Trump outperforms the polls, and a divided nation awaits Rust Belt to settle election
GOP chances of holding Senate improve in a topsy-turvy election where legal challenges loom.
President Trump took the electoral prizes of Florida and Ohio and made a strong showing in several battleground states, while Joe Biden flipped Arizona blue as a deeply divided nation waited Wednesday morning for key races in the Rust Belt and South to determine the next occupant of the White House.
Republicans were buoyed by both Trump's stronger than expected performance and the growing possibility of retaining a majority in the Senate after a key win in Iowa, a pickup in Alabama and early leads in Maine, Georgia and Michigan.
Democrats comfortably kept control of the House and flipped at least one former GOP Senate seat, in Colorado, with prospects of picking up a second, in Arizona.
With a map closely divided by electoral counts, the campaigns and their lawyers were armed for the potential of a disputed election that would throw the final tally to the courts, evoking memories of the hanging election from 2000. But this time, Florida was decisively decided in Trump's favor, and Pennsylvania — and possibly urban areas in North Carolina and Georgia — were poised to become the ground zero for disputes.
One major lawsuit was already filed in Pennsylvania.
Biden made an early morning appearance in his home state of Delaware expressing confidence he could pull out a narrow electoral victory, though he trailed at the end of Tuesday night in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
"Keep the faith, guys. We're gonna win this," Biden said, as he looked to make up ground with urban votes in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, where the president finished Tuesday night with healthy leads. However, by Wednesday morning, Biden was leading in Wisconsin by about 1 percentage point.
"Count every vote," he added.
The Democrat appeared poised to win Arizona, while Trump clung to narrow leads in Georgia and North Carolina in a presidential race that pollsters once portrayed as a potential blue wave driven by a desire for change. Trump's performance erased those wishes.
The president made his first post-election sentiments known on his favorite medium, Twitter, where he declared early Wednesday morning that he was happy with his showing and would fight efforts by Democrats to flip vote totals in states where he led on Tuesday night.
"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 wrote in a tweet that Twitter immediately flagged as "disputed."
Whatever the case, an election that many media elites predicted would be an outcry for change was transformed by Trump's late flurry of campaigning that tightened races across the map and kept a real possibility of a status quo outcome on the board.
Democratic hopes of a major presidential surprise in Florida, Ohio and Texas fizzled with decisive Trump wins, and Biden was left to scramble for a comeback win in the once-reliable Democratic strongholds of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, where Trump had strong early leads as of midnight on Election Day.
Voting was mostly peaceful, though law enforcement in many major cities braced for the potential of post-election turbulence.