Supporters of US presidential candidate Joe Biden celebrate near the White House in Washington, DC, on November 6, 2020. Photo: AFP

Democrat Joe Biden was on the brink of winning the White House on Friday after taking the lead in the potentially decisive state of Pennsylvania but President Donald Trump showed no signs of being ready to concede and his campaign insisted the bitterly contested race is “not over.”

Pennsylvania, and its 20 electoral votes, would be enough to vault the 77-year-old Biden past the magic number of 270 votes in the Electoral College, which determines the presidency.

With some 40,000 votes remaining to be counted in Pennsylvania, many from heavily Democratic areas, Biden opened up a 12,400-vote lead over the Republican incumbent, according to real-time state election results.

Biden currently has at least 253 electoral votes and is leading in three other states – Arizona, Georgia and Nevada — where ballots from Tuesday’s election continue to be counted.

The Biden campaign said the former vice president would deliver an address to the nation Friday evening, from his home city of Wilmington, Delaware.

“It is clear that the Biden-Harris ticket will win the White House,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a reference to the Democratic nominee and his running mate Senator Kamala Harris, the first black woman on a major party ticket.

Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, welcomed what she called the “strong mandate” given to “President-elect Biden” and called him a unifier who will “bring people together.”

While his reelection hopes may be fading, Trump, 74, was making it clear that he is not ready to accept defeat, launching unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud during an extraordinary White House appearance on Thursday and claiming that he had actually won.

“This election is not over,” the Trump campaign’s general counsel Matt Morgan said after news of Biden’s lead in Pennsylvania broke.

“The false projection of Joe Biden as the winner is based on results in four states that are far from final,” Morgan said in a statement. “President Trump will be re-elected.” 

Morgan alleged there had been “improperly cast” ballots in Georgia, where a recount was expected, and Nevada and claimed Republican vote-counting observers had been denied access in Pennsylvania.

The Biden campaign fired back at the Trump campaign’s refusal to admit defeat with a statement tinged with sarcasm.

“As we said on July 19th, the American people will decide this election,” it said. “And the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.”

Secret Service protection

With a Biden victory looking increasingly likely, the US Secret Service increased its protective bubble around the former vice president, sending an extra squad of agents to his campaign headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, The Washington Post reported Friday.

At the White House on Thursday, Trump spent nearly 17 minutes making incendiary statements about the country’s democratic process of a sort never before heard from a US president.

According to Trump, Democrats were using “illegal votes” to “steal the election.” 

“If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” he claimed. “They’re trying to rig an election. And we can’t let that happen.”

With Trump refusing to concede defeat, there were growing concerns of the potential for unrest in the increasingly tense nation and attention was focused on the reaction of members of his Republican Party.

Several prominent Republicans rallied behind the president and signalled they could challenge the legitimacy of the results if he loses.

“Far from over,” tweeted Representative Kevin McCarthy, the leader of the Republican minority in the House. “Republicans will not back down from this battle.”

“I think everything should be on the table,” Senator Lindsey Graham said when asked by Fox News host and Trump loyalist Sean Hannity if Pennsylvania’s Republican-led legislature should refuse to certify results.

“Philadelphia elections are crooked as a snake,” Graham said.

Another Trump ally, Senator Ted Cruz, told Hannity: “I’ll tell you the president is angry and I’m angry and the voters ought to be angry.”

Cruz alleged falsely that Pennsylvania’s Democratic attorney general had ordered vote-counting in the state’s largest city of Philadelphia to continue “until Joe Biden wins.”

‘Dangerous and wrong’

Other top Republicans denounced Trump’s comments including Utah Senator Mitt Romney, the only Republican member of the Senate to vote to convict the president at his impeachment trial earlier this year.

“The president is within his rights to request recounts, to call for investigation of alleged irregularities where evidence exists,” Romney said in a statement.

“He is wrong to say that the election was rigged, corrupt and stolen – doing so damages the cause of freedom here and around the world, weakens the institutions that lie at the foundation of the Republic, and recklessly inflames destructive and dangerous passions.”

Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania also distanced himself from the president’s comments.

“The president’s allegations of large-scale fraud and theft of the election are just not substantiated,” Toomey told the Today show. “I’m not aware of any significant wrongdoing here.”

Powerful Senate Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell had a nuanced statement. 

“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.”

Much of the Trump campaign’s ire has been focused on the huge number of mail-in ballots this year, which were not counted in Pennsylvania until after election day and have swung the vote there in Biden’s favor.

Mail-in ballots have tended to tilt heavily to Democrats, who used them more than Republicans out of fear of risking exposure to Covid-19 in crowded polling stations.

Besides Pennsylvania, Biden has also pulled ahead of Trump in the once reliably Republican state of Georgia, taking a lead of about 1,500 votes.

Biden has a 43,700-vote lead in Arizona, which Trump won in 2016, and a 20,500-vote lead in Nevada. 

Wins in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania would give Biden 306 of the 538 Electoral College votes – the exact number won by Trump in his upset victory over Hillary Clinton.