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WORLD | 07-11-2020 14:00

Joe Biden wins race for White House, ending Trump presidency

Democrat Joe Biden has won the race for the White House, US media projected Saturday, defeating Donald Trump and ending a presidency that has left the United States more divided than at any time in decades.

Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. has defeated Donald Trump to become the 46th president of the United States, unseating the incumbent with a pledge to unify and mend a nation reeling from a worsening pandemic, faltering economy and deep political divisions.

Biden’s victory came after the Associated Press, CNN and NBC showed him winning the key battleground state Pennsylvania and gaining more than the 270 Electoral College votes needed to secure the presidency.

Reacting to the news, the Democratic candidate thanked the country for electing him as leader.

"America, I'm honoured that you have chosen me to lead our great country," he wrote. "The work ahead of us will be hard but I promise you this: I will be president for all Americans – whether you voted for me or not. I will keep the faith that you have placed in me."

Biden, 77, is the oldest candidate ever elected to the White House and wins in this third run for the United States' highest office. He is the first candidate to oust a sitting commander-in-chief after one term since Bill Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush in 1992.

His running-mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, 56, will become the first Black and Indian-American woman to serve as vice-president, a glimpse at a coming generational shift in the party.

Trump, 74, had no immediate reaction to the announcement, but as Biden's lead grew during vote counts since Tuesday's election, the Republican president lashed out with unsubstantiated claims of fraud and claimed, falsely, that he had won.

Earlier Saturday, as he headed to his golf course in Virginia, he repeated this, tweeting: "I WON THIS ELECTION, BY A LOT!"

Biden, who won the votes of a record more than 74 million people, was hunkered down with Harris and his campaign team, in his home town of Wilmington, Delaware.

Late Friday night, he delivered an address urging Americans to "come together as a nation and heal."

The Secret Service has already begun intensifying its protective bubble around the president-elect, who will be inaugurated on January 20.

A centrist who promises to bring calm to Washington after four turbulent years under Trump, Biden served as vice-president to Barack Obama in 2008.

Polarised nation

Overall turnout on Tuesday broke records with some 160 million people pouring out across the United States after a deeply polarising campaign complicated by the resurgent Covid-19 pandemic.

Biden secured his win by recapturing the Midwestern states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin – traditional Democratic territory that Trump had flipped in 2016 with his powerful appeal to white, working-class voters.

With Pennsylvania in the bag, Biden has now accumulated 273 out of 538 Electoral College votes, clearing the bar of 270, thereby making it impossible for Trump to get a second term even if he were to win the remaining undeclared states.

Biden was also ahead in Arizona, Nevada and in a near dead heat in Georgia – a southern state that has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton in 1992 and is now headed for a recount.

Results from congressional races indicate that Biden will face a divided legislature, with his Democrats holding a majority in the House and Republicans clinging to control of the Senate – although that could still shift.

The division in Washington will likely complicate immediately Biden's ability to govern, starting with disputes in Congress over a delayed economic stimulus package for US citizens hammered by the fallout from the coronavirus crisis.

 

Unity?

 

The incoming president’s goal of uniting the country will be made more difficult by Trump’s unfounded allegations of fraud and with control of the US Senate up in the air, awaiting two run-offs in Georgia in January. 

If Republicans hold the Senate, Biden’s agenda of tax hikes on the wealthy and corporations and climate-friendly energy policies could be stymied in Congress. Democrats maintained control of the House of Representatives.

So far, none of Trump’s lawsuits have gained traction or demonstrated that the results of the election can be overturned.

Biden won back the battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – the so-called Blue Wall that delivered the presidency to Trump in 2016. Buoyed by historic turnout, Biden reaped four million more votes than Trump nationwide, as of Saturday morning, winning at least 74 million votes to Trump’s 70 million.

The Democratic party veteran pulled together enough support to sweep aside one of the most unconventional and polarising presidents in US history, a man who cultivated a fierce loyalty among his supporters while equating his political rivals and the media to enemies of the state.

Given how close Biden’s margins were, Trump might have won a second term if not for his widely criticised response to the coronavirus pandemic and the economic fallout. The president routinely mused at rallies how he had the election won before the virus reached the US earlier this year.

Trump consistently downplayed the threat of the virus and discouraged even the simplest public health measures to curb its spread, turning mask-wearing into a political issue. For voters, seeing Trump, his wife and his youngest son infected with Covid-19 in early October punctuated his failure to protect the nation as a whole.

Biden has promised that combating the US outbreak will be his highest priority, along with repairing a battered economy. He has proposed a US$3.5-trillion plan that relies heavily on deficit spending to create jobs, though a plan that size likely would face resistance in a Republican-led Senate. More than 9.7 million US citizens have been infected and more than 236,000 have died since February.

Reversing Trump's moves

The president-elect has said he can erase some of Trump’s most controversial decisions on his own, without congressional approval. He plans to rejoin the Paris climate agreement and the World Health Organisation and reverse Trump’s rollbacks of environmental regulations. He says he will also end the ban on immigration from several predominantly Muslim nations and restore rights for asylum seekers.

Voters responded to Biden’s relative humility and his conventional approach to the campaign, which reflected his 47 years in public life. Biden surrounded himself with many of the same advisers from his past campaigns, and his administration likely would include at least some veterans of Barack Obama’s White House, where Biden was vice-president.

Facing a likely Republican majority in the Senate, Biden will have to draw on longstanding relationships with top Republicans in Congress in order to have any shot of passing major legislation or getting his preferred cabinet confirmed. That could prove difficult in a Washington that looks little like it did when Biden first entered politics in 1972.

The presidency marks an unexpected capstone for Biden’s five-decade political career. The former Delaware senator’s two previous presidential bids in 1988 and 2008 collapsed in the primaries. After serving as Obama’s vice-president, he passed up a chance to run again in 2016 following the death of his son Beau Biden and as Democrats coalesced around Hillary Clinton.

Biden entered the Democratic primary in April 2019 as the frontrunner. He ran on a message of unity, often saying he ran because of Trump’s response to the 2017 White supremacist rally and counter-protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, when the president said there were “very fine people on both sides.”

Until Biden’s victory was assured, Democrats feared he might fall short – much like Clinton in 2016. Public polls once again appeared to overstate Biden’s strength in closely contested states, as Biden was forced to eke out narrow wins in battlegrounds like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The veteran politician made the race into a referendum on Trump, and the president tried to caricature Biden as a corrupt, past-his-prime politician who was too weak to hold off the far left wing of his party. The president coined a derisive nickname for Biden – “Sleepy Joe” – just like his “Crooked Hillary” moniker in 2016.

But attempts by Trump’s associates to smear Biden as corrupt fell flat. A week before the election, 55 percent of voters surveyed in a CNN poll said they viewed the former vice president favourably.

Still, many of the same challenges that sunk Trump’s presidency – namely a resurgent pandemic that is slowing the US economic recovery – could overwhelm the rest of Biden’s agenda. And on top of that, he will likely have to continue to contend with Trump, who is showing no sign of going quietly from the White House.

– TIMES/AFP/BLOOMBERG

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