FAIRFAX, Va. — Morning dawned Wednesday in America — not on the pastoral serenity of Ronald Reagan's famous 1984 campaign ad, but on the looming threat of a long and bitter fight over the results of a presidential contest that still wasn't over.
President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden both claimed to be on the road to victory in an election that spent the day being too close to call, thanks in large part to a pandemic-fuelled surge in mail-in voting.
Biden's claim was far more credible — particularly after winning Michigan and Wisconsin, two important jewels in the crown of three Rust Belt states so vital to the road to the White House.
"Power can't be taken or asserted; it flows from the people, and it is their will that determines who will be the president of the United States," the former vice-president said Wednesday.
"I'm not here to declare that we won. But I am here to report that when the count is finished, we believe we will be the winners."
Trump — who accused officials of "stopping the count" in some parts of the country and allowing it to continue in others, all in the name of forestalling a Republican win — vowed to fight on in court.
Not surprisingly, the relentless fundraising efforts of both campaigns barely skipped a beat, transitioning seamlessly from pre-election solicitations to asking for money to bankroll the coming court fights.
In Wisconsin, 17 hours after polls closed, media outlets finally declared the state and its 10 electoral votes a win for Biden, despite a promise from the Trump campaign to demand a statewide recount.
Michigan finally broke for Biden late Wednesday afternoon, eliciting a joyous uproar from a modest group of protesters and labour leaders who gathered around the corner from the White House to demand that all the votes be counted.
That left only Pennsylvania, a patchwork of working-class rural counties and big-city sophisticates where a confounding mix of in-person voting and mail-in ballots had slowed the count to a crawl.
With 87 per cent of the votes counted in Pennsylvania, according to The Associated Press, Trump was holding on to a five-point lead. The remaining mail-in ballots were widely expected to favour Biden,
The three states, together worth 46 electoral votes, comprise what Democrats once considered the "Blue Wall" — formerly fairly reliable Democratic jurisdictions that now hold the key to the electoral fortunes of both candidates.
Trump's Twitter feed, rife Wednesday with unproven claims of "found" Biden votes in those three states, was also littered with warnings about content the social media platform said is "disputed and might be misleading" about the election process.
The Trump team said Wednesday it would file a lawsuit in the Michigan to halt the count on the grounds that they have been denied access to witness the process. The campaign is also alleging "irregularities" in Pennsylvania, where legal action is all but assured.
And there were already signs Wednesday of public discord. In Detroit, a group of protesters scuffled with security as they tried to access a facility where votes were being counted, demanding that the process be halted.
The Wisconsin results won't be officially certified for several more weeks, in keeping with state law, but election administrator Meagan Wolfe made a point of noting she has no reason to doubt them.
"I'm incredibly proud of the work done by Wisconsin's election officials, and I feel 100 per cent confident in the election that they conducted," she said.
"Any of those predictions that you're hearing are predictions by the media and other groups based on unofficial results."
Other states were still up in the air Wednesday as well.
Georgia and North Carolina remained in Trump's column by narrow margins, while in Nevada, where Biden led Trump by fewer than 8,000 votes, officials said there would be no additional results available until Thursday.
Arizona, too, was still too close to call, although Biden was leading there by more than 100,000 votes.
Tuesday's election was held against an unprecedented backdrop: a pandemic that has killed more than 232,000 Americans and triggered a debilitating economic crisis in a year also marked by fierce public outrage over the country's racial divide.
Record-setting mail-in voting, which Trump has been railing against for months, made for an especially unpredictable night. Much of the early vote was ascribed to Democrats, while Trump supporters by and large preferred to fill in the blanks in person.
Expectations of a close race and a delayed conclusion sent activists into the streets outside the White House on Tuesday, fearful that the incumbent president might try to declare a premature victory.
Some of them returned Wednesday, in smaller numbers, to voice their displeasure at the idea that Trump would refuse to respect the final results.
"It's a basic rule of elections that people should get to vote when they are eligible to vote, and that those votes should be counted," said Jessica Mason, a public policy analyst in Washington, D.C.
One group decided to temporarily stand down its plan to mobilize protests across the U.S. Wednesday, citing the unclear results of the election.
"It's clear from his false claims last night that Donald Trump is desperate and knows he's losing," the group, Protect the Results, said in a release.
"The American people will decide who our next president will be, not Donald Trump."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2020
James McCarten, The Canadian Press