The most intriguing aspect of this election to ponder, as we wait for the results on Tuesday night, is that polls show Joe Biden narrowly ahead or narrowly trailing in a number of large states, any single one of which would likely deliver him the Presidency. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Biden holds on to all of the Hillary Clinton states, and adds the two Midwestern Trump states where Biden’s lead has been the safest, Michigan and Wisconsin. And let’s also assume that he wins Nebraska’s Second Congressional District, where he has led in the limited polling this year. That leaves him with two hundred and fifty-nine electoral votes. This means, to reach the magic number of two hundred and seventy, Biden needs only one of the following states: Pennsylvania, Arizona, Florida, Texas, Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina. What’s so concerning to Democrats is that they’re not convinced that any one of them is certain to go blue.
Pennsylvania is Biden’s most likely pickup, and he heads into Election Day leading by around five percentage points, according to the polling Web site FiveThirtyEight. But possible pollster error in that state, combined with fears about ballot design and lawsuits—not to mention the prospect of a delayed vote count—have left Biden supporters looking elsewhere. And that is what promises to make Tuesday night so fascinating, because none of the remaining states suggest a clear Biden advantage. He has held small leads in the polling averages in Florida, North Carolina, and Georgia, but none of them are close to a sure thing. Texas has seen remarkably high levels of early voting, but polls still show a Trump edge, and it may be another election cycle or two before Texas starts to lean Democratic. And Ohio, which Trump won by more than eight percentage points in 2016, will probably go to Biden only if it’s a truly lopsided night for him. That leaves Arizona, which has shown a steady, consistent lead for the former Vice-President, and doesn’t have the same reservoir of non-college-educated white voters that partly explained the polling error in 2016. It’s probably Biden’s best bet if he doesn’t want to wait until Pennsylvania.
The scary prospect facing Democrats is that Biden could win a majority nationwide—even a comfortable one—and come up just short in all of these states. But Trump, again, almost certainly has to win them all, assuming that Biden can hold on to the two hundred and fifty-nine electoral votes his campaign feels most confident about. That’s why what the Biden campaign will be looking for is not necessarily a strong showing across the Southern battlegrounds and Ohio but an outstanding showing in just one of them. Such are the vagaries of the Electoral College.