WILMINGTON, Del. — Joe Biden has won the presidency, toppling Donald Trump after four years of upheaval in the White House.
Trump is the first president since 1992 to fail to win a second term. But the close results in many key states — coupled with a lackluster performance by down-ballot Democrats — will leave the Democratic and Republican parties facing an identity crisis unlike any in recent history.
Biden, the former vice president, triumphed as a normalizing force. He succeeded in defining the race as a referendum on Trump, whose chaotic government — often by tweet — tested the patience of a weary electorate.
The call for Biden by The Associated Press and TV networks Saturday morning came as Trump and his campaign vowed Saturday to dispute the results and continue a legal battle to challenge them.
Biden said in a prepared statement that he is “honored and humbled by the trust the American people have placed in me and in Vice President-elect Harris.”
“In the face of unprecedented obstacles, a record number of Americans voted,” he said. “Proving once again, that democracy beats deep in the heart of America. With the campaign over, it’s time to put the anger and the harsh rhetoric behind us and come together as a nation.”
Minutes before CNN called the race for Biden on Saturday, Valerie Biden Owens, his younger sister and a longtime political adviser, walked out of the hotel lobby where the Biden family and aides are camped out and said, “It’s wonderful. It’s a wonderful thing for us but it’s a better thing for America.”
Trump suffered from persistently low public approval ratings and was plagued by a pandemic that has killed more than 230,000 Americans. The coronavirus was spiking across the country amid early voting and on Election Day.
The Republican Party now faces a crossroads. Once wary of Trump, the GOP has remade itself in his image. Republicans have embraced or not disavowed Trump’s nativist politics, science denials and, most recently, efforts to undermine confidence in elections.
Trump’s excesses appealed to his fervid supporters, but Tuesday’s election suggested that base is untenably narrow.
The election fell short of the sweeping mandate many Democrats expected. The narrow margins along which the outcome was decided reinforced how polarized the electorate remains, and Biden may be stymied by a Senate that appears likely to remain in Republican hands.
Still, Biden broke Barack Obama’s 2008 record for the most votes cast for a presidential candidate. Biden will represent a return of sorts to the Obama era, not only installing the former president’s No. 2 back in the White House, but making history again with the election of Kamala Harris as the first female, first Asian American and first Black vice president.
On Saturday morning, an elated Harris tweeted a video of herself — apparently while on a run — stopping to talk with Biden on the phone. “We did it, we did it, Joe,” she said. “You’re going to be the next president of the United States.”
Biden was expected to give his victory speech at 8 p.m. Saturday from the riverfront Chase Chase center parking lot in Wilmington — a full five days after the last ballots were cast.
Moments after the call, a crowd was already gathering inside a nearby fenced area of Wilmington, playing music and hoisting handmade signs with messages of congratulations for Biden and Harris. While people took to the streets across the country, the sense of relief washed over one Biden neighbor who held a white sign with a large red heart on one side and a blue imagine of the state of Delaware.
Celebrations also broke out on the streets of New York City, Washington and Philadelphia.
Biden, who once referred to himself as a “transition candidate,” will now oversee a dramatic rebalancing of power in American politics. He is expected to quickly reverse Trump-era policies related to immigration and climate change while adopting a stricter posture on public health measures related to the coronavirus. He has promised to pursue a legislative agenda that includes raising taxes on the wealthy and expanding health care and college affordability programs.
Biden powered his winning campaign on a coalition of reliably Democratic voting blocs, but also suburbanites, independents and seniors. He flipped Arizona, aided by that state’s changing demographics, but also won the Rust Belt states of Michigan and Wisconsin, which Trump had carried four years ago. Trump, meanwhile, chased diminishing returns – overtly appealing to a shrinking demographic of rural and suburban whites in response to a summer of civil unrest following the death of George Floyd.
Biden, he said, would turn entire states into “refugee camps,” and he was reluctant to condemn white supremacists. It was a losing argument, and the sophisticated turnout program Trump’s campaign promised to swell the president’s ranks was not enough to sustain him.
