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 President Donald Trump to re-election.
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.
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 Associated Press called Wisconsin for Biden, except for a few hundred in one township and an expected small number of provisional votes.
Trump's campaign asked for a recount, although Wisconsin's statewide recounts have historically changed the tally of votes by just a few hundred votes. Out of almost 3.3 million ballots counted, Biden led by 0.624 percentage points.
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. Winning in an undecided state, with the exception of Alaska, but including Nevada, with its six votes, would be enough to put an end to Trump's White House tenure.
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.
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.
The unsettled nature of the presidential race reflected a somewhat disappointing night for Democrats, who hoped that Trump's four years in office would be thoroughly repudiated, while also demanding that the Senate have a firm grasp of all of Washington. The GOP, however, held several Senate seats deemed vulnerable, including in Iowa, Texas, Maine, and Kansas. Democrats lost seats in the House but were expected to maintain control there.
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.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell discounted the quick claim of victory by the president, saying it would take a while for states to conduct their vote counts. "The Kentucky Republican said Wednesday that" it's different from finishing the counting to claim you've won the election.
Vote tabulations continue routinely beyond Election Day, and the rules for when the count has to end are largely set by states. A key point in presidential elections is the date when presidential voters meet in December. This is determined by federal law.
Dozens of supporters of Trump singing "Stop the count!" went down at the Detroit ballot counting center, as thousands of anti-Trump protesters demanding a full vote count took to the streets in cities across the U.S.
In at least half a dozen cities, including Los Angeles, Seattle, Houston, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, and San Diego, protests, sometimes about the election, sometimes about racial inequality, took place on Wednesday.
Several states allow the acceptance of mailed-in votes as long as they have been postmarked by Tuesday. This includes Pennsylvania, where if they arrive up to three days later, ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 can be accepted.
Trump seemed to suggest that those ballots should not be counted and that in the High Court he 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.