WILMINGTON, Del./WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrat Joe Biden captured the U.S. presidency on Saturday as voters narrowly rejected 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 victor after four days of nail-biting suspense following Tuesday’s election.
“With the campaign over, it’s time to put the anger and the harsh rhetoric behind us and come together as a nation. It’s time for America to unite. And to heal,” Biden said on Twitter.
Congratulations poured in from around the world, 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 networks made their calls for his rival, 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.
Biden’s running mate, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, tweeted a video of her calling Biden to congratulate him: “We did it Joe!” Harris 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.
Cheers and applause were heard in neighborhoods around Washington, D.C., with people emerging onto balconies, yelling, honking car 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, angry pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” demonstrators gathered at state capitol buildings in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arizona.
The protesters in Phoenix chanted “Trump won!” and “We want audits!” One speaker told the crowd: “We will win in court!”
Former and present political leaders also weighed in, including congratulations from former Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican U.S. Senator Mitt Romney. Trump ally Senator Lindsey Graham called on the Justice Department to investigate claims of voting irregularities.
The networks’ declaration for Biden came amid internal concerns within Trump’s team about the strategy going forward and pressure on him to pick a professional legal team to outline where they believe voter fraud took place and provide evidence.
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’s win ends Trump’s chaotic four-year presidency in which he played down a deadly pandemic, imposed harsh immigration policies, launched a trade war with China, tore up international agreements and deeply divided many American families with his inflammatory rhetoric, lies and willingness to abandon democratic norms.
Prior to the election, Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he lost – and he stuck to that approach. He falsely declared victory long before counting was complete.
On Saturday, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien urged supporters to be ready to attend protests or rallies that the campaign is “propping up around the country,” according to a person familiar with the situation.
“Stay at the ready,” Stepien said on a call with Trump allies and surrogates. “At a moment’s instance, we may need your help at protests in your states, to make sure the president is represented and our side of the argument is shown.”
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 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 still retains.
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.”
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.
Duane Fitzhugh, a 52-year-old teacher celebrating Trump’s loss outside the Trump Hotel in Washington, said it was as if an evil enchantment was being lifted.
“It’s like a pall fell over the country four years ago and we’ve been waiting years for it to end,” he said.
Reporting by Trevor Hunicutt, Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Michael Martina in Detroit, Michigan; Mimi Dwyer in Phoenix, Arizona; Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia, Jan Wolfe in Boston and Doina Chiacu, Alexandra Alper, Raphael Satter, Makini Brice, Aram Roston, Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan in Washington; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Ross Colvin and Daniel Wallis