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Biden wins Michigan, Wisconsin, now on brink of White House

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden won the battleground prizes of Michigan and Wisconsin on Wednesday, reclaiming a key part of the “blue wall” that slipped away from Democrats four years ago and dramatically narrowing President Donald Trump’s pathway to re-election.

A full day after Election Day, neither candidate had cleared the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House. But Biden’s victories in the Great Lakes states left him at 264, meaning he was one battleground state away from crossing the threshold and becoming president-elect.

Biden, who has received more than 71 million votes, the most in history, was joined by his running mate Kamala Harris at an afternoon news conference and said he now expected to win the presidency, though he stopped short of outright declaring victory.

“I will govern as an American president,” Biden said. ”There will be no red states and blue states when we win. Just the United States of America.”

It was a stark contrast to Trump, who on Wednesday falsely proclaimed that he had won the election, even though millions of votes remained uncounted and the race was far from over.

The Associated Press called Wisconsin for Biden after election officials in the state said all outstanding ballots had been counted, save for a few hundred in one township and an expected small number of provisional votes.

Trump’s campaign requested a recount, though statewide recounts in Wisconsin have historically changed the vote tally by only a few hundred votes. Biden led by 0.624 percentage point out of nearly 3.3 million ballots counted.

Since 2016, Democrats had been haunted by the crumbling of the blue wall, the trio of Great Lakes states — Pennsylvania is the third — that their candidates had been able to count on every four years. But Trump’s populist appeal struck a chord with white working-class voters and he captured all three in 2016 by a total margin of just 77,000 votes.

Both candidates this year fiercely fought for the states, with Biden’s everyman political persona resonating in blue-collar towns while his campaign also pushed to increase turnout among Black voters in cities like Detroit and Milwaukee.

Pennsylvania remained too early to call Wednesday night.

It was unclear when or how quickly a national winner could be determined after a long, bitter campaign dominated by the coronavirus and its effects on Americans and the national economy. But Biden’s possible pathways to the White House were expanding rapidly.

After the victories in Wisconsin and Michigan, he was just six Electoral College votes away from the presidency. A win in any undecided state except for Alaska — but including Nevada, with its six votes — would be enough to end Trump’s tenure in the White House.

Trump spent much of Wednesday in the White House residence, huddling with advisers and fuming at media coverage showing his Democratic rival picking up key battlegrounds. Trump falsely claimed victory in several key states and amplified unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about Democratic gains as absentee and early votes were tabulated.

Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said the president would formally request a Wisconsin recount, citing “irregularities” in several counties. And the campaign said it was filing suit in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia to demand better access for campaign observers to locations where ballots are being processed and counted, and to raise absentee ballot concerns.

At the same time, hundreds of thousands of votes were still to be counted in Pennsylvania, and Trump’s campaign said it was moving to intervene in the existing Supreme Court litigation over counting mail-in ballots there. Yet, the campaign also argued that it was the outstanding votes in Arizona that could reverse the outcome there, showcasing an inherent inconsistency with their arguments.

In other closely watched races, Trump picked up Florida, the largest of the swing states, and held onto Texas and Ohio while Biden kept New Hampshire and Minnesota and flipped Arizona, a state that had reliably voted Republican in recent elections.

The unsettled nature of the presidential race was reflective of a somewhat disappointing night for Democrats, who had hoped to deliver a thorough repudiation of Trump’s four years in office while also reclaiming the Senate to have a firm grasp on all of Washington. But the GOP held onto several Senate seats that had been considered vulnerable, including in Iowa, Texas, Maine and Kansas. Democrats lost House seats but were expected to retain control there.

The high-stakes election was held against the backdrop of a historic pandemic that has killed more than 232,000 Americans and wiped away millions of jobs. The U.S. on Wednesday set another record for daily confirmed coronavirus cases as several states posted all-time highs.

The candidates spent months pressing dramatically different visions for the nation’s future, including on racial justice, and voters responded in huge numbers, with more than 100 million people casting votes ahead of Election Day.

Trump, in an extraordinary move from the White House, issued premature claims of victory — which he continued on Twitter Wednesday — and said he would take the election to the Supreme Court to stop the counting. It was unclear what legal action he could try to pursue.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell discounted the president’s quick claim of victory, saying it would take a while for states to conduct their vote counts. The Kentucky Republican said Wednesday that “claiming you’ve won the election is different from finishing the counting.”

Vote tabulations routinely continue beyond Election Day, and states largely set the rules for when the count has to end. In presidential elections, a key point is the date in December when presidential electors met. That’s set by federal law.

