About Last Night (and This Morning)
Everything you need to know for Wednesday, Nov. 4: Let's talk elections.
Remember how, for the last month, everyone stressed that it was going to take days, maybe weeks, for the election results to be final, and we needed to be patient when the first numbers rolled in and showed all kinds of weird stuff?
Guess what happened.
This morning, there are some things we know, and many we still don’t. But I think we know enough to begin making sense of an election that didn’t quite conform to anyone’s expectations.
I’m going to begin at the national level and work my way in. In case your anxiety levels are up, I have good news and bad news:
Good news: Four states approved legal recreational weed last night.
Bad news: LOL, not North Carolina, don’t be silly. You’ll need to go to New Jersey to score legal dope—or Mississippi to get the medical variety. (Mississippi!)
—> The President
First off, allow me to introduce you to the (all but certain to be) next president of the United States.
Yeah, yeah, I know, it hasn’t been called, and it probably won’t be official until Friday. But the math is the math, and barring any hijinks, Biden will probably end up with between 290–305 electoral votes and about a 5-point popular vote margin.
Here’s what you need to know:
Biden is up 239–217 (including Arizona, which the AP and Fox News have called for Biden, but other networks haven’t; Maine, where Biden looks likely to win at least three of four electoral votes; and Alaska, which will go for Trump).
Biden is narrowly winning in Michigan and Wisconsin. Wisconsin just posted all of its votes, and Biden is up 20,000. With what’s still out, it, too, is pretty much in the bag. He’ll pull a reverse-Trump in the Upper Midwest. Add 26 to Biden: 265–217.
Nevada won’t be settled until Thursday, it seems. But Biden has a (very, very) narrow lead there that appears likely to hold, given that the outstanding votes are mail-ins from Las Vegas. Giving Maine’s fourth EV to Trump, we have Biden: 271–217. That’s the ballgame.
—> BUT, BUT: Trump’s most likely path back is to flip Nevada or Arizona.
Biden has an 8,000-vote lead in Nevada and a 140,000-vote lead in Arizona as of this morning. Nevada has provisionals and mail-ins left to count, and those tend to go overwhelmingly for Democrats. But assume for the moment Republicans somehow reclaim that state. Back to 265–223.
Now, Arizona, where Biden is up by 90,000. I don’t think Trump’s coming back. But say he does. Now we’re at 254–234, which is close! And there are three states remaining: Pennsylvania, Georgia, and North Carolina.
Pennsylvania: Right now, Biden is down 600,000 votes with about 75% of the state in and 1.4 million absentee votes remaining. (Thanks to the state’s Republicans, they couldn’t count these votes before yesterday.) Sounds bad. But most of those votes are in Philly, which Biden is winning 3–1, its suburbs, or the state’s other blue pockets. If voting patterns hold, Biden is likely to win the state by about 2 points. That puts us back at Biden 274–234. Again, game over.
President Trump leads by nearly 700,000 votes in Pennsylvania as of 5 a.m. on Wednesday, and Mr. Biden’s chances depend on whether he can win a large percentage of the more than 1.4 million absentee ballots that remain to be counted.
So far, Mr. Biden has won absentee voters in Pennsylvania, 78 percent to 21 percent, according to the Secretary of State’s office. The results comport with the findings of pre-election surveys and an analysis of absentee ballot requests, which all indicated that Mr. Biden held an overwhelming lead among absentee voters.
If Mr. Biden won the more than 1.4 million absentee votes by such a large margin, he would net around 800,000 votes—enough to overcome his deficit statewide.
Georgia: But say Pennsylvania votes don’t pan out the way Dems think, or the GOP manages to somehow quash them in court. That leaves us with our two Southern holdouts. Trump is ahead in Georgia by about 60,000 votes. (I just realized that things are changing quickly as I write this, so my apologies for outdated numbers.) Georgia will finish today. Most of the remaining 200,000 votes are in the metro Atlanta area, which will break overwhelmingly for Biden. The question is whether it’s enough. (He’ll need to win 65%.) The GODDAMN NYT NEEDLE thinks so. That’s 270 EVs for Biden. Same deal.
