Biden wins: Democrat who vowed return to 'normalcy' defeats Trump in cliffhanger election

 WILMINGTON, Del. – Joe Biden, the former vice president and longtime fixture of American politics, won a bitterly fought contest for president Saturday after vowing to usher in a more robust response to the pandemic and a more civil form of politics.

Biden’s victory over President Donald Trump puts the nation on a sharply different course just four years after voters selected one of the most unconventional leaders in American history to shake up establishment politics.

Biden said in a statement he was "honored and humbled" by the win and that it was time for the country to unite and heal.

"With the campaign over, it’s time to put the anger and the harsh rhetoric behind us and come together as a nation," he said. 

Democrats failed to secure the swift and overwhelming victory some had hoped for, and Biden's win did not come until five days after Election Day voting began, underscoring the slow, methodical process of counting a crush of absentee ballots that piled into counties across the nation because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The turning point came Saturday, when Biden won his native state of Pennsylvania, one of a trio of northern industrial states Democrats lost in 2016 and one of the biggest Electoral College prizes.

Biden was ahead of Trump in the popular vote by nearly 3 percentage points, 50.5% to 47.7%. With the contests for Georgia, North Carolina and Alaska yet to be called, Biden was leading in the Electoral College, 290-214.

In an election shaped by the resurgent virus that had killed about 230,000 Americans and left millions out of work, Biden argued that he had the temperament, experience and character to provide steady leadership at a time of crisis. He ran as a centrist Democrat focused on pocketbook issues such as health care and reviving the economy but also on restoring "normalcy" to Washington after four years of drama under Trump.

The Democratic victory was history-making, most notably because Biden's running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., will become the first woman, African American and South Asian American to assume the vice presidency. Biden, who will be 78 at his inauguration, will also be the oldest person in U.S. history to become president.

Trump's defeat will make him only the second one-term president since 1992, when Republican George H.W. Bush lost to Democrat Bill Clinton. And like Clinton, Trump is the only modern era president to be impeached; both were acquitted by the Senate.

Biden will enter the White House at a perilous moment, partly because of the pandemic but also because of huge fissures that have widened in American society over immigration, race relations and racism, gun control policies, economic inequalities and even the meaning of truth and U.S. leadership in the world. 

Biden has said he wants to govern all Americans, not just the Democratic base. But even with that promise, the divisions will not disappear. The closeness of the election, and the likelihood that Republicans will keep the Senate, mean Biden faces a huge challenge in trying to stitch the country together.

Biden carried the popular vote with more than 74 million votes – a hurdle Trump failed to clear in 2016. The count, which is likely to go higher as more ballots are tallied, left Biden with a record popular vote, though that was driven partly by an increase in population since the last record was set in 2008. 

"Once this election is finalized and behind us, it'll be time for us to do what we've always done as Americans, to put the harsh rhetoric of the campaign behind us, to lower the temperature, to see each other again, to listen to one another," Biden said Wednesday. 

A wrenching roller-coaster ride

In the end, the election unfolded with the kind of drama Trump often lives for: a wrenching roller-coaster ride in which the president was at first up before falling quickly throughout the next day. Trump claimed the huge prize of Florida, his adopted home state, foreclosing on a quick Biden win and turning the race into a cliffhanger. 

There were surprises along the way. Despite predictions of a lengthy saga in Florida, Trump snapped up the state decisively. And Biden wrested away Arizona, once a dependably red state that the Republican president carried by more than 3 percentage points in 2016.

Over days of vote-counting, a crucial question loomed: whether Biden could piece back together Democrats' "blue wall" – Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – that crumbled four years ago, dooming Hillary Clinton's race against Trump.

The outcome in the Rust Belt was far from clear when Biden addressed hundreds of supporters at drive-in rally in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, just before midnight Tuesday.

"Your patience is commendable," Biden told supporters who had parked their cars, decked out in campaign paraphernalia, in neat, diagonal rows, demarcated by red, white and blue traffic cones at Wilmington's Chase Center.

'Oh my God, we won!': In Biden's hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, euphoria spills over

On Friday night, Biden made a brief indoor appearance at the Chase Center where he said Americans "spoke loudly for our ticket” but he again urged patience as the ballot counting continued.

“We don’t have a final declaration, a victory yet,” Biden said. “We’re going to win this race with a clear majority of the nation behind us.”

Around 11:30 a.m. the next day, the declaration of victory for the former vice president set off a crescendo of honks, cheers and shouts of “Free at Last” and “God Bless America” in Wilmington outside Biden's campaign headquarters.

Turnout smashes record

While Trump and others had warned of widespread fraud, intimidation and even violence ahead of Election Day, there were no signs of major problems. Instead, the election was defined by a record number of Americans voting by mail with few incidents. Millions more patiently waited in lines at schools and government buildings across the country to cast their ballots. More than 160 million Americans voted, according to estimates, by far the largest turnout of modern elections

Though it was not widespread, there was tension: Protesters took to the streets in cities across the country. A crowd made up mostly of Trump supporters gathered as election workers counted ballots in Arizona. The National Guard was deployed in Portland, Oregon. Arrests were made in Minneapolis and New York City. 



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