Joe Biden was elected the 46th president of the US after victory in the battleground state of Pennsylvania propelled him past the 270-vote electoral college threshold, ending Donald Trump’s hopes of re-election.

Mr Biden was declared president-elect four days after polls closed, marking the conclusion of a bitter presidential race that was fought against the backdrop of a pandemic that has killed more than 228,000 Americans. He has also been declared the winner in Arizona and Nevada, and leads Mr Trump in Georgia.

His victory signalled the end of one of the most tumultuous eras in US history as Mr Trump, a New York property developer turned reality television star, took aim at the norms of American politics, pursuing a populist agenda at home and an “America First” stance abroad.

Mr Biden, a 77-year-old son of working-class Scranton, Pennsylvania, became the oldest candidate elected to the presidency. Having served for nearly four decades in the US Senate and eight years as Barack Obama’s vice-president, Mr Biden promised to unify the nation after the tumult of the Trump years.

His running mate, Kamala Harris, will be the first African-American woman and first person of Indian descent to serve as vice-president.

In a statement, Mr Biden said he was “honoured and humbled by the trust the American people have placed in” him and Ms Harris. “In the face of unprecedented obstacles, a record number of Americans voted. Proving once again, that democracy beats deep in the heart of America.”

He added: “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. We are the United States of America. And there’s nothing we can’t do, if we do it together.”

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In a tweet, Ms Harris said: “This election is about so much more than Joe Biden or me. It’s about the soul of America and our willingness to fight for it. We have a lot of work ahead of us. Let’s get started.”

The Associated Press declared that Mr Biden had won the presidency roughly an hour after Mr Trump arrived at his golf course in Virginia, just across the Potomac river from the White House.

Mr Trump issued a statement within minutes of the race being called in which he accused Mr Biden of “rushing to falsely pose as the winner” with the help of his “media allies”.

He added: “The simple fact is this election is far from over. Joe Biden has not been certified as the winner of any states, let alone any of the highly contested states headed for mandatory recounts, or states where our campaign has valid and legitimate legal challenges.”

US President Donald Trump refused to concede defeat on Saturday, while at the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia. © AFP via Getty Images

Mr Trump was the first US president to fail in his bid for re-election since 1992. He repeatedly mocked his rival during the campaign, telling supporters at a rally that he might leave the US if he lost to Mr Biden, who he calls “Sleepy Joe”.

With ballots still being counted across the country, Mr Biden had received more votes than any presidential candidate in history — more than 74m, about 4m more than Mr Trump.

In remarks on Friday night, Mr Biden said Americans had given him a “mandate for action” on everything from the coronavirus pandemic and the economy to climate change and racism. “They made it clear they want the country to come together — not pull apart.”

“We rebuilt the ‘blue wall’ in the middle of the country that crumbled just four years ago,” Mr Biden added, in a reference to his victories in Wisconsin and Michigan, and his expected win in Pennsylvania. Hillary Clinton lost those states to Mr Trump in 2016.

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Pollsters had predicted that Mr Biden would cruise to a landslide victory and that the Democrats would win control of the Senate, but he and his party look set to fall short of those projections.

“We don’t have any more time to waste on partisan warfare,” Mr Biden said, underscoring the degree to which he will have to work with Republicans if he is to achieve his aims.

Mr Biden’s election followed a drawn-out counting process after a record number of Americans cast postal ballots to avoid crowds during the pandemic. Some states’ election rules prevented them from tabulating those votes until election day, setting the stage for the days-long delay.

Despite the threat of coronavirus, overall turnout in the vote that ended on Tuesday was also expected to reach levels not seen in a century.

Signalling the importance of Pennsylvania to his strategy, Mr Biden kicked off his campaign 18 months ago in Pittsburgh, an industrial city in the western part of the state, where he pledged to improve the economic situation of middle-class Americans.

Joe Biden named Kamala Harris as his running mate in August 2020. © EPA-EFE

During the Democratic primary, Mr Biden argued that he was the best candidate to win back the working-class Democrats who deserted the party in 2016 and helped Mr Trump win rustbelt states in the industrial north. In the final weeks of the race, the two contenders campaigned far more in Pennsylvania than in any other state.

“For the last two years, I have been saying the single most important battleground state is Pennsylvania. This is where the Biden campaign held its official kick-off,” said Brendan Boyle, a Pennsylvania congressman. “So it is only fitting that it is Pennsylvania that officially puts us over the top.” 

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Heading into election day, Mr Biden led the national polls and many of the battleground states. On election night, however, he had a rocky start as Mr Trump won the first swing states that were called — Florida and Ohio.

In Pennsylvania, Mr Trump took a large early lead after the polls closed, but Mr Biden recovered with the help of postal votes. On Saturday afternoon, he led Mr Trump with a margin of just over 34,000 votes, a lead that is expected to expand as the vote count continues. Four years ago, Mr Trump beat Mrs Clinton by just over 44,000 votes in the state.

A man waves a flag as media announce Joe Biden’s victory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. © REUTERS

The president appeared to lose some working-class “Trump Democrats”, and suffered sharp losses in the suburbs of cities such as Atlanta and Philadelphia.

Pat Toomey, a Republican Pennsylvania senator, said Mr Trump appeared to have lost because “he ran into trouble with suburban women”.

Mr Biden was also buoyed by African-Americans in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s biggest city, as well as across the country.

The general election marked the second time this year that black voters had proved critical to Mr Biden’s fortunes. During the race for the Democratic nomination, Mr Biden was on the verge of a complete implosion until African-American votes in the South Carolina primary and on Super Tuesday carried him to victory and resurrected his campaign.

Thus far, Mr Trump’s legal efforts to stop Mr Biden’s march to the White House have been met with limited success. Judges in Georgia and Michigan have dismissed Republican lawsuits alleging election misconduct, and in Pennsylvania the Trump campaign managed to win only a short pause in the Philadelphia vote count.

Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter 

Via Financial Times