Democrat Joe Biden was on the cusp of winning the presidency on Friday as he opened up narrow leads over President Donald Trump in the critical battlegrounds of Georgia and Pennsylvania.
The two key states have put Biden in a stronger position to capture the 270 Electoral College votes needed to take the White House. However, the winner will lead a country facing a historic set of challenges, including a surging pandemic and deep political polarization.
Trump remained in the White House residence on Friday morning as his campaign insisted the election wasn't over. Biden was at his home in Wilmington, Delaware, as the vote count continued.
The focus on Pennsylvania, where Biden led Trump by more than 9,000 votes, and Georgia, where Biden led by more than 1,500, came as Americans entered a third full day after the election without knowing who will lead them for the next four years. The prolonged process added to the anxiety of a nation whose racial and cultural divides were inflamed during the heated campaign.
With his pathway to reelection appearing to greatly narrow, Trump has been testing how far he can go in using the trappings of presidential power to undermine confidence in the vote.
On Thursday, he advanced unsupported accusations of voter fraud to falsely argue that his rival was trying to seize power in an extraordinary effort by a sitting American president to sow doubt about the democratic process.
“This is a case when they are trying to steal an election, they are trying to rig an election,” Trump said from the podium of the White House briefing room.
Biden spent Thursday trying to ease tensions and project a more traditional image of presidential leadership. After participating in a coronavirus briefing, he declared that “each ballot must be counted.”
“I ask everyone to stay calm. The process is working,” Biden said. “It is the will of the voters. No one, not anyone else who chooses the president of the United States of America.”
Trump showed no sign of giving up and was was back on Twitter around 2:30 a.m. Friday, insisting the “U.S. Supreme Court should decide!”
Trump’s erroneous claims about the integrity of the election challenged Republicans now faced with the choice of whether to break with a president who, though his grip on his office grew tenuous, commanded sky-high approval ratings from rank-and-file members of the GOP. That was especially true for those who are eyeing presidential runs of their own in 2024.
Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan, a potential presidential hopeful who has often criticized Trump, said unequivocally: “There is no defense for the President’s comments tonight undermining our Democratic process. America is counting the votes, and we must respect the results as we always have before.”
But others who are rumored to be considering a White House run of their own in four years aligned themselves with the incumbent, including Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who tweeted support for Trump’s claims, writing that “If last 24 hours have made anything clear, it’s that we need new election integrity laws NOW.”
Trump’s campaign engaged in a flurry of legal activity to try to improve the Republican president’s chances, saying it would seek a recount in Wisconsin and file lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia.
Judges in Georgia and Michigan quickly dismissed Trump campaign lawsuits there on Thursday.
In Pennsylvania, officials were not allowed to process mail-in ballots until Election Day under state law. It’s a form of voting that has skewed heavily in Biden’s favor after Trump spent months claiming without proof that voting by mail would lead to widespread voter fraud.
Mail ballots from across the state were overwhelmingly breaking in Biden’s direction. A final vote total may not be clear for days because the use of mail-in ballots, which take more time to process, has surged as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.