Donald Trump claimed the election was a ‘fraud on the American people’ and that he was going to the Supreme Court to stop all vote counting immediately in a White House statement at 2.30am.
He effectively made his own declaration of saying: ‘Frankly we did win this election.’
He set the stage for a titanic struggle with Joe Biden over the millions of ballots which are still to be counted and which might not be fully counted until as late as Friday.
Biden had been first to speak, just after midnight, saying ‘it ain’t over till every vote is counted,’ in an address from Wilmington, Delaware.
Trump tweeted immediately to accuse Biden of fraud and say he was ‘winning BIG’ and would make his own statement.
‘Votes cannot be cast after the Poles are closed!’ he tweeted from the White House residence – spelling polls incorrectly, but making clear that the battle will be over late-arriving mail-in ballots.
The outcome of the election had effectively ground to a halt just after midnight with Donald Trump on 213 electoral college votes and Joe Biden on 224, and seven battleground states too close to call.
Biden’s failure to land a knockout blow by taking Florida, Ohio or Texas means that the race comes down to Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin – the ‘blue wall’ which Hillary Clinton lost in 2016.
But it will take days to determine the results from those states, setting the scene for a battle which was headed to the courts.