Joseph R. Biden Jr. stood on the threshold of the American presidency in the early hours of Friday, seizing a slim lead over President Trump in Georgia and drawing ever closer to overtaking him in Pennsylvania. Those victories would secure the 270 electoral votes he needs to lay claim to the White House.
Mr. Biden had already begun to project the image of a man preparing to assume the mantle of office, meeting on Thursday with his economic and health advisers to be briefed on the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking briefly to reporters in Wilmington, Del., Mr. Biden, the former vice president, urged the public to show a “little patience,” as the vote counting in battleground states stretched into a third day.
“Democracy,” he acknowledged, “can sometimes be messy.”
Mr. Biden’s appeal to let the process play out contrasted starkly with Mr. Trump, who took the lectern in the White House briefing room to falsely claim that the election was riddled with fraud, as part of an elaborate coast-to-coast conspiracy by Democrats, the news media and Silicon Valley to deny him a second term.
The reactions captured their diverging fortunes: Mr. Trump was left increasingly with only legal challenges to forestall defeat, while Mr. Biden was betting on the steady accumulation of mail-in ballots to vault him over the top in Pennsylvania. Georgia, which has not elected a Democrat since Bill Clinton in 1992, was headed for a photo finish that could supply an extra cushion of electoral votes to Mr. Biden.
Yet both men were hostage to fortune — waiting, like the rest of America, for the verdict of a counting process that had become a game of inches. Inside the campaign war rooms, staffers took urgent soundings with their field operations to see where the outstanding votes were and how they would break for the candidates.
In Pennsylvania, Mr. Trump’s lead stood at fewer than 20,000 votes, with roughly 175,000 absentee ballots still to count in the state, including more than 58,000 in the Democratic bastion of Philadelphia. In Georgia, Mr. Biden’s total vaulted above Mr. Trump’s around 5 a.m., giving the former vice president a 917-vote lead.
If the eastern battlegrounds were trending toward Mr. Biden, the Trump campaign drew some comfort from the West.
In Arizona, the continuing count whittled Mr. Biden’s early lead in the state to less than 47,000 votes. After a delay in counting the remaining ballots from Maricopa County early in the day on Thursday, election officials continued to plow through tens of thousands of ballots from Phoenix and its sprawling suburbs. In Nevada, where the counting was also slow, Mr. Biden clung to a lead of slightly more than 11,000, with absentee ballots left to count in vote-rich Clark County, home of Las Vegas.
Still, Mr. Biden’s victory in the two Midwestern battleground states of Michigan and Wisconsin put him in a strong position, with multiple paths to victory, depending on what happens in the states yet to be called. Mr. Trump needed a victory in Pennsylvania.
The process was agonizing for partisans on both sides, though for the most part, fears of widespread unrest did not materialize. Officials reported few instances of problems with the voting-counting process.
The different reactions of the two candidates offered a road map for how they were likely to handle the coming days and weeks, when the counting gives way to legal challenges, calls for recounts, and a potentially turbulent transition.
Mr. Biden’s pivot to policy issues seemed calculated to create an air of inevitability about his victory. His briefing on the pandemic was a reminder that the United States recorded a record 116,255 new infections on Thursday.
Mr. Trump, by contrast, was singularly focused on his political fortunes. He said nothing about the virus in a rambling statement replete with unsubstantiated allegations of “legal” and “illegal” ballots being tabulated.
As Mr. Trump spoke, the three major broadcast networks cut away from his remarks, an extraordinary break with tradition that network executives attributed to the president’s failure to tell the truth.
Many prominent Republicans were silent in the face of Mr. Trump’s efforts to sow doubt in the democratic process. But he found support from some of his most loyal supporters on Capitol Hill, including Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who echoed Mr. Trump’s charges of voter fraud.
“Philadelphia elections are crooked as a snake,” Mr. Graham told the Fox News host Sean Hannity. When Mr. Hannity suggested that votes in Pennsylvania should be thrown out, Mr. Graham replied, “Everything should be on the table.”
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Republican leader, at first sidestepped questions about whether he agreed with Mr. Trump that election officials should halt their tabulations. But by Thursday evening, he had grown more strident in his defense of the White House.
