Joe Biden’s presidential campaign projected confidence Wednesday, predicting he’s on an unmistakable path to victory in key states that could only be delayed by specious lawsuits from President Donald Trump.
“As far as our own planning: we’re winning the election, we’ve won the election. And we’re going to defend that election,” said Bob Bauer, Biden’s chief legal counsel.
At the same time that Biden’s campaign was briefing reporters on Zoom, Trump’s campaign was also making its case for victory on its own call as ballots are still getting counted in the too-close-to-call states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Those states are moving Biden’s way as more mail-in votes are processed.
The Biden presentation, which included a hastily made PowerPoint presentation, was part of a pre-planned legal and public-relations strategy the campaign had war-gamed before Election Day, considering the likelihood of a slow-motion count in the Upper Midwest that would grow more Democratic with time. Meanwhile, Trump has been forecasting for months that he would try to use the courts or his Twitter feed to try to stop ballots from being counted.
The roots of the Biden strategy stretch back exactly 20 years, to Florida’s controversial presidential recount in 2000, when another former vice president, Al Gore, lost the PR battle and later a Supreme Court case — and the presidency — to George W. Bush. Democrats involved in 2000 believe public perception of the recount fight, which took place after Gore initially conceded the presidential race and then retracted that concession, played a significant role in Gore’s eventual loss.
Gore and Biden share another tie: they each had the same chief of staff as vice president, Ron Klain, who has served as one of Biden’s top campaign advisers and witnessed the 2000 election debacle firsthand.
Biden’s team wants to make sure they do not appear dithering or ambivalent and instead project strength and confidence in the briefings.
“Ron was definitely an advocate for these,” said a top Biden adviser, explaining how Biden’s entire brain trust universally agree that “We need to lay out to the American people what we are seeing.”
“We don’t have to do anything but protect the rights of voters, and to stand up for the democratic process,” Bauer said on the call. “If it’s attacked, as the President suggests it will be attacked. We’re going to successfully repel that attack. So that’s our mission. His mission is to attack the democratic process, and our commitment is to successfully defend it.”
Meanwhile, during the Trump campaign briefing, Republicans projected confidence as well.
On a call with campaign reporters, the president’s top campaign aides insisted a trove of uncounted ballots in Arizona could return the longtime GOP state to Trump’s column, after it was called for Biden late Tuesday night. In Pennsylvania and Nevada, where ballots were still being counted Wednesday morning, campaign manager Bill Stepien predicted Trump margins of victory of 40,000 and 5,500 votes.
Both scenarios would require a late flood of ballots for Trump in states where the majority have already been counted, including votes cast on Election Day, which have skewed Republican this election. Still, Stepien and senior Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller claimed to be "confident in our math," citing Trump’s improved performance with Black voters and Latinos.
"Arizona, with the votes that are still being counted, will come the president’s way at day’s end," Stepien said. "We believe once all the ballots are counted in Nevada … the president wins."
The Trump campaign also plans to demand a recount in Wisconsin, where Biden pulled ahead by a slim margin Wednesday morning. The Midwestern battleground state allows a losing candidate to force a recount if the race stays within 1 percentage point.
“There have been reports of irregularities in several Wisconsin counties which raise serious doubts about the validity of the results,” Stepien said in a statement Wednesday afternoon, noting that Trump “is well within the threshold to request a recount and we will immediately do so.”
Biden’s campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, said Wisconsin could be called early Wednesday for Biden, that Michigan would flip to Biden soon and that Pennsylvania would take an extra day, although the Democrat could still win the presidency without the state where Biden was born.
While Biden’s team was taking a page from the Bush 2000 campaign team, the Democrats made sure to keep one refrain of Gore’s — count all the votes — to frame Trump as a vote-suppressor.
“Democrats have learned the lesson from 2000 — it’s wrong to declare victory prematurely — as Trump has done, but it’s also a mistake not to declare it when it’s clear you have won,” said Howard Wolfson, a top adviser to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who plowed $100 million into the effort to defeat the president.
Mitchell Berger, a Biden donor and member of Gore’s 2000 campaign, said the involvement of the former vice presidents’ shared chief of staff was unmistakable.
“Ron Klain is Biden’s chief advisor. That’s his connection to the 2000 recount,” Berger said, who summed up his takeaway like this: “Winners write history and losers live it.”
During the recount in 2000, Bush’s team outflanked Gore by essentially claiming victory and then nicknaming the Gore-Lieberman ticket the “Sore Loserman” campaign.
Hilary Rose, a business partner of Biden adviser Anita Dunn, echoed that two decades later — but said Trump will wear the mantle.
“Biden is learning the lessons of 2000,” she said. “It is Donald Trump who is starting to look like a sore loser.”
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