Politics

What State Is Most Likely to Put Biden Over the Top?

Five scenarios for how we’ll find out who won.

Joe Biden holds both hands up in front of him while speaking from behind a microphone.
Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, on Wednesday. Jim Watson/Getty Images

As of Thursday afternoon, Joe Biden is inching closer to hitting the 270 electoral vote threshold that he needs to clinch the presidency. Here are five scenarios for how it might happen.

Scenario 1: Nevada

There are lots of ballots left to count in Nevada, and Biden has only an 11,000-plus vote lead in the state. Most of these outstanding ballots are from the Democratic stronghold of Clark County.

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That reality led Nevada elections guru Jon Ralston to pronounce that Donald Trump has “no path left” in the state.

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It would probably be defensible to call Nevada for Biden at this point. The issue there is that the Associated Press and Fox News have already called Arizona for Biden—calls that now seem hasty but that neither outlet has yet retracted. Chris Wallace confirmed Thursday afternoon that Fox has no plans to retract.

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That means that we’re now living in two universes, Electoral College–wise: The AP and Fox have Biden with 264 electoral votes, while everyone else gives Biden 253. And so, if the AP and/or Fox put Nevada in Biden’s column without retracting Arizona, that means the AP and/or Fox will be making the call that Biden will be the next president. Given that, I’d guess that the AP, Fox, and everyone else takes their time calling Nevada, just as Nevada is taking its time counting those outstanding ballots.

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Scenario 2: Georgia

The Georgia secretary of state’s office announced this morning that it would be done counting by noon. It is now many hours past noon and Georgia is … not done counting. And the latest reports suggest that the statewide count won’t be finished at any point today.

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The ballots counted Thursday have been heavily tilted toward Biden, and that’s expected to continue.

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But given the small number of ballots outstanding (about 47,000, per the last update from the secretary of state’s office) and the size of Biden’s current deficit (a little fewer than 13,000 votes), this race is going to be extremely close.

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Given this talk about 1,000-ballot margins and provisional ballots and ballot “curing,” it seems unlikely that anyone will be calling Georgia for either candidate any time soon. But if the vote goes Biden’s way and Georgia gets called before Nevada or Pennsylvania or Arizona, then its 16 electoral votes would put Biden over the top with AP and Fox News and would give him 269 electoral votes according to everyone else—enough to clinch at least a tie.

Scenario 3: Arizona

The next batch of votes out of the Grand Canyon State is coming at 9 p.m. Eastern tonight. Joe Biden is currently up by 68,000 votes, but that margin is expected to tighten.

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At this moment, it’s unclear who will win Arizona, and it’s also unclear when the count will be finished. And yet, the AP and Fox are still out on a limb, continuing to insist that Arizona is a Biden lock.

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If other media orgs were to join the AP and Fox in calling Arizona for Biden, then that wouldn’t be enough for him to clinch the presidency on its own—it would just mean that everyone was in agreement that Biden had 264 electoral votes.

If the AP and Fox don’t retract their Arizona calls, there is no scenario in which those media orgs would consider an Arizona win to be a clincher for Biden. At the risk of stating the obvious: They already think Biden has Arizona, and they still don’t think Biden has clinched the presidency.

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How could Arizona end up being the winning state for Biden? For the non-AP, non-Fox organizations, Arizona could possibly be the final step for Biden if it’s the second state to be decided. If one of Nevada or Georgia (but not both) were to go in Biden’s ledger first, then an Arizona call would put Biden over the top. And if the AP and Fox were to retract their Arizona calls, then they’d be in the same position as all the other media orgs: They, too, could call the presidency for Biden if they gave him Nevada or Georgia and then re-called Arizona for the former vice president.

Scenario 4: Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania secretary of state says that we could have a winner there today. Here’s the state of play:

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Every nonpartisan election forecaster I’ve seen says that Biden is on track to win Pennsylvania, eventually. But even if the nation’s decision desks believe that Pennsylvania will ultimately end up in Biden’s column, they’re going to be understandably hesitant to call it until Biden actually takes the lead in the vote count. With his deficit at around 96,000 votes as of 4:45 p.m. Eastern, it doesn’t feel like that call will come in the next, say, couple of hours, despite the timetable the secretary of state laid out. [Update, Nov. 5, 2020, at 6:10 p.m.: In a press conference tonight, the secretary of state said the count is in the “home stretch” and will continue into the evening.]

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A Pennsylvania call is the cleanest scenario for a Biden clincher: There is a strong consensus that he will win Pennsylvania by a non-nail-biting margin, and Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes would put him over the 270 electoral vote mark even without Arizona (or Nevada or Georgia). So, the question is: When will Biden take the lead in Pennsylvania, and when will the decision desks feel comfortable giving him a big, honking, presidency-winning checkmark?

If the Pennsylvania secretary of state is right about the pace of the vote count, then today will be the day, and Pennsylvania will likely be the state that puts Biden over the top. If the count goes more slowly, then Pennsylvania could put Biden over the top on Friday … if one of these other states doesn’t put him over the top first.

Scenario 5: North Carolina

This is the least likely scenario of them all. Trump is ahead in North Carolina by a little fewer than 77,000 votes. Although it’s unlikely that Biden wins here, it’s not totally impossible.

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Even in the edge case where Biden does somehow win North Carolina, he likely wouldn’t have the race locked up for a long time, given that the state is accepting mail-in ballots that arrive as late as Nov. 12. Biden clinching the presidency by winning North Carolina, then, would probably mean that no other state got called for him for at least a week.

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