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Pa. woke up without a winner — and with the state as critical as ever to who wins the White House

The country was left on edge Tuesday night as the most charged election in memory went deep into the night without quick resolution.

A police officer exits a polling place to bring the hopper, the bag filled with ballots that come out of voting machines as well as provisional ballots, to his vehicle after the polls closed at the Barry Recreation Center in South Philadelphia on Election Day.
A police officer exits a polling place to bring the hopper, the bag filled with ballots that come out of voting machines as well as provisional ballots, to his vehicle after the polls closed at the Barry Recreation Center in South Philadelphia on Election Day.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

SCRANTON — The country was left on edge Tuesday as the most charged election in memory went deep into the night without a quick resolution, and with millions of ballots still to be counted in critical states, including Pennsylvania.

President Donald Trump held off Democrat Joe Biden in Florida, one of the most important battlegrounds, according to the Associated Press.

That makes Pennsylvania even more of a focal point, as the largest remaining swing state and a key to Biden’s path to victory.

Just after 2 a.m., Trump was leading Biden in votes counted so far in Pennsylvania, but that was at least partly because in-person votes, which were disproportionately cast by Republicans, were being tallied faster than mail ballots. Democrats voted by mail in much greater numbers than Republicans. Those votes take longer to count, and the slow process of tallying them is expected to shift the margins considerably in Biden’s favor — a phenomenon know as “the blue shift."

The question is whether Biden will surpass Trump.

Other key states, such as Michigan, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, were also too close to call.

Addressing supporters in Wilmington who greeted him from parked cars with a chorus of enthusiastic honks late Tuesday night, Biden declared: “We’re gonna win Pennsylvania.”

“We feel good about where we are now. We really do,” he said. “We believe we’re on track to win this election.”

With the race in Pennsylvania and other key states still unsettled, Trump stood before a room full of supporters in the White House around 2:20 a.m. and falsely claimed that he had won the election.

“This is a fraud on the American public,” Trump said, to cheers and applause. “We were getting ready to win this election; frankly, we did win this election.”

He also pledged to take the battle to the U.S. Supreme Court. “We want all voting to stop,” he said.

Public opinion polls leading up to Election Day consistently showed more support for Biden than Trump, with the former vice president holding double-digit leads nationally and smaller but still substantial leads in critical battlegrounds like Pennsylvania.

Trump and his allies argued that those surveys once again were undercounting his support and that he was running far stronger than widely perceived.

» READ MORE: It may look like Trump is winning Pa. before votes start to shift toward Biden. Whoever wins, that’s not fraud.

Gov. Tom Wolf urged patience Tuesday as county election officials counted mail ballots.

“Counting that tremendous number of ballots will take more time than we are used to," Wolf said in a statement. “We may not know the results today, but I encourage all of us to take a deep breath and be patient.”

The uncertain finish added one more layer of tension and conflict to what was already four years of historic tumult.

Across Pennsylvania, where the outcome of the election might well be decided, voters expressed anxiety over having such a potentially outsized role in history. Their angst underscored the unprecedented tension and polarization that have characterized the 2020 presidential campaign.

“This is such a split neighborhood,” Jamie Sizemore, 34, said after she voted for Biden in Old Forge, just outside Biden’s childhood hometown of Scranton. “All the Trump supporters I talk to, they get aggressive when I tell them I’m not voting with them.

“So what happens when we know [the result]?" she asked. "It’s gonna be mayhem. I feel like Trump divided our country so much more.”

The passions appeared to have generated huge voter turnout, with steady traffic at the polls especially in the morning, even though more than 2.5 million Pennsylvanians already had cast mail ballots — more than one-third the 6.1 million total votes cast in the state in 2016. Long lines of voters waited after dark in Bucks County, which Trump narrowly lost in 2016.

» READ MORE: Pa. voter turnout on possible historic track: ‘People ... came to get a job done’

The election brought out first-time voters like 51-year-old Michael Lefever, of Northeast Philadelphia, and 18-year-old Julianna Ehm, of Skippack in Montgomery County.

Lefever said he was never into politics until this year. “I was just a blue-collar guy who went to work and got a paycheck,” he said.

Ehm, who turned 18 on Election Day, said, “I’ll probably remember this day for the rest of my life."

“Hopefully we get back to morality,” said Edwin Rivera, a 51-year-old registered Democrat in West Chester. Rivera, a contractor, voted for Biden, who he hopes can “get this country together like we used to be and control this virus that’s going insane,” he said.

In Millcreek, a suburb in Northwestern Pennsylvania’s pivotal Erie County, Linda MacMonagle, 50, wore a Trump mask and scarf to her polling place.

