Tucson, Arizona – It was still Tuesday night in Arizona, just a few hours after the polls closed when the first news network called the southwestern state for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
That network was not exactly an opponent of President Donald Trump and his administration. In fact, the conservative media giant Fox News stands out among mainstream media outlets for its support of the Republican president.
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The call came with historic ramifications: Arizonans had not picked a Democrat for president since 1996 when voters in the state helped re-elect former President Bill Clinton.
But when Fox made the call around 12.30am EST (05:30 GMT), Trump, his campaign and his supporters lashed out.
The Trump campaign’s chief strategist, Jason Miller, took to Twitter and accused Fox of trying to “invalidate” the yet-uncounted votes of Trump supporters – a claim for which he provided no evidence.
“Words cannot describe the anger,” one Trump adviser said of Fox’s decision, according to CNN’s Jim Acosta.
Yet little more than two hours later, at 2:50am EST (07:50 GMT) on Wednesday, the Associated Press (AP) news agency joined Fox in calling Arizona for Biden. (Al Jazeera follows the AP’s electoral calls.)
‘Trump can’t catch up’
Other news outlets and pollsters have yet to make a definitive call on Arizona. But in an explainer, AP said that an analysis of the votes led to the conclusion that “there were not enough outstanding to allow Trump to catch up.”
On Tuesday night, Biden expressed optimism about winning Arizona. The next morning, Trump said his campaign had “a lot of life” in the state, although he insisted that he did not need Arizona to win the presidential election.
At 11am EST on Wednesday (18:00 GMT), The Arizona Republic newspaper estimated that there were a further 600,000 votes to count in the state.
Arizona’s Republicans did not reply to Al Jazeera’s request for a comment but the Trump administration has hinted at a challenge.
Democrats, however, remain optimistic on Wednesday.
Clara Godfrey, who lives near the US-Mexico border in Southern Arizona’s Arivaca and believes that Biden has won the state.
“I think the results will stick,” she told Al Jazeera. “I’m very happy – I think there’s a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s time for it.”
Godfrey said: “All of this stuff didn’t just happen when Trump was president … He just gave it enough fire to come to a rolling boil.”
On Election Day, a small group of Trump supporters had gathered outside the polling station at Glendale Community College, just northwest of Phoenix, where they passed out pro-Trump fliers and urged voters to cast their ballots for the Republican incumbent.
Even before voting wrapped up, they were already suspicious of polls that had predicted the state – a longtime bastion of Republican support – would give its 11 electoral votes to Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris.
“The polls are never correct,” Francine Romesburg, a Trump supporter and conservative Tea Party activist, told Al Jazeera.
“They weren’t even close last time [in 2016] – and they’re not close again now.”
In the months and weeks leading up to the vote, the Trump campaign doubled down in Arizona, sending Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to the state a handful of times.
The flurry of last-minute campaigning suggested that the Trump campaign also saw Arizona as the important battleground state it has become.
Despite the uptick in campaigning, the surge in Democratic support is undeniable. Among other factors, Latino advocacy groups, unions and dissatisfaction with the Republican-controlled state’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic all contributed to the changing mood.
Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, longtime Republican strategist Chuck Coughlin pointed to several factors for the Democrats’ promising polling performance, including the state’s rapidly growing population and shifts within the Republican Party.
“This populism and nationalism type of ‘America First’ stuff has always been there,” he told Al Jazeera. But “it’s been laden, not forefront” within the Republican Party, he added.
“There’s been a giant shift within the Republican Party,” Coughlin said.
‘Up in the air’
While the final outcome is still up in the air, the Democrats made significant gains. A centrist Democrat and former astronaut, Mark Kelly overthrew Martha McSally for the Senate seat to which she had been appointed after the death of late US Senator John McCain.
Because Democrat Kyrsten Sinema had clinched Arizona’s other US Senate seat during the 2018 midterm elections, Kelly’s victory means Arizona will have two Democrats in the US Senate for the first time in nearly 70 years.
By the time Wednesday afternoon rolled around, observers and voters still had no additional clarity over the fate of Arizona and its electoral votes.
Standing by Tuesday’s call, the head of Fox News’ Decision Desk, Arnon Mishkin, said that network was “confident and we have not changed the call.”
Without evidence, Trump supporters knuckled down and claimed the elections were being stolen, a claim the president himself posted on Twitter on Tuesday night.
“Is this the year that massive election fraud is finally uncovered across the country, including right here in Arizona?” former US Senate candidate Daniel McCarthy asked on Twitter without presenting any evidence of his allegations.
“Fight,” McCarthy added.
Meanwhile, Republican officials in Arizona have claimed that ballots for Trump were being invalidated by election officials because voters had used sharpie markers – a rumour that has been debunked by state and local media outlets, including the Arizona Mirror newspaper.
Arizona’s secretary of state and Pinal County’s official Twitter account shot down the conspiratorial claims, as did Pima County’s official Twitter page.
“No ballots will be discarded because of the method used to colour in the ovals,” Pima County said.