Biden Leads, but No Call Yet Four Days After Election: This Week in the 2020 Race

Welcome to our weekly analysis of the state of the 2020 campaign.

As Election Day turned into Election Week, an anxious nation lost days of productivity, with Americans interested only in what map gurus like CNN’s John King and MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki had to say about the effect of every new tranche of votes on the outcome of the race. And, a bold race call awarding Arizona to Joseph R. Biden Jr. by Fox News on election night, followed by The Associated Press, shocked the Trump campaign.

As of late Friday, Mr. Biden was within striking distance of being the next president of the United States, powered by tight statewide victories in the Midwest states that went for President Trump in 2016: Michigan and Wisconsin. Mr. Biden was leading in Pennsylvania, another state that went for Mr. Trump in the last cycle. The former vice president was ahead in Arizona in the West, and Georgia in the South — giving Democrats hope for future victories in those states in spite of poor results down ballot elsewhere.

It was a mixed bag of results that is not yet final, as some states may require a recount while others continue to count ballots. Here are four takeaways from the results we know so far:

Democrats spent election night in a state of panic, as it became clear that Republican turnout surged passed polling predictions and Mr. Trump had an enduring coalition. By Thursday, as Mr. Biden edged closer to 270 electoral votes, Democratic fears had subsided but not disappeared. The party lost key Congressional races, failed to flip several state legislatures, and continued to show weakness among voting populations in Florida, Texas and Iowa.

There was one subset of the political world that felt vindicated by the nail-biter presidential race: Democrats who worked for Hillary Clinton. The closeness of the Biden-Trump race suggests that the 2016 election outcome may have been less about Mrs. Clinton’s political weaknesses than it was about Mr. Trump’s political strengths.

In some of the states that Mr. Biden managed to flip, like Wisconsin, his victory was by a slim margin of about 20,000 votes. Four years ago, Mrs. Clinton lost the state by about 22,000. A potential victory with more than 300 electoral votes would look like a blowout for Mr. Biden, but it would also mask the fact that in some of the most critical states, the race was still only won by a hair.

Mr. Biden has not received the wide margins nationwide that many liberals had been hoping for. The silver lining for some former members of Clintonworld, as one put it: The 2016 Democratic nominee might not go down in history as the political version of Bill Buckner, who blew the World Series for the Red Sox in 1986 by letting a ground ball go through his legs.

“His electoral strength in 2016 had less to do with any shortcomings of Hillary Clinton as a candidate or of her campaign than with Trump’s own appeal to a broad segment of the population,” Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and a member of the D.N.C.’s executive committee, said of Mr. Trump. “We need as Democrats to understand that and confront it more effectively going forward.”

Philippe Reines, a former top adviser to Mrs. Clinton both in the Senate and at the State Department, was even more blunt. “Hillary’s owed more than a few apologies for how her campaign was assessed,” Mr. Reines said. Jennifer Palmieri, who served as communications director for the 2016 Clinton campaign, said that the current election gives a new perspective to the race four years ago.

“There’s only so much you can do to ameliorate larger forces,” Ms. Palmieri said. “When I see young Latino and African-American men siding with Trump in a way they didn’t in 2016, I don’t fault the Biden campaign’s African-American radio program. It is a symptom of a larger change that’s happening.”

The tight map means that the Trump campaign will be forced to reckon with the realization that if they had done any number of small things differently, or if the candidate had not pursued unhelpful fights with political enemies (even beyond the grave), this thing could have gone the other way.

Campaign officials and outside advisers acknowledged that Republicans were damaged in Arizona by Mr. Trump’s yearslong feud with Senator John McCain, a beloved figure in his home state, a personal disdain that continued even after he died in 2018. Fox News and The A.P. called Arizona for Mr. Biden on Tuesday night.

In Georgia, Mr. Biden took a narrow lead on Friday thanks to votes from Clayton County, the district that was represented by former Representative John Lewis, the civil rights icon who died in July. Mr. Trump had berated Mr. Lewis for calling his presidency “illegitimate,” noting that he should spend more time fixing his “horrible” and “crime-infested” district. Apparently, those words were not easily forgotten by the voters who lived there.

Some of his supporters were already playing the “what if” game, more broadly. “Where would Trump be if he never said what he said about Charlottesville, if he never said what he said about Khizr Khan, about Mika Brzezinski,” said Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary to President George W. Bush. In other words, where would he be if he wasn’t Donald Trump?


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