President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden are locked in tight races in battleground states after Americans voted in the US election.
Mr Biden picked up the first battleground state of the night, New Hampshire, a small prize that Mr Trump tried to steal from Democrats. But races were too early to call in the most fiercely contested and critical states on the map, including Florida, North Carolina, Georgia and Pennsylvania.
Mr Biden won California, the nation’s biggest electoral haul, and other predictable victories including Colorado and Virginia, two former battlegrounds that have become Democratic strongholds. Mr Trump’s wins included Kansas, North Dakota and other conservative bastions.
Americans made their choices as the nation faced historic crises with each candidate declaring the other fundamentally unfit to navigate the challenges. Daily life has been upended by coronavirus, which has killed more than 232,000 Americans and cost millions of jobs.
Millions of voters put aside worries about the virus – and some long queues – to turn out in person, joining 102 million fellow Americans who voted days or weeks earlier, a record number that represented 73% of the total vote in the 2016 presidential election.
Early results in several key battleground states were in flux as election officials processed a historically large number of postal votes. Democrats typically outperform Republicans in postal voting, while the Republicans look to make up ground in polling day turnout. That means the early margins between the candidates could be influenced by which type of votes – early or polling day – were being reported by the states.
Mr Biden entered polling day with multiple paths to victory, while Mr 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 is also at stake. Democrats needed to net three seats if Mr Biden captured the White House to gain control of all of Washington for the first time in a decade. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky won re-election in an early victory for the Republicans, and Republican senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close ally of Mr Trump’s, fought off a fierce challenge to hang onto his seat.
The parties traded a pair of seats in other early results. Democratic former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper defeated incumbent senator Cory Gardner, and in Alabama Republican Tommy Tuberville beat senator Doug Jones. The House of Representatives is expected to remain under Democratic control.
As the results began to come in, the nation braced for what is to come – and an outcome that might not be known for days.
A new anti-scaling fence has been erected around the White House, and in cities from New York to Denver to Minneapolis, workers boarded up businesses amid concerns of unrest.
With the worst public health crisis in a century still fiercely present, the pandemic – and Mr Trump’s handling of it – was the inescapable focus for 2020.
For Mr Trump, the election stood as a judgment on his four years in office, a term in which he bent Washington to his will, challenged faith in its institutions and changed how America was viewed across the globe. Rarely trying to unite a country divided along lines of race and class, he has often acted as an insurgent against the government he led while undermining the nation’s scientists, bureaucracy and media.
At the White House on Tuesday night, more than 100 family members, friends, donors and staff were set to watch returns from the East Room. Mr Trump was watching votes come in upstairs in the residence with a few close aides. Most top campaign officials were monitoring returns from a “war room” set up in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
Mr Biden spent the day campaigning in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he was born, and in Philadelphia with a couple of local stops in Wilmington, Delaware, where he is spending election night.
The president began his day on an upbeat note, predicting that he would do even better than in 2016. But during a midday visit to his campaign headquarters, he spoke in a gravelly, subdued tone.
Trump told reporters: “Winning is easy. Losing is never easy, not for me it’s not.”
Mr Trump left open the possibility of addressing the nation on Tuesday night, even if a winner had not been determined. Mr Biden was also scheduled to give a nighttime speech from Wilmington.
“I’m superstitious about predicting what an outcome’s going to be until it happens … but I’m hopeful,” said Mr Biden. “It’s just so uncertain … you can’t think of an election in the recent past where so many states were up for grabs.”