TRAVERSE CITY — Days before he left the White House in 2017, President Barack Obama surprised Joe Biden with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, declaring his septuagenarian, white-haired lieutenant “the best vice president America’s ever had,” a “lion of American history.”

The tribute marked the presumed end of a long public life that put Biden in the orbit of the Oval Office for 45 years — yet, through a combination of family and personal tragedy, his own political missteps and sheer bad timing, had never allowed him to sit behind the Resolute Desk himself.

It turns out the pinnacle would not elude Biden after all. His moment just hadn’t yet arrived.

Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., 77, was elected Saturday as the 46th president of the United States, defeating President Donald Trump in an election that played out against the backdrop of a pandemic, its economic fallout and a national reckoning on racism. He becomes the oldest president-elect and brings with him a history-making vice president-elect in Kamala Harris, the first Black woman and person of South Asian descent to serve in the nation’s second-highest office.

Biden’s victory was declared after multiple major news organizations, including the Associated Press, calculated he had secured more than the 270 electoral votes required to win the White House.

By Saturday evening, the Associated Press reported Biden had secured 290 electoral votes as ballot tallies in Pennsylvania and Nevada pushed the Democratic candidate past the mark. Georgia, North Carolina and Alaska — with a total of 34 electoral votes — remained too close to call.

In remarks to the nation Saturday night, Biden said it was “a time to heal” for America.

The declaration of Biden’s win was met with calls for recounts and legal challenges from some Republicans, including Trump.

Trump’s team filed a smattering of lawsuits in battleground states in recent days, some of which were immediately rebuffed by judges. His personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was in the midst of a news conference in Philadelphia threatening more legal action when the race was called, AP reported.

The president’s claims have been fact-checked and denounced as baseless and “unsupported” by both the Associated Press and New York Times.

Trump is the first incumbent president to lose reelection since Republican George H.W. Bush in 1992.

The declaration of Biden as the nation’s 46th president, spurred mixed reactions from northern Michigan residents.

Gary Clifton hadn’t heard the news yet.

The 70-year-old retired social worker was outside his Traverse City house with his dog Billie, named after his mother. Also in front at his house was a “BIDEN/HARRIS” sign — still up four days after the election.

“It was like holding your breath, and now I can finally breathe,” Clifton said.

Clifton has seen firsthand the children in need, the mothers and fathers that work 60 hours a week just to put food on the table. He’s seen those who’ve had a “hard time with life.”

Biden shows a regard for those people, Clifton said.

“Where our country was going to go depended on this,” Clifton said. “I want to see our country go up, and it’s been down. We’re not respected around the world.”

Clifton served and fought in Vietnam. He has seen the country struggle through the Civil Rights Era. He has knows the division in the U.S. and sees that division now more than ever, he said, adding that he’s worried about whether the country will ever come back together.

Electing Biden was an “intellectual” victory for the U.S., Clifton said.

“We thought through how bad it could get. We see how bad it is now, and we know it could get worse — and you can see we didn’t want that,” he said.

The news spurred Melanie Hurst, of Bellaire, to “happy tears.”

The Bellaire-based wife and mother previously shared concerns that the pandemic’s social burdens fell disproportionately on women. She said Saturday the Biden win makes her feel someone cares again.

“He has a big heart and knows what matters. He’s going to pave the way to weave our country together with millions of beautiful colors, and they will try to manifest a tapestry of inclusivity for everyone. Not just the rich, white, straight men. But all of us,” Hurst said.

JoAnne Appelhoff stands among those calling for a recount.

Although the Benzie resident didn’t attend a brief Open Space rally earlier Saturday, Appelhoff said the election isn’t over until there is a recount.

“Until they have that, Biden hasn’t really won,” she said, adding she is disappointed and sorry Trump lost.

But Appelhoff admitted the result is unlikely to change.

“Those recounts, it usually turns out that whoever’s calling for the recount winds up losing more,” she said. “That’s not always, but it’s the norm.”

Appelhoff still questions the legitimacy of the results and said counting the mail-in ballots has been “an absolute mess.”

