WILMINGTON, DELAWARE/WASHINGTON (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - The presidential election hung in the balance on Wednesday (Nov 4), with a handful of states set to decide the outcome in the coming hours or days, even as President Donald Trump falsely claimed victory and made unfounded allegations of electoral fraud.
President Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden both still have possible paths to reach the needed 270 Electoral College votes to win the White House, as states keep counting mail-in ballots that surged amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Shortly after Mr Biden said he was confident of winning the contest once the votes are counted, Mr Trump appeared at the White House in the early hours to declare victory and said his lawyers would be taking his case to the US Supreme Court, without specifying what they would claim.
“We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election,” Mr Trump said, in an extraordinary attack on the electoral process by a sitting president.
“This is a major fraud on our nation. We want the law to be used in a proper manner. So we’ll be going to the US Supreme Court. We want all voting to stop.”
He provided no evidence to back up his claim of fraud. Voting concluded as scheduled on Tuesday night, but many states routinely take days to finish counting ballots.
Huge numbers of people voted by mail because of the coronavirus pandemic, making it likely the count will take longer than usual.
The trio of “blue wall” states that unexpectedly sent Mr Trump to the White House in 2016 – Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – remained too close to call.
Mr Biden held a slight lead in Nevada, where officials said they would not resume counting until Thursday.
Two Southern states, Georgia and North Carolina, were also still in play; Mr Trump held leads in both.
However, legal experts have said the election outcome could get bogged down in state-by-state litigation over a host of issues, including whether states can include late-arriving ballots that were mailed by Election Day.
Even before Tuesday, the 2020 campaign saw a historic number of lawsuits across dozens of states, as the coronavirus pandemic forced election officials to prepare for an election like no other.
Both campaigns have marshalled teams of lawyers in preparation for any disputes.
Ahead of the election, Mr Trump had said he wanted his latest US Supreme Court appointee, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, confirmed by the Senate in case the court had to hear any electoral dispute.
Democrats had criticised the President for appearing to suggest he expected Justice Barrett to rule in his favour.
Mr Trump has repeatedly said without evidence that widespread mail-in voting will lead to fraud, although US election experts say fraud is vanishingly rare.
In Pennsylvania, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf said the state still had to count more than a million mail-in ballots and called Mr Trump’s remarks a partisan attack.
According to Edison Research, more than 2.4 million early ballots were cast in the state, with 1.6 million by registered Democrats and about 555,000 by Republicans.
The next president will lead a nation battered by a pandemic that has killed more than 231,000 people and left millions more jobless, as well as racial tensions and political polarisation that has only worsened during a vitriolic campaign.
A win for Mr Biden in either one would narrow Mr Trump’s chances considerably. Mr Biden’s victory in Arizona – both Fox News and the Associated Press projected he would win the state – gave him multiple pathways to the White House.
If he holds onto Nevada, he could secure the presidency by winning the Midwestern states of Wisconsin and Michigan, where he held large leads in polls before Election Day, even if he loses Pennsylvania.
Mr Trump’s most likely path goes through Pennsylvania; if he wins that state, he would secure re-election if he also held onto the Southern states and won at least one Midwestern state.
Mr Biden leads 224 to 213 over Mr Trump in the Electoral College vote count, according to Edison Research.
Mr Biden’s hopes of a decisive early victory were dashed on Tuesday evening when Mr Trump won the battlegrounds of Florida, Ohio and Texas.
But the former vice-president, 77, said he was confident he could win by taking the three key Rust Belt states.
“We feel good about where we are,” Mr Biden said in his home state of Delaware, shouting over a din of supporters in cars honking their horns in approval.
“We believe we’re on track to win this election.”
During the final days of the campaign, Mr Trump had suggested he would claim victory if ahead on election night and seek to halt the count of additional ballots.
“The President’s statement tonight about trying to shut down the counting of duly cast ballots was outrageous, unprecedented, and incorrect,” Mr Biden’s campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said in a statement.
