Trump and Biden score early wins but battleground states are too close to call
Polls have closed across the United States’ east coast after an epic election campaign fought between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
The night opened with predictable victories for each candidate, with Mr Trump taking states including Kansas and North Dakota and Mr Biden’s haul including Colorado and Virginia, two former battlegrounds that have become Democratic strongholds.
It is too early to call the results in the 2020 battleground states of Florida, Georgia and Pennsylvania.
Americans made their choice as the nation faced a number of historic crises with each candidate declaring the other fundamentally unfit to navigate the challenges. Daily life has been upended by coronavirus, which has killed more than 232,000 Americans and cost millions of jobs.
Millions of voters put aside worries about the virus – and some long queues – to turn out in person, joining 102 million fellow Americans who voted days or weeks earlier, a record number that represented 73% of the total vote in the 2016 presidential election.
Mr Biden entered polling day with multiple paths to victory, while Mr Trump, playing catch-up in a number of battleground states, had a narrower but still feasible road to clinch 270 electoral college votes.
Control of the Senate is also at stake. Democrats need to net three seats if Mr Biden captures the White House to gain control of all of Washington for the first time in a decade. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky won re-election in an early victory for the Republicans and Republican senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close Trump ally, fought off a fierce challenge to hang onto his seat.
The parties traded a pair of seats in other early results. Democratic former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper defeated incumbent senator Cory Gardner, and in Alabama Republican Tommy Tuberville beat senator Doug Jones. The House is expected to remain under Democratic control.
As the results began to come in, the nation braced for what was to come – and an outcome that might not be known for days.
A new anti-scaling fence has been erected around the White House, and in cities from New York to Denver to Minneapolis, workers boarded up businesses to protect against potential violent clashes on the streets.
With the worst public health crisis in a century still fiercely present, the pandemic – and Mr Trump’s handling of it – was the inescapable focus for 2020.
For Mr Trump, the election stood as a judgment on his four years in office, a term in which he bent Washington to his will, challenged faith in its institutions and changed how America was viewed across the globe. Rarely trying to unite a country divided along lines of race and class, he has often acted as an insurgent against the government he led while undermining the nation’s scientists, bureaucracy and media.
At the White House, more than 100 family members, friends, donors and staff were set to watch returns from the East Room. Mr Trump was watching votes come in upstairs in the residence with a few close aides. Most top campaign officials were monitoring returns from a “war room” set up in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
Mr Biden spent the day campaigning in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he was born, and in Philadelphia with a couple of local stops in Wilmington, Delaware, where he is spending election night.
The president began his day on an upbeat note, predicting that he would do even better than in 2016. But during a midday visit to his campaign headquarters, he spoke in a gravelly, subdued tone.
Mr Trump told reporters: “Winning is easy. Losing is never easy, not for me it’s not.”
Mr Trump left open the possibility of addressing the nation on Tuesday night, even if a winner had not been determined. Mr Biden was also scheduled to give a nighttime speech from Wilmington.
Mr Biden said: “I’m superstitious about predicting what an outcome’s gonna be until it happens … but I’m hopeful. It’s just so uncertain … you can’t think of an election in the recent past where so many states were up for grabs.”
With coronavirus surging, voters ranked the pandemic and the economy as top concerns in the race between Mr Trump and Mr Biden, according to AP VoteCast, a national survey of the electorate.
Voters were especially likely to call the public health crisis the nation’s most important issue, with the economy following close behind. Fewer named healthcare, racism, law enforcement, immigration or climate change
The survey found that Mr Trump’s leadership loomed large in voters’ decision-making. Nearly two-thirds of voters said their vote was about Mr Trump – either for him or against him.
The momentum from early voting carried into election day, as an energised electorate produced long queues at polling sites throughout the country. Voters braved worries of coronavirus, threats of polling place intimidation and expectations of long queues caused by changes to voting systems, but appeared undeterred as turnout appeared it would easily surpass the 139 million ballots cast four years ago.
No major problems arose on Tuesday, outside the typical glitches of a presidential election. Some polling places opened late, robocalls provided false information to voters in Iowa and Michigan, and machines or software malfunctioned in some counties in the battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Texas.
The cybersecurity agency at the Department of Homeland Security said there were no outward signs by midday local time of any malicious activity.
The record-setting early vote – and legal rows over how it would be counted – drew unsupported allegations of fraud from Mr Trump, who had repeatedly refused to guarantee he would honour the election’s result.