But as the big cities of the Midwest and West began to report their totals, the advantage in the race shifted the electoral map in Mr. Biden’s favor. By Wednesday afternoon, the former vice president had rebuilt much of the so-called blue wall in the Midwest, reclaiming the historically Democratic battlegrounds of Wisconsin and Michigan that Mr. Trump carried four years ago. And on Saturday, with troves of ballots coming in from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, he took back Pennsylvania as well.
While Mr. Biden stopped short of claiming victory as the week unfolded, he appeared several times in his home state, Delaware, to express confidence that he could win, while urging patience as the nation awaited the results. Even as he sought to claim something of an electoral mandate, noting that he had earned more in the popular vote than any other candidate in history, Mr. Biden struck a tone of reconciliation.
It would soon be time, he said, “to unite, to heal, to come together as a nation.”
In the days after the election, Mr. Biden and his party faced a barrage of attacks from Mr. Trump. The president falsely claimed in a middle-of-the-night appearance at the White House on Wednesday that he had won the race and that Democrats were conjuring fraudulent votes to undermine him, a theme he renewed on Thursday evening in grievance-filled remarks conjuring up, with no evidence, a conspiracy to steal votes from him.
The president’s campaign aides adopted a tone of brash defiance as swing states fell to Mr. Biden, promising a flurry of legal action. But while Mr. Trump’s ire had the potential to foment political divisions, there was no indication that he could succeed with his seemingly improvisational legal strategy.
Through it all, the coronavirus and its ravages on the country hung over the election and shaped the choice for voters. Facing an electorate already fatigued by his aberrant conduct, the president effectively sealed his defeat by minimizing a pandemic that has created simultaneous health and economic crises.
Beginning with the outbreak of the virus in the country at the start of the year, through his own diagnosis last month and up to the last hours of the election, he disregarded his medical advisers and public opinion even as over 230,000 people in the United States perished.
Mr. Biden, by contrast, sought to channel the dismay of those appalled by Mr. Trump’s mismanagement of the pandemic. He offered himself as a safe harbor for a broad array of Americans, promising to guide the nation out of what he called the “dark winter” of the outbreak, rather than delivering a visionary message with bright ideological themes.