Democrat Joe Biden captured the U.S. presidency on Saturday as voters narrowly rebuffed Republican incumbent Donald Trump's tumultuous leadership and embraced Biden's promise to fight the coronavirus pandemic and fix the economy in a divided nation.
Winning the battleground state of Pennsylvania's 20 Electoral College votes gave Biden more than the 270 he needed, prompting all major TV networks to declare the former vice president the winner after four days of nail-biting suspense following Tuesday's election.
"The people of this nation have spoken. They have delivered us a clear victory, a convincing victory," Biden told cheering supporters in a parking lot during his victory speech in his home town of Wilmington, Delaware.
"I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide, but to unify," he said, then addressed Trump's supporters directly.
"Now, let's give each other a chance. It's time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature, see each other again, listen to each other again," he said. "This is the time to heal in America."
He was introduced by his running mate, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, who will be the first woman, the first Black American and the first American of Asian descent to serve as vice president, the country's No. 2 office.
"What a testament it is to Joe's character that he had the audacity to break one of the most substantial barriers that exists in our country, and select a woman as his vice president," Harris said.
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Congratulations poured in from abroad, including from conservative British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, making it hard for Trump to push his repeated claims, without evidence, that the election was rigged against him.
Trump, who was golfing when the major television networks projected his rival had won, immediately accused Biden of "rushing to falsely pose as the winner."
"This election is far from over," he said in a statement.
Trump has filed a raft of lawsuits to challenge the results but elections officials in states across the country say there has been no evidence of significant fraud, and legal experts say Trump's efforts are unlikely to succeed.
As the news broke, loud cheers erupted in the halls of the hotel where Biden aides were staying, and in cities around the country.
Cheers and applause was heard in neighborhoods around Washington, D.C., with people emerging onto balconies, yelling, honking their horns and banging pots. The wave of noise built as more people learned of the news. Some were in tears. Music began to play, "We are the Champions" blared.
In the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, people clapped, and erupted in screams of joy as the news spread. Some residents danced on a building's fire escape, cheering while others screamed "yes!" as they passed by.
In a reminder of the divided state of the country, however, pro-Trump "Stop the Steal" demonstrators gathered at state capitol buildings in Lansing, Michigan, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
The networks' declaration that Biden had won came amid internal concerns within Trump's team about the strategy going forward and pressure on him to pick a more professional legal team to outline where they believe voter fraud took place and show evidence pointing toward it.
One Trump loyalist said Trump simply was not ready to admit defeat even though there would not be enough ballots thrown out in a recount to change the outcome. "There's a mathematical certainty that he's going to lose," the loyalist said.
Biden was expected to address the nation after 8 p.m. on Saturday (1 a.m. Sunday GMT) from his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, according to a campaign aide.
Difficult task ahead
For Biden's supporters, it was fitting that Pennsylvania ensured his victory. He was born in the industrial city of Scranton in the state's northeast and, touting his middle-class credentials, secured the Democratic nomination with a promise to win back working-class voters who had supported Trump in 2016.
He launched his campaign in Pittsburgh last year and wrapped it up with a rally there on Tuesday. It was a tight race in industrial states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, but Biden did enough to prevail.
He faced unprecedented challenges. These included Republican-led efforts to limit mail-in voting at a time when a record number of people were due to vote by mail because of the pandemic, which has killed more than 236,000 people in the United States.
When Biden enters the White House on Jan. 20, the oldest person to assume the office at age 78, he likely will face a difficult task governing in a deeply polarized Washington, underscored by a record nationwide voter turnout.
Both sides characterized the 2020 election as one of the most crucial in U.S. history, as important as votes during the 1860s Civil War and the 1930s Great Depression.
For months, officials on both sides raised the spectre of the United States not being able to pull off a fair vote. In the end, however, voting at the polls proceeded with limited disruption.
Thousands of election officials worked for four days under intense pressure, sometimes with partisan supporters protesting outside.
Biden's victory was driven by strong support from groups including women, African Americans, white voters with college degrees and city-dwellers. He was more than four million votes ahead of Trump in the nationwide popular vote count.
Biden, who has spent half a century in public life as a U.S. senator and then vice president under Trump's predecessor Barack Obama, will inherit a nation in turmoil over the coronavirus pandemic and the related economic slowdown as well as disruptive protests against racism and police brutality.
Biden has said his first priority will be developing a plan to contain and recover from the pandemic, promising to improve access to testing and, unlike Trump, to heed the advice of leading public health officials and scientists.
He also has pledged to restore a sense of normalcy to the White House after a presidency in which Trump praised authoritarian foreign leaders, disdained longstanding global alliances, refused to disavow white supremacists and cast doubt on the legitimacy of the U.S. election system.
Despite his victory, Biden will have failed to deliver the sweeping repudiation to Trump that Democrats had hoped for, reflecting the deep support the president enjoys despite his tumultuous four years in office.
This could complicate Biden's campaign promises to reverse key parts of Trump's legacy. These include deep Trump tax cuts that especially benefited corporations and the wealthy, hardline immigration policies, efforts to dismantle the 2010 Obamacare healthcare law and Trump's abandonment of such international agreements as the Paris climate accord and Iran nuclear deal.
Should Republicans keep control of the U.S. Senate, they would likely block large parts of his legislative agenda, including expanding healthcare and fighting climate change. That prospect could depend on the outcome of four undecided Senate races, including two in Georgia that will not be resolved until runoffs in January.
Investors said on Saturday the market's focus was likely to turn on the Senate, which would determine how much a Biden administration is able to do in terms of policy.
"Trump is going to fight for a few weeks. That's going to be a little unsettling," said Jim Awad, senior managing director at Clearstead Advisors in New York. "But most commentators believe Biden will prevail, that the election is over, and the Senate is going to have to compromise."
'Trying to steal an election'
For Trump, 74, it was an unsettling end after an astonishing political rise. The real estate developer who established a nationwide brand as a reality TV personality upset Democrat Hillary Clinton to win the presidency in 2016 in his first run for elected office. Four years later, he becomes the first U.S. president to lose a re-election bid since Republican George H.W. Bush in 1992.
Despite his draconian immigration curbs, Trump made surprising inroads with Latino voters. He also won battleground states such as Florida, where his pledge to prioritize the economy even if it increased the threat of the coronavirus appeared to have resonated.
In the end, though, Trump failed to significantly widen his appeal beyond a committed core of rural and working-class white voters who embraced his right-wing populism and "America First" nationalism.
Prior to the election, Trump had refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he lost to Biden - and he stuck to that approach. He falsely declared victory long before counting was complete.
Before Biden's victory projection and with Trump's re-election chances fading as more votes were counted, the president launched an extraordinary assault on the country's democratic process from the White House on Thursday, falsely claiming the election was being stolen from him.
Offering no evidence, Trump assailed election workers and alleged fraud in the states where results from a dwindling set of uncounted votes pushed Biden nearer to victory.
"This is a case where they're trying to steal an election," Trump said on Thursday.
Urging patience as votes were counted, Biden responded on Twitter: "No one is going to take our democracy away from us. Not now, not ever."