Race for the White House narrows as Pennsylvania looks to wrap up vote count

Originally Published: 05 NOV 20 00:40 ET
Updated: 05 NOV 20 14:46 ET

(CNN) — Pennsylvania now expects to finish counting the “overwhelming majority” of their outstanding ballots on Thursday, the state’s top election official said, a key development that could determine whether former Vice President Joe Biden wins the White House or President Donald Trump clinches a second term.

Trump cannot reach the 270 electoral votes he needs to win reelection without the commonwealth and Biden has been consistently narrowing the President’s lead as tens of thousands of vote-by-mail ballots have been counted, more than exceeding the bar he needs to catch up to Trump.

The President currently leads his Democratic opponent by a margin of about 109,000 votes, but that count has been rapidly shrinking as more ballots are tallied.

In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper Thursday afternoon, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said “counties are furiously at work” and ‘it’s looking like we are ahead of schedule.”

Approximately 370,000 Pennsylvania ballots remain to be counted, according to the state’s website. About 100,000 of those ballots are in Philadelphia, a heavily Democratic area that is likely to overwhelmingly favor Biden.

The updated timetable in Pennsylvania suggested that Americans are getting closer to a conclusion in this cliffhanger election as races continue to tighten in Georgia, Arizona and Nevada.

Two days after Election Day, the churn of results is expected to offer more clarity Thursday on the destiny of the race. Biden currently leads with 253 electoral votes to Trump’s 213, and 270 electoral votes are needed to win the presidency.

Pennsylvania’s Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat, told CNN earlier that he also believes the result could come as early as Thursday and that he believed outstanding ballots in areas that favor Democrats would deliver a clear win for Biden. But Trump campaign officials are still saying they believe the President will eke out a win in the commonwealth.

“Donald Trump is alive and well,” Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien said.

But the Democratic nominee has also been making a run in Georgia, which has 16 electoral votes, where the President’s lead dwindled to nearly 13,000 votes Thursday as results came in from Fulton County around Atlanta with 98% of the state vote count reported. There are more than 60,000 votes left to be counted in the state, Gabriel Sterling, a Georgia voting official, said in a news conference Thursday.

The story was reversed in Arizona, where several tranches of votes from Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, narrowed Biden’s lead to just under 69,000 votes with Trump’s team insisting the President will eventually prevail and keep his hopes of a path to 270 alive.

There is also a close contest in Nevada. Biden’s lead increased to nearly 12,000 votes in Nevada midday Thursday. Democrats had the state down as a likely win but it is closer than expected. The final result will come down again to mail-in votes, which could favor Biden since thousands are outstanding in Clark County, around Las Vegas which is usually Democratic territory. If Biden holds leads in Arizona and Nevada, he will get to 270 and will be able to claim the presidency.

Trump’s team, seeking to keep his slim path to victory alive, has launched a flurry of sometimes contradictory and scattershot legal challenges, without offering evidence of irregularities, demanding vote counts continue in states where he is behind and wanting them shut down in those where he leads.

“STOP THE COUNT,” Trump tweeted Thursday morning, even though taking such action would freeze the race and give an advantage to his opponent and the fact that carrying out his demand would be akin to voter disenfranchisement with tens of thousands of legally cast ballots still being counted.

Trump has not appeared in public since his angry statement hours after the polls closed and he falsely claimed he had won the election, saying it was being stolen from him.

Biden did come before the cameras, and while stopping short of claiming victory, he sought to present an image of momentum and confidence and made a thematic pivot from the partisanship of the campaign trail to the calls for unity expected of an incoming president. He dismissed Trump’s attempts to undermine the results, stating that “the people rule. Power can’t be taken or asserted.”

“There will not be blue states and red states when we win. Just the United States of America,” Biden said Wednesday afternoon as he promised to bring the country together. “We are not enemies. What brings us together as Americans is so much stronger than anything that can tear us apart.”

Both the Trump and Biden campaigns continued to project confidence in their candidate’s path to 270 electoral votes in briefings with reporters Thursday.

Biden’s campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said, “our data shows that Joe Biden will be the next President of the United States” and took aim at the legal suits filed by the Trump campaign, calling them “meritless.”

Build your own road to 270 electoral votes with CNN’s interactive map

CNN projects Biden will win at least three of Maine’s four electoral votes, plus Wisconsin, Michigan, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Virginia, California, Oregon, Washington state, Illinois, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Delaware, Washington, DC, Maryland, Massachusetts and one of Nebraska’s five electoral votes. Nebraska and Maine award two electoral votes to their statewide winners and divide their other electoral votes by congressional districts.

