Biden takes vote lead in Pennsylvania, on track to win presidency

Joe Biden, Kamala Harris

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden joined by Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks at the The Queen theater Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Former Vice President Joe Biden has taken a lead in Pennsylvania, putting him on track to win the presidency as mail ballots remaining to be counted in the state are expected to break hard for Democrats.

The Associated Press and NPR have not yet called the race and President Donald Trump has not conceded.

If the margins hold and the courts don’t intervene based on Trump legal challenges, it would be a historic win for the Pennsylvania-born Democrat who’s decades-long career in public service has been rooted in Delaware.

The lead change comes three days after Election Day, when officials in all 67 counties were legally allowed to begin counting millions of mail ballots. In-person voting alone had given Trump an expected advantage, as mail ballots were overwhelmingly requested and returned by Democrats.

The vote update in Pennsylvania follows a series of vital Biden wins in Wisconsin and Michigan — a trio of once-solid Democrat states known as the “blue wall,” all of which flipped for Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Biden and running mate U.S. Senator Kamala Harris also currently lead in Georgia, Nevada and Arizona, which the AP has called for Biden.

If those states remain in his tally, Biden would gather 306 electoral college votes, the same number Trump won in 2016.

At 9 a.m. Friday morning, Biden officially overtook president Trump at the Pennsylvania polls by a 5,587-vote margin, a lead that will likely grow as the results come back from more Democratic-leaning mail ballots. He now holds about over 3,295,000 votes against Trump’s nearly 3,290,000 votes.

Over the last three days, the Trump campaign has filed a barrage of lawsuits in key states, including Pennsylvania. They run the gamut from demands to watch ballot counting more closely, to calls to disqualify certain votes. While many of the disputes have been resolved by the courts, others remain ongoing, and attorneys expect the deluge of litigation to grow.

Trump’s 2016 performance in Pennsylvania came as a shock to Democrats.

The commonwealth hadn’t flipped Republican since George H.W. Bush was elected in 1988, and Trump won it by just a sliver: 44,000 votes, less than one percent of all the ballots cast.

Voter turnout surged across the commonwealth this year. More than 6.5 million votes have already been tallied in the presidential race, according to Department of State figures, trouncing the 6.1 million votes cast statewide in the 2016 contest.

By midnight on election night, Trump stood more than 600,000 votes ahead of Biden across the state, but the ongoing tabulation of more than 2.6 million mail-ballots since Tuesday has given Biden the edge, largely thanks to high turnout for him in Philadelphia and its suburbs. According to current returns, the Democrat also secured wins in bellwether counties such as Northampton and Erie, which flipped for Trump four years ago.

Speaking in Harrisburg Thursday night, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar noted that state officials do not call races and will not certify the results until 20 days after the election, on Nov. 23, as required by law.

Chris Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College, expects Biden’s edge to hold based on the consistent trend of mail-in ballots favoring the Democrat. Depending on the margin, he said it would prove very difficult for Trump’s legal team to overturn the results.

“It’s going to be hard to challenge any of those [mail ballots] in terms of their validity. If we’re getting up to significant margins for Biden in terms of his gap with the president, it reduces the probability of any legitimate legal challenge having an impact on the matter,” Borick said. “It would be historic, unprecedented, if it’s a large margin like that, to somehow find a legal intervention to change that outcome.”

Suburban turnout gives Biden the edge

Former Vice President Biden’s edge in Pennsylvania hinges largely on a trio of factors: a Democratic show of force in the Philadelphia suburbs, sizable gains in bluer pockets like Dauphin and Erie counties, and a stronger performance than Hillary Clinton in northeastern parts of the state.

With nearly all precincts reporting, Montgomery County appears to have cast nearly 60,000 more votes for Biden than it did for Clinton in 2016 — a significant boost.

Gary Nelson waits to vote in a line that wraps around the Brookhaven Municipal Center in Brookhaven, Pa. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

In all, Biden took 62.5% of the vote in the affluent suburb, with more than 313,000 voters casting ballots for the Democrat.

Philly’s collar counties have been growing increasingly blue for the past decade, and perhaps nowhere is the shift clearer than in Chester County.

In 2012, Barack Obama lost Chester by half a percentage point. Four years later, Clinton won it by 9 points. Now, with nearly all of its vote reported, Biden appears to have taken the county by a more than 16 point margin as overall turnout increased.

Smaller cities and their outlying suburbs, including Harrisburg, showed similar trends. Biden, Clinton and Obama all won Dauphin County, home to the state capital, but Biden’s margin was notably higher: 8.4 points compared to 2.9 and 6. Perhaps even more notable was turnout. While Democratic turnout stayed relatively flat here from 2012 to 2016, this year it soared by more than 12,000 votes.

High turnout also seemed to be playing a role in results from three of the most closely watched counties in the state: Luzerne, Northampton and Erie.

All three flipped from blue to red in 2016, with Luzerne swinging a whopping 24 points from 2012.

With 95 percent of its votes counted, Luzerne, the Northeastern Pa. home of Wilkes-Barre and Hazelton, remained a Trump stronghold. Biden did manage to narrow the margin and lose by 14 points, instead of Clinton’s 19.

With most of Erie’s vote tabulated as of this writing, Biden holds over a 1% lead that indicates he’s on track to recapturing the far northwestern county for Democrats.

Northampton County, home to Bethlehem and Easton, also came out for the former vice president.

Obama won Northampton by 4.5%, and four years later, Trump flipped the county by 3.8%. Biden, it appears, was able to split the difference. With nearly all the county’s votes reported, he leads by 0.5%.

Speaking Wednesday, as Northampton reported the bulk of its mail ballots ahead of schedule and the flip became apparent, political science professor Borick called it “the bellwether county in Pennsylvania.”

“As it goes,” Borick said, “the state often goes.”

Lackawanna County, home of Biden’s native Scranton, also saw an uptick at the top of the ticket. He turned out about 10,000 more voters than Clinton, while Trump rallied around 3,000 more than he had in 2016. The county went to Biden by about 8 points, compared with Clinton’s 3.5 point victory.

Trump held or increased his margins in some of the reddest parts of the state, pulling at least 70% of the vote in rural northern tier counties, like Bradford, McKean, Elk, Potter, Fayette and Sullivan.

Republican margins were already high there in 2016, but Trump made even greater gains this year.

That advantage seems not enough to overcome Biden, who, nationwide, dominated the popular vote and now holds the record for most votes ever cast for a U.S. presidential candidate.

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