WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden took the lead over President Donald Trump in the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Georgia for the first time on Friday, putting him on the verge of winning the White House.
Three days after polls closed, Biden has a 253 to 214 lead in the state-by-state Electoral College vote that determines the winner, according to Edison Research. Winning Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes would put the former vice president over the 270 he needs to secure the presidency.
Biden would also win the election if he prevails in two of the three other key states where he held narrow leads on Friday: Georgia, Arizona and Nevada. Like Pennsylvania, all three were still processing ballots on Friday.
In both Pennsylvania and Georgia, Biden overtook Trump on the strength of mail-in ballots that were cast in urban Democratic strongholds like Philadelphia and Atlanta.
With his re-election chances fading, Trump escalated his baseless attacks on the results, appearing at the White House on Thursday evening to falsely claim the election was being “stolen” from him. His campaign is pursuing a series of lawsuits across battleground states that legal experts described as unlikely to succeed in altering the election outcome.
The campaign’s general counsel, Matt Morgan, asserted in a statement on Friday that the elections in Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania all suffered from improprieties and that Trump would eventually prevail in Arizona.
“This election is not over,” he said. “Biden is relying on these states for his phony claim on the White House, but once the election is final, President Trump will be re-elected.”
Election officials in those states have said they are unaware of any irregularities.
In Pennsylvania, Biden moved ahead of Trump by 5,587 votes on Friday morning, while in Georgia, he opened up a 1,097-vote lead. Both margins were expected to grow as additional ballots were tallied.
Biden, 77, would be the first Democrat to win Georgia since Bill Clinton in 1992.
In Arizona, Biden’s lead had narrowed on Thursday to about 47,000 votes, and in Nevada he was ahead by about 11,500.
Pennsylvania, one of three traditionally Democratic states along with Michigan and Wisconsin that handed Trump his 2016 victory, had long been seen as crucial to the 2020 race, and both candidates lavished enormous sums of money and time on the state.
As the country held its breath for a result in the White House race, Georgia and Pennsylvania officials expressed optimism they would finish counting on Friday, while Arizona and Nevada were still expected to take days to complete their vote totals.
TRUMP’S DIMINISHING LEADS
Trump, 74, has sought to portray as fraudulent the slow counting of mail-in ballots, which surged in popularity due to fears of exposure to the coronavirus through in-person voting.
States have historically taken time after Election Day to tally all votes.
The close election has underscored the nation’s deep political divides, and if he wins Biden will likely face a difficult task governing in a deeply polarized Washington.
Republicans could keep control of the U.S. Senate pending the outcome of four undecided Senate races, including two in Georgia, and they would likely block large parts of his legislative agenda, including expanding healthcare and fighting climate change.
The winner will have to tackle a pandemic that has killed more than 234,000 people in the United States and left millions more out of work, even as the country still grapples with the aftermath of months of unrest over race relations and police brutality.
Trump fired off several tweets in the early morning hours on Friday, and repeated some of the complaints he aired earlier at the White House. “I easily WIN the Presidency of the United States with LEGAL VOTES CAST,” he said on Twitter, without offering any evidence that any illegal votes have been cast.
Twitter flagged the post as possibly misleading, something it has done to numerous posts by Trump since Election Day.
In an extraordinary assault on the democratic process, Trump appeared in the White House briefing room on Thursday evening and baselessly alleged the election was being “stolen” from him.
Offering no evidence, Trump lambasted election workers and sharply criticized polling before the election that he said was designed to suppress the vote because it favored Biden.
Trump’s campaign, meanwhile, has filed lawsuits in several states, though judges in Georgia and Michigan quickly rejected challenges there. Biden campaign senior legal adviser Bob Bauer called them part of a “broader misinformation campaign.”
‘RIG AN ELECTION’
“They’re trying to rig an election, and we can’t let that happen,” said Trump, who spoke in the White House briefing room but took no questions. Several TV networks cut away during his remarks, with anchors saying they needed to correct his statements.
Biden, who earlier in the day urged patience as votes were counted, responded on Twitter: “No one is going to take our democracy away from us. Not now, not ever.”
Trump supporters, some carrying guns, ramped up their demonstrations against the process on Thursday night. In Arizona, Trump and Biden supporters briefly scuffled outside the Maricopa County Elections Department in Phoenix.
In Philadelphia, police said they arrested one man and seized a weapon as part of an investigation into a purported plot to attack the city’s Pennsylvania Convention Center, where votes were being counted.
Writing by Joseph Ax and John Whitesides; Editing by Scott Malone and Frances Kerry