The Daily 202: If Trump wins, these are the 10 most likely explanations for how it happened

This post was originally published on this site

with Mariana Alfaro

Joe Biden leads President Trump by 10 points among registered voters, 52 percent to 42 percent, in the final national pre-election poll conducted by NBC and the Wall Street Journal. Majorities of Americans think the country is on the wrong track and disapprove of the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. This race has proved remarkably stable, and Biden’s lead has proved durable all year – through the pandemic, the economic collapse, the protests, a Supreme Court confirmation fight, two presidential debates, Trump’s hospitalization and so many other events that seemed in the moment like they might become potential gamechangers. In the history of polling, no president has won reelection with an approval rating this low and so many people feeling like America is moving the wrong direction.

Biden appears to be in better shape going into Election Day than Hillary Clinton was four years ago. Like her, he is almost certain to win the national popular vote. Just like in 2016, that does not matter – and the race is tighter in the battlegrounds. Trump again has a narrow path to victory that could allow him to win another upset victory in the electoral college. A narrow Trump victory is very much in the range of potential options. So is a Biden landslide.

If Trump pulls another rabbit out of his hat, there will be another mad scramble to explain how. And these 10 factors would most likely describe what happened:

© Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post Supporters cheer President Trump on Sunday in Michigan. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

1) Massive Election Day turnout

More than 94 million Americans have already voted. About 60 million ballots have been cast by mail, and 34 million have voted in person, according to the U.S. Elections Project. Trump’s hopes rely on massive, additional numbers of people going to the polls on Election Day.

Of the 68 percent of voters who say they have already voted or plan to vote early, Biden was ahead 61 percent to 35 percent in the NBC-WSJ poll. Among the 28 percent of voters who said they will go to the polls on Election Day, Trump led 61 percent to 32 percent. For Trump to win, these folks need to show up.

2) Hold Florida

No battleground is as much of a must-win for Trump as the one he literally adopted as his new home state, changing his residency from Trump Tower to Mar-a-Lago. Any realistic path to 270 electoral votes includes the 29 from Florida. A Washington Post-ABC News poll published Sunday showed Trump at 50 percent and Biden at 48 percent among likely voters. This is within the margin of error. In even better news for the president, the poll pegged his approval rating at 51 percent. Trump is faring especially well with Cuban Americans in South Florida, among other groups. 

Keep an eye on seniors, who make up a disproportionately large share of the electorate. Polls show Biden poised to become the first Democrat to carry voters 65 and older since Al Gore in 2000. But there’s evidence in recent polling that some retirees are starting to come home to the Republican Party. In our final Florida poll, Trump leads by nine points among seniors, 54 percent to 45 percent, which is better than a few months ago. But it’s smaller than his 17-point advantage in exit polls of the state in 2016.

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3) Win Pennsylvania

Trump advisers feel confident about Florida but privately acknowledge that Michigan has shown signs of slipping away, and public polls show Wisconsin has gotten harder for the president to carry again. That makes Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes all the more essential. A Post-ABC poll released Sunday showed Biden at 51 percent to Trump’s 44 percent among Pennsylvania likely voters, compared to 54 percent to 45 percent a month ago. A Monmouth University poll released Monday morning shows Biden leading by five points to seven points, depending on the likely voter model.

Biden sees the Keystone State as the linchpin. Trump won it by about 44,000 votes in 2016, the first Republican to carry it since 1988. Biden has often seemed to approach the entire presidential election over the last few months as if it was simply a Pennsylvania Senate race. This has never been truer than in the final days. 

The Democratic nominee spent all day Sunday in Philadelphia, less than an hour from his house in Delaware. He noted that he was born in Scranton and that Wilmington only had Philadelphia television stations for the first 25 years he was in the Senate. “I was very happy to have the moniker of being Pennsylvania’s third senator,” Biden said at a drive-in rally. “I married a Philly girl, by the way. And I’ve got my Eagles jacket on.” (In fact, it appeared he was wearing a University of Delaware jacket.) When he finished speaking, Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom” played on loudspeakers.

Both Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) have multiple events in Pennsylvania today, along with their spouses. The former vice president will close out the night with an election eve rally in Pittsburgh, on the other side of the state from Philadelphia, where he will be joined by Lady Gaga. She will close out tonight with her own rally in Philly, featuring John Legend. 

Democratic confidence about Pennsylvania has eroded in recent weeks with emerging signs of a tightening contest in the state. Sean Sullivan reports that the causes of anxiety vary among elected officials, strategists and activists: “They worry about potential trouble with mail-in ballots during a pandemic. They are concerned about the prospect of a voter surge in White, rural areas favorable to Trump and signs of lower-than-anticipated turnout among the Democratic base. They are nervous about GOP efforts to place limits on voting. They cringe at the recent looting and violence in Philadelphia, which Trump has seized on to portray Biden as weak on crime and hostile to police. And they harbor lingering concerns about Biden’s muddled rhetoric on oil and gas.”