“This was just done terribly in some of the larger cities,” Appelhoff said, pointing to Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit and Philadelphia, which all heavily supported Biden. “That was not handled correctly, and you would think after all of these years of running into problems ... that they’d have figured it out.”

Unofficial results showed in Cook County, Illinois, which encompasses Chicago, Biden defeated Trump by nearly 1 million votes — 1,403,246 to 487,338. Voters in Wayne County, home to Detroit, supported Biden by a total of 587,074 to 264,149. Biden garnered nearly 73 percent of Atlanta voters in Fulton County, Georgia — 377,484 to 136,140. Four out of every five Philadelphia voters favored Biden at 558,265 to Trump’s 125,253.

“No one’s going to like losing,” Appelhoff said. “But I just don’t understand the way it turned out.”

Appelhoff said the result was more of people voting against Trump and not voting for Biden.

“I don’t think Biden will keep (the presidency) a full term,” Apelhoff said of the 77-year-old. “I really believe (Harris) will become president.”

Others celebrated the president-elect.

Danielle Stein-Seabolt, chairperson for the Kalkaska County Democrats, said she’s looking forward to the future with President-elect Joe Biden. She said she’s unsure she “could have taken another four years under Trump.”

“I hope this is a time where we can move forward. The rhetoric of the last four years did very little for citizens in northern Michigan,” she said.

Stein-Seabolt said Biden has a rural and infrastructure plan which, if the House and Senate move forward, would help citizens across the nation.

“Our outdated roads, rail and bridges need to be improved to bring jobs to our area. The use of expanding broadband would also allow remote workers to live anywhere they choose,” she said.

Rebecca Reynolds, a Leland-based Democrat, echoed Stein-Seabolt’s thoughts. She said she was “ecstatic” to see the “little finger” of Leelanau County go blue.

Reynolds and some of her Main Street neighbors hosted pop-up Democratic offices during the summer and into the fall, where supporters could pick up literature and signs.

“So many people worked together on this campaign,” she said. “We’re energized. We’re thankful for the voters here in our country.”

Patience Alger, who works as a waitress in Traverse City, said Biden is the leader the U.S. needs to heal the wounds of the last four years.

“Today, Americans chose hope, truth, decency, and a better future. We chose the American dream and the American way. We chose a dedicated, qualified, and honest public servant,” she said.

Alger also underscored the importance of the election of Kamala Harris as vice-president, a first for women and especially a Black woman. She called it “historical and profound.”

“We as women adopted a new role model for our children and grandchildren. To know an educated, classy, and outspoken woman of color can be chosen to lead us in the second highest office in the land. I’ve never been more proud to be an American,” Alger said.

Early Saturday, a rally at downtown Traverse City’s Open Space saw local supporters of President Trump gather in protest of the election’s results and demand recounts. Video of the gathering showed a crowd dozens-strong.

The race garnered a record 103 million early votes from those hesitant to head to polls amid a national pandemic and others uninterested in enduring long lines.

Grand Traverse County, alongside several others in the region, proved a microcosm of the nation’s increasing division and the passionate support on both sides of the aisle. The region saw close counts for the presidency and other candidates red and blue alike, from Congressional races to local sheriffs, proposals and board members.

It’s notable that several incumbents won narrow victories and or faced unexpected defeats in Tuesday’s massive-turnout election.

By Saturday afternoon, the president-elect carried 74 million votes — the most of any presidential candidate in U.S. history, AP reports.

By that point, Trump had refused to offer a concession, instead threatening further legal action, according to the AP. He offered charged jabs from a Virginia golf course Saturday, alongside recent Tweets declaring himself the race’s true winner.

Biden’s early statements, in sharp contrast, promised an end to nationwide division.

“It’s time for America to unite. And to heal,” he told reporters. “There’s nothing we can’t do if we do it together.”

The Associated Press, and Record-Eagle reporters Brendan Quealy, Brooke Kansier, Sheri McWhirter and Mardi Link contributed to this report.

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