With Joe Biden’s commanding lead in the polls, President Donald Trump will have to win pretty much every toss-up state tonight and in the coming days to secure re-election.
It’s not unprecedented. That’s essentially what he did in 2016.
If we’re in for another Trump wave, Republican pollster Frank Luntz lists the 4 states to watch for the first signs of it. These states “all come in early” on Election Day and “Donald Trump has to win all four” in order to get re-elected, Luntz told Yahoo Finance.
Those 4 states are Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Ohio. Georgia’s polls close first at 7:00 PM eastern time followed by North Carolina and Ohio at 7:30 and Florida at 8:00.
If Trump can perform a clean sweep there, Luntz said, he’ll live to fight another day in places like Pennsylvania. But “if Joe Biden wins any of those 4 states, then Biden will win the electoral college.”
The states are among the first closing on Tuesday but, more importantly, they have already been counting the wave of absentee ballots that have come in as Americans adjust to voting during a pandemic. Georgia began processing absentee ballots on Oct. 19, and Florida has also been processing ballots for weeks.
Ohio and North Carolina are also counting absentee ballots early but with one catch: they accept ballots that arrive by mail after Election day. So if the result is lopsided, a winner could be declared quickly, but a close election could mean days of waiting for the final votes to arrive and be counted.
Luntz also said the 4 states have “relatively clean election histories.”
Some Democrats have talked about a “red mirage” where Trump’s supporters largely vote on Election Day and have their ballots counted first. The effect would be initial results that seem to show a Trump victory that fades over time.
In his 4 states, Luntz seems concerned about the opposite possibility where mail-in-ballots are reported first, leading to early advantages for Biden that then fade.
Trump won all 4 states in 2016 by sizable margins but the races are much closer this time around.
Based on the final wave of polling, Florida may be Biden’s best chance to seal the election early. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has poured millions of dollars into the state to support the Biden campaign, and a final polling average has Biden at 47.9% in the state compared to 47% for Trump.
‘Pennsylvania is a mess’
One state Luntz and other observers will definitely not be putting much stock in on election night is Pennsylvania.
“Pennsylvania is a mess,” he said, pointing to the state law that doesn’t allow workers there to begin processing absentee ballots until Election Day. Pennsylvania’s top election official has promised the “overwhelming majority” of results by Friday.
Biden’s polling in Pennsylvania – while tightening lately – has remained favorable to Democrats.
“It’s going to look like tonight that Donald Trump has won Pennsylvania because the people who are voting on the day, those votes are counted first,” said Luntz.
Earlier on Yahoo Finance, former Trump communications director Anthony Scaramucci predicted that Trump would lose Florida: “I think this is over by 11 pm eastern time,” making Pennsylvania’s drawn-out process moot.
Luntz expects it might take a bit longer. “Take it easy, take a pill, have a drink,” he said, before quickly adding, “not at the same time.”
Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.