For his part, Trump held four rallies in Pennsylvania on Saturday. Trump claims that Biden wants to ban all fracking. Biden says he only wants to issue no new oil or gas permits on federal lands but would not ban fracking. But the former vice president handed a gift to his opponent at the end of the final debate, which he subsequently sought to clean up, by saying “yes” when Trump asked if he wants to close down the oil industry.

Our latest poll shows voters in western Pennsylvania, where the issue is most salient, trust Trump to handle fracking over Biden by a 24-point margin, 57 percent to 33 percent, and Trump also holds a lead on who is best to handle the economy, even as he trails on handling the pandemic.

Fewer ballots have been cast in Pennsylvania than almost any other swing state, amounting to about 37 percent of its total 2016 vote. About two-thirds of those early votes have come from Democrats, but a late shift in opinion could have a significant effect.

4) Stop the Red Wall from crumbling across the Sun Belt

Four years ago, we focused so much about the Blue Wall breaking. Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania were three of the 18 states that no Republican had carried in a presidential election since at least 1988. 

This year, Biden is trying to break a Red Wall in the Sun Belt: No Democratic presidential candidate has won Texas since 1976, Georgia since 1992, Arizona since 1996 and North Carolina since 2008. And Barack Obama won the Tar Heel State by only 14,000 votes in 2008, or 0.32 percent. Jimmy Carter in 1976 was the last Democratic nominee to have won there. 

Even if Trump wins Florida and Pennsylvania, Biden could still prevail by flipping Wisconsin and Michigan – and then picking up Arizona, North Carolina or Georgia.

Many strategists in both parties believe it could be easier for Biden to carry Georgia than Florida. Demographics suggest that the Peach State is on a trajectory to become more and more like Virginia. Obama was the first Democrat to win the commonwealth since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, but this year Virginia is not even considered competitive. Biden’s path in Georgia depends on huge Black turnout and suburban women turning out in droves.

A New York Times-Siena College poll published Sunday put Biden ahead in Arizona by six points, 49 percent to 43 percent. In 2016, Trump won Maricopa County, which is home to Phoenix and its sprawling suburbs, by three points. The Times-Siena poll shows Biden leading 48 percent to 42 percent. Biden’s lead in that poll appears mainly driven by women (he leads 56 percent to 38 percent) and college-educated White voters. (The same pollster had Biden up three points in Florida, six points in Pennsylvania and 11 points in Wisconsin.)

If Biden loses in the Rust Belt but wins because of the Sun Belt, one of the major narratives from 2020 would be that Trump accelerated the realignment between the parties. Just as Georgia might be the next Virginia, Arizona could become the next Colorado. But Midwestern states like Iowa would be seen as continuing to move the way of Missouri, which was one of the most competitive states for much of the last century but has become solidly red.

Another state that was hypercompetitive in recent elections but has been less so in 2020 is Nevada. Jon Ralston of the Nevada Independent, an expert on the Silver State, said Sunday that “the math is just not there for Trump” based on the latest early voting numbers from the Democratic stronghold of Clark County, which is home to Las Vegas. “It already was very difficult for Trump. Now he has less of a chance to win than he does of getting a gaming license in Nevada,” Ralston wrote. “I don’t know how much more mail will be returned before Tuesday, nor do I know how many ballots will be rejected (the rate so far shows it doesn’t change the lead very much). But the dice are cast, and they look like snake eyes for the GOP.”

Trump, Biden campaigns make final pitch to voters days before election
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5) Convince Latino and Black men to defect from Democrats

Public and private polls, as well as focus groups, show significant gender gaps emerging among African Americans in places like Georgia and Latinos in places like Arizona. Trump appears to be faring better among men in both communities than he did four years ago, which could become problematic for Biden not just in the Sun Belt but in the North as well. EquisLabs, a left-leaning polling and data operation analyzing Latino politics, has prepared vote simulations to show how much of the White vote Biden would need to win based on the level of Latino turnout and the kinds of inroads Trump makes with minority groups.

Stephanie Valencia, the cofounder of EquisLabs, attributed Trump’s relative strength among Latino men to “Trump intrigue.” She said there are three factors driving this: 1) They tend to think the president has done a good job on the economy, whether or not their personal situation has improved. 2) They tend to see him as a successful businessman, which they aspire to be. 3) They appreciate that he projects a take-no-prisoners attitude. “Machismo,” Valencia said.

