We don’t know who will win or when we will know the result (it could be the end of the week if the count is close). But we do know that a historic turnout is possible — 100 million Americans have already cast an early ballot. And no matter who wins, the President elected today will be the oldest ever.
Trump is an unpopular President leading a nation humbled by his poor leadership in the pandemic, who charted an unlikely, narrow path to the presidency in 2016. He must run the table through battleground states where he won last time, just to get to a final Midwest showdown with Biden. He’s polling behind in those states now, but a second, shocking election triumph is not impossible — Trump has an uncanny feel for the heartland, and he’s betting on explosive turnout for his outsider presidency. He’s also warning he may challenge the result all the way to the Supreme Court.
Biden has the easier path to victory. He is relying on a more aspirational coalition — younger, more diverse and more educated voters. He’s made inroads among suburban women and could trim Trump’s margins among White and more elderly voters to grab the win. If he snatches a big state like Georgia or Florida, he could block Trump’s path to 270 right at the start. If he rebuilds the Democratic “blue wall” by winning Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, this thing is over.
Your guide to Election Night
North Carolina shuts off voting at 7:30 p.m. It’s usually a quick count. A Biden win here would be a body blow to Trump. Pennsylvania ends voting at about the same time but since it doesn’t even start tallying early ballots until today, we may not have the full results of the state, and potentially the election until Friday.
If you really want to get into the numbers, check out the swing counties of the swing states. Democrats tend to dominate cities, Republicans paint rural areas red. But the key to elections is managing the deficit in counties where a candidate might not win. So check in on the vote counts below — as a general rule, if Biden’s numbers are closer to Barack Obama’s than Hillary Clinton’s, he could be having a good night.
- In Pennsylvania’s Erie County: Trump won 48.6% of the vote here in 2016, but the last Democrat to win an election, Obama got 57.8% in 2012.
- Keep an eye on western Florida’s Pinellas County. Trump got 48.6% here, winning it back narrowly from Democrats after Obama got 52.2%.
- And Stark County, Ohio will tell us a lot. Trump won 56% here four years ago. But in 2012, Obama did 10 points better in a losing cause than Clinton did in 2016.
Texas is probably still a state too far for Democrats. But when its polls close at 8 p.m., early returns will be examined by both sides to see if a shock result — that would effectively end Trump’s hopes of 270 electoral votes — is possible. Democrats also think they have a chance to sink Trump in Georgia.
The action heats up in the 10pm hour. Arizona closes its polls and has been processing mail-in votes ahead of time. A Biden win here could also severely damage Trump’s reelection hopes. Two more states that could be bellwethers also start counting: A Trump win in Nevada or Biden win in Iowa would be a surprise that would indicate the direction of the wider race.
Normally, we would expect CNN’s election team, which combs through vote counts, exit polls and other data, to project the result in close states throughout the night. But the difficulties posed by early and mail-in voting and delayed counts will vastly complicate things and could potentially slow the entire process.
If Biden grabs wins in Texas, Arizona or Ohio, we may not be able to say definitively that he’s won but the trend will be clear. Don’t hold your breath for a traditional concession call to Biden from Trump. He may exhaust every legal option to try to challenge the result — even if it looks hopeless.
But if Trump holds serve in the battlegrounds he captured last time, it’s going to come down to a Midwest battle in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. And those states are saying it could be several days before they are done counting.