It took days of nail biting and a country’s anxious gaze, but Joe Biden, Pennsylvania’s native son, won his home state on the back of millions of mail-in votes, thus completing a decadeslong quest to become president.
Despite trailing by some 700,000 votes on Election Night, the former vice president came roaring back to capture Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes four days after mail-in ballot counting began. In so doing, he erased a “red mirage” that had shown Republican incumbent President Donald Trump in the lead before all votes were tabulated.
Biden made up the initial deficit thanks to the more than 2.6 million ballots cast by mail, drop box and in-person early, which broke overwhelmingly in favor of the Democrat. He had already led Trump by more than 4 million popular votes nationwide, but his win in the Keystone State finally ensured victory for the Scranton native as he crossed the 270 Electoral College votes needed to take the White House.
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The race was called on Nov. 7, days after Election Night, as Trump was golfing in Virginia.
In wresting Pennsylvania back from Trump, Biden also fulfilled a long and winding road to the presidency that first began in 1988 but twice ended in failure.
Where once he was a young upstart ready to shake up Washington, the Democrat in 2020, at 77 years old, ran on experience and a steady hand ready to heal the wounds of an angry and deeply divided nation suffering through crises on multiple fronts.
His campaign of unity was a stark contrast to that of Trump, whom Biden accused of pouring “gasoline on every fire” and stoking rage and fear with incendiary, often racist, rhetoric.
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Both candidates campaigned heavily in the crucial swing state leading up to Election Day, with their campaigns making more than 80 combined visits to all parts of the state.
Heading into Nov. 3, most polls showed Biden consistently leading the incumbent, but there were worries of a 2016 repeat, when Trump shocked pollsters and won the presidency despite the long odds. Four years later, however, the Trump comeback did not materialize.
The Republican, though, has continued to peddle the unsubstantiated conspiracy of widespread fraud. He has promised legal challenges galore, both in Pennsylvania and other states that he had already apparently lost -- Wisconsin and Michigan -- and states he has yet to officially lose -- Georgia, Arizona and Nevada.
“Beginning Monday, our campaign will start prosecuting our case in court to ensure election laws are fully upheld and the rightful winner is seated," Trump tweeted Saturday. "The American People are entitled to an honest election: that means counting all legal ballots, and not counting any illegal ballots. This is the only way to ensure the public has full confidence in our election."
Neither the president, nor his legal team, have provided proof for their claims of fraud.
Pennsylvania and its 20 electoral college votes gained even more significance in a race where votes were so close elsewhere that prognosticators could not declare an Electoral College victory right away, leaving Biden teetering over the finish line but not quite crossing it until his home state was called.
In the 2020 presidential race, the battle for Pennsylvania was just as fierce between Trump and Biden, with turnout exceeding the already record-breaking numbers seen four years prior.
The slow grind toward counting all 2.6 million mail-in votes had been expected for months because the Republican-controlled state legislature refused to change the election code to allow for pre-canvassing or counting of mail-in ballots before Nov. 3.
Trump once again did well in the vast majority of rural counties he carried in 2016. But Biden clawed back some of the counties that flipped red four years ago while also riding a wave of high turnout in deep-blue Democratic areas like Philadelphia and its surrounding southeastern counties, as well as Allegheny County in the west.
Eyes were also on formerly reliably blue counties like Erie and Northampton, which flipped to Trump in 2016. Both of those counties once again turned to the Democrat. Lackawanna County, where Biden's hometown of Scranton is, performed well for the former vice president.
Trump’s 2020 message in Pennsylvania largely centered on portraying Biden as a jobs-killer who sent American jobs overseas due to his past support of trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement. The president also played up his handling of the coronavirus pandemic while downplaying its risks and defying state restrictions by holding large rallies with very little mask wearing or social distancing.
Meanwhile, he tried to cut into Biden’s lead in the suburbs, practically begging for support there as he warned of rioters and looters coming in from cities like nearby Philadelphia and destroying property.
The suburban vote that Trump sought did not materialize for him, nor did the urban vote.
In one of his many pot shots at the City of Brotherly Love, Trump had warned that, "Bad things happen in Philadelphia." They did -- for him -- as Philadelphians punched back and sent hundreds of thousands of votes in the direction of Biden.
Unlike Trump, Biden followed public health guidance and eschewed large rallies on the campaign trail, restricting his appearances to video conferences and, later, drive-in gatherings. The unconventional strategy was a risk forced upon the candidate by a deadly virus but one that ultimately paid off.
It also served to paint a stark contrast with the president as Biden made the election become a referendum on Trump’s handling of the pandemic, as well as affordable health care, while fending off attacks on his character and Trump’s characterization of him as a radical leftist.
The coronavirus has killed more than 230,000 people in the United States, and Biden often noted that millions of survivors could be considered as having a preexisting medical condition and be charged more for health insurance if Trump won and successfully overturned the landmark Affordable Care Act without a plan to replace it.
Meanwhile, the country’s long struggle with race and policing came into sharp focus as both candidates offered diverging responses to deadly police killings that triggered mass protests which at times devolved into violence across the nation.
The death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer reverberated throughout the United States and the world, its effects touching Pennsylvania as well.
In Philadelphia, the response took the form of massive demonstrations that at once showed the potential for unity and humanity but also the anger that such police killings invariably touch off as well.
Interspersed with nonviolent protests were moments of looting and chaos. Police officers were hurt and buildings destroyed. In a much-decried response, though, Philadelphia police used tear gas and rubber bullets on mostly peaceful groups.
For Trump, it was further proof that rule under Democrats led to violence and that the answer was “backing the blue” and responding with force.
Biden, meanwhile, denounced the violence and emphasized a need for police reform and the reality of systemic racism in America.
He reiterated his call to “restore the soul of America,” a familiar refrain to which he attributed his desire to seek the presidency yet again -- after Trump had said there were “very fine people” on “both sides” of the deadly 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally that saw neo-Nazis clash with counterprotesters.
But while Biden’s message won out, it was not the complete repudiation of Trump that some might have wished. Despite the Democrat winning both the popular vote and the Electoral College, Trump got more than 70 million Americans to cast their ballot for him.
Biden now inherits a nation setting daily COVID-19 infection records, high unemployment figures, a looming eviction crisis, spurned international allies, a battered economy with a ballooning debt and the fear that the chasm between fellow Americans has grown into an ocean.
The United States is on shaky ground and deeply divided, and it will take a gargantuan effort for Biden to guide it through the wilderness that lies ahead.