President Trump predicted a great comeback victory Monday as he culminated his high-powered reelection campaign near midnight in Michigan, while Democratic rival Joseph R. Biden made a final plea for voters to stop a presidency “that has divided this nation,” as both sides laid the groundwork for an unsettled outcome with fierce court battles over uncounted ballots looming beyond Election Day.
“I think we’re going to have a tremendous day,” the president told supporters in Pennsylvania at one of his five final campaign rallies in four battleground states. “We’re going to win. We’ve got some big surprises.”
Mr. Biden, campaigning in Ohio and Pennsylvania, urged voters to put Mr. Trump’s rancorous presidency behind them and choose new leadership to beat the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Tomorrow we can put an end to a presidency that has divided this nation,” Mr. Biden said. “Tomorrow we can put an end to a presidency that has failed to protect this nation. Tomorrow we can put an end to a presidency that has fanned the flames of hate across this nation. The power to change this country is in your hands.”
In a sign of the razor-thin polling margins in key states, Mr. Biden is taking the unusual step of holding two campaign rallies on Election Day, both in Pennsylvania. The president plans to spend the day at the White House, with an election night celebration in the East Room.
Mr. Trump campaigned at a frenetic pace up until the last minute, as if he believed he was the underdog. The president began the year riding record low unemployment, surmounting a partisan impeachment and feeling as though he might cruise to reelection.
But the pandemic hit in March, throwing tens of millions of people out of work and causing more than 231,000 deaths. The twin blows of a public health crisis and economic distress forced Mr. Trump in the final months of the campaign to focus on turning out his loyal base.
“It’s up to you, really,” he told supporters Monday. “You’ve got to get out. Remember what I said four years ago: I am your voice, and we will make America great again.”
Surveying a huge crowd outdoors in wind-whipped Avoca, Pennsylvania, the president said, “This is the ultimate poll. This is not the crowd of a second-place finisher.”
Political analyst Charlie Cook’s final report shows Mr. Biden with 290 electoral college votes in 24 states rated strong, likely or leaning Democratic. A candidate needs 270 to win.
Mr. Trump has wrapped up only 125 electoral college votes, according to the analysis. Even if the president won all 123 votes from the six states rated as “toss-ups,” he still would need to gain 22 more electoral votes from states leaning in Mr. Biden’s column, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
But senior Trump campaign officials said Monday their data gives them confidence that the president will win the election by carrying Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina, Arizona and Nevada. They said Republicans have closed the gap with Democrats among the more than 97 million votes cast early, and there are far more registered Republicans than Democrats who haven’t voted.
If the “red wave” of Republican voters turns out as campaign officials are projecting on Election Day, “President Trump is going to have four more years in the White House,” said his campaign’s director of battleground strategy, Nick Trainer. “The Democrats are scrambling and panicking.”
Trump officials accused Mr. Biden’s campaign of plotting to “steal” the election by planning to file lawsuits to extend deadlines for counting ballots and readying TV ads as part of a public pressure campaign.
“We fully anticipate that Democrats will be in court arguing to extend deadlines for accepting and counting votes mailed and received well past deadlines enacted by individual state laws,” said Trump deputy campaign manager Justin Clark. “The last gasp of the Biden campaign will be ugly and it will be ruthless.”
Mr. Biden’s campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, said Mr. Trump won’t be able to legitimately claim victory on Tuesday. She cited reports that the president plans to declare victory on election night or early on Wednesday if he is leading in states that haven’t finished counting mail-in ballots.
“If he tries to do that, that will not be true,” she said. “Under no scenario will Donald Trump be declared a victor on Election Night.”
Mr. Clark said the Trump campaign is focused on preventing the Biden team from “trying to do an end-run around election laws” and obtaining court rulings that would allow extended deadlines for counting ballots. He said the Biden campaign is already using “smokescreens and diversions,” such as warning the public not to accept a “red mirage” on election night if it appears that Mr. Trump is winning.
“Rest assured, if the president wins, we’re going to say the president won,” Mr. Clark said. “We’re not going to be shy about it, and we’re going to push back hard at any attempt by the Democrats to obfuscate that.”
Republicans suffered some legal setbacks on Monday. In Texas, a federal judge rejected a Republican request to invalidate 127,000 ballots in Harris County that had already been cast at drive-through voting stations. The county, the largest in the state, is home to Houston and is a Democratic stronghold.
In Nevada, a judge rejected a lawsuit by the Trump campaign that sought to block temporarily the processing of mail-in ballots in heavily Democratic Clark County.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, is starring in a TV ad this week warning voters that it could take “a few days” to accurately count all votes cast in the state. The Supreme Court is allowing Pennsylvania to count ballots for up to three days after Election Day. The state will not start counting its absentee and mail-in ballots until 7 a.m. Tuesday.
“These are unprecedented times. Because of the coronavirus, there were millions of votes cast by mail, so it may take longer than usual to count every vote,” Mr. Wolf says in the ad.
The president said Monday that the Supreme Court’s decision could be “physically dangerous,” apparently referring to the potential for street violence after the election.
“They made a very dangerous situation. And I mean ‘dangerous’ — physically dangerous,” the president said. “The danger that could be caused by that extension, and especially when you know what goes on in Philadelphia. So governor, open up your state and please don’t cheat.”
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, also a Democrat, said counting the city’s ballots “could easily take a few days.”
Fears of postelection violence and looting have led property owners nationwide to board up storefronts, including in New York, Los Angeles and the District of Columbia. Several leftist groups are planning to gather in the nation’s capital this week and are warning of the need to fight against a potential coup by Mr. Trump, depending on the outcome of the election.
There were anecdotal reports in Washington and New York of residents buying groceries as if preparing for a blizzard, and Texas and Massachusetts put their National Guard on stand-by.
Mr. Biden accused the president of trying to disenfranchise voters.
“I don’t care how hard Donald Trump tries,” he said in Cleveland. “There is nothing — nothing — that is going to stop the people of this nation from voting. I believe the message is going to be loud and clear.”
The former vice president got another assist on Monday from former President Barack Obama, who campaigned for him in Georgia.
“I’ve got one word for you Atlanta — tomorrow,” Mr. Obama said. “Tomorrow, after four years of failure, you have the power to change America. Tomorrow you can put an end to the politics that tries to divide a nation just to win an election, that tries to stoke conspiracy theories and fear at a time when we need competence and we need hope.”
The president, who hopes to increase his level of support from Black voters to as much as 20%, said that Mr. Biden previously referred to Blacks who commit crimes as “super predators.”
“To every Black American, go tomorrow and vote for Trump,” the president said.
On the last day he will ever campaign for himself, Mr. Trump reminded audiences about the “movement” he launched four years ago. He also spoke of the partisan battles he has fought, starting with the Obama administration spying on his campaign in 2016 and carrying through the three-year special counsel’s investigation that found no “collusion” between the Trump team and Moscow.
“We were under siege illegally. They committed treason,” Mr. Trump said. “They created the chaos. All we did was fight back. The assault on this office has changed my personality.”
Referring to the stakes in the election, Mr. Trump told the crowd in Pennsylvania, “Once I’m not here, there’s nobody else to protect you. You have a president that wasn’t scared.”
• Ryan Lovelace and Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.