On March 2, Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar took the stage at The Depot in Salt Lake City as a few hundred supporters got up early to welcome the senior senator from Minnesota to the Beehive State.
It was nine days before the focus of the nation would turn to COVID-19 with the positive test of Utah Jazz star center Rudy Gobert, signaling the public start of a national health crisis and an economic shutdown; politics and the presidential campaign would be reshaped for the remainder of the year.
But on this Monday, Klobuchar said she was ready to lead the nation and challenge President Donald Trump, a message she was scheduled to take later in the day to Denver and onto Tulsa. She never made it to Denver.
By afternoon, she and fellow challenger Pete Buttigieg had rerouted to Dallas, joining Joe Biden and suspending their campaigns with endorsements of the former vice president, a circling-of-the-wagons moment to apparently prevent the party from going too far left in order to provide a formidable challenge to a president who had successfully aroused the passions of an electorate seeking populist change.
The payoff came for Democrats Saturday morning when Biden was projected as the winner of Pennsylvania, putting him above the 270 electoral vote mark to become the 46th president of the United States when he is sworn in Jan. 20. The historic moment also means Kamala Harris, who herself suspended her presidential aspirations and unified around Biden, becomes the first woman of color — she is the daughter of an Indian mother and Jamaican father — to become vice president.
“America, I’m honored that you have chosen me to lead our great country. The work ahead of us will be hard, but I promise you this: I will be a President for all Americans — whether you voted for me or not,” Biden tweeted shortly after the morning announcement.
At 8 p.m. Eastern time, he and Harris appeared together as he addressed the nation in an acceptance speech decades in the making. Biden, who will become the nation’s oldest president at age 77, first sought the presidency 33 years ago, lost again in 2008, and served for eight years as vice president under Barack Obama.
In a scene that was more drive-in theater party than convention hall celebration — a nod to COVID-19 protections — flag-waving supporters at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, cheered their hometown president-elect. Biden offered his thanks and put the focus on unifying a country that had more than 70 million people vote for his opponent.
“I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide but to unify. That doesn’t see red states and blue states, but the United States.”
The former vice president returned time and again to this main message of ending the harshness and acrimony, calling on Americans to “let this grim era of demonization in America end.”
“Now that the campaign is over — what is the people’s will? What is our mandate?” the former vice president asked. He then answered, “I believe it is this: Americans have called on us to marshal the forces of decency and the forces of fairness. To marshal the forces of science and the forces of hope in the great battles of our time.”
He said the country could not return to economic prosperity and to enjoying the simple pleasures of life without getting control of the coronavirus. The pandemic became the centerpiece of the election, as President Donald Trump repeatedly claimed successes, while his detractors noted the climbing death rate and the unrelenting pace of cases.
“We cannot repair the economy, restore our vitality, or relish life’s most precious moments — hugging a grandchild, birthdays, weddings, graduations, all the moments that matter most to us — until we get this virus under control,” he said.
He promised to name a group of scientists as transition advisers “to help take the Biden-Harris COVID plan and convert it into an action blueprint that starts on Jan. 20th, 2021.”
Praise for Biden’s victory came from across party lines, though Republican leaders in Congress did not offer their congratulations, opting instead to focus on the election, calling on all legal votes to be counted.
Some Trump supporters in Utah, where the president won 58.7% to Biden’s 37.2%, came to the state Capitol with flags waving, protesting declarations of a Biden victory. Biden supporters took to the streets in Utah, New York and Washington, D.C, as well as other states, part celebration and part relief at the end of the election.
Despite the calls for healing and unity, Saturday’s decision for Biden will not be the end of the election fight. Trump released a statement Saturday morning vowing to continue. It said in part:
“We all know why Joe Biden is rushing to falsely pose as the winner, and why his media allies are trying so hard to help him: they don’t want the truth to be exposed. 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 that could determine the ultimate victor,” he said.
“Beginning Monday, our campaign will start prosecuting our case in court to ensure election laws are fully upheld and the rightful winner is seated.”
