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Blue wave? Red wave? No, a treacherous riptide

Workers count ballots on Election Day in Philadelphia.

Workers count ballots on Election Day in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania was expected to be a nail-biter even for a battleground state. Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt


For the most up-to-date look at the race for president, click here. Go to for the tally of electoral votes, popular vote and the prospective Senate and House lineups.

Map shrinkage

What turned out wrong: Once again, polls in some crucial states, like Florida and Ohio, overestimated potential votes for Democrat Joe Biden. Both states stayed in President Donald Trump's column, just like four years ago.

What the prognosticators got right: The winner of the 2020 presidential election wasn't decided on Tuesday night, and Wednesday is no sure bet either.

Leading throughout the campaign in national polls, Biden hoped to expand his Electoral College map and run up the score against Trump in parts of the Sun Belt and red-tinged Ohio. But as results rolled in Tuesday night, visions of a landslide faded. Trump looked to hold slight advantages, though not certain ones, in North Carolina and Georgia. The president won Texas.

In the biggest shock of election night, Biden won Arizona, his first flip of a Trump 2016 state, according to a Fox News call and later, The Associated Press. That may have been the late John McCain's revenge. Trump's trashing of the popular GOP senator and war hero in life and death didn't sit well with some Arizonans, and McCain's widow, Cindy, endorsed the Democrat. Biden also kept New Hampshire, which Trump made a play for, in Democratic hands.

In a way, Trump's win in Florida represented another 2020 defeat for Michael Bloomberg, who flamed out in the Democratic primaries. He funded a $100 million effort to help Biden, especially with Hispanic voters, who gave the former vice president less support than Hillary Clinton received in 2016.

Early Wednesday, it looked like the election may come down to the "Blue Wall." Biden still probably needed to take at least two of those three Rust Belt states — Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — where Trump narrowly beat Clinton in 2016. The count from hundreds of thousands of mail ballots in Philadelphia, Biden's top stronghold in the Keystone State, remained ongoing. There were 2.6 million mail ballots overall in the state, and a complete count is not expected until at least Friday.

Michigan's secretary of state predicted the count there would finish Wednesday. In Milwaukee, election officials said that they were unlikely to finish reporting Wisconsin results until Wednesday morning, at the earliest. In Georgia's Fulton County, home to most of Atlanta, a burst pipe in a central tabulating center forced an hourslong pause in counting ballots.

Biden: 'I feel good.' Trump: Stop, thief

One prediction looking strong: It's going to get ugly.

Biden addressed horn-honking supporters at a drive-in event at 12:42 a.m. Wednesday, telling them: "Your patience is commendable." Calling himself "optimistic," the challenger said, "I feel good about where we are … I believe we are on track to win this election. Keep the faith, guys, we’re going to win this."

Trump rushed out a tweet before Biden left the Wilmington, Delaware, stage, neglecting to check his spelling as he trotted out unsubstantiated fraud allegations. "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 Poles are closed!" Trump wrote. A follow-up tweet claimed, "A big WIN" — a declaration premature at best and false at worst.

Biden tweeted back: "It's not my place or Donald Trump's place to declare the winner of this election. It's the voters' place."

Trump, addressing supporters at the White House at 2:21 a.m., claimed victory in the election and in states where counts were continuing, such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. "A very sad group of people," he charged, was trying to "disenfranchise" his voters. "This is a fraud on the American public."

Trump said he would be going straight to the Supreme Court. "We want all voting to stop," the president said, presumably meaning already-sent mail-in ballots yet to be counted. "We don't want them to find any ballots at 4 o'clock in the morning and add them to the list." (See a video clip.)

Past, present and future tense

A tweet from Bill Burton, who was a senior aide to former President Barack Obama, captured and mocked Democrats' panic after early returns but before many absentee votes were counted.

"This morning, it was fact that Trump would do well on election night and Biden would win when votes were counted," Burton wrote Tuesday. "This evening, those facts still hold but none of the pundits are talking about it and Democrats are already black out drunk/throwing up chardonnay/craft cocktails."

Suspense could be epic

If the election result remains unclear, the battle for the White House will be fought in states' election offices, in the courts and even possibly in Congress over the next few days and weeks, writes Newsday's Tom Brune.

With a record turnout of voters, most states will be counting ballots for at least a day or two — if not longer — after Election Day. And the key swing states of Pennsylvania and Michigan are expected to be counting ballots at least until the end of the week.

It will take longer if states face legal challenges, as Trump on Sunday promised to launch. "As soon as that election is over, we’re going in with our lawyers," he said.

Biden’s legal team also stands ready. So are lawyers for nonpartisan voting-rights organizations and for advocacy groups on the left and right. But what has added the most tension to this election has been Trump’s demand that the vote count on Tuesday alone decide the election, as well as his refusal to say he would leave office if he loses — setting off alarms that a U.S. president would break the tradition of a peaceful transfer of power.

