Trump, Biden supporters stage duelling vigils as ballots counted in Philadelphia

·5 min read

PHILADELPHIA — The two sides of America's great political divide converged Thursday in downtown Philadelphia, maintaining an uneasy peace as they stood vigil over the painstaking process of identifying the next president of the United States. 

With police keeping a respectful distance, supporters of Democratic nominee Joe Biden danced in the streets at the corner of Arch and South 12th St., while watching the dozen or so Donald Trump supporters on the other side of waist-high barricades. 

Inside the nearby Pennsylvania Convention Center, election officials were carefully counting some of the more than 360,000 remaining mail-in ballots that were still outstanding across the state. 

Pennsylvania is worth 20 electoral college votes — must-haves for Trump, who is lagging Biden in the race to the 270 needed to claim the presidency. Biden, who is within easy striking distance of the magic number, has many other pathways to victory. 

That reality was reflected in the tone downtown, which featured an upbeat, celebratory mood on one side of the barriers and more downcast faces among the Trump flags and "Make America Great Again" hats on the other. 

"They seem a little less joyful than we are," said Kati Sipp, a Philadelphia labour organizer and activist who was on hand to support the push to ensure all the votes are properly counted. 

Sipp told the crowd to keep the faith, taking as a sign of better days ahead the exceptional level of public activism that's been on display throughout 2020.  

"A perfect democracy isn't just about voting; it isn't just about electing people to represent you," she said. 

"It is about being in the street to make sure that those people do what we need them to do once we get them into office."

Seth Campbell, a Biden for President mask covering his face, spent part of the afternoon engaged in animated discussions with opponents on the other side of the fence. He said those conversations yielded little more than conspiracy theories and Trump talking points. 

Campbell said he was confident Biden would emerge the winner, but he lamented the fact that Trump — "the man is a terror," he said, managed to significantly grow his base of support in a bitter election campaign that produced record levels of turnout. 

"America is an amazing country. I love being American, but I have experienced a lot of racism," he said, describing how he was pulled over simply for driving through his own affluent neighbourhood.  

He likened his country to bad parents who fail to take the necessary steps to discipline their children. 

"If you put them in time out, you still love them, but you want them to do right," he said. "All we want is America to do right for every American."

With his path back to the Oval Office narrowing by the hour, Trump has been mobilizing supporters and lawyers alike in the remaining battleground states, including Pennsylvania, in a last-ditch attempt to keep his hopes alive. 

During a supper-hour news conference, his first since the election, the president claimed that he won the election on Tuesday, and lashed out in frustration at what he seems to consider deep-state forces that are aligned against him. 

"If you count the legal votes, I easily win," Trump said. "If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us."

Backers on hand Thursday in Philadelphia remained convinced he would be victorious — and that something crooked was afoot if he didn't. 

"I'm a positive man, myself, but to be honest with you, I think it's going to get very intense" once a winner is declared, said Christopher Wright, who drove down from Brooklyn, N.Y., to attend the protest. 

Not because Trump supporters would rise up against a Biden win, he said, but because of precisely the opposite. 

"People on the left are like, 'It's over, Trump hasn't won, it's in the bag,'" Wright said. "But there's a good chance that President Trump is still going to win Arizona, and if he wins Arizona, the whole map has changed just like that."

Under Wright's scenario, Trump would also need to run the table in North Carolina as well as Georgia and Pennsylvania, two states where his lead has been shrinking by the hour. "STOP THE COUNT!" the president tweeted Thursday. 

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar told CNN that with about 500,000 outstanding ballots to be counted statewide, a result could become clear before the end of the day. 

Trump's campaign, which is blanketing the outstanding states as well as Wisconsin and Michigan with a flurry of legal challenges, did claim a modest win victory Thursday after a Pennsylvania judge allowed Republican operatives to supervise the count. 

"Now, according to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, ‘All candidates, watchers, or candidate representatives’ shall ‘be permitted to be present for the canvassing process,’" Trump campaign counsel Justin Clark said in a statement. 

"For the good of the nation, every Pennsylvania county should follow the lead of this judge and provide access for observers to ensure transparency and integrity in Pennsylvania."

While the outcome of the election remains uncertain, Trump's shrinking leads in Georgia and Pennsylvania suggested his odds are getting longer by the day as mail-in votes continue to back the Democratic candidate. 

Biden claimed 26 more electoral votes Wednesday in Wisconsin and Michigan, putting him closer to the 270 electors needed to claim the presidency, and narrowing Trump's pathway considerably. 

The Associated Press says Biden currently holds 264 electoral college votes, although several other major media outlets have yet to call Arizona and its 11 electoral votes.

Both campaigns, meanwhile, have moved their fundraising efforts from pre-election solicitations to asking for money to help bankroll the coming court fights.  

Tuesday's vote 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 election night. Biden has been leading the mail-in ballot count by a ratio of roughly three to one. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 5, 2020.

James McCarten, The Canadian Press