WASHINGTON — A tumultuous election night yielded no definitive result between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden, with both candidates locked in razor-thin races in a slate of battleground states that were expected to continue tallying votes into Nov. 4 and possibly beyond.
Contests in North Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin were all uncalled as of early Nov. 4, with officials scrambling to count both ballots cast Nov. 3 and a surge of ballots sent through the mail.
Of the major swing states, The Associated Press had called Florida for Trump and Arizona for Biden early Nov. 4. The AP also called Iowa, Ohio and Texas for the president and Minnesota for Biden, though those states were considered second-tier battlegrounds. Biden also flipped the electoral vote in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, according to the AP, which could be pivotal in a close race.
Election officials said they expected delayed results in many states, especially in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, three Midwestern states that could ultimately determine the outcome. In some Pennsylvania counties, for instance, local officials said they planned to not even begin counting those ballots until Nov. 4.
“We believe we’re on track to win this election,” Biden told a drive-in crowd in Wilmington, Delaware, early Nov. 4. “We’re confident about Arizona, that’s a turnaround. We’re still in the game in Georgia, although that’s not what we expected.” He added, “We’re going to win Pennsylvania.”
That Biden did not immediately appear the victor, as polls indicated he might, is a deep disappointment to Democrats. And it will bolster Republican arguments that Trump was never as big an underdog as was widely believed, even as his path to reelection remained narrow.
Speaking from the White House, Trump went further, falsely claiming that ballots still being counted were fraudulent and declaring victories in states that had not yet been called by a news outlet.
“We were getting ready to win this election,” he declared, complaining about the lack of full results, even though election officials have warned for weeks that counting in certain states would take days. “Frankly, we did this election,” the president incorrectly added.
There’s still a long way to go before the results are finalized, but here are three takeaways from the initial returns:
No Blue Wave (or Red Wave)
While a 2020 presidential election victor remains unclear, it’s now readily apparent that the results won’t create the blue wave that Democrats were increasingly hoping for entering Nov. 3. It will not prove to be a red wave, either.
It’s another closely contested national election that defied polling, surprised analysts but tracked closely with what most Americans are getting used to: A relatively evenly split country, divided by deep blue cities and increasingly reddening rural areas.
Whereas Trump held onto several key states he carried in 2016, like Florida, Iowa and Ohio, battlegrounds like Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin remained too close to call, with just a few percentage points separating the candidates
While it was not the evening of numbers some Democrats were anticipating, it could still turn out to be a significant victory. It will just take days to know.
But Republicans can take solace in avoiding the down-ballot wipeout some were privately bracing for. The GOP had escaped election night clinging to its tiny advantage in the Senate and it avoided deeper losses in the U.S. House.
Stop us if you’ve heard this before: Polls of the presidential race were wrong.
In a development eerily similar to the one that shook the political world in 2016, a battery of battleground polls in select states appear to have misjudged Trump’s level of support, painting a much more bearish picture for the president’s reelection chances in the run-up to Election Day than was actually true.
That was no more true than in Florida, where an array of surveys found Biden holding a small but persistent lead. In reality, Trump appeared to easily win an outright majority in the state, with more than 95 percent of the vote in, with a million more raw votes cast for him than 2016. He led by more than 3 percentage points over Biden.
The FiveThirtyEight polling average, meanwhile, showed Biden with a 2-point edge heading into Nov. 3, a net difference of 5 points.
Polls also missed their mark in Ohio, where Trump won decisively despite a polling average that showed the race neck and neck. Results are still being tabulated, but even many Democrats are skeptical that the roughly 8-point national lead Biden held in polls will ultimately hold up when all the votes are counted.
To an industry already reeling from after 2016, it’s yet another blow to its credibility.
Democrats’ Hispanic voter flop in Florida
Arguably the biggest disaster for Democrats on election night was the crumbling of their vote share in Miami-Dade County, where more than two-thirds of residents are Hispanic.
Biden won just 53 percent of the traditional Democratic stronghold, a collapse of 10 points from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance, dooming his chances to swipe Florida’s 29 electoral votes from the GOP’s column.
The reason was immediately apparent: Trump’s appeals to the Hispanic community broke through, especially on digital and social media, where his campaign branded the Democratic ticket as socialists — a message particularly resonant with the Cuban community.
“We kept saying we had to push back but completely missed the boat,” said a Biden aide working the state, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly. “On social targeting … we just keep getting hit under the radar. We got worked with the socialism narrative. New immigrants are more conservative and open to Trump’s message.”
Two other casualties of the failure were a pair of Miami-area Democratic congresswomen: Reps. Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who were favored to win reelection.
While Republicans were quick to cite Trump’s rising Hispanic support as a crucial overlooked component to his reelection path, it wasn’t immediately clear how widespread the problem was.
Biden still held a comfortable lead in Arizona early Nov. 4, where nearly 20 percent of eligible voters are Hispanic.