CNN projects Trump will win Montana, Texas, Iowa, Idaho, Ohio, Mississippi, Wyoming, Missouri, Kansas, Utah, Louisiana, Alabama, South Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Arkansas, Indiana, Oklahoma, Kentucky, West Virginia, Florida and Tennessee and four of Nebraska’s five electoral votes.

Trump mounts aggressive legal strategy to contest results

As one piece of his legal strategy, the Trump campaign plans to ask the Supreme Court to intervene in a case challenging a Supreme Court decision that allowed Pennsylvania ballots to be counted after Election Day. The justices had refused to expedite the appeal before the election and are considering whether to take up the case.

Trump and his campaign team also sought to raise doubts about how Biden made a late surge to victory in the vital state of Wisconsin, where the Democrat rose on the strength of mail-in and early votes that were counted after most of the ballots cast in person on Election Day.

The Trump campaign said Wednesday that it will demand a recount in Wisconsin while mounting legal challenges in Michigan and Georgia.

“The President is well within the threshold to request a recount (in Wisconsin) and we will immediately do so,” Stepien said in a statement.

Stepien noted that results show “a razor thin race as we always knew that it would be” and claimed that there were irregularities in several Wisconsin counties, but did not specify what the campaign believes those irregularities are.

The campaign’s state-by-state approach revealed the glaring inconsistencies in its strategy: it appears to be trying to stop vote counts in states where Trump is trailing, like Pennsylvania and Michigan, while demanding that all the votes are counted in states where it believes the President has a chance of catching up to Biden, like Arizona and Nevada.

Candidates can ask for a recount in Wisconsin if they are within 1% of the winner’s vote total — but the recount cannot be formally requested until completion of the canvass, which could be as late as November 17. It seems highly unlikely that a margin the size of Biden’s lead in Wisconsin, about 20,000 votes, could get reversed on a recount. But because the margin is less than 1%, the Trump campaign is well within its rights to request a recount.

With CNN’s Kevin Liptak reporting that even Trump himself appears to skeptical of the thin basis for some of the challenges that his campaign is filing, the campaign said it plans to file a lawsuit in Georgia claiming that a Republican poll observer in that state witnessed 53 late absentee ballots “illegally added to a stack of on-time absentee ballots in Chatham County.”

Trump offered a less-than-enthusiastic endorsement of his team’s legal strategy in phone calls with some of his allies on Wednesday, sounding resigned to the plan falling short and questioning why his team hadn’t successfully challenged voting rules before the election, even as he remained willing to see it through, CNN reported.

The Trump campaign also said it is filing a lawsuit in Michigan asking the state to halt its count because it 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.”

Ryan Jarvi, a spokesperson for Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, responded to the threat of the lawsuit by saying in a statement that “Michigan’s elections have been conducted transparently, with access provided for both political parties and the public.”

Trump campaign officials said Wednesday afternoon that they are also suing in Pennsylvania, claiming that Democratic election officials are “hiding the ballot counting and processing” from Republican poll observers.

A court in Pennsylvania on Thursday said Trump campaign observers could stand closer to watch ballot processing in Philadelphia—a relatively inconsequential ruling that Trump campaign associates quickly touted as being a massive win, as votes are still being counted there that could decide the state.

No court has found wrongdoing in the ballot counting process in Philadelphia.

The President is making baseless claims that the election, which had looked more favorable to him late on Tuesday before hauls of early votes started being tabulated, is being stolen from him and demanding that vote counting in some areas should stop. An appearance in the White House East Room in the early hours of Wednesday in which he falsely claimed victory represented his most brazen threat yet to the democratic principles that underpin the US political system.

“As far as I’m concerned, we already have won it,” Trump said, painting a picture at odds with the true state of the race. Earlier, Biden had warned each side needed to wait for the votes to be counted, saying, “We’re going to have to be patient until we — the hard work of tallying the votes is finished.”

And while the President has long threatened legal challenges to the election, the voting itself largely went peacefully, without violence at polling places or intimidation of people casting their ballots as had been widely feared, especially given Trump’s attempts to discredit voting procedures ahead of time.

But the election did not turn into the wholesale repudiation of the President and his wrecking ball presidency that Democrats had hoped for. Trump demonstrated a remarkable bond with his base of mainly White voters in rural areas and a new connection with groups of Latino voters in some states.

A blue wave many Democrats were looking for to end Mitch McConnell’s GOP Senate majority has so far not been realized, though some key races are still undecided. And despite aiming to expand their House majority, Democrats lost several seats and some threatened Republicans clung to theirs.

This is a breaking story and will be updated.

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