Immediately after the election was called on Saturday, Trump released a statement claiming, falsely, that “this election is far from over” and promising to continue with his long-shot legal challenges across the country. The president’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud were amplified that morning by Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani at a news conference in Philadelphia.
Addressing Trump’s refusal to concede, Biden senior adviser Symone Sanders said, “Donald Trump does not get to decide the winner of elections. The people decide. Voters in this country decide. And voters have made their choice very clear.”
It was Pennsylvania that clinched the election for Biden. His victory in the state came after days of ballots counts in several swing states. Nevada was called for Biden shortly after, though he had already surpassed the 270 Electoral College votes necessary to win.
Coming through a hotel lobby in Wilmington, Biden’s campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, said, “Ecstatic — a great day for this county,” according to a pool report.
Biden, 77, was underestimated from the moment he announced his candidacy, widely viewed as too old, too moderate and too burdened by his centrist record in the Senate to compete in the sprawling Democratic primary. He finished fourth in the Iowa caucuses and fifth in New Hampshire, only turning his campaign around after a victory in South Carolina proved his appeal to African Americans at the heart of the Democratic Party. Moderates quickly coalesced around Biden, helping him to stamp out his more progressive rival, Bernie Sanders.
To Biden’s benefit, the general election always was less about him than Trump. The president’s approval rating rarely eclipsed the mid-40s during his four years in office. And he failed to smear Biden as effectively as he had sullied Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Biden was regarded by voters as a more palatable alternative, and though Trump toiled to drag down his approval ratings, nothing stuck – not China, not Hunter Biden, not Trump’s accusations that he was mentally unfit or beholden to the “radical left.”
“We can choose a path of becoming angrier, less hopeful, more divided, a path of shadow and suspicion,” Biden said when he accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination in August. “Or we can choose a different path and together take this chance to heal, to reform, to unite.”
Biden raised enormous sums that allowed him to swamp Trump on TV, with Democrats spending about $810 million to Republicans’ $500 million since April.
The election’s outcome would not have been in doubt had Trump not defied the polls and upset Clinton four years earlier – or had the impeached (and Senate-acquitted) president not possessed such an uncanny instinct for survival. Even as his path to an Electoral College victory appeared to vanish, a lingering sense that he could surprise Biden at the polls colored the closing weeks of the campaign.
In part, this was due to uncertainty surrounding the unprecedented effort by Trump and the Republican Party to depress turnout. The campaign filed reams of lawsuits across the country to restrict mail voting, limit the use of ballot drop-boxes and otherwise make it harder to vote. Trump embarked on a parallel campaign to delegitimize the election, baselessly warning it would be “rigged” and predicting the outcome would only be settled in the courts.
On the final weekend before Election Day, he predicted the country would devolve into “bedlam.”
It still might, as deeply disappointed Trump supporters reckon with defeat. Even on election night, Trump was working to discredit the outcome, baselessly calling for the election to be called in his favor before all ballots were counted. The next day, he brought challenges in Wisconsin and Michigan to the results.
Trump, once out of office, will likely be unable to delay numerous investigations and lawsuits into whether he or his companies inflated his worth, cheated on his taxes, harassed or assaulted women, illegally took money from foreigners and doled out hush money to women alleging affairs, in violation of campaign finance laws.
The 74-year-old former real estate and reality TV star had formally launched his reelection campaign amid rising wages, a soaring stock market and job growth. But he was hindered by his downplaying of the coronavirus and inability to quickly get tests and medical supplies to states.
Even as Trump insisted that the United States was “rounding the turn” on the virus, the pandemic continued to set record case levels, with experts predicting an even worse winter. Trump’s own campaign rallies, according to public health officials and researchers, contributed to the virus’ spread.
His defeat will leave the Republican Party torn between rank-and-file Republicans who overwhelmingly supported the president and more moderate Republican figures who may now be freer to distance themselves from him.