Dozens of Trump supporters chanting “Stop the count!” descended on a ballot-tallying center in Detroit, while thousands of anti-Trump protesters demanding a complete vote count took to the streets in cities across the U.S.

Protests — sometimes about the election, sometimes about racial inequality — took place Wednesday in at least a half-dozen cities, including Los Angeles, Seattle, Houston, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis and San Diego.

Several states allow mailed-in votes to be accepted as long as they were postmarked by Tuesday. That includes Pennsylvania, where ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 can be accepted if they arrive up to three days later.

Trump appeared to suggest those ballots should not be counted, and that he would fight for that outcome at the high court. But legal experts were dubious of Trump’s declaration. Trump has appointed three of the high court’s nine justices.

The Trump campaign on Wednesday pushed Republican donors to dig deeper into their pockets to help finance legal challenges. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, during a donor call, spoke plainly: “The fight’s not over. We’re in it.”

The momentum from early voting carried into Election Day, as an energized electorate produced long lines at polling sites throughout the country. Turnout was higher than in 2016 in numerous counties, including all of Florida, nearly every county in North Carolina and more than 100 counties in both Georgia and Texas. That tally seemed sure to increase as more counties reported their turnout figures.

Voters braved worries of the coronavirus, threats of polling place intimidation and expectations of long lines caused by changes to voting systems, but appeared undeterred as turnout appeared it would easily surpass the 139 million ballots cast four years ago.

Kingsport cuts ribbon on newest section of Greenbelt

KINGSPORT — Kingsport no longer has a nine-mile walking and biking trail that stretches from one end of town to the other.

It now has a 10-mile walking and biking trail that stretches from one end of town to the other.

Kingsport cut the ribbon on and officially opened the newest section of the Greenbelt Wednesday afternoon. The new segment is located on the eastern end of the trail, from roughly the 0.4 mile marker near Orebank Road to the pedestrian path on Cleek Road.

The one-mile extension is a 10-foot-wide asphalt path that includes a 325-foot timber frame pedestrian bridge similar to the one on the western end of the Greenbelt.

“This section not only provides a new place for people to exercise. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate an important achievement for the Greenbelt,” said Kitty Frazier, manager of the Parks and Recreation Department. “This new mile segment is the completion of the original Greenbelt master plan that was done many years ago.”

Construction started last year, but was halted in December due to cold temperatures, rainfall and COVID-19 concerns. Work resumed in June and wrapped up last month.

“This shows who we are and what’s important to us,” said Vice-Mayor Colette George. “Right now, when we’re looking at what COVID has done to the world and how people are rethinking our social activity, our lives and priorities ... you can tell we’ve moved in the right direction for over 30 years.”

The cost of the new extension was roughly $940,000, with 80% of the money coming from a Tennessee Department of Transportation grant. Glass Machinery & Excavation of Jonesville, Virginia, performed the work.

“I often brag about the hidden gem that Kingsport has with the Greenbelt system. It’s a truly wonderful facility and not only a transportation facility, but a spine to the vibrancy of the community you have all built,” said Preston Elliott, TDOT Environmental and Planning Bureau chief. “It provides a unique, active transportation opportunity that plenty of communities marvel at.”

Kingsport is also planning to extend the Greenbelt from Rotherwood Drive down Netherland Inn Road to Lewis Lane.

The extension would be roughly 0.6 miles long and be mostly paid for with state grant funds.

The western extension is still in the environmental review period as required by TDOT, and a timeline for its construction has not been determined.

“Someone asked me why I’ve served on this committee for over 30 years, and one reason is that unlike other committees I’ve served on, we do something,” said John McCoy, a member of the Kingsport Greenbelt Committee. “We get out and build something, not just discuss policy and direction. Doing something this tangible makes it a lot of fun.”

A man watches election returns on electronic billboards in Times Square in New York. According to the Associated Press, Joe Biden had a total of 264 Electoral College votes late Wednesday, leaving him just six shy of the 270 needed to win.

Zero new COVID-19 deaths in Northeast Tennessee, but 24 reported statewide

No new COVID-19 deaths were reported on Wednesday in Northeast Tennessee, but the eight-county region had 383 additional COVID-19 cases, according to the Tennessee Department of Health’s daily tally.

The region’s total cases increased by only 380 net, from 15,360 to 15,740, because the state adjusted Hancock County’s total from 129 on Tuesday to 126 on Wednesday. The total number reported daily includes both confirmed and probable cases.

The 383 new cases reported for the region Wednesday: 136 in Washington County (total 4,205 with 67 deaths); 88 in Sullivan County (total 4,330 with 58 deaths); 74 in Greene County (total 2,112 with 57 deaths); 35 in Carter County (1,833 total with 37 deaths); 30 in Hawkins County (1,354 total with 30 deaths); 11 in Johnson County (1,245 total with 10 deaths); and nine in Unicoi County (535 total with seven deaths). Hancock County has had three deaths.

