WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump and Joe Biden handed their fate Tuesday to voters, who will decide which man will steer the country through the surging pandemic that has killed over 231,000 people, destroyed jobs and reshaped nearly every aspect of American life.
With almost 102 million Americans voting early and millions more waiting in lines on Election Day, the rancorous campaign across a polarized nation clearly struck a nerve with the electorate.
“The most important issue is for us to set aside our personal differences that we have with each other,” said Eboni Price, 29, who rode her horse Moon to her polling place in a northwest Houston neighborhood.
With the worst public health crisis in a century bearing down, the pandemic — and Trump’s handling of it — became the inescapable focus for 2020.
Trump began the day on an upbeat note, predicting that he’d do even better than in 2016, but during a midday visit to his campaign headquarters, spoke in a gravelly, subdued tone.
“Winning is easy,” Trump told reporters. “Losing is never easy, not for me it’s not.”
Trump left open the possibility of addressing the nation Tuesday, even if a winner isn’t yet determined. Biden, too, promised a speech.
The Democratic nominee kept his eyes on the critical state of Pennsylvania, taking his final pitch to voters in his hometown of Scranton and the Democratic stronghold of Philadelphia.
In battlegrounds, including Florida, Iowa, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania, some voters showed up to their polling places before dawn to beat the crowds, but still found themselves having to wait in long lines to cast their ballots.
The Election Day surge to the polls came even after 102 million Americans voted early, an eye-popping total that that represents 73% of the total turnout of the 2016 presidential election.
Biden entered Election Day with multiple paths to victory while Trump, playing catch-up in a number of battleground states, had a narrower but still feasible road to clinch 270 Electoral College votes. Control of the Senate was at stake, too: Democrats needed to net three seats if Biden captured the White House to gain control of all of Washington for the first time in a decade. The House was expected to remain under Democratic control.
The record-setting early vote — and legal skirmishing over how it will be counted — drew unsupported allegations of fraud from Trump, who had refused to guarantee he would honor the election’s result.
Biden visited his childhood home and church in his native Scranton on Tuesday as part of a get-out-the-vote effort before awaiting election results in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware. His running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, was visiting Detroit, a heavily Black city in battleground Michigan. Both of their spouses were headed out, too, as the Democrats reached for a clear victory.
Biden and his wife, Jill, started the day with a stop at St. Joseph’s on the Brandywine in Wilmington, Delaware, with two of his grandchildren in tow. The four then walked to his late son Beau Biden’s grave, in the church cemetery. Beau, a former Delaware attorney general, died of brain cancer in 2015 and had encouraged the former vice president to make another White House run.
Trump called into “Fox & Friends,” where he predicted he will win by a larger electoral margin than he did in 2016, when he tallied 306 electoral college votes compared to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 232.
Trump invited hundreds of supporters to an election night party in the East Room of the White House.
The first polls close at 6 p.m. Eastern time in swaths of Indiana and Kentucky, followed by a steady stream of poll closings every 30 minutes to an hour throughout the evening. The last polls in Alaska shut down at 1 a.m. Eastern time on Wednesday.
The hard-fought campaign left voters on both sides eager to move on, although the result might not be known for days.
“I believe there’s a lot of division and separation,” said Kelvin Hardnett, who was among more than two dozen voters who lined up more than an hour before the polling site at the Cobb County Civic Center outside Atlanta opened on Tuesday morning. “And I believe that once we get past the names and the titles and the personal agendas, then you know, we can focus on some real issues.”
A new anti-scale fence was erected around the White House. And in downtowns ranging from New York to Denver to Minneapolis, workers boarded up businesses lest the vote lead to unrest of the sort that broke out earlier this year amid protests over racial inequality.
Just a short walk from the White House, for block after block, stores had their windows and doors covered. Some kept just a front door open, hoping to attract a little business.
Both candidates voted early, and first lady Melania Trump cast her ballot Tuesday near Mar-a-Lago, the couple’s estate in Palm Beach, Florida. Mrs. Trump, who recently recovered from COVID-19, was the only one not wearing a mask as she entered the polling site. Her spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, said the first lady was the only person at the polling site besides poll workers and her staff — all of whom were tested.
Whoever wins will have to deal with an anxious nation, reeling from a once-in-a-century heath crisis that has closed schools and businesses and that is worsening as the weather turns cold.
The campaign has largely been a referendum on Trump’s handling of the virus. Trump insists the nation was “rounding the turn” on the virus. But Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, broke with the president and joined a chorus of Trump administration scientists sounding the alarm about the current spike in infections.
“We are entering the most concerning and most deadly phase of this pandemic,” Birx wrote in a memo distributed to top administration officials. She added that the nation was not implementing “balanced” measures needed to slow the spread of the virus.
In Virginia Beach, it was a vote for Biden from 54-year-old Gabriella Cochrane, who said she thought the former vice president would “surround himself with the brightest and the best” to fight the pandemic.
In Concord, New Hampshire, 70-year-old Linda Eastman said she was giving her vote to Trump, saying, “Maybe he wasn’t perfect with the coronavirus, but I think he did the best that he could with what he had.”
Other Trump voters said that the president wasn’t getting enough credit for strength of the economy and other accomplishments prior to the pandemic. “He exceeded every expectation,” said Adam Baker, 59, of West Bloomfield, northwest of Detroit. “The economy. National security. The rule of law. Our allies, his stance on Israel and a return to normalcy.”
The challenge of counting a record-setting early vote adds a layer of uncertainty to an election marked by suspicions fueled by an incumbent who has consistently trailed in the polls.
In west Philadelphia, James “Sekou” Jenkins, 68, a retired carpenter and mechanic, said he didn’t want to take a chance with the mail and cast his ballot in person for Biden.
“I don’t want to see no mailman,” said Jenkins, who waited in line for about an hour to vote. “I like to stand here, see my own people, wait in the line and do my civil duty.”
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