Political News

7 takeaways from Biden's win in the 2020 presidential race

Joe Biden is the President-elect, CNN projected Saturday morning, winning on a message of unity and a pledge to restore the "soul of the nation" after four years of tumult under President Donald Trump.

Posted Updated

Eric Bradner
CNN — Joe Biden is the President-elect, CNN projected Saturday morning, winning on a message of unity and a pledge to restore the "soul of the nation" after four years of tumult under President Donald Trump.

Biden rebuilt the "blue wall" of Great Lakes states where Trump had won four years earlier. He also delivered Democrats' strongest performance in a generation in Arizona and Georgia, leading both states by narrow margins as votes continue to be counted there and in Nevada, where Biden also leads.

The 77-year-old Biden, who was among the youngest men ever elected to the Senate in 1972, is now the oldest elected to the presidency.

In his third bid for the presidency, Biden's life story of overcoming personal tragedy met the moment of a nation in the grips of health and economic crises. He built a coalition of people of color, suburban women, younger and older voters, and just enough independents and disaffected Republicans to win narrow margins in several battleground states where Republicans down-ballot outperformed Trump.

And with Biden's victory, his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, has made history. One hundred years after the United States' constitutional guarantee of women's right to vote, she becomes America's first female, first Black and first South Asian vice president-elect.

Democrats did not see the results they were hoping for in the Senate or House, although they lead in the race to retain control of the House. And the party is closely watching Georgia, where one Senate race is already headed to a runoff and another could be, as well -- setting up two high-stakes races on January 5 with control of the Senate on the line.

Here are seven takeaways from the results of the 2020 presidential election:

Biden rebuilds the blue wall

Biden's ability to rebuild the "blue wall" of industrial states across the Great Lakes region wasn't just his political argument to Democrats over why they should nominate him. It's at the core of his identity: A candidate from a working-class family in Scranton, Pennsylvania, who never lost touch with those roots over nearly five decades in national politics and could move areas like it back into the Democratic column.

When the party's primary voters rejected more progressive candidates and young, emerging stars who might have better aligned with their political beliefs in favor of Biden, a figure hardened by presidential and vice presidential campaigns, it was because they believed he represented their best shot at winning.

Biden executed on that promise, winning Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, according to CNN projections -- all states that went to Trump four years earlier.

Biden's campaign looked to other battlegrounds across the Sun Belt, and -- in addition to winning every state Hillary Clinton won four years ago, as long as his edge in Nevada holds -- is currently leading in Arizona and Georgia.

But the "blue wall" was his primary focus, and what ultimately cemented his victory. Biden spent the final two days of the race barnstorming Pennsylvania, and then spent Election Day revisiting old haunts, including his childhood home in Scranton.

"From this house to the White House with the grace of God," he wrote on the living room wall there.

Overtime in Georgia

The battle for control of the Senate is going into overtime, with Georgia appearing to be headed toward two runoffs January 5 that will determine whether Republicans maintain their majority.

CNN has not yet projected winners in Senate races in Alaska and North Carolina. But if Republicans' leads in those states hold, the Senate would have 48 Democrats and 50 Republicans -- meaning Democrats' only shot at a majority is a 50-50 split, since Vice President-elect Harris would serve as the tie-breaker.

The runoffs are happening because of Georgia's unique requirement that to win in November, the first-place finisher must top 50% of the vote. Though incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue is narrowly ahead of Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff, the presence of a Libertarian in that race slightly reduced both of their vote totals, holding Perdue just under the 50% mark unless something changes at the last minute.

Meanwhile, the "jungle primary" in the special election for Georgia's other Senate seat always looked likely to head to a runoff. Democratic Rev. Raphael Warnock and appointed Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler have qualified for it.

With the highest possible stakes, the runoffs will turn Georgia into the site of an all-out political battle, with both parties throwing everything they have at organizing and advertising in the state.

Democrats historically have underperformed in Georgia runoffs -- including in 2008, when Democratic challenger Jim Martin finished 3 percentage points behind Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss in the general election, only to lose the runoff by 15 points. But Democratic down-ballot candidates have come much closer to winning runoffs in recent years, and organizing efforts led by former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams have positioned Democrats to be more competitive this year. Biden himself holds a razor-thin lead over Trump in the state, which has not gone for a Democrat since Bill Clinton in 1992.

The chance to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, from his leadership position is all but certain to motivate Democratic donors to pour money into both races. Expect both parties to pour everything they have into the runoffs.

Trump's tantrum

Concessions by losing presidential candidates are an important American tradition, helping to legitimize the winner and affirm the democratic process.

Trump, though, appears uninterested in playing a part in that tradition, instead bent on tearing down that process on his way out of the White House.

In conversations with allies in recent days, Trump has said he has no intention to concede the election to Biden, CNN's Kaitlan Collins reported Friday morning. Aides, including his chief of staff Mark Meadows, have not attempted to bring Trump to terms of what's happening and have instead fed his baseless claim that the election is being stolen from him.

