As Donald Trump tried to claim victory before votes were tallied in critical battleground states, the Biden campaign was privately telling supporters not to panic, even as it prepared for pitched legal battles with the president.
In a Zoom call with donors Wednesday, the aides told the group that Joe Biden was on pace to reach 270 electoral votes in short order, beaming over victories in the Midwestern states that Donald Trump flipped four years ago.
"The blue wall held,” Kate Berner, Biden deputy communications director, said, according to two people on the call. "Joe Biden rebuilt the blue wall."
The campaign had good reason to project confidence: On Wednesday evening, Biden was on the cusp of clinching 270 electoral votes and the presidency after Michigan and Wisconsin were called in his favor.
At the same time, President Donald Trump was making specious claims of victory, cranking up unfounded grievances about stolen votes and filing lawsuits to challenge vote counts. Biden advisers moved to reassure anxious supporters as Trump declared himself the winner in states such as Pennsylvania, where hundreds of thousands of votes had yet to be tallied.
Biden’s team activated teams of attorneys in Nevada, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan in preparation for court battles, and blasted out requests for donations to combat myriad legal challenges.
The campaign is gearing up for an onslaught of court challenges. The campaign told donors it expected Arizona to be called for Biden Wednesday evening — The Associated Press has already done so — and Nevada on Thursday morning. They warned that vote counting in Georgia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina would take time.
As Wednesday wore on, Trump advisers privately acknowledged they had all but given up on Michigan and Wisconsin and were pinning their hopes in Arizona and Pennsylvania. They also said they were nervously eyeing Georgia, a state where Trump’s lead has narrowed as votes from Atlanta have come in.
Much of the campaign’s focus is on legal options, especially in Georgia and Pennsylvania. During an afternoon call with supporters, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel requested donations to help fund forthcoming court action.
On Wednesday, Trump on Twitter made a puzzling statement that he had “claimed for Electoral Vote purposes, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania … the State of Georgia and the State of North Carolina,” even though final vote tallies were still outstanding in those states.
Some Republicans digging into the tabulation figures said they were increasingly skeptical of Trump’s prospects. They said the president’s odds were dimming in Arizona, where, as of Wednesday afternoon, Trump trailed with some of the vote still to be counted.
Trump campaign officials insisted they always recognized it would take a while for a clear result and that they weren’t surprised about the prospect of a prolonged vote count. Over the weekend, they held a conference call with conservative activists in which they laid out their projected models for the election — numbers, they say, that turned out to be fairly accurate.
The fight over the industrial Midwest is happening because Biden failed to lock down a big, Sun Belt state like Florida or Texas. But it’s also happening because Republican lawmakers and elected officials in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan refused to allow ballots from being counted earlier, which would have prevented some of the overtime counting.
Republicans have filed hundreds of lawsuits, the vast majority before polls closed Tuesday. Courts so far have mostly frowned on allegations of widespread voter fraud. However, Republicans have had some success with lawsuits that sought to restrict Democratic-led expansions to voting rules in response to coronavirus.
The Biden campaign’s Lawyers Committee has held conference calls in recent days gaming out where to deploy resources. Groups of lawyers were at the ready for court battles in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, among other states.
But as more absentee ballots were counted Wednesday, Biden advisers were hopeful that wins in Pennsylvania and possibly Georgia will make Trump’s postelection efforts increasingly futile.
The Biden campaign spent months building a voter protection unit that included a “boiler room” made up of hundreds of lawyers. It’s led by former Obama White House counsel Bob Bauer and Dana Remus, who served as the campaign’s general counsel.
Biden’s campaign has sought to counter Trump’s election claims by putting Bauer in charge of legal messaging. He’s held reporter briefings in recent days at which he’s emphasized that the campaign will fight Trump aggressively at every step.
“As far as our own planning, we’re winning the election. We’ve won the election,” Bauer said Wednesday. “And we’re going to defend that election, so we don’t have to do anything but protect the rights of voters, and to stand up for the democratic process.”
Bauer cast doubt that Trump would be successful if he attempted to take any cases to the Supreme Court. He can file cases that work their way to the Supreme Court, Bauer said, but Trump will lose.
“We’re going to successfully repel [any] attacks. So that’s our mission,” Bauer said. “His mission is to attack the democratic process, and our commitment is to successfully defend it.”
Christopher Cadelago contributed to this report.
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