The race for the White House is still too close to call, with tightening races in Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania as former Vice President Joe Biden edged close to the 270-electoral-vote threshold needed to win and President Donald Trump's hopes of clinching reelection appeared to be slipping away.
With Biden notching crucial wins in Michigan and Wisconsin, fulfilling his promise to rebuild the Democrats' "blue wall" in the Midwest that Trump demolished in 2016, the former vice president was a mere 17 electoral votes away from claiming the presidency.
After a frustrating night for Democrats Tuesday, where their hopes of an early win for Biden evaporated, Republicans are watching with alarm and anxiety as the race narrows in Georgia, where Trump's lead slipped to about 23,000 votes throughout Wednesday's count. While it had been clear that Biden would fare better in Georgia than past Democratic presidential candidates because of the huge turnout of Black voters in the fast-growing suburbs of Atlanta, few had expected the presidential race in the once reliably red state that Democrats have not won since 1996 to get this close.
As hundreds of thousands of mail-in and early absentee votes are being counted in the key battleground of Pennsylvania, Trump's lead has shrunk dramatically. Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said Wednesday evening that the state has made "excellent progress" in counting ballots but estimated it will be "a matter of days before the overwhelming majority of ballots are counted." Many of those outstanding votes are mail-in ballots that were returned in the heavily Democratic area of Philadelphia.
While both campaigns are insisting they are confident about their prospects in Pennsylvania, Biden still has multiple paths to the White House -- if he holds his leads in Nevada and Arizona, where counts have yet to be completed, he will have sufficient Electoral College votes to be the 46th president.
Trump's campaign advisers insist that they will be able to make up ground in Maricopa County, the most populous county in Arizona, which released its latest tranche of ballots early Thursday morning night narrowing Biden's Arizona lead to just under 69,000 votes. On Wednesday night, Arizona's secretary of state told CNN's John King that more than a half-million votes remain uncounted and suggested Maricopa County's count could take several days.
Nevada election officials, who released very little information on Wednesday with an estimated 200,000 ballots outstanding, said they expected to report their newest batch of results at midday Thursday.
Biden holds a 253-213 lead in the Electoral College. In addition to Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, the races in Alaska and North Carolina remain still too close to call.
CNN projects Biden will win at least three of Maine's four electoral votes, plus Wisconsin, Michigan, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Virginia, California, Oregon, Washington state, Illinois, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Delaware, Washington, DC, Maryland, Massachusetts and one of Nebraska's five electoral votes. Nebraska and Maine award two electoral votes to their statewide winners and divide their other electoral votes by congressional districts.
CNN projects Trump will win Montana, Texas, Iowa, Idaho, Ohio, Mississippi, Wyoming, Missouri, Kansas, Utah, Louisiana, Alabama, South Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Arkansas, Indiana, Oklahoma, Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee and four of Nebraska's five electoral votes.
A confident Biden pleads for patience and unity
Determined to show an aggressive posture and the President's intent to stay in the game, Trump's team launched a series of lawsuits in key battleground states that seemed less about sound legal reasoning and more about slowing the former vice president from marching over the electoral vote threshold.
The President did not appear in public on Wednesday but continued to tweet false claims from the White House suggesting that Democrats were trying to "steal" the election by discovering new troves of votes for his opponent, even though Biden's increasing tallies were simply the result of the counting process.
Biden chose a more carefully calibrated path, making a brief appearance before reporters to say that he believed he was on track to win 270 electoral votes but was not declaring victory. He dismissed Trump's attempts to undermine the results, stating that "the people rule. Power can't be taken or asserted."
"There will not be blue states and red states when we win. Just the United States of America," Biden said Wednesday afternoon as he promised to bring the country together. "We are not enemies. What brings us together as Americans is so much stronger than anything that can tear us apart."
Trump mounts aggressive legal strategy to contest results
As he has watched his margins narrow, Trump has dispatched legal teams to the critical states and directed his staff to aggressively look for ways to challenge the results.
