Joe Biden, who campaigned on uniting the country after four divisive years, defeated President Donald Trump for the White House, according to NBC News projections.
Biden's victory is a repudiation of Trump, who failed to gain control of a deadly coronavirus pandemic, who courted charges of racism and xenophobia and who was one of only three presidents to be impeached.
The election underscored just how fractured the country is: While Biden received more votes than any candidate in U.S. history, Trump received the second-most ever.
Biden pledged to bring the country together after a contentious presidential campaign.
"Folks, I’m a proud Democrat, but I will govern as an American president," Biden said during his victory speech Saturday night. "I’ll work as hard for those who didn’t vote for me as those who did. Let this grim era of demonization in America begin to end here and now."
Biden’s victory came after mail-in votes in Pennsylvania pushed the former vice president ahead of Trump in that state, capping days of tense vote-counting in battleground states and advancing Biden over the 270 electoral vote threshold.
Biden was expected to address the American people from Wilmington, Del., at 8 p.m. ET Saturday.
As expected, the results were uncertain on Election Day, as millions of votes were still being tallied, many of them mailed in because of the coronavirus pandemic. Trump prematurely declared himself victorious early Wednesday and falsely claimed fraud. State officials responded by insisting that all legitimate ballots would be counted and even some prominent Republicans refused to go along with Trump’s claims.
The Trump campaign is not likely to go quietly: It has already indicated it will request a recount in Wisconsin, and has ongoing legal battles in several states.
Trump released a statement shortly after NBC News and other news organizations projected Biden the winner: "Beginning Monday, our campaign will start prosecuting our case in court to ensure election laws are fully upheld and the rightful winner is seated."
But by Saturday morning, Biden had won more votes than any presidential nominee in history -- more than 74 million, surpassing President Barack Obama’s 2008 record. He had won 273 electoral votes and was leading in several other states.
In a speech earlier in the week, Biden said that he believed he would win and called on Americans to put the rhetoric of the campaign behind them and to come together as a nation.
“To make progress we have to stop treating our opponents as enemies,” he said on Wednesday. “We are not enemies.”
He said that although he and his running mate, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, campaigned as Democrats, “I will govern as an American president."
The Democrat ran on a promise to unite a country split by an administration that openly stoked anger and grievances. A moderate Democrat, he was able to bring together factions of his party and Republicans appalled at the direction Trump had taken theirs.
The chasm that separated Trump’s passionate supporters from his equally fervent opponents brought an urgency to the election that spurred millions of Americans to vote early despite long lines and fears of COVID-19. Early voting in Texas surpassed the total number of ballots cast there in the 2016 election.
The turnout countered Republican strategies that critics say were intended to suppress the vote, from preventing early processing of mail-in ballots to court battles over how long after Election Day ballots could be counted.
“The American people are showing up in droves, they’re ready for change, they want to make their voices heard,” Biden told NBC Philadelphia mid-day Tuesday. “They’re showing up in the middle of a pandemic, high unemployment, and they want to make their voices heard.”
Trump spent weeks trying to cast doubt on the legitimacy of mail-in ballots and insisted that the results be known Election Day even though no state certifies its results that quickly. By Wednesday afternoon, as mail-in votes chipped into his lead in several states, Trump was tweeting false conspiracy theories about phony votes in Michigan, and "claiming" the electoral votes in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia.
Early returns on Tuesday night weren’t so rosy for Biden, particularly in battleground Florida, which Democrats hoped to win. Trump took Florida with big gains among Latinos in the Miami area, and then also won Ohio and Iowa.
Democrats worried that the early returns might foreshadow a repeat of the 2016 election, when they were left stunned by Trump’s surprise victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton. But by Wednesday afternoon, Biden had won Wisconsin and Michigan, one of the states that Trump flipped in 2016, and had a path to the necessary Electoral College votes.
"The people of this nation have spoken," Biden said. "They delivered us a clear victory, a convincing victory, a victory for We The People. We won with the most votes ever cast in a presidential ticket in the history of the nation, 74 million.
"I’m humbled by the trust and confidence you’ve placed in me."
Trump meanwhile had sued over the vote count in Michigan and Pennsylvania and was asking for a recount in Wisconsin.
Biden, who turns 78 on Nov. 20, will be the oldest president ever elected. Harris will set her own milestones: She will become the first female vice president, the first Black vice president and the first South Asian vice president.
"While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last," Harris said. "Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities."
Biden campaigned on more middle-of-the-road solutions to the country’s problems than those proposed by other Democrats. He favors building on Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act), whose future goes before the U.S. Supreme Court this month, rather than adopting universal health care. He would raise taxes but not for those Americans making less than $400,000 a year. He supports reforming police departments in response to the shootings of African Americans but not defunding them. He would not ban fracking, as Trump falsely claimed, but he did acknowledge a coming end to an economy based on fossil fuels.
As important for many Americans, he has a plan for trying to halt the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 220,000 people and infected over 9 million in the U.S. Biden would ask states to mandate masks and would gear up testing and contact tracing. Trump downplayed the pandemic, flaunted local regulations to hold packed rallies, often went without a mask and was hospitalized with COVID-19 after a Rose Garden event for newly approved Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, which turned into a superspreader event.
During the campaign, Biden showed noticeable empathy to families of coronavirus victims -- something that his opponent seemed to lack. Biden dipped into his own tragic past to relate to others who were suffering.
In 1972, Biden's first wife and daughter died in a car crash one month before Biden was sworn in as a U.S. Senator. Then, in 2015, while Biden was vice president, his eldest son, Beau, died of brain cancer. When Biden chose not to run for president in 2016, it appeared the two tragedies would bookend his political career.
Instead, Biden chose to run for president in 2020, aiming to heal a divisive political climate that emerged under Trump.
PHOTOS: Joe Biden Wins White House
During his four years in office, Trump got three Supreme Court justices confirmed and 220 judges in all, signed a $1.5 trillion tax law, withdrew the United States from the Paris climate accord, rolled back numerous environmental protections and moved the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. His changes to immigration policy were wide ranging and among the most criticized, from turning back asylum seekers to separating children from parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. The administration said that it cannot find the parents of 545 migrant children.
Trump also saw eight of his advisors criminally charged. He trampled ethical norms and benefited financially from the presidency. He long refused to release his tax returns, but The New York Times obtained his tax information for a 20-year period and found that he paid only $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency and the year after. He also has hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due.
Biden, the longtime senator from Delaware and vice president under President Barack Obama, had seemed close to losing the Democratic primary to one of his younger or more left-leaning competitors, but in the end he prevailed over a crowded field. His comeback came in South Carolina with strong support from African American voters.
It was his third try for the presidency.