Joe Biden was elected the 46th president of the United States as Pennsylvania sealed the victory for the Scranton native Saturday, securing the nation’s highest office as the capstone to a life shaped by a remarkable public career and personal tragedy.
Exactly 47 years to the day since first winning a U.S. Senate seat, Biden won with a promise to heal a deeply fractured country beset by a raging pandemic and unrest over long-standing racial fissures. Offering himself as a steady, conscientious, and caring leader who, in his words, would restore the values America aspires to, Biden defeated President Donald Trump, whose polarizing, all-consuming persona had itself become a cultural dividing line.
Biden’s running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, will become the first Black, Asian American, and female vice president. She will be the highest-ranking woman in the history of the American government.
Biden, born Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., in a blue-collar, Northeastern Pennsylvania city to a used-car salesman, used that unlikely platform to launch a decades-long career in public life, becoming a giant of the U.S. Senate, leading the powerful Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees, and becoming vice president to Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president.
Having lost his wife and young daughter when he was just 30, and an adult son decades later in his 70s, Biden is, for many, known for his perseverance and especially his empathy, a direct contrast to the often callous Trump. They were traits Biden emphasized as a pandemic killed more than 230,000, and people of color expressed the agony of decades of discrimination.
Just weeks before his 78th birthday, he has won the one office that eluded him — and in doing so, defeated a rival who had worked furiously to undo much of what Obama and Biden had championed. He won the office on his third try, more than 30 years after his first attempt.
“I’m humbled by the trust and confidence you’ve placed in me,” Biden said before cheering supporters at a raucous celebration in Wilmington. “I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide, but unify. Who doesn’t see red states and blue states, only sees the United States.”
He vowed to marshal the forces of science, fairness, and decency, and to fight the virus, racism, and climate change. He said he would immediately name a team of experts and scientists to combat the virus, and reached out to Trump supporters after a bitter four years.
“Let’s give each other a chance,” he said, calling for an end to this "grim era of demonization.”
“To make progress, we have to stop treating our opponents as our enemies. They are not our enemies, they are Americans,” Biden said. “This is the time to heal in America.”
Harris said voters had delivered “a clear message.”
“You chose hope and unity. Decency, science, and, yes, truth,” she said. “Joe is a healer, a uniter, a tested and steady hand, a person whose own experience of loss gives him a sense of purpose that will help us as a nation reclaim our own sense of purpose.”
The president, who did not make a public appearance but did go golfing, refused to accept the outcome and vowed more litigation. He has long baselessly contended that he was being cheated. He has refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power. “The simple fact is this election is far from over,” Trump said in a statement.
Trump, who had inspired fervent support among millions of Americans, nonetheless became the first incumbent president to lose a reelection bid since 1992, as record numbers of voters turned out to render a verdict on his presidency. Trump won the second most votes in presidential history, but Biden won the most, topping 74 million. With counting still underway, Trump trailed in the national popular vote by more than four million.
The president lost the national vote in both elections, though he won the Electoral College in 2016.
Biden deployed his working-class roots and everyman persona to build a multiracial coalition that reflects the changing face of America. He won with the backing of older Black voters, newly energized suburban women, and recovered some of the white, blue-collar support that had fled the Democratic Party four years earlier in key swing states, including Pennsylvania.
Fueled by a president who had loomed over every aspect of American life, the election was charged like few in memory. Millions of Americans turned out to polling sites or, due to the coronavirus pandemic, voted by mail to either affirm their support for Trump or rebuke him in an election with historic stakes, and tension that raised fears of violence.
The unusual campaign in a most unusual year concluded in equally unusual fashion, drawn out over more than four painstaking days of counting votes, the process elongated by the deluge of mail ballots.
The state where Biden spent his early childhood years ended up finally clinching his White House win.
Biden was projected as the Pennsylvania winner at 11:25 a.m., surpassing the 270 Electoral College votes needed to defeat Trump.
Outside Biden’s childhood home in Scranton on Saturday, a steady stream of people poured out of nearby homes to take selfies outside. They danced around as cars honked in celebration driving up and down the block.