Carlos Odio, the other co-founder of EquisLabs, noted that Trump’s appeals to some Black and Hispanic men are similar to how he resonated with non-college-educated White men four years ago. “It’s the Joe Rogan effect,” he said. “You listen to Rogan, and you start to understand the semi-libertarian appeal.”

6) Hold Iowa and Ohio

Trump carried both states by eight or more points in 2016. While they are certainly closer, he needs both in most pathways to 270. 

Biden will hold a rally today in Cleveland. This last-minute addition to the schedule came at the urging of Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who won a third term in 2018 even after Trump handily carried the state in 2016.

Meanwhile, a Des Moines Register poll released Saturday night showed Trump comfortably ahead in the Hawkeye State. Biden went there Friday, but his team does not seem confident about their prospects in the state where he had such a disappointing finish in the caucuses. But Trump is not out of the woods in Iowa: Trump stumped in Dubuque over the weekend, and the campaign is sending Ivanka Trump to Des Moines later today. 

7) Mobilize non-college-educated Whites who did not vote in 2016

A key reason for Trump’s upset four years ago was that he ran up the score in rural areas. No one doubted that he would win these places, but even Republican operatives did not expect so many people to show up from rural American and to break for Trump by such lopsided margins. The president’s reelection campaign has spent millions over the past four years trying to find and register more Trump-friendly voters who have not usually participated. Republican pickups in the Senate during the 2018 midterms offered some evidence of success, including in Florida. 

Rather than just focus on urban and suburban areas, where he will get the most votes, Biden has spent a significant amount of energy this fall trying to reduce Trump’s margin of victory in rural places like Johnstown, Pa. This was the focus of a train trip after the first debate.

During the homestretch, Trump has focused on his base, seemingly more determined to galvanize non-college-educated White men who didn’t vote in 2016 than persuade college-educated women who supported him last time but defected in 2018 to give him another chance. Over the weekend, Trump accused doctors of fabricating coronavirus deaths for money and suggested that he will fire Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, after the election. The president also pantomimed a physical fight with Biden, mocked Fox News host Laura Ingraham for wearing a mask and celebrated his supporters for using pickup trucks to ambush a Biden campaign bus on a Texas highway. 

Quote of the day

“Don’t tell anybody, but let me wait until a little bit after the election,” Trump said when “Fire Fauci” chants broke out at his rally late Sunday night in Florida. 

Convinced that it’s too late to change the minds of voters who are not yet sold on Trump, the president’s advisers are intensely focused on turning out those who are. Trump’s decision to forgo a broad, unifying closing message and instead double down on appealing to a narrow but enthusiastic slice of the electorate is a gamble,” Toluse Olorunnipa and Josh Dawsey report.

Trump says his lawyers will challenge voting regulations ‘as soon as that election is over’
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8) Secure favorable court decisions

Trump has made no secret that litigation is central to his reelection strategy. “We’re going to go in the night of, as soon as that election’s over, we’re going in with our lawyers,” the president told reporters in North Carolina on Sunday night. Axios had reported earlier in that day that Trump has told confidants he will declare victory on Tuesday night if it looks like he is “ahead,” even if the outcome hinges on large numbers of uncounted ballots in states like Pennsylvania. Trump denied this, but then he added: “It’s a terrible thing when states are allowed to tabulate ballots for a long period of time after the election is over.”

Ben Ginsberg, who has been a prominent Republican election lawyer for 38 years, has a blistering op-ed in our newspaper today that strongly criticized Trump for launching “an all-out, multimillion-dollar effort to disenfranchise voters — first by seeking to block state laws to ease voting during the pandemic, and now, in the final stages of the campaign, by challenging the ballots of individual voters unlikely to support him.” Ginsberg says: “This is as un-American as it gets. It returns the Republican Party to the bad old days of ‘voter suppression.’ … Absent being able to articulate a cogent plan for a second term or find an attack against Joe Biden that will stick, disenfranchising enough voters has become key to his reelection strategy.”

It’s hard to overstate how huge a deal an op-ed like this is coming from someone of Ginsberg’s stature. “The Trump campaign and Republican entities engaged in more than 40 voting and ballot court cases around the country this year. In exactly none — zero — are they trying to make it easier for citizens to vote. In many, they are seeking to erect barriers,” he writes. “Challenging voters at the polls or disputing the legitimacy of mail-in ballots isn’t about fraud. Rather than producing conservative policies that appeal to suburban women, young voters or racial minorities, Republicans are trying to exclude their votes.”

The latest, perhaps most brazen, example comes from Texas. The state Supreme Court rejected a GOP-led effort on Sunday to invalidate nearly 127,000 ballots in Harris County, which is home to Houston. Republican candidates and activists had asked the court to rule that the county’s drive-thru voting locations are illegal and therefore should be discarded. Now they are asking a federal judge to intervene, and a hearing is scheduled for today, according to the Texas Tribune.

