President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are racing to drive out the votes of Americans not among the more than 91 million who already cast early ballots as an election that started months before the pandemic, and then was defined by it, heads into its final, frantic hours.
Tuesday’s moment of destiny — and what could turn into a prolonged count owing to the crush of mail-in votes — will decide whether Americans reject Trump after a single term or re-up for four more years of his brazen presidency.
It will unfold as the novel coronavirus emergency surges out of control all over the nation, in the wake of record daily infection rates and with the number of deaths climbing toward 1,000 per day.
The President on Sunday night hinted that he could seek to dismiss Dr. Anthony Fauci after the election after rejecting the admired infectious diseases specialist’s science-based recommendations on the pandemic.
Biden will campaign Monday in Ohio — a late addition to his target list — and Pennsylvania, the state of his birth that could be the tipping point if the election is close. Trump will mount a hectic trip aboard Air Force One through North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in a last-ditch effort to save states he won four years ago and block Biden’s route to the White House.
Biden argues that Trump’s denial and neglect of a pandemic that has killed more than 230,000 Americans and is getting worse by the day should deny the President reelection.
“The truth is, to beat the virus, we first got to beat Donald Trump. He is the virus,” Biden said in Philadelphia on Sunday.
Both Biden and Trump have paths to victory
The Democratic nominee heads into the final day of campaigning with a big lead in national polls and ahead in sufficient swing states to allow multiple routes to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House, including through the Sun Belt and the Midwest.
“We feel very confident about our pathways to victory,” Biden senior adviser Anita Dunn told Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. Biden is hoping that wins in states like Arizona, Florida, Georgia or North Carolina could send an early signal on Tuesday night that he is heading for victory.
Counting in midwestern battlegrounds like Michigan and Wisconsin, where he is expecting to do well, could take longer and lead to the kind of disputed outcome that the President is threatening. Trump has already tried to discredit mail-in ballots, which take longer to count, while Republicans in Texas — so far without success — have been trying to invalidate ballots cast at drive-thru sites in the Houston area.
Build your own road to 270 electoral votes with CNN’s interactive map
Trump, while trailing Biden, also has a clear, if narrower, chance to get to 270 electoral votes that relies on him sweeping through a swath of battlegrounds he won four years ago with what his campaign promises will be a huge Election Day turnout. The President cannot afford to drop states like Florida, Georgia or North Carolina and then must battle Biden in the Midwest — the decisive territory in his victory over Hillary Clinton, where he is struggling by comparison four years later. Still, the President is within striking distance in some swing state polls and Democrats are haunted by the idea that he could yet again defy expectations and pull off a stunning Election Day comeback.
Trump misleads on the virus and casts shadow over election night
The President spent a weekend of splenetic campaigning redirecting responsibility for his mishandling of Covid-19, blaming doctors for inflating death tolls and claiming Biden would clamp new lockdowns on the country if he won.
At a rally in Florida on Sunday night, Trump’s crowd started a chant of “Fire Fauci” when the President complained that everyone heard too much about the pandemic.
“Don’t tell anybody but let me wait until a little bit after the election,” the President said. Fauci has been the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984.
He is respected all over the world and played a major role in the fight against HIV/AIDS and Ebola. In a Washington Post interview published Saturday, Fauci said that the US “could not possibly be positioned more poorly” for the feared winter spike in Covid-19 cases that is now materializing, contradicting Trump’s claims the disease will imminently disappear.
Trump started his day Sunday in snowy Michigan, before traveling through Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia and balmy Florida in an exhausting swing that exemplified his stamina but also his defiance — and that of his big crowds — of social distancing measures his own government recommends to stop the spread of Covid-19.
He again claimed falsely on Sunday — at a rally in North Carolina — that the US was “rounding the turn” in its fight with the virus and that vaccines that he had at one point hoped to roll out before the election were “right there.”
The President is betting that a stream of pro-Trump voters not picked up by the polls will embrace his hyperbolic warnings of a takeover by radical Democrats if Biden wins and his denunciation of rioting in cities he blames on left-wing thugs.
But an air of foreboding is hanging over one of the most surreal elections in modern US history. Reports of delays in the delivery of mail-in votes in several crucial battleground states deepened anxiety over the possibility of protracted legal duels between the campaigns in the event of a close election.
The added time and complication of troves of mail-in ballots could offer the President leeway to cast fresh doubt on the integrity of an election that he has warned will only be fair he emerges as the winner.
In Texas, the state Supreme Court denied a petition by a group of Republicans seeking to invalidate nearly 127,000 ballots cast at drive-thru facilities in Harris County, a heavily Democratic area that surrounds Houston. Republicans have also filed suit in federal court, which has an emergency hearing Monday morning in Houston.
The FBI has meanwhile opened an investigation into a caravan of vehicles driven by Trump supporters allegedly harassing a Biden-Harris campaign bus in Texas.
And the President added to fears of a disputed election by again casting suspicion on the perfectly normal practice of vote counts continuing after election night — a likely occurrence this year since some states can’t even start counting the torrent of mail-in ballots until Election Day.
“I think it’s a terrible thing when ballots can be collected after an election,” Trump said in the crucial state of North Carolina, which he is battling to keep in his column despite demographic changes that give Democrats hope.
“I think it’s a terrible thing when people or states are allowed to tabulate ballots for a long period of time after the election is over because it can only lead to one thing, and that’s very bad. You know what that thing is. I think it’s a very dangerous, terrible thing,” Trump told reporters.
In another ominous comment, the President said that as soon as voting was over in states like Pennsylvania, “We’re going in with our lawyers,” after railing against a Supreme Court decision that left in place for now a decision by Pennsylvania’s top bench to allow the counting of ballots up to three days after Election Day.
Elections are, however, not decided by time limits — they depend on all the votes being counted.
Concern over premature victory declaration
But Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said on “State of the Union” that she was concerned that Trump could try to declare victory in her state if Election Day voting tallies showed him with a lead before early and mail-in votes were counted.
“I think that’s a very real possibility and that’s why we are trying to make sure that everyone in the press understands the volume of votes that are coming in is like nothing we’ve ever seen before and it is going to take time to count,” she said.
“And it’s more important that we get a count that is accurate than a count that is fast and might not be accurate.”
Biden on Sunday sought to convince Black voters, who are historically more likely to vote on Election Day, to show up in the numbers he needs in cities and suburbs to make up for Trump’s dominance of the rural heartland.
He took part in a “Souls to the Polls” get-out-the-vote event at a Baptist church in Philadelphia and then held a drive-in rally. He called out disparities in the impact of the virus on minorities and, in the cradle of the American experiment, he painted Trump as a threat to basic American freedoms.
“Every generation has to fight to keep the democracy. I never believed we’d have to fight this hard though,” Biden said.
His running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, traveled to North Carolina and Georgia, two states where Democrats believe they can win partly based on a strong turnout of African American voters.
“Let’s not ever let anyone take our power from us. Let us not be sidelined, let us not be silent, there is too much at stake and the ancestors expect so much more from us than that,” Harris said in North Carolina.