“I can die happy now,” Maureen Hart, 71, said at Biden’s childhood home. “I honestly feel that. I feel like there’s hope.” Hart said that as someone who grew up in the 1960s she worried “we had gone so far backward and I would never get to see it get better. I know there’s a lot of divisions, but at least now we have somebody that isn’t going to be provoking those divisions.”
In front of City Hall in Philadelphia, Temple students Zayna McNeil, Lauren Jackson, Merissa Chase, and Rachelle Small posed for a picture, fists up. Seeing Harris elected said Jackson, 18, is “amazing to see myself represented in such a high power.”
Hundreds of Philadelphians rushed to join a celebration outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center, chanting “Biden! Biden!” and “Go home!” to about a dozen Trump supporters. Mickey Hart Goodson, 54, of West Oak Lane, came to Center City to order a Thanksgiving turkey when the city erupted in cheers. As she heard of Biden’s victory, she broke down in tears.
She wore a shirt that said “Black Voters Matter” and said Biden’s election is the first step in healing “the hatred and division.”
Mayor Jim Kenney greeted thousands celebrating outside Independence Mall. “I haven’t felt this much joy — this is almost like a second Super Bowl,” Kenney said.
Yet for all the cheer there, Trump supporters despaired at the defeat of a president who many felt spoke for them and their ways of life, and served as a bulwark against liberal ideology.
Penny Lyon, 75, said the disappointment she felt over Trump’s defeat was unparalleled.
Lyon, of McCandless, a Pittsburgh suburb, attended rallies, knocked on doors, and passed out pamphlets for Trump’s campaign.
“Normally, I would think: ‘Well, that’s the way it went. The people have spoken.’ This time is different,” said Lyon, her voice cracking as she broke down in tears. “I don’t ever remember feeling so devastated. And I know I’m not alone. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.”
It was a historic win for Harris, the first Black woman and first woman of South Asian descent on a major-party ticket. Harris, 56, rode a career as a prosecutor to the California Attorney General’s Office and then to the Senate. Given Biden’s age, she’s now positioned to potentially become the future leader of the Democratic Party.
Biden’s working-class upbringing, long central to his public persona, became a critical factor in his third run for president. He significantly improved on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance in the Northeastern Pennsylvania counties around Scranton, winning back some of the white working-class vote that abandoned the party in favor of Trump four years earlier. He also drew significant support from suburbanites repelled by the president and Black voters who powered his comeback win in the Democratic primary.
Even though he represented Delaware, Biden was often called Pennsylvania’s “third senator.” His wife, Jill Biden, a community college professor, grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs of South Jersey and Montgomery County, and will become first lady.
Biden’s rise has been interwoven deep personal loss.
Shortly after he won his Senate seat in 1972, and just weeks before Christmas, Biden’s first wife, Neilia, and daughter, Naomi, nicknamed Amy, were killed in a horrific car crash. Decades later, in 2015, Biden’s son Beau, who had survived the wreck and become a rising political figure himself, died of cancer. He was 46.
It appeared that Joe Biden’s long public career had come to an end when he chose not to run for president in 2016. But he returned to the fray — driven, he said, by his fear that Trump would forever alter America’s values and character.
Biden’s relatively moderate, lunch-pail style, which he maintained even after decades in the airy Senate and then the White House, proved appealing to many voters tired of the tumult of recent years, but reluctant to lurch as far leftward as many of his fellow Democrats would like.
Biden will be the oldest person to enter the presidency, and faced attacks from Trump and his critics about his acumen.
He will soon assume the leadership of a badly fractured country, where the coronavirus has wrought isolation and death, devastated the economy, and the public is ferociously divided along political and cultural lines. Protests and civil unrest over police conduct and unequal treatment continue to flare.
Despite his victory, Biden may face a Republican Senate — or possibly an evenly split one, where Harris, as vice president, would be required to break ties — after Republicans ran strong in key Senate races. That could severely limit any Biden agenda and Democratic dreams of big, ambitious policy gains.
Many of his supporters, however, said they were simply eager to be done with Trump, and, they hope, return to more normal American leadership.