By Evan Halper and Jennifer Haberkorn
Los Angeles Times
Joe Biden has narrowly won the crucial battlegrounds of Michigan and Wisconsin — both states where President Donald Trump was victorious in 2016 — moving the Democrat closer to hitting the electoral votes needed to capture the presidency as election officials lumber forward with the count of outstanding ballots.
As the tally advances under the specter of a legal brawl, the fate of the election rests on a couple of million uncounted ballots in a handful of states, including Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. Election officials in Pennsylvania and Nevada said they would not have a result Wednesday.
Hours after Trump tried to declare victory in the early morning by falsely claiming that he had built an insurmountable lead, the slow counting of mail-in votes and in-person ballots in Democratic Party strongholds showed the race in those places trending toward Biden. The Biden campaign said it expected to be far enough ahead in the race to effectively clinch victory by Wednesday afternoon.
The Trump campaign announced it would request a recount in Wisconsin, where Biden won by about 20,000 votes. Trump is also filing a lawsuit aimed at stopping Michigan from counting remaining ballots.
Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said the president’s team “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.” His statement did not specify any barriers to access. “We also demand to review those ballots which were opened and counted while we did not have meaningful access,” the statement said.
The president is expected to rely on more lawsuits in hopes of tipping the election in his favor, now that Biden has overtaken him in key battlegrounds. With his Michigan victory, he needs only to hold onto an existing lead in Nevada to win the race.
With at least 1.4 million Pennsylvania mail-in ballots still uncounted, Biden remained within striking distance of Trump there. The Republican’s nearly 600,000-vote lead Wednesday morning was steadily shrinking throughout the day.
The former vice president has been winning the mail-ballot vote by lopsided margins, but the ballots could take several days to process and count. Nearly 800,000 of the outstanding mail-in ballots come from six large counties in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas that fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton won in 2016.
Hours after Trump declared falsely that he had won reelection and that counting the remaining ballots was “a fraud on the American public,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf urged Americans to be patient as the nation endured the stress test on its democracy.
“The promise of democracy is that every vote counts, and that has been the promise of democracy since 1787,” Wolf said Wednesday at a news briefing with Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, a fellow Democrat.
Even as Trump has defied the polls and crushed Democratic hopes of a commanding blue-wave victory with his strong election-night performance, Biden has more paths to win the race after emerging victorious early Wednesday morning in Arizona, a state Trump won in 2016.
The Democrat can still afford to lose Pennsylvania and Georgia — another state that was down to the wire Wednesday morning — and win the race, presuming he is declared the winner in Nevada.
Nevada is another state where the uncounted votes lean heavily Democratic, leaving the Biden campaign confident it will prevail there. Nevada is currently not planning to release any further updates of its numbers until the vote count is completed Thursday morning.
Although Trump has a narrow lead in Georgia, several major Democratic counties have not yet finished counting. Only half the votes in Dougherty County, a Democratic stronghold in 2016, have been tallied.
In the last three presidential elections, Wisconsin has gone to the winning candidate. It has a track record of extremely close races for president, most recently in 2016, when Trump beat Clinton by fewer than 23,000 votes, crumbling the Democratic “Blue Wall” in the Midwest. Twice since 2000, presidential candidates won Wisconsin by even thinner margins than Biden has.
The recount Trump plans to request is permitted under Wisconsin law in elections decided by less than 1 percentage point. Biden’s 20,697-vote margin put him a little more than half a percentage point ahead of Trump, out of more than 3.2 million votes. The recount could take weeks.
As election officials proceed with the long, slow slog of vote counting, the Trump campaign continued to make false claims about the validity of votes counted. Trump has tried to assert that votes counted after Election Day — a common practice — are more subject to fraud.
“Last night I was leading, often solidly, in many key states, in almost all instances Democrat run & controlled,” Trump tweeted. “Then, one by one, they started to magically disappear as surprise ballot dumps were counted. VERY STRANGE, and the ‘pollsters’ got it completely & historically wrong!”
As the president made baseless claims about the legitimacy of the election, his advisers argued the battleground vote count would ultimately deliver victory to Trump.
The efforts by Trump to undermine faith in the elections process are unprecedented for a sitting president, and are leading to discomfort inside his own party.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Trump ally, rebuked the president’s declaration of victory. “There’s just no basis to make that argument tonight,” Christie said on ABC after Trump announced he had won. “There just isn’t.”
Biden planned to address the nation later Wednesday. Campaign officials said they expected Michigan and Wisconsin to be called for him by then, and that leads he has amassed in other states will put him over the top.
But they also cautioned that some states they expected to win might not finish counting votes Wednesday.
“By this afternoon, we believe the vice president will have leads in states that will put him over 270 electoral votes,” said Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon in a briefing.
As the campaign asserted its lead was too big for Trump to overcome, Biden campaign legal adviser Bob Bauer mocked the president’s threats of lawsuits to overturn voting results. He noted that efforts by the GOP to suppress votes this election had been rejected repeatedly by judges.
Bauer said Trump’s strategy amounted to arguing to the Supreme Court that it should toss ballots legally cast “but that did not get counted by the time Donald Trump wanted them counted. … He will be in for one of the most embarrassing defeats the president ever suffered from the highest court of the land.”
Even if Biden is able to capture the White House, it is far from certain he will have a Democratic Senate to help advance his agenda. Democrats’ expectations of capturing the Senate and padding their majority in the House have been largely dashed. The results are likely to lead to deep questions for Democratic leadership in both chambers.
As of Wednesday morning, the Senate tally sat at 47-47 with six races still to be called, including Alaska, Maine, North Carolina and Michigan. One race in Georgia is already headed to a special election in January, and Republican Sen. David Perdue is hoping to fend off a second one in the state.
Senate Republican incumbents were able to overcome extremely well-funded challengers in Iowa, Montana and South Carolina, a boon to the chances of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to retain the majority. Democrats were able to flip two seats, Colorado and Arizona, while Republicans flipped one: Alabama.
In the House, with several races still too close to be called, Democrats are expected to retain their majority. But their caucus will be much slimmer and will not include several of the most conservative Democrats, who were unable to fend off Republican challengers in seats where Trump is popular, such as Oklahoma, Florida, South Carolina and New Mexico.
(Times staff writers Chris Megerian in Washington, D.C., Michael Finnegan in Philadelphia, and James Rainey in Milwaukee contributed to this report.)