Now it’s over to the voters: Trump and Biden cede centre stage to the American public on polling day
Americans will head to the ballot box today to decide between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.
They will select a leader to steer a nation battered by a surging pandemic that has killed more than 230,000 people, cost millions their jobs and reshaped daily life.
Nearly 100 million Americans have voted early and now it falls to election day voters to finish the job, ending a campaign that was reshaped by the coronavirus and defined by tensions over who could best address it.
Each candidate declared the other fundamentally unfit to lead a nation grappling with Covid-19 and facing foundational questions about racial justice and economic fairness.
Mr Biden entered election day with multiple paths to victory while Mr Trump, playing catch-up in a number of battleground states, had a narrower, but still feasible road to clinch 270 Electoral College votes.
Control of the Senate was at stake, too: Democrats need to net three seats if Mr Biden captures the White House to gain control of all of Washington for the first time in a decade. The House was expected to remain under Democratic control.
Voters face long lines and the threat of the virus as they choose between two starkly different visions of America for the next four years. The record-setting early vote — and legal skirmishing over how it will be counted — drew unsupported allegations of fraud from Mr Trump, who refused to guarantee he would honour the election’s result.
Fighting to the end for every vote, Mr Biden was headed to Philadelphia and his native Scranton on Tuesday as part of a closing get-out-the-vote effort before awaiting election results in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.
His running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, was visiting Detroit in the battleground state of Michigan. Both of their spouses were headed out, too, as the Democrats reached for a clear victory.
Mr Trump, after a morning appearance on Fox News, plans to visit his campaign headquarters in Virginia. He invited hundreds of supporters to an election-night party in the East Room of the White House.
The hard-fought campaign left voters on both sides eager to move on.
“I just want it to be done,” said Starlet Holden, a 26-year-old from Queens, New York, who planned to vote for Mr Biden but spoke for many on both sides of the campaign.
On their final full day on the campaign trail, Mr Trump and Mr Biden broke sharply over the mechanics of the vote itself while visiting the most fiercely contested battleground, Pennsylvania.
The president threatened legal action to block the counting of ballots received after election day. If Pennsylvania ballot counting takes several days, as is allowed, Mr Trump claimed without evidence that “cheating can happen like you have never seen”.
In fact, there are roughly 20 states that allow mail-in ballots received after election day to be counted — up to nine days and longer in some states. Litigation has centred on just a few where states have made changes in large part due to coronavirus.
Mr Biden told voters in Pennsylvania that the very fabric of the nation was at stake and offered his own election as the firmest rebuke possible to a president whom he said had spent “four years dividing us at every turn”.
“Tomorrow’s the beginning of a new day. Tomorrow we can put an end to a president that’s left hard-working Americans out in the cold” Mr Biden said in Pittsburgh. “If you elect me as president, I’m gonna act to heal this country.”
Mr Trump argued, at a stop in Wisconsin, that Mr Biden was “not what our country needs”.
For Mr Trump, the election stood as a judgment on his four years in office, a term in which he bent Washington to his will, challenged faith in its institutions and changed how America was viewed across the globe. In a country divided along lines of race and class, he often acted as an insurgent against the very government he led, undercutting its scientists and bureaucracy and doing battle with the media.
The nation braced for what was to come — and a result that might not be known for days.
A new fence was erected around the White House. And in downtowns ranging from New York to Denver to Minneapolis, workers boarded up businesses in case the vote leads to unrest of the sort that broke out earlier this year amid protests over racial inequality.
Just a short walk from the White House, for block after block, stores had their windows and doors covered. Some kept just a front door open, hoping to attract a little business.
Both candidates voted early, but first lady Melania Trump was set to cast her ballot on Tuesday near Mar-a-Lago, the couple’s estate in Palm Beach, Florida.
The candidates blitzed through the battleground states on Monday, with Mr Biden also pushing into Ohio, a state once thought to be safe for Mr Trump. The president, for his part, packed in five rallies, Air Force One streaking across the sky as he drew crowds in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and then back in Michigan again.
His finale stretched past midnight in Grand Rapids, where he had also held his last rally in 2016. It marked the end of an era in American politics, one in part defined by the massive and exuberant gatherings that the president continued to hold despite warnings from his government’s own public health experts to avoid crowds during the pandemic.
The next president will inherit an anxious nation, reeling from a once-in-a-century health crisis that has closed schools and businesses and that is worsening as the weather turns cold.
Mr Trump in Grand Rapids insisted anew that the nation was “rounding the turn” on the virus. But Dr Deborah Birx, the co-ordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, broke with the president and joined a chorus of Trump administration scientists sounding alarm about the current spike in infections.
“We are entering the most concerning and most deadly phase of this pandemic,” Dr Birx wrote in a memo distributed to top administration officials. She added that the nation was not implementing “balanced” measures needed to slow the spread of the virus.
The pandemic has shadowed the campaign, which has largely been a referendum on Mr Trump’s handling of the virus.
The challenge of counting a record-setting early vote added a layer of uncertainty to an election marked by suspicions fuelled by an incumbent who has consistently trailed in the polls.
Mr Trump, in Pennsylvania, zeroed in on the state’s process to count mail-in votes that arrive after election day, vowing that “we’re going in with our lawyers” as soon as the polls close.
He tweeted — without evidence — that “violence in the street” could follow the Supreme Court’s decision to grant an extension to count the votes arriving after Tuesday.
Mr Trump offered himself to voters as the same outsider he first pitched to voters four years ago, insisting he’s still not a politician. Presenting himself as the last barrier protecting an American way of life under siege from radical forces, he repeatedly tried to portray Mr Biden, who is considered a moderate Democrat, as a tool of extreme leftists.
Mr Biden, for his part, cast Mr Trump as an incompetent leader in a time of crisis, trying to connect what he saw as the president’s failures in containing the virus and on other matters to the everyday lives of Americans.
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