WILMINGTON, Delaware — Joe Biden is sure he’s about to beat President Donald Trump. And he used his address on Friday to illustrate just that, boasting about rebuilding the “blue wall” from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin, about earning the most popular votes of any candidate in history, and how he has seized leads in states Democrats haven’t won in decades, such as Georgia and Arizona.
Biden’s remarks came after a long, slow — and for him, successful — day of vote counting. Starting around 4:30 a.m., he took the lead in Georgia, which is now so close it’s set for a recount. Four hours later, he took the lead in Pennsylvania, which Trump won in 2016. While people celebrated in the streets, the former vice president implored Americans to patiently await results that campaign advisers were confident would arrive at any minute.
“We don’t have a final declaration of victory yet,” Biden said at the Chase Center, the convention hall complex in his hometown of Wilmington that has served as his campaign’s headquarters this week. “But the numbers … tell us a clear and convincing story. We’re going to win this race.”
Biden predicted he would surpass 300 Electoral College votes — more than the 270 needed to win — said he would enter office with “a mandate for action on COVID, the economy, climate change, systemic racism.”
On Friday morning, the elections analysis firm Decision Desk HQ had called the race for Biden after a new batch of votes showed him taking the lead in Pennsylvania — a lead many believe will only expand once the state is finished counting ballots. But most major news outlets held off, waiting for more outstanding votes in Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Arizona amid razor-thin margins.
All day, Biden aides lingered in and around the Chase Center, where an elaborate stage had been in place since Tuesday, on standby. Ahead of his possible speech on Friday night, the campaign waited for more ballots — this time from Maricopa County in Arizona — but when the votes came in around 9 p.m., the state remained too close to call for most news outlets.
Plans for a drive-in victory rally in the parking lot outside were put on hold for a fourth straight night as election workers continued to count ballots. Earlier in the day, campaign officials told BuzzFeed News and others that Biden and Harris planned to speak Friday in primetime, at 8 p.m., with their spouses on hand. That news came amid expectations that a race trending in Biden’s direction was about to be called and that the former vice president soon would be celebrating.
Instead it was another day of Biden urging calm and patience.
“As slow as it goes, it can be numbing,” Biden said of watching numbers trickle in on TV. “But never forget: the tallies aren’t just numbers. They represent votes and voters, men and women who exercise the fundamental right to have their voice heard.”
Adjacent to the convention hall, in the Westin Hotel, a few Biden staffers and surrogates, including Sen. Chris Coons and Rep. Cedric Richmond, lingered in the lobby, where election results played for the fourth consecutive night on a small television.
“Bob Casey just texted me,” Coons told reporters, referring to the US senator from Pennsylvania. “I don’t think we’re going to get a call out of Pennsylvania until tomorrow.”
“I have not spoken directly to the vice president,” Coons said. “I think the folks around him are staying calm and being appropriate, respecting voters and respecting the process.”
The 77-year-old Biden is, by his own description, an institutionalist, seeking to restore normalcy and trust to America’s government. The campaign indicated to reporters in Wilmington that Biden would not get ahead of the networks in declaring absolute victory.
But he has also spent the latter half of the week appearing to get on with the business of what his campaign believes will be the inevitable transition to a Biden administration. On Thursday, he and his running mate Kamala Harris attended two hourlong briefings in Wilmington, one on the economy and the other on the coronavirus pandemic, which is deep in a deadly third wave that has brought the total number of American deaths to at least 236,000. Earlier that day, the campaign published a transition website, saying the team dedicated to preparing for a possible Biden administration would “continue preparing at full speed” to be ready “on day one.”
Trump did not appear publicly Friday. “Joe Biden should not wrongfully claim the office of the President. I could make that claim also,” he tweeted Friday night.
The president had already wrongfully claimed victory days earlier, late Tuesday night.
Biden has scarcely mentioned Trump in his brief remarks since Tuesday and has addressed the rancor of their campaign against each other only in expressing a desire to move past it. On Friday night, Biden offered a hallmark of victory speeches: an olive branch to those who didn’t support him.
“We’re certainly not going to agree on a lot of issues,” Biden said. “But at least we can agree to be civil. We have to put the anger and the demonization behind us. It’s time for us to come together as a nation and heal. It’s not gonna be easy, but we have to try.”