US presidential hopeful Joe Biden’s hold on the race for the White House continued to tighten as he overtook Donald Trump in a crucial swing state – and steadily chipped away at the president’s lead in another – amid mounting legal complaints from Trump’s campaign.
Early Friday, the former vice-president overtook Trump in Georgia, a state that last selected a Democratic presidential candidate in 1992.
In a statement at the White House hours earlier, Trump said the election is being stolen from him, despite no evidence of widespread voting irregularities.
“If you count the legal votes, I easily win. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us,” a downcast Trump said, reciting a litany of issues with vote-counting in key states. His campaign’s lawsuits to challenge the count, however, have gained little traction, with at least two being thrown out in Georgia and Michigan.
Each state has been counting a surge of mail-in ballots, which skew Democratic. Biden also expanded his lead in Nevada.
Biden urged his supporters to be patient as the votes are counted and expressed confidence during brief remarks on Thursday. “We have no doubt, when the count is finished, Senator Harris and I will be declared the winners,” he said at an appearance in the late afternoon, referring to running-mate Kamala Harris.
In many ways, the week has unfolded in the way many observers predicted, with Trump racking up leads in key states in votes counted on election night, while Biden has added to his totals with mail-in votes counted later that eroded the Republican's advantage. Trump has pointed to that change in his fortunes as evidence of fraud but it is common for the vote totals to move in the days after the election as vote counts trickle in.
In addition, Trump spent so much time before the election telegraphing his contention that only votes on Election Day should be counted, and his threat to challenge the results, that it gave legal experts a chance to educate voters ahead of time.
Public polls that showed leads for Biden in states such as Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio, Trump said, had created “the illusion of momentum for Mr. Biden and diminished the Republican Party’s ability to raise funds.” Biden has fallen short of polls that showed him winning Florida and Ohio, two states he lost, but also dramatically outdid Trump in fundraising.
Trump’s aides had spent the day shuttling in and out of the campaign’s headquarters in northern Virginia as his team filed a flurry complaints over vote monitoring in Pennsylvania and ineligible voting in Nevada. A case in Georgia related to 53 ballots was tossed out.
Close allies fanned out to Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada to hold press conferences and make accusations of a rigged system, with little to no evidence. Legal challenges were largely aimed at slowing or pausing counting of the votes, and were generally unsuccessful.
As Trump’s legal fortunes sank, Biden’s political fortunes improved and he continues to have more than one path to the presidency, with some scenarios hinging on Arizona.
The Associated Press and Fox News called the state and its 11 electoral votes for Biden, but other prominent news outlets have said Arizona is too close to call – creating two different Electoral College estimates. AP has Biden leading the race for electoral votes at 264 to 214, while CNN has the tally at 253 to 213, with Arizona a toss-up.
A new batch of ballots from Maricopa County Thursday night brought Trump 10,576 votes closer to Biden in that state.
Trump won 57 percent of the new votes in Maricopa County, putting him on track to tie Biden in the state if he can match those numbers in future returns. The AP and Fox News have stuck by their projections.
Biden now leads Arizona by 1.6 percentage points. The next results from Maricopa, Arizona’s largest county, are expected at 11am Eastern Time Friday morning.
If Biden does win Arizona, any one of three states – Nevada, Pennsylvania or Georgia – would put him over the threshold for victory, and Pennsylvania, with 20 electoral votes, would do so regardless of Arizona.
Both Senate races in Georgia are also poised to go to a run-off, after Senator David Perdue fell below the 50 percent threshold Thursday afternoon. He likely will face Jon Ossoff in a January run-off.
In Nevada, Biden’s lead widened to 11,400, from 7,600 at the start of the day. The state has just six Electoral College votes, but would clinch the presidency for Biden if he also held Arizona next door. About 190,000 ballots have to be counted, mostly in the county that includes Las Vegas, according to Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske.
Until Thursday evening, Trump hadn’t appeared publicly since the early morning hours of Wednesday, late into election night, when he said he thought he’d won the election. Later Wednesday, he declared victory in Pennsylvania and Michigan. He has been declared the loser in Michigan and the count is continuing in Pennsylvania.
Since election night, Trump has been in the White House and has met or spoken with a coterie of close advisers including Hope Hicks; Dan Scavino; his children Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka; as well as Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Vice President Mike Pence, according to people familiar with the matter. He has also spoken with the Republican governors of two states in which the election outcome remains unclear, Arizona and Georgia, the people said.
As frustration and disappointment simmered in Trump’s circles, it fell to his son to issue a call for other Republicans to speak up.
“The total lack of action from virtually all of the ‘2024 GOP hopefuls” is pretty amazing,” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted. “They have a perfect platform to show that they’re willing & able to fight but they will cower to the media mob instead.” Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley swiftly fired off tweets supportive of Trump.
Yet Trump’s remarks also drew cautious pushback. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said “there is no defence for the [resident’s comments tonight undermining our Democratic process.” Representative Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican, said he wanted every legal vote counted but that people should take hard evidence to court. “STOP Spreading debunked misinformation... This is getting insane,” he tweeted. Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, a regular Trump critic, said votes would be counted and irregularities would be investigated and handled by courts. “Have faith in democracy, in our Constitution and in the American people,” he said in a statement.
Donald Trump Jr. also tweeted that his father’s best option was “to go to total war over this election to expose all of the fraud.” Twitter quickly flagged that tweet as misleading, as it has with several of the president’s tweets since polls closed.
Biden’s advisers are confident that he will win and were awaiting results. Winning Pennsylvania would be particularly meaningful for Biden, who lived in the state until age 10 and was sometimes called the state’s third senator because the Philadelphia media market reaches into Delaware, which he represented in the Senate.
Biden and Harris have been meeting with advisers to pore over the election results and dig into policy. On Thursday, they were briefed on the latest developments in the coronavirus pandemic and on the economy. He called for patience in his brief speech, and did not take questions.
“Democracy is sometimes messy. It sometimes requires a little patience as well,” he told the country in a brief speech. “But that patience has been rewarded now for more than 240 years with a system of governance that’s been the envy of the world.”
Trump’s legal battle is yielding mixed results. His team won a court order requiring Pennsylvania to segregate mail-in ballots from voters who were asked to provide missing proof of identification during an extended period for allowing such fixes, as well as an order to allow observers to get closer to watch the counting of mail-in ballots in Philadelphia. Lawsuits in Georgia and Michigan were both dismissed.
Trump’s campaign also said it planned to sue in Nevada, alleging some people voted despite no longer meeting residency requirements. It also alleged fraud, and held a combative press conference in Las Vegas where two Trump allies, Richard Grenell and Matt Schlapp, clashed with media, declined to identify themselves and didn’t take questions after claiming without evidence the election was fraudulent.
Unofficial results are expected in Pennsylvania and Georgia late Thursday or Friday. It’s not clear how long Arizona will take, while Nevada said the bulk of its ballots will be processed by Sunday but that the final count won’t come before November 12.
by Josh Wingrove, Jennifer Epstein & Jordan Fabian, Bloomberg