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The count goes on — with Biden on the cusp of presidency

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrat Joe Biden stood on the cusp of winning the presidency Friday night, three days after Election Day, as the long, exacting work of counting votes widened his lead over President Donald Trump in critical battleground states.

High turnout, a massive number of mail-in ballots and slim margins between the two candidates all contributed to the delay in naming a winner. But Biden held leads in Pennsylvania, Nevada and Georgia, putting him in an ever-stronger position to capture the 270 Electoral College votes needed to take the White House.

There was intense focus on Pennsylvania, where Biden led Trump by more than 27,000 votes, and Nevada, where the Democrat led by about 22,000. The prolonged wait added to the anxiety of a nation facing historic challenges, including the surging pandemic and deep political polarization.

Trump stayed in the White House and out of
sight, as more results trickled in and expanded Biden’s lead in
must-win Pennsylvania. In the West Wing during the day, televisions
remained tuned to the news amid trappings of normalcy, as reporters
lined up for coronavirus tests and outdoor crews worked on the North
Lawn on a mild, muggy fall day.

Biden, for his part, addressed the
nation Friday night near his home in Wilmington, Delaware, and
acknowledged the sluggish pace of the count “can be numbing.” But he
added, “Never forget the tallies aren’t just numbers: They represent
votes and voters.”

He expressed confidence that victory ultimately
would be his, saying, “The numbers tell us a clear and convincing
story: We’re going to win this race.”

Standing alongside his
running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, and against a backdrop of flags, Biden
wasn’t able to give the acceptance speech his aides had hoped. But he
hit notes of unity, seemingly aimed at cooling the temperature of a
heated, divided nation.

“We have to remember the purpose of our
politics isn’t total unrelenting, unending warfare,” he said. “No, the
purpose of our politics, the work of our nation, isn’t to fan the flames
of conflict, but to solve problems, to guarantee justice, to give
everybody a fair shot.”

Trump’s campaign on Friday was mostly
quiet — a dramatic difference from the day before, when officials held a
morning call projecting confidence and then a flurry of press
conferences announcing litigation in key states. But it was touched once
again by the coronavirus pandemic.

Chief of staff Mark Meadows
contracted the virus, according to two senior White House officials not
authorized to publicly discuss private matters. A campaign aide, Nick
Trainer, also tested positive.

Trump’s handling of the pandemic
has been the defining issue of the campaign. The president, first lady
Melania Trump and several other members of the White House staff and
Trump’s campaign team have fallen ill.

A handful of states
remained in play Friday evening — Georgia, North Carolina too early to
call along with Pennsylvania and Nevada. In all four states the margins
between Trump and Biden were too narrow and the number of ballots left
to be counted too great for the AP to declare a victor.

Pennsylvania, officials were not allowed to begin processing mail-in
ballots until Election Day under state law. In Nevada, there were a
number of provisional ballots cast by voters who registered on Election
Day, and officials had to verify their eligibility. And recounts could
be triggered in both Pennsylvania and Georgia.

With his pathway
to reelection appearing to greatly narrow, Trump was testing how far he
could go in using the trappings of presidential power to undermine
confidence in the vote.

On Thursday, he advanced unsupported
accusations of voter fraud to falsely argue that his rival was trying to
seize power. It was an extraordinary effort by a sitting American
president to sow doubt about the democratic process.

“This is a
case when they are trying to steal an election, they are trying to rig
an election,” Trump said from the podium of the White House briefing

He took to Twitter late Friday to pledge further legal
action, tweeting that “Joe Biden should not wrongfully claim the office
of the President. I could make that claim also. Legal proceedings are
just now beginning!”

Trump did claim that he won late on Election
Night. He also tweeted that he had “such a big lead in all of these
states late into election night, only to see the leads miraculously
disappear as the days went by,” although it was well known that votes
cast before Tuesday were still being legally counted.

Biden spent
Thursday trying to ease tensions and project a more traditional image of
presidential leadership. After participating in a coronavirus briefing,
he declared that “each ballot must be counted.”

“I ask everyone
to stay calm. The process is working,” Biden said. “It is the will of
the voters. No one, not anyone else who chooses the president of the
United States of America.”

Trump’s erroneous claims about the
integrity of the election challenged Republicans now faced with the
choice of whether to break with a president who, though his grip on his
office grew tenuous, commanded sky-high approval ratings from
rank-and-file members of the GOP. That was especially true for those who
are eyeing presidential runs of their own in 2024.

Maryland GOP
Gov. Larry Hogan, a potential presidential hopeful who has often
criticized Trump, said unequivocally: “There is no defense for the
President’s comments tonight undermining our Democratic process. America
is counting the votes, and we must respect the results as we always
have before.”

But others who are rumored to be considering a White
House run of their own in four years aligned themselves with the
incumbent, including Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who tweeted support for
Trump’s claims, writing that “If last 24 hours have made anything clear,
it’s that we need new election integrity laws NOW.”

campaign engaged in a flurry of legal activity, saying it would seek a
recount in Wisconsin and had filed lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Michigan
and Georgia.

On Friday evening, Supreme Court Justice Samuel
Alito approved a GOP request ordering county boards to comply with state
guidance to keep the late ballots separate from those received before
or on Election Day. However, Alito did not direct election officials to
stop counting the ballots, as the Republicans had also sought.

judges in three states quickly swatted down legal action. A federal
judge who was asked to stop vote counts in Philadelphia instead forced
the two sides to reach an agreement without an order over the number of
observers allowed.

“Really, can’t we be responsible adults here
and reach an agreement?” an exasperated U.S. District Judge Paul S.
Diamond said during an emergency hearing Thursday evening. “The whole
thing could (soon) be moot.”

The Trump campaign said it was
confident the president would ultimately pull out a victory in Arizona,
where votes were also still being counted, including in Maricopa County,
the state’s most populous area. The AP has declared Biden the winner in
Arizona and said Thursday that it was monitoring the vote count as it

“The Associated Press continues to watch and analyze vote count results from Arizona as they come in,” said Sally Buzbee, AP’s executive editor. “We will follow the facts in all cases.”

Weissert reported from Wilmington, Delaware. Associated Press writers Colleen Long and Alexandra Jaffe in Washington contributed to this report.