Former vice president Joe Biden appeared to be on a clear path to being elected the 46th president of the United States, after updated vote counts on Friday put him ahead in several key states and seemed to all but close off President Trump’s already dwindling chances of remaining in office.
Although no winner had been projected in the presidential race, Biden’s strong showing as mail-in votes were counted in key cities had him leading Trump in Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania and — very narrowly — Georgia.
After securing 253 electoral votes since Election Day on Tuesday, Biden was on the cusp of being declared the winner as the remaining states neared the end of the ballot-counting process.
“The numbers tell us a clear and convincing story: We’re going to win this race,” Biden said Friday in Wilmington, Del., with Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), his running mate, next to him. “We’re going to win this race with a clear majority of the nation behind us.”
Speaking from a stage at the Chase Center, Biden forcefully declared that he had “a mandate” on a number of policy issues and said he has begun preparing to take office.
“I know watching these vote tallies on TV moves as slow as it gets and can be numbing,” he said. “But never forget, the tallies aren’t just numbers. They represent votes and voters, men and women who exercised their fundamental right to have their voice heard.”
Three times, Biden noted that he and Harris had received a record number of votes — more than 74 million at the time he spoke.
Trump and his campaign continued to make unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud while disputing the election results in multiple states. The Trump campaign pushed for a recount in Georgia, which state officials said was a given, considering the narrow margin in the race.
In a statement that was less defiant but more sweeping than his previous baseless assertions that Democrats were attempting to steal the election in specific states, Trump said Friday that his complaints were “no longer about any single election” but “about the integrity of our entire election process.”
“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, falsely characterizing the Democratic position in the 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. I will never give up fighting for you and our nation.”
The Trump team planning the legal assault, meanwhile, faced another complication: White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, one of the key figures in the post-election effort, has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to an official with knowledge of the situation.
Meadows, often without a mask, has been at the campaign headquarters and in the White House since Election Day. Administration officials declined to comment Friday night.
Democrats have answered Trump’s assertions by countering that all the ballots being counted are legal — but that Trump and fellow Republicans were refusing to acknowledge that because the results were not in the president’s favor.
Biden, in brief and confident speeches delivered since Tuesday, has counseled patience and calm as the final ballots are tallied.
Trump has not presented any concrete evidence of the kind of broad-scale vote-rigging he has alleged took place in major cities such as Detroit, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Biden won Michigan and Wisconsin. And with Biden’s vote lead increasing in Nevada and Pennsylvania, it was unclear whether any of the allegations of voter fraud, if true, would be sufficient to change the results.
Biden reversed Trump’s early lead in Pennsylvania on Friday after mail-in ballots, most from heavily Democratic areas, were counted late Thursday and early Friday. Although the state still had thousands of additional votes to count, Biden’s strong performance among voters who mailed in their ballots suggested that his lead there was likely to grow. Winning Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes would put Biden over the threshold of 270 needed to win the presidency.
A similar trend of late-counted mail-in ballots helped expand Biden’s lead in Nevada, which has six electoral votes, as of Friday afternoon. In Georgia — where, as in Pennsylvania, Trump appeared to be leading on Election Day — ballots cast by mail helped boost Biden’s vote total. The winner will secure the state’s 16 electoral votes.
The only state in which the president was gaining ground was Arizona, where he clipped some of Biden’s lead but by Friday was not gaining at a rate that appeared likely to end in victory. The state has 11 electoral votes. Trump has advocated continuing to count votes there even as he has tried to stop the counting in states where he is losing.
Despite his worsening odds, Trump did not appear prepared to concede the race Friday. He instead stayed in the White House and tweeted complaints about the electoral system. His campaign continued to push lawsuits challenging the vote count in multiple states.
A Biden campaign spokesman suggested that there was no concern in the former vice president’s camp about the prospect of Trump refusing to leave office.
“As we said on July 19th, the American people will decide this election,” spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement that referred to an earlier dust-up over Trump’s refusal to say he would respect the results of the election. “And the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.”