North Carolina: And the one we all care about. Trump is up about 1.5 points here, but the AP hasn’t called it: “Though Trump is correct that he held a 76,000-vote lead in the state early Wednesday, the race is too early to call and there are still about 200,000 mail-in ballots left to count.” Okay, so: Mail ballots broke for Biden 2–1, so if there really is a universe of 200,000 votes, maybe. He needs to net about 70% of them, per my back-of-envelope math. You will notice from the abovementioned GODDAMN NYT NEEDLE that it’s probably not going to happen. But Biden probably has a good a chance here as Trump has in Nevada. So, scratching PA, GA, NV, and AZ, North Carolina would give Biden the dreaded 269—a tie. (This won’t happen, relax.)
—> WHAT IT MEANS: Trump’s path to victory right now looks like this: Win Pennsylvania (maybe!), Nevada (somehow!), Georgia (possible!), and North Carolina (likely!), and win 273–265. Or hope a recount changes the results in Arizona (dubious!) and Wisconsin (nope!).
The most likely result: Biden wins Arizona, Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and (maybe!) Georgia, which would give him 305 electoral votes. The second likeliest result: Scratch Georgia, and Biden gets 289. From there, Trump needs Pennsylvania, which, unless my math is wrong—please God, let my math be wrong—gives us a 269–269 tie.
—> WORTH NOTING: Literally every single bit of the handwringing happening today is on account of the Electoral College. If we had a 21st-century democratic system—hell, a 20th-century one—the presidential election would have been over the second California polls closed.
—> WORTH NOTING, PART 2: Dems wanted a blowout, and the lack thereof will lead to a million recriminations over the next week. But, Trump aside, beating an incumbent is hard. In the last hundred years, it has only happened three times (Hoover ’32, Carter ’80, Bush ’92). And—I’ll talk about this more in the days to come—nationalism is a hell of a drug. So yeah, it feels like Biden should have done better. But he’ll win a larger percentage of the popular vote than any challenger since FDR—more than Reagan, more than Clinton.
—> ALSO: As, like, everyone expected, Trump is going full-on autocrat, idiotically declaring victory and spuriously tweeting about fraud and gearing up for lawsuits.
So while Biden appears to be sneaking past the finish line, Democrats did not have what you’d call a gangbuster night down-ballot. They expected to gain about 5–15 seats in the House; instead, they’ll lose a few, while retaining their majority. (I have to wonder if Pelosi’s speakership is solid, but I’ll leave that for another day.) They also hoped to net three or four Senate seats, and, well, that doesn’t look too good, either.
So far, Dems have flipped two seats (Colorado and Arizona), while Republicans have flipped one (Alabama). Nothing unexpected there. So that leaves us with a 47–47 split and six undecided races.
North Carolina: Cal Cunningham, a historically sexy candidate, is running behind Biden, so unless those remaining ballots deliver in a big, big way, take this one off your list.
Georgia: GA’s special will go to a January runoff between Kelly Loeffler and Raphael Warwick—no surprise there. GA’s other Senate election … might go to a runoff, or not. Right now, incumbent David Perdue has 50.8% of the vote. If he falls below a majority—and with so much of Atlanta out, that’s possible—that race, too, will head to a runoff.
Maine: With 71% of the vote in, Republican Susan Collins is winning 49.7%–43.5%, and running well above Trump. Much of that remaining vote is in Maine’s sparsely populated northern stretches, which is good for Collins, though some is left in the southern, coastal blue areas. The only thing interesting here is that Maine has ranked-choice voting; if Collins doesn’t hit an outright majority, the state will start evaluating who voters picked as their second choice. It is possible that Collins can make up ground there, though I suspect it’s unlikely unless she’s much closer when the first round is tallied.
Alaska: This hasn’t been called because Alaska takes forever to count, but Republicans will probably hold it.
Michigan: Here, in a bit of a surprise, Republican John James is ahead of incumbent Dem Gary Peters by about 35,000 votes—and is running about 50,000 votes ahead of Trump. Again, what’s left in Michigan is left in Detroit and other Dem strongholds, so Republicans probably shouldn’t pop the champagne yet.
—> WHAT IT MEANS: The best-case scenario for Dems is where Peters wins and they pull two rabbits out of their hats in the Georgia runoffs, which are certain to be the most insane Senate elections in modern history. If they hit all three, it’s a 50–50 split, and Kamala Harris will break ties.
—> State Government
I’m going to spend more time going through the exit polls—they are terrible at telling you results but helpful to understand why things happened—and dig into the state more later this week.
For now, though, it suffices to say the status quo prevailed:
Cooper won re-election.
