’t over until every vote is counted,” Biden said. “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.”
Even within Trump’s short speech, there was a glaring inconsistency in his position as he advocated for votes to continue to be counted in Arizona, a state that he believes is more favorable to him, while expressing anger that one network had called it early. CNN has not projected a winner in Arizona.
He celebrated his victories in Florida and Ohio, and claimed to win multiple states that CNN has yet to project.
Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon ripped Trump’s speech as “a naked effort to take away the democratic rights of American citizens.”
“The President’s statement tonight about trying to shut down the counting of duly cast ballots was outrageous, unprecedented, and incorrect,” she said. “It was unprecedented because never before in our history has a president of the United States sought to strip Americans of their voice in a national election. Having encouraged Republican efforts in multiple states to prevent the legal counting of these ballots before Election Day, now Donald Trump is saying these ballots can’t be counted after Election Day either.”
Trump wins two must-have states
Wins for Trump in the Sunshine State and Ohio were crucial to keeping open his pathway to win a second term.
Florida Democrats were concerned early in the night about populous southern Miami-Dade County where Biden appeared to be underperforming Clinton’s mark in 2016.
The early Biden deficit in Miami-Dade could be a sign of what was apparent in pre-election polls that suggested the President had been making incursions into traditional Democratic support with Black and Latino men. Former President Barack Obama made two trips to Miami-Dade in the closing days of the race to drive up turnout.
Miami-Dade, which Biden is still likely to win, has large concentrations of voters of Cuban and Venezuelan descent who tend to be more conservative than other Latino groups and were targeted by the President with claims that Democrats were akin to socialists.
The President also pulled out an impressive win in Ohio, a state that Democrats once thought they could snatch away from the President.
Biden performs well in Arizona
Biden appears to have made significant gains in Arizona where demographic changes have accelerated the state’s shift from traditional Republican territory to a potential Democratic pick up. The President’s unpopularity and the rapid growth of the state — from its rising Latino population to the influx of retirees from the Midwest and other parts of the country — has made its politics more unpredictable, even in just the four years since 2016, when Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the state 49% to 45.5%.
Clinton built up Democratic margins in populous Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and its suburbs — and the majority of the state’s voters — and Biden appears to be continuing that trend Tuesday night, with turnout looking strong in that key county.
Even within the patchwork of early returns, some trends were emerging that pointed to the fact that is a very different race than 2016. In states like Ohio and parts of Florida, Biden appears to be performing better in the suburbs than Clinton did four years ago. At the same time, the President’s team seems to have succeeded in turning out their voters as promised — in some cases making up for what appeared to be an advantage for Democrats in the early vote count in key swing states.
Results may not be known for days
Georgia appeared at a standstill as officials in Fulton County, which includes Atlanta and its populous suburbs said they had stopped counting mail-in ballots around 10:30 p.m. ET and that count would resume at 8 a.m. Wednesday. The Fulton County tabulation was initially delayed by a water leak near the room where ballots were being counted, but no ballots were damaged.
For weeks now, Trump has hammered the message that voters should know the results on election night — even though that is rarely the case in America — while suggesting that a later count could be a sign of voting irregularities, even though there is no evidence to support that and counting has been much more complex this cycle because so many people cast votes by mail in order to stay safe during the pandemic.
Benson, Michigan’s secretary of state, told reporters Tuesday night that the state could “potentially see a full result of every tabulation out of Michigan in the next 24 hours,” which would be an improvement on the state’s original prediction that it would not finish tabulating results until Friday. The state is on track to break turnout records with more than 3 million absentee ballots cast.
“I’m here tonight to ask you all to be patient,” Benson said. “No matter how long it takes, no matter what candidates say, we’re going to work methodically and meticulously to count every single valid ballot and that, and only that, will determine who wins every race on the ballot in the state of Michigan.”
The tipping point state of Pennsylvania may see some of the longest delays, not only because of its very complex ballot with its inner and outer envelopes, but also because election officials were not permitted to start counting the vote-by-mail ballots until Election Day. Late Tuesday night, the Pennsylvania secretary of state urged patience and told result-watchers to expect batches of vote totals to come in in fits and starts throughout the night.
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