“Republicans will not be silenced,” Mr. McCarthy wrote on Twitter. “We demand transparency. We demand accuracy. And we demand that the legal votes be protected.”
The Presidential Race
Joseph R. Biden Jr. has pulled ahead of President Trump in Georgia, a state with 16 electoral votes where a win would bring him to 269, or within one electoral vote of the presidency. If Mr. Biden were to win Georgia and then win Nevada or Arizona — both states in which he is leading — or Pennsylvania, where the continued counting of ballots is methodically erasing Mr. Trump’s advantage, he would become the president-elect.
Flipping Georgia, a state last won by a Democrat in 1992, and where Mr. Trump won by more than 200,000 votes four years ago, would represent a significant political shift this year, but the state has shown signs of trending blue: When Mr. Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 he did so by only five percentage points, a far slimmer margin than Republicans had enjoyed in previous presidential elections.
The candidates had been locked in a virtual dead heat for much of Thursday, with each controlling about 49.4 percent of the vote but Mr. Trump maintaining a slight lead. As absentee ballots were counted early Friday particularly in Clayton County, Mr. Biden pulled ahead with 917 more votes.
Mr. Biden’s late surge in this year’s count, thanks to his dominance in Atlanta, Savannah and the increasingly Democratic-friendly suburbs around both, transformed what had seemed to be a safe Trump state in early tabulations on Tuesday into one of the closest contests in the nation.
While Mr. Biden was powered by high turnout among Black voters in Atlanta, he also flipped some suburban white voters in the moderate suburban counties that ring the city.
At a drive-in rally in Atlanta last week, Mr. Biden said, “We win Georgia, we win everything.”
With votes in a handful of states still being tallied early on Friday, Joseph R. Biden Jr. was 17 electoral votes shy of reaching the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the election, while President Trump was 56 electoral votes short.
Mr. Biden had more paths to victory open to him: Twenty-seven combinations of the remaining states would give the presidency, while four combinations would re-elect Mr. Trump and one path would result in a tie.
Here is the state of play in the race in the remaining battleground states.
Electoral votes: 16
Biden narrowly leads Trump, 49.4 percent to 49.4 percent, with more than 98 percent of the estimated vote in.
Gap: 917 votes.
Electoral votes: 20
Trump leads Biden, 49.5 percent to 49.2 percent, with about 95 percent of the estimated vote in.
Gap: 18,229 votes.
Electoral votes: 6
Biden leads Trump, 49.4 percent to 48.5 percent, with 89 percent of the estimated vote in.
Gap: 11,438 votes.
Keep in mind: Nevada has about 190,000 ballots still to be counted, the secretary of state said on Thursday afternoon. And 90 percent of them are from Clark County, where Mr. Biden currently leads by eight percentage points. All of the Election Day vote has been counted, leaving only Democratic-leaning late mail and provisional ballots to be tabulated.
Electoral votes: 11
Biden leads Trump, 50.1 percent to 48.5 percent, with 88 percent of the estimated vote in.
Gap: About 47,000 votes.
Electoral votes: 15
Trump leads Biden, 50 percent to 48.6 percent, with 95 percent of the estimated vote in.
Gap: About 77,000 votes.
Keep in mind: With most votes now tabulated, Mr. Biden would need to win about two-thirds of the remainder to pull ahead. Mail ballots postmarked by Election Day will be accepted until Nov. 12.
PHILADELPHIA — With the presidential race potentially hinging on the outcome in Pennsylvania, the state’s top elections official said late Thursday that counties were “still counting” and did not give a direct answer as to how many ballots were outstanding, estimating that it was “several hundred thousand.” She did not offer any timetable as to when counting in the state would be complete.
“There’s still some to count,” said Kathy Boockvar, Pennsylvania’s secretary of state. “So they are working incredibly hard. They are going to keep counting into the evening, and stay tuned.”
Ms. Boockvar had indicated earlier that she expected most of the remaining votes to be tallied by Thursday and that a state winner “definitely could” be announced by the end of the day.
But in her evening news conference, she said that it would take longer, as the official total on the state website indicated roughly 326,000 mail ballots still to be counted.