Trump's tweets -- many of which have been slapped with warning labels by Twitter -- have complained that the legitimate process of counting absentee ballots amounts to the race being stolen from him. His right-wing media supporters have mobilized, amplifying disinformation about how counties' and states' vote counts are taking place.

How Republicans in Congress handle Trump's tantrum bears watching in the coming days and weeks. Cloaking his lies about voter fraud and the vote-counting process with an air of legitimacy could do more long-lasting damage to the peaceful transition of power -- if that damage isn't already irreversible.

Harris makes history

For the first time, the United States has elected a Black and South Asian woman as vice president.

The huge historical significance of Harris' breakthrough might be lost temporarily amid the drama of close vote counts in several key states dragging on for several days, amid Trump's unsubstantiated complaints. But it is likely to come into view in the coming days, weeks and months, as the January 20 inauguration of Biden and Harris approaches.

And, as CNN's Abby Phillip pointed out on-air, Trump's political career began with the racist "birther" lie intended to discredit the first Black president, Barack Obama. It now ends with the first Black woman in the White House.

Turnout soars

The 2020 election featured the most motivated electorate in recent American history, underscoring how deeply motivated both parties' bases were.

Biden and Trump have now gotten the first- and second-most votes ever in United States presidential elections -- and many states are still counting. Biden is the first candidate ever to top 70 million votes, and Trump in on the cusp of crossing that threshold. Voter turnout appears to be on pace to reach the highest level since 1900, when more than 73% of eligible Americans cast ballots.

Despite his loss, Trump once again outperformed polls and increased turnout among his base of White working-class voters in rural areas. Biden saw jumps over 2016 turnout in urban and suburban regions.

Both parties have data to pick through to determine where they fell short, on a percentage basis, compared to previous years -- such as Trump drawing much stronger Hispanic support in Florida's Miami-Dade County, a weakness for Biden that Democrats will urgently seek to correct in future elections. But that's a challenge of persuasion, not mobilization. Both parties' voters were more motivated than at any point in modern history in 2020.

A big question Republicans now face is whether the sort of White working-class turnout that Trump motivated can transfer to other GOP candidates, or -- as the party's losses in the midterms suggest it could be -- a phenomenon exclusively driven by Trump.

No blue wave

Democrats entered the 2020 election expecting to build on their 2018 midterm gains, when a huge swing in their favor in the suburbs delivered the party control of the House of Representatives.

This year, Democrats hoped to add to that House majority, win a decisive Senate majority and flip several state legislative chambers in order to position the party to have a bigger say in the 2021 redistricting process, when legislatures draw new congressional district maps after the Census.

The party even hoped that by smashing fundraising records across the map -- including in long-shot Senate races in states like South Carolina and Kentucky -- it would deliver a few shockers on election night.

It all fell flat.

Democrats are on pace to lose several House seats, though they'll maintain their majority. They didn't gain ground in key state legislatures, and in some appear to have lost ground. And they saw several Senate races -- particularly marquee battles in Maine and North Carolina -- slip out of their hands late. Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins was boosted in the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett. And North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis has appeared to hold onto his seat, after his Democratic challenger, Cal Cunningham, was caught in a sex scandal. (CNN has not yet projected in the North Carolina race.)

It all led to a bittersweet election for Democrats, who are thrilled to have ended Trump's presidency but now must pick through the wreckage of their failures down-ballot.

The first look at that reckoning came in a House Democratic call Thursday, where progressives and moderates vented frustration at each other.

"Something went wrong here across the entire political world," Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, the chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told her caucus, sources told CNN's Manu Raju and Lauren Fox. "Our polls, Senate polls, (governor) polls, presidential polls, Republican polls, public polls, turnout modeling, and prognosticators all pointed to one political environment -- that environment never materialized. In fact, the voters who turned out look a lot more like 2016 than to what was projected."

Biden's Sun Belt breakthrough comes with misses, too

The overall result is exactly what Biden wanted: He rebuilt the "blue wall" and -- if his current leads hold -- would become the first Democrat in a generation to win Arizona and Georgia.

Even if those leads slip away, he'll have come closer than any Democrat since Bill Clinton. And he'll have embarrassed Trump's campaign, which insisted there was no way he'd lose either state.

"I shouldn't even be here. They say I have Georgia made," Trump said at a rally in Rome, Georgia, two days before the election.

But Biden lost states where polls had shown him ahead and where his campaign had pumped vast resources in the race's closing weeks.

The two most glaring losses are Florida and North Carolina -- both presidential battlegrounds where former President Barack Obama won once (North Carolina in 2008) and twice (Florida).

Biden also visited Des Moines, Iowa, on the last Friday of the race, and Cleveland, Ohio, on Monday -- indicators his campaign believed both were in play. Trump won both states handily.

Biden's campaign never bought into Democratic optimism that Texas would become a swing state this year. It made overtures, sending Harris to the state the Friday before the election, but never pumped the kind of money into Texas that a true battleground would require and never sending Biden there.

Still, a better performance at the top of the ticket could have helped Democrats pick up congressional and state legislative seats in a state where they hope a growing, diversifying electorate will ultimately tip it in their direction. None of that materialized in 2020.

Copyright 2024 by Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.