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Biden strikes a presidential tone as he inches closer to the White House

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Joe Biden moved closer to claiming the White House on Wednesday, winning two key states and sounding a conciliatory note as President Trump continued to press his false assertion that the election was being stolen.

Solemnly appearing before an array of U.S. flags, after first Wisconsin and then Michigan tipped his way, Biden spoke of a historic mandate — the largest popular vote ever — and ignored the chaos Trump has sought to unleash with a flurry of lawsuits and angry tweets.

Joined onstage by his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Biden pledged to “put the harsh rhetoric of the campaign behind us, lower the temperature, see each other again, listen to one another.”

He said the presidency “is not a partisan institution” but “the one office in this nation that represents everyone. It demands a duty to care for all Americans. I will work as hard for those who didn’t vote for me as those who did.”

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Though his reference was clear — Trump has made evident his favor for “red” America over “blue” — Biden invoked the president only to note that his slender victory margin in Wisconsin matched that of Trump’s four years ago.

The president did not respond in kind.

Hours after declaring he had won the election, based on incomplete returns, and saying he would ask the Supreme Court to stop further tabulations, Trump tweeted: “Last night I was leading, often solidly, in many key states, in almost all instances Democrat run & controlled. Then, one by one, they started to magically disappear as surprise ballot dumps were counted.

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“VERY STRANGE,” he said, “and the ‘pollsters’ got it completely & historically wrong!”

It was a remarkable coda to an extraordinary election, waged amid a once-in-a-century pandemic, an economic collapse and the repercussions of the country’s persistent racial inequality.

In an unprecedented attack on the power of citizens to choose their leader, Trump followed up his tweet by joining lawsuits aimed at stopping vote counts in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan, even though there is nothing out of the ordinary about tallying ballots past election day. In fact, it is standard procedure.

Later, his campaign manager, Bill Stepien, declared victory in Pennsylvania, even though hundreds of thousands of votes were still to be counted — the bulk from heavily Democratic Philadelphia.

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Stepien also predicted that Trump would pull out a victory in Arizona — where the president slightly narrowed Biden’s lead early Thursday — and be in a position to be declared the winner of the election by week’s end.

Besides Pennsylvania, three other states remained too close to call: Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina. Alaska, where Trump held a large lead, also had yet to be called. That left Biden with 264 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House. Trump had 214.

If Biden’s election performance fell short of Democrats’ wildest imaginations, which would have included victories in Florida, Ohio and even the Republican redoubt of Texas, it was not an insignificant achievement.

In winning Michigan and Wisconsin, Biden reconstructed two-thirds of the so-called blue wall of Democratic-leaning states that buckled and cost Hillary Clinton the White House in 2016. With Trump’s Pennsylvania lead steadily shrinking, Biden stood a good chance of winning the third state in the wall.

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He also became the second Democratic presidential candidate to win Arizona since 1948 and the most competitive in Georgia since Bill Clinton eked out a victory in 1992. Biden trailed Trump on Wednesday night in Georgia by fewer than 23,000 votes, or 0.5 of a percentage point, with fewer than 100,000 ballots remaining.

The six electoral votes in Nevada, which Clinton narrowly won four years ago, could prove decisive, making Biden the nation’s 46th president.

Though the former vice president leads by fewer than 8,000 votes out of more than 1 million cast, three-quarters of the remaining ballots come from the Democratic stronghold of Clark County, home to Las Vegas. Nevada election officials planned to update vote totals Thursday morning.

As Trump raged against the results, the upheaval some had feared on election day cropped up in tiny pockets around the country.

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In Detroit, hundreds of people swarmed one of the buildings where officials were counting absentee ballots and began screaming when they were denied access because of COVID-19 restrictions.

“Stop the count! Stop the count!” protesters chanted.

In Philadelphia, Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani; the president’s son Eric; and his daughter-in-law, Lara, had planned to announce the campaign’s Pennsylvania lawsuits outside the convention center where election officials were counting — and verifying — more than 350,000 mail ballots.

But they were chased off by dozens of shouting anti-Trump demonstrators and moved their event to an airport, where Giuliani presented no evidence of wrongdoing.

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The efforts by Trump to undermine faith in the election left some in his own party uneasy. Chief among them was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who told reporters in his home state of Kentucky it was customary for all legitimate ballots to be counted.

“Claiming you’ve won the election is different from finishing the counting,” McConnell said.

Bob Bauer, a legal advisor to the Biden campaign, dismissed the presidential call for the Supreme Court to intervene, saying it amounted to arguing that the justices should toss out ballots because they weren’t counted on the president’s timetable. “He will be in for one of the most embarrassing defeats the president ever suffered from the highest court of the land,” Bauer said.

Senate Republicans kept several endangered seats, leaving them favored to retain a majority — and with it power to stymie a Biden administration if he’s president.

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Speaking Wednesday afternoon in his hometown of Wilmington, Del., Biden struck a determined posture above the hurly-burly, as though he’d already become president-elect.

He reiterated his assertions that no one but the voters get to choose who sits in the White House.

“No one is going to take away our democracy from us,” he said at a brief appearance. “Not now. Not ever…. America has endured too much to let that happen.”

And while he was careful to avoid any declaration of victory, Biden noted that he and Harris “were on track to win more votes than any ticket in history” — more than 72 million — topping the record Barack Obama set in 2008.

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Still, his reach for a mandate could come up short.

Even if Biden captures the White House, it seems likely he will have difficulty bringing about much of the agenda — a tax hike on the rich, major spending on infrastructure, bold steps to fight climate change — that he campaigned on.

In a major disappointment for Democrats, they failed in their attempt to flip a half dozen or more Senate seats, leaving the count tied at 48 after Maine Republican Susan Collins won her fifth term and Michigan Democrat Gary Peters won his second. Still to be decided were contests in Alaska and North Carolina, leaning toward the GOP.

There will be at least one January runoff for a Georgia seat; Republican Sen. David Perdue was hoping to fend off a second.

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Democrats also fell short in their bid to boost their House majority and ended up losing seats. That would leave Biden, should be become president, with fewer allies on Capitol Hill.

Barabak reported from San Francisco, Halper from Washington and Mason from Wilmington. Times staff writers Chris Megerian and Eli Stokols in Washington, Michael Finnegan in Philadelphia, Jenny Jarvie in Atlanta and Seema Mehta in Detroit contributed to this report.


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