9) For key voters, the economy needs to trump the pandemic

Trump’s advantage over Biden on which candidate is seen as best to revive the economy has narrowed lately, but it could still prove pivotal in some states. Some people who may dislike Trump but feel desperate to get back to work could break the president’s way. Counterintuitively, a weak economy could work to the incumbent’s advantage. 

For example, our Florida poll on Sunday showed that 58 percent say they approve of the job the president is doing with the economy, and 40 percent disapprove. Strong approval is 19 points higher than strong disapproval. In Pennsylvania, 54 percent approve of Trump’s handling of the economy. To be sure, voters in both states disapprove of how he is dealing with the pandemic: In Florida, 51 percent disapprove. In Pennsylvania, 54 percent do. But Trump is trusted more than Biden to handle the economy by voters in Florida by 14 points and by six points in Pennsylvania. 

10) If Trump wins, Biden will be criticized for not campaigning more

On television, the Biden campaign has a nearly 3-to-1 advantage and is running commercials in five states during the final week where Trump’s campaign is dark. But the president himself is flooding the zone. His omnipresence is a striking contrast to Biden.

While Trump held large rallies in five states on Sunday, Biden never traveled farther than an hour from his house and held three events in Philadelphia. It has been part of a pattern. The former vice president has been cautious because of the coronavirus. His campaign hopes voters reward him for holding smaller events and following public health guidance. And they probably will. But while victory has a thousand fathers and defeat is an orphan, if Biden somehow lost this election, he would face intense criticism from the left for not campaigning aggressively enough against Trump. 

The president is holding 17 rallies in eight states during the final four days of this campaign. He is flying on Air Force One to Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Wisconsin. And he is finishing out Monday night with a final pre-election rally in Grand Rapids, Mich. – just as he did in 2016.

More on the coronavirus

Rallygoers tell Trump to fire Fauci
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Follow the money.

“When the Trump administration gave a well-connected Republican donor seed money to test a possible COVID-19-fighting blood plasma technology, it noted the company’s ‘manufacturing facilities’ in Charleston, South Carolina. Plasma Technologies LLC is indeed based in the stately waterfront city. But there are no manufacturing facilities. Instead, the company exists within the luxury condo of its majority owner, Eugene Zurlo. Zurlo’s company may be in line for as much as $65 million in taxpayer dollars; enough to start building an actual production plant, according to internal government records,” the AP reports. “Top government officials began to take notice of Plasma Technologies after Rick Santorum, a former Republican senator from Pennsylvania and two-time presidential candidate, became part-owner. …

“It’s also another in a series of contracts awarded to people with close political ties to key officials despite concerns voiced by government scientists. Among the others: an ill-conceived $21 million study of Pepcid as a COVID therapy and more than a half billion dollars to ApiJect Systems America, a startup with an unapproved medicine injection technology and no factory to manufacture the devices. In addition, a government whistleblower claimed that a $1.6 billion vaccine contract to Novavax Inc. was made over objections of scientific staff. At the center of these deals is Dr. Robert Kadlec, a senior Trump appointee at the Department of the Health and Human Services who backed the Pepcid, Novavax and ApiJect projects. Records obtained by the AP also describe Kadlec as a key supporter of Zurlo’s company.”

The U.S. came close to reporting 100,000 new cases in a single day on Friday.

But that didn’t stop thousands of young people from attending large Halloween parties with few face masks. In New York City, police had to shut down two illegal warehouse parties, including one attended by more than 550 people. In Utah, “several thousand” people attended a rave-like gathering Saturday night that was discovered when a woman was temporarily knocked unconscious while crowd-surfing, KSL reports. Police also shut down parties in the college town of Boulder, Colo., according to Denver’s ABC affiliate

Thirty-three states spanning every region of the country saw their seven-day average of daily new infections rise by at least 10 percent in the week ending Sunday. In Maine, where daily counts virtually doubled, Gov. Janet Mills (D) reversed plans to allow bars to reopen today and reduced the maximum size of indoor gatherings from 100 people to 50. (Antonia Farzan and Rick Noack)

In Texas, El Paso County’s medical examiner’s office acquired its fourth “mobile morgue” as cases continue surging. Officials are now trying to find space in the office’s parking lot for additional trailers to store cadavers. (KVIA)

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb warned that Thanksgiving could be the “inflection point” of a dangerous surge in cases that has already begun. “Things are getting worse around the country,” the former Trump appointee said on CBS. “December is probably going to be our toughest month.” (Politico)

