The bitter, turbulent battle for the White House between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden produced no clear winner on Tuesday, with a race too close to call and millions of votes still uncounted.
Trump has spent weeks trying to delegitimize such a scenario, and had threatened to send lawyers to swing states such as Pennsylvania as soon as the polls closed.
Early Wednesday morning, officials were still counting ballots in many key battleground states, including Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada.
"It’s not my place or Donald Trump’s place to declare who won this election," Biden said early Wednesday morning. "That’s the job of the American people."
State election officials across the country had said repeatedly that they would count all of the votes legally cast regardless of pressure from Trump and the GOP.
"We're going to have to be patient until the hard work of tallying votes is finished, and it ain’t over until every vote is counted, every ballot is counted," Biden said.
Later that night, Trump claimed he had won the election - declaring victory in states with 100s of thousands of votes still to be counted. At the time he spoke, he trailed Biden in both the electoral vote and the popular vote, and NBC News had yet to project winners for 10 states.
"We will win this," Trump said.
More Decision 2020 Coverage
The chasm that separated Trump’s passionate supporters from his equally fervent opponents brought an urgency to the election that spurred thousands of Americans to vote early despite long lines and fears of COVID-19. Early voting in Texas surpassed the total number of ballots cast there in the 2016 election.
The turnout countered Republican strategies that critics say were intended to suppress the vote, from preventing early processing of mail-in ballots to court battles over how long after Election Day ballots could be counted. Trump attempted to cast doubts on the legitimacy of mail-in ballots, in particular, and insisted that the results be known on Election Day, though no state certifies its results that quickly. He threatened to dispatch lawyers after election officials in some counties announced they would not start counting absentee and mail-in ballots until the day after Election Day.
Trump, 74, had been trailing Biden in national polls and some of the swing states.
The campaign capped four divisive years and Trump’s impeachment. He was only the third president to be impeached, although like his predecessors presidents Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson he was acquitted by the Senate.
Trump’s successes in his first term were overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic, which killed more than 220,000 Americans, shut down businesses and threw millions of Americans out of work.
Trump has been widely criticized for failing to gain control of the pandemic. Instead he downplayed it, flaunted local regulations to hold packed rallies, often went without a mask and was hospitalized with COVID-19 after a Rose Garden event for newly approved Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, which turned into a superspreader event.
The Republican, who again ran with Vice President Mike Pence, offered little in the way of a vision for his second term beyond his minimally revised slogan, “Keep America Great.”
Biden ran on a promise to unite a country split by an administration that openly stoked anger and grievances. A moderate Democrat, he was able to bring together factions of the Democratic party and Republicans appalled at the direction Trump had taken theirs.
During his first four years in office, Trump won conservative victories such as the $1.5 trillion tax overhaul and three new justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. The economy initially continued its robust growth that began under President Barack Obama, before collapsing during the pandemic.
Trump also withdrew the United States from the Paris climate accord, rolled back numerous environmental protections and moved the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. His changes to immigration policies were wide-ranging and harshly criticized, from turning back asylum seekers to separating children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. The administration said that it cannot find the parents of 545 migrant children.
Trump also saw eight of his advisors criminally charged. He trampled ethical norms and benefited financially from the presidency. He long refused to release his tax returns, but The New York Times obtained his tax information over a 20-year period and found that he paid only $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency and the year after. He has hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due.
Biden campaigned on more middle-of-the-road solutions to the country’s problems than those proposed by other Democratic candidates for president during the primary. He favors building on Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act), whose future goes before the U.S. Supreme Court this month, rather than adopting universal health care. He would raise taxes but not for those Americans making less than $400,000 a year. He supports reforming police departments in response to the shootings of African Americans but not defunding them. He would not ban fracking, as Trump falsely claimed, but he did acknowledge a coming end to an economy based on fossil fuels.
To try to halt the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 9 million people in the U.S., Biden would ask states to mandate masks and would ramp up testing and contact tracing.
Biden, who turns 78 on Nov. 20, would be the oldest president ever elected. He chose as his running mate one of his primary opponents, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who would set her own milestones: If Biden wins, she will become the first female vice president, the first Black vice president and the first South Asian vice president.
Biden, the longtime senator from Delaware and vice president under President Barack Obama, had seemed close to losing the Democratic primary to one of his younger or more left-leaning competitors but in the end he prevailed over a crowded field. It was his third try for the presidency.