With his re-election chances fading as more votes are counted in a handful of battleground states, U.S. President Donald Trump launched an extraordinary assault on the country's democratic process from the White House on Thursday, falsely claiming the election was being "stolen" from him.
Offering no evidence, Trump lambasted election workers and alleged fraud in the states where results from a dwindling set of uncounted votes are pushing Democrat Joe Biden nearer to victory.
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"This is a case where they're trying to steal an election," Trump said.
Trump said that if "legal" votes are counted he would win the presidential election, in a signal he is in no mood to concede to Biden.
"If you count the legal votes I easily win," Trump said, complaining that ballots still being counted suggest to him that the election is being rigged and stolen from him.
The incumbent president said that litigation over election may end up at the Supreme Court.
"Our goal is to defend the integrity of the election," Trump said, adding that he would "not allow his voters to be silenced."
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Several news networks cut away from the president, who spoke for about 15 minutes in the White House briefing room before leaving without taking questions.
Biden, the former vice president, was chipping away at the Republican incumbent's leads in Pennsylvania and Georgia even as he maintained narrow advantages in Nevada and Arizona, moving closer to securing the 270 votes in the state-by-state Electoral College that determines the winner.
Trump's lead shrank in Georgia to 0.1 percentage point on Thursday night, or just 2,497 votes, with 99% of votes reported.
In three of the four states, the margins between the two men had tightened since Wednesday, as results from counting centers trickled in and anxious Americans waited for clarity after an exhausting and deeply vitriolic election.
In Pennsylvania, Trump's lead had shrunk from 319,000 on Wednesday afternoon to 74,000 a day later, while his margin in Georgia fell from 68,000 to fewer than 4,000. Those numbers were expected to continue to move in Biden's favor, with many of the outstanding ballots from areas that typically vote Democratic, including the cities of Philadelphia and Atlanta.
Biden, meanwhile, saw his lead in Arizona contract from 93,000 to 65,000; he was ahead in Nevada by only 11,000 votes.
Most major television networks gave Biden a 253 to 214 lead in Electoral College votes, which are largely determined by state population, after he captured the crucial battleground states of Wisconsin and Michigan on Wednesday.
Biden would become the next president by winning Pennsylvania, or by winning two out of the trio of Georgia, Nevada and Arizona. Trump's likeliest path appeared narrower - he needed to hang onto Pennsylvania and Georgia while overtaking Biden in either Nevada or Arizona.
The exceedingly close election has underscored the political polarization in the United States and the deep divisions along racial, socioeconomic, religious and generational lines as well as between urban and rural areas.
After a summer of protests against racism and police brutality, some of which led to violence and looting, authorities are worried about mass demonstrations around the election but protests so far have been peaceful.
Demonstrators rallied in cities including Philadelphia, Washington, Phoenix and Detroit, for the second day in a row on Thursday.
Supporters of both candidates appeared outside a vote-counting center in Philadelphia on Thursday. A group of Trump backers held Trump-Pence flags and signs saying: "Vote stops on Election Day" and "Sorry, polls are closed." Across the street were Biden supporters, who danced to music behind a barricade. Similar rallies were planned later in the day in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania's capital.
The counting and court challenges set the stage for uncertainty before Dec. 8, the deadline to resolve election disputes. The president is sworn into office on Jan. 20, 2021.
The Trump campaign said its Nevada lawsuit would allege a series of voting irregularities in populous Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, such as voting by people who left the state or were dead. Former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt and other campaign figures who announced the lawsuit gave no evidence to support their allegations and refused to answer questions from reporters.
"My response is that we are not aware of any improper ballots that are being processed," Joe Gloria, the Clark County registrar, told reporters, adding that Trump's campaign has not presented him with any evidence showing otherwise.
In Pennsylvania, Trump's campaign and other Republicans have already filed various legal challenges. An appeals court in Pennsylvania on Thursday ordered that Trump campaign officials be allowed to more closely observe ballot processing in Philadelphia.
The campaign on Wednesday also filed lawsuits in Michigan and Georgia. A judge on Thursday dismissed the Georgia suit.
Biden had drawn about 3.6 million more votes than Trump nationwide. Trump defeated Democrat Clinton in 2016 after winning crucial battleground states and securing the Electoral College win even though she won about 3 million more votes nationwide.