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Biden Narrowly Won Wisconsin, A State That Has Been Hit Hard By COVID-19

Biden won Wisconsin by a razor-thin margin, and the Trump campaign declared it will "immediately" push for a recount.

Posted on November 4, 2020, at 3:01 p.m. ET

Mark Makela / Reuters

Democratic US presidential nominee and former vice president Joe Biden during a campaign event in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, Sept. 21, 2020.

Joe Biden won Wisconsin on Wednesday after a bitterly contested election yielded no clear result for either presidential candidate last night.

The result was called just before 3 p.m. by Decision Desk HQ. The final tally in the state had Biden leading by about 20,000 votes, a margin so slim that President Donald Trump will be able to request a recount. Biden took a lead in the early hours of the day Wednesday as mail-in ballots from heavily Democratic areas like Milwaukee outpaced Trump’s lead in Election Day voting. The tight race surprised pundits who thought the impact of COVID-19 in recent weeks would bring a bigger swing toward the Democratic candidate.

Together with Michigan and Pennsylvania, two other traditionally Democratic states in the Upper Midwest, Wisconsin’s 10 Electoral College votes were key to Trump’s unexpected 2016 victory.

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On Wednesday afternoon, before Wisconsin’s final results were announced, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien declared that the campaign would request a recount "immediately." By Wisconsin’s rules, the president has until 5 p.m. tomorrow to request an official recount in the state, a process that could take weeks to complete.

Though experts have long warned that election results would be delayed due to the influx of mail-in ballots this year, Trump has already sought to cast doubt on those votes, which lean Democrat. Early Wednesday morning, Trump said he would challenge the election in the Supreme Court if he loses — though it’s unclear what legal challenge he could bring.

Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Joe Biden gives a fist bump to Rep. Gwen Moore, a Wisconsin Democrat, as he arrives to speak at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport, Oct. 30.

This year, Wisconsin, perhaps more than any other state, was caught between the two dueling narratives from the Biden and Trump campaigns: a devastating coronavirus outbreak that has surged in the weeks before Election Day, and a rash of violent protests in Kenosha after the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by police.

In the Biden campaign’s attempt to make the 2020 election a referendum on Trump’s handling of the pandemic, Wisconsin arguably provided the president’s biggest test: Right now in the state, around 5,000 new cases are being recorded each day and some 1,500 people are in the hospital in an outbreak that shows no sign of slowing down.

Downplaying the pandemic, Trump stressed his law-and-order pitch in rallies in Wisconsin. “They’re waging war on our police,” he told a crowd at the regional airport in Kenosha on Monday, claiming to have “saved” the city from protesters.

Going into the election, statewide polling averages gave Biden a lead of more than 8 percentage points in a state won by Trump by just 0.8 percentage points in 2016. The impact of COVID-19 and dissatisfaction with Trump among suburban white women were expected to make Wisconsin a relatively easy flip. But it didn’t turn out that way, in an election in which Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 232,000 Americans so far, seems to have been less of a weakness than was expected.

In a study published late last month, political scientists estimated that Trump’s approval rating dropped by 0.5% when a state’s COVID-19 death rate doubled over the course of a month.

In Wisconsin, the seven-day rolling average of daily deaths has risen from fewer than 10 in mid-September to more than 40 today.

Peter Aldhous / BuzzFeed News / Via New York Times / COVID Tracking Project

Lines show seven-day rolling averages in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin escaped the worst of the first wave of US coronavirus cases and deaths in April, which hit hardest in cities, including the New York metropolitan area, Detroit, and New Orleans. It also was largely spared by the second wave, which surged across the Sun Belt states of the South and West Coast in the summer.

But the state has led the way in the current wave of cases, which began in September in the Midwest and Plains states and is now taking off nationwide. The strain on hospitals has gotten so bad that last month, the state opened a 530-bed emergency field hospital at the Wisconsin State Fair Park outside Milwaukee.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.