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Biden claims mandate as he stops short of declaring victory in presidential race

Joe Biden gestures with both hands as he speaks at a lectern with Kamala Harris, wearing a mask, standing nearby.
Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks Friday in Wilmington, Del., as his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, listens.
(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

Joe Biden delivered a just-shy-of-victory speech Friday as he moved closer to winning the White House, claiming a mandate for change and promising to bring the country together after one of the most scathing and divisive presidential elections in modern times.

Sounding familiar themes, the Democrat said it was time to leave the differences of the past months behind and begin working to address crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and its stark economic fallout.

“We don’t have any more time to waste on partisan warfare,” Biden said in a late-night appearance in his hometown of Wilmington, Del., on a day that saw him grabbing leads in Georgia and Pennsylvania, either of which would provide enough electoral votes to make him president.

Appearing with his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, standing silently onstage, Biden cited the breadth of their victory — a record 75 million votes and counting — and the states they carried in all corners of the country.

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Voters, he said, “chose change over more of the same. They have given us a mandate for action on COVID, the economy, climate change, systemic racism.”

Biden drew a contrast with President Trump by promising to lower the temperature of political debate and work even for those who voted against the Democratic ticket.

“At least we can agree to be civil with one another,” the former vice president said, “put the anger and the demonization behind us.”

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Even as the country awaits the outcome, Biden said he and Harris were looking ahead — receiving briefings on the economy and the pandemic, which he described as “getting more worrisome all across the country.”

“We are not waiting to get to work,” he said.

In what has become a ritual since the election process pushed past Tuesday, Biden again urged calm and patience as the vote counting spills into the weekend.

In a rejoinder to the president, who has gone to court to halt the tabulations, Biden said: “I don’t care how hard people try to stop it. I will not let it happen.”

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Biden stopped notably short of declaring victory, though he hinted that he expected to do so soon — perhaps Saturday.

“We don’t have a final declaration of victory yet, but the numbers tell us a clear and convincing story,” Biden said. “We’re going to win this race.

“I hope to be talking to you tomorrow,” he said, before leaving the stage after speaking for just about seven minutes.

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Biden, making his third try for president, has secured 264 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win. Along with Georgia and Pennsylvania, he is also ahead in Nevada — another of the undecided states — where his lead expanded Friday. Combined, those states offer 42 electoral votes.

But President Trump showed no signs of conceding defeat.

“Joe Biden should not wrongfully claim the office of the President. I could make that claim also,” tweeted Trump, who had done exactly that in the early hours Wednesday. “Legal proceedings are just now beginning!”

Republican lawyers went to the Supreme Court seeking an order that would “segregate” late-arriving mail ballots and prevent them from being counted, even though Pennsylvania’s secretary of state had already issued an order to do that. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who handles emergency appeals for the region, approved the request maintaining the status quo.

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Either way, with Biden ahead by nearly 30,000 votes, those ballots were not likely to change the outcome. Pennsylvania still has tens of thousands of ballots left to count, but the bulk of them come from parts of the state that heavily favored Biden, making it unlikely Trump will reclaim the lead.

In fact, the greatest suspense Friday was whether the Associated Press or any of the television networks would officially call the race for Biden, which, though having no legal force, would set about the informal transition to power.

Anticipating a celebration, hundreds of supporters gathered outside Chase Center in Wilmington, which has served as the campaign’s unofficial soundstage, planning to party on the banks of the Christina River on an unseasonably warm evening.

Instead, after repeated delays, Biden and Harris made their short appearance indoors.

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By then, the crowd had dwindled to a couple of dozen die-hards who honked and cheered as the Democrats’ motorcade passed by.

Meantime, in counting centers around the country, the labor of establishing a winner and putting the election in the books ground on.

In Georgia, where Biden was ahead by about 4,000 votes out of nearly 5 million cast, state officials said there would probably be a recount.

If Biden hangs onto his leads, he would end up with 306 electoral college votes, the same number Trump won in 2016 — which Kellyanne Conway, a Trump strategist, described on Twitter at the time as: “Landslide. Blowout. Historic.”