As one piece of that strategy, the Trump campaign plans to ask the court to intervene in a case challenging a Supreme Court decision that allowed Pennsylvania ballots to be counted after Election Day. The justices had refused to expedite the appeal before the election, and are considering whether to take up the case.
Trump and his campaign team also sought to raise doubts about how Biden made a late surge to victory in the vital state of Wisconsin, where the Democrat rose on the strength of mail-in and early votes that were counted after most of the ballots cast in person on Election Day.
The Trump campaign said Wednesday that it will demand a recount in Wisconsin while mounting legal challenges in Michigan and Georgia.
"The President is well within the threshold to request a recount (in Wisconsin) and we will immediately do so," Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said in a statement.
Stepien noted that results show "a razor thin race as we always knew that it would be" and claimed that there were irregularities in several Wisconsin counties, but did not specify what the campaign believes those irregularities are.
The campaign's state-by-state approach revealed the glaring inconsistencies in itd strategy: it appears to be trying to stop vote counts in states where Trump is trailing, like Pennsylvania and Michigan, while demanding that all the votes are counted in states where it believes the President has of a chance of catching up to Biden, like Arizona and Nevada.
Candidates can ask for a recount in Wisconsin if they are within 1% of the winner's vote total -- but the recount cannot be formally requested until completion of the canvass, which could be as late as November 17. It seems highly unlikely that a margin the size of Biden's lead in Wisconsin, about 20,000 votes, could get reversed on a recount. But because the margin is less than 1%, the Trump campaign is well within its rights to request a recount.
With CNN's Kevin Liptak reporting that even Trump himself appears to skeptical of the thin basis for some of the challenges that his campaign is filing, the campaign said it plans to file a lawsuit in Georgia claiming that a Republican poll observer in that state witnessed 53 late absentee ballots "illegally added to a stack of on-time absentee ballots in Chatham County."
Trump offered a less-than-enthusiastic endorsement of his team's legal strategy in phone calls with some of his allies on Wednesday, sounding resigned to the plan falling short and questioning why his team hadn't successfully challenged voting rules before the election, even as he remained willing to see it through, CNN reported.
The Trump campaign also said it is filing a lawsuit in Michigan asking the state to halt its count because it has "not been provided with meaningful access to numerous counting locations to observe the opening of ballots and the counting process, as guaranteed by Michigan law."
Ryan Jarvi, a spokesperson for Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, responded to the threat of the lawsuit by saying in a statement that "Michigan's elections have been conducted transparently, with access provided for both political parties and the public."
Trump campaign officials said Wednesday afternoon that they believe the President can hold his lead in Pennsylvania, but they are also suing the commonwealth, claiming that Democratic election officials are "hiding the ballot counting and processing" from Republican poll observers.
Trump Deputy Campaign Manager Justin Clark said the aim of the lawsuit is "to temporarily halt counting until there is meaningful transparency and Republicans can ensure all counting is done aboveboard and by the law."
The President is making baseless claims that the election, which had looked more favorable to him late on Tuesday before hauls of early votes started being tabulated, is being stolen from him and demanding that vote counting in some areas should stop. An appearance in the White House East Room in the early hours of Wednesday in which he falsely claimed victory represented his most brazen threat yet to the democratic principles that underpin the US political system.
"As far as I'm concerned, we already have won it," Trump said, painting a picture at odds with the true state of the race. Earlier, Biden had warned each side needed to wait for the votes to be counted, saying, "We're going to have to be patient until we -- the hard work of tallying the votes is finished."
And while the President has long threatened legal challenges to the election, the voting itself largely went peacefully, without violence at polling places or intimidation of people casting their ballots as had been widely feared, especially given Trump's attempts to discredit voting procedures ahead of time.
But the election did not turn into the wholesale repudiation of the President and his wrecking ball presidency that Democrats had hoped for. Trump demonstrated a remarkable bond with his base of mainly White voters in rural areas and a new connection with groups of Latino voters in some states.
A blue wave many Democrats were looking for to end Mitch McConnell's GOP Senate majority has so far not been realized, though some key races are still undecided. And despite aiming to expand their House majority, Democrats lost several seats and some threatened Republicans clung to theirs.
Source: CNN International