Trump leads in Florida, inches closer to second-term

Empty boxes from Milwaukee's voting wards are seen the night of Election Day as absentee ballots are counted at Milwaukee Central Count in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.

President Donald Trump won Florida’s battleground and took the lead over Democratic opponent Joe Biden in other U.S. swing states on Tuesday. Still, Biden voiced faith he would win the election by winning three key Rust Belt states.

Biden’s hopes for an inevitable early defeat of Trump faded as television networks projected the president won in Florida, a must-win state for Trump important to his chances, and took leads in Georgia, Ohio and Texas.

Biden, 77, was eyeing the so-called “blue wall” states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania that sent Trump, 74, to the White House in 2016 for potential breakthroughs, although vote counting could stretch for hours or days there.

Trump held early leads in those three states, but much of that was built on Republican-heavy Election Day voting. The counting of Democratic-heavy mail-in ballots in all three countries was expected to take hours or days. In Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and much of Michigan, mail-in ballots were not processed until Election Day.

“We feel good about where we are,” Biden told supporters in his home state of Delaware, shouting over a din of motorists in a crowd of cars honking their horns in approval. “We believe we’re on track to win this election.”

Winning those three states would be enough to give Biden an Electoral College victory. Fox News projected Biden would win Arizona, another state that voted for Trump in 2016, giving him more options to get to 270 Electoral College votes.

In Pennsylvania, of the 4.5 million votes counted so far, only 750,000 are absentee votes, or just 17%. According to Edison Research, more than 2.4 million early ballots were cast in the state, of which nearly 1.6 million were by Democrats and about 555,000 by Republicans.

Even without Pennsylvania, Biden victories in Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin, and a congressional district in either Maine or Nebraska, which apportion their electoral votes by district, would put him in the White House long as he also holds the states that Trump lost in 2016.

“We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the election. We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after the Polls are closed!” Trump said on Twitter, which swiftly tagged the tweet as possibly misleading.

Trump repeatedly has and without evidence suggested that an increase in mail-in voting will lead to a rise in fraud, although election experts say that imitation is rare. Mail-in ballots are a long-standing feature of American elections.

Supporters of both candidates 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 jobless, racial tensions and political polarization that has only worsened during a vitriolic campaign.

Trump monitored election returns with members of his family in the living room of the White House residence. Going in and out of the place where first lady Melania Trump, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his daughter Ivanka among others. “He’s calm, chilling,” said a source familiar with the scene.

A senior Trump aide, watching returns at the White House, described the mood there in a text: “Good. But nervous”

In the East Room of the White House, where 200 Trump supporters were having drinks and eating chicken fingers, sliders and cookies, cheers broke out when Fox News called Florida for Trump, said a room source.

“The place just erupted,” said the source, who said the mood was both “extraordinarily positive” and “cautiously optimistic.” “Everyone started cheering.”

Voters were also to decide which political party controls the U.S. Congress for the next two years, with Democrats narrowly favored to recapture a Senate majority and retain control of the House of Representatives.

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