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Thursday, November 5, 2020

What the remaining swing states would look like as a TV show

Protests Continue In Philadelphia As Pennsylvania Counts Votes Someone in an Elmo costume attends a Count Every Vote protest on November 5 in Philadelphia. | Chris McGrath/Getty Images

If we have writers, election 2020 is a pretty wild season finale.

As I write this, there are six states left to be called by most major news organizations. Of those six, four — Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania — have sucked up the lion’s share of attention. (Fox News and the Associated Press have called Arizona for Joe Biden.)

I don’t know anything more about politics than what MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki tells me to know (so dreamy!), but I do know a lot about television, and I know that when you have four separate storylines in a prestige drama, they inevitably get sorted in order of importance by the showrunner.

Obligatory note that, yes, “God, 2020’s writers are off the chain!” is kind of a tired meme at this point, but let’s beat that particular drum one more time, this time with story structure.

So, what if the 2020 presidential election is a prestige drama? What if the showrunner is, like, some woman in a parallel timeline who doesn’t realize she’s literally creating our reality right now? What would she select as the A-story (a.k.a. the biggest, most pivotal storyline of them all — think Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding)? What would she think had the highest potential for character stakes (basically every Arya storyline on Game of Thrones) and insert into the B-story slot?

What would be her C-story, wherein she could go absolutely buck wild in upending expectations (as with, say, Daenerys using her dragons to burn people on Game of Thrones … IF YOU’RE SENSING A THEME, YOU’RE RIGHT)? What would she deem less important, making it the D-story (think of, like, Bran wandering around in any given season)?

Here’s how she might weigh the current top storylines of the 2020 election.

Pennsylvania: The A-story with the most drama

As the remaining state with the most electoral votes (20), Pennsylvania has been the focus of much drama over the past several days. Most TV news networks have sent one of their top reporters to the state, and growing protest efforts by supporters of both Donald Trump and Joe Biden are pushing to, respectively, stop counting the votes and keep counting the votes.

It’s not hard to imagine what’s happening in Pennsylvania as, like, the storyline in the season finale of election 2020, which would probably follow a couple of beleaguered operatives behind the scenes as they work to make sure their boss claims every advantage he can in the coming battle for the nation. If I were running this show, they would kiss at some point, but let’s be honest — they’re too busy for kissing.

But maybe the main character is wild-eyed Philadelphia Flyers mascot Gritty, standing alone against the political operatives about to overwhelm his city. “Count the votes!” he howls. (Okay, he doesn’t say that, because Gritty can’t talk, but he’s definitely involved in this storyline somehow.)

Here are some other things I know about Pennsylvania that we can work into this storyline: cheesesteaks, the Liberty Bell, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Phillie Phanatic, the “Iggles” (another name for the Eagles, for some reason — go birds!), water ice, “this jawn over here,” “yinz,” the Rocky statue, the state capital of Harrisburg, Penn State, Sheetz versus Wawa, and Punxsutawney Phil.

Arizona: The B-story where things peaked too early

The real excitement out of Arizona came when Fox News and the Associated Press called the state in Biden’s favor well before any other news organization. (Indeed, most news organizations still haven’t called Arizona at all.) But the Fox News call happened Tuesday night, and the state has mostly followed a predictable pattern ever since: Results dribble in every so often, some show Trump making up some ground but probably not enough, and others show Biden holding steady.

On Wednesday night, the count in pivotal Maricopa County was briefly suspended when pro-Trump protestors — some of whom brandished firearms — gathered outside the elections center demanding to be given access to the room where the votes were being counted. The situation was an incredibly scary one that I don’t want to minimize in the slightest by joking about it as a plotline on TV show; that it seems to have ultimately been resolved safely is a good thing.

Otherwise, Arizona continues to trudge along, with the foremost non-electoral stakes now being that someone on the Fox News decision desk will either be vindicated by a Biden win or humiliated by a Trump win. When that happens, the show would cut to that character, and you’d be like, “Oh, yeah, that person. I forgot about them.”

Georgia: The C-story that constantly flirts with being the A-story

Georgia is where the writers just went wild. Traditionally a Republican state (it’s gone for a Democrat only once — in 1992 — since Jimmy Carter, the former governor, headed up the ticket in 1976 and 1980), Georgia is one of several states Democrats thought they could turn into a new battleground in 2020. But where the party’s hopes in states like Texas mostly fizzled out, they’ve turned out to bear fruit in Georgia, where the margin has become agonizingly close with less than 100,000 ballots left to count.

Considering how much of a nail-biter this C-story is, don’t be surprised if it abruptly becomes the A-story without much prelude, which could happen if everything comes down to a handful of ballots in Georgia, a thing that remains unlikely but is still theoretically possible. (The main character here is obvious: Stacey Abrams, who spearheaded Democrats’ efforts in the state. I’ve been trying not to use real people in this article, but Abrams loves television and would, I hope, be pleased by being a much-loved fictional character in an alternate universe.)

Nevada: The D-story that drops in every so often with little rhyme or reason

I occasionally forget that votes are still being counted in Nevada, because the count is going so slowly and because the remaining ballots are mostly in Clark County — home of Las Vegas, where Joe Biden is heavily favored — so there’s less potential for drama in Nevada compared to the three states above.

But as a D-story, Nevada gets to be absolutely wild sometimes. Look at this guy.

I don’t get to chuckle politely about this because I live in our reality, and that man is emblematic of a right-wing media apparatus that is too often built atop lies and obfuscation, something I find absolutely terrifying. But if I lived in a different universe where everything was great, and I was just watching this election unfold on a prestige drama, I would be, like, “Heh. That’s Nevada for you!”

Bonus round: Did you know there are two other states left to call?

Technically, North Carolina and Alaska haven’t been called yet either. Trump seems likely to win both (though the count in North Carolina is very close), but let’s presume they’re our E- and F-stories. (Think of everything Samwell Tarly and Gilly got up to on — you guessed it — Game of Thrones.)

North Carolina is the E-story where the writers just stopped really trying: In a world where more states had been called, the slow count in North Carolina would have been filled with drama, but it just can’t compete. Yet don’t be surprised if it sneaks up the ranks and becomes the D-story in the event of, say, Arizona or Nevada being called soon.

Alaska is the F-story meant for comic relief: Alaska hasn’t been called because mail-in ballots have yet to be counted. (Alaska is such a big state! It has so many square miles in it! Good luck to the US Post Office!) If it goes for Joe Biden, that would be hugely unprecedented. Alaska has voted for a Democrat exactly once since it became a state. (That would be Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.) Anyway, if Alaska is a storyline, it’s the one where you keep cutting to the comic-relief character who has been sent to monitor the vote counting and keeps complaining about how bored they are. There’s probably a moose, because when people think “Alaska,” they think, “Moose, right? There are moose there?” and TV never met a cliché it couldn’t play into. (Sorry to Alaska, a beautiful, diverse state that has so much more than moose but does — yes, you have to admit it — have moose.)



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