Battle for US presidency continues into Wednesday morning

President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden were locked in a contest without a declared winner early Wednesday morning. Democrats and Republicans are also vying for control of the Senate, though the House is expected to remain in Democratic hands.

Paula Bronstein/AP
Election workers sort ballots at the Multnomah County Elections Division, Nov. 3, 2020, in Portland, Oregon. Democratic candidate Joe Biden won the state's seven Electoral College votes.

President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden were locked in tight races in battleground states across the country Tuesday night as they concluded an epic campaign that will shape America’s response to the surging pandemic and foundational questions of economic fairness and racial justice.

Neither Michigan, Wisconsin, nor Pennsylvania – crucial swing states needed as each candidate vies for 270 Electoral College votes – were expected to be called before Wednesday.

Mr. Biden picked up the first battleground state of Tuesday night, New Hampshire, a small prize that Mr. Trump tried to steal from Democrats. But races were too early to call in the most fiercely contested and critical states on the electoral map, including Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, and Pennsylvania.

Mr. Biden won California, the nation’s biggest electoral haul, and other predictable victories including Colorado and Virginia, two former battlegrounds that have become Democratic strongholds. Mr. Trump’s wins included Kansas, North Dakota, and other conservative bastions.

Americans made their choices as the nation faced a confluence of historic crises with each candidate declaring the other fundamentally unfit to navigate the challenges. Daily life has been upended by the coronavirus, which has killed more than 232,000 Americans and cost millions of jobs.

Millions of voters braved their worries about the virus – and some long lines – to turn out in person, joining 102 million fellow Americans who voted days or weeks earlier, a record number that represented 73% of the total vote in the 2016 presidential election.

Early results in several key battleground states were in flux as election officials processed a historically large number of mail-in votes.

Democrats typically outperform Republicans in mail voting, while the GOP typically looks to make up ground in Election Day turnout. That means the early margins between the candidates could be influenced by which type of votes – early or Election Day – were being reported by the states.

Trump and Biden were locked in a tight race in Florida, and it was too early for The Associated Press to call the perennial battleground state. Florida has a history of close elections, including the state’s 2018 governor’s race, which went to a recount. The AP was waiting on more votes to be counted in south Florida, including Miami-Dade County, the largest county in the state.

Control of the Senate was at stake, too: Democrats needed to net three seats if Mr. Biden captured the White House to gain control of all of Washington for the first time in a decade. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky won reelection in an early victory for the Republicans, and GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close Trump ally, fought off a fierce challenge to hang onto his seat.

The parties traded a pair of seats in other early results: Democratic former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper defeated incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner, and in Alabama Republican Tommy Tuberville knocked off Sen. Doug Jones. The House was expected to remain under Democratic control.

As the results began to come in, the nation braced for what was to come – and an outcome that might not be known for days.

A new anti-scaling fence was erected around the White House, and in downtowns from New York to Denver to Minneapolis, workers boarded up businesses lest the vote lead to unrest.

With the worst public health crisis in a century still fiercely present, the pandemic – and Mr. Trump’s handling of it – was the inescapable focus for 2020.

For Mr. Trump, the election stood as a judgment on his four years in office, a term in which he bent Washington to his will, challenged faith in its institutions, and changed how America was viewed across the globe. Rarely trying to unite a country divided along lines of race and class, he has often acted as an insurgent against the government he led while undermining the nation’s scientists, bureaucracy, and media.

At the White House on Tuesday night, more than 100 family members, friends, donors, and staff were set to watch returns from the East Room. Mr. Trump was watching votes come in upstairs in the residence with a few close aides. Most top campaign officials were monitoring returns from a “war room” set up in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

Mr. Biden spent the day last-minute campaigning in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he was born, and in Philadelphia with a couple of local stops in Wilmington, Delaware, where he was spending Election Night.

The president began his day on an upbeat note, predicting that he’d do even better than in 2016. But during a midday visit to his campaign headquarters, he spoke in a gravelly, subdued tone.

“Winning is easy,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “Losing is never easy, not for me it’s not.”

Mr. Trump left open the possibility of addressing the nation Tuesday night, even if a winner hadn’t been determined. Mr. Biden was also scheduled to give a nighttime speech from Wilmington.

“I’m superstitious about predicting what an outcome’s gonna be until it happens. ... But I’m hopeful,” said Mr. Biden. “It’s just so uncertain. ... You can’t think of an election in the recent past where so many states were up for grabs.”

The momentum from early voting carried into Election Day, as an energized electorate produced long lines at polling sites throughout the country. Turnout was higher than in 2016 in numerous counties, including all of Florida, nearly every county in North Carolina and more than 100 counties in both Georgia and Texas. That tally seemed sure to increase as more counties reported their turnout figures.

Voters braved worries of the coronavirus, threats of polling place intimidation, and expectations of long lines caused by changes to voting systems, but appeared undeterred as turnout appeared it would easily surpass the 139 million ballots cast four years ago.

No major problems arose on Tuesday, outside the typical glitches of a presidential election: Some polling places opened late, robocalls provided false information to voters in Iowa and Michigan, and machines or software malfunctioned in some counties in the battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Texas.

The cybersecurity agency at the Department of Homeland Security said there were no outward signs by midday of any malicious activity.

The record-setting early vote – and legal skirmishing over how it would be counted – drew unsupported allegations of fraud from Mr. Trump, who had repeatedly refused to guarantee he would honor the election’s result.

With the coronavirus now surging anew, voters ranked the pandemic and the economy as top concerns in the race between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden, according to AP VoteCast, a national survey of the electorate.

Voters were especially likely to call the public health crisis the nation’s most important issue, with the economy following close behind.

Fewer named health care, racism, law enforcement, immigration, or climate change

The survey found that Mr. Trump’s leadership loomed large in voters’ decision-making. Nearly two-thirds of voters said their vote was about Mr. Trump – either for him or against him.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. AP writers Robert Burns; Kevin Freking; Aamer Madhani; Deb Riechmann and Will Weissert in Washington; Bill Barrow and Haleluya Hadero in Atlanta; Jeff Martin in Cobb County, Georgia; Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines; Juan Lozano in Houston; Corey Williams in West Bloomfield, Michigan; Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire; and Natalie Pompilio contributed to this report.

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