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News Brief: Ballot Counting Continues In Tight Presidential Race

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The presidential election is not yet decided, but some tight wins yesterday has given Joe Biden the edge, and President Trump and his supporters are fighting that reality.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The president and supporters conducted a startling reversal yesterday. When the first votes to be tabulated gave the president a seeming advantage, he demanded that officials stop counting the rest. A crowd appeared at the doors of a counting center in Detroit, Mich.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Stop the count. Stop the count. Stop the count. Stop the count.

INSKEEP: They're chanting stop the count. It soon became apparent that if officials did stop counting, the president would lose because he is trailing. So in Arizona, pro-Trump demonstrators demanded the opposite.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Count the votes. Count the votes. Count the votes. Count the votes.

INSKEEP: The count continues, in any case. Aside from the electoral map, Biden leads the popular vote with more than 72 million so far, more than 3 million ahead of the president and an all-time record.

MARTIN: We've got NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson with us. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: Steve just outlined where we are on the electoral votes, but give us the scorecard more broadly speaking.

LIASSON: The scorecard is that the AP declared Michigan for Biden last night - despite those protests - puts him at 264 electoral votes. He needs 270 to win. So that means he needs just one more state - could be Nevada, Pennsylvania, North Carolina or Georgia. So he's pretty close to getting 270 and winning the election.

MARTIN: So Trump's path is narrowing, but there still is a path, right?

LIASSON: Yes, still is a path. He has 214 electoral votes. He would need to win Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Nevada and Georgia or be successful in one of the legal challenges that his campaign is filing. You just heard some of that. It's not clear whether any of those will be successful. Some of them, as you just showed, are aimed at pausing the vote counts. In other places, he needs the vote counting to continue because if the vote counting stopped everywhere right now, Biden would win. At one point, the president tweeted yesterday, we hereby claim Michigan. That's not how it works.

MARTIN: Right. So let's talk about Wisconsin. The race was very tight there. Joe Biden was declared the winner, but the president wants a recount, right?

LIASSON: The president wants a recount if the margin is 1% or less. In Wisconsin, the trailing candidate can pay for a recount. But former Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker said tens of thousands of votes - that's where - how much Biden is ahead in Wisconsin right now - would be almost impossible to make up in a recount.

MARTIN: All right. So let's talk about Joe Biden. He gave an address yesterday saying that he expects to win, stopping short of declaring victory. What are Democrats telling you right now?

LIASSON: Well, it's almost as if they're dueling headlines. One is "Biden On Track To Victory." The second one is "Terrible Outcome For Democrats." I guess only Democrats could not be celebrating this. But the fact is it wasn't the resounding victory they'd hoped for. They got a rejection of Trump, not a full-blown repudiation, and they didn't pick up seats in the House. Every poll got that wrong. Looks like Republicans will retain control of the Senate; Republicans are pretty happy about that. Perhaps the happiest man in Washington today is Mitch McConnell.

MARTIN: Mitch McConnell, though, other Republicans are not exactly coming to the president's defense when he's making all these misstatements.

LIASSON: No, no, they're not saying - they're not joining him in declaring victory and saying that the election was stolen from him. You're only seeing the Trump campaign, Rudy Giuliani, Pam Bondi, members of the Trump family, coming out and saying that. Even Mitch McConnell, who - has said going to court is fine, but so is counting votes. Even the vice president, Mike Pence, has not echoed the president's charge that this election was stolen from him.

MARTIN: NPR's Mara Liasson, thank you.

LIASSON: You're welcome.

MARTIN: All right. So let's talk more about Michigan right now. This was a crucial flip for Joe Biden. President Trump, though, was refusing at this point to take the loss.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Mara mentioned that the Trump campaign filed a lawsuit to pause the counting of ballots until Trump's lawyers are able to inspect vote counting locations and even the ballots themselves.

MARTIN: We've got Eli Newman with us on the line now from Michigan. He's a reporter for our member station WDET in Detroit. Good morning, Eli.

ELI NEWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: I mean, President Trump was clearly expecting to take Michigan this year. He won there by a small margin back in 2016. He campaigned hard in Michigan. What happened?

NEWMAN: So I think we have to remember that in 2016, President Trump only won Michigan by 10,000 votes. And in this year, Michigan has more than 8 million registered voters. And so Trump's messaging has been really effective at maintaining that base of white voters. But Democrats here have spent the last four years kicking out the vote to close that gap. And we got a sense of some of those efforts during the 2018 midterm elections where we saw two congressional districts flip blue alongside statewide wins, including the election of our governor, Gretchen Whitmer. So Democrats believe that momentum would continue into 2020, counting on that increased voter turnout, which happened. The state is expecting more than 5.3 million people will be casting ballots this year. And Democrats were also able to chip away at some of those margin in rural counties, in places like Traverse City, where Trump campaigned the evening before Election Day. He saw his win in that county drop 10 points.

