President Donald Trump has once again defied polls and predictions, with a strong showing across the Sun Belt in early results appearing to significantly shrink Democratic nominee Joe Biden's path to victory.
Trump's leads in North Carolina, Georgia, and – most significantly – Florida appeared to foreclose the chances of a wave election that Biden could ride easily to the White House. The president's ability to chip away at support among Latino and Black voters – while encouraging more of his White, rural base to come out to the polls – denied Democrats hope that the coronavirus pandemic and president's sagging approval ratings could make for an early night.
There are still ways for Biden to win – principally by reclaiming the Rust Belt states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania that have been the centerpiece of his campaign. And a victory in Arizona – where Biden held a substantial advantage in early vote totals reported Tuesday night – could provide the former vice president with crucial breathing room and tilt the contest back in his favor.
Still, Trump's allies appeared increasingly bullish as results came in Tuesday night. The president's strategy of aggressive campaigning and outreach to minority communities paid early dividends, particularly in Florida. One Trump campaign official speaking on the condition of anonymity said that so far, the model came out right for how the races would break and they were feeling good about the night.
"It's happening," tweeted Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller.
Trump's campaign grew confident that he would prevail in Florida, Georgia and Ohio, potentially paving the way to an Electoral College victory, according to people familiar with the matter.
The president dropped in on an Election Night party attended by some of his closest advisers and top campaign officials in the East Room of the White House, according to people familiar with the event. Guests included Attorney General William Barr, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and top economic adviser Larry Kudlow.
For many Democrats, Tuesday night echoed election night in 2016, when what appeared to be a solid advantage for Hillary Clinton quickly evaporated as vote totals came in.
Early returns also provided promising signs for Senate Republicans, who entered the night concerned they could lose their majority. But despite the quick defeat of Cory Gardner in Colorado, Lindsey Graham in South Carolina won his race and Thom Tillis in North Carolina was leading, making it increasingly unlikely Democrats would gain control of the upper chamber.
Biden will need to do substantially better among key demographics in Northern states than he managed in the South, where he appeared to lose ground among the suburban and Black voters he hoped would propel him to the White House.
And Biden's hopes may hinge on states like Pennsylvania where the vote is expected to take days to be tabulated, with the president's campaign already pledging aggressive legal battles. A prolonged fight – particularly if the president is seen to have the momentum – could prove fatal to Biden's chances, particularly in a federal judiciary that Trump has reshaped with loyalists during his first term.
Disclaimer: This article first appeared on Bloomberg.