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Trump watches returns at the White House as aides claim confidence

President Trump speaks at the Trump campaign headquarters Tuesday in Arlington, Va.
(Associated Press)

As Americans waited to resolve an election still up for grabs early Wednesday, a defiant President Trump falsely claimed he had insurmountable leads over Joe Biden and that he would ask the Supreme Court to stop the counting of ballots.

Appearing in the White House East Room at 2:20 a.m., Trump claimed — falsely — that his opponents were “trying to disenfranchise” millions of his voters.

Trump offered no evidence for his claims of “fraud on the American people,” and it wasn’t immediately clear if he had grounds to appeal to the Supreme Court to stop the counting of legal ballots in numerous states.

“We were winning everything, and all the sudden it was just called off,” Trump said, flanked by his wife, Melania, Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen Pence.

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“As far as I’m concerned, I already have won it,” he said.

Trump’s claims were exactly the scenario many had feared, a president who often ignores democratic norms and facts seeking to undermine the legitimacy of the election in a country that is already sharply divided over his leadership.

Trump was not leading in some of the states he listed, and ballot counts have yet to be completed in some he claimed were his — including the “blue wall” states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, on which the election appeared to hinge. All three states have yet to count millions of early votes, which are expected to tilt heavily toward Biden.

The conspiratorial remarks seemed geared at galvanizing his supporters — after suggesting recently that they might become violent in recent days — in what turned into an extremely tight race for electoral votes.

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It routinely takes days — and sometimes weeks — to count all the ballots in presidential elections. Trump, railing against Democratic attempts to accept mail-in ballots, pointed to early leads he has in some states to make his false claims.

“This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election,” he said.

Trump and his aides were initially buoyed Tuesday night as he watched early election returns at the White House that showed him with a potential path to victory against Joe Biden, defying polls that suggested a runaway.

Although most battleground states were still too close to call at midnight, Trump appeared to have held most if not all of the South, putting him in contention for another possible upset victory when all the votes are tallied.

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“Folks are pumped,” said Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, who joined about 200 Trump aides and supporters in the White House East Room. A lectern, and multiple U.S. flags arranged in a backdrop, stood at the front.

“Feeling very, very good,” said Jason Miller, a close campaign advisor, said on NBC.

Trump’s risky strategy, holding dozens of large rallies in the midst of a pandemic, appeared to help him drive up turnout among his supporters, even if it defied public health guidelines and sickened many of them.

Trump made a brief appearance in the East Room earlier in the night but remained mostly in the White House residence, watching returns come in with members of his family, campaign aides, and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

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In the East Room, a restive gathering of administration loyalists and cabinet members — including former Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and former counselor Kellyanne Conway — alternately cheered and booed at Fox News television coverage and lingered around the White House campus.

An aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity, described the campaign’s mood as “upbeat” after taking the lead in three hotly contested states — Florida, North Carolina and Georgia — made clear “it wasn’t a wave election” for Democrats.

“But there’s still a lot of nail-biting,” the aide said, since Biden could still recapture the Democratic “blue wall” states — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — that fueled Trump’s victory in 2016.

Combined with a win in Arizona, that offered Biden a potential path to the presidency.

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During a midday visit to his election headquarters in Arlington, Va., Trump sounded hoarse and exhausted from a grueling marathon of rallies in the last week. He acknowledged that he might lose.

“I’m not thinking about [a] concession speech or acceptance speech yet,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll be only doing one of those two. And you know, winning is easy, losing is never easy — not for me, it’s not.”

Trump otherwise stayed in the White House and issued more unfounded accusations of voter fraud in Pennsylvania. The state was not expected to count its mail-in ballots, which are expected to favor Democrats, until at least Wednesday.

Trump’s complaints about Pennsylvania, and a lawsuit filed by his campaign aimed at stopping ballot counting in Nevada, signaled his determination to litigate his way to victory in court if he is behind and election returns appears close.

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The strategy fits Trump’s longtime credo to fight to the bitter end and claim the system is rigged if he loses.

On election day, pro-democracy groups were on the lookout for voter intimidation. For the most part, they haven’t found it.

Trump has signaled his nervousness about the voting in Pennsylvania for several days, repeatedly criticizing a recent Supreme Court decision to allow counting of properly postmarked mail-in ballots that arrive after Tuesday.

In a tweet Monday, he argued that counting ballots past Tuesday night would “induce violence in the streets.” Calling it misleading, Twitter slapped a warning on the president’s tweet and prevented his followers from liking or retweeting it.

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Courts have so far allowed Pennsylvania to count ballots postmarked on time if they arrive up to three days after election day, which is in line with many other states.

Trump’s campaign also filed an emergency motion in Nevada state court Tuesday, demanding a halt to the processing of mail ballots in the state’s most populous county, home to Las Vegas and Democratic-leaning unions.

It claimed the Clark County registrar was allegedly prohibiting observers from watching and using a machine to verify signatures in the county, and argued that the process is “ripe for error or abuse.”

Republican presidential candidates long had Florida’s Duval County as a dependable source of votes. But this once ruby red county is now a battleground.

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