US President Donald Trump was leading Democratic rival Joe Biden in the vital battleground state of Florida on Tuesday and in several other competitive swing states that will help decide the election, including North Carolina, Ohio and Texas.
Fox News network projected Trump would win Florida, a state seen as a must-win in his quest for the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win another four years in the White House.
Biden, searching desperately for states to recapture from Trump, was eyeing the so-called “blue wall” states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania that sent Trump to the White House in 2016, but vote counting could stretch for hours or days there.
Trump held early leads in those three states, but much of that was built on Republican-heavy Election Day voting. The counting of mail-in ballots in all three states was expected to take hours or days. In Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, mail-in ballots cannot be processed until Election Day.
Fox News projected Biden would win Arizona, giving him a potential path to victory with the “blue wall” states.
Supporters of both candidates called the election a referendum on Trump and his tumultuous first term.
Trump monitored election returns with members of his family in the living room of the White House residence. Going in and out of the room were first lady Melania Trump, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his daughter Ivanka among others. “He’s calm, chilling,” said a source familiar with the scene.
A senior Trump aide, watching returns at the White House, described the mood there in a text: “Good. But nervous.”
In the East Room of the White House, where 200 Trump supporters were having drinks and eating chicken fingers, sliders and cookies, cheers broke out when Fox News called Florida for Trump, said a source in the room.
“The place just erupted,” said the source, who said the mood was both “extraordinarily positive” and “cautiously optimistic.” “Everyone started cheering.”
Voters were also to decide which political party controls the U.S. Congress for the next two years, with Democrats narrowly favored to recapture a Senate majority and retain their control of the House of Representatives.
There were no early surprises as the two contenders split the U.S. states already projected. Trump captured conservative states like Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee while Democratic-leaning Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Vermont went to Biden, according to projections by television networks and Edison Research.
None of the approximately dozen battleground states that will decide the race had been settled as polls closed in most U.S. states, although Trump was moving into a lead in many of them.
In Florida, Trump was leading Biden 51.2% to 47.7% with 94% of the expected votes counted. Electoral College votes are assigned to each state, in part based on their population.
Trump’s strong performance in Florida was powered by his improved numbers with Latinos. His share of the vote in counties with large Latino populations was larger than it was in the 2016 election.
For months there had been complaints from Democratic Latino activists that Biden was ignoring Hispanic voters and lavishing attention instead on Black voters in big Midwestern cities. Opinion polls in key states showed Biden underperforming with Latinos in the weeks leading up to the election.