WASHINGTON -- The nail-biting U.S. election was on the cusp of finally producing a winner Thursday, with Democrat Joe Biden declaring "no doubt" he would beat President Donald Trump and all eyes on the decisive state of Pennsylvania.
Two days after the most tense election in decades, the meticulous vote counting process -- complicated this year by a flood of mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus crisis -- reached the end game.
Biden, 77, was just one or at most two battleground states away from securing the majority to take the White House. Trump, 74, needed an increasingly unlikely combination of wins in multiple states to stay in power.
In comments to reporters in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, Biden said "we continue to feel very good."
"We have no doubt that when the count is finished, Senator (Kamala) Harris and I will be declared the winners," Biden said.
Trump, who shocked the world when he won the presidency in 2016 in his first ever run for public office, lashed out repeatedly in written statements, claiming fraud and demanding a halt to vote counting, and was to deliver a statement at the White House later Thursday.
"IF YOU COUNT THE LEGAL VOTES, I EASILY WIN THE ELECTION!" he claimed in one statement sent out by his campaign, accompanied by no evidence. "IF YOU COUNT THE ILLEGAL AND LATE VOTES, THEY CAN STEAL THE ELECTION FROM US!"
Biden, who has promised to heal a country bruised by Trump's extraordinarily polarizing four years in power, appealed for "people to stay calm."
"The process is working," he said in Wilmington. "The count is being completed. And we will know soon."
All about Pennsylvania?
In Georgia, a generally Republican state, Trump had a razor thin and steadily slipping lead of less than 10,000. With 98% of ballots already counted, the president and Biden were headed to a photo finish.
In Arizona and Nevada, Biden held on to slim leads. If Biden wins both those states he would also win the presidency.
But the biggest piece of the puzzle was Pennsylvania, where Trump's early lead was again steadily draining away, as election officials homed in on processing mail-in ballots, which are more typically cast by Biden supporters.
The Democratic hopeful currently has 253 of the 538 electoral college votes divvied up between the country's 50 states. He has 264 with the inclusion of Arizona, which Fox News and the Associated Press have called in his favor, but other major organizations have not.
If Biden took Pennsylvania, he would grab 20 more electoral college votes, thereby instantly topping the necessary 270 for overall victory.
With just over 325,000 ballots outstanding, the official overseeing elections in Pennsylvania, Kathy Boockvar, told an early evening press she could not give an estimate for a complete count.
"It's very close in Pennsylvania, right?" Boockvar said. "So that means it's going to take longer to actually see who winner is."
Latest results showed Trump's lead in the state had shrunk to around 90,000 votes.
Trump lashes out
Trump's campaign continued to insist that the president has a way to win, citing pockets of Republican support yet to be counted in such close races.
But Trump's overwhelming focus was on claiming, without evidence, that he was a victim of mass fraud.
Trump prematurely declared victory Wednesday and threatened to seek Supreme Court intervention to stop vote-counting but it has continued nonetheless.
Since then, his team fanned out across the battleground states challenging the results in court and staging a series of press conferences where supporters lodged allegations of irregularities.
"STOP THE COUNT!" Trump tweeted on Thursday, referring to his claim that the mail-in ballots in particular are fraudulent.
But while Trump was demanding that counting be halted in Georgia and Pennsylvania -- where he is leading -- his supporters and campaign insisted that it continue in Arizona and Nevada, where he is trailing.
The campaign has announced lawsuits in Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania and Michigan -- where it has already been dismissed -- as well as demanding a recount in Wisconsin, where Biden won by just 20,000 votes.
Bob Bauer, a lawyer for the Biden campaign, dismissed the slew of lawsuits as "meritless."
"All of this is intended to create a large cloud," Bauer said. "But it's not a very thick cloud. We see through it. So do the courts and so do election officials."