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Election Suspense: No Declared Winner Yet In Presidential Race

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Across this country, local election officials are still counting ballots. Some have been at it all night. Some are taking a brief break and will continue today. The presidential election is undecided. As we speak, former Vice President Joe Biden has 238 electoral votes, which is short of the 270 he needs. President Trump is a bit farther from 270, but has enough states in play that he, too, could win. We are leading with those facts, and we keep them in view at all times throughout our coverage this morning as we hear claims about them, both true and false.

NPR's Franco Ordoñez is on the line now. He covers the White House. Franco, good morning.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: I'm looking at the map here, the electoral map at npr.org, which is really helpful. It's based on tallies by The Associated Press. Very conservative, very smart calls by The Associated Press about what states are undecided, and six of them seem undecided - Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia. But some of them do lean one way or the other. What is making them hard to call?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. I mean, it's really been such a - you know, such a last few hours, and there's so much to go. I mean, the states that were - that made that difference are states like Florida and Arizona. I mean, there's so much going back and forth. I mean, the night was really interesting because, you know, Trump started out outperforming predictions that the pollsters once again - you know, those thoughts of a swift victory by Biden were quickly dashed.

INSKEEP: Right.

ORDOÑEZ: Trump officials were actually texting me early in the night that they were feeling deja vu from 2016, especially when Trump took Florida, which was a must-win state for the president. You know, he successfully targeted Latino voters in South Florida with his message about socialism. But, you know, as we know, momentum kind of took a turn when outlets started calling Arizona for Biden, which was a huge win for the Democrats. Biden spoke, calling for patience. And then those of us who know the president and who have covered him for so long knew he was not going to allow Biden to have the last word of the evening.

INSKEEP: And so let's hear those statements in a moment. But first, I just do want to be clear on these six states that I mentioned. We're talking here about - what? - absentee ballots, mail-in ballots. That's what's uncounted here?

ORDOÑEZ: Yes, that's right. There are millions and millions of absentee ballots and mail-in ballots that have yet to be counted in many of these states.

INSKEEP: I want to mention just one of them - Pennsylvania. Our colleague Pam Fessler, who covers voting, noted that there's something well north of 2 million - I think she said 2 1/2 million or so - mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania alone. That is a state the president is leading. That is a state the president could really use and would take him a long way toward 270, but that he cannot claim yet. Michigan is in a similar category. There are a couple of other states that are leaning toward Biden, such as Wisconsin at this moment and Nevada. And Wisconsin has gone from tinted-red to tinted-blue just in the last couple of hours.

Now, in the midst of all this, there were these statements by the presidential candidates. And let's hear the president first. He spoke in the early hours this morning. He had previously said he would not try to stampede a victory; he would not prematurely claim victory. And then he falsely claimed victory. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I want to thank the American people for their tremendous support. Millions and millions of people voted for us tonight. And a very sad group of people is trying to disenfranchise that group of people, and we won't stand for it.

INSKEEP: The president has been talking about mail-in ballots, which have been used safely for years, as a source of fraud. He's been doing that for months without any evidence, falsely. Franco, did he present any evidence of fraud last night?

ORDOÑEZ: No, he has not. I mean, you made that - you just made the case that he's been kind of laying the groundwork since the spring and the summer against mail-in voting, you know, saying that votes shouldn't be counted after Election Day. In a way, he's, you know, carrying out threats that he made over the weekend, which was to go in with his lawyers.

But, you know, he was pressed on this actually yesterday morning by one of his favorite programs, "Fox & Friends," and he clearly backed off that threat, saying that a victor will only be called when there is a victory and said there's no reason to play games. So this is, you know, really a stunning reversal considering there is no victory. There is still a lot to be counted.

