He was confident of victory, Democrat Joe Biden said, and President Donald Trump accused Democrats of trying to steal Wednesday's election as a tight White House race came down to a handful of states where it could take hours or days to vote-count.
Trump won the Florida, Ohio, and Texas battlegrounds, dashing the hopes of Biden for a decisive early defeat of the president, but Biden said that by taking three key Rust Belt states, he was on track to win the White House.
Biden, 77, looked at Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania's so-called "blue wall" states that sent Trump, 74, to the White House in 2016 for possible breakthroughs once those states finish counting votes cast earlier by mail and in person.
Mail-in ballots were not processed in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and much of Michigan until Election Day on Tuesday.
Biden said in his home state of Delaware, "We feel good about where we are," screaming over a din of supporters in vehicles honking their horns in approval. "We think that we are on track to win this election."
It would be enough to win those three states to give Biden an Electoral College victory. Fox News predicted that Biden would win Arizona, another state that voted for Trump in 2016, giving him more options to get 270 votes from the Electoral College.
Even without Pennsylvania, Biden's victories in Arizona, Michigan, and Wisconsin, along with his planned victory in Nebraska's congressional district, which allocates electoral votes by district, would put him in the White House as long as he also has the states that Trump lost in 2016.
"We're BIG, but they're trying to STEAL the election. We're never going to let them do it. After the polls are closed, votes can not be cast!" Trump said on Twitter, quickly tagging the tweet as possibly misleading.
Even though election experts say fraud is rare and mail-in ballots are a long-standing feature of American elections, Trump has repeatedly and unprovenly suggested that an increase in mail-in voting will result in an increase in fraud.
Of the 4.5 million votes counted so far, only 750,000 were absentee votes in Pennsylvania or just 17 percent. More than 2.4 million early ballots were cast in the state, according to Edison Research, almost 1.6 million of which were by Democrats and about 555,000 by Republicans.
Trump was leading 52 percent to 48 percent in Georgia at 1:40 a.m., but in Atlanta and its suburban counties, several hundred thousand ballots remained to be counted early Wednesday. In the past, many of those areas had favored Democrats, and many of the votes left to be counted were those cast before the election.
Both candidates' supporters called the election a referendum on Trump and his tumultuous first term. The winner will lead a nation strained by a pandemic that has killed more than 231,000 people and left millions more unemployed, racial tensions, and political polarization during a vitriolic campaign that has only deteriorated.
In the living room of the White House residence, Trump monitored election returns with members of his family. Among others, first lady Melania Trump, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and his daughter Ivanka went in and out of the room. "It's calm, it's chilling," a source familiar with the scene said.
"The mood there was described in a text by a senior Trump aide, watching returns at the White House:" Good. But nervous
When Fox News called Florida for Trump, a source in the room said, cheers broke out in the East Room of the White House, where 200 Trump supporters were having drinks and eating chicken fingers, sliders and cookies.
"The location just erupted," said the source, who said the mood was both "extraordinarily positive" and "cautiously optimistic." "Everyone began cheering." For any Trump path to victory, Florida was a must-win state.
Voters also had to decide which political party controls the United States. For the next two years, Congress was narrowly favored by Democrats to regain a majority in the Senate and retain control of the House of Representatives.