President Donald Trump and Joe Biden, his Democratic rival, traded victories in conservative and liberal states as they waited for the results in the battlegrounds that will decide the election, including Florida.
Mr Trump won solidly conservative states including Indiana, Tennessee and South Carolina. Mr Biden took New York, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois, all states where the former vice-president had been expecting victories.
As results started to pour in from eastern states, both candidates focused on Florida, where the race was incredibly tight. With 91 per cent of the vote counted, Mr Trump had a 2.2 point lead.
Florida is one of the most important swing states as it awards 29 of the 270 electoral college votes required to win the White House. It is particularly critical to Mr Trump whose path to 270 would be almost impossible without a victory there.
Mr Biden does not need to win Florida to take the White House, but he was hoping that he could win back the Sunshine State after Mr Trump’s victory in the state four years ago. A loss in the state would put more pressure on Mr Biden to win Pennsylvania, another crucial battleground.
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Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia politics professor, said losing Florida would be a “big setback” for Mr Biden. “Now the pressure for a big win in a swing state is on the Democrats. Coming close means nothing.”
At 9pm eastern time, none of the swing states had been called for either of the candidates.
Aside from Florida, Mr Trump and Mr Biden were paying close attention to battlegrounds such as North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Georgia.
Mr Biden took an early lead in Ohio, a rustbelt state that was essential for Mr Trump four years ago, with about a third of the vote counted.
But it was hard to draw conclusions because results from more liberal and conservative parts of the states arrived at different times. Counting has also been complicated because of the high number of mail-in ballots that were cast as voters tried to avoid polls due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Biden took an early lead in Texas, the second-biggest prize with 38 electoral college votes. Democrats hope that demographic changes and anti-Trump sentiment, particularly among suburban women, will help Mr Biden become the first Democrat to win the state since Jimmy Carter in 1976.
But experts in Texas cautioned that early results would favour Mr Biden, while the rural areas that tabulate results later would lean towards Mr Trump.
In the Senate races, Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, defeated Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot, in Kentucky Senate race. While his seat was not considered high risk, Republicans are desperately trying to defend their increasingly vulnerable 53-47 majority in the Senate.
More than 100m Americans cast ballots before election day, putting the US on track for its highest voter participation rate in more than a century. Democrats are bracing for possible legal problems if Republicans try to challenge the counting of absentee ballots after election day, as is allowed in states such as Pennsylvania.
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