WASHINGTON — Joe Biden pulled ahead in Pennsylvania and Georgia on Friday as mail ballots erased President Donald Trump’s leads, though the president continued to claim defiantly and without evidence that the election was being stolen and signaled that he will not concede.
The trajectory pointed to a Biden victory, since Pennsylvania alone would put him over the top.
The 77-year-old Democrat was expected to speak to supporters Friday evening, and Trump warned that it would premature for him to declare victory.
Biden would be the oldest person ever elected to the presidency. Sen. Kamala Harris of California would be the first woman, and the first person of color, to serve as vice president, a job that Biden held for eight years.
Together they will face some unenviable challenges, chief among them a pandemic that has cost 235,000 American lives, the most of any country. They’ll have to navigate a deeply rancorous era with Trump, who had painted Biden as deeply corrupt and vowed during the campaign not to cede power willingly, unlikely to retreat from public view.
“It’s a happy day for our country, because Joe Biden is a unifier,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, speaking in terms of victory on Friday morning with victory in sight but not declared. “President-elect Biden has a strong mandate to lead. He will have a strong Democratic House with him, and many Democrats in the Senate.”
Biden collected more votes than any nominee for president in history, at least 74 million, the most of any nominee in history. Trump’s 70 million puts him at second place on that list.
Trump remained out of public sight all day. At 5:45 p.m., the White House press office announced a “lid,” indicating he wouldn’t make any appearance the rest of the day. Moments later, the president tweeted: “Joe Biden should not wrongfully claim the office of the President. I could make that claim also. Legal proceedings are just now beginning!”
Intense partisanship drove the record-breaking turnout. So did the flexibility states offered to cast ballots by mail during the COVID-19 outbreak, which few expect to disappear by Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.
Defeat would make Trump the first one-term president since the elder George Bush lost in 1992 to Bill Clinton, whose wife Hillary Clinton edged past four years ago. He would be the 10th incumbent president to lose an election.
During the campaign, Trump threatened not to cede power even if he lost, though. Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates tartly noted that “the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.”
Biden was in position to clinch at any point on Friday with a win in any of four battlegrounds where results had not been finalized: Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina.
There was one caveat involving Arizona. The Associated Press and Fox News called that state for Biden early Wednesday, but the ongoing count eroded his lead, and the Trump team contended it was too close to call.
Without Arizona, Biden could win with Pennsylvania alone, or a combination of the other states.
The security cordon around him tightened in Wilmington, Del., with a noticeably expanded Secret Service presence and the airspace over his home declared off-limits as a matter of national security.
Trump was not likely to concede, and the longer he fights the greater the risk of upheaval. His campaign referred to Biden’s “phony claim on the White House” and vowed to unleash lawsuits and recounts that independent election law experts said had little merit or chance to shift the outcome in any state.
Early Friday afternoon, Trump’s campaign issued a statement in his name insinuating malfeasance and “resistance” from Democrats to “full transparency” in election procedures “at every turn … .. This is about the integrity of our entire election process.”
Calls grew louder through the day from prominent Republicans for Trump to tone down the rhetoric. Some reprimanded him for baselessly questioning the legitimacy of the election and inflaming supporters.
“The President is within his rights to request recounts, to call for investigation of alleged voting irregularities where evidence exists, and to exhaust legal remedies,” said Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the GOP’s 2012 nominee for president. “He is wrong to say that 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 foundation of the Republic and recklessly inflames destructive and dangerous passions.”
Those were precisely Trump’s extraordinary allegations Thursday night from the White House briefing room: “They’re trying to steal an election. They’re trying to rig an election.”
Much of the GOP focus was on Philadelphia, where Mayor Jim Kenney, a Democrat, rejected allegations of fraud.
“What the president needs to do is, frankly, put his big boy pants on. He needs to acknowledge the fact that he lost, and he needs to congratulate the winner. Just as Jimmy Carter did. Just as George H.W. Bush did. And frankly just as Al Gore did. And stop this and let us move forward as a country,” he said.
Late Friday, Republicans won a modest court victory in Pennsylvania when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who handles emergency appeals from that state, ordered ballots received after Election Day to be counted separately.
The state had already issued the same guidance to counties, in case a court later ruled those ballots invalid. Republicans had tried to block an order from the state’s top court giving voters a three-day extension for ballots postmarked by Election Day to arrive.
No evidence has surfaced to support Trump’s claims. Republicans across the country fared well – often better than polls projected – in races for Congress and state-level offices, belying allegations of irregularities.
Nineteen former U.S. attorneys who served Republican presidents, including Dallas lawyer Matt Orwig, the chief federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of Texas for six years under George W. Bush, denounced Trump’s claims as “premature, baseless and reckless.”
