WILMINGTON, Del. — Joseph R. Biden Jr. stood on the cusp of the presidency on Friday, seizing a lead over President Trump in both Pennsylvania and Georgia and building on his lead in Nevada as he drew ever closer to securing the 270 electoral votes needed to lay claim to the White House.
Mr. Biden, who was winning the popular vote by more than four million votes and has already won 253 electoral votes, pulled ahead of Mr. Trump in Pennsylvania by about 9,000 votes on Friday morning. If his lead holds — and it is expected to — the state’s 20 electoral votes would vault him past the threshold to win the election. In Georgia, his lead was so narrow that state officials said a recount was inevitable.
In Arizona, Mr. Biden maintained his lead as election officials continued to plow through tens of thousands of ballots from Phoenix and its sprawling suburbs. His advantage shrank slightly, but not by as much as Republicans had hoped. In Nevada, Mr. Biden nearly doubled his lead Friday to around 20,000 votes.
Mr. Biden had already begun to project the image of a man preparing to assume the mantle of office on Thursday, meeting with his economic and health advisers to be briefed on the coronavirus pandemic. He also urged the public on Thursday to show a “little patience” as the vote counting in battleground states continued.
“Democracy is sometimes messy,” he said. “It sometimes requires a little patience as well. But that patience has been rewarded now for more than 240 years with a system of governance that’s been the envy of the world.”
Mr. Biden planned to make an address Friday during prime time, a campaign official said. He kept a low profile Friday morning. But outside the Westin Hotel near his home in Wilmington, signs of celebration were afoot. Someone passed out Biden-Harris signs and attached them to a security barrier near a stage bedecked with American flags where Mr. Biden was expected to speak.
Thomas Kunish, 40, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., 100 miles away, said he had driven in to show support with his five-year-old son, spending the night in the car. The last time he voted, he said, was for George W. Bush in 2000.
“It was interesting, the past four years,” Mr. Kunish, who works in the defense industry, said of Mr. Trump’s presidency. “There was hope when he got elected, things maybe would change?” Instead, he said, the Trump administration was marked by “turmoil.” He and his son were hoping to see fireworks Friday night.
Mr. Biden’s appeal to let the process play out contrasted with that of Mr. Trump, who took the lectern in the White House briefing room to falsely claim that the election was riddled with fraud, as part of an elaborate coast-to-coast conspiracy by Democrats, the news media and Silicon Valley to deny him a second term.
As the number of outstanding ballots slowly dwindled, Mr. Trump was left increasingly with only legal challenges to forestall defeat, while Mr. Biden was betting on the steady accumulation of mail-in ballots to keep him on top in Pennsylvania.
Mr. Biden’s wins in the Midwestern battleground states of Michigan and Wisconsin put him in a strong position, with multiple paths to victory, depending on what happens in the states yet to be called. Mr. Trump needed a victory in Pennsylvania.
The process was agonizing for partisans on both sides, though for the most part, fears of widespread unrest did not materialize. Officials reported few instances of problems with the voting-counting process.
The candidates’ differing reactions hinted at how they are likely to handle the coming days and weeks as the counting gives way to legal challenges, calls for recounts and a potentially turbulent transition.
Mr. Biden’s pivot to policy issues seemed intended to create an air of inevitability about his victory. His briefing on the pandemic was a reminder that the United States reported a record 121,200 new infections on Thursday.
PHILADELPHIA — Joseph R. Biden Jr. took the lead over President Trump in Pennsylvania on Friday morning as Democrats grew increasingly confident that he would win the state and with it the presidency: The state’s 20 electoral votes would put Mr. Biden, who has 253 electoral votes, past the threshold for victory.
By late Friday morning, after more votes were counted from Philadelphia and other counties that have supported Mr. Biden, he led Mr. Trump by more than 9,700 votes.
Mr. Biden had steadily erased Mr. Trump’s early lead in the state — at one point, the president led by half a million votes — as ballots, mostly absentee and mail-in votes, were counted over the past few days. Most of the remaining uncounted votes in the state are in Democratic-leaning areas.
