United States President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden were locked in tight races in battleground states across the country early on Wednesday as they concluded an epic campaign that will shape the country's response to the surging pandemic and foundational questions of economic fairness and racial justice.
Trump won the key battlegrounds of Florida and Ohio, while Biden picked up Minnesota and New Hampshire, a pair of modest prizes that the president tried to steal from the Democrats.
The president, by early Wednesday, had retained many states he won in 2016 and, as long predicted, the race in part seemed to rest on the three northern industrial states where Trump most surprised the Democrats four years ago: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
The president kept several states, including Texas, Iowa and Ohio, where Biden had made a strong play in the final stages of the campaign. But Biden also picked off states where Trump sought to compete, including New Hampshire and Minnesota. Florida was one of the biggest, most fiercely contested battlegrounds on the map, with the two campaigns vying over its 29 electoral college votes, which ultimately went to Trump.
By press time, neither candidate had the 270 electoral college votes needed to win, and it was possible the winner might not be known for days. A late burst of votes in Wisconsin from Milwaukee gave Biden a small lead.
Trump made unsubstantiated claims that he had won the election and threatened to take his case to the Supreme Court to stop states from continuing to count votes. It was unclear exactly what legal action he might try to pursue.
Biden, briefly appearing in front of supporters in Delaware, urged patience, saying the election "isn't over until every vote is counted, every ballot is counted".
Biden's campaign said it will fight any efforts by Trump's campaign to go to the U.S. Supreme Court to prevent ballots from being tabulated.
In a statement sent before 4 am on Wednesday, Biden campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon called Trump's statement that he will "be going to the U.S. Supreme Court" and that he wants "all voting to stop" "outrageous, unprecedented and incorrect".
O'Malley Dillon said the Biden campaign has "legal teams standing by ready to deploy to resist that effort".And she said, "They will prevail."
Vote tabulations routinely continue beyond Election Day, and states largely set the rules for when the count has to end. In presidential elections, a key point is the date in December when presidential electors meet. That's set by federal law.
Several states allow mailed-in votes to be accepted after Election Day, as long as they were postmarked by Tuesday. That includes Pennsylvania, where ballots postmarked by Nov 3 can be accepted if they arrive up to three days after the election.
Millions of voters braved their worries about COVID-19－and some long lines－to turn out in person, joining 102 million U.S. citizens who voted days or weeks earlier, a record number that represented 73 percent of the total vote in the 2016 presidential election.
Early results in several key battleground states were in flux as election officials processed a historically large number of mail-in votes.
Control of Senate at stake
Control of the Senate was at stake, too: Democrats needed to net three seats if Biden captured 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 reelection in an early victory for the Republicans, and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close Trump ally, fought off a fierce challenge to hang onto his seat.
Currently, the Democrats hold a 232-197 majority in the lower chamber, while Republicans hold a 53-47 seat majority in the Senate.
Considering how divided the country has been, the election for the most part went off mostly peacefully. Concerns about violence in major cities, many of which saw stores boarded up, did not materialize on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday the U.S. formally left the United Nations Paris climate agreement, a global pact forged five years ago to avert the threat of catastrophic climate change.
Agencies, Heng Weiliin New York and Zhao Huanxinin Washington contributed to this story.