WILMINGTON, Del./WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrat Joe Biden on Wednesday predicted victory over President Donald Trump after winning two critical U.S. states, while the Republican incumbent alleged fraud, filed lawsuits and demanded recounts in a race yet to be decided a day after polls closed.
While stopping short of declaring victory, Biden launched a website for a transition to a Democratic-controlled White House. His team called it buildbackbetter.com and declared “the Biden-Harris Administration can hit the ground running on Day One.”
As Trump spent part of the day airing grievances over Twitter, Biden pledged to govern as a unifier if triumphant.
“What brings us together as Americans is so much stronger than anything that can tear us apart,” Biden, appearing with his running mate Kamala Harris, said in his home state of Delaware on Wednesday.
At the moment, not including Wisconsin, where the Republican Trump has demanded a recount, Edison Research gives Biden a 243 to 213 lead over Trump in Electoral College votes, which are largely based on a state’s population.
A former vice president with five decades in public life, Biden, 77, was projected by television networks to win the Midwestern states of Michigan and Wisconsin, a boost to his hopes of entering the White House on Jan. 20.
Trump, 74, who won both states in 2016, now has fewer options to secure a second four-year term. He hopes to avoid becoming the first incumbent U.S. president to lose a re-election bid since George H.W. Bush in 1992.
Trump has long sought to undermine the credibility of the voting process if he lost. Since Tuesday, he has falsely declared victory, accused Democrats of trying to steal the election without evidence and vowed to fight states in court.
U.S. election experts say fraud is very rare.
Trump’s campaign fought to keep his chances alive with the demand for a Wisconsin recount as well as lawsuits in Michigan and Pennsylvania to stop vote counting. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson called his team’s lawsuit “frivolous.”
His campaign filed a lawsuit in Georgia to require that Chatham County, which includes the city of Savannah, separate and secure late-arriving ballots to ensure they are not counted.
It also asked the U.S. Supreme Court to allow Trump to join a pending lawsuit filed by Pennsylvania Republicans over whether the battleground state should be permitted to accept late-arriving ballots.
The maneuvers amounted to a broad effort to contest the results of a still undecided election a day after millions of Americans went to the polls during the coronavirus pandemic that has upended daily life.
While fighting to stop the count in states where he feared losing, Trump blasted news organizations that projected losses in Arizona and Nevada, two states he thought he should be winning. He tweeted his consternation over mail-in voting.
“They are finding Biden votes all over the place -- in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. So bad for our Country!” he posted on Twitter.
Biden said every vote must be counted. “No one’s going to take our democracy away from us, not now, not ever,” he said.
Voting concluded on Tuesday night, but many states routinely take days to finish counting ballots, bolstered by a surge in mail-in ballots nationally because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Other closely contested states, including Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina, were still counting votes, leaving the national election outcome uncertain.
THE PANDEMIC EFFECT
The contentious aftermath capped a vitriolic campaign that unfolded amid a pandemic that has killed more than 233,000 people in the United States and left millions more jobless. The country has grappled also with months of unrest involving protests over racism and police brutality.
The United States set a one-day record for new coronavirus cases on Wednesday with at least 102,591 new infections, and hospitals in several states reported a rising tide of patients, according to a Reuters tally.
Supporters of both candidates expressed anger, frustration and fear with little clarity on when the election would be resolved.
Trump held a narrow lead in North Carolina, while his lead dwindled in Georgia, and Biden led in Arizona. Should he win Arizona, Biden would be only the second Democratic presidential candidate to win the state in 72 years. Trump won it in 2016.
Trump supporters in Arizona gathered at the state Capitol to rally for the president. Protesters wrapped in American flags chanted, “count the votes!” and “stop the steal!”
In Pennsylvania, Trump’s lead dropped to around 164,000 votes as officials gradually worked their way through millions of mail-in ballots, which were seen as likely to benefit Biden. Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien called the president the winner in Pennsylvania. Biden said he felt “very good” about his chances in the state.
In the nationwide popular vote, Biden on Wednesday was comfortably ahead of Trump, with 3.5 million more votes. Trump won the 2016 election over Democrat Hillary Clinton after winning crucial battleground states even though she drew about 3 million more votes nationwide.
Legal experts had warned the election could get bogged down in state-by-state litigation over a host of issues, including whether states can include late-arriving ballots that were mailed by Election Day. Both campaigns marshaled teams of lawyers to prepare for any disputes.
If victorious, Biden will face a tough battle to govern, with Republicans appearing poised to keep control of the U.S. Senate and likely block large parts of his legislative agenda, including expanding healthcare and fighting climate change.
Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Wilmington, Delaware, and Steve Holland and Jeff Mason in Washington; Additional reporting by Jason Lange, Lisa Lambert and Susan Heavey in Washington; Patricia Zengerle in Raleigh, North Carolina, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Mimi Dwyer in Phoenix; Writing by Joseph Ax and Jeff Mason; Editing by Paul Thomasch, Will Dunham and Howard Goller