The nail-biting US election was on the cusp of finally producing a winner on Thursday, with Democrat Joe Biden solidifying his lead over President Donald Trump and the decisive state of Pennsylvania set to release results.
Two days after the most tense election in decades, the meticulous vote counting process — complicated this year by a flood of mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus crisis — reached the end game.
Biden, 77, was just one or at most two battleground states away from securing the majority of electoral college votes to take the White House. Trump, 74, needed an increasingly unlikely combination of wins in multiple states to stay in power.
In Pennsylvania, which Trump must win to keep his White House hopes alive, his lead was down to some 90,500 votes, with that number shrinking further every time new numbers came in. Some 93% of the state’s votes were in by Thursday evening.
In Georgia, Trump’s lead went down from about 13,000 to 9,500, with 98% of the ballots tallied.
On Thursday night, speaking from the White House, Trump again falsely claimed to have won the election and advanced baseless claims of interference in the vote in another broadside aimed at undermining the American Democratic process.
“If you count the legal votes I easily win. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us. If you count the votes that came in late, we’re looking at them very strongly, but a lot of votes came in late,” Trump said.
He claimed to have won key states despite “despite historic election interference from big media, big money and big tech.” The claims are baseless and the Trump team has not offered evidence of fraud.
Trump alleged, without evidence, that polls published before Election Day showing a comfortable win for Biden were aimed at suppressing the vote, and claimed mail-in votes were “corrupt.”
Democrats were “trying to steal an election. They’re trying to rig an election,” he said, again without any evidence.
“Democrats never believed they could win the election honestly,” he said, falsely claiming that millions of ballots for Biden have been “sent out.”
Biden said on Thursday evening that he feels “very good” about the outcome of the election and told his supporters to “stay calm” as votes continued to be counted.
“We continue to feel very good about where things stand. We have no doubt that when the count is finished, Senator Harris and I will be declared the winners,” Biden said, referring to his running mate, Kamala Harris, who stood next to him during the address.
Biden delivered the brief remarks at a theater in the downtown of his home city of Wilmington, Delaware.
“It is the will of the voters — no one, not anyone else — who chooses the president of the United States of America,” he said.
Biden said that “the process is working” and “we’ll know very soon” the outcome of the election. Biden and his top campaign officials have expressed confidence about the vote but have been careful to emphasize the need for every ballot to be counted.
Trump, who shocked the world when he won the presidency in 2016 in his first ever run for public office, spent another day lashing out at the election on Thursday, claiming fraud and demanding a halt to vote counting.
Trump has not been seen in public since his premature declaration of victory in the early hours of Wednesday morning, and the flurry of pronouncements flowing out of the White House ahead of the election has slowed to a trickle.
Trump was monitoring the results and calling allies from the White House residence and the Oval Office. Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Arizona’s Doug Ducey were among those fielding his calls.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said the president was “working” but declined to elaborate. Trump’s preoccupation with the election results was evident from his tweets.
“STOP THE COUNT!” he proclaimed. But the president has no authority over election counting and halting the count at that moment would have resulted in a swift victory for Biden.
“ANY VOTE THAT CAME IN AFTER ELECTION DAY WILL NOT BE COUNTED!” he later wrote. That seemed to advocate tossing out legally cast votes, including those from service members stationed overseas. Many states accept mail-in ballots after Election Day as long as they were postmarked by November 3.
“IF YOU COUNT THE LEGAL VOTES, I EASILY WIN THE ELECTION!” he claimed in a statement sent out by his campaign, accompanied by no evidence. “IF YOU COUNT THE ILLEGAL AND LATE VOTES, THEY CAN STEAL THE ELECTION FROM US!”
The president did still have a narrow path to the 270 electoral votes needed to win reelection. To prevail, Trump would have to win all four remaining battleground states; Biden would have to win one.
Trump’s team outwardly expressed optimism.
“Donald Trump is alive and well,” Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said in a call with reporters Thursday morning. He predicted Trump would win Pennsylvania and other states that were too early to call.
Biden, who has promised to heal a country bruised by Trump’s extraordinarily polarizing four years in power, maintained his characteristic message of calm.
“Be patient, folks. Votes are being counted, and we feel good about where we are,” he tweeted.
In Georgia, a generally Republican state, Trump had a razor thin and steadily slipping lead. In Arizona and Nevada, Biden held on to slim leads. If Biden wins both those states he would also win the presidency.
But the biggest piece of the puzzle remained Pennsylvania, where Trump’s early lead was again steadily draining away, as election officials homed in on processing mail-in ballots, which are more typically cast by Biden supporters.
Biden currently has 253 of the 538 electoral votes divvied up between the country’s 50 states — and 264 with the inclusion of Arizona, which Fox News and the Associated Press have called in his favor.
If Biden took Pennsylvania, he would grab 20 more electoral votes — which would instantly take him over the top of the 270 needed for overall victory.
The official overseeing elections in Pennsylvania, Kathy Boockvar, told CNN that a winner there “definitely could” be determined by the close of business on Thursday.
About 550,000 ballots were still being counted and “it’s looking like we’ll have the overwhelming majority counted by today,” she said.
Trump prematurely declared victory Wednesday and threatened to seek Supreme Court intervention to stop vote-counting but it has continued nonetheless.
Since then, his team fanned out across the battleground states challenging the results in court and staging a series of press conferences where supporters lodged allegations of irregularities.
But while Trump was demanding that counting be halted in Georgia and Pennsylvania — where he is leading — his supporters and campaign insisted that it continue in Arizona and Nevada, where he is trailing.
The campaign has announced lawsuits in Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania, and in Michigan — where it has already been dismissed — as well as demanding a recount in Wisconsin, where Biden won by just 20,000 votes.
Bob Bauer, a lawyer for the Biden campaign, dismissed the slew of lawsuits as “meritless.”
“All of this is intended to create a large cloud,” Bauer said. “But it’s not a very thick cloud. We see through it. So do the courts and so do election officials.”