It’s two days after the US presidential election, and a winner still eludes us. As the ballots from more than 160 million Americans continue to be counted, however, a picture is starting to come into focus.
Now that Michigan and Wisconsin have been projected for Biden, the national race is boiling down to Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and Pennsylvania.
It’s 253 electoral college votes to Biden and 214 to Trump, with the White House in their grasp if they reach 270.
Here’s what the candidates need to happen in order to win the White House.
How Biden can win
To put it simply, Democrat Joe Biden simply has to maintain the lead he currently holds in Arizona and Nevada (light blue states on the map). If he does that, he hits 270 electoral votes – the bare minimum needed to take the White House.
In Michigan, Biden pulled ahead of Trump in the early morning hours as mail-in ballots were counted in heavily Democratic Detroit – and by late afternoon he was projected to win the state. In neighbouring Wisconsin, the trend there has been decidedly in his favour too. Republicans are talking about a recount.
Biden has maintained a steady lead in Arizona with more mail-in ballots to be counted. The margin in Nevada is just a few thousand votes, but all election-day votes – which have tilted Republican – have been counted and only mail-in ballots, which have typically favoured Democrats, are left.
For the moment, Biden seems to have the path of least resistance to the presidency.
How Trump can win
Like Biden, to retain the White House Trump has to hold on in the remaining key states where he has a lead. In his case, that’s Pennsylvania and Georgia (light red on the map above). Then, the Republican has to peel away at least one of those aforementioned states where Biden is on top.
Nevada is very, very close. It wouldn’t take much of a shift to move the state into Trump’s column. If the late-arriving mail ballots – postmarked on election day but can be delivered after – turn out to be from Trump-leaning independents or Republicans, not Democrats as expected, the picture for the president could brighten considerably.
Arizona is another possible flip for the president. Like Nevada, there are only mail-ballots left to be tabulated. The state has a more established tradition of postal voter, however, and Arizona Democrats haven’t shown the same kind of advantage in those ballots as they have in Nevada. Biden’s lead in Arizona is much larger than his margin in Nevada, but there is also the possibility of bigger shifts.
As for Wisconsin, it is heading in the wrong direction for the president. While Trump may be holding out hope in this Midwest battleground, the numbers are moving away from him.
Biden’s back-up plan
Trump’s route back to the White House may rely on holding his leads in Pennsylvania and Georgia, but that doesn’t mean he’s safe in either of those states. The ballots remaining to be counted in Georgia are from heavily Democratic counties around Atlanta.
In Pennsylvania, there are more than a million mail-in ballots left to tabulate. Even though Trump has a bigger lead in the Keystone State, the vote-counting trends that moved Biden ahead in Wisconsin and Michigan may play themselves out there, as well.
If Biden can pick off Pennsylvania, he can afford to lose both Arizona and Nevada. If the Democrat flips Georgia, he can lose one or the other (otherwise, it’s an electoral college tie that goes to the House).
In other words, unlike Trump, Biden has a number of different paths to get to presidential victory. They may be less likely, but they are still very real.
A legal showdown looms
Regardless of the ultimate outcome, what was once a nightmare scenario is taking shape, with Biden claiming he is on a path to victory and Trump lobbing accusations of voter fraud and electoral theft without providing any evidence.
It’s a recipe for acrimony and a protracted court battle, which ends with supporters on the losing side feeling angry and cheated. The Trump campaign has already announced that they will request a recount in Wisconsin.
Although the final results aren’t known, what is clear on election night is that the US continues to be a sharply divided nation. The American voters did not repudiate Trump in any meaningful way. Nor did they give him the kind of ringing endorsement that the president had hoped for.
Instead, the battle lines are drawn – and the political warfare will continue no matter who prevails in this particular election.
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