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Trump Campaign Targets Vote Totals In 3 Battleground States

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Three decisive states in the presidential election look very different than they did 24 hours ago. Vote counting in Wisconsin shows Joe Biden won. The Associated Press also called Michigan for Biden, and we have a more complete picture of Pennsylvania. President Trump had a huge lead among the first votes to be counted there. The counting of mail-in ballots has dramatically narrowed that gap, though. On the NPR map, that state is still tinted red. Trump has a lead, and the counting goes on.

We have reporters in all of those states this morning. Shawn Johnson is with Wisconsin Public Radio. Eli Newman of WDET is in Detroit, Mich., and Katie Meyer is with WHYY in Philadelphia. Good morning to all of you.

KATIE MEYER, BYLINE: Good morning.

ELI NEWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning.

SHAWN JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: And Katie Meyer, let's start in Pennsylvania, and let's lead with the facts here. We should note - Joe Biden is one state away from winning the presidential election. It could be North Carolina; could be Georgia; could be Nevada, where he's leading. But it could also be Pennsylvania. So how have officials been counting, and what are they finding?

MEYER: So in the big counties here, they have been counting through the night. I think, at this point in the morning, we are having a little bit of a lag with vote total reporting. So we're expecting about 2.6 million mail ballots to come in. It looks like we have, you know, at least in the ballpark of 500,000 left to go. Our department of state estimates a little bit higher. But I think the big takeaway is, you know, there are several thousand votes left to count, and Joe Biden has consistently been getting in the high 70s in terms of the percentage of the mail-in ballots that have gone to him. Donald Trump's been getting in the low 20s. So, you know, there is room for Biden to still make up this difference, this couple hundred thousand votes that are between him and Trump in Pennsylvania. It's not going to be, you know, a blowout or anything. But if that pattern holds up, I'd say, you know, you feel a little bit better to be Biden in Pennsylvania.

INSKEEP: So the math is there for Biden to win. You said the counting appears to have gone on overnight and we're awaiting updates on that. As all that happens, though, the Trump campaign has filed lawsuits in a number of states, including Pennsylvania. What claims are they making?

MEYER: Yeah, there's a range of things. One of the recent ones to try and immediately halt counting is basically focused on the transparency for ballot counting in certain counties, specifically in Philadelphia. Republican poll watchers wanted to be basically allowed to be closer - physically closer to where the ballots were being counted. You know, state officials, Democrats, the Biden campaign have all kind of indicated they don't see this as a super serious challenge. The other main thing that they are contesting is the Pennsylvania Supreme Court gave this three-day window for late ballots to be accepted if they were postmarked by Election Day. The Trump campaign is, you know, absolutely - there is already a Supreme Court lawsuit about this, and it was upheld twice. But they're appealing that. So we are expecting to see more action there.

INSKEEP: And so that's a separate subset. That's a subset of these millions of mail-in ballots, the ones that that were sent right at the end. The post office didn't deliver them by Election Day. We're not talking about the whole 2.6 million mail-in ballots, just some minority of them, correct?

MEYER: Exactly. And it's a small number as far as we've been seeing, only in the hundreds.

INSKEEP: OK. So the counting goes on in Pennsylvania. Let's move now to Wisconsin, where they're a bit further along. Biden has been declared the winner there. And Shawn Johnson, doesn't the Trump campaign also want a recount where you are?

JOHNSON: They do. I mean, they said that - yesterday that they would be requesting a recount. So they'd have that option here in Wisconsin after, you know, the formal canvass is completed, the. Trump campaign, since they finished within 1% of Joe Biden here according to the unofficial totals, they can request a recount in Wisconsin. We had one just four years ago. They changed the rules a little bit on who can request it, but Donald Trump would fit within that margin.

INSKEEP: I guess we should just notice, some people have observed that Scott Walker, former Republican governor of Wisconsin, has been through recounts before, says it's possible a few hundred votes would change but not tens of thousands, which is where the margin is now.

JOHNSON: No. If you look just in 2016, the recount was actually requested by the Green Party in that case. And what happened is that it changed about 100 - between 100 and 200 votes for Donald Trump, who still ended up winning by fewer than 23,000 votes in Wisconsin.

INSKEEP: You know, we've had a lot of analysis about major issues that people were focused on in the election. Some people were focused on the economy. Some people were focused on the pandemic. How big a factor was the pandemic where you are?

JOHNSON: I mean, I think it's a factor everywhere. But I have to imagine it was right front and center in voters' minds in Wisconsin specifically. We're going through our worst surge, continue to go through our worst surge of the pandemic. We keep setting daily records for new positive cases, for hospitalizations, for deaths. So this is something that - you know, it's - it just kind of hits people over the head every day here where the numbers don't seem to be getting any better.

INSKEEP: Let's bring in now Eli Newman in Michigan, where, again, Joe Biden has been declared the winner. But there's certainly a lot of debate. What is it that President Trump's supporters have been doing in the last 24 hours?

NEWMAN: Right. So as soon as President Trump announced this lawsuit on Twitter, we really saw a real-life reaction. A group of about 100 Republican protesters came to downtown Detroit where absentee ballots were being processed, demanding to stop the count.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED TRUMP SUPPORTERS: (Chanting) Stop the count. Stop the count. Stop the count. Stop the count.

INSKEEP: OK. You mentioned a lawsuit. This is similar to what we were hearing in Pennsylvania. The president wants the counting to stop. Why?

NEWMAN: So it's - I mean, at the time when the lawsuit was filed, the race was really close in Michigan. So there - I guess there was an argument that by stopping the count itself, Trump could secure a victory. Now, that wasn't the case. And - but we've seen this lawsuit really kind of come out specifically about this issue of poll challengers and whether or not Republicans were present to observe these ballots being processed. I should note that in Detroit, where WDET and other news media were present, we observed both Republican and Democratic and bipartisan poll challengers - so not really sure what the basis of those claims are.

INSKEEP: OK. At least where you were, the claims would appear to be unfounded. In fact, they would appear to be false. I guess, though, we need to circle back to the fact that the president is no longer ahead in Michigan. It's not even particularly close in Michigan given the way the count has gone. Have they changed strategy in Michigan? I'm observing that in Nevada and in Arizona, they're pushing to count. They're pushing to count because the president is behind. What are they doing now in Michigan that they're behind?

NEWMAN: Well, at this point, I mean, many - this race in Michigan has been called by The Associated Press. So it's not really clear what the agenda there - by last check, Detroit only had 1,200 absentee ballots left to count. So - but I think generally, the strategy has been for Democrats is to really just turn out the vote. We've seen record-high ballots cast in Michigan, 5.3 million with two-thirds coming through absentee.

INSKEEP: OK. Eli Newman in Detroit, Shawn Johnson in Wisconsin, Katie Meyer in Pennsylvania - thanks to all of you.

MEYER: Thanks.

NEWMAN: Thank you.

JOHNSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.