US presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden. The November 3 election has turned into an unexpectedly tight race. Image: AFP

Donald Trump is running far stronger than the polls predicted in the 12 battleground states that will decide the US presidential election, with firm leads in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina and strong positions in Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

None of the major US news organizations has declared a victory in any of these states, but Trump has a visible path to victory as of 11 pm Eastern time in the US.

Blame the preliminary result on the Democrats for fielding the oldest, feeblest and least convincing presidential candidate in America’s two and a quarter centuries of national elections.

The Democratic Party has become an unmanageable mélange of traditional blue-collar constituencies prone to vote for populists like Trump, radicalized progressives who want radical distribution of incomes and privileges, convinced environmentalists and urban civil servants who live on public funding.

The Democrats chose Biden because they couldn’t run a socialist like Bernie Sanders, or a woke progressive like Elizabeth Warren, or a gay yuppie like Peter Buttigieg. The party had to reach back two generations to find a candidate who looked like an old-style Democratic centrist and settled on the 77-year-old Biden because no-one else was available.

With 94% of the Florida vote counted, Trump has a 3% lead over his opponent, propelled by unexpected strength among Hispanic voters. Texas, with the third-largest share of votes in the electoral college, shows a 4% lead for Trump with 81% of votes counted. Hispanics comprise more than 16% of the US population and Trump is winning a larger share of their vote than in 2016, according to exit polls.

In Pennsylvania, whose 20 electoral votes well may decide the election, a combination of blue-collar concern about Biden’s opposition to fracking and suburban revulsion against last week’s riots in Philadelphia well might turn the state in his favor. Because Pennsylvania will take extra time to count paper ballots, the results will not be clear for another 24 hours at the earliest.

I wrote October 28 that Biden’s blunders in Pennsylvania might cost him the election.

Biden hammered at Trump’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, but failed to convince enough voters that he would do better than the beleaguered president. During September and October, polls indicated that older Americans who had backed Trump against Hillary Clinton by a margin of 8 percentage points had turned against the president, specifically because of his seeming indifference to a disease that mainly killed the elderly.

But older Americans have other reasons to distrust the Democrats. They spent their working lives paying into the Medicare trust fund that subsidizes their old-age health care. If Biden gives the same treatment to everyone, they will lose access to treatment that they had already paid for.

Even if Trump loses the presidency, it seems likely that the Republicans will keep a slim majority in the Senate. The Democrats lost heavily contested Senate races in South Carolina, where Senator Lindsey Graham retained his seat against a well-funded Democratic challenge, as well as Arizona.

At 11 pm Eastern time, the Democrats and Republicans each had taken one Senate seat from the other side. A former Colorado governor defeated Senator Cory Gardner, while a football coach running on the Republican ticket in Alabama beat Democratic Sen. Doug Jones.

Again, none of the major media organizations has called the Senate balance for the Republicans, but financial markets have already priced it in. NASDAQ futures rose 3.5% as the results trickled in, reflecting investor relief that Biden will not be able to enact a big increase in the capital gains tax on equity trading profits.

Less than a month ago, the RealClearPolitics averages showed Biden ahead by 12 percentage points in the national polls, the biggest lead that any presidential candidate had shown in the polls since they were conducted in earnest. If Biden wins – and the odds are still marginally in his favor – he will just squeak through.

Part of the problem is that caller ID and the proliferation of robocalls make it hard for pollsters to get Americans to pick up their phones. The polls are inherently less accurate. Another problem is the so-called silent Trump vote; given the opprobrium directed at Trump by the mainstream media, many who voted for him didn’t want to admit this to a stranger.

But the most important factor in the election is the vacuum where Joe Biden’s personality should have been. In 2016 I joked that the election resembled the 2007 science fiction film “Alien vs. Predator,” with Trump as the humanoid predator and Clinton as the killer space insect.

This one is closer to Predator vs. Zombie. The Democratic Party has become nothing in particular, and requires a candidate who is no one in particular. The flamboyant, self-absorbed, capricious and rude Mr. Trump nonetheless exudes warmth and energy. Biden is hard put to show a pulse.

The dust won’t settle for another day or so, but Trump has confounded his critics, producing a cliff-hanger of a race rather than a rout.

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