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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

Off the Rails

Last stand in Georgia

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Drew Angerer, Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

On Air Force One, President Trump was in a mood. He had been clear he did not want to return to Georgia, and yet somehow he'd been conscripted into another rally on the night of Jan. 4.

Off the Rails

Barbarians at the Oval

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump plunked down in an armchair in the White House residence, still dressed from his golf game — navy fleece, black pants, white MAGA cap. It was Saturday, Nov. 7. The networks had just called the election for Joe Biden.

Off the Rails

The siege

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

On Jan. 6, White House deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger entered the West Wing in the mid-afternoon, shortly after his colleagues' phones had lit up with an emergency curfew alert from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.