With a day to go for the presidential election, US President Donald Trump charged across the nation on Monday, delivering without evidence his incendiary allegation that the election is rigged, while Democratic challenger Joe Biden pushed into states once seen as safely Republican, looking to secure his path to the White House.
America stood at a crossroads. Never before in modern history have voters faced a choice between candidates offering such opposite visions as the nation confronts a once-in-a-century pandemic, the starkest economic contraction since the Great Depression and a citizenry divided on cultural and racial issues.
The two men also broke sharply Monday on the voting process itself while campaigning in the most fiercely contested battleground, Pennsylvania. The president threatened legal action to stop counting beyond Election Day. If Pennsylvania ballot counting takes several days, as is allowed, Trump charged that "cheating can happen like you have never seen".
Biden, in Pittsburgh, pushed a voting rights message to a mostly Black audience, declaring that Trump believes "only wealthy folks should vote" and describing COVID-19 as a "mass casualty event for Black Americans".
"We are done with the chaos, we are done with the tweets, the anger, the hate, the failure, the irresponsibility," said Biden, whose campaign has focussed on increasing turnout for Black voters, who could prove the difference in several battleground states.
Both campaigns insist they have a pathway to victory, though Biden's options for winning the required 270 Electoral College votes are more plentiful. Trump is banking on a surge of enthusiasm from his most loyal supporters in addition to potential legal manoeuvres.
Trump spent the final full campaign day sprinting through five rallies, from North Carolina to Pennsylvania to Wisconsin. Biden devoted most of his time to Pennsylvania, where a win would leave Trump with an exceedingly narrow path. He also dipped into Ohio, a show of confidence in a state that Trump won by eight percentage points four years ago.
The two men delivered their final messages, with Biden emphasising the pandemic. He declared that "the first step to beating the virus is beating Donald Trump", and he promised he would retain the nation's leading infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, whom the president has talked of firing.
Trump, meanwhile, made only passing mention of what his aides believe are his signature accomplishments -- the nation's economic rebound, the recent installation of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett -- in favour of a torrent of grievance and combativeness. He angrily decried the media's coverage of the campaign while complaining that he also was being treated unfairly by, in no particular order, China, the Electoral College system and rock singer Jon Bon Jovi.
"I have been under siege illegally for three-and-a-half years. I wonder what it would be like if we did not have all of this horrible stuff. We would have a very, very calm situation," said Trump at an evening rally in Michigan. "People see that we fight and I am fighting for you. I am fighting to survive. You have to survive."
Biden announced an unusual move to campaign on Election Day, saying he would head to Philadelphia and his native Scranton on Tuesday as part of a get-out-the-vote effort. His running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, will visit Detroit, a heavily Black city in battleground Michigan, and both of their spouses will hit the road too. Trump, at least for now, was not scheduled to travel on Tuesday.
More than 9.3 crore votes have already been cast, through early voting or mail-in ballots, which could lead to delays in tabulation. Trump has spent months claiming without evidence that the votes would be ripe for fraud and refusing to guarantee that he would honour the election result.
Trump also rallied in Scranton on Monday, underscoring the importance of the state's vote-rich northeast counties, and zeroed in on the state's process to count votes. He has used stark terms to threaten litigation to stop the tabulation of ballots arriving after Election Day -- counting that is allowed with earlier postmarks in some states.
He has said that "we are going in with our lawyers" as soon as the polls close in Pennsylvania and on Monday, spoke ominously about the Supreme Court decision to grant an extension to count the votes after Tuesday.
"They made a very dangerous situation, and I mean dangerous, physically dangerous, and they made it a very, very bad, they did a very bad thing for this state," Trump declared. He said of Pennsylvania's Democratic Governor Tom Wolf, "Please do not cheat because we are all watching. We are all watching you, Governor."
There is already an appeal pending at the Supreme Court over the counting of absentee ballots in Pennsylvania that are received in the mail in the three days after the election.
The state's top court ordered the extension and the Supreme Court refused to block it, though conservative justices expressed interest in taking up the propriety of the three added days after the election. Those ballots are being kept separate in case the litigation goes forward. The issue could assume enormous importance if the late-arriving ballots could tip the outcome.
One of Biden's top legal advisers Bob Bauer pushed back at Trump's promise of mobilising his lawyers after polls close to challenge certain ballots.
"It is very telling that President Trump is focussed not on his voters but on his lawyers, and his lawyers are not going to win the election for him," Bauer said. "We are fully prepared for any legal hijinks of one kind or another. We are not worried about it."
Democrats also celebrated a decision by a federal judge to reject another last-ditch Republican effort to invalidate nearly 127,000 votes in Houston because the ballots were cast at drive-through polling centres established during the pandemic.
Biden's team pushed into states Trump won handily in 2016, hoping to deliver an Election Night knockout blow that could prevent further Republican challenges.