The “overwhelming majority” of the state’s remaining votes will be counted by Friday, Kathy Boockvar, the Pennsylvania secretary of state, told CNN, adding that the voter counters were “working incredibly hard.”
On Thursday, Pennsylvania Democratic officials said their analysis of the uncounted votes gave them confidence that Mr. Biden would win the state by a substantial margin.
“We believe when the votes are counted, it’s pretty clear that Joe Biden’s going to be president of the United States, because he’s going to win Pennsylvania,” said State Senator Sharif Street, the vice chair of the state Democratic Party.
As vote counting at Philadelphia’s convention center continued Thursday night, two men with guns were arrested nearby after officers received a tip that armed people were driving to the building in a Hummer. A local news station aired footage of decals on the Hummer and a hat inside that seemed to reference QAnon, the baseless conspiracy theory that a clique of pedophiles are plotting against Mr. Trump. The police would not comment on the men’s motives.
Mr. Trump has baselessly insisted that post-Election Day tallies showing Mr. Biden leading in battleground states, including Pennsylvania, were the result of fraud, and has vowed to challenge them in court. His campaign showed no sign of an imminent concession Friday morning.
“The false projection of Joe Biden as the winner is based on results in four states that are far from final,” a lawyer for the Trump campaign said in a statement.
Andrew Bates, a spokesman for the Biden campaign, said that if Mr. Biden won the election and Mr. Trump refused to concede, “The United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.”
Joseph R. Biden Jr. widened his lead over President Trump in Nevada on Friday from about 11,000 votes to about 20,500, and moved closer to victory there, as his advantage over Mr. Trump grew to nearly two percentage points.
Nevada has six electoral votes and its entire Election Day vote has been counted; the late mail and provisional ballots that remain lean Democratic. About 9 percent of the state’s votes have yet to be tabulated.
Final results might not be made public until Saturday or Sunday, elections officials have said.
The Trump campaign has already identified Nevada, which allows any losing candidate to request a recount, as one of the battleground states where it hopes to use the courts and procedural maneuvers to stave off defeat in the Electoral College. Less than 24 hours before Election Day, a Nevada judge rejected a lawsuit filed by Republicans who had tried to stop early vote counting in Clark County.
Since Mrs. Clinton beat Mr. Trump in Nevada by 2.4 percentage points in 2016, the state has turned a deeper shade of blue, with Democrats controlling the governor’s office and legislature, both Senate seats and all but one House seat. It was not widely expected to be a battleground state this year.
But while recent polls consistently showed Mr. Biden ahead of Mr. Trump in Nevada, Democrats worried that the pandemic would make it difficult to create a robust election turnout operation. The state has reported more than 104,000 coronavirus cases.
ATLANTA — As former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. took a narrow lead over President Trump in Georgia, Georgia’s secretary of state said Friday that the presidential race there was so close that a recount was inevitable.
As of late Friday morning, Mr. Biden led Mr. Trump in Georgia by about 1,600 votes.
“With a margin that small, there will be a recount in Georgia,” the secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, said Friday morning at the state Capitol.
He added: “The final tally in Georgia at this point has huge implications for the entire country. The stakes are high and emotions are high on all sides. We will not let those debates distract us from our work. We will get it right, and we will defend the integrity of our elections.”
Gabriel Sterling, an official with the secretary of state’s office, said that a pool of about 4,200 ballots — most of them absentee ballots — remained to be tallied in four counties: Gwinnett, Cobb, Cherokee and Floyd. The largest tranche to be counted was in Gwinnett County, which contains Atlanta suburban communities and has gone from leaning Republican to leaning Democratic in recent years.
The state must also deal with ballots from military and overseas voters, which will be counted if they arrive in the mail before the end of business Friday and were postmarked by Tuesday.
Mr. Sterling said that the unofficial tally of the votes could be completed by the end of the weekend.
