An earlier version of this article, citing CNN, misstated the time on Saturday that the Associated Press called the presidential race for Joe Biden. It was 11:26 a.m. EST, the wire service says.
Four days after the polls closed, the TV news networks finally called the presidential election for Democratic nominee Joe Biden on Saturday morning.
Most of the networks made the call for Biden, which had been expected since late Wednesday, at about 11:25 a.m. EST. But Fox News, which called Arizona for Biden on Tuesday night and had credited Biden with more electoral votes than its competitors before the call, made its announcement at 11:40, also calling Nevada for the president-elect. Network representatives declined to comment on the delay.
CNN called the election at 11:24 a.m., NBC and CBS at 11:25, ABC and The Associated Press at 11:26, according to CNN’s Brian Stelter and the AP.
The networks determined Biden had defeated President Donald Trump after calling Pennsylvania for the Democrat, giving him 273 electoral votes.
Political observers rely on The Associated Press and other news organizations to make the definitive call, although states must certify their results to make them official. With a roughly 4 million vote lead over Trump in the popular vote, the Biden campaign had been expecting to reach the 270 electoral votes needed to win on Friday, scheduling and then postponing outdoor celebratory speeches. (Biden is scheduled to give a victory speech Saturday at 8 EST/5 PST).
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The networks were poised for their decision desks to anoint Biden as the winner early Saturday, as top anchors and correspondents were on hand and jumped into action immediately.
About 10 minutes after CNN and MSNBC called the election for Biden, Fox anchor Neil Cavuto reported that other news organizations had made that determination and that Biden needed just one more state to hit 270 electoral votes, the number needed to win the presidency. Moments later, he handed off coverage to the network’s top political anchors, Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, who said the network was projecting a Biden victory.
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News coverage after the announcement appeared to be a political Rorschach test for viewers. On Twitter, one person lauded Fox News for balance while another suggested it had abandoned its right-leaning viewers.
Similarly, singer Martina McBride’s attempt at a unifying tweet drew both praise and criticism on Twitter. She wrote: “The most hopeful and most calming thing for me is the way both @CNN and @FoxNews are speaking intelligently, compassionately, and focused on moving this country forward for all Americans. Talking about bringing this country together. We desperately need that. I’m feeling relieved.”
Shortly after announcing Biden’s victory, CNN anchor Jake Tapper noted the historic significance of electing Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, as VP.
“I would like to also take a moment to acknowledge that the United States of America just elected its first woman and its first woman of color as vice president, Kamala Harris, the daughter of immigrants, one from India and one from Jamaica. Once again amazing sign of what this country can do,” he said.
CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash commented on Biden’s long political career and how the man who will become the nation’s oldest president at 78 rode a topsy-turvy campaign to victory.
“Let’s talk about Joe Biden. Five decades in public service, three times running for president, he finally got there,” she said. “He’s the most conventional of politicians, but in this election cycle, his path has been so unconventional. Remember, he beat out the biggest, most diverse field in the Democratic primary. And he is an older white man who did that. … He lost Iowa, he lost New Hampshire and it was black Democratic voters who saved him and propelled him to this point. That started in South Carolina.”
A little later, the main force behind Biden’s South Carolina revival, U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, was discussing Biden’s victory on CBS.
Before the call, some anchors showed their weariness at the delay, as MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough jokingly offered breaking news that Bob Dole would be the 1996 Republican presidential nominee. It appeared many TV journalists were anxious for their decision teams – the groups of statistical and political experts who decide when to call states for candidates – would call one of the few remaining states Biden needed to hit 270.
In the end, it was the projection of Pennsylvania, just after an updated vote total pushed Biden more than 30,000 votes ahead, moved that state and its 20 electoral votes into Biden’s column and carried him to 273.
“Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd explained the determination on NBC: “Look, we got just enough vote in, in order to call Pennsylvania, even if it may slip into a recount. We think it’s just mathematically, nearly impossible for the order of finish to change in Pennsylvania.”
Before Biden was projected the winner, a number of TV anchors and pundits noted that Trump was golfing at his Virginia course on Saturday morning. Just a few hours before the expected projection of Biden’s victory, Trump defiantly and wrongly tweeted: “I WON THIS ELECTION, BY A LOT!”
Trump’s campaign issued a statement rejecting the network projections and alleging a media conspiracy at odds with reality: “We all know why Joe Biden is rushing to falsely pose as the winner, and why his media allies are trying so hard to help him: they don’t want the truth to be exposed. The simple fact is this election is far from over.”
While cable news networks continued their marathon coverage, ABC shifted back to regular programming (a college football game) at 1 p.m. EST, shortly after NBC resumed airing Premier League soccer. CBS continued its election coverage. All networks were scheduled to return for Biden’s victory speech at 8 p.m. EST.
Contributing: Gary Levin, Kelly Lawler