The Council of State kept its partisan makeup, with Dem challengers mostly mirroring Biden. Locals Jessica Holmes (labor commissioner) and Jenna Wadsworth (ag commissioner) came up short.
The NCGA stayed in Republican hands, though without supermajorities.
Republicans gained two seats and maybe two on the Supreme Court, though the chief justice race will come down to mail-ins and provisionals, and if anyone has a shot, it’s Cheri Beasley. So it will either be 4–3 or 5–2. (Lucy Inman has probably exactly the same chance as Biden of making up a 70,000-vote deficit again Phil Berger Jr.)
This wasn’t the result Democrats wanted, and it will hurt all the more when Biden and maybe Cunningham come within 1 point of pulling it out. Then, it will be especially painful when Republicans get to gerrymander next year.
One trickle-down effect: Had Yvonne Holley won the LG’s race, there would be a lot of pressure on Roy Cooper to run for Senate in 2022. She didn’t, and there’s no way Dems can abandon the Executive Mansion to insane person Mark Robinson while Republicans control the legislature, so that plan is out. I imagine Jeff Jackson’s phone has already started ringing.
About Mark Robinson: It is absolute political malpractice that Democrats did not make him the poster child for the NCGOP this year and make Republicans up and down the ticket defend his openly anti-Semitic, homophobic, conspiratorial views. Everyone in the state should have known his name and associated his name with the word “NUTCASE.” They didn’t, so he’s your next lieutenant governor.
—> Local Stuff
In Wake County, Democrats won easily in the contested Board of Commissioners races and for register of deeds.
The school board races had one upset. These campaigns boiled down to whether the school board should open schools faster or, you know, not rush headlong into a pandemic. For the most part, the incumbents prevailed—probably for the best.
Karen Carter defeated Bill Fletcher in District 9. Fletcher was the only NCAE-endorsed candidate to lose.
In Raleigh, my suspicion that the affordable housing bond was in trouble was, um, really, really wrong. It passed with 72% of the vote.
In Durham County, the only drama was the Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor, which the People’s Alliance-endorsed Anjali Boyd won pretty easily.
WHAT TO WATCH
As I mentioned earlier, I’ll dig into North Carolina’s crosstabs and have some (hopefully?) better insights on what did and didn’t happen probably on Friday, as I may take tomorrow to recuperate and try to regain perspective amid everything that’s happening. But everything’s in flux, so we’ll see.
For now, the story to watch is what I told you about on Monday:
There will be a concerted effort to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters.
There will also be a concerted effort by the administration to spread disinformation about fraud and corruption.
This will be amplified by a very sophisticated propaganda network, not just on Fox News and (even more blatantly) OANN, but on Facebook and other social media. We point and laugh at their idiocy (I do it, too) at our own peril.
If it works, I don’t hold out much hope for the future.
Then again, we’ve come a hair’s breadth away from re-electing a blatantly corrupt, obviously mendacious authoritarian whose corruption has led to the deaths of more than 200,000 people. Maybe it’s time to retire optimism for good.
—> BIG TAKEAWAY: People are shocked that Trump made in-roads among Latino and Black men, particularly in rural areas (as well as Cuban Americans in Miami-Dade). Don’t be.
Adrian Gray @adrian_grayGOP share of non-white vote, presidential elections (%) 1952: 21 1956: 39 1960: 32 1964: 6 1968: 12 1972: 13 1976: 15 1980: 10 1984: 13 1988: 18 1992: 11 1996: 12 2000: 9 2004: 17 2008: 10 2012: 11 2016: 21 2020: 26 (preliminary)
I noted last week the authoritarian inclinations of America’s ethnic minorities, which have hitherto been obscured by their aversion to the GOP. I’m going to circle back to this when I have a more developed take, but there are two (interrelated) fractures that have taken shape in and will define the next generation of American politics—and they’re beginning to cross racial lines.
Urban/suburban vs. everywhere else: As expected, Democrats killed in cities—even Jacksonville, Florida, one of the most conservative big cities in the country, went for Biden. They expanded their margins in the suburbs, though they didn’t gain new ground in terms of congressional districts. But they got hammered in rural and exurban districts—where Republicans found new voters, sometimes among Latinos and African Americans.
Education: More than anything else, this is the dividing line in American politics. As the GOP becomes more Trumpian (it will), people with a college degree (who often live in cities and suburbs) will reject it. People who don’t will increasingly be attracted to it. There are more of the latter than the former. That’s the issue Democrats have to address.