When a woman died of coronavirus on a Spirit Airlines plane in July, her fellow passengers were never notified. A company spokesman said Spirit was never asked by health authorities to share passenger manifests to aid in tracking down people who might have been exposed. State health officials in New Mexico, where the woman was declared dead after the Dallas-bound flight was diverted to Albuquerque, acknowledged they failed to investigate, as did the CDC. (Ian Duncan)

Germany shut down restaurants, bars and recreational facilities again, while Britain is back in lockdown until Dec. 2. Britain’s Prince William caught the virus in the spring around the same time as his father, Prince Charles, according to various British media reports. The Duke of Cambridge was left “struggling to breathe,” according to the Sun newspaper, but the diagnosis was kept secret. (Karla Adam)

We shouldn’t ignore the better news coming from Asia. Strategies pursued by South Korea, Vietnam, China and others seem to be paying off. China and South Korea have death tolls below 10 people per million. Wuhan, once the epicenter of the crisis, is welcoming tourists again. (Bloomberg)

More on the voting wars

The will of Americans to vote is acutely strong this year.

“A few logged all-day road trips or flew across the continent to vote in person. In historic numbers, across the political spectrum, they have latched onto voting as an essential act,” Amy Gardner reports. “‘You have nothing to lose if you do, and you have a lot to lose if you don’t,’ said Tiffany Cisneros, 32, who voted Friday in San Antonio after losing her mother, grandfather and a 35-year-old cousin to the coronavirus this year. Cisneros did not participate in 2016 because she didn’t think her vote mattered. ‘If everyone who thought that voted, maybe the outcome would’ve been different.’”

Trump supporters surround Biden bus in Texas
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Trump has encouraged some supporters using increasingly aggressive tactics.

“Thousands of Trump campaign supporters stepped up their public show of celebration, promotion and, in some cases, tacit intimidation over the weekend as a nervous nation prepared to head to the polls in two days. The events, car caravans, midsize outdoor rallies and, on Sunday, the apparent blocking of roadways in the Democrat-heavy Mid-Atlantic, have been building in size as Election Day approaches,” Scott Wilson, Mark Berman and Kayla Ruble report“On Sunday, a group of Trump supporters in a vehicle caravan was filmed blocking the northbound express lanes of the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey. A man shooting video that was posted to Twitter can be heard saying, ‘We shut it down, baby. We shut it down.’ The New Jersey State Police confirmed that the parkway was blocked … 

“The highway stunt followed a similar, if more serious, one in Texas on Friday. Nearly 100 cars driven by Trump supporters surrounded a bus carrying Biden-Harris supporters due to appear at scheduled rallies, forcing it to a near stop; Biden-Harris proxies canceled the rest of the day’s events. … Trump championed the public disruption in a tweet on Saturday, along with a picture of the cars surrounding the bus: ‘I LOVE TEXAS!’ … Michelle Lee, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s San Antonio Field Office, confirmed Sunday that the FBI is ‘aware of the incident and investigating.’” Trump criticized the FBI for investigating the incident: “In my opinion, these patriots did nothing wrong,” he tweeted. “Instead, the FBI & Justice should be investigating the terrorists, anarchists, and agitators of ANTIFA, who run around burning down our Democrat run cities and hurting our people!”

  • A man who thought neighbors were stealing Trump lawn signs shot three people in Topeka, Kan. At least one of those injured was taken to the hospital with wounds that were considered potentially life-threatening, authorities said. (Capital-Journal)
  • A “Trump train” of cars clashed with counter protesters in Richmond, drawing police. Witnesses said gunshots were fired during the encounter near Monument Avenue, which has been the site of racial justice demonstrations for several months. Witnesses also claimed that Trump supporters in the caravan sprayed chemical irritants at an opposing crowd. (Times-Dispatch)
  • A peaceful march to the polls in North Carolina was met with police pepper spray and arrests. Voters chanting “Black lives matter” and “power to the people” were met by officers in riot gear and gas masks who insisted demonstrators move off the street and clear county property, despite a permit authorizing their presence. (Barry Yeoman and Isaac Stanley-Becker)
  • Trump’s allies, largely unconstrained by Facebook’s rules against the sharing of repeated falsehoods, are cementing a pre-election dominance on the social media platform. Few users, from a pro-Trump super PAC to the president’s eldest son, have received penalties for sharing posts that crossed the boundaries previously outlined by Facebook. (Stanley-Becker and Elizabeth Dwoskin)
  • A deceptively edited video of Biden that made it look as if he had forgotten what state he was in was viewed more than 1 million times on Twitter this weekend. The video shows Biden saying “Hello, Minnesota!” during an event that did, indeed, take place in the state. However, the text on the stage behind Biden was edited to read “Tampa, Florida.” (CNN)
  • Fearing the end of democracy as we know it, more than 80 international and American scholars in authoritarianism wrote an open letter forecasting a “frightening regression.” (Meryl Kornfield)
  • The National Council on Election Integrity, a bipartisan group of former officeholders, diplomats and national security officials, is rolling out a new ad urging Americans to “count every vote.” The group includes Dan Coats, Trump’s former director of national intelligence. The ad makes no mention of Trump but says, “Let our election officials do their jobs and count every vote, just like the law requires, because this election, it isn’t up the candidates, it’s up to us.” (John Wagner)

Polling places have been unable to avoid the politics of mask-wearing.