Flipping Georgia, a state last won by a Democrat in 1992, and where Mr. Trump won by more than 200,000 votes four years ago, would represent a significant political shift this year, but the state has shown signs of trending blue. When Mr. Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016, he did so by five percentage points, a far slimmer margin than Republicans had enjoyed in previous presidential elections.
Mr. Biden’s late surge in this year’s count, thanks to his dominance in Atlanta, Savannah and the increasingly Democratic-friendly suburbs around both, transformed the competition in a traditionally Republican-leaning state into one of the closest contests in the nation.
As the count narrowed and it appeared that the two candidates would be separated by the slimmest of margins, Democrats urged voters in the state to fix ballots that had been rejected because of invalid or missing signatures before the deadline on Friday evening.
Those who voted absentee — a group that this year has been heavily Democratic — can check online to see whether election officials have accepted or rejected their ballots. Absentee ballots are often rejected when the voter forgets to sign or uses a signature that does not match the one on file with the state, in some cases because the filed signature is many years old. Election officials are supposed to contact voters in such cases but are not always able to do so.
Voters have until 5 p.m. on Friday to submit an affidavit form to “cure” such ballots. With Georgia hanging in the balance as the last votes are counted, national Democrats — including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York — are amplifying the message in hopes of salvaging every vote possible.
With control of the Senate hanging in the balance, Republicans and Democrats began positioning themselves on Friday for a pair of high-stakes January Senate runoffs in Georgia that could serve as a referendum to cement or upend the results of Tuesday’s election, even as one of the races remained uncalled.
Senator David Perdue, a Republican, was narrowly leading his Democratic opponent, Jon Ossoff, in the uncalled race. But as protracted counting dragged on, he fell below the 50 percent threshold needed to win outright. He was not expected to clear that bar with many of the remaining votes coming from Democratic counties.
Georgia’s special Senate election has been destined for a runoff since Tuesday, when the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, and Senator Kelly Loeffler, a Republican, emerged as the top two vote-getters in a crowded field vying to replace the retired Senator Johnny Isakson.
Democrats would need to win both seats on Jan. 5 — a steep task in a state with deep conservative roots — to draw the Senate to a 50-50 tie, but they were riding a wave of liberal enthusiasm and demographic change that appeared poised to deliver victory in Georgia to a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since 1992.
If Joseph R. Biden Jr. prevails in winning the White House, his vice president could cast tiebreaking votes to give the party de facto control.
Facing such extraordinarily high stakes, both parties were quickly preparing themselves for a nine-week year-end sprint that some estimated could ultimately cost at least another $100 million and put Georgia at the center of the nation’s political fray just two weeks before Inauguration Day.
Democrats around the country were already mobilizing to use the contests to complete Mr. Biden’s victory and make possible the liberal agenda on health care, the economy and the environment he ran on.
“Change has come to Georgia,” Mr. Ossoff said in a rally in Atlanta on Friday. “And Georgia is a part of the change coming to America.”
Republicans were ready to try to harness the grievance among Mr. Trump’s most ardent supporters, hoping that the president’s baseless claims of fraud and a backlash to his potential loss could power them to a win in January. Over the last 24 hours, Ms. Loeffler has repeatedly tweeted support for the president, who is falsely claiming that the election is being illegally stolen from him.
Ms. Loeffler said that she donated to a fund fighting for the president’s cause.
“Praying for four more years of @realDonaldTrump!” she wrote in another message.
With Mr. Trump defying the election results, it was hard to predict how involved he might be in the Senate races. But early Friday morning, he insinuated in a tweet that Democrats were still trying to claim power through nefarious means so they could reverse Republican policies.
“Would End the Filibuster, ‘Life’, 2A, and would Pack and Rotate the Court. Presidency becomes even more important,” he wrote. “We will win!”
If Joseph R. Biden Jr. manages to hold his slim lead in Georgia, he has one person to thank above all others, according to many Democrats and local officials: Stacey Abrams.
