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For panicking Democrats, 2020 is déjà vu all over again

Democrats went into election night anxious, hoping for an opposite result than on election night 2016.

Hours after the first polls closed, they are feeling an overwhelming sense of déjà vu as President TrumpDonald TrumpGaetz was denied meeting with Trump: CNN Federal Reserve chair: Economy would have been 'so much worse' without COVID-19 relief bills Police in California city declare unlawful assembly amid 'white lives matter' protest MORE builds leads in the South and Democrat Joe BidenJoe BidenFederal Reserve chair: Economy would have been 'so much worse' without COVID-19 relief bills Biden to meet Monday with bipartisan lawmakers about infrastructure Jill Biden gives shout out to Champ, Major on National Pet Day MORE’s hopes fall largely on the same states that doomed Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClose the avenues of foreign meddling Pelosi planned on retiring until Trump won election: report Pence autobiography coming from Simon & Schuster MORE four years ago: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Many Democrats went into the evening “cautiously optimistic” that Biden could defeat Trump. The most hopeful operatives had their eyes on a landslide.

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Those hopes began evaporating as Trump built a lead in Florida, and as The New York Times “needles” showed the president overwhelmingly likely to win not only the Sunshine State, but North Carolina and Georgia as well.

House later, none of those states have been called, but Trump is in the lead in all three. Trump also leads in Texas, another state Democrats dreamed of winning.

“I feel the exact same way I felt in 2016: nauseous,” said one former Obama administration official. “It feels the same.”

Another Democratic strategist summed it up this way: “It’s catastrophic.”

“This is so much worse than 2016. In 2016, we were surprised. In 2020, we supposedly learned our lesson,” the strategist said. “And we didn't.”

The strategist and other Democrats pointed to Trump's dizzying schedule in recent days where he held multiple events, and they were quick to lay blame at Biden's strategy of trying to play in red states like Georgia and Texas. 

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At the same time, Biden allies cautioned that it was still early in the night.

Democrats are feeling optimistic that Biden will flip Arizona, where he has built a lead in the populous Maricopa County.

Counts in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the so-called “blue wall” that Biden had vowed to rebuild, are ongoing. Counts could go on not only for a number of hours in all three states, but perhaps days, particularly in Pennsylvania.

“We still have a path,” one Biden ally said. “We all need to calm down.”

Democratic strategist Eddie Vale also said he felt like it was too soon to draw comparisons to 2016. 

“I could eat these words, but I think people are over panicking on our side a little,” he said.