As attention shifted Thursday to a handful of states that remained too close to call but where, on balance, Joseph R. Biden Jr. seemed to have an advantage, the candidates pressed their cases on the state of the race, and the elections process.
“Democracy is sometimes messy,” Mr. Biden told reporters Thursday in Wilmington, Del., where he called for every ballot to be counted. “It sometimes requires a little patience as well.”
President Trump called a news conference at the White House, where he made false and baseless claims about “illegal” votes, secret counts and how forces were working to “steal” the election from him.
“It’s amazing how those mail-in ballots are so one-sided,” he said at one point. ABC, CBS and NBC all cut away as his false statements mounted.
With Mr. Biden leading Mr. Trump in the popular vote by more than 4 million votes — which, regardless of the outcome, will make this the second election where Mr. Trump lost the popular vote — the attention of both campaigns was riveted on the handful of undecided states that will decide which candidate gets the electoral votes needed to win.
As midnight approached on the East Coast, Mr. Biden appeared poised to take the lead in Georgia, where he had cut Mr. Trump’s advantage to about 2,000 votes, and he was rapidly eating into the president’s lead in Pennsylvania, where Democratic-rich counties were producing thousands of Biden votes with each new update.
Mr. Biden was 17 electoral votes shy of reaching the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, while Mr. Trump was 56 electoral votes away from the threshold. As results trickled in from the remaining undecided states Mr. Biden also increased his lead in Nevada by about 4,000 votes on Thursday, while holding on to his modest — but narrowing — lead in Arizona.
In his public comments since the election, Mr. Biden has stopped short of declaring victory, as Mr. Trump did prematurely on election night, and on Wednesday he sought to strike a conciliatory note as he addressed the nation. But he also had something of a warning for the Trump team.
“Power can’t be taken or asserted,” he said. “It flows from the people. And it’s their will that determines who will be the president of the United States, and their will alone.”
Mr. Trump issued a written statement on Thursday afternoon through his campaign in which he made baseless claims that there could be fraud in the late votes and then repeated many of them at his news conference. The statement, which was written in all capital letters, resembled one of his tweets — but by issuing it through the campaign, the president avoided getting a warning label from Twitter, which has flagged many of his recent tweets as potentially misleading.
With Mr. Trump’s political path growing more precarious, his team increasingly turned to the courts, filing lawsuits in several states and demanding a recount in Wisconsin. But judges in Georgia and Michigan ruled against his campaign, while it notched a modest win in a Pennsylvania case.
The Trump campaign’s bid to stave off defeat stretched to the Supreme Court, where it intervened in a case challenging Pennsylvania’s plan to count ballots received for up to three days after Election Day.