“What I’ve said all along is that the overwhelming majority of ballots will be counted by Friday,” Ms. Boockvar said. “I still think that we’re ahead of schedule and we actually already have counted the overwhelming majority of ballots, but because it’s a close race, it’s not quite clear yet who the winner is.”
President Trump’s lead in the state over Joseph R. Biden Jr. has dwindled to 0.3 percentage points, and fewer than 19,000 votes now separate the candidates. If Mr. Biden wins the state, he wins the presidency.
Ms. Boockvar said on CNN that most of the outstanding ballots were from denser population centers, including Philadelphia and its suburban counties, and Allegheny County, which is home to Pittsburgh.
She said that though Philadelphia had temporarily paused its counting on Thursday because of some legal filings, it had quickly resumed.
The Trump campaign has filed multiple lawsuits in Pennsylvania, including one seeking to allow election observers closer access to election workers in Philadelphia, which a judge granted on Thursday morning. The Trump campaign also filed a motion to intervene in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging a rule in the state that allows ballots that are postmarked by Election Day but arrive up to three days later to still be counted.
But Ms. Boockvar said that election officials were not seeing a large influx of late-arriving ballots, and did not expect them to affect the final tally.
“Unless it is super close,” she said, “I don’t see them making this or breaking this one way or another. But in the meantime, we are going to be counting every ballot.”
President Trump broke a two-day silence with reporters to deliver a brief statement filled with lies about the election process as workers in a handful of states continue to tabulate vote tallies in the presidential race.
The president painted the election results so far as part of a broad conspiracy to deprive him of winning a second term by Democrats, election officials in various cities and the media.
“If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” Mr. Trump said shortly after he took the podium in the White House briefing room, a false statement that cast aspersion on the rest of the election. He offered no evidence.
He then listed a series of conspiracy theories about why ballots arrived late in places. And at the same time that he insisted Democrats were figuring out how many mail-in ballots they need in order to counteract his performance in various states, the president listed off a series of Republican wins on Tuesday. He appeared not to see the cognitive dissonance in saying that other Republicans won while he lost as he outlined a plot about others harming him, and left the room without taking reporters’ questions.
The three big broadcast networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — all cut away from President Trump’s appearance as the president’s false claims about the integrity of the election mounted.
Mr. Trump’s speech was timed to air during each of the network’s evening newscasts, which draw the biggest collective audience in TV news. But network anchors broke in after a few minutes to correct some of Mr. Trump’s false claims.
“We have to cut away here because the president has made a number of false allegations,” Lester Holt said on “NBC Nightly News.” On ABC, the anchor David Muir broke in and told viewers, “There’s a lot to unpack here and fact-check.”
Although CNN and Fox News continued carrying Mr. Trump’s remarks live, the decision by the other networks to break away deprived Mr. Trump of a significantly larger audience for his unfiltered — and un-fact-checked — views of the election.
MSNBC declined to air his remarks live at all. On Fox News, the White House correspondent John Roberts told viewers that “we haven’t seen any evidence” to back up Mr. Trump’s claims of electoral fraud. The anchor Bret Baier concurred, adding, “We have not seen the evidence yet, John.”
WILMINGTON, Del. — Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Thursday urged Americans to be patient as votes were counted and said he and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, had “no doubt” that they would ultimately prevail.
“It is the will of the voters, no one, not anything else, that chooses the president of the United States of America,” he said. “So, each ballot must be counted, and that’s what we’re going to see going through now. And that’s how it should be.”
In brief remarks to reporters in Wilmington, Del., Mr. Biden continued: “Democracy is sometimes messy. It sometimes requires a little patience as well. But that patience has been rewarded now for more than 240 years with a system of governance that’s been the envy of the world.”
Mr. Biden spoke after he and Ms. Harris received briefings on the coronavirus pandemic and the economy at a theater in Wilmington. Earlier in the day, Mr. Biden’s campaign manager, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, expressed confidence that Mr. Biden would win the election, and during his remarks, Mr. Biden also predicted a victory.
