On Wednesday, Joe Biden won the Michigan and Wisconsin battleground awards, reclaiming a key part of the "blue wall" that slipped away from the Democrats four years ago and dramatically narrowing the path of US President Donald Trump to reelection.
Neither candidate had cleared the 270 Electoral College votes necessary to win the White House a full day after Election Day. But he was left at 264 by Biden's victories in the Great Lakes states, meaning he was one battleground state away from crossing the threshold and becoming president-elect.
That total includes the 11 electoral votes from Arizona, called for by Biden by The Associated Press and Fox News, but other organizations consider it still in play with Trump closing the Biden gap.
Biden, who received more than 71 million votes, the most in history, was joined at an afternoon news conference by his running mate, Kamala Harris, and said he now expected to win the presidency, although he stopped short of declaring victory outright.
"As an American president, I will govern," Biden said. When we win, there won't be red states and blue states. The United States of America alone.'
It was a stark contrast to Trump, who falsely declared on Wednesday that he had won the election, despite the fact that millions of votes remained uncounted and the race was far from over.
After election officials in the state said all outstanding ballots had been counted, the AP called Wisconsin for Biden, except for a few hundred in one township and an expected small number of provisional votes.
Trump's campaign called for a recount, think
The trio of Great Lakes states, Pennsylvania is the third, that their candidates have been able to count on every four years, have been haunted by the crumbling of the blue wall since 2016. But with white working-class voters, Trump's populist appeal struck a chord and he captured all three by a total margin of just 77,000 votes in 2016.
Both candidates fought fiercely for the states this year, with Biden's everyman political figure resonating in blue-collar cities, while his campaign also pushed to increase Black voters' turnout in cities such as Detroit and Milwaukee.
It was too early for Pennsylvania to call on Wednesday night.
After a long, bitter campaign dominated by the coronavirus and its effects on Americans and the national economy, it was unclear when or how quickly a national winner might be determined. But Biden's possible routes to the White House were rapidly expanding.
He was only six Electoral College votes away from the presidency after victories in Wisconsin and Michigan. A win in any undecided state except Alaska, but with its six votes, including Nevada, would be sufficient to end Trump's tenure in the White House.
Trump spent much of Wednesday in the residence of the White House, huddling with advisers and fuming at media coverage showing his Democratic rival picking up key battlegrounds. In several key states, Trump falsely claimed victory and amplified unfounded conspiracy theories about Democratic gains when absentee and early votes were tabulated.
Bill Stepien, Trump campaign manager, said the president would request a Wisconsin recount formally, citing "irregularities" in several counties. And in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, the campaign said it was filing suit to demand better access for campaign observers to locations where ballots are being processed and counted and to raise concerns about absentee ballots.
At the same time, in Pennsylvania, hundreds of thousands of votes were still to be counted, and Trump's campaign said it was moving to intervene in the existing litigation by the Supreme Court over counting mail-in ballots there. The campaign also argued, however, that the outstanding votes in Arizona could reverse the result there, demonstrating an inherent inconsistency with their arguments.
Trump picked up Florida, the largest of the swing states, and held onto Texas and Ohio in other closely watched races, while Biden retained New Hampshire and Minnesota and flipped Arizona, a state that in recent elections had reliably voted Republican.
Against the background of a historic pandemic that killed more than 232,000 Americans and wiped away millions of jobs, the high-stakes election was held. As several states posted all-time highs, the US set another record for daily confirmed coronavirus cases on Wednesday.
The candidates spent months pushing dramatically different visions for the future of the nation, including racial justice, and voters responded in enormous numbers, casting votes ahead of Election Day with more than 100 million people.
Trump issued premature claims of victory in an extraordinary move from the White House, which he continued on Twitter Wednesday, saying he would take the election to the Supreme Court to stop the counting. Exactly what legal action he might try to pursue was unclear.
Vote tabulations continue routinely beyond Election Day, and the rules for when the count has to end are largely set by states. In presidential elections, the date when presidential voters meet in December is a key point. This is determined by federal law.
On Wednesday afternoon, in a square across from the city's election commission office, dozens of demonstrators gathered in Detroit. Many wore yellow sweatshirts and carried signs reading "Count Every Vote." One of the organizers, Rai Lanier, said they planned the meeting to bring together anxious people and channel that energy into hope.
She said, "This is how democracy is supposed to work,"
Several states allow the acceptance of mailed-in votes as long as they have been postmarked by Tuesday. That includes Pennsylvania, where if they arrive up to three days later, ballots postmarked by November 3 can be accepted.
Trump seemed to suggest that those ballots should not be counted and that the high court would be fighting for that outcome. But legal experts were dubious about Trump's statement. Trump has named three of the nine justices of the high court, including, most recently, Amy Coney Barrett.
On Wednesday, the Trump campaign pushed Republican donors to dig more deeply into their pockets to help finance legal challenges. During a donor call, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel spoke plainly: "The fight is not over." There we are in it.
As an energized electorate generated long lines at polling sites across the nation, the momentum from early voting carried into Election Day. In numerous counties, including all of Florida, almost every county in North Carolina and more than 100 counties in both Georgia and Texas, turnout was higher than in 2016. As more counties reported their turnout figures, that tally seemed sure to rise.
Voters braved coronavirus concerns, polling place intimidation threats, and long-line expectations triggered by changes to voting systems, but appeared undeterred as turnout seemed to easily exceed the 139 million ballots cast four years ago.