“In July, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ordered residents to wear face coverings in most public places. But he exempted polling stations, as did other states with such mandates,” Neena Satija, Emma Brown, Michael Kranish and Beth Reinhard report. “Mi Familia Vota and the Texas NAACP sued Abbott over the order, contending it put Black and Latino voters, whose communities have been hit hard by the virus, at a disadvantage as they weighed going into polling places. The groups won a brief victory when a federal judge ruled in their favor and said masks should be required at polling stations. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit last week overruled the lower court, making masks again optional at Texas polls, as Abbott’s order had laid out. … Wisconsin also has a statewide mask mandate, but its Elections Commission has said it cannot apply to voters, while leaving it up to local election administrators to decide whether poll workers must wear masks. Delegating that to local officials means the decision on what voters will experience rests with more than 1,800 local municipalities.”

The Postal Service’s delivery rates remain especially subpar in areas Democrats count on.

“A federal judge Sunday ordered the U.S. Postal Service to provide daily updates on the status of election mail at a South Florida post office that was shown on video to have what appeared to be a backlog of ballots and campaign pamphlets,” Jacob Bogage reports. “Florida House Democratic leader Kionne McGhee posted video of what he said was the Princeton Post Office in Homestead on Friday. The footage showed the post office work area in disarray, with mail strewn about, including ballots and stacks of political advertisements. Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia directed the mail agency to file reports with the court daily by 5 p.m., beginning Monday through at least Wednesday. The order was part of a busy day in the case, which includes complaints brought by multiple civil rights groups, including the NAACP and Vote Forward. 

“Sullivan is considering requests from plaintiffs to mandate that the Postal Service devote more resources to the collection and delivery of ballots and target increased vigilance to underperforming postal districts that have struggled to process an influx of ballots. Nationwide, the Postal Service on Saturday processed on time 90.9 percent of completed ballots sent from voters to election officials. Postal and voting experts say the agency should achieve at least a 97 percent processing score. In 36 of 67 postal districts — including several that cover parts of electorally significant states — ballot processing rates were below 90 percent. In Atlanta, only 63.7 percent were on time. In Detroit, 78.7 percent. In South Florida, 85.6 percent.”

A House race in Pennsylvania is a microcosm of the Trump-Biden showdown.

“The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reconfigured the state’s congressional districts in 2018, setting boundaries for Rep. Scott Perry’s once solidly Republican seat that he won by 32 percentage points in 2016 to include more Democratic areas, including Harrisburg and York,” Colby Itkowitz and Paulina Firozi report. “The district retained enough of the rural heartland for which south central Pennsylvania is known to still have a slight Republican advantage, but the inclusion of urban and suburban areas has made it one of House Democrats’ greatest pickup opportunities after their 41-seat gain in the 2018 midterms. Democrats are heavily favored not only to keep their majority in the House, but expand it. The party has a 232-to-197 advantage with five vacancies, and nonpartisan, independent analysts predict gains of seven to 15 seats, with the race in the 10th Congressional District rated a toss-up. 

“In Eugene DePasquale, the Democrats have a candidate with broad appeal. Self-described as socially liberal and fiscally moderate, he embraces his grittier, blue-collar upbringing. His biographical ads include one of him doing push-ups as weights are added to his back and another of his father in handcuffs, having been jailed for selling drugs. The elder DePasquale served eight years in federal prison. … Democrats hope enthusiasm for a candidate like DePasquale could benefit Biden, as could strong turnout in other districts where Trump did well last time but Democrats now hold the seats in Congress. … Rep. Scott Perry was among 18 House Republicans to vote against a resolution condemning QAnon. … Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation is currently split — nine Republicans and nine Democrats. Assuming Republicans don’t flip any seats in the state, a DePasquale win could give Pennsylvania Democrats a delegation majority.”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s editorial board, which has not endorsed a Republican for president since Richard Nixon in 1972, backed Trump’s reelection. John Robinson Block, the newspaper’s publisher and former editor-in-chief – who directs the paper’s editorial page – has been photographed on a private plane with Trump and became known nationally for his firing of an anti-Trump cartoonist and writing an editorial that defended Trump’s language toward immigrants.

