Are we there yet? Observers confident Biden will prevail

  • Kelly Coffey, owner of Strong Coffey Personal Training, walks with Anne McCabe through Northampton on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. It was Coffey’s 41st birthday. “What better way to celebrate than ushering democracy back into the neighborhood?” she said. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kelly Coffey, owner of Strong Coffey Personal Training, walks Friday with Anne McCabe through Northampton. It was Coffey’s 41st birthday. “What better way to celebrate than ushering democracy back into the neighborhood?” she asked. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/6/2020 7:59:37 PM

Continued vote-counting in Pennsylvania, which moved the state into former Vice President Joe Biden’s win column Friday, appeared to leave little doubt that he has accumulated the 270 electoral votes needed to keep President Donald Trump from winning a second term.

“I think Biden supporters can be very confident he will be inaugurated on Jan. 20,” Paul M. Collins, Jr., professor of legal studies and political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said on Friday. “At the end of the day, Biden is likely to win somewhere in the neighborhood of about 300 electoral votes.”

Though this view of where the election stands is shared by Jesse Rhodes, chairman of the UMass political science department, he said it’s not clear if Biden supporters will ever get the “cathartic moment” that their candidate has won and that Trump’s presidency will end in January. Instead, a gradual realization might set in that the race for the White House is over.

“Things are definitely trending toward Vice President Biden,” Rhodes said. “It’s reasonable to have a high degree of confidence and optimism that he will win.”

In downtown Northampton on Friday, 17-year-old Fiona McMahon said she has been constantly checking to see if the race for president had been called.

“I’ve been checking every five minutes,” she said, calling the waiting the “worst type of anxiety possible.”

Whoever is elected, she said, there is likely to be a negative reaction. “It could get pretty dangerous,” she said. “Not a great feeling right now.”

Abel Silva of South Hadley chimed in to say that a path to reelection appears difficult for Trump, given Biden’s lead in Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Georgia, four states not yet called for either candidate.

“I think that it is very very hard to see a path that actually gets Trump to 270,” Silva said.

Victory for the Democratic ticket of Biden and running mate Sen. Kamala Harris appeared evident as votes continued to be tallied into the early morning hours following Election Day. But enough uncertainty remained that media outlets — likely still concerned over prematurely calling the state of Florida during the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore — remained cautious.

Collins said the restraint shown by the press and major television networks is proper.

“This indicates the media are taking their responsibility to accurately report the outcome of the election seriously, even though they understand that any calls they make are only unofficial until election results are certified,” Collins said.

Rhodes observes that while none of the major institutional players, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Fox News or CNN, seemed quite ready to declare Biden the president-elect, other credible sources have essentially written that Biden will be the 46th president, including Vox; political observers such as Nate Silver, editor in chief at FiveThirtyEight; and Nate Cohn, correspondent at The Upshot.

Yet the approach Biden is taking, to express confidence in victory and slowly ratchet up his appearance as the next president, is an intelligent approach, Rhodes said.

“I think he’s being pretty smart, and I think he’s also taking care to not antagonize Republicans,” Rhodes said. “He doesn’t need to take a victory lap too soon.”

Rhodes added that this strategy should also serve as a favorable contrast to Trump and the unsubstantiated claims he is making about the status of the election and how votes are being tabulated. He noted that Trump’s speech Thursday from the White House was filled with false claims and erroneous information, and that major networks were right to cut off the broadcast as a result.

“Citizens may need to be vigilant and prepared to participate in appropriate nonviolent actions to recognize the election results and allow for democracy to continue,” Rhodes said.

Whether there will be any serious challenges to the state-by-state tallies is still up in the air, even though Trump’s campaign contends that reelection can still be won.

On Friday morning, Matt Morgan, Trump 2020 campaign general counsel, issued a statement about the election not being over.

“The false projection of Joe Biden as the winner is based on results in four states that are far from final,” Morgan said. Without providing any evidence, he cited improperly harvested ballots in Georgia, prevention of legal observers from ongoing counting in Pennsylvania, and illegal mail ballots in Nevada. 

Collins said no matter what is put out by the Trump team, there is no indication yet that the outcome will change or that the Supreme Court will have to get involved, and effectively determine the outcome, as it did in Bush v. Gore.

“Most of the challenges thus far are legally weak because there is little to no evidence that anything fraudulent happened in the 2020 election,” Collins said.

Still, there will be a process to play out.

“I think the Trump campaign will succeed in obtaining recounts in several states, since that is permissible under state law,” Collins said.

Unlike the competitive states where the race is being ultimately decided, the results in Massachusetts on Election Day were always certain, with the state not having backed a GOP presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

But Biden’s path to the White House did depend significantly on the state’s voters during the March primary. That was when Biden earned what observers characterized as a surprise victory, winning more votes statewide than runner-up Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and the third-place finisher in her own state, Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

The Pioneer Valley, though a stronghold for Sanders on Super Tuesday, became a big Biden backer on Election Day, with only Huntington and Ware narrowly supporting Trump.

For Hampshire County as a whole, Biden took almost three-quarters of the head-to-head vote with Trump, 62,036 to 21,933. In Holyoke, Biden won almost 70% of the head-to-head vote, 11,013 to 4,804, and in southern Franklin County his vote totals at least doubled those of Trump. In the case of Shutesbury, Biden took a whopping 89% of the vote.

Staff Writer Bera Dunau contributed to this story.

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