Edison’s national exit poll showed that while Mr Biden led Mr Trump among non-white voters, Mr Trump received a slightly higher proportion of the non-white votes than he did in 2016.
The poll showed that about 11 per cent of African Americans, 31 per cent of Hispanics and 30 per cent of Asian Americans voted for Mr Trump, up 3 percentage points from 2016 in all three groups.
Mr Biden put Mr Trump’s handling of the pandemic at the centre of his campaign and had held a consistent lead in national opinion polls over the Republican President.
Global stocks gyrated in early trade as results streamed in, with a final call now seen unlikely for days and the outcome raising the potential for gridlock that complicates the chance of a quick US government spending boost to counter the effects of the pandemic.
‘It’s the voters place’
“We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election. We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after the Polls are closed!”
Mr Trump, 74, tweeted before his White House appearance. Twitter swiftly tagged the tweet as possibly misleading.
“It’s not my place or Donald Trump’s place to declare the winner of this election. It’s the voters’ place,” Mr Biden said on Twitter in response to the President.
It was not clear what Mr Trump meant by saying he would ask the Supreme Court to halt “voting".
The election will also decide which party controls the US Congress for the next two years, and the Democratic drive to win control of the Senate appeared to fall short.
Democrats picked up only one Republican-held seat while six other races remained undecided – Alaska, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina and two in Georgia.
Latino problem for Biden
Mr Trump’s strong performance in Florida, a must-win state for his re-election, was powered by his improved numbers with Latinos.
For months there had been complaints from Democratic Latino activists that Mr Biden was ignoring Hispanic voters and lavishing attention instead on Black voters in big Midwestern cities.
Opinion polls in key states showed Mr Biden underperforming with Latinos in the weeks leading up to the election.
Mr Trump’s chaotic four years in office have been marked by the coronavirus crisis, an economy battered by pandemic shutdowns, an impeachment drama, inquiries into Russian election interference, racial tensions and contentious immigration policies.
Mr Biden is making his third attempt to win the presidency after a five-decade political career including eight years as vice-president under Mr Trump’s predecessor, Mr Barack Obama.
The wait continues
Mr Biden entered Election Day in a strong position, leading nationally by 7.2 percentage points as well as in most swing states, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average.
But the Election Day vote was expected to favour Mr Trump in large part because Democrats encouraged their supporters to cast early ballots.
Despite Mr Biden’s advantage, some Democrats are spooked that Mr Trump could defy polls and win, just as he did in 2016.
But Mr Biden’s lead over Mr Trump in national polls is greater than Mrs Clinton’s was on Election Day in 2016.
RealClearPolitics had her ahead of Mr Trump nationally by 3.2 percentage points.
Mr Biden also has held consistent leads in some key swing states he needs to win, while in 2016 some of those states were infrequently polled and assumed to be a slam dunk for Democrats.
On Tuesday, Mr Trump predicted a “big red wave” among Republicans who cast their ballots in person rather than vote early or by mail as many Democrats had done.
“I think we’re going to have a great night,” Mr Trump told reporters when he stopped in at his campaign headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, before returning to the White House to await polling results and work the phones.
Voting takes place amid a deadly wave of the coronavirus pandemic, leading to millions of votes being cast by mail – a shift that could delay an official tally in some battleground states for days.
In Pennsylvania, for example, election officials could not begin processing early ballots until Tuesday, and it’s unclear how long it will take officials to tally them.
Early turnout information suggested that Republicans had erased Democrats’ lead in mail-in and early voting in Florida, a key state, Bloomberg reported.
“If there’s something to talk about tonight, I’ll talk about it,” Mr Biden said on Tuesday afternoon at a campaign stop in Wilmington, Delaware.
“If not, I’ll wait till the votes are counted the next day.”
The Biden campaign sees multiple paths to victory, while Mr Trump has a narrower route that includes recapturing Pennsylvania while protecting the other states he won in 2016.
A win for Mr Biden in those states would all but guarantee him a victory.
For live updates and results, follow our US election live coverage.