The view from Utah
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney will appear on Sunday morning news shows for CNN, NBC and Fox News to discuss the election and its outcome. He offered his congratulations after the election was called for Biden: “Ann and I extend our congratulations to President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. We know both of them as people of good will and admirable character. We pray that God may bless them in the days and years ahead.”
Perhaps few in Utah who support Biden had greater reason to pause and reflect on the election process than former legislator Scott Howell, Biden’s point man in the state. Howell recalled that it was exactly three years to the day Saturday that Biden held a breakfast meeting at the Grand America Hotel with about 20 prominent Utahns, following a speech the previous night.
“He asked me to attend a breakfast at the Grand America and invite friends,” he said. Biden came up to him at that gathering and said, “Look I’ve got some serious decisions to make but I don’t know. Will you help me?”
To see it culminating exactly three years later was cause for reflection from Howell, when asked how it felt for his candidate to get the victory.
“I’m feeling gratitude. I’m feeling a bit of anxiety because it’s not over until it’s over ... but I’m feeling that there is a healing spirit that is going to start. And that healing spirit to me, and unifying spirit, is more important than anything else to protect our republic and continue to enjoy the democracy we live in.”
He praised Harris, whom he helped host during the vice presidential debate at the University of Utah, and noted the historic nature of her selection.
Harris spoke before Biden on the stage in Delaware Saturday. She invoked the name of the late Congressman John Lewis, who dedicated his life to the pursuit of civil rights, and also reflected on the example she can be to young girls as she becomes the first woman to be vice president.
“So Congressman John Lewis before his passing wrote democracy is not a state, it is an act. and what he meant is that America’s democracy is not guaranteed. It is only as strong as our ability to fight for it. To guard it. To never take it for granted,” she said.
Personal goals are the same way: worth fighting for, and she hopes now with another glass ceiling broken for women, young girls can have confidence in any path they choose.
Biden, who is the second Catholic to rise to the presidency, turned to scripture as he looked to bring the country together.
”The Bible tells us that to everything there is a season — a time to build, a time to reap, a time to sow. And a time to heal. This is the time to heal in America,” he said.
He also quoted the lyrics of a favorite family hymn as he neared the end of his remarks Saturday night:
“In the last days of the campaign, I’ve been thinking about a hymn that means a lot to me and to my family, particularly my deceased son Beau. It captures the faith that sustains me and which I believe sustains America.
“And I hope it can provide some comfort and solace to the more than 230,000 families who have lost a loved one to this terrible virus this year. My heart goes out to each and every one of you. Hopefully this hymn gives you solace as well.
“And He will raise you up on eagle’s wings,
Bear you on the breath of dawn,
Make you to shine like the sun,
And hold you in the palm of His Hand.”
The speech Saturday and the promise by the president to continue looking at the legitimacy of the election capped days of tote board watching as each vote bundle was tallied and reported. Associated Press, CNN and all the major networks called the election when it was clear Pennsylvania would go to Biden.
The Associated Press declared him the winner in Pennsylvania 11:25 a.m. EST, earning him the 20 electoral votes.
In Nevada, AP declared Biden the winner Saturday morning after a batch of 15,000 ballots were released. The news came following the announcement on Pennsylvania.
In Arizona, election officials Friday said there were 150,000 votes still to be counted, with Biden leading the president by 29,861 votes.
In Georgia, AP reported that votes are still being counted across the state. Biden took the lead Friday by a scant 4,020 votes out of nearly 5 million ballots cast. A recount is expected, as is allowed by law if the margin is within 0.5 percentage points.
The eventful day came to a close in Delaware with music and fireworks as the families of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris paused to enjoy the moment. Elections are built by money and the sacrifice of volunteers on both sides. Sometimes it’s the sacrifice of other candidates as well. Fellow candidate Amy Klobuchar, who left that Utah stage in March, perhaps said it best for all Democrats and Biden supporters in a Saturday tweet:
“Been waiting for those fireworks for a long time.”