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In addition, Biden is on track to win with a significant majority of the popular vote, probably a margin of about 5 percentage points over the president. In 2016, Trump lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The presidential race is coming down to the wire. What are the recount rules in Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan?

As Biden noted, winning Pennsylvania along with Wisconsin and Michigan would be the fulfillment of a Democratic mission that began with Clinton’s defeat: rebuilding the “blue wall” of traditionally Democratic states in the industrial Midwest that Trump demolished in 2016. His victories that year, by fewer than 80,000 votes across the three states, gave Trump his electoral college victory.

But Biden noted it was likely he would do more than just reclaim lost ground. Wins in Georgia and Arizona, two traditional GOP strongholds, would be a significant encroachment in the Republican-leaning Sun Belt.

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Although Biden’s lead in Arizona continued to erode Friday, to just under 30,000 votes, Trump did not appear to be on a path to overtaking his rival.

Biden supporter Ron Russ walks through a crowd of Trump supporters in Phoenix.
Biden supporter Ron Russ walks through a crowd of hundreds of pro-Trump protesters gathered in the parking lot of the Maricopa County elections building in Phoenix on Friday.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

A victory in Arizona, which Democrats last carried in 1996, would be the fruit of the party’s appeal to the state’s growing Latino population, even as Biden fell short of expectations among that diverse voting bloc in Florida and Texas.

A victory in Georgia, home state of the late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, would be an important breakthrough for Democrats hoping to make inroads in a changing South and a testament to the strong support Biden has received from Black voters.

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The vote counting proceeded despite the Trump campaign’s multiple legal maneuvers and the president’s baseless claims of vote fraud.

On average, polls in 2020 are slightly more accurate than normal, on track to be off by about 3 to 4 points nationwide. But accuracy varied a lot by state.

Many in his own party cast doubt on those efforts.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Friday morning issued a carefully worded statement on Twitter that did not openly challenge Trump but fell short of a full-throated endorsement.

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“Here’s how this must work in our great country: Every legal vote should be counted,” McConnell said. “Any illegally-submitted ballots must not. All sides must get to observe the process. And the courts are here to apply the laws & resolve disputes. That’s how Americans’ votes decide the result.”

Republican Pennsylvania Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, in an interview on CBS, defended the integrity of his state’s vote count.

“I am not aware of any significant fraud, any significant wrongdoing,” Toomey said. “If it’s happened, then the evidence needs to come out, we need to go to court, we need to punish the wrongdoers, we need to redress whatever went wrong. But I’m not aware of any such evidence.”

Philadelphia’s mayor pushed back more emphatically Friday.

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“I think what the president needs to do is, frankly, put his big-boy pants on,” Mayor Jim Kenney said at a news briefing at the city’s ballot counting center. “He needs to acknowledge the fact that he lost, and he needs to congratulate the winner, just as Jimmy Carter did, just as George H.W. Bush did and, frankly, just as Al Gore did, and stop this and let us move forward as a country.”

Hundreds of police officers stood guard in Philadelphia as scores of anti-Trump protesters gathered outside the convention center where election workers were counting ballots. A white “Count Every Vote” banner spanned the street in front of the Reading Terminal Market.

The count was a slow process, with each ballot needing to be removed from two envelopes, unfolded and scanned, and the eligibility of every voter checked.

In many states, those preliminary steps are done before election day, but in Pennsylvania, Republican legislators blocked efforts to change the law to allow processing of the ballots in advance, setting the stage for the long count that Trump and his supporters are now attacking.

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Justin Clark, Trump’s deputy campaign manager, claimed Democrats were blocking the president’s observers and counting ballots “with zero transparency.”

But Al Schmidt, the Republican on the three-member Philadelphia election commission, told CNN on Friday that Republican observers had been there nonstop.

Barabak reported from San Francisco, Mason from Wilmington and Hook from Washington. Times staff writers Michael Finnegan in Philadelphia, Chris Megerian in Washington and Brittny Mejia in Las Vegas contributed to this report.


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