Statewide, 24 additional deaths and 3,445 more cases brought Tennessee’s pandemic totals to 3,478 deaths (3,270 confirmed as COVID-19 and 208 probable) and 269,802 cases (254,058 confirmed as COVID-19 and 15,744 probable). Of the 269,802 total, 240,587 were listed as “inactive/recovered.”

The new case numbers were based on 25,442 new test results statewide, compared to Tuesday, with a positive rate of 13.40%.

The 24 new deaths reported statewide by age group: 12 in the 71-80 group; five in the 81-plus group; five in the 61-70 group; and two in the 51-60 group.

COVID-19 in SWVA: Nine total cases

Far Southwest Virginia saw some slowing in COVID-19 cases, according to Wednesday’s state health data.

The Virginia Department of Health (www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus) reported that the state had 1,157 new cases and 11 deaths in the prior 24 hours for pandemic totals of 185,836 cases and 3,677 deaths.

The LENOWISCO Health District added nine total cases for totals of 1,866 and 27 deaths during the pandemic. Wise County saw no cases or deaths in Wednesday’s report, remaining at 734 and 10 deaths. Scott County had four cases for 478 and seven deaths.

Lee County saw six cases for 598 and 10 deaths, while Norton’s case total was adjusted down by one for 54 and no deaths.

The statewide testing rate for people with nasal swab and antigen tests in Wednesday’s VDH report was 2,913,563 of 8.63 million residents, or 33.76%. For nasal swab testing only, 2,700,765 people have been tested to date, or 31.3%. In the LENOWISCO district, 20,275 of the region’s 86,471 residents have been tested via nasal swab sample, or 23.45%.

testing rates by locality

• Lee County, 6,328 of 23,423, or 27.02%

• Norton, 1,993 of 3,981, or 50.1%

• Wise County, 7,532 of 37,383, or 20.15%

• Scott County, 4,422 of 21,566, or 20.5%

A new outbreak was reported at an unspecified correctional facility in the LENOWISCO Health District on Tuesday, for a total of 30 outbreaks in the district — including five at prisons or jails during the pandemic.

Red Onion State Prison remained at 20 inmate cases and one active staff/contractor case, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections COVID-19 webpage (https://vadoc.virginia.gov/news-press-releases/2020/covid-19-updates/).

Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap remained at no inmate cases and decreased by one case to two active staff/contractor cases. Wise Correctional Center near Coeburn remained at 16 inmate cases and five active staff cases.

The seven-day average rate of positive PCR test results in the LENOWISCO district in Tuesday’s report rose from 17.9% to 18.6%. The statewide positivity rate dropped from 5.8% to 5.7%.

According to Tuesday’s VDH pandemic measures dashboard (https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/key-measures/pandemic-metrics/region-metrics/), cases in the far southwest region of Virginia — including the LENOWISCO Health District — were ranked as rising after a 44-day increase in cases. The far southwest region ranking for percent positivity of COVID-19 testing results remained increasing based on a 24-day increase in that measure.

All four school systems in the LENOWISCO district — Wise, Lee and Scott counties and Norton — were ranked as highest-risk based on the 14-day case incidence rate in the district. Lee County Schools were were ranked highest-risk for percent change in seven-day case incidences. Wise County Schools were ranked higher-risk and Scott County Schools lower-risk, while Norton was ranked lowest-risk.

Where to be tested

Do you think you may have COVID-19? Local health departments provide free testing.

The LENOWISCO Health Department, which covers Norton and Lee, Wise and Scott counties, posts regular updates on testing sites across the district and offers free COVID-19 tests at its county offices. Those seeking a test must call in advance for an appointment. Contact numbers for the county offices are:

• Lee County (Jonesville) — (276) 346-2011

• Scott County (Gate City) — (276) 386-1312

• Wise County and Norton (Wise) — (276) 328-8000

More testing and COVID-19 precaution information can be found at the LENOWISCO Health District’s Facebook page — www.facebook.com/Lenowisco

The Health Wagon will partner with the Virginia Department of Health to offer 17 sessions of free drive-thru testing at Food City in St. Paul through Dec. 31. Call (276) 328-8850 for an appointment.

In Southwest Virginia, online resources are available to help evaluate whether residents might be infected and where to get a COVID-19 test. The Virginia Department of Health’s COVIDCHECK (https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covidcheck/) can walk a user through symptoms they may be experiencing and help direct them to their local health department office or other available testing sites.

Jason Crabb