Washington – Democrat Joe Biden moved closer to winning the White House on Friday as he expanded his lead over U.S. President Donald Trump in battleground states, but television networks held off from declaring him the victor as officials continued to count votes.
Trump remained defiant, vowing to press unfounded claims of fraud as a weary, anxious nation waited for clarity in an election that only intensified the country's deep polarization. Republicans sought to raise $60 million to fund lawsuits challenging the results.
On the fourth day of vote counting, former Vice President Biden had a 253 to 214 lead in the state-by-state Electoral College vote that determines the winner, according to Edison Research.
Securing Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes would put Biden over the 270 he needs to win the presidency after a political career stretching back nearly five decades.
Biden would also win if he prevails in two of the three other key states where he was narrowly ahead on Friday: Georgia, Arizona and Nevada. Like Pennsylvania, all three were still processing ballots on Friday.
Biden had planned a victory speech for Friday night, anticipating that the race would be called in his favor, according to staffers.
But with the vote counting dragging on, staffers and allies said he would give a scaled-back speech.
"You will likely hear an update on the race in which he'll convey his confidence in the system, his optimism about the ultimate outcome and his determination to lead a responsible path forward rather than some pronouncement that might make all of us feel better and allow us to go to sleep sooner," said Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a Biden ally.
Nationwide, Biden led Trump by 4.1 million votes out of a record 147 million cast.
However, his lead was much smaller in those four contested states: just 83,937 votes out of more than 16 million cast. In Georgia, he led by a mere 3,962 votes.
In Pennsylvania, Biden's lead jumped to 27,130 votes with 96% of the vote tallied, Edison Research said. In Georgia, he was 4,289 votes ahead with 99% of the vote in.
In Arizona, Biden's lead narrowed to 29,861 votes with 97% of the vote counted. His margin in Nevada jumped to 22,657 with 93% of the tally completed.
Though the race failed to deliver the landslide that Democrats had hoped for, the party retained hopes of winning control of the U.S. Senate in two Georgia run-off elections on Jan. 5.
Edison Research said incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue would not reach 50% of the vote, forcing a run-off with Democratic challenger Jon Osoff. Incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler also will face Democrat Raphael Warnock on that day.
If Democrats win both seats that would give them at least 50 seats in the 100-seat chamber, enabling Biden's running mate, Kamala Harris, to cast tie-breaking votes. That would make it harder for Republicans to block Biden priorities such as expanding health care and fighting climate change.
As Biden's lead grew in Pennsylvania, hundreds of Democrats gathered outside Philadelphia's downtown vote-counting site, wearing yellow shirts reading "Count Every Vote." Two men were charged with gun offenses after being arrested near the center, which has become a focal point for protests. Local media showed stickers on their vehicle promoting QAnon, a pro-Trump conspiracy theory.
In Detroit, a crowd of Trump supporters, some armed, protested outside a counting location, waving flags and chanting, "Fight!" Under the banner of "Stop the Steal," Trump supporters planned 62 separate rallies for Friday and Saturday.
Meanwhile, Trump showed no sign he was ready to concede, as his campaign pursued a series of lawsuits that legal experts said were unlikely to alter the election outcome.
"Joe Biden should not wrongfully claim the office of the President. I could make that claim also. Legal proceedings are just now beginning!" he wrote on Twitter.
A Trump adviser described the campaign's litigation strategy thus far as chaotic and disorganized. Another Republican official said it was doubtful the lawsuits would yield a Trump victory.
"This race is over, and the only person who doesn't see it is Donald Trump," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Election officials across the nation have said they are unaware of any significant voting irregularities.
Some of Trump's fellow Republicans in Congress said he should tone down his rhetoric.
The Trump campaign has sent out email and text solicitations seeking donations to fund Trump's legal challenges, although the fine print indicates that more than half the money raised would go to paying down the campaign's debts.
In both Pennsylvania and Georgia, Biden overtook Trump as officials processed thousands of mail-in ballots that were cast in urban Democratic strongholds including Philadelphia and Atlanta.
The number of Americans voting early and by mail this year surged due to the coronavirus as people tried to avoid large groups of voters on Election Day. The methodical counting process has left Americans waiting longer than they have since the 2000 election to learn the winner of a presidential contest.
A sense of grim resignation settled in at the White House on Friday, where the president was monitoring TV and talking to advisers on the phone. One adviser said it was clear the race was tilting against Trump, but that the president was not ready to admit defeat.
The campaign's general counsel, Matt Morgan, asserted in a statement on Friday that the elections in Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania all suffered from improprieties and that Trump would eventually prevail in Arizona.
He also said the campaign expected to pursue a recount in Georgia, as it has said it will do in Wisconsin, where Biden won by more than 20,000 votes. A margin that wide has never been overturned by a recount, according to Edison Research.
Georgia officials said on Friday they expect a recount, which can be requested by a candidate if the final margin is less than 0.5%, as it currently is. Biden led by 0.1% as of Friday evening.
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