(CNN)America has chosen Democrat Joe Biden as its 46th president, CNN projects, turning at a time of national crisis to a man whose character was forged by aching personal tragedy and who is pledging to restore calm and truth after Donald Trump‘s exhausting and manic single term.
In a written statement Saturday, Biden, who is expected to address the American people later in the day, said he was “honored and humbled” by the trust the American people have placed in him.
“In the face of unprecedented obstacles, a record number of Americans voted. Proving once again, that democracy beats deep in the heart of America,” Biden said. “With the campaign over, it’s time to put the anger and the harsh rhetoric behind us and come together as a nation.”
“We are the United States of America. And there’s nothing we can’t do, if we do it together.”
California Sen. Kamala Harris, his running mate, will make history as the first woman, the first Black person and the first person of Southeast Asian descent to become vice president. On Twitter, she posted a video of her victory call with Biden: “We did it, we did it Joe. You’re going to be the next President of the United States.”
Trump, who was on the golf course when CNN and other networks called the race for the former vice president, has shown no indication that he intends to concede. While en route to his course in Virginia, he tweeted: “I WON THIS ELECTION, BY A LOT!”
But Biden supporters — whose face masks reflected the extraordinary circumstances of a pandemic-era election poured into the streets across the country in a moment of catharsis to celebrate the President-elect’s victory.
After four years of Trump’s incessant lies, bullying and vilification of his political opponents, the former vice president said he was running to restore the character of the nation and bring dignity back to the White House. Biden, who turns 78 at the end of this month, will become the oldest president when he is inaugurated in January amid the worst public health emergency in 100 years, the deepest economic slump since the 1930s and a national reckoning on racism and police brutality that is still unresolved.
His election will end Trump’s tumultuous hold on Washington and condemn the Republican, who has had a lifelong obsession with winning, to the ranks of chief executives who lost after a single term.
Former President Barack Obama released a statement that served as testimonial to the character of his former vice president and asked Americans to set aside their political differences and give him a chance.
“When he walks into the White House in January, he’ll face a series of extraordinary challenges no incoming President ever has — a raging pandemic, an unequal economy and justice system, a democracy at risk, and a climate in peril,” Obama wrote. “I know he’ll do the job with the best interests of every American at heart, whether or not he had their vote.”
The former President asked every American to “give him a chance and lend him your support.”
“The election results at every level show that the country remains deeply and bitterly divided,” Obama said. “It will be up to not just Joe and Kamala, but each of us, to do our part — to reach out beyond our comfort zone, to listen to others, to lower the temperature and find some common ground from which to move forward, all of us remembering that we are one nation, under God.”
In a cinematic twist, it was Biden’s boyhood state of Pennsylvania that put him over the 270 electoral vote threshold and delivered the White House. Trump had held a wide lead over Biden on the night of the election, but as election officials counted hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots, the race shifted dramatically in Biden’s favor, infuriating Trump and his allies, who knew the President’s path to the White House was over without the commonwealth.
That the Keystone State was the last hurdle in Biden’s path to the White House was a fitting end to a hard-fought race given that the former vice president has long cultivated his image as “middle-class Joe” from Scranton. In a visit that now seems almost prophetic, he had made a final trip to his childhood home in the city on Election Day after spending much of the campaign promising to prioritize the livelihoods of the many working-class voters whom Hillary Clinton lost to Trump in her 2016 bid.
On one of the living room walls in the house where he grew up, he wrote: “From this House to the White House with the Grace of God,” signing his name and the date,”11.3.2020.”
In the final days of the race, Biden’s team redoubled their efforts to rebuild the Democrats’ “blue wall” — and that gambit paid off with Biden winning Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, according to CNN projections, while holding Minnesota, which the President made a priority in his reelection push.
Biden will also win Nevada, CNN projects, widening his Electoral College lead as ballots continue to be counted around the country. Georgia is all but certain to head to a recount and votes were still trickling in from Arizona, where Biden is maintaining an edge.
Biden currently holds a 279-213 margin in the Electoral College.
As he watched his hopes of reelection being strangled with each tranche of votes in Pennsylvania, Trump lashed out on Twitter during the tense vote count, attempting to undermine democratic institutions with demands like “STOP THE COUNT.”
The President falsely claimed the election was being stolen from him as many mail-in ballots, which were often counted after Election Day votes, landed in the column of his opponent.