Former Defense secretary Bob Gates fired back at a Wall Street Journal editorial that quoted his six-year-old memoir, which said Biden has been wrong about “every major foreign policy and national security issue” over the past four decades. “Fairness requires me to note for the record that those comments written in 2014 also noted that Mr. Biden was a man of genuine integrity and character,” Gates wrote in a letter to the editor. “It is also worth noting that I wrote in these very pages that Donald Trump ‘is stubbornly uninformed about the world and how to lead our country and government, and temperamentally unsuited to lead our men and women in uniform. He is unqualified and unfit to be commander-in-chief.’”

Thinking about what comes next

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Democrats are on pins and needles.

“Trump’s victory in 2016 unleashed gleeful joy among Americans who voted for him and stunned the larger group that voted for Hillary Clinton,” Jenna Johnson reports. “The trauma of that night has hung over the party. Many Democrats say they will not allow themselves to become too optimistic this year, even with some promising signs … So many are afraid they could be wrong again, and this election alone won’t erase that fear.”

Kamala Harris is quietly on the brink of a possibly historic leap.

“Harris, who could be voted the nation’s first female vice president this week, never made ‘pinkie promises’ telling little girls they could be president, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). She did not have a gender-conscious slogan like Clinton’s ‘I’m with her.’ She did not center her campaign’s message on women’s equality like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.),” Chelsea Janes reports. “But in her own, quieter way, Harris has embraced her presence on the cusp of history. Her potential to become the first woman so close to the presidency has gotten less attention than previous female candidacies — in part because of the crises gripping the nation, in part because of other firsts that Harris embodies as a Black and Asian American woman, and in part because of her relatively low-profile way of grappling with gender.”

And intense jockeying is underway for jobs in a potential Biden administration.

Democratic consultant Hilary Rosen, a close ally of the Biden team, said you should not expect Biden to pick any bomb-throwers in his Cabinet if he prevails tomorrow. “He is not somebody who is coming in to disrupt Washington,” she said. “He’s coming in to heal Washington.” Rosen is one of 22 Democratic aides, strategists and advisers to Biden’s campaign, as well as outside allies with knowledge of the transition process, who spoke to Annie Linskey and Sean Sullivan over the weekend.

“Biden’s team hopes to quickly name a White House chief of staff,” they report. “An early favorite is Ron Klain, who was Biden’s chief of staff when he was vice president and also served as President Barack Obama’s ‘Ebola czar,’ which means he has experience dealing with pandemics. A second, if less likely, possibility is Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.) … Richmond would be the first African American to be chief of staff, and if he is not chosen, he is likely to be given another role with broad responsibilities in the White House … Jake Sullivan, a top policy adviser to Biden’s campaign who has often been on the campaign trail with him, could be in line for a top job on health issues … Sullivan also is mentioned as a potential chief of staff.”

Here are other takeaways from Linskey and Sullivan’s reporting, combined with what I have been hearing in my own conversations with Democratic sources: Diversity is going to be a high priority for Biden. He loves the idea of having lots of “firsts” in his appointments, especially because African Americans delivered him the nomination. Michèle Flournoy is considered a front-runner for Defense. She would be the first woman to run the Pentagon. If Democrats control the Senate, former national security adviser Susan Rice is considered a favorite for State. Another name frequently mentioned is Tony Blinken, a longtime Biden aide who was his staff director when he chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Symone Sanders is one of several names being mentioned for White House press secretary; she would be the first African American to hold that high-visibility post.

We have been hearing lots of chatter from insiders about two potential Latino picks for the Cabinet: Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, could be in line for Justice, and Alejandro Mayorkas, who helped devise DACA, could get DHS. Pete Buttigieg is mentioned frequently as a potential ambassador to the United Nations; he would be the first openly gay person to hold that job. 

Expect Biden to give a couple high-profile posts to Republicans if he wins. Perhaps someone like former Ohio governor John Kasich or current Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. John McCain’s widow, Cindy, is on the transition team and in line for something posh if she wants it. Maybe a choice ambassadorship? “I’m very superstitious, so let’s get past Tuesday,” she told Sullivan with a laugh when he asked her about it.

Biden is married to a teacher, and he wants to pick someone with experience in primary or secondary education to replace Betsy DeVos, a billionaire who is detested by teacher unions. A possible Education secretary is Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers. How badly does she want the job? She’s been on a 30-plus-day bus tour to support Biden’s candidacy. Other names in the mix for Education include Lily García, a former head of the National Education Association, and Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the California State Board of Education.

The White House is plotting a possible second-term Cabinet purge if Trump wins.

