Democrat Joe Biden was on the brink of winning the US presidency on Friday, as he took the lead in the key battleground states Georgia and Pennsylvania, but President Donald Trump vowed to keep fighting.
Biden has overturned what initially appeared to be a substantial lead for Trump in Pennsylvania, opening a lead of some 13,700 votes on Friday, with only a small fraction of ballots left to be tallied.
Winning Pennsylvania would give him 20 of the crucial Electoral College votes needed to win the White House. This is more electoral votes than remain in any of the other still-undeclared swing states, and could on its own be enough to push Biden past the critical 270-vote mark.
Both campaigns spent significant time campaigning in the north-eastern state, in a sign they recognized its decisive role in the election early on.
As he edges closer to victory, Biden is reportedly planning a major prime-time address later on Friday.
Meanwhile, the pressure is rising on Trump, who is showing no signs he is ready to concede.
The president indicated his strategy is shifting from contesting specific election results in districts and states to questioning the entire process and threatening more legal action.
“This is no longer about any single election. This is about the integrity of our entire election process,” Trump said in a statement from his campaign, pledging to “never give up” the fight.
Trump, who has called for ballot counting to be stopped, said he now wants every legal ballot to be tallied, but that illegal ballots should not be counted.
Trump has made repeated unsubstantiated claims of “fraud” since Tuesday’s election, with Twitter slapping warning signs on post after post, saying the president is spreading misinformation. There is no objective sign of major ballot fraud, despite the president’s repeated claims.
Trump’s campaign has mounted legal challenges in several swing states. His general counsel, Matt Morgan, claimed there were “many irregularities” in Pennsylvania, where a court case looms.
Despite Trump’s rhetoric, his top economic adviser Larry Kudlow said he thinks “there will be a peaceful transfer of power.”
“This is the greatest democracy in the world and we abide by the rule of law and so will this president,” he told broadcaster CNBC.
Three days after polls closed, election officials in several states say staff are diligently working to count every vote, noting the delays are caused by a surge in mail-in ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden would also win if he takes Georgia, which has 16 electoral votes while holding Arizona – another state where ballot counting is still underway and his lead appears steady.
In Nevada – a state with six electoral votes – Biden nearly doubled his lead over Trump on Friday, with some 22,000 more votes than the incumbent.
But in Georgia – with a margin of less than 1,500 votes and just thousands of ballots left to count – the outcome is far from certain. Officials in the southern state indicated there would be a recount.
“Georgia remains too close to call … With a margin that small there will be a recount,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said.
Another top election official said the state may not be able to certify its results until the end of November.
“We are literally looking at a margin of less than [the population of] a large high school,” Gabriel Sterling said, while also stressing there were no signs of widespread fraud – contradicting claims by Trump.
Trump railed against his opponents in a speech from the White House on Thursday, claiming they were aiming to “rig” the election against him.
The president blamed a conspiracy of “big media, big money, and big tech” for the whittling away of his lead.
Senator Mitt Romney was the latest elected Republican official to distance himself from Trump’s allegations.
“He is wrong to say that the election was rigged, corrupt and stolen – doing so damages the cause of freedom here and around the world,” Romney said.
Biden has struck a markedly different tone to Trump, noting that votes take time to tally and that he was content to wait until the end of counting, saying he has “no doubt” that he would emerge the winner.
“Democracy is sometimes messy and sometimes requires a little patience as well,” he said in brief remarks from his home state of Delaware on Thursday.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi expressed confidence that her fellow Democrat would emerge from the election as the winner.
“Biden has a strong mandate to lead and will have a strong Democratic House” behind him, Pelosi said, referring to Biden as the “president-elect.”