As of 9 p.m. Eastern time on Friday:
_In Georgia, Biden led by 4,020 votes out of nearly 5 million, a 0.1% lead and a huge turnaround from the initial Trump lead late Tuesday. The state has no automatic recount provision but Republican secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger said that “with a margin that small, there will be a recount in Georgia.”
_In Arizona, Biden led by 29,861 out of 3.2 million. The ongoing count favored Trump, whose aides argued the state remained too close to call, as the Associated Press and Fox News had done early Wednesday.
_In Nevada, Biden’s lead began to grow Friday night, to 22,657 out of 1.2 million, doubling from the night before.
_In Pennsylvania, Biden led by 21,705 votes out of 6.6 million as mail ballots from Philadelphia’s overwhelmingly Democratic electorate were processed, and he was gaining ground with each tally update. He lagged by 24,000 as Thursday turned into Friday, finally pulling ahead around 8 a.m.
“We were up by nearly 700,000 votes in Pennsylvania. I won Pennsylvania by a lot, and that gets whittled down,” Trump complained the night before. “It’s a corrupt system … .They want to find out how many votes they need, and then they seem to be able to find them.”
But the order in which ballots are tabulated makes no difference.
And it was lawful and entirely expected that Trump’s election night leads in some states, based on partial returns, would melt away once absentee ballots were counted. Democrats were much more likely to vote by mail.
Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, a conservative Republican who has distanced himself from Trump before, issued a blistering denunciation of his unfounded allegations: “Voter fraud is poison to self-government, so these are major allegations. If the President’s legal team has real evidence, they need to present it immediately to both the public and the courts,” he said.
Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, rejected Trump’s aspersions on the integrity of ballot-counting in his state.
“The president’s allegations of large-scale fraud and theft of the election are just not substantiated. I’m not aware of any significant wrongdoing here,” Toomey said on NBC’s “Today” show.
But Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a Trump ally, echoed the president’s claims Thursday night, telling Fox News’ Sean Hannity that “by throwing the observers out, by clouding the vote-counting in a shroud of darkness, they are setting the stage to potentially steal an election … . It is lawless and they need to follow the law.”
He was referring to complaints about access to Philadelphia convention center where mail ballots were being counted. In fact, observers from the Trump campaign were not thrown out.
“I hope Republicans will turn the chapter on a dark part of American political history and a dark chapter in the history of the Republican Party, and turn the page on Donald Trump,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat who leads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
For Biden, he sees a big challenge to tackle the pandemic and to smooth over the upheaval of a tumultuous presidency — to “build bridges among different communities that have been torn apart by Donald Trump.”
With Arizona in his column, Biden was six electoral votes away from clinching, and Trump needed to sweep all of the four other pending states to survive.
Without Arizona, Biden needed 17 electoral votes and could win with Pennsylvania alone or a combination of other states.
“This election is not over….Biden is relying on these states for his phony claim on the White House, but once the election is final, President Trump will be re-elected,” said Matt Morgan, the Trump campaign general counsel. “The false projection of Joe Biden as the winner is based on results in four states that are far from final.”
In Pennsylvania, he cited “many irregularities” including a lack of “meaningful access” for observers at vote counting sites. In Nevada, he said, “thousands” may have “improperly cast mail ballots.”
And, he said, “Georgia is headed for a recount, where we are confident we will find ballots improperly harvested” – the language signaling that such evidence does not exist at this point.
As Democrats were already referring to Biden as president-elect, the Trump campaign was still blasting out fundraising appeals crying fraud.
Trump campaign fundraising email on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, with Biden on the cusp of victory asserting that “Democrats plan to steal the election!”
Trump campaign fundraising email on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, with Biden on the cusp of victory asserting that “Democrats plan to steal the election!”(Trump campaign email)
On Thursday afternoon, Biden had appealed for patience and calm and Donald Trump Jr. — the president’s eldest son, and a top campaign surrogate and adviser — sent the opposite signal, calling via Twitter for “total war over this election to expose all of the fraud, cheating, dead/no longer in state voters, that has been going on for far too long.”
The apparent call for violence came as law enforcement, National Guard and businesses have braced for election-related unrest that to that point had not materialized as the nation held its collective breath awaiting a verdict.
Democrats had worried that this would be Trump’s endgame if he lost, casting his rejection of political norms and ordinary electoral procedures as the mark of a would-be authoritarian.
Bob Bauer, a lawyer for the Biden campaign, called Trump’s allegations “political theater” that is “part of a broader misinformation campaign.”
Dallas Morning News’ Border Bureau Chief Alfredo Corchado contributed to this report.
– Todd J. Gillman, The Dallas Morning News