WASHINGTON — Joe Biden continued to expand his lead in Pennsylvania, edged ahead in Georgia and is up in Nevada with the fate of the presidency on the line and several closely watched states still counting ballots Friday, almost three days after polls closed.
President Donald Trump needs to win at least four of the five outstanding states — Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, all of which are too close to call, according to NBC News — to secure re-election.
Biden needs to win only Pennsylvania or any combination of two other states.
Trump and his campaign are vowing to fight on even if Biden is declared the winner, saying they are planning for a protracted legal fight across the country focused on Pennsylvania.
"Joe Biden should not wrongfully claim the office of the President," the president tweeted on Friday night. "I could make that claim also. Legal proceedings are just now beginning!"
The Trump camp is hoping to get the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case over whether ballots postmarked by Election Day can be counted up to three days after Election Day and may try to challenge ballots counted before they won a court ruling allowing monitors to be closer to those processing the ballots, a source familiar with their thinking said.
Meanwhile, Democratic challenger Mark Kelly flipped a Senate seat in Arizona in his party's favor, according to NBC News on Friday, but the presidential race in the state remains too close to call. Kelly is outperforming Biden by about 40,000 votes.
Biden aides and Democratic operatives have already begun celebrating, with one top adviser telling NBC News the campaign is "thrilled. Campaign staff are elated and confident."
Democratic staffers took to Twitter to say, "you're fired," cribbing Trump's catchphrase from "The Apprentice," while the campaign's digital director tweeted an image from Star Wars of the Death Star blowing up.
In Pennsylvania, Biden is leading by just over 27,000 votes or one-tenth of a percent, 3,334,451 votes (49.6 percent) to Trump's 3,307,321 (49.2 percent), with 96 percent of the expected vote in. Many of the remaining ballots come from Democratic-leaning areas.
In Nevada, Biden leads by just over 22,000 votes, 632,558 votes (49.8 percent) to Trump's 609,901 votes (48 percent), with 93 percent of the expected vote in.
In Arizona, Biden is up about 30,000 votes, 1,604,067 (49.9 percent) to Trump's 1,574,206 (48.7 percent), with 97 percent of the expected vote in.
Georgia, meanwhile, which will host a Senate runoff election in January, appears headed for a recount with Biden leading narrowly by about 7,200 votes, 2,461,455 (49.4 percent) to Trump's 2,454,207 (49.3 percent) and fewer than 8,000 uncounted ballots.
"There will be a recount in Georgia," Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said at a press conference Friday.
Despite Trump's defiant public posture, some staffers feel deflated, sources said, and worry about the lack of a veteran lawyer at the helm of what will be an uphill legal and public relations battle.
There’s apprehension about a days-long wait for a concession that may never come with one source saying the president will fight "to the last second" and another saying, "There’s no talk of conceding."
As one person close to the White House put it, "Apparently no one’s willing to tell King Lear the truth."
The Biden campaign projected confidence regardless of whether Trump ever concedes or not.
"The American people will decide this election," said Biden spokesperson Andrew Bates. "And the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House."
The unresolved election stoked tensions as voters — who turned out in record numbers — seek resolution of a campaign marked by intensifying polarization and a global pandemic that counts the president among its stricken.
Later Thursday, Trump appeared at the White House in a speech to erroneously claim victory and to repeat a variety of unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. Virtually all the claims Trump made about the state of the race were false.
Trump alleged a vast conspiracy by hundreds of state and local election officials across the country, who he falsely claimed were all Democrats, even though some of them are Republicans he has personally endorsed.
"There's been a lot of shenanigans and we can’t stand for that in our country," Trump said, without offering any specific evidence, adding that he hoped judges would intervene. He took no questions from the press.
In brief remarks Thursday afternoon, Biden said that sometimes democracy is messy and requires patience, but he urged calm and said, "The process is working."
"Each ballot must be counted," he said, standing at a podium flanked by American flags. "We have no doubt that when the count is finished, Sen. Harris and I will be declared the winners."
Officials have long warned that it might take days to have results because of an unprecedented surge in mail-in ballots, which were used to curtail the spread of Covid-19, and that the race was closer than pre-election polls predicted.
"As we've been stating for weeks and months...it's going to take time," said Gabriel Sterling, a top elections official in Georgia. "These close elections require us to be diligent and make sure we do everything right."
Attention shifted to the battle for the Senate, control of which could be determined by a January runoff election in Georgia.
Both of the state's Senate seats were on the ballot this year, and one of them is already headed to a runoff, according to NBC News, while the other may be, too, if Republican Sen. David Perdue stays below the 50 percent threshold needed to win outright under state law.
Purdue was at 49.8 percent of the vote Thursday afternoon, with some votes outstanding from the state's Democratic-leaning cities.
Of the five yet-to-be called states, it's unclear when final results will come.
North Carolina, however, will almost certainly be last to report, because the state accepts mail-in ballots until next week, Nov. 12.
Tensions have been running high with some protests across the country, although so far none of the widespread violence and intimidation some feared has materialized.
Two men were arrested in Philadelphia after police were tipped off about a potential threat against a vote-counting center in the city.
And the top election official in Nevada's largest county told reporters that his office is taking extra security precautions.
"I am concerned for the safety of my staff," Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria told reporters. "We will not allow anyone to stop us from doing what our duty is in counting ballots."
While the Electoral College is all that matters in control of the White House, Biden has a clear and growing lead in the national popular vote of more than 4 million votes and growing.
Still, even if they win the White House, Democrats are just beginning to confront the reality that they came up short further down.
Democrats lost key Senate races and potential control of the chamber with it, although NBC News has not yet made a determination on Senate control, while their House majority was narrowed by unexpected losses.
And in losses that will potentially reverberate for the next 10 years, Democrats came up short in several key state legislative races they were targeting, which would have given them more control over the once-a-decade redistricting process.
"We held the House. Joe Biden is on a clear path to be the next president of the United States," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told members of the House Democratic Caucus on a call Thursday. "This has been a life-or-death fight for the very fate of our democracy. We did not win every battle, but we did win the war."
CORRECTION (Nov. 11, 2020, 11:22 a.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated Joe Biden's lead over President Donald Trump in Pennsylvania. Biden was leading Trump by 27,000 votes, not 27,00 votes.