Joe Biden began Thursday with a lead against Donald Trump that brought the Democratic challenger tantalisingly close to the presidency, as votes continued to be counted in the key states of Nevada, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Arizona.
Donald Trump was still holding on to leads in Pennsylvania and Georgia but Biden was narrowing the gap in the two states as the backlog of postal ballots were counted. A win in Pennsylvania alone, with its 20 votes in the electoral college, would be enough to make Biden president.
In Arizona meanwhile, a Biden lead was being gradually eroded by late-counted Trump votes. The Associated Press (AP) and Fox News called the Democrat the winner in the state on election night, but by Thursday morning no other major TV network had followed suit, and were still declaring the race too close to call. The Guardian, which uses election data from AP, has called the race for Biden.
With Arizona included in his tally, Biden would only need six more electoral college votes to reach the 270 required for victory, so a win in any other state would be enough.
Nevada, where Biden holds a narrow lead, was due to announce new results at 9am local time (12pm ET, 5pm GMT), and updates were expected through the day from the other knife-edge battlegrounds.
In the nationwide popular vote, Biden so far has a record 72.2m, more than any other presidential candidate in US history, and about 3.5m more than Trump.
The two candidates posted duelling tweets on Thursday morning. Biden put out a short video titled Count Every Vote, while Trump went on Twitter, after an unusual 14-hour silence, with a short, all-caps message: “Stop the Count!”
That message was flagged as disputed and possibly misleading by Twitter, as a president does not have the authority to stop vote count. It was also confusing, because in Arizona and Nevada the Trump camp would be relying on late-counted votes to win. In these south-western states, the campaign strategy has been to focus on alleged irregularities in the count so far, seeking to undermine faith in its integrity.
Raucous crowds of Trump supporters staged protests outside vote-counting centres in Phoenix, Arizona, and Detroit, Michigan, riled by unfounded claims from Trump and some of his loyalists of widespread irregularities and the insistence that the reversal of the president’s early leads in the counts meant the election was being “stolen”.
The Trump campaign has called for a recount in Wisconsin and launched a flurry of lawsuits in four states with an array of technical challenges. In Michigan, which has already been called for Biden, the president’s lawyers pressed on with a legal demand for the count to be suspended until a campaign representative could be at each postal ballot counting table, and for a review of ballots opened and counted in the absence of its inspector.
In Nevada, the campaign filed a lawsuit on Thursday claiming about 10,000 voters who cast ballots there no longer live in the state. It has another lawsuit pending in Nevada challenging the efficacy of signature-matching software, a case the Trump camp has already lost twice.
In Pennsylvania, the president’s camp is seeking to ask the supreme court to reverse its decision extending the number of days the state has to count votes. Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s attorney general, said in a CNN interview the lawsuit was “more a political document than a legal document”.
The Biden camp has assembled its own legal teams at the chief electoral flash points, and launched a “fight fund” to finance the effort.
A coalition of liberal activist groups are meanwhile suing the US Postal Service to force it to deliver completed postal ballots left in its sorting offices to vote-counting centres.
In the Senate race, Democrats clung on a slender hope that they might wrest control of the chamber from Republicans.
One contest for one Georgia seat has gone to a runoff, and the second seat hung in the balance on Thursday morning with the Republican incumbent barely holding the 50% share in the vote to avoid a second round, but votes are still being counted. A tight Senate race in North Carolina had also not been called by Thursday morning.