WASHINGTON/WILMINGTON: Democrat Joe Biden inched nearer to victory on Thursday over Donald Trump in an exceedingly close U.S. election that hinged on razor-thin margins in a handful of states, while the Republican president launched a flurry of lawsuits hoping to slow down his opponent.
Tensions rose in some places as the ballot counting dragged on two days after polls closed, with a second day of sometimes dueling street demonstrations over the integrity of the election. Biden, the former U.S. vice president, was continuing to cut into Trump`s leads in Pennsylvania and Georgia while holding on to slim margins in Nevada and Arizona.
Trump, who during the long and rancorous campaign attacked the integrity of the U.S. voting system, has again alleged voting fraud without providing evidence, filed lawsuits and called for at least one state recount. The latest move by Trump`s campaign was a lawsuit to be announced later on Thursday alleging voting fraud in Nevada, another of the crucial states where he narrowly trails Biden.
Some legal experts called the challenges a long shot unlikely to affect the eventual outcome of the election, one of the most unusual presidential races in modern U.S. history due to the coronavirus pandemic. Concern about the virus caused a huge jump in people voting by mail, delaying the results.
Still, Biden was leading in Wisconsin, Nevada and Arizona and closing in on Trump in Georgia and Pennsylvania. Multiple Trump lawsuits and a recount request would have to succeed and find in some cases tens of thousands of invalid ballots to reverse the result if Biden does prevail.
"What we are seeing on these legal suits are that they are meritless, and nothing more than an attempt to distract and delay what is now inevitable: Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States," Biden`s campaign manager Jen O`Malley Dillon told reporters. Trump`s campaign predicted victory, with campaign manager Bill Stepien saying, "Donald Trump is alive and well" in the election.
Some of the outstanding votes in Georgia and Pennsylvania were clustered in places expected to lean Democratic - like the Atlanta and Philadelphia areas. In Georgia, officials expressed hope that they would have a resolution in their vote count by the end of Thursday. Trump`s eroding lead stood at around 14,000, with about 2 percent of the ballots remaining to be tallied. Trump`s lead was about 115,000 votes in Pennsylvania, with about 8 percent of the ballots left to be counted.
Trump has to win the states where he is still ahead, including North Carolina, plus either Arizona or Nevada to triumph and avoid becoming the first incumbent U.S. president to lose a re-election bid since fellow Republican George H.W. Bush in 1992. The president appears to have grown more upset as his leads in some states have diminished or evaporated during the counting. On Thursday morning, he weighed in on Twitter, writing, "STOP THE COUNT!" and "STOP THE FRAUD!" although he has no authority over ballot counting.
Trump, who has often relished legal battles during his long, turbulent, business career, was at the White House, working the phones and monitoring developments on television, two Trump advisers said. He has been talking to state governors as well as close friends and advisers and dispatched some of this closest advisers out in the field to fight for him.
To capture the White House, a candidate must amass at least 270 votes in the state-by-state Electoral College. Such electoral votes are based largely on a state`s population. Edison Research gave Biden a 243 to 213 lead in Electoral College votes. Other news outlets said Biden had won Wisconsin, which would give him another 10 votes.
The exceedingly close election has underscored the political polarization in the United States and the deep divisions along racial, socioeconomic, religious and generational lines as well as between urban and rural areas. The counting and court challenges set the stage for days if not weeks of uncertainty before Dec. 8, the deadline to resolve election disputes. The president is sworn into office on Jan. 20, 2021.
Trump`s campaign called for a recount in Wisconsin, where Biden led by roughly 21,000 votes out of 3.3 million cast, a margin slim enough to entitle him to a recount. However elections experts said a recount in Wisconsin was seen as unlikely to alter the result. Trump`s campaign announced plans to file a Nevada lawsuit alleging a series of voting irregularities in populous Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, such as voting by people who left the state or were dead.
His campaign also filed lawsuits in Michigan and Pennsylvania to stop vote counting. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, in charge of elections, called the Trump team`s lawsuit "frivolous." Trump`s campaign filed a lawsuit in Georgia to require that Chatham County, which includes the city of Savannah, separate and secure late-arriving ballots to ensure they are not counted.
It also asked the U.S. Supreme Court to allow Trump to join a pending lawsuit filed by Pennsylvania Republicans over whether the battleground state should be permitted to accept late-arriving ballots that were mailed by Election Day. Despite Trump`s allegations of fraud and an unsubstantiated charge that Democrats are trying to "steal" the election, U.S. election experts say fraud in balloting is rare.
Thursday marked a second day of peaceful election-related protests as demonstrators rallied in cities including Philadelphia, Washington, Phoenix and Detroit. Some groups, mainly Democrats, rallied around the slogan to "count every vote." Some Trump supporters countered with cries to "protect the vote" in support of his campaign`s efforts to have some categories of ballots, including some votes submitted by mail, discarded.
About 200 Trump supporters, some armed with rifles and handguns, gathered outside an election office in Phoenix on Wednesday following unsubstantiated rumors that votes were not being counted. Biden had drawn about 3.6 million more votes than Trump nationwide. Trump defeated Democrat Clinton in 2016 after winning crucial battleground states and securing the Electoral College win even though she won about 3 million more votes nationwide.