Ms. Abrams, a former minority leader of the Georgia House, has spent nearly a decade reconstituting the multiracial coalition for voting rights that sparked the 1960s civil rights movement and pushing a state once dominated by white conservatives into a more diverse era.
More than that, Ms. Abrams, who was briefly considered as a possible running mate by Mr. Biden, is increasingly seen as the new torchbearer of the movement embodied by two iconic Georgians: Martin Luther King Jr. and Representative John Lewis. Mr. Biden’s surge cemented that.
“This American citizen would love to thank you from the bottom of her heart!!” the actress Viola Davis wrote to Ms. Abrams on Twitter Friday.
After Ms. Abrams sent out a tweet thanking voting rights activists in Georgia, Hillary Clinton replied, “And THANK YOU, Stacey. Thank you.”
“What time is the Stacey Abrams parade?” wrote Lisa Lucas, a publishing executive, reflecting the views of Black political and business leaders who believe Ms. Abrams deserves much of the credit for record-breaking turnout in communities of color around the country.
Seven years ago, when she was still in the state legislature, Ms. Abrams founded the New Georgia Project, a nonprofit that registered about 100,000 new voters, then went on to create Fair Fight, an organization geared at fighting voter suppression.
In 2018, Ms. Abrams became the first Black woman to win the Democratic nomination for governor and lost in a tight race to the Republican Brian Kemp, amid allegations that Republicans had taken steps to suppress the Black vote by purging voter rolls.
After falling 55,000 votes short, Ms. Abrams told Vogue, “I sat shiva for 10 days. Then I started plotting” — a joking reference to Jewish period of mourning.
Since her loss, Ms. Abrams, who is a lawyer, has helped register an estimated 800,000 new voters and fought “exact match” rules used to disqualify ballots for typos and minor errors. Ms. Abrams was hardly alone in this effort, joining a coalition that included voting rights groups like ProGeorgia, the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda and the New Georgia Project.
But Ms. Abrams, a powerful public speaker, became the face of that effort.
Some of President Trump’s supporters, led by the Fox News contributor Byron York, have criticized Ms. Abrams for her refusal to formally concede the 2018 election, arguing that her behavior created a precedent for Mr. Trump’s refusal to accept the 2020 results.
“In light of Biden pull-ahead in Georgia, much Democratic praise for Stacey Abrams. Indeed, her conduct in 2018 governor’s race could become model for Trump postelection stance,” he wrote.
But there are critical differences. Ms. Abrams never conceded, but gave a speech announcing the end of her campaign, then moved on — concluding, ‘‘Democracy failed Georgians.’’
As the presidential race inches agonizingly toward a conclusion, it might be easy to miss the fact that the results are not actually very close.
With many ballots still outstanding in heavily Democratic cities, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was leading President Trump by more than four million votes nationwide as of Friday morning. His lead is expected to continue to expand, perhaps substantially, as officials finish counting.
This means more Americans have voted for a Democrat for president than for a Republican in each of the past four elections, and seven of the past eight, the exception being 2004, when President George W. Bush beat John Kerry by about three million votes. But, depending on the outcome this year, only four or five times in those eight elections have Democrats gone on to occupy the White House.
It looks likely that Mr. Biden will secure an Electoral College win. But the comparatively narrow result, in contrast to the fairly decisive preference of the American public, has intensified some Americans’ anger at a system in which a minority of people can often claim a majority of power.
“We look at a map of so-called red and blue states and treat that map as land and not people,” said Carol Anderson, a professor of African-American studies at Emory University who researches voter suppression. “I’ve been thinking about how hard folks have to work to be able to vote, what it takes to overcome all of this that voter suppression has put in place, and that someone could be ahead by three million votes — which is bigger than most cities and probably some states — and still we have what almost amounts to a nail-biter.”
Mr. Biden’s current vote margin is larger than the populations of more than 20 states, and more than the population of Los Angeles.
A similar disparity exists in the Senate, where the current Democratic minority was elected with more votes than the Republican majority and where by 2040, based on population projections, about 70 percent of Americans will be represented by 30 percent of senators.