“I’m voting for Donald Trump because he’s pro-life and I think he’s the greatest president we’ve ever had in our lifetime,” she said.

Biden spent the day in Pennsylvania, stopping by his childhood home on Washington Avenue in Scranton, visiting with the owner, Anne Kearns, who purchased it from Biden’s family in 1962. Biden took two of his granddaughters for a tour inside, where he wrote on a wall, “From this house to the White House, by the grace of God.”

He later came to Philadelphia and visited Relish, a West Oak Lane restaurant that’s a hot spot for city politicos on Election Day.

Merchants in Philadelphia boarded up windows and made other preparations Tuesday to ward off damage from feared postelection unrest, including national and regional chains such as CVS and Wawa.

Cambria County Republican Party Chair Jackie Kluback said she didn’t expect there to be unrest should it take days for ballots to be tabulated across the state. Everyone is well aware that results will be delayed this year, she said.

“They’ll be patient,” she said. “That is not anything I would worry about or lose sleep about Republicans doing anything.”

» READ MORE: Philly is still counting mail ballots and officials say they will continue 24/7

And despite Trump’s baseless warnings that Philadelphia could be a bastion of voter fraud, few issues were reported to the District Attorney’s Office by the time polls closed.

Still, emotions were running high across the state. A judge of elections in Johnstown was slapped by a voter frustrated with the provisional ballot process, and there were reports of campaign workers squabbling over where they could place political signs.

Despite extreme differences, supporters of both candidates said they thought their choice was the only man to unite a fractured electorate.

“I came here to vote for President Trump because I have grandkids and I believe he’d give the best future to them,” said Nick Sparacino, a retired UPS worker who supported Trump’s reelection at his polling place in Old Forge, near Scranton. Sparacino said of Trump: “He loves America and if you can’t see that, I dunno. I don’t really understand it, to be honest with you.”

Election Day arrived as a moment of judgment for a president who stunned much of the country with his victory in 2016 and has since become a defining, dividing figure looming over seemingly every aspect of American life. He pushed for lower taxes, conservative judges, and tough immigration policies, while also relishing and stoking cultural conflict with a steady stream of lies. He vowed to stand up for his supporters against liberal elites. And he governed as the president of his most fervent supporters, making little effort to expand his political coalition and often antagonizing Americans who didn’t vote for him.

That approach was winning support from millions on Tuesday, enough to keep him in a competitive position for reelection.

Biden, his fellow Democrats, and a number of Republicans cast Trump as a threat to the very foundation of the country, its values, and its standing in the world.

Trump, meanwhile, warned of looming socialism from the left and said he was the only person who could restore the nation’s economy — which collapsed amid his administration’s fumbling response to the coronavirus.

The pandemic — which has killed more than 230,000 people in the United States, left millions out of work, and restricted life across the country — loomed over the race, seen by historians as one of the most consequential since the Great Depression. On top of that came months of social upheaval as protesters demonstrated against police brutality and systemic racism.

Partisans on both sides had long looked forward to the vote. Trump supporters hoped to affirm his victory, and to show that despite polls showing his deep unpopularity, he represented a “silent majority” of Americans who have been overlooked and undervalued by coastal elites.

“It took an outsider to understand a lot of us Americans who don’t feel that Washington politicians understand us,” said Francine Amendola, 62, a hair salon owner in the city of Erie.

Democrats and Trump’s Republican critics hoped to show that his 2016 victory was an aberration, a fluke driven by a relative handful of votes in three key states — including Pennsylvania — even while a majority of the country rejected the president.

» READ MORE: Pennsylvania is divided about everything but this: Please let this election be over

In Erie County, one of the most competitive parts of a highly competitive state, James and Diane DeBello waited online to vote in Millcreek. Diane, 74, was for Trump. “He’s done so much for this country, it’s unbelievable.”

James wasn’t sure. He said he was undecided and would make up his mind once he got into the polling place. But as he spoke, he started to cough it up: He was voting for Biden.

“I want to get a new president,” he said.

Just before the couple headed into the polling place, a reporter asked their names, and if they had the same last name.

“For now,” James laughed.

Contributing to this article were staff writers Michaelle Bond, Chris Brennan, Jonathan Lai, Julie Coleman, Barbara Laker, Jason Laughlin, Cassie Owens, Jeremy Roebuck, Ellie Rushing, Andrew Seidman, Allison Steele, Vinny Vella, Sean Collins Walsh, Aubrey Whelan, Sam Wood, Robert Moran, and Anthony R. Wood.