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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Democratic firm that predicted an election-night "red mirage" for President Trump — an early lead it says that Joe Biden will overtake when mail-in ballots are counted — is standing by its prediction, but with a smaller mirage than expected.

Driving the news: Updated modeling from analytics firm Hawkfish, reviewed by Axios, says Trump may look as if he's on track to cross 270 electoral votes and approach a 286-252 victory. But in the end, it predicts, Biden could win by as much as 334-204, or a more modest 279-259, once all mail-in ballots are counted.

  • Remember, a model is just a model — and if it's off, the results could be markedly different.

Why it matters: The "red mirage" offers a data-based argument for why Americans should not expect to know a winner tonight.

  • They also shouldn't believe President Trump if he prematurely declares victory, as he's foreshadowed, or argues that counting legally received ballots is somehow an effort to "steal" the election if backlogs delay the counting.
  • Democrats and independents embraced mail-in voting more than Republicans, partly because they're more concerned about the pandemic, partly because Trump has falsely argued that mail ballots are fraudulent. Many states expect delays in counting.

What they're saying: "Trump’s path to victory is through trying to keep every vote from counting, specifically these vote-by-mail ballots," Hawkfish CEO Josh Mendelsohn tells Axios.

The other side: Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a tweet Monday afternoon that Democrats are using the notion of a "red mirage" to try to delegitimize support for Trump.

  • "Biden's early vote lead is not enough & they know it," Murtaugh wrote. "They'll try to create a smoke screen post-Election Day, even running TV ads to cast doubt on Nov. 3 vote. Be ready."

Details: Under one updated Hawkfish model, Biden would eventually overtake Trump in the battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — but not Georgia, Iowa, Ohio or Texas.

  • Hawkfish's modeling does not predict a "blue mirage" — a reverse scenario others have mused about, in which Democrats' absentee votes would be disproportionately counted up front.
  • The firm is funded by Michael Bloomberg and also does work for the Democratic National Committee and pro-Biden Super PACs.

Go deeper:

Exclusive: Dem group warns of apparent Trump Election Day landslide

Go deeper

Nov 22, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Georgia's Secretary of State: GOP is looking for "scapegoats"

Brad Raffensperger, Jan. 20 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo: Paras Griffin/Getty Images

Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, tells Axios it's time for President Donald Trump and the state GOP to accept that Joe Biden won Georgia and focus on the two Senate runoffs that will determine control of the Senate.

What they're saying: “The Republican Party's sole job is to win campaigns — and that's to raise money and turn out voters," Raffensperger told Axios in an interview on Sunday. "And when they don't get it done, they look for scapegoats.”

Nov 22, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump's Air Force One problem

Boeing model of what the new Air Force One 747s will look like if Biden chooses to keep the current color scheme. Illustration courtesy of Boeing.

One of President Trump's favorite items on display in the Oval Office has been a model of Boeing's Air Force One revamp that swaps Jackie Kennedy's iconic light blue design for Trump's preferred look: a white top and dark blue bottom set off with a red stripe.

What he's saying: "Isn't it beautiful? Now it's actually patriotic," Trump has told visiting foreign leaders and other visitors, according to a person he's shown it to.

Nov 22, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Inside Republicans' troubled Election Day operations

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As President Trump unsuccessfully argues fraudulent voter claims, campaign operatives tell Axios the reality is the joint EDO (Election Day operations) by the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee left them feeling largely unprepared to challenge ballots in real time.

Why it matters: With several states moving toward certifying election results this week, the postmortems are beginning as political operatives try to understand what worked, what didn't and how to adjust going forward.