As Tuesday’s Election Night stretched into late Friday, Democratic nominee Joe Biden, on the verge of victory, addressed the nation but stopped just short of claiming victory over President Donald Trump.
“The numbers tell us a clear and convincing story. We’re going to win this race,” Biden said, speaking in Wilmington, Del.
Biden went through his leads in several tight battleground states and touted his overall popular vote tally of more than 74 million — the most ever for a U.S. presidential candidate.
“Record numbers of Americans . . . chose change over more of the same. They’ve given us a mandate for action,” Biden said. “They want the country to come together. “
Biden also said he and running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, who stood with him on stage, already have started meeting with public health experts on the coronavirus pandemic.
“We want everyone to know that on day one, we’re going to put our plan to control this virus into action.”
Biden also promised to make sure every vote is counted: “I don’t care how hard people work to stop it. I will not let it happen.”
Angry protests over the continued vote count have occurred in several battleground states — egged on by Trump himself, who has claimed without evidence that the late-counted ballots are fraudulent.
Biden, not for the first time this week, pleaded for calm, and urged unity.
“We may be opponents but we’re not enemies,” he said. “We’re all Americans. ... At least we can agree to be civil to one another.”
Biden earlier Friday had opened narrow leads over Trump in the critical battlegrounds of Georgia and Pennsylvania.
Those put Biden in a stronger position to capture the 270 Electoral College votes needed to take the White House. The winner will lead a country facing a historic set of challenges, including a surging pandemic and deep political polarization.
The focus on Pennsylvania, where Biden led Trump by over 27,000 votes, and Georgia, where Biden led by almost 4,200, 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.
Late Friday in Pennsylvania, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said vote counters were calling it a night, and will return Saturday.
“I’ve got to be honest with you, these numbers are all going in the right direction,” Fitzgerald said. “So, I think, you know, it’s pretty obvious where this thing’s going.”
Before his speech Friday night in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden had been at his home nearby as the vote count continued. Trump stayed in the White House and out of sight, as more results trickled in. In the West Wing, 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.
Trump’s campaign, meanwhile, was quiet — a dramatic difference from Thursday, when it held a morning conference call projecting confidence and held a flurry of hastily arranged press conferences announcing litigation in key states.
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 had 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.
He took to Twitter late Friday afternoon, before Biden spoke, to pledge further legal action, tweeting: “Joe Biden should not wrongfully claim the office of the President. I could make that claim also. Legal proceedings are just now beginning!”
Biden had 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 ... 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 has engaged in a flurry of legal activity, saying it would seek a recount in Wisconsin and had filed lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia.
Friday evening, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito approved a GOP request ordering county boards in Pennsylvania to comply with state guidance to keep the late ballots separate from those received before or on Election Day. However, Alito did not direct election officials to stop counting the ballots, as the Republicans had also sought.
Other judges quickly swatted down other legal action. A federal judge who was asked to stop vote counts in Philadelphia instead forced the two sides to reach an agreement without an order over the number of observers allowed.
“Really, can’t we be responsible adults here and reach an agreement?” an exasperated U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond said during an emergency hearing Thursday evening. “The whole thing could (soon) be moot.”
Pennsylvania state law prevented election officials from processing mail-in ballots until Election Day; once counting of those votes began, they went heavily in Biden’s favor.
The Pennsylvania secretary of state’s website said Friday that there were 102,541 more mail ballots that needed to be counted, including many from Allegheny County, a Democratic area that is home to Pittsburgh, and the Democratic stronghold of Philadelphia County.
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.
The Trump campaign said it was confident the president would ultimately pull out a victory in Arizona, where votes were also still being counted, including in Maricopa County, the state’s most populous area. The AP has declared Biden the winner in Arizona and said Thursday that it was monitoring the vote count as it proceeded.
“The Associated Press continues to watch and analyze vote count results from Arizona as they come in,” said Sally Buzbee, AP’s executive editor. “We will follow the facts in all cases.”
Trump’s campaign was lodging legal challenges in several states, though he faced long odds. He would have to win multiple suits in multiple states in order to stop vote counts, since more than one state was undeclared.
Some of the Trump team’s lawsuits only demand better access for campaign observers to locations where ballots are being processed and counted. A judge in Georgia dismissed the campaign’s suit there less than 12 hours after it was filed. And a Michigan judge dismissed a Trump lawsuit over whether enough GOP challengers had access to handling of absentee ballots
Biden attorney Bob Bauer said the suits were legally “meritless.” Their only purpose, he said “is to create an opportunity for them to message falsely about what’s taking place in the electoral process.”
Contributing: Lynn Sweet