Despite the uncertainties, there was a sense of excitement among top Biden campaign staff members as they began to gather at the Westin hotel in Wilmington, Del., on Friday morning.
“At this point, we’re sort of waiting for there to be enough for networks to feel comfortable enough to make the call,” said one Biden aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
If Biden wins the election, his campaign does not intend to wait for Trump to concede before Biden declares victory. “Donald Trump doesn’t get to decide who wins elections,” the aide said. “The American people do.”
Biden, the aide said, wants to turn to governing.
Some congressional leaders also began to treat a Biden victory as all but assured.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), in her first news briefing since Tuesday’s election, repeatedly called Biden the “president-elect” on Friday and said his election is a mandate.
“This morning, it is clear that the Biden-Harris ticket will win the White House,” Pelosi said. “President-elect Biden has a strong mandate to lead, and he’ll have a strong Democratic House with him and many Democrats in the Senate. This has been a life-or-death fight for the fate of our democracy, as [Biden] says, ‘the soul of our country.’ ”
Referring to internal Democratic complaints about the party’s message leading up to Tuesday’s election, Pelosi said the reason Democrats lost some of the seats they gained in 2018 was that they were competing in Trump-won districts with Trump on the same ballot. What matters, she said, is “we have the gavel.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) advocated Friday that the election process continue to play out and that courts resolve disputes.
In a tweet, he echoed Trump’s refrain about not counting illegal ballots but was silent about baseless conspiracies that Trump has pushed alleging widespread election fraud.
“Here’s how this must work in our great country: Every legal vote should be counted,” McConnell said. “Any illegally submitted ballots must not. All sides must get to observe the process. And the courts are here to apply the laws & resolve disputes. That’s how Americans’ votes decide the result.”
Pressed by reporters during a subsequent news conference in Kentucky, McConnell repeatedly pointed back to his tweet.
Other Republicans were more forceful in condemning the accusations Trump leveled, including in defiant remarks Thursday night in which he repeated his belief that he had won states he did not win. He offered no evidence then for a blizzard of accusations, including some aimed at election workers who are counting the ballots across several states.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said the president’s assertion that the election was rigged and is being stolen by Democrats was reckless and dangerous.
“The President is within his rights to request recounts, to call for investigations of alleged voting irregularities where evidence exists, and to exhaust legal remedies — doing these things is consistent with our election process,” Romney said in a statement. “He is wrong to say the election was rigged, corrupt and stolen — doing so damages the cause of freedom here and around the world, weakens the institutions that lie at the foundations of the Republic, and recklessly inflames destructive and dangerous passions.”
Georgia officials said Friday that the state was headed toward a recount for the presidential election as counties wrapped up counting mail-in ballots.
“Right now, Georgia remains too close to call. Out of approximately 5 million votes cast, we’ll have a margin of a few thousand,” said Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R). “The focus for our office and for the county election officials, for now, remains on making sure that every legal vote is counted and recorded accurately. As we are closing in on a final count, we can begin to look toward our next steps. With a margin that small, there will be a recount in Georgia.”
Biden’s lead in the state was within the vote margin that would allow a candidate to request a recount under Georgia law. A formal recount challenge probably will not be made until later in November. Under state law, candidates can request a recount if the margin is 0.5 percent or below, and they must do so within two business days of the statewide certification of results, set to take place by Nov. 20.
Elsewhere in Georgia, two Senate races appeared headed to runoffs on Jan. 5 after no candidate secured more than 50 percent of the vote. Democrats probably would need to win both races to seize control of the chamber.
In Arizona, former astronaut Mark Kelly, a Democrat, was projected to win the Senate seat held by Republican Martha McSally, who was appointed to the post after losing the 2018 election for the state’s other Senate seat.
John Wagner, Hannah Knowles, Emma Brown, Annie Linskey and Colby Itkowitz contributed to this report.