Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden gained more ground on President Donald Trump in the battleground states of Georgia and Pennsylvania on Friday, edging closer to the White House hours after Trump falsely claimed the election was being “stolen” from him.
Biden had a 253 to 214 lead in the state-by-state Electoral College vote that determines the winner, according to most major television networks, and was inching toward securing the 270 votes needed to win the state-by-state Electoral College in four undecided swing states.
Biden, 77, would become the next president by winning Pennsylvania, or by winning two out of the trio of Georgia, Nevada and Arizona. Trump’s likeliest path appeared narrower – he needed to hang onto both Pennsylvania and Georgia and also to overtake Biden in either Nevada or Arizona.
In Pennsylvania, which has 20 electoral votes, Biden cut Trump’s lead to just over 18,000 by the early hours of Friday, while his deficit in Georgia, which has 16 electoral votes, shrunk to about 650.
Those numbers were expected to continue to move in Biden’s favor, with many of the outstanding ballots from areas that typically vote Democratic, including the cities of Philadelphia and Atlanta.
Biden, meanwhile, saw his lead in Arizona shrink to around 47,000 by early on Friday; he was still ahead in Nevada by only 12,000 votes.
As the country held its breath three days after Tuesday’s Election Day, Georgia and Pennsylvania officials expressed optimism they would finish counting on Friday, while Arizona and Nevada were still expected to take days to finalize their vote totals.
Trump, 74, has sought to portray as fraudulent the slow counting of mail-in ballots, which surged in popularity due to fears of exposure to the coronavirus through in-person voting. As counts from those ballots have been tallied, they have eroded the initial strong leads the president had in states like Georgia and Pennsylvania.
States have historically taken time after Election Day to tally all votes.
Trump fired off several tweets in the early morning hours on Friday, reiterating the complaints he aired earlier at the White House. “I easily WIN the Presidency of the United States with LEGAL VOTES CAST,” he said on Twitter, without offering any evidence that any illegal votes have been cast.
In an extraordinary assault on the democratic process, Trump appeared in the White House briefing room on Thursday evening and baselessly alleged the election was being “stolen” from him.
Offering no evidence, Trump lambasted election workers and sharply criticized polling before the election that he said was designed to suppress the vote because it favored Biden.
“They’re trying to rig an election, and we can’t let that happen,” said Trump, who spoke for about 15 minutes in the White House briefing room before leaving without taking questions. Several TV networks cut away during his remarks, with anchors saying they needed to correct his statements.
Biden, who earlier in the day urged patience as votes were counted, responded on Twitter: “No one is going to take our democracy away from us. Not now, not ever.”
Trump’s incendiary remarks followed a series of Twitter posts from him earlier in the day that called for vote counting to stop, even though if voting were to stop right now, he currently trails Biden in enough states to hand the Democrat the presidency.
Trump’s campaign, meanwhile, pursued a flurry of lawsuits in several states, though judges in Georgia and Michigan quickly rejected challenges there. Legal experts said the cases had little chance of affecting the electoral outcome, and Biden campaign senior legal adviser Bob Bauer call them part of a “broader misinformation campaign.”
The close election underscored the nation’s deep political divides, while the slow count of millions of mail-in ballots served as a reminder of the coronavirus still sweeping America.
Biden, if he prevails, will nevertheless have failed to deliver the sweeping repudiation to Trump that Democrats had hoped for, reflecting the deep support the president enjoys despite his tumultuous four years in office. Trump’s influence on the Republican Party will remain strong, even if he ultimately loses a tight election.
The winner will face a pandemic that has killed more than 234,000 Americans and left millions more out of work, even as the country still grapples with the aftermath of months of unrest over race relations and police brutality.
Biden’s lead in the national popular vote broke 4 million on Thursday night, though that plays no role in deciding the winner. Trump lost the popular vote by about 3 million to Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, when he secured an upset victory by winning key states in the Electoral College.
He is trying to avoid becoming the first incumbent U.S. president to lose a re-election bid since fellow Republican George H.W. Bush in 1992.
Twitter and Facebook have flagged numerous posts from Trump since Election Day as misleading.
Trump’s rhetoric had gained traction with some supporters, however. A Facebook group called “Stop the Steal” pushing false claims of voter fraud gained hundreds of thousands of members on Thursday before the social media giant took down the page, citing calls for violence.
Supporters of both candidates also held small protests outside voting centers on Thursday, though the demonstrations were largely peaceful.