Democrat Joe Biden was on the verge of winning the presidency Friday night as the long work of counting votes extended his lead over Donald Trump in critical battlefield states.
High voter turnout, large numbers of postal ballot papers, and low profit margins between the two candidates contributed to the delay in naming a winner.
But Mr. Biden has led the way in Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Georgia, which placed him in an increasingly powerful position to garner the 270 electoral college votes required to take over the White House.
Mr Trump stayed in the White House and out of sight as more results came in, adding to Mr Biden’s must-win leadership in Pennsylvania.
His opponent turned to the nation on Friday night near his home in Wilmington, Delaware, admitting that the Count’s slow pace “can be numbing”.
“Never forget that numbers are not just numbers: they represent votes and voters.”
Confident that victory would ultimately be, he said, “The numbers tell us a clear and compelling story: we will win this race.”
Mr. Biden was standing next to his run mate, Senator Kamala Harris, and against the background of the flags could not give the acceptance speech his aides had hoped for.
But he hit notes of unity that apparently aimed to cool the temperature of a heated, divided nation.
He said, “We must remember that the purpose of our policies is not relentless, endless warfare.
“No, the purpose of our politics, the work of our nation, is not to ignite the flames of conflict, but to solve problems, guarantee justice and give everyone a fair shot.”
Mr Trump’s campaign on Friday was mostly calm, a dramatic change from the previous day when officials held a morning call that exuded confidence and then a multitude of press conferences announcing litigation in key states.
A handful of states stayed in the game on Friday night: Georgia, North Carolina too early to call along with Pennsylvania and Nevada.
As his path to re-election seemed very narrow, Mr Trump tested how far he could go to undermine confidence in the vote.
On Thursday, he brought unsupported allegations of election fraud to falsely argue that his rival was trying to take power.
It has been an extraordinary effort by a seated American president to cast doubt on the democratic process.
“This is a case when they are trying to steal an election, they are trying to rig an election,” Trump said from the podium in the White House briefing room.
He promised further legal action on Friday evening and tweeted: “Joe Biden shouldn’t wrongly claim the office of president. I could make that claim too. Legal proceedings are just beginning! “
Mr Trump claimed he won late on election night.
He also tweeted that he “got such a big head start in all of these states late into election night just to see the clues miraculously disappear over the days,” despite the fact that the votes were known to be cast before Tuesday were counted legally.