“We have no doubt that when the count is finished, Senator Harris and I will be declared the winners,” he said. “So, I ask everyone to stay calm — all the people to stay calm. The process is working. The count is being completed, and we’ll know very soon.”
Hours after President Trump’s son took to Twitter to complain that none of the Republicans with aspirations to run for president in 2024 were publicly siding with his father, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina appeared on Fox News to defend Mr. Trump’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud.
Mr. Graham, who is one of the president’s most loyal allies on Capitol Hill, did not, however, offer any evidence to support those spurious claims. While he objected to the ongoing count of votes in Pennsylvania, he said he supported the process in Arizona.
“I trust Arizona, I don’t trust Philadelphia,” he said.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas followed his Republican colleague on the network and accused Democrats of trying to steal the election. He also offered no evidence to back his assertion.
Tommy Tuberville, a senator-elect from Alabama and a former Auburn University football coach, parroted the president on Twitter.
“The election results are out of control,” Mr. Tuberville wrote. “It’s like the whistle has blown, the game is over, and the players have gone home, but the referees are suddenly adding touchdowns to the other team’s side of the scoreboard.”
At a news conference on Thursday night in Atlanta with Donald Trump Jr., in which Republican supporters chanted “Stop the Steal,” Representative Doug Collins, a Georgia congressman who ran a failed bid for Senate this year, suggested without evidence that something was awry in the election.
“Transparency only seems to be good when the Democrats like the transparency, and the media are willing to go along with it,” he said.
Many prominent Republican lawmakers chose to remain silent, refusing to cross Mr. Trump over the results of an election that was slipping away from the incumbent.
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, at first sidestepped questions on Wednesday about whether he agreed with Mr. Trump that election officials should halt their tabulations.
But by Thursday evening, he had grown more vocal, writing in a tweet: “Republicans will not be silenced. We demand transparency. We demand accuracy. And we demand that the legal votes be protected.”
Still, there were some in his party that offered a rebuke of Mr. Trump’s efforts to sow doubt in the democratic process.
Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland issued one of the strongest condemnations of the president by a Republican lawmaker.
“There is no defense for the President’s comments tonight undermining our Democratic process,” Mr. Hogan wrote on Twitter. “America is counting the votes, and we must respect the results as we always have before. No election or person is more important than our Democracy.”
Tom Ridge, the former Pennsylvania governor and secretary of homeland security for President George W. Bush, assailed Mr. Trump over his rhetoric.
“With his remarks from the White House tonight, the President disrespected every single American who figured out a way to safely vote amid a pandemic that has taken 235,000 lives,” Mr. Ridge wrote on Twitter. “Not to mention those who are dutifully counting that vote. Absolutely shameful. Yet so predictable.”
Mr. Ridge was among a group of Republicans who had endorsed the Democratic candidate, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona, a state that Fox News called for Mr. Biden on election night, drawing the president’s ire, urged his constituents to remain patient on Thursday night as the margin there remained tight.
“I encourage media outlets, cable news and national pundits to do the same, and to avoid the temptation to declare a winner until our Arizona election officials have finished their jobs,” he said. “All of this underlines the importance of not jumping to conclusions in the state of Arizona until there is a final outcome in all counties.”
PHOENIX — Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has maintained a steady but slightly narrowing lead in Arizona vote tallies after Election Day, with Latino voters lining up behind the former vice president in a state that President Trump won by three and a half percentage points in 2016.
As of early Friday morning, Mr. Biden led Mr. Trump in Arizona by about 46,000 votes.
Even Mr. Biden’s narrow edge underscored a profound political shift in Arizona, a longtime Republican bastion that has lurched left in recent years, fueled by rapidly evolving demographics and a growing contingent of young Latino voters who favor liberal policies.
The count was delayed in the early hours of Thursday, as dozens of Trump supporters demonstrated outside the Maricopa County election office where the votes were being counted.
In one of the brightest spots for Democrats so far, the former astronaut Mark Kelly defeated the state’s Republican senator, Martha McSally, in a special election, making Mr. Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema the first pair of Democrats to represent Arizona in the Senate since the 1950s.
