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Here are the paths to 270 electoral votes for both Trump and Biden

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a drive-in rally at Heinz Field, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, in Pittsburgh.
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a drive-in rally at Heinz Field, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, in Pittsburgh.Andrew Harnik / AP

WASHINGTON — A political year that began with an impeachment trial and botched results in the Iowa caucuses, and that later brought a deadly pandemic and calls for racial justice into the country, finally brings us to Election Day.

Or Election Week or Election Month — depending how long it takes to count the results.

And this morning, we map out the possible paths to 270 electoral votes for both President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden, including how one candidate could get to 270 without knowing the results in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin (all three of which are expected to count slowly).

Here’s Biden’s simplest path to 270: win the 2016 Clinton states, plus Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Here’s Trump’s simplest path: hold on to Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, plus win Pennsylvania.

Here’s another for Biden: win the 2016 Clinton states, Michigan, Wisconsin, lose Pennsylvania — but win Arizona and Nebraska 02.

But here’s how Biden could get to 270 electoral votes before you get to Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin: win the 2016 Clinton states and Nebraska 02, add Georgia and North Carolina (both of which might have fast results), and that brings Biden to 264 electoral votes. Then he just needs one of Iowa, Ohio or Arizona to reach or surpass 270.

And that’s without Biden having to win Florida.

There are three overall scenarios how Election Night/Week/Month might play out.

Scenario #1: The national polls are correct (Biden is ahead 8-10 points), and we’ll find out a winner tonight.

Scenario #2: Biden is able to win one of Florida, Georgia or North Carolina — and he’s the clear favorite to win — but it takes a day or two to call enough states to get him to 270-plus.

Scenario #3: Trump’s numbers are better than the national polls suggest, and we’re in for a long, hard slog to see who wins Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

But under none of those scenarios does Trump have the ability to wrap it up early.

Biden does.

Tweet of the day

Another big difference between 2016 and now

By now, you’ve heard us talk about all of the differences between 2016 and now — Biden’s larger lead, the smaller third-party vote, the fact that Trump is now the incumbent instead of the challenger.

But here’s one more difference that hasn’t gotten enough attention: In 2016, Trump was remarkably disciplined in the final days of the election, especially after the Comey letter.

(For example, Trump fired off 138 tweets and retweets in the final 12 days of the contest, and none were controversial.)

Compare that with the last 24 hours in this 2020 contest, when Trump has gone after Dr. Anthony Fauci, Hunter Biden, the microphone at his Wisconsin rally, Lady Gaga, Jon Bon Jovi and LeBron James.

And by our count, Trump fired off more than 80 tweets and retweets in the past 24 hours – compared with those 138 over 12 days in 2016.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

9,381,243: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 92,737 more than yesterday morning.)

232,725: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 567 more than yesterday morning.)

148.64 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

48,470: The number of people currently hospitalized for Covid-19 in the U.S., per the Covid Tracking Project.

More than 61,000: The number of children diagnosed with Covid-19 last week.

45 percent: President Trump’s job-approval rating in the latest weekly NBC News|SurveyMonkey tracking poll.

10 million: The estimated number of robocalls from a suspicious unidentified caller that have urged voters to “stay safe and stay home.”

96,966,692: The number of people who have voted early, either by mail or in person, according to NBC and TargetSmart.

127,000: The number of drive-through ballots in Harris County, Texas, not tossed out after Republicans unsuccessfully attempted to invalidate them through a lawsuit.

Ad Watch from Ben Kamisar

In honor of today’s grand finale, today’s Ad Watch takes a look at the unprecedented spending over this cycle.

Overall, there has been more than $5.3 billion spent on TV and radio ads from the start of 2019 through the ads placed today for the 2020 election cycle, per Advertising Analytics. A whopping $2.2 billion has been spent on the presidential race alone, followed by $1.8 billion on Senate races and $1.1 billion in House races. An additional $220 million was spent on gubernatorial races.

Of that $5.3 billion, Democrats spent 63 percent of it ($3.4 billion), while Republicans spent 36 percent ($1.9 billion).

In the presidential race, Democrats outspent the Republicans by a factor of three (aided by both Biden and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaigns). One-on-one, Biden’s campaign spent more than $514 million on TV and radio ads this cycle, compared with Trump’s more than $258 million.

In the battle for the Senate, North Carolina is poised to take the crown for most TV/radio spending with an unprecedented $251 million, followed by Iowa’s $204 million and Arizona’s $167 million.

And the most expensive race has been New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District (home to a competitive GOP primary too) at $29 million, followed by New York’s 11th District, one of the seats rated a “toss up” by our friends at the Cook Political Report.

2020 Vision: The top advertising markets of the presidential election

In addition, here are the top advertising markets in the general election for the presidential contest (from April 1 to Nov. 3), according to Advertising Analytics:

  1. Phoenix: $95.3 million
  2. Philadelphia: $75.1 million
  3. Orlando/Daytona Beach: $72.9 million
  4. Miami: $71.3 million
  5. Tampa/St. Pete: $69.8 million
  6. Detroit: $65.2 million
  7. Pittsburgh: $56.1 million
  8. Charlotte: $46.7 million
  9. Raleigh/Durham: $42.9 million

On the campaign trail today

Joe Biden makes stops in Scranton, Pa., and Philadelphia before heading back to Wilmington, Del., where he’ll watch election returns. President Trump will be watching returns from the White House, per NBC’s Hallie Jackson.

The Lid: Take a breath

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we reminded folks: When watching results, take a breath and keep in mind where in the state the votes are coming from — and whether they’re from Election Day, early in-person voting, or mail ballots.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Deborah Birx is breaking sharply with the White House, saying in an internal report: “This is not about lockdowns — It hasn’t been about lockdowns since March or April. It’s about an aggressive balanced approach that is not being implemented.”

The Washington Post asks the million dollar question: Who’s left to vote?

The New York Times says Trump “may have severed himself from the political realities of a country in crisis.”

How are the candidates handling the final push?

Can Biden pick up post ground with Latinos?

Here are 5 things to watch with potential voting issues in Pennsylvania.

POLITICO notes how Democrats are haunted by elections past.

Confused about how long this night may or may not take? AP has a good primer.

No matter what happens, we’re probably in for a bumpy ride after the election.

The president has formally set up his “patriotic education” commission.

All eyes are on the suburbs, up and down the ballot tonight.

Here’s what Republicans are saying behind the scenes about the president’s threats to prevent ballots from being counted.