For me the 2020 presidential campaign began on April 6, 2019, when I drove to Des Moines, Iowa, to see former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke do four house parties in one day, introducing himself to Iowa Democrats and hoping a win in the Iowa Caucus could propel him to the Democratic nomination.
Democrats were anxious for a candidate who could beat Donald Trump, and along with Beto, looked to possibilities such as Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders.
A few months later on July 3, I drove nearly six hours to Waterloo, Iowa, to see Joe Biden. Biden had looked unsteady in the first Democratic presidential debate only a few days before, and some were starting to write him off. I sat next to an older man wearing a union T-shirt and asked him who he supported. "Good Ol’ Joe," he said. "He won’t let us down."
Biden ran on to the stage and didn’t look shaky at all. "It’s time we pick up our heads and remember who in God’s name we are! This is the United States of America. There’s not a single thing we cannot do together!" he proclaimed, bringing the crowd to their feet.
Apparently, the reports of Biden’s political death were greatly exaggerated.
The next day, on the Fourth of July, I drove to Indianola, Iowa, to check out Sen. Kamala Harris, who was giving a speech from the back porch of a supporter’s house. Harris told the crowd, "When we think about what is ahead, let’s know not only that it is a fight borne out of optimism, not only is this a fight knowing what can be unburdened by what has been, this is a fight that is for the soul of our country, and this is a fight that is borne out of love of country."
I scanned the crowd and saw that it was full of women, young people and people of color. They were nodding, and she was connecting. I later saw her busting dance moves at an event in Des Moines.
Biden didn’t win the Iowa Caucus. In fact, he lost the first three contests of the Democratic primaries. But Democrats came to realize — at almost the last possible moment, right before the Super Tuesday primaries — that Biden was the one candidate who could unite the key elements of the electorate that were essential to defeat Trump and flip the crucial states of 2020 — Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — from red to blue.
They also came to realize that Harris was the perfect complement to Biden, appealing to the voters who carried the Democratic ticket to wins in Arizona and Georgia for the first time in decades.
Make no mistake, the 2020 presidential election ended with a decisive win. With record turnout, when all the votes are in, Biden will win the popular vote by over 4 points. Sixteen previous presidential elections have been closer, including the elections of 1960 when the popular vote difference was 0.1% and 1880 when the difference was 0.011%.
Yes, 2020 featured close results in several key states, but to couch Biden’s win as narrow is largely an artifact of an antediluvian electoral college system.
On election eve, many Americans saw news reports of businesses boarding up windows, fearing violence. Instead, dancing and celebrations broke out across the country.
For Democrats and those who wanted a change from Donald Trump, their answer had been there from the beginning. "Good Ol’ Joe" didn’t let them down.
Bob Beatty is a political scientist in Topeka. He can be reached at email@example.com.