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There was no declared winner in the presidential election Tuesday night, leaving the results of the contest between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden unclear as several key battleground states continued counting ballots in a tight race marked by a massive increase in the number of voters casting their ballots by mail.
With a winner declared in most states in the country, the Electoral College vote early Wednesday stood at 213 for Trump and 238 for Biden, with both short of the 270 votes needed to win the presidency.
Biden was also ahead in the popular vote, 67 million votes to 65.4 million votes.
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The election will come down to the final results in a number of battleground states that have not finished counting enough votes for a winner to be called: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia. Officials in those states signaled tallying ballots could take several more days.
As the night wore on and it became obvious the election would not be decided, voters and both campaigns began preparing for what many saw as a worst-case scenario heading into Wednesday: uncertainty and confusion on election night, followed by a potentially long, bruising fight in the courts to determine the winner.
While behind in the electoral and popular vote counts, Trump spoke early Wednesday morning from the White House, where he pointed to wins in Ohio and Texas but also falsely claimed victories in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and other battlegrounds he hadn’t yet earned.
“This is a fraud on the American public,” the president said of the lack of a declared winner, though election officials had warned a record number of mail-in ballots could delay a final tally. “This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election,” he said, while also threatening to take legal action of his own.
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“We want the law to be used in a proper manner so we’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court,” he said.
Unlike Trump, Biden did not try to claim victory or raise questions about the election. Instead, he urged his supporters, who honked their car horns as he spoke at a drive-in event, to have patience as states finalized their vote totals, though he also expressed confidence that he would emerge victorious.
“It’s not my place or Donald Trump’s place to declare who’s won this election. That’s the decision of the American people,” Biden said. “It ain’t over until every vote is counted.”
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The lack of a winner on election night was a possibility analysts and elections officials had warned about for weeks, due to the extra time it would take to count the record number of absentee and mail-in ballots cast by voters avoiding the polls because of the public health crisis. But the campaigns had been hoping enough votes could be counted Tuesday and early Wednesday for a winner to be declared before the nation went to bed. Instead, the country is now facing what could be the most contested election since the 2000 race between George W. Bush and Al Gore, which ended with a Supreme Court ruling that handed the presidency to Bush and angered Democrats for a generation.
Several Senate and House races were also left uncalled, including key seats Democrats were hoping to flip to gain control of the upper chamber, a feat that has eluded them since 2015.
The fact that Biden could not win outright Tuesday signaled his lead in the polls was something of a mirage, and brought to mind Hillary Clinton’s loss in several key states she was expected to win in 2016. Clinton also led Trump in the polls ahead of the election four years ago, but wound up losing states like Wisconsin and Michigan by very close margins.
Biden expressed confidence in his chances of winning right up until the very end of the election, and said early Wednesday, “we’re feeling good about where we are.” He led Trump in the polls in nearly every major battleground state, from Florida to Michigan to Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and polled ahead of or even with Trump in traditionally Republican states like Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina that the Biden campaign hoped to flip from red to blue.
READ MORE: Trump took Florida despite Biden lead with Hispanic voters
Biden could still ultimately prevail in some of the states that have not yet been called. But his failure to carry them by solid margins indicated a lack of enthusiasm on the part of Democrats, as well as a robust get-out-the-vote operation by the Trump campaign.
If Trump prevails, he will have once again outperformed the polls and beaten expectations. A victory would give him four more years to cement his legacy, and bolster his argument that his 2016 win was part of a genuine political realignment in America, and not a fluke as his critics have claimed.
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Daniel Bush is PBS NewsHour's Senior Political Reporter.
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