A Viewer's Guide: Six Signposts for Navigating Election Night
As voting concludes on Tuesday in the angst-ridden, existential election of 2020, the majority of Americans who oppose Donald Trump will watch results come in with a bilious mixture of hope, fear, eagerness and dread.
To help provide a framework for watching Election Night returns, Calbuzz political analyst Phil Trounstine returned to Newsmakers TV on Monday for a conversation about key factors to keep an eye on through the night, whether you're glued to MSNBC, Fox or the BBC.
"If the votes are fairly counted, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris should win," Phil said. "But there's no guarantee the ballots will be fairly counted."
Here are six key factors to help make sense of Election Night.
State of play. Back in the days when the word "normal" still had meeting, a polling lead like Joe Biden holds, both nationally and in key battleground states, would be grounds for the (all rise) Main Stream Media to be ushering him into the White House and lining up early suck-up interviews with potential cabinet members.
As of yesterday, Biden held a 6.8 percent lead over Donald Trump in the Real Clear Politics average of national polling, along with advantages, both in the three key Midwest battlegrounds of Michigan (5.1%) Pennsylvania (2.9%) and Wisconsin (6.6 %) and in several Sun Belt states crucial for Trump to win a second term, most notably Florida (1.7%).
Alas these are not normal times, and traditional election math remains unsettled by Trump's Black Swan 2016 win, along with the enormous complications and confusion in balloting wrought by the pandemic. And, oh yeah, Trump's months-long crusade to delegitimize in advance an election in which he's continually trailed.
Still, the numbers are the numbers and they make Biden a decided favorite: propellor heads at the data web site 538 ran 40,000 election simulations and give Joe a 90 percent chance of victory, against Trump's 1 in 10.
Scenarios. There really only are two basic scenarios for how Election Night lays out: 1) results across the nation show Biden headed for a smashing landslide win and 2) everything else.
Absent clear, inarguable ballot counts that show the Democratic nominee robustly prevailing in the right states to capture a solid Electoral College win, affirmed unanimously by the major news networks and AP, count on Trump to do everything and anything he can to maintain his grip on power, beginning with the strong possibility he declares himself the winner on Tuesday night.
Regardless of the vote, Trump will remain president for 78 days after Nov. 3, in control of the federal government, and he will use every resource at his disposable -- legal, political, perhaps even military, to deny Biden a victory. We're rooting for #1.
The start, not the finish. Trump's recent wingnut rants, demanding that the election must end on Election Day are, of course, absurd: the election is over when the ballots are counted, and ballots will, and should, continue to be counted for several days, if not weeks (shout-out California), according to the laws of each state.
Context: Only nine states and the District of Columbia, expect to have 98 percent of their ballots counted by Wednesday morning, the New York Times reported Monday, while 22 states will count ballots that are postmarked by election day even if they come in several days afterwards.
That's not to mention Pennsylvania, which could prove to be dispositive, where Republican legislators expressly prohibited the processing and counting of mail-in ballots even to begin before Wednesday, which means counting could last weeks, giving Trump a target-rich environment to wield his legions of lawyers and, perhaps the Department of Justice, in an effort to stop the count.
The key early states. Florida, which has considerable experience with mail-in ballots, is expected to begin reporting returns around 5 p.m. PST, is likely to report most of its results Tuesday night and will provide the best early look at how the evening may go.
It's difficult to construct a scenario for Trump to win without Florida, and if Biden emerges as a clear winner, the election effectively could be over. The Democrat is expected to have a lead in early returns, based on early mail ballots, but Trump is likely to surge back when day-of votes begin to be counted. Late arriving mail ballots, to be counted last, should favor Biden.
Arizona, expected to begin reporting shortly after 6 p.m. our time, will be the next crucial state that could prove evidence of Biden's poll-perceived strength. Like Florida, Arizona is a Sun Belt state Trump won last time and needs to capture a second term; Biden has been leading there, however, in tandem with Democratic Senate candidate Mark Kelly, who has remained ahead of Republican incumbent Martha McSally; for the Democrats to have a chance of winning the Senate, Kelly must win.
Pennsylvania, where polls close at 5 p,m. Pacific, may become the key to the entire election if Biden's polling lead does not hold up in voting returns; Trump is likely to hold a substantial lead early -- Biden's strength will be in the mail-in ballots to come later.
Senate races. If Biden wins the White House, the Democrats need to net three Senate seats to control the chamber and end the authoritarian tribal rule of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell..
In Alabama, which will report early, the Republicans are likely to win back a seat, won in a fluke special election by Democrat Doug Jones two years ago, in the person of former college football coach Tommy Tuberville, doubtless a great statesman.
Besides Kelly in Arizona, Democrats are counting on former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper to oust Republican incumbent Cory Garden (polls close at 6 p.m. Pacific) and Maine's state House Speaker Susan Gideon to defeat longtime GOP Senator Susan Collins.
After that, things get dicier, with the Democrats' best chance probably in North Carolina, where Republican Senator Thom Tillis has been trailing challenger Cal Cunningham, despite the latter's loutish sex scandal; other key competitive contests to watch: Georgia, Iowa, Montana, Texas and South Carolina, in that order.
Resource. Here is a terrific, state-by-state chart from the Times with information on poll closings, voting methods and forecasted swings in how the vote may surge between parties on Election Night and beyond.
A personal note. Newsmakers will be camped out virtually with the Election Night gang on KEYT, who can be counted on for the most far-flung coverage of local races and ballot measures. See you there.