Facing a deeply polarized country, Biden had tried to project comity and patience, and his desire to unite America.
“There will not be blue states and red states when we win. Just the United States of America,” Biden said Wednesday afternoon. “We are not enemies. What brings us together as Americans is so much stronger than anything that can tear us apart.”
Part of Trump’s frustration stemmed from the fact that his campaign’s finely tuned ground game did in fact succeed in turning out many more of the so-called “hidden Trump voters” than expected, making the race a much tighter contest than pre-election polls suggested.
Trump continued to cast aspersions on the electoral process — wrongly suggesting that there was something nefarious about the fact that the vote count in key states continued well after Tuesday night, as is customary in US elections.
Meanwhile, his team mounted a series of lawsuits in several states, including Pennsylvania, looking to stop vote counting in some areas while challenging how closely observers can monitor officials counting the votes in others. The Trump campaign also said it would demand a recount in Wisconsin, where Biden led Trump by some 20,000 votes, even though historically a margin of that magnitude is unlikely to be reversed.
A career-long quest realized
The victory of Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., who forged a 50-year career as senator and vice president from his Delaware homestead, is a full circle moment that comes more than 30 years after his first presidential campaign.
Biden’s life of tragedy — he buried his first wife and his first daughter, and his adult son Beau, who died in 2015, survived two brain aneurysms and stayed in politics after two failed White House campaigns — shaped his image as a man of resilience and decency. Those qualities made him America’s choice as a president who could shoulder the grief of a nation traumatized by the loss of more than 234,000 citizens to Covid-19, with millions unemployed in an environment of intense economic uncertainty.
Biden’s victory means that Trump’s rage-filled presidency — powered by his nationalism, toxic racial appeals, incessant lying and assault on democratic institutions — may come to be seen as a historical aberration rather than a new normal.
But Biden faces a huge task in uniting the country and addressing America’s disillusionment with establishment figures like him, which led to the current President’s political rise as an outsider who was elected on a wave of populism in 2016.
Biden is pledging to restore America’s “soul,” which he says was compromised by Trump’s divisive approach, and to purge the President’s “America First” foreign policy and rebuild Washington’s traditional position of global leadership.
But Democrats dreaming of a “New Deal” style era of reform on health care, the economy, climate change, race and possibly even expanding the Supreme Court will see their ambitions tempered by their lack of gains in the balance of power in Congress.
The Democrats will maintain control of the House of Representatives, CNN projected Saturday, but Republicans fared far better than expected in many House races around the country.
Within a divided government, much of Biden’s energy will have to be focused on halting a pandemic that is getting worse. Health experts at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation project say the virus could claim nearly 400,000 Americans lives by the time Biden is sworn in.
A future dominated by a pandemic and uncertainty
A country weary of nearly a year of lockdowns, separation from family and friends, and economic deprivation will need to be mobilized to adopt aggressive new steps to conquer a pandemic that Biden argued the Trump administration essentially gave up fighting.
The much-anticipated arrival of a vaccine that experts hope would be widely available in 2021 is a potential ray of hope, though it will be many months before life is back to normal. That means that Biden’s first year — the time when a new President’s power is maximized — will be dominated by the coronavirus.
And it remains uncertain whether Biden’s pragmatic instincts, his lonely belief that a new era of cooperation is possible with Republicans, and his desire to preserve a winning coalition that included moderates and Never Trumpers could lead to early clashes with Democratic progressives.
Biden’s task is complicated by inheriting a political climate intensely polarized by Trump’s presidency. After months of predictions by the President that the election will be “rigged,” Trump’s supporters see the Democrat’s victory as illegitimate, confounding his hopes of forging national unity.
A battle for the future ideological direction of the Republican Party between the President’s partisans and more traditional conservatives in the post-Trump era could sow further discord in Washington. And the chances that Trump will simply fade into history seem minimal given the real estate mogul’s history of controlling the news cycle as he weaponizes his Twitter feed to settle political grievances.
Biden’s international aspirations also face challenges. The world has moved on during four years of American distraction. China has accelerated its power plays in Asia and around the world, and a new Cold War looms. US allies wonder whether America can be trusted anymore and how long the internationalist restoration in Washington will last. Confrontations with North Korea, Iran and Russia are even more acute than when President Barack Obama left office.