Jonathan Lemire, Zeke Miller, Jill Colvin and Alexandra Jaffe
WASHINGTON — Joe Biden won the battleground prizes of Michigan and Wisconsin on Wednesday, reclaiming a key part of the "blue wall" that slipped away from Democrats four years ago and dramatically narrowing President Donald Trump's pathway to reelection.
A full day after Election Day, neither candidate had cleared the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House. But Biden's victories in the Great Lakes states left him at 264, meaning he was one state away — any state — from crossing the threshold and becoming president-elect.
Biden, who has received more than 71 million votes, the most in history, was joined by his running mate Kamala Harris at an afternoon news conference and said he now expected to win the presidency, though he stopped short of outright declaring victory.
"I will govern as an American president," Biden said. "There will be no red states and blue states when we win. Just the United States of America."
It was a stark contrast to Trump, who early Wednesday morning falsely proclaimed that he had won the election, even though millions of votes remained uncounted and the race was far from over.
The Associated Press called Wisconsin for Biden after election officials in the state said all outstanding ballots had been counted, save for a few hundred in one township and an expected small number of provisional votes.
Trump's campaign requested a recount, in addition to filing lawsuits in Pennsylvania and Michigan. Statewide recounts in Wisconsin have historically changed the vote tally by only a few hundred votes; Biden led by 0.624 percentage point out of nearly 3.3 million ballots counted.
For four years, Democrats had been haunted by the crumbling of the blue wall, the trio of Great Lakes states — Pennsylvania is the third — that their candidates had been able to count on every four years. But Trump's populist appeal struck a chord with white working class voters and he captured all three in 2016 by a total of just 77,000 votes.
Both candidates this year fiercely fought for the states, with Biden's everyman political persona resonating in blue collar towns while his campaign also pushed to increase turnout among Black voters in cities like Detroit and Milwaukee.
Pennsylvania remained too early to call Wednesday night.
It was unclear when or how quickly a national winner could be determined after a long, bitter campaign dominated by the coronavirus and its effects on Americans and the national economy. But Biden's possible pathways to the White House were expanding rapidly.
After the victory in Wisconsin and Michigan, he held 264 Electoral College votes, just six away from the presidency. A win in any state, including Nevada with its six votes, would be enough to end Trump's tenure in the White House.
Trump spent much of Wednesday in the White House residence, huddling with advisers and fuming at media coverage showing his Democratic rival picking up key battlegrounds. Trump falsely claimed victory in several key states and amplified unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about Democratic gains as absentee and early votes were tabulated.
Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said the president would formally request a Wisconsin recount, citing "irregularities" in several counties. And the campaign said it was filing suit in Michigan and Pennsylvania to halt ballot counting on grounds that it wasn't given proper access to observe.
At the same time, hundreds of thousands of votes were still to be counted in Pennsylvania, and Trump's campaign said it was moving to intervene in the existing Supreme Court litigation over counting mail-in ballots there. Yet, the campaign also argued that it was the outstanding votes in Arizona that could reverse the outcome there, showcasing an inherent inconsistency with their arguments.
In other closely watched races, Trump picked up Florida, the largest of the swing states, and held onto Texas and Ohio while Biden kept New Hampshire and Minnesota and flipped Arizona, a state that had reliably voted Republican in recent elections.
The unsettled nature of the presidential race was reflective of a somewhat disappointing night for Democrats, who had hoped to deliver a thorough repudiation of Trump's four years in office while also reclaiming the Senate to have a firm grasp on all of Washington. But the GOP held on to several Senate seats that had been considered vulnerable, including in Iowa, Texas, Maine and Kansas. Democrats lost House seats but were expected to retain control there.
The high-stakes election was held against the backdrop of a historic pandemic that has killed more than 232,000 Americans and wiped away millions of jobs. The candidates spent months pressing dramatically different visions for the nation's future, including on racial justice, and voters responded in huge numbers, with more than 100 million people casting votes ahead of Election Day.
Trump, in an extraordinary move from the White House, issued premature claims of victory — which he continued on Twitter Wednesday — and said he would take the election to the Supreme Court to stop the counting. It was unclear exactly what legal action he could try to pursue.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell discounted the president's quick claim of victory, saying it would take a while for states to conduct their vote counts. The Kentucky Republican said Wednesday that "claiming you've won the election is different from finishing the counting."
Vote tabulations routinely continue beyond Election Day, and states largely set the rules for when the count has to end. In presidential elections, a key point is the date in December when presidential electors met. That's set by federal law.
Dozens gathered in Detroit Wednesday afternoon, in a square across from the city's election commission office. Many wore yellow sweatshirts and carried signs reading "Count Every Vote." Rai Lanier, one of the organizers, said they had planned the gathering so anxious people could come together and channel that energy into hope.
"This is how democracy is supposed to work," she said
Several states allow mailed-in votes to be accepted as long as they were postmarked by Tuesday. That includes Pennsylvania, where ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 can be accepted if they arrive up to three days later.
Trump appeared to suggest those ballots should not be counted, and that he would fight for that outcome at the high court. But legal experts were dubious of Trump's declaration. Trump has appointed three of the high court's nine justices including, most recently, Amy Coney Barrett.
The Trump campaign on Wednesday pushed Republican donors to dig deeper into their pockets to help finance legal challenges. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, during a donor call, spoke plainly: "The fight's not over. We're in it."
The momentum from early voting carried into Election Day, as an energized electorate produced long lines at polling sites throughout the country. Turnout was higher than in 2016 in numerous counties, including all of Florida, nearly every county in North Carolina and more than 100 counties in both Georgia and Texas. That tally seemed sure to increase as more counties reported their turnout figures.
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.