Democrat Joe Biden was on the cusp of winning the US presidency Saturday — as the long, exacting work of counting votes widened his lead over President Donald Trump in critical battleground states.
The race for the White House "hovered in suspended animation" four days after the vote, the Associated Press reported.
High turnout, a massive number of mail-in ballots and slim margins between the two candidates all contributed to the delay in naming a winner. However Biden held leads in Pennsylvania, Nevada and Georgia — putting him in an ever-stronger position to capture the 270 Electoral College votes needed to take the White House.
There was intense focus on Pennsylvania, where Biden led Trump by more than 27,000 votes, and Nevada, where the Democrat led by about 22,000. The prolonged wait added to the anxiety of a nation facing historic challenges, including the surging pandemic and deep political polarisation.
Late-night Biden address
Trump stayed in the White House and out of sight as more results trickled in and expanded Biden’s lead in must-win Pennsylvania.
In the West Wing during the day, televisions remained tuned to the news amid trappings of normalcy, as reporters lined up for coronavirus tests and outdoor crews worked on the North Lawn on a mild, muggy fall day.
Biden, for his part, addressed the nation Friday night near his home in Wilmington, Delaware, and acknowledged the sluggish pace of the count “can be numbing.” But he added: "Never forget the tallies aren’t just numbers: They represent votes and voters.”
He expressed confidence that victory ultimately would be his, saying: “The numbers tell us a clear and convincing story: We're going to win this race.”
Standing alongside his running mate Senator Kamala Harris, Biden wasn't able to give the acceptance speech his aides had hoped. But he hit notes of unity, seemingly aimed at cooling the temperature of a heated, divided nation.
Chief of Staff infected
“We have to remember the purpose of our politics isn’t total unrelenting, unending warfare," he said. "No, the purpose of our politics, the work of our nation, isn’t to fan the flames of conflict but to solve problems, to guarantee justice, to give everybody a fair shot.”
Trump's campaign on Friday was mostly quiet — a dramatic difference from the day before, when officials held a morning call projecting confidence and then a flurry of press conferences announcing litigation in key states. But it was touched once again by the coronavirus pandemic.
Chief of staff Mark Meadows contracted the virus, according to two senior White House officials not authorised to publicly discuss private matters. Several other members of the White House staff and Trump’s campaign team also tested positive.
Trump's handling of the pandemic has been the defining issue of the campaign. The President, First Lady Melania Trump and several other people in Trump's orbit have fallen ill.
A handful of states remain in play — Georgia, North Carolina are too early to call, along with Pennsylvania and Nevada. In all four states the margins between Trump and Biden were too narrow and the number of ballots left to be counted too great for the AP to declare a victor.
Under Pennsylvania state law, officials were not allowed to begin processing mail-in ballots until election day. In Nevada, there were a number of provisional ballots cast by voters who registered on election day, and officials had to verify their eligibility. Recounts could be triggered in both Pennsylvania and Georgia.
With his pathway to reelection appearing to greatly narrow, Trump was testing how far he could 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. It was an extraordinary effort by a sitting American president pour doubt on 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.
He took to Twitter late Friday to pledge further legal action, tweeting that “Joe Biden should not wrongfully claim the office of the president. I could make that claim also. Legal proceedings are just now beginning!"