FAIRFAX, Va. — Morning dawned Wednesday in America — not on the pastoral serenity of Ronald Reagan’s famous 1984 campaign ad, but on the looming threat of a long and bitter fight over the results of a presidential contest that was still far from over.
President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden both claimed to be on the road to victory in an election that remained too close to call, thanks in large part to a pandemic-fuelled surge in mail-in voting.
Trump, however, was already promising to see his rival in court.
“This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country,” the president said in the wee hours of Wednesday with winners yet to be declared in several key battleground states.
“As far as I’m concerned, we already have won.”
Biden, striking a more diplomatic tone, said largely the same thing: “We believe we’re on track to win this election.”
On Wednesday, campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said the Biden team is expecting to see a “clear path to victory” before the end of the day as counting continued in battlegrounds Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
“If Donald Trump got his wish and we stopped counting ballots right now, vice-president Joe Biden would be the next president of the United States.”
The three Rust Belt states, which together are worth 46 electoral votes, comprise what Democrats once considered the “Blue Wall” — formerly fairly reliable Democratic states that now hold the key to the electoral fortunes of both candidates.
With nearly 80 per cent of the votes counted in Pennsylvania, Trump was holding on to a nine-point lead, but the remaining ballots were widely expected to favour Biden, who was also narrowly ahead in Michigan and Wisconsin.
Michigan is “focused on ensuring every absentee ballot is counted accurately and fairly,” said Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.
“We have many secure protocols in place to confirm the validity of every ballot. In fact, that’s why the process takes so much time.”
Final results in Michigan would be ready by Friday at the latest, Benson said, but she expressed optimism that the picture would become more clear before the end of the day.
“I’m optimistic that by the end of the day, the majority of our ballots will be tabulated and we’ll be much closer to having a full, if not a full and complete, unofficial result to announce at that point.”
Tuesday’s election transpired against an unprecedented backdrop: a pandemic that has killed more than 235,000 Americans and triggered a crippling economic crisis in a year also marked by fierce public outrage over the country’s racial divide.
Record-setting mail-in voting, which Trump has been railing against for months, made for an especially unpredictable night — much of the early vote was ascribed to Democrats, while Trump supporters by and large preferred to fill in the blanks in person.
Expectations of a close race and a delayed conclusion sent activists into the streets outside the White House on Tuesday, fearful that the incumbent president might try to declare a premature victory.
Those protesters were expected to reconvene later Wednesday in various locations around D.C., including outside the White House, which is surrounded by several blocks of “anti-scale” fencing — the same sort of barrier that kept Black Lives Matter protesters at bay throughout the summer.
BY THE CANADIAN PRESS
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2020
James McCarten, The Canadian Press