WASHINGTON (AP) — Voters were deciding between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden on Tuesday, closing an epic campaign marked by rancor and fear that will influence how the nation confronts a surging pandemic and foundational questions of economic fairness and racial justice.
The first set of polls closed, beginning to draw to an end a campaign that was reshaped by the coronavirus and marked by contentiousness. Each candidate declared the other fundamentally unfit to lead a nation grappling with COVID-19, a virus that has killed more than 230,000 Americans, cost millions of jobs and rewritten the norms of everyday life.
The night began with predictable victories for each candidate, Trump taking Kentucky and Biden winning Vermont. It was too early to call Georgia, the battleground state with the earliest poll close time.
Millions of voters put aside worries about the virus — and some long lines — to turn out in person, joining 102 million fellow Americans who voted days or weeks earlier, a record number that represented 73% of the total vote in the 2016 presidential election.
Biden entered Election Day with multiple paths to victory, while Trump, playing catch-up in a number of battleground states, had a narrower but still feasible road to clinch 270 Electoral College votes. Control of the Senate was at stake, too: Democrats needed to net three seats if Biden captured the White House to gain control of all of Washington for the first time in a decade. The House was expected to remain under Democratic control.
The nation braced for what was to come — and a result that might not be known for days.
A new anti-scaling fence was erected around the White House, and in downtowns from New York to Denver to Minneapolis, workers boarded up businesses lest the vote lead to unrest.
For Trump, the election stood as a judgment on his four years in office, a term in which he bent Washington to his will, challenged faith in its institutions and changed how America was viewed across the globe. Rarely trying to unite a country divided along lines of race and class, he has often acted as an insurgent against the government he led while undermining the nation’s scientists, bureaucracy and media.
At the White House Tuesday night, more than 100 family members, friends, donors and staff were set to watch returns from the East Room. Trump was watching votes come in upstairs in the residence with a few close aides. Most top campaign officials were monitoring returns from a “war room” set up in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
Biden spent the day last-minute campaigning in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he was born, and in Philadelphia with a couple of local stops in Wilmington, Delaware, where he was spending Election Night.
The president began his day on an upbeat note, predicting that he’d do even better than in 2016. But during a midday visit to his campaign headquarters, he spoke in a gravelly, subdued tone.
“Winning is easy,” Trump told reporters. “Losing is never easy, not for me it’s not.”
Trump left open the possibility of addressing the nation Tuesday night, even if a winner hadn’t been determined. Biden was also scheduled to give a nighttime speech from Wilmington.
“I’m superstitious about predicting what an outcome’s gonna be until it happens … but I’m hopeful,” said Biden. “It’s just so uncertain … you can’t think of an election in the recent past where so many states were up for grabs.”
With the coronavirus now surging anew, voters ranked the pandemic and the economy as top concerns in the race between Trump and Biden, according to AP VoteCast, a national survey of the electorate.
Voters were especially likely to call the public health crisis the nation’s most important issue, with the economy following close behind. Fewer named health care, racism, law enforcement, immigration or climate change
The survey found that Trump’s leadership loomed large in voters’ decision-making. Nearly two-thirds of voters said their vote was about Trump — either for him or against him.
The momentum from early voting carried into Election Day, as an energized electorate produced long lines at polling sites throughout the country. Voters braved worries of the coronavirus, threats of polling place intimidation and expectations of long lines caused by changes to voting systems, but appeared undeterred as turnout appeared it would easily surpass the 139 million ballots cast four years ago.
No major problems arose on Tuesday, outside the typical glitches of a presidential election: Some polling places opened late, robocalls provided false information to voters in Iowa and Michigan, and machines or software malfunctioned in some counties in the battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Texas.
The cybersecurity agency at the Department of Homeland Security said there were no outward signs by midday of any malicious activity.
The record-setting early vote — and legal skirmishing over how it would be counted — drew unsupported allegations of fraud from Trump, who had repeatedly refused to guarantee he would honor the election’s result.
Jaffe reported from Pittsburgh. Miller reported from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Associated Press writers Robert Burns, Kevin Freking, Aamer Madhani, Deb Riechmann and Will Weissert in Washington, Bill Barrow and Haleluya Hadero in Atlanta, Jeff Martin in Cobb County, Georgia, Juan Lozano in Houston, Corey Williams in West Bloomfield, Michigan, Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire, and Natalie Pompilio contributed to this report.