INSKEEP: And more things were unusual here. This was effectively a campaign event. He chose to hold it on federal property, inside the White House. There is a Hatch Act, which forbids federal employees from using federal facilities or using their federal time for political activity. He went ahead and held the event there. He does not specifically - he's not specifically covered by the Hatch Act, though others are. And while in this setting of doubtful legality, the president made allegations of illegality in the election. Let's listen to a little more.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election. We did win this election.

(CHEERING)

INSKEEP: And he said he would take that false claim to the Supreme Court. Did he say what the grounds would be for a lawsuit, though?

ORDOÑEZ: No, he has not. And those, you know, claims are largely unfounded. No news organization has declared a victor. You know, we have said over and over again there are millions of mail-in ballots to be counted. A lot of that has to do because state and local Republican officials had insisted that they not be counted until Election Day. And look; the Supreme Court on Monday - we're talking about Pennsylvania - ruled to allow count - to count mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania that were postmarked by Election Day. So there's a lot to go here.

INSKEEP: OK. And we don't know the - where court fights are going, but there's another candidate, and we'll check in with the other candidate now. NPR's Scott Detrow has been covering the Biden campaign, and he joins us from Wilmington, Del. Right, Scott?

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: That's right. Joe Biden spoke last night around 12:45, before the president spoke, but he clearly anticipated this attempt to undermine legitimate vote counting from President Trump. Let's listen to what Biden had to say last night as votes were coming in.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: As I've said all along, it's not my place or Donald Trump's place to declare who's won this election. That's the decision of the American people. But I'm optimistic about this outcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORNS HONKING)

DETROW: And...

INSKEEP: We hear the horns honking, I guess, because it was one of those car rallies where everybody's in their cars. Is that right, Scott?

DETROW: That's right. Biden, when he speaks in front of a big crowd, they do drive-in rallies so that people can safely distance. And since we've heard from Biden, he has pulled ahead in Wisconsin after Milwaukee posted its early vote totals. And as you were saying, more than a million uncounted early votes in Pennsylvania, a lot of votes to count in Michigan and Georgia, too. And we're seeing Trump's Michigan lead narrow this morning.

INSKEEP: OK, so let's talk through the map a little bit. I mentioned those six states. You just mentioned a couple of them. Can we see what Biden's path to victory would be, even though on election night he was trailing? I guess it starts with - well, he won Arizona, right? And then there's Nevada. What happens after that?

DETROW: Arizona is important because this is the first and only state so far that the AP has called that is a flip from 2016. This is a trench warfare situation, other than Arizona. And that gives Biden an edge on Trump. And then it's the states we've talked about for years now - Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. Biden is ahead now in Wisconsin as more and more of those final mail-in ballots come in. The outstanding ballots in Michigan and Pennsylvania will likely be overwhelmingly Democratic, though if Biden does pull ahead, it would likely be by a pretty narrow margin.

Biden also spoke last night about their confidence in the early vote totals that still need to be counted.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: I'm here to tell you tonight we believe we're on track to win this election.

(CHEERING)

BIDEN: We knew because of the unprecedented early voting, the mail-in vote, that it was going to take a while. We're going to have to be patient until we - the hard work of tallying votes is finished. And it ain't over till every vote is counted.

DETROW: And, Steve, I'd like to talk about one other state that's getting a little lost here.

INSKEEP: Please.

DETROW: Georgia - it's roughly in the same position as Michigan and Pennsylvania. Trump is narrowly ahead, but there's a significant uncounted vote in and around Atlanta. For all of the conversation about how Democrats fell far short of expectations, this long-Republican state is the big exception, and it could be a huge factor. Remember - Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Barack Obama all made last-minute in-person pushes there.

INSKEEP: And I'm just thinking through, when we think about the map and the way it comes together, if Vice President Biden were to win Georgia, he would need one less of those Midwestern states in order to prevail, correct?

DETROW: That's right. At the moment, I think Biden has a better path than Trump, knowing what we know about the outstanding votes.

INSKEEP: OK. That's NPR's Scott Detrow and NPR's Franco Ordoñez with the latest. Thanks very much.

DETROW: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.