It’s been a bad year for things going well, and Election Night has been no exception. Judging by pre-election polling, Joe Biden had an excellent shot of scoring an early, knockout blow against Donald Trump by flipping a couple Sun Belt states that had gone for the Republican four years ago. That has not happened yet. Instead, the president appears to have won Florida comfortably and, as of this writing, is leading in Texas and North Carolina, although the last is hardly airtight. Georgia, meanwhile, is neck and neck.
This said, the presidential picture is rosier for Democrats than many appreciate. Biden appears strongly favored in both Arizona and Nebraska’s Second Congressional District, which awards one Electoral College vote. If the Democratic nominee holds on in both those contests, he can afford to lose North Carolina, Georgia, and Pennsylvania — so long as he retains all of Clinton’s other 2016 states while flipping Wisconsin and Michigan. In the Badger State, Trump appears to be running behind his 2016 margins in some key suburban counties — before any of the (likely Democrat-leaning) mail-in vote has been counted. Michigan is generally considered a more Democratic-leaning state than Wisconsin. And anyhow, the few (nearly) complete county results returns from Pennsylvania are consistent with a Biden victory in the Keystone State.
Meanwhile, if you plug in every state result that has been called by a major network into FiveThirtyEight’s forecasting model, it gives Biden a 90 percent chance of securing an Electoral College majority.
There’s still a lot of uncertainty. But the available data is more in keeping with Joe Biden hitting 270 electoral votes than with Donald Trump doing so.
The problem for Democrats lies down-ballot. To win a Senate majority (after inevitably losing their incumbent in Alabama), Democrats needed to flip four Republican seats without losing any more of their own. Their most plausible path for hitting that mark was to win races in Maine, Colorado, Arizona, and North Carolina. But Susan Collins is currently ahead and beating her polling by a large margin, and Thom Tillis is poised to defeat Cal Cunningham in the Tar Heel State. Meanwhile, Republican senator Joni Ernst has fended off Democrat Theresa Greenfield in Iowa, which was the Democrats’ next most promising pickup opportunity. It is still possible that Montana governor Steve Bullock pulls off an unlikely victory in Montana tonight — and/or that Democrats win one or two runoff Senate elections in Georgia. But neither of those things is especially likely.
All of which is to say: If I had to guess the ultimate outcome of this election, I’d say we’re in for a Democratic White House and a Republican Senate. Which would mean that, while Joe Biden would get to be president, he probably wouldn’t get to pass major laws, appoint non-conservative judges, or staff his Cabinet without giving Mitch McConnell some input into his hiring choices. What’s more, after two years of disappointing his supporters by implementing roughly none of his big campaign promises — and, quite possibly, failing to provide an ailing economy with any significant stimulus — Biden would likely see his party further routed in 2022, as Republicans would enjoy the turnout advantage that almost always accrues to the president’s opposition in midterms. Combined with the Senate’s massive overrepresentation of Red America, this would quite plausibly prevent the Democratic Party from securing unified control of the federal government — and thus the ability to make any progress on universal health care, or a green-energy transition, or immigration reform, or voting rights, or child care, or any other major policy priority — for the rest of this decade.
Biden’s still likely to prevail in the 2020 election. But if he does, he’s (almost certainly) going to win a lot less than he’d bargained for.