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Where the race stands, 3 days from Election Day

The Fix breaks down the dynamics that will shape the outcome of the 2020 presidential election and who is favored headed into Election Day. (Video: The Washington Post)

It’s the final weekend before Election Day, with the candidates engaging in a last-minute blitz. President Trump in particular is trying to hit as many swing states as possible, with 14 rallies in the closing three days.

That said, Joe Biden maintains his edge nationally and in the pivotal swing states, with a final Fox News poll showing him ahead 52 percent to 44 percent — over 50 percent and four points larger than Hillary Clinton’s final 2016 margin (48 to 44).

Below is our daily look at some of the key trends in polls and early voting.

The battle for the Senate

If the presidential race winds up as decisive as some polls suggest, the true battle in the hours and days after Election Day might lie in the Senate.

Here’s what we know.

First, Democrats have some clear advantages, both in the kinds of states that are up for reelection and on the generic ballot — i.e. whether people favor sending a generic Democrat or Republican to Congress — where they lead by an average of about eight points. But as with the presidential race, their advantage might not be as convincing in the key states as it is in those national polls. Which means: another potentially close race.

Essentially, Democrats are unlikely to win the Senate unless they also win the presidency. And given Kamala D. Harris would be the tiebreaker as vice president, that means Democrats need a net gain of three seats to get to a 50-50 tie and effectively control the chamber.

Three states are favored to flip: Arizona (appointed Sen. Martha McSally) and Colorado (Sen. Cory Gardner) to the Democrats, and Alabama (Sen. Doug Jones) to the Republicans. That would leave Democrats at a one-seat net gain. From there, they would need two more, and basically all of the toss-ups are potential Democratic pickups — between six and eight seats, depending on your definition of “toss-up.” Let’s look at the polling averages in eight of them, in order of how much they favor Democrats:

  • Georgia special election: Raphael Warnock (D) leads appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) by an average of seven points in a potential runoff, according to three recent, high-quality polls, and leads Rep. Douglas A. Collins (R) by an average of nine.
  • North Carolina: Cal Cunningham (D) +2.4
  • Maine: Sara Gideon (D) +2.2
  • Iowa: Theresa Greenfield (D) +0.8
  • Georgia: Sen. David Perdue (R) +0.3
  • Montana: Sen. Steve Daines (R) +2.8
  • South Carolina: Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R) +5
  • Alaska: Sen. Dan Sullivan (R) +5.4

South Carolina and the Georgia special election deserve caveats. While Democrats have high hopes for Jaime Harrison to beat Graham, winning that seat in a presidential year will prove difficult. And while Warnock leads in current polls of a potential post-Election Day runoff in the Georgia special election, Republicans usually benefit from runoffs, and the race is likely to tighten once Republicans sort out the brutal Loeffler vs. Collins matchup.

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that Alaska, Montana and South Carolina stay red, given Trump will very likely carry those states by several points. From there, Democrats would need two of the remaining five seats. Maine and North Carolina look like particularly good bets, with the Georgia special election being a possibility, but Trump could very well win the latter two states. The other Georgia race and Iowa are also intriguing, but again these are Trump 2016 states, and recent history suggest the Senate races match the top of the ticket — which was the case in every state in 2016.

Could Maine’s ranked-choice voting system cost Sen. Susan Collins?

The battle for the Senate might truly be the most competitive race come late Tuesday night and as the ballot-counting continues in the days to follow. And as the polls show, the potentially decisive races, even more so than in the presidential race, rest on a knife’s edge.

Democrats match their 2016 early vote edge in Nevada

We’ve been closely watching the early vote in Nevada in these updates. The reason: While it’s not clear that the partisan breakdown of the early vote in a given state tells us too much (these could simply be voters who would have turned out on Election Day anyway), this is the one where the overall vote is overwhelmingly early — which means it gives us a better sense of which party is doing a better job on turnout.

Well, early voting is over in Nevada, and Democrats just got a boost.

While there will still be some totals added before Election Day, Democrats’ edge in all-important and Las Vegas metro Clark County, which is home to about two-thirds of the electorate, is up to 81,009 voters. That’s more than in 2016, when the edge was about 73,000. The area has grown since then, though, so Democrats will be glad to see a bigger advantage.

Statewide, Democrats have about 44,000 more voters than Republicans. That’s just shy of their 2016 advantage, when they had 45,000 more early voters. Back then, they won the state by more than two points.

As the Nevada Independent’s Jon Ralston argues, the high turnout suggests it will be difficult for Trump to get enough votes from rural areas to overcome Biden’s Clark County firewall on Tuesday.

Biden’s edge on inconsistent and newly registered voters

Given the static nature of the presidential race and the influx of polls, it can be difficult to find much of anything new — beyond slight shifts — to learn from.

But one group that warrants further examination in the closing days, particularly in an election in which turnout is on track for record highs: people who are voting who didn’t vote before. Both campaigns would love to expand the electorate in their favor. And one new finding from NBC News and Wall Street Journal polling stands out in this regard.

As a new WSJ story shows, Trump’s campaign appears to have some headway when it comes to people who voted in 2016 but didn’t in 2018, when Democrats won the House:

Mr. Trump’s campaign also said it would focus on “disengagers,’’ voters who backed him in 2016 but didn’t vote in 2018, when the president wasn’t on the ballot. Wall Street Journal/NBC News polling confirms that this group is a strong opportunity for the campaign, as Mr. Trump leads Mr. Biden among these voters, 49% to 40%, in combined polls from January through September.

There’s a sizable “but” involved, though:

However, polling also finds a number of challenges for Mr. Trump among new or inconsistent voters. Mr. Biden leads by 21 points among voters who registered in the past two years or who voted in 2018 but not 2016, and those voters outnumber the “Trump disengagers.’’

In other words, among those whose recent voting history is spotty or nonexistent, Biden leads, suggesting he has expanded the electorate in his favor more than Trump. This builds upon early voting data that suggest Biden has an advantage among those who have already voted but didn’t vote at all in 2016 — by upward of double digits in such key states as Arizona, Florida and Iowa.

From there, it’s a matter of making sure that people who are newly registered and voted in a midterm but not the last presidential race actually turn out in this election.