By Helen Coster, Lisa Richwine
(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign on Thursday attacked the person at Fox News responsible for the network’s projection calling Arizona for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden as a “Clinton-voting, Biden-donating Democrat.”
With Arizona in Biden’s column, he would have 264 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House, putting him closer to victory and narrowing his Republican opponent’s path to re-election.
Trump’s campaign website said, “decision desk” director Arnon Mishkin “prematurely called Arizona for Joe Biden before hundreds of thousands of ballots had been counted. Even left-leaning election analysts like (FiveThirtyEight’s) Nate Silver have criticized the decision, but Mishkin is standing by his terrible decision despite and refusing to retract his unjustified call.”
The website added that Mishkin: “has a long record of donating to Democrats, including the 2008 Obama-Biden campaign.”
Fox News, controlled by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Corp, declined to comment. Mishkin did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The network projected at 11:20 p.m. ET on election night on Tuesday that former Vice President Biden would win the Southwestern battleground state of Arizona, at a time when Mishkin said “80-some” percent of its votes had been counted.
The Associated Press, which relies on the same polling data as Fox News, made the same projection three hours later. None of the other major television networks have so far projected a winner for Arizona, saying it was too close to call with so many outstanding ballots left to be counted.
Mishkin has said Trump would have to win roughly 60% of the votes that were not yet counted on Tuesday night, which he does not believe is possible. The Associated Press also based its Arizona call on the conclusion that Trump could not catch up in the ballots left to be counted. The Trump campaign has argued the president could make up the gap.
Even as the Biden campaign said victory was imminent, a campaign manager on Thursday said it may take time to see the full results in Arizona.
On election night, Fox News Chief White House Correspondent John Roberts said on air that the Trump campaign was “livid” about the projection.
According to Vanity Fair magazine, Trump called Rupert Murdoch on election night “to scream about the (Arizona) call and demand a retraction.” Murdoch refused, the magazine said. The New York Times reported that Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner was also in touch with Murdoch.
The Washington Post reported on Thursday that Trump did not complain to Murdoch. “If he had, I would not have interfered or changed our call,” Murdoch wrote in an email to the Post.
Mishkin and other members of Fox’s decision desk were on air frequently on Wednesday defending the call.
“We are not pulling back that call,” Mishkin said. “There is vote, additional vote that will be reported in Maricopa County. We do not believe that this will change the tenor or the texture of the race. And we strongly believe that our call will stand.”
A September New York Times column described Mishkin as a registered Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, and is paid by Fox as a consultant, not as an employee. According to the Times, Mishkin operates independently with an eight-member team of statisticians, political scientists, pollsters and journalists.
Two days before the election, on “Fox News Sunday,” Mishkin said politics would play “zero” role in his projections.
“Arithmetic is more important than politics when it comes to making a decision, and you’ve just got to check your preferences at the door and decide who has won this thing,” he said.
Reporting by Helen Coster in New York and Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; editing by Jonathan Oatis.