At noon on Thursday in the United States (late evening in India), Joe Biden remained six Electoral College votes short of the magic number of 270 needed to win the White House.
President Donald Trump, 56 votes short and on an increasingly narrow path to re-election, called for vote recounts and for stopping counts, and filed lawsuits alleging election fraud.
At scattered street protests in several cities across the country, demonstrators demanded that every single vote be counted. In Maricopa County in Arizona, about 150 Trump supporters, some of whom were carrying assault rifles, surrounded a facility where ballots were being tallied. There were protests in Minneapolis, Portland, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
All eyes were on the unannounced totals in the four crucial battleground states of Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. A win in any of these four states will take Biden over the line.
Local Republican leaders submitted to what seemed like a sure shot for Biden. “I think it’s pretty clear Biden is about to break that magic 270. Whether that’s today or tomorrow or early next week, it’s still pretty clear,” said Christopher Nicholas, a veteran Republican strategist in Pennsylvania.
While any expectations of a landslide for Biden were quickly belied on Election Night, the Democratic nominee did, in winning the popular vote, rack up the most votes of any candidate in a presidential election in modern American history. Democrats have now won the popular vote in seven out of the eight most recent presidential elections, but have lost the Electoral College twice (Al Gore, 2000, and Hillary Clinton, 2016).
“Arguably the most interesting thing about this election is the massive turnout that it inspired,” said Donald P Green, political scientist and quantitative methodologist at Columbia University. Almost 67 per cent of the electorate, over 160 million Americans, voted.
The campaigns have spent more on this election than the past two presidential campaigns combined. “For decades, scholars have wondered whether the US would ever approximate the turnout of the 1960 election; this one seems to have surpassed it – and others going back as far as 1900. That is a rare accomplishment for a country famous for its low rates of voter turnout,” Green said.
After Trump snagged large wins in Florida and Texas, Biden’s lead took off with a critical call for him in Arizona by the right-leaning Fox News that was disputed by the Trump campaign. The former Vice President captured Wisconsin and Michigan by the end of Wednesday (earlier on Thursday in India), flipping formerly Democratic strongholds that, along with Pennsylvania, had catapulted Trump to victory in 2016.
Trump’s campaign called for a recount in Wisconsin, and filed vote-counting lawsuits in Michigan, Georgia, and Pennsylvania, signalling a drawn-out battle.
“We’ll be going to the US Supreme Court… We will win this and as far as I’m concerned we already have won it,” Trump said at the White House late on Election Night. On Thursday, he posted tweets that demanded, “STOP THE COUNT!”, and “STOP THE FRAUD!”.
There is no legal route in the US to send lawsuits straight to the Supreme Court; they would have to travel up through the local courts first. “So far, it doesn’t seem like the Trump campaign has any legal claims that are capable of having a meaningful effect on the outcome of the election,” said Corey Goldstone, communications director of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center.
“(The lawsuits) seem like an attempt to cast aspersions on the integrity of the election without any real basis… It’s not surprising that (some) states would take longer to finish counting all the legally cast mail-in ballots that came in well before Election Day. At this point, it’s important to be patient and let the process play out to the end. Every valid ballot should be counted, and once they all are, we’ll know the next President of the United States,” Goldstone said.
Biden exuded confidence in an impending success but refrained from claiming victory prematurely. “Now, after a long night of counting, it’s clear that we’re winning enough states to reach 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. I’m not here to declare that we’ve won, but I am here to report, when the count is finished, we believe we will be the winners,” he said in Delaware.
In Biden’s favour is the fact that the votes to be tallied in the undeclared states not only come from his urban and suburban bases, but are also the predominantly Democratic mail ballots. As the counts in Georgia and Pennsylvania continued, Trump’s leads kept shrinking. Analysts estimate Nevada and Georgia results to arrive later on Thursday (Friday in India).
Already, there is talk of the impending triumph and travails of a Biden administration. Joseph Cari, who worked on Biden’s 1988 campaign and Al Gore’s 2000 campaign, said: “Our national nightmare is over, but we can’t govern because we will probably have a Republican Senate.”
The GOP has won enough seats to squash Democratic hopes of taking control of the Senate; Republicans have also improved their tally in the House of Representatives. Biden, if he wins, will be the first Democrat since the late nineteenth century moving into the presidency without control of Congress. “With a Republican Senate, if the administration wants to move through on healthcare issues etc., the war is on. And that’s the first thing Biden wants to address,” Cari said.
Said Nicholas, the Pennsylvania Republican strategist: “I don’t think anybody had on their menu this year that we would lose the presidency, hold the Senate, and gain in the House. You’ve got a lot of Democratic groups scratching their heads about why they got Biden in the White House but didn’t move the needle in Congress.”
The disparate wins symbolise the country’s persisting divisions, some of which have deepened. The unprecedented turnout cleaved even deeper trenches between the Democrats’ urban voters and the Republicans’ rural ones. According to the public opinion polling company Public Opinion Strategies, Biden did gain among non-college-educated white voters who had abandoned Clinton, but not among college-educated white voters. However, white women did cross over from Trump to Biden. The Republicans made small inroads with voters of color.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday: “So I think we’re very much aware of the challenges that we have in the suburbs across America. The other thing that’s been a Republican challenge really for a number of years and particularly in recent years is the gender gap.”
Public Opinion Strategies found that late deciders broke heavily for Trump. Almost 20 per cent of Trump voters said they kept their support for the President a secret from most of their friends, whereas only 8 per cent of Biden voters said the same, indicating a potential reason for the faulty polls.
Asked about the national divisions, Shekar Narasimhan, chairman of the AAPI Victory Fund, said: “Joe Biden is a healer and an uniter, and that is what it will take. They (Republicans) missed the mark again. Our solution was that Joe Biden was the perfect candidate to rebuild the blue wall (the Midwest) and that is what he has done. Plus, he opened up new states that were not in contention (like Arizona).”
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