PHILADELPHIA — With President Donald Trump leading Joe Biden by 196,000 votes and 12 percent of the estimated vote still uncounted, Pennsylvania Democrats and Republicans spent Wednesday working out the rough math surrounding the as-yet-uncounted mail-in ballots.
There were more than 1 million mail ballots left to be counted as of 2:35 p.m., according to Pennsylvania’s Department of State. So far, 78 percent of mail ballots have broken for Biden and 21 percent have been won by Trump.
If that pace continues — and it’s a big if — Biden would take the lead. Looking at the amount of mail ballots Biden is winning as well as the places still to be fully counted, some Democratic elected officials and consultants, including Sen. Bob Casey, estimate Biden will carry Pennsylvania by about 100,000 votes in a tight race.
“Biden has been winning the absentee votes by a fairly steady margin, so the math is pretty simple,” said J.J. Balaban, a Pennsylvania-based Democratic strategist. “There’s no reason to think that there is going to be a big change in the uncounted mail-in ballots from the ones that have been counted.”
Democrats also point to the fact that Biden is performing better than Hillary Clinton in places such as northeastern Pennsylvania’s Lackawanna County, where he was born. And he’s ahead of Trump by less than half a percentage point in Northampton County, one of three counties in the state that flipped to Trump in 2016 after twice voting for President Barack Obama.
But all of that depends on whether Biden continues on the current track. There is another scenario, laid out Wednesday by Trump’s campaign and state Republican strategists, predicated on the idea that Trump will perform more strongly in the mail ballots left to be counted because many are from areas where he is popular.
They projected early today the president would receive 30 percent of the vote in the remaining areas still counting mail ballots with the exception of Philadelphia, where they would take 5 percent — a number Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said “a very, very conservative estimate.”
The Trump team’s rationale is that as of Wednesday morning, some of the counties with mail ballots left to count included Trump strongholds in western and northeastern Pennsylvania. Some are sparsely populated, but others are larger counties such as Westmoreland. Under that scenario, the Trump team claimed this morning that the president would defeat Biden by 40,000 votes.
“Looking at where those ballots are from, they’re not all coming from Democratic strongholds. Some are, but not all,” said Charlie Gerow, a GOP consultant in Pennsylvania. “So there are going to be areas of the state where Trump either wins or comes very close in the mail-in balloting.”
Trump himself spent the day railing against the state, and his campaign filed a motion with the Supreme Court to intervene on a lawsuit to stop the count of mail-in ballots that are postmarked by Election Day, but received within three days of Nov. 3. With more than 1 million mail-in ballots left to be tallied, his aides also prematurely declared that he had won Pennsylvania. It is too early to know who has carried the state.
“The promise of democracy is that every vote counts,” Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf told reporters Wednesday morning. “Make no mistake: Our democracy is being tested. This is a stress test of the ideals upon which this country was founded.”
Both Trump’s campaign and Democrats expressed confidence Wednesday in their positions in the state, laying out different pathways to victory. But as the day went on and more mail ballots were tallied, Trump’s lead over Biden shrunk from 13 percentage points to just 3.
For months, Pennsylvania-based operatives and elected officials in both camps have predicted a nail-biter race below the polling averages showing Biden with a steady lead of between 5 and 7 percentage points in the last month.
As the final results become more clear, many Democrats and Republicans here are still expecting a closer finish than surveys indicated because of the trendlines they see in the vote count so far.
The Trump campaign said Wednesday it was dispatching family members and high-profile allies — Eric Trump, Lara Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Pam Bondi and Corey Lewandowski — to downtown Philadelphia for a press conference on Wednesday. As hundreds of police, reporters and activists gathered for the event, the campaign announced that it would be held at a different time at the city airport.
Giuliani baselessly claimed “massive cheating” is taking place in Pennsylvania. Trump’s aides also said they would sue to stop mail ballots in the state from being tallied due to a lack of transparency, which election officials here strongly disputed.
“No one believes that. That’s just ridiculous,” said Casey. “They will be met with as good a legal team as they have ever faced, and I think their betting average of suing in Pennsylvania will remain perfect. They will be not just 0-5, they’ll be 0-6 or 0-8 or 0-20.”