These cities did prove central to Mr. Trump’s defeat in more symbolic ways.
Mr. Biden’s vote count in Wisconsin jumped in the middle of the night after Election Day when the city of Milwaukee completed its count of mail-in ballots about 3:30 a.m. That helped explain why many Americans woke up Wednesday morning to a different picture of the race in Wisconsin.
In Michigan, the TCF Center in Detroit became a center of pro-Trump protests as election workers tallied votes in the city and as Mr. Biden’s lead continued to grow on the Friday after the election.
And in Pennsylvania, it was a tabulation of votes in Philadelphia on Saturday that pushed Mr. Biden across the threshold where many media outlets were prepared to call the state — and the election — for him. Philadelphia, too, was the scene of some of the most raucous celebrations that followed.
In the unofficial results, however, these cities shifted little from 2016 in their vote tallies for the Democrat, unlike many surrounding suburbs. And Mr. Trump picked up about 3,000 additional votes in Milwaukee, about 5,000 in Detroit, and about 21,000 in Philadelphia, in counts that are not yet completed.
Part of what makes these cities perennial targets is their size, said Andra Gillespie, a political scientist at Emory University. Because of that, they’re slower to count ballots, feeding suspicions about late-changing results. And if a campaign is looking to narrow vote margins through litigation, it makes more sense to go after the county with half a million voters than one with only a few hundred.
But Professor Gillespie said the racial implications of these fraud claims would not be lost on African-American voters.
“In one minute, he’s talking about how he’s the greatest president for Black people since Abraham Lincoln, which is historically inaccurate,” she said. “And then in the next breath, you now are trying to disqualify voters in cities with large Black populations, in ways that look like disenfranchisement and voter suppression.”