US President Donald Trump’s final re-election campaign push extended into Election Day, as his appearance on Monday night in the battleground state of Michigan – before thousands gathered at an airport hangar in Grand Rapids – ended after midnight with a pledge to deliver “safety and security” to Americans.
Trying to salvage his chances in a state he narrowly won in a surprise upset against Hillary Clinton in 2016, Trump directed his message to suburban women, who polls suggest have deserted the incumbent, helping to keep Democratic challenger Joe Biden in the lead. An average of polls compiled by data analysis site FiveThirtyEight showed Biden 8 percentage points ahead of Trump in the Midwestern state going into Election Day.
“This time we’re going to do even better because we are providing safety and security,” Trump told his supporters, along with his familiar message about how Biden would export jobs and “lock down the economy” because of the coronavirus pandemic. “For the suburban women, we’re saving the suburbs.”
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Biden stuck to Pennsylvania, ending the campaign with his wife Jill Biden in Pittsburgh, a former steel production powerhouse that was forced by competition overseas to reinvent itself as a technology ecosystem, with Carnegie Mellon University as a hub.
As he has done throughout the campaign, the former vice-president delivered a more upbeat and inclusive message than the president.
“You represent the backbone of this country: hardworking families who are asking nothing but a fair shot, an even chance,” he said. “Tomorrow’s the beginning of a new day.”
At the same time, his running mate, Kamala Harris, and her husband, Doug Emhoff, led a rally in Philadelphia, a city hit by another wave of racial unrest last week after police there fatally shot a 27-year-old black man said to have been armed only with a knife.
Like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia has also struggled to revive an economy that, decades ago, was heavily skewed towards manufacturing and now relies more on education and tech innovation built around schools like the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University.
Biden, who was born in Pennsylvania, was 4.8 percentage points ahead of Trump there, according to FiveThirtyEight, just slightly ahead of the nearly four-point lead Clinton had four years earlier.
Counting was under way early Tuesday morning.
Two small towns in the northeastern state of New Hampshire started the vote with their traditional midnight opening of polling stations.
Some major cities on the east coast will see polling stations open at 6am. Afterwards, polls will open across six time zones over the 50 states taking part in the election. The final polls were to close in Alaska, in the far west, when it was already morning in the east of the country.
Across the US, some 100 million people have already voted, through mail-in ballots, early in-person voting, drive-through polls and other means. The number has skyrocketed this year, as various localities expanded early voting because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In 2016, about 137 million people voted in total and observers are suggesting that turnout this year could break records, given that nearly 100 million votes were cast before Election Day.
With Biden consistently leading in the polls including in crucial swing states, Trump, a Republican, is fighting to hold on to the White House after a turbulent four years in office. The outcome, however, is far from certain.
Voters across all states are also casting ballots on a range of other issues, including for 35 Senate seats, the entire House of Representatives, numerous state and local offices and a slew of referendums on issues from tax policy to drug laws.
In the race for president, the national popular vote is not what counts. Rather each state is awarded a number of Electoral College votes based on its population size – the winner must seize a majority.
To win the White House, a candidate must win at least 270 electoral votes, a majority of the 538 available in the 50 states. Several key states were expected to determine the outcome, including Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania.
Trump spent the last day before the election not only attacking his opponent and issuing warnings about crime, but also taking aim at the Supreme Court and alleging, without proof, that there would be serious fraud in the election.
His rhetoric on fraud has alarmed some Democrats. Both campaigns are poised to battle in the courts.
Biden has pledged to end the “chaos” of the Trump era and get a better grip over the pandemic, accusing the incumbent of having bungled the response. More than 230,000 people have died in the US from Covid-19.
The Biden camp has said they would not let Trump unilaterally declare himself the victor on election night. Because of the mail-in voting, a result may not be clear for days or longer.
For many voters, the key issues in the election are the pandemic, the economy and health care, along with more specific areas such as gun rights and control, the environment, and abortion.
Trump is running as a conservative, while Biden has embraced some progressive ideas but has pitched a wide tent, trying to build a broad coalition.
Additional reporting by DPA and Associated Press
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