“On the health side, the administration could see the departures of figures like HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention head Robert Redfield, National Institutes of Health head Francis Collins and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services head Seema Verma,” Politico reports. “On the national security front, government leaders like FBI Director Chris Wray, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Defense Secretary Mark Esper are potentially in the crosshairs. Trump is angry with Wray and Haspel for not investigating his claims, made without any concrete evidence, that the Obama White House conspired against him and his 2016 campaign. … Less high-profile Cabinet secretaries like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are expected to exit, since Trump never really clicked with her. So is Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Attorney General Bill Barr is expected to stay on for part of 2021 … So is Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.” 

The House’s most liberal caucus is divided over how to use its clout.

The 100-member Congressional Progressive Caucus has “some members advocating an aggressive approach — including voting more often as a bloc to wield power — and others urging a more diplomatic strategy,” Rachael Bade reports. “The internal dispute is unnerving outside liberal groups — and privately even some inside the caucus — who fear that their shot at revolutionary change with a Democratic White House and Senate could slip away at the moment the party is in charge. In fact, many activists want the group to go even further and create their own version of the House Freedom Caucus, the conservative coalition that regularly undermined GOP leadership, opposed bipartisan bills in a bid to extract concessions and pushed the party to the right.”

Democrats appear poised to make gains in state legislatures.

“The battle for more than 5,000 state legislative seats has been largely overshadowed by the contentious presidential and congressional elections, but the outcome has significant political consequences. Flipped legislatures would give Democrats a once-in-a-decade influence over redrawing congressional boundaries and would create ‘a wall of Democratic power’ against the nation’s increasingly conservative federal courts, said Jessica Post, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee,” Tim Craig reports. “The DLCC is hoping to flip as many as seven legislative chambers this year, while eroding GOP majorities in such states as Florida and Wisconsin. In the final days of the campaign, Democrats have an edge to take majorities in the Minnesota Senate, the Iowa House of Representatives and both chambers of Arizona’s legislature, according to strategists in both parties and independent analysts, though races in other key states — including in Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Texas — remain close.”

Divided America

© Seth Herald/Reuters Joseph Morrison, Paul Bellar and Pete Musico, identified by a Washington Post analysis, appear in an April 30 photo taken at the Michigan Capitol. (Seth Herald/Reuters)

The alleged Michigan plotters attended multiple anti-lockdown rallies.

“On April 30, outside the Michigan Capitol, protesters gathered to demand that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer end the business closures and other measures she had imposed to slow the transmission of the coronavirus,” Aaron Davis, Dalton Bennett, Sarah Cahlan and Meg Kelly report. “In the crowd that day, according to photos and videos, were Adam Fox and at least five others who are now charged in the plot to kidnap Whitmer or, in related cases, providing material support for a planned terrorist act. According to court records, the defendants, with the 37-year-old Fox accused of being the plot leader, were members of extremist groups and aimed to ‘snatch’ the governor and put her on ‘trial’ for restrictions such as banning large public gatherings. Although charging documents placed them at one political rally, a Washington Post examination of images and video found that the men were present at at least seven rallies in Michigan in the six months before their arrests.” 

One of the anti-lockdown agitators wants to stay out of jail – citing covid-19 fears. “Kaleb Franks of Waterford, a recovering heroin addict who says he has turned his life around after doing time for cocaine and home invasion, has diabetes and high cholesterol, takes insulin daily and fears contracting COVID-19 in jail, his lawyer argued in court documents filed this week,” the Detroit Free Press reports.

  • A Kentucky State Police officer quoted Adolf Hitler three times, as well as Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, while encouraging cadets to be “ruthless” and pursue violence at all costs in a 33-page slide show used for training. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said his office will take “corrective action.” (Jaclyn Peiser)
  • After Walter Wallace was fatally shot by police in Philadelphia, a friend contemplates how best to release the anger. (Robert Klemko)
  • The father of Karon Hylton, the D.C. man who died during a police chase last week, was arrested while protesting and charged with assault on a police officer and resisting arrest. (Tom Jackman)
  • Kyle Rittenhouse, the White 17-year-old accused of shooting two demonstrators, allegedly confessed to officers that night, according to police records. (CBS)
  • Edward Snowden said he will apply for Russian citizenship while also keeping his U.S. nationality. The former NSA contractor, given asylum by Russia after he leaked top-secret files on U.S. government surveillance activities, has lived in Moscow for the past seven years. (Isabelle Khurshudyan)

Social media speed read

Scott Atlas, Trump’s closest coronavirus adviser, claimed he did not know that RT is a Russian government propaganda arm when he gave them a 28-minute interview:

And the forecast calls for nothing but blue skies on Election Day:

Videos of the day

John Oliver looked at what might happen if Bill Barr gets four more years as attorney general:

John Mulaney encouraged people to vote in this week’s “Elderly Man” contest: 

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