Joe Biden pulled ahead in Georgia on Friday and significantly narrowed the gap in Pennsylvania, gaining ground in two battleground states with enough electoral votes to settle his prolonged contest with President Trump, who repeated his baseless assertions of fraud and Democratic cheating.
Biden had a lead of more than 900 votes in Georgia, which has 16 electoral college votes, and was within 18,000 votes of Trump in Pennsylvania, which awards 20 in the electoral college.
As of Thursday, Biden had 264 electoral votes, six shy of the 270 needed to win the presidency.
Millions of mail-in ballots continued to be tabulated nationwide despite a flurry of lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign aimed at thwarting election officials from completing their count.
Making a brief appearance Thursday afternoon in his hometown of Wilmington, Del., Biden urged patience as the election pushed through its second day of overtime.
“Each ballot must be counted,” he said at the Queen theater, a historic performing arts center downtown. “That’s what we’re going to see going through now.… Democracy is sometimes messy. It sometimes requires a little patience as well.”
Biden expressed confidence, as he did Wednesday, that he and his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, would prevail. He once again avoided any declaration of victory, closing with a call for calm and an endorsement of the election’s integrity.
“The process is working,” Biden said. “The count is being completed and we’ll know very soon.”
A subdued Trump responded hours later at the White House, where he renewed accusations of voter fraud without offering any evidence to back up his claim.
“If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” he said. “If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us.”
After keeping from sight for the better part of two days, Trump appeared deflated as he read his remarks. He did not take questions from reporters. In a departure from the wall-to-wall coverage of his presidency, several of the major television networks cut away before Trump had even finished.
He was more pugnacious on Twitter. “Stop the count!” Trump demanded, as teams of lawyers around the country set out to do so. Several of the suits were quickly dismissed.
Trump also seemed to be losing some of his unflinching Republican support.
Several lawmakers castigated Trump for his comments challenging the legitimacy of the vote. The New York Post, which has often served as mouthpiece for the president, rejected his assertions in a tweet that read, “Downcast Trump makes baseless election fraud claims in White House address.”
After the tumult of the presidential campaign, Thursday offered a relative lull. There was sound and fury, but nothing fundamentally changing the shape of the contest.
Protesters supporting both candidates gathered outside locations where vote counting was underway. There were demonstrations and counter-demonstrations across the country.
But the wreckage and ruin that many feared did not materialize.
Instead, there was the quiet but deliberate work of whittling down mountains of mail-in ballots.
Biden urged his supporters to vote before election day, to avoid the risk of crowding into polling places amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Trump discouraged his backers from mailing their votes, urging them to show up on Tuesday. In many states, those ballots were counted first, which is why the president jumped out to an early lead in contests that have since moved Biden’s way.
At one point Trump was ahead by about 300,000 votes in Georgia and more than 700,000 votes in Pennsylvania. But those leads steadily dwindled as ballots from the states’ heavily Democratic metropolitan areas were tabulated.
In Georgia, the presidential race will probably go to a recount, said Gabriel Sterling, the voting system implementation manager for the secretary of state’s office. Under Georgia law, a losing candidate can request a recount if the margin of victory is 0.5% or less of the total vote.
There was one bright spot Thursday for Trump: Arizona, where Biden’s lead fell to fewer than 50,000 votes after an updated count was announced.
The Associated Press and other news organizations called the state for the former vice president based on an analysis of returns that were tabulated and where the outstanding votes would come from.
But it was a thin reed of hope for the president.
Even if he pulled ahead to win Arizona’s 11 electoral votes, he would still need to prevail in some combination of Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina and Pennsylvania to reach 270 electoral votes. Biden is ahead in Nevada, and Trump leads in North Carolina.
That did not stop the president from waging an effort to disenfranchise millions of Americans. Lawyers for Trump filed lawsuits in several states, alleging unspecified voting irregularities and seeking to bring the vote counting to a halt.
At a news conference Thursday morning outside the Clark County Election Department in North Las Vegas, representatives of the president — including the former acting director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell — claimed without proof that Nevada’s election was riddled with fraud.
County Registrar Joe Gloria disputed the assertion, saying he personally spoke with a plaintiff in Trump’s suit who alleged someone improperly cast her ballot. “We reviewed the ballot, and in our opinion it’s her signature,” Gloria said.
Other lawsuits were summarily dismissed in Michigan and Georgia.
With some exceptions — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina among them — many top Republicans stayed silent or condemned Trump’s false claims. That left it mostly to the president’s die-hard supporters and commentators on Fox News, talk radio and other sympathetic outlets to make his case.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who briefly considered challenging Trump in the Republican primaries, was blunt in his criticism.
“There is no defense for the President’s comments tonight undermining our Democratic process,” he tweeted. “America is counting the votes, and we must respect the results as we always have before. No election or person is more important than our Democracy. “
Even Sean Spicer, who fiercely defended the president and his prevarications as White House press secretary, said in a SiriusXM interview that he had seen no evidence of mass fraud.
“You can’t just throw a term out there without being specific,” he said.
Times staff writers Michael Finnegan in Philadelphia, Chris Megerian in Washington, Brittny Mejia in Las Vegas and Melanie Mason in Wilmington contributed to this report.
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