If Mr. Biden does not win any of those three states (or Texas, where most of the state polls close at 8 p.m.), that will ratchet up the importance of the so-called blue wall of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, which Mr. Trump flipped from Democrats in 2016 and where polls show Mr. Biden ahead. Mr. Trump needs to hold on to just one of them to win re-election, assuming he keeps the rest of his 2016 winning map. That’s a big assumption: He is defending a half-dozen states he won in 2016, and slightly trailing in some polls in Georgia and Arizona.
It all may come down to Pennsylvania. Polls there close at 8 p.m., but Pennsylvania won’t begin counting its early votes until Wednesday morning. The in-person voting is expected to be overwhelmingly Republican, so Mr. Trump may jump out to an early-night lead.
Don’t get misled; the early voting has been overwhelmingly Democratic. Polling shows Mr. Biden with a narrow lead in Pennsylvania, though Mr. Trump’s poll-defying victory there in 2016 — and the effort by his campaign this time to turn out first-time voters who Republicans say have been overlooked by pollsters — has made this state one of the big mysteries of the night. It could take days to finish counting Pennsylvania’s votes.
Polls in Wisconsin close at 9 p.m. Eastern, but the state’s municipal clerks won’t begin to count early votes until the polls open the morning of Election Day; a tight race might mean it will take a day or more before a winner is declared. In Milwaukee, the state’s largest city, officials said they would not release the results of any early voting until all ballots were counted — a process that isn’t likely to end until around 4 a.m. Wednesday.
The final poll closing in Michigan is 9 p.m. as well, though most of the state’s polls will be closed at 8 p.m. Early voting has been heavy here as well, and counting those votes didn’t begin until Monday. This is another one that could take awhile.
There will be a few later-night states out West that are worth keeping in mind: Nevada, which Mr. Trump has sought to pull back from the Democrats, and Arizona, which Mr. Biden has been trying to put into the Democratic column.
Trump will host an East Room gathering, but has no plans for a concession speech.
Four years ago, a superstitious Mr. Trump did not have a victory speech written before election night. Now, with the president expecting no definitive winner on Tuesday night, and his campaign lawyers trying to use state rules to stop the counting of mail-in votes after Election Day, he has no plans to deliver any sort of concession.