Key dates on the presidential election calendar: Most states certify their electors who will cast votes in the Electoral College by Dec. 8. The governor of each state must certify its popular vote and its electors by Dec. 14. The states must transmit their votes to Congress by Dec. 23. On Jan. 6, in a joint session, the House and Senate meet to count the electoral votes for president, certifying the winner who garnered at least 270 of the electors’ votes. If it's a 269-269 tie, it's murky how it gets resolved.

Janison: GOP at crossroads

The future of Republican red-state power in Washington seemed on Tuesday to hang by a thread, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

Nervously, GOP strategists sought to defend their electoral turf, most importantly in the U.S. Senate, which in recent years drove the tax cuts, deregulation and court appointments that Trump got to sign and campaign on.

Since 2016, Trump has been the draw for the base and titular head of the party. If he comes up a loser and the Senate's GOP majority survives, the most powerful U.S. Republican would be Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who won a seventh term Tuesday, and the party would be in a strong position to negotiate or block initiatives and appointments. In that scenario, Trump presumably would no longer call all the shots in the party.

Say Trump is reelected but without a GOP-led Senate. That could paralyze the rudderless president in his second term. Democrats who impeached him in the House could gain the clout to try to convict him in the Senate.

The most destructive possibility facing the GOP as it sailed into this election was that it could lose both the White House and the Senate.

On voters' minds

The voters of 2020 faced a public health crisis and a wounded economy, but neither candidate emerged as the clear choice to handle both of those issues, according to a survey conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.

More voters — both nationwide and in key battlegrounds — said Biden would be better able to handle the coronavirus pandemic, the top concern for about 4 in 10 voters. But Trump edged out Biden on the question of who would be better to rebuild the economy, which about 3 in 10 voters nationally ranked as the most pressing issue.

Trump argued that the economy should not be a casualty of COVID-19 and maintained, without evidence, that the nation was "rounding the turn." Biden has warned that the economy can never fully heal unless the coronavirus is first contained and businesses can fully reopen.

Three-quarters of all voters said they knew all along who they supported. Two-thirds said their decision was driven by their opinion of the president, either for or against.

Trump's crisis of confidence

A groggy and surly Trump phoned in to "Fox & Friends" Tuesday morning after returning overnight from his last rally in Michigan. Cracks in his confidence were showing. Then again, he wasn't sure on Election Day 2016 either.

At one point on the Fox show, when he was teed up by the hosts to launch an attack on the Democrats' progressive wing, Trump spoke as if he’d already lost. "Joe’s going to have a hard time, he’s not going to be able to handle them," he said.

Trump also laid into Fox News, complaining about airtime given to his foes. "Somebody said what’s the difference between this and four years ago, and I say Fox," he said. "In the old days, you wouldn’t put Sleepy Joe on every time he opens his mouth. You had Democrats on more than you had Republicans. I’m not complaining — I’m just telling people," Trump said.

He said the country most difficult to deal with isn't Russia, China or North Korea. "By far, the most difficult country to deal with is the U.S." because "we have some very deceptive people," singling out Rep. Adam Schiff, who led House impeachment efforts.

A somewhat more rested Trump visited Republican National Committee offices in Arlington, Virginia, later in the day and said that he wasn't thinking about a concession or acceptance speech yet. "Hopefully, we'll be only doing one of those two and you know, winning is easy. Losing is never easy — not for me, it's not," he said.

Biden: A prayer and a final push

Biden put in a full schedule of campaigning on Election Day. He began the morning in church in Delaware and visited his childhood home in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he wrote on a living room wall: "From this house to the White House with the grace of God. Joe Biden 11-3-2020."

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Lisa L. Colangelo and Matthew Chayes. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Dr. Deborah Birx has been less outspoken than Dr. Anthony Fauci in contradicting Trump's coronavirus policies. But in a blunt internal report Monday, she said, "We are entering the most concerning and most deadly phase of this pandemic," and more needed to be done. "This is not about lockdowns — it hasn’t been about lockdowns since March or April. It’s about an aggressive balanced approach that is not being implemented," she wrote, according to The Washington Post.
  • A record 100,298,838 Americans cast early votes before polls opened on Election Day, including 35,733,103 in-person votes, according to the United States Elections Project, reported ABC News.
  • Poll workers in St. Louis clad themselves in full personal-protective suits to collect ballots at curbside from voters infected with COVID-19. See the photos from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
  • Sanitizer on voters’ hands caused a ballot scanner to jam at a polling place in Des Moines, Iowa, The Associated Press reported. The machine was fixed in about an hour. To prevent another breakdown, poll workers moved the sanitizing station farther back so voters’ hands would be dry when they first touched the ballots.
  • Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, left their ballots blank four years ago rather than support fellow Republican Trump. This time, they didn't plan to make public how they voted, the Dallas Morning News reported.
  • The U.S. Postal Service turned down a federal judge’s order Tuesday to sweep mail-processing facilities serving 15 states and rush ballot deliveries by 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, saying instead it would stick to its own inspection schedule.
  • The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in North Carolina said it arrested an armed man in a Trump hat who returned to a polling place Tuesday after being banned from the site earlier in the day.

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