U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden were locked in a tight contest for a four-year term in the White House early Wednesday, with the national outcome of the election hanging on undecided contests in key political battleground states.
“Keep the faith guys, we’re going to win this,” Biden told cheering supporters near his home in Wilmington, Delaware, as they honked car horns.
But as vote counting continued in several key states where he trailed Trump, Biden warned, “We’re going to have to be patient.”
From the White House, Trump tweeted, “We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election.” Twitter flagged the post as containing information that is “disputed and might be misleading.”
There were no reports of voting after polls had closed as scheduled, but vote counting extended into the early hours of Wednesday.
Tens of millions of people stood in lines across the country throughout the day to cast their ballots on Election Day. More than 101 million other people voted early in recent weeks, partly to avoid coming face to face with others amid the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.
The early vote in the waning weeks of the 2020 election amounted to more than two-thirds of the entire vote count in the 2016 election when Trump upset Hillary Clinton to win the White House.
With the heavy early voting, the total 2020 vote count, by some estimates, could reach a U.S. record of 150 million or more. But with state-by-state laws controlling how soon the absentee votes can be counted — not until Tuesday night or later in some states — the outcome of the election may not be known for days.
The presidential election is coming after a rancorous and combative campaign, with both Trump and Biden lobbing taunts, claiming the other is unfit to lead the country and would take it to ruination.
Last weekend, tensions mounted as thousands of Trump campaign supporters rallied and demonstrated throughout the country; in one case a caravan of vehicles with Trump flags in Texas tried to force a Biden campaign bus off a highway.
Authorities and merchants in some cities, including New York, Detroit and Washington near the White House, have boarded up storefronts to prevent potential damage and looting in the event election-related violence erupts.
Many of the early voters — two-thirds of whom mailed in ballots while the rest cast votes in person — said they wanted to avoid coming face to face Tuesday with other people in long lines at polling stations, as the U.S. on some recent days has recorded more than 90,000 new coronavirus cases.
Some Democrats said they wanted to be among the first to vote against Trump, while many Republicans said they planned to vote in person on the official presidential Election Day — the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November — as has been the norm in U.S. elections every four years since the mid-1800s.
Voters are choosing between two septuagenarians, both older than most the country’s 328 million citizens. Biden will be 78 by Inauguration Day on January 20, while Trump is 74. Whoever wins will be the oldest U.S. leader ever.
In addition, voters are choosing all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate.
National polls have for weeks shown Biden leading Trump nationally by about 7 or 8 percentage points, but only by about half that margin or less in key battleground states that are likely to determine the outcome.
Even two lightly populated states — Maine in the Northeast with four electoral votes and Nebraska in the Midwest with five — could play a role in the national outcome if the election is close. The two states award their electors by the vote count in individual congressional districts and the overall statewide vote, which could be a factor in an extremely close election.