Joseph R. Biden Jr. widened his slender lead over President Trump in Nevada early Friday from about 8,000 votes to about 11,000 votes as another tranche of ballots were counted, according to election officials. Mr. Biden now leads Mr. Trump by about one percentage point.
Nevada has six electoral votes and its entire Election Day vote has been counted; the late mail and provisional ballots that remain lean Democratic. About 11 percent of the state’s votes have yet to be tabulated.
But the final results might not be made public until Saturday or Sunday, said Joe Gloria, elections registrar in Clark County, home to Las Vegas, during a news conference at his headquarters. His staff will begin to tabulate 63,262 drop-off, mail-in and provisional ballots on Friday, and likely will not release the results for a day or two, Mr. Gloria told reporters.
“Our goal is not to act fast,” but to accurately count the votes, he said to audible groaning in the room.
Mr. Gloria said he had beefed up security amid threats to his staff, adding, “We will not allow anyone to stop us from doing what our duty is.”
Statewide, Nevada has about 190,000 ballots still to be counted, the secretary of state said in a statement on Thursday afternoon. Ninety percent of them are from Clark County, where Mr. Biden currently leads by eight percentage points.
A key question is whether Mr. Trump can close Mr. Biden’s current lead in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas and most of Nevada’s population. In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried that county by 10.7 percentage points.
The Trump campaign has already identified Nevada, which allows any losing candidate to request a recount, as one of the battleground states where it hopes to use the courts and procedural maneuvers to stave off defeat in the Electoral College. Less than 24 hours before Election Day, a Nevada judge rejected a lawsuit filed by Republicans who had tried to stop early vote counting in Clark County.
Nevada’s attorney general, Aaron Ford, a Democrat, told CNN that the state was prepared to rebuff the Trump campaign’s offensive.
“We think it’s pretty impenetrable when it comes to legal challenge against us,” Mr. Ford said.
Since Mrs. Clinton beat Mr. Trump in Nevada by 2.4 percentage points in 2016, the state has turned a deeper shade of blue, with Democrats controlling the governor’s office and legislature, both Senate seats and all but one House seat. It was not widely expected to be a battleground state this year.
But while recent polls consistently showed Mr. Biden ahead of Mr. Trump in Nevada, Democrats worried that the pandemic would make it difficult to create a robust election turnout operation. The state has reported more than 104,000 coronavirus cases.
As the presidential race inches agonizingly toward a conclusion, it might be easy to miss the fact that the results are not actually very close.
With many ballots still outstanding in heavily Democratic cities, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was leading President Trump by more than four million votes nationwide as of Thursday evening. His lead will continue to expand, perhaps substantially, as officials finish counting.
This means more Americans have voted for a Democrat for president than for a Republican in each of the past four elections, and seven of the past eight, the exception being 2004, when President George W. Bush beat John Kerry by about three million votes. But, depending on the outcome this year, only four or five times in those eight elections have they actually put one in the White House.
It looks likely that Mr. Biden will eke out an Electoral College win. But the narrowness of the result, in contrast to the fairly decisive preference of the American public, has intensified some Americans’ anger at a system in which a minority of people can often claim a majority of power.
“We look at a map of so-called red and blue states and treat that map as land and not people,” said Carol Anderson, a professor of African-American studies at Emory University who researches voter suppression. “I’ve been thinking about how hard folks have to work to be able to vote, what it takes to overcome all of this that voter suppression has put in place, and that someone could be ahead by three million votes — which is bigger than most cities and probably some states — and still we have what almost amounts to a nail-biter.”
Mr. Biden’s current vote margin is, in fact, larger than the populations of more than 20 states, and more than the population of Los Angeles.
A similar disparity exists in the Senate, where the current Democratic minority was elected with more votes than the Republican majority and where by 2040, based on population projections, about 70 percent of Americans will be represented by 30 percent of senators.
“It’s not that the states that are represented by the 30 percent are all red, but what we do know is that the states that are going to have 70 senators are in no way representative of the diversity in the country,” said Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “The more this happens, the more you get the sense that voters don’t have a say in the choice of their leaders. And you cannot have a democracy over a period of time that survives if a majority of people believe that their franchise is meaningless.”