Democrat Joe Biden stood on the verge of winning the US presidency on Friday as he expanded his narrow lead over President Donald Trump in the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Georgia three days after polls closed.
Biden has a 253 to 214 lead in the state-by-state Electoral College vote that determines the winner, according to Edison Research. Winning Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes would put the former vice president over the 270 he needs to secure the presidency.
Biden would also win the election if he takes two of the three other key states where he held narrow leads on Friday: Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada. Like Pennsylvania, all three were still processing ballots on Friday.
As Biden inched closer to triumph, he was expected to address the nation on Friday evening, according to two people familiar with his plans. That may be a victory speech, given that his aides say Biden appears on the cusp of winning.
Meanwhile, Trump showed little sign he was ready to concede, making clear in a statement on Friday that he would continue to press his unsubstantiated claims of election fraud.
"From the beginning, we have said that all legal ballots must be counted and all illegal ballots should not be counted, yet we have met resistance to this basic principle by Democrats at every turn," he said in a statement released by his campaign.
"We will pursue this process through every aspect of the law to guarantee that the American people have confidence in our government," Trump said.
The statement came a day after Trump leveled an extraordinary attack on the democratic process by a sitting president, appearing at the White House on Thursday evening to falsely claim the election was being "stolen" from him.
In both Pennsylvania and Georgia, Biden overtook Trump as officials processed thousands of mail-in ballots that were cast in urban Democratic strongholds including Philadelphia and Atlanta.
The surge in mail voting has slowed the counting process in numerous states, a fresh reminder of the pandemic that will remain the next president's most formidable challenge.
Hundreds of Democrats gathered outside Philadelphia's downtown vote-counting site, wearing yellow shirts reading "Count Every Vote." In Detroit, a crowd of Trump supporters, some armed, protested outside the counting location, waving flags and chanting, "Fight!"
A sense of grim resignation settled in at the White House on Friday, where the president was monitoring TV and talking to advisers on the phone. One adviser said it was clear the race was tilting against Trump, but that Trump was not ready to admit defeat.
His campaign is pursuing a series of lawsuits across battleground states, but legal experts described them as unlikely to succeed in altering the election outcome.
The campaign's general counsel, Matt Morgan, asserted in a statement on Friday that the elections in Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania all suffered from improprieties and that Trump would eventually prevail in Arizona.
He also said the campaign expected to pursue a recount in Georgia, as it has said it will do in Wisconsin, where Biden won by more than 20,000 votes. A margin that wide has never been overturned by a recount, according to Edison Research.
Election officials across the nation have said they are unaware of any significant irregularities. Georgia officials said on Friday they expect a recount, which can be requested by a candidate if the final margin is less than 0.5 per cent, as it currently is.
Biden expressed confidence on Thursday that he would win and urged patience. In response to the idea that Trump might not concede, Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement on Friday, "The United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House."
The close election has underscored the nation's deep political divides, and if he wins Biden will face a difficult task governing in a deeply polarized Washington.
Republicans could retain control of the US Senate pending the outcome of four undecided Senate races, including two in Georgia, and they would likely block large parts of his legislative agenda, including expanding healthcare and fighting climate change.
The presidential winner will confront a pandemic that has killed more than 235,000 people in the United States and left millions more out of work, and a country grappling with the aftermath of months of unrest over racism and police brutality.
In Pennsylvania, Biden moved ahead of Trump for the first time and had a lead of 13,371 votes by midday Friday, while in Georgia he was 1,579 votes ahead. Both margins were expected to grow as additional ballots were tallied. Pennsylvania officials estimated on Friday they had 40,000 ballots left to count, while Georgia officials said on Friday morning there were around 4,000 regular ballots remaining.
Biden, 77, would be the first Democrat to win Georgia since fellow Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992. In Arizona, Biden's lead grew slightly on Friday to 43,779 votes, and in Nevada his margin jumped to 20,552. Pennsylvania, one of three traditionally Democratic states along with Michigan and Wisconsin that handed Trump his 2016 victory, has long been seen as crucial to the 2020 race, with both candidates lavishing enormous sums of money and time on the state.
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.
States have historically taken time after Election Day to tally all votes, although in most presidential elections the gap between candidates has been big enough that television networks project the winner before counting formally ends.
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