WASHINGTON: Democrat Joe Biden captured the US presidency on Saturday (Nov 7) as voters narrowly rebuffed 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 the former vice president more than the 270 he needed to triumph, prompting all major TV networks to declare him victor came after four days of nail-biting suspense following Tuesday's election.
"I am honoured and humbled by the trust the American people have placed in me and in Vice President-elect (Kamala) Harris. In the face of unprecedented obstacles, a record number of Americans voted," Biden said on Twitter.
"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."
Trump, who has made repeated claims of electoral fraud without providing proof, immediately accused Biden of "rushing to falsely pose as the winner".
"This election is far from over," he said in a statement.
State elections officials across the country say there has been no evidence of significant fraud.
Following the capture of Pennsylvania, US media projected that Biden also won the contested state of Nevada, adding six votes to his Electoral College victory.
Trump had made a strong play in Nevada, holding several rallies there in the final stretch of the campaign. Democrat Hillary Clinton narrowly won Nevada in 2016, and Republicans saw an opening to expand their electoral map.
The pandemic has pummelled Nevada’s tourism-dependent economy, especially, hampering Trump’s ability to make inroads in the state.
Nevada is also home to a large Hispanic population, a voting bloc that typically leans Democratic.
The last Republican presidential candidate to win Nevada was George W Bush in 2004.
As the news broke, loud cheers erupted in the halls of the hotel where Biden aides were staying and around the country.
"Worth every minute" of the wait, a Biden aide said, as campaign staff exchanged elbow bumps and air hugs in the lobby.
Cheers and applause was heard in neighbourhoods in Washington, DC. In one community, people emerged onto balconies, yelling, waving 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 neighbourhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, people clapped, honked car horns and erupted in screams of joy as the news spread of Biden's victory. 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, about 200 Trump supporters gathered near the state capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, to demand a recount.
The networks' declaration that Biden had won came amid internal concerns within Trump's team about the strategy going forward and pressure on him to pick a more professional legal team to outline where they believe voter fraud took place and show evidence pointing toward it.
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.
DIFFICULT TASK AHEAD
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 polarised Washington, underscored by a record nationwide voter turnout in a fight to the finish.
Both sides characterised the 2020 election as one of the most crucial in US 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 as millions lined up patiently to vote. Thousands of election monitors from both parties worked for four days to ensure the votes were being counted.
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 4 million votes ahead of Trump in the nationwide popular vote count.
Biden, who has spent half a century in public life as a US 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 disruptive 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.
Biden 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 US 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 enjoys despite his tumultuous four years in office.
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 US 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.
Biden, set to become the 46th US president, mounted unsuccessful bids for the presidency in 1988 and 2008. His running mate, US Senator Kamala Harris, will become 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.
"TRYING TO STEAL AN ELECTION"
For Trump, 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 US president to lose a re-election bid since Republican George HW 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 prioritise 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.
Prior to the election, Trump had refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he lost to Biden - and he stuck to that approach. He falsely declared victory long before counting was complete.
Before Biden's victory projection and with Trump's re-election chances fading as more votes were counted, the president launched an extraordinary assault on the country's democratic process from the White House on Thursday, falsely claiming the election was being stolen from him.
Offering no evidence, Trump assailed election workers and alleged fraud in the states where results from a dwindling set of uncounted votes pushed Biden nearer to victory.
"This is a case where they're trying to steal an election," Trump said on Thursday.
Urging patience as votes were counted, Biden responded on Twitter: "No one is going to take our democracy away from us. Not now, not ever."