MARTIN: So now the president and his lawyers want to halt vote counting there. He has filed a lawsuit to try to make that happen. But on what grounds, Eli? What's the campaign arguing here?

NEWMAN: So the Trump campaign is arguing that Michigan election officials haven't been allowing poll challengers, specifically Republican poll challengers, to observe video of ballot boxes in which absentee ballots are being placed. Now, throughout this entire election process, there's been local and national media present at where these ballots have been counted, and we've observed both Republican and Democratic and bipartisan challengers throughout this whole process. So it seems that the claims are somewhat baseless. And the fact that Michigan has voted in most of its ballots already, it's really unclear what the goal in stopping the vote would actually achieve.

So Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who's named in the lawsuit, dismissed the lawsuit as frivolous, thinking that it's meant to sow seeds of doubt in this election. And that's a sentiment held by many other Democrats in the state. But we're already seeing the effects of what that lawsuit is bringing. Pretty much as soon as President Trump tweeted that they would be challenging these results, we saw a number of Republican protesters appear in downtown Detroit chanting to stop the count and staying kind of outside of these counting precincts where there are really strict COVID-19 restrictions about who is able to enter. And so we saw a bit of a standoff between those people.

MARTIN: All right. Eli Newman of WDET giving us the latest on the vote counting or the result in Michigan. We appreciate it. Thanks, Eli.

NEWMAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: All right. We're going to spend a few minutes now talking about how the economy played into Americans' votes this year.

INSKEEP: Millions of people lost their jobs this year because of the pandemic, and that, in turn, affected who they voted for in this election. But many voters also say the U.S. economy is good or even excellent, according to an Associated Press survey.

MARTIN: NPR's chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley is going to try to help us understand those different perceptions of the U.S. economy. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So the heart of this campaign season happened while the U.S. was digging itself out of what was the deepest recession in almost a century. And yet, many voters, according to this report by The Associated Press, say the economy is in good shape. Makes sense of that.

HORSLEY: It is a little surprising. It's certainly true that things are not as bad as they were this spring. But we still have more than 20 million Americans collecting some form of unemployment relief. More than 1 out of 10 people told the census last month they didn't have enough food in their households to eat. There are widespread concerns about eviction and foreclosure. And despite all that, when The Associated Press asked people how they felt about the economy, 43% described the economy as good or even excellent. And of that group, more than 80% voted for President Trump. Jorge Rivas (ph) is a Trump supporter in Arizona. He says he doesn't fault the president for any of the hardships over the last eight months.

JORGE RIVAS: The virus - I think he has done as good as any other person could have done it. And we know the economy was doing excellent before this coronavirus. And once this whole thing is gone, I'm sure it will be back as good as we were before.

HORSLEY: We know that people's partisan views can shape their views on the economy, and that is certainly showing up in these AP results.

MARTIN: Well, how big a factor was the economy overall in the election?

HORSLEY: More than a quarter of people in the AP survey said the economy was their No. 1 issue as they cast their ballots. But an even larger share of 41% said the coronavirus was their biggest concern. And those voters were sort of a mirror image. The vast majority of them cast their ballots for Joe Biden.

MARTIN: It's just interesting how people either do or do not perceive a connection between the two - right? - the economy and the coronavirus. I mean, now we're coming into the winter months. Infections are climbing right now around the country. What is that going to mean for the economy?

HORSLEY: Nothing good. Yesterday, the U.S. logged more than 100,000 new cases. We've already seen strict new limits on economic activity in Europe, and in some parts of this country, we could certainly see more of that. And even if the government doesn't order lockdowns, we know that consumers just dial back their spending when they are worried about a deadly virus circulating in their community. Now, certainly there are some businesses that have found ways to operate in this environment. That Trump supporter we heard from, Jorge Rivas, he runs a Mexican restaurant in Arizona, a state that was really hammered by the pandemic during the summertime. Rivas was forced to close his dining room for a few months but still did a brisk business at the drive-through.

RIVAS: When other restaurants started to shut down in the neighborhood, people started to come here to buy from us because they knew that we had a drive-through. We had good food, good service, so our business has gone up instead of going down.

HORSLEY: Now, of course, a lot of other restaurants have really struggled during this time, and any business that relies on bringing people together and face-to-face interaction has really big challenges in this environment.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley for us this morning. Scott, thanks. We appreciate you, as always.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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