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Arnon Mishkin, the Fox News decision desk chief, is getting heat from the Trump White House over his call of Arizona for former Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday night.
Mishkin's team awarded the state and its 11 electoral votes to Trump's Democratic opponent at 11:20 p.m. Eastern time. The Associated Press, which collaborates with Fox News on a voter analysis survey used to determine election results, also gave Arizona to Biden.
None of the other networks had made a call on the state as of late Thursday afternoon. If Biden wins Georgia, Pennsylvania or Nevada, where results could come in Thursday night, Fox News will be in position to be the first to call the presidential election for Biden.
The development will come as a surprise to Fox News critics who complain of the network's opinion hosts, who provide rabid support for Trump. But the network has long maintained that its journalism operation is walled off from its conservative commentators.
Fox News has firmly stood by Mishkin, a highly regarded analyst who has overseen the vote returns at the network since 2008, even as Trump-supporting guests appear on its air to criticize the move.
There have also been reports that people in the president's circle have called Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of the network's parent Fox Corp., to complain about the decision to make the call. The decision altered the narrative of the election story that appeared to have Trump on his way to a comeback victory after a surprisingly strong win in Florida.
The Trump campaign has also attacked Mishkin for being a registered Democrat who acknowledged voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016. An email sent by the campaign noted his contributions to Democratic candidates.
Mishkin, 65, is not a full-time Fox News employee. He is a former political consultant who worked on campaigns for both Democratic and Republican candidates. He has also made financial contributions to both parties, with more money going to Republican candidates according to public records.
But the decision to give the state to Trump's Democratic opponent was based on mathematical analysis. Mishkin went on Fox News late on election night where anchor Bret Baier subjected him to tough questioning on the call.
Mishkin was on again with Baier and co-anchor Martha MacCallum on Wednesday when he again explained the decision and said there is no intention of changing it.
"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. And that's why we're not pulling back the call."
Mishkin said there were not enough votes outstanding in Arizona to alter the race, where the margin tightened when more ballots were counted late Wednesday. Biden's lead stood at 68,000 on Thursday afternoon.
"Maricopa County is a county where Biden is doing well," Mishkin said. The president needs to get basically 60% of that outstanding vote in order to overtake or tie Joe Biden. We don't believe he is going to get more than 45, 46% of that vote."
Mishkin also noted that voters in Maricopa County tended to be more Biden voters than Trump voters. "Voters who voted by mail, and the bulk of this vote is the mail-in vote, tended to be even stronger for Biden than the election day in-person vote."
MacCallum told Mishkin that the Trump campaign contended there were many "late early voters" who dropped their ballots off on election day.
"They are saying that the outstanding vote is over 600,000, and that the president is on schedule of what they see to be over 60 something percent," MacCallum said. "If that were the case, would that state move?"
"If a frog had wings," Mishkin replied. "What we believe fairly strongly is that the vote is going to come in, it's going to confirm our call. Others will then call Arizona for the former vice president. We're confident in our call, and we'll see when the data comes in."
Asked why Arizona was called so early, Mishkin explained that enough of the vote count came in during the 11 p.m. Eastern hour to determine the results.
"It was roughly 80-some percent of the vote was in when we made the call," he said. "We had been sitting and watching it for about a half-hour, an hour, and we said it's time to pull the trigger. We felt we made the correct call at the correct time, and that's why we made it."
Asked why Arizona was called and not North Carolina where Trump has a lead, Mishkin said the decision desk was waiting for "the last remnants" of mail-in votes to be counted because they could favor Biden.
"We know in places like North Carolina, the mail-in vote was strongly for Biden, much stronger than you generally see in terms of the difference between mail-in and in-person vote," he said. " "North Carolina is probably the president's best chance of winning a state that's outstanding."
Mishkin anticipated a disparity between the in-person election day vote and the mail-vote, which was heavy due to concerns over the pandemic, when he spoke to the Los Angeles Times last month.
"Based on all the surveys, what you’re seeing is that Republicans are much more likely to want to vote on election day in person, and Democrats are vastly more likely to want to vote early or by mail," Mishkin said. "That makes our job on election night more complicated."
Mishkin is used to getting criticized by Trump. He also works with the Fox News polling unit — affectionately known internally as the "nerdquarium" — which has been a target of Trump's tweets whenever its numbers do not go the president's way.
Trump gets robust support from Fox News opinion hosts such as Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. But the president is known to call Murdoch and other Fox News executives to convey his unhappiness with the channel's journalism coverage and polling.
Fox News Political Director Chris Stirewalt told the Times in 2019 he has never received pressure from upper management regarding the polling unit's data or its election calls.
“I don’t hear boo,” Stirewalt said. “I’ve never been asked. I have never been leaned on. I have never had a gust blown in my direction that ‘it might be a little bit better if …’”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.