“It’s not that the states that are represented by the 30 percent are all red, but what we do know is that the states that are going to have 70 senators are in no way representative of the diversity in the country,” said Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
“The more this happens, the more you get the sense that voters don’t have a say in the choice of their leaders,” he said. “And you cannot have a democracy over a period of time that survives if a majority of people believe that their franchise is meaningless.”
President Trump’s rambling jeremiad on Thursday, insisting without evidence that election officials in many states were engaging in vote fraud to give Joseph R. Biden Jr. the presidency, was met with condemnation from some Republicans but silence or even approval from others.
“I saw the president’s speech last night,” Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, the state that is set to send Mr. Biden to the White House, said Friday morning. “It was very hard to watch. The president’s allegations of large-scale fraud and theft of the election are just not substantiated. I’m not aware of any significant wrongdoing here.”
A few hours later, Sen. Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah and a semi-frequent Trump critic, said that the president was “within his rights to request recounts” and to call out “irregularities where evidence exists” in a statement posted to Twitter on Friday.
But the 2012 Republican nominee added that Mr. Trump “was wrong to say the election was rigged, corrupt or stolen.”
The Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland said there was “no defense” for Mr. Trump’s comments “undermining our democratic process.”
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina appeared on Fox News on Thursday to defend Mr. Trump’s baseless claims of fraud. “I don’t trust Philadelphia,” he said, referring to the city where Mr. Biden has gotten more than 80 percent of the vote. He offered no evidence for his statement.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas followed his Republican colleague on the network and accused Democrats of trying to steal the election. He also offered no evidence to back his assertion.
Many prominent Republican lawmakers remained silent, declining to cross Mr. Trump over the results of an election that was slipping away from the incumbent.
Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, did not comment on Mr. Trump’s claims that the election was rigged, instead saying on Twitter on Friday that every legal vote should be counted.
“Any illegally-submitted ballots must not,” he added in the tweet. “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.”
At a news conference on Thursday night in Atlanta with Donald Trump Jr., in which Republican supporters chanted “stop the steal,” Representative Doug Collins, a Georgia congressman who ran a failed bid for Senate this year, suggested without evidence that something was awry in the election.
“Transparency only seems to be good when the Democrats like the transparency, and the media are willing to go along with it,” he said.
Tommy Tuberville, a senator-elect from Alabama and a former Auburn University football coach, echoed the president on Twitter.
“The election results are out of control,” Mr. Tuberville wrote. “It’s like the whistle has blown, the game is over, and the players have gone home, but the referees are suddenly adding touchdowns to the other team’s side of the scoreboard.”
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, at first sidestepped questions on Wednesday about whether he agreed with Mr. Trump that election officials should halt their tabulations.
But by Thursday evening, he grew more vocal, writing in a tweet: “Republicans will not be silenced. We demand transparency. We demand accuracy. And we demand that the legal votes be protected.”
PHOENIX — Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has maintained a steady but slightly narrowing lead in Arizona vote tallies after Election Day, with Latino voters lining up behind the former vice president in a state that President Trump won by three and a half percentage points in 2016.
At 11 a.m. Eastern time on Friday morning, after the release of a fresh batch of votes from Maricopa County narrowed Mr. Biden’s lead slightly, but not enough to provide much momentum for Mr. Trump, Mr. Biden led by about 44,000 votes.
Even Mr. Biden’s narrow edge underscored a profound political shift in Arizona, a longtime Republican bastion that has lurched left in recent years, fueled by rapidly evolving demographics and a growing contingent of young Latino voters who favor liberal policies.
The count was delayed in the early hours of Thursday, as dozens of Trump supporters demonstrated outside the Maricopa County election office where the votes were being counted.
In one of the brightest spots for Democrats so far, the former astronaut Mark Kelly defeated the state’s Republican senator, Martha McSally, in a special election, making Mr. Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema the first pair of Democrats to represent Arizona in the Senate since the 1950s.