MADISON – As streams of people converged on Wisconsin’s state Capitol to celebrate the election of Joe Biden, one photographer moved discreetly through the crowd on the west side, at the top of State Street.
Dressed in jeans, a flannel shirt and ballcap, Pete Souza chronicled the spontaneous release of emotion that came after four days of waiting for a result.
“I feel the nightmare of the last four years is finally over,” said Souza, who served as official White House photographer for President Ronald Reagan for seven years and then chief official White House photographer for President Barack Obama.
“I’m excited for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris,” said Souza, who now lives in Madison. “I know Joe really well. He’s a good man. People are going to love his wife, Dr. Jill Biden. She’s going to be a rock star.”
It’s likely none of the others gathered Saturday had such a close connection to the declaration that Biden would become the nation’s 46th president. But they shared Souza’s sense of relief, as much as joy.
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Gina Senarighi celebrated Biden’s victory with her 15-month-year old daughter Lulu on the Capitol lawn Saturday. She said “hope for her future has been restored.”
“I didn’t realize how much I had been holding my breath the past four years,” Senarighi said. “I feel like possibility has been restored.”
For 30-year-old Ryan Hartman, the day felt “like an era of darkness had been lifted.” He kissed his partner, Jera Ramirez, on a sidewalk in front of the Capitol while dozens of cars drove by the couple honking and the crowd cheered.
“It’s an amazing win for people who want to move forward,” Ramirez, also 30, said Saturday while holding a bouquet of red, white and blue balloons shortly after the Associated Press called the presidential race for Biden.
Celebrations large and small took place in other parts of the state as well.
Ronna Swift, an Appleton activist, said she was in downtown Appleton with the Fox Valley Peace Coalition for the group’s monthly protest when she found out the results of the election after someone yelled out a passing car, “Biden won!”
“I kind of shrieked,” Swift said, adding she felt relieved when she heard the news. “It’s time for us to come together, to get past the lies and the hate.”
The outpouring was particularly strong in the Milwaukee area.
It was the combined voting power of Wisconsin’s liberal capital and the state’s largest city that helped deliver a victory for Biden, who was vice president for eight years under Obama.
Shortly after the news broke, several drivers near the Milwaukee Public Market in the city’s Third Ward were honking their horns, some with passengers waving large Biden flags out of their windows.
A similar celebration erupted along Milwaukee’s lakefront, where drivers near Bradford Beach were honking and waving Biden flags.
Joan Randolph, a 60-year-old teaching assistant from Pewaukee, said she cried when she heard the race was called for Biden.
“With all the counting, the waiting and watching, I just cried. It was such a relief.”
Randolph said Biden’s Friday night speech gave her hope “that we can come together. We need to heal.”
At Zeidler Union Square, Eleazar Lopez called the results “epic” and a turning point for the country.
“The people voted, it counted, it mattered, and democracy prevailed today,” Lopez said. “It’s refreshing to see that we have a real leader now.”
Ronny Greer served in the Marine Corps from 1984 to 1990 and did not feel Trump respected the military and veterans like deceased Sen. John McCain and deceased Maj. Beau Biden, Biden’s son.
“It didn’t sit well with us at all,” Greer said. “Why would I want a commander in chief that don’t want to protect our country and get along with us and respect us for what we do for him and our country.”
‘Not a time for gloating’
Gov. Tony Evers, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and other Democratic leaders and activists issued public congratulations.
“We’re returning kindness, respect, and compassion back to the White House. It’s time to move forward together,” Evers said in a tweet.
Barrett joined Biden supporters organizing a car parade and added now is “not a time for gloating.”
“It’s time to come together as a nation,” Barrett said. “I think Joe Biden certainly wants to unite this nation and I think a lot of this is going to be dependent on people who voted for Donald Trump, whether they want to follow his lead. But I think Joe Biden has made it clear, whether you voted for him or not he wants to represent all Americans.”
Dawn Martin, chair of the Milwaukee County Democratic Party, said she felt this election was “the most important election of my lifetime.” She is 73.
“I think of all of the things I fought for over many, many years … and this one meant the most,” Martin said. “When it came across this morning that (the race) was called, I cried like a baby. I was just so, so happy.”
Republican elected officials in Wisconsin did not acknowledge the result.
Their silence reflected the bitter divide that exists between the two sides, not to mention the unwillingness of some Trump supporters to accept the results.
In Madison, a group assembled at the Capitol’s south entrance shouted back and forth at Biden celebrants. Many, taking their cue from the president and his advisers, alleged election fraud in Wisconsin and other parts of the country.
“When I hear Trump announce the election is over and he’s either won or conceded, that’s when I’ll believe it,” Mike Zaremba, 51, said. Zaremba held a sign promoting a recount of Wisconsin’s ballots.
In Milwaukee, hundreds of people carrying Trump flags and American flags turned out to a pro-Trump rally staged in the parking lot at American Serb Hall.
Bob Knoebel, 75, a retired truck salesman from the Village of Waukesha, said he was “very skeptical of the states that have been accused of voter fraud. I want to see it investigated and go to the courts.”
He said whether “you’re on the Republican or the Democrat side, everyone agreed this was a particularly important election.”
Brian Bunn, associate pastor at Grace Bible Fellowship in Oostburg, said he and others “want the process validated to make sure there is no fraud.”
“If President Trump loses and he loses in a truthful honest manner, so be it,” he said. “Joe Biden becomes president. If Joe Biden wins and he wins honestly, according to the way it’s supposed to be done, with integrity and honesty, we’ll accept that.”
“These people are here and they’re saying: We want answers to the truth,” he said.
David Karst, who heads the Republican Party of Milwaukee County, said the site was “historic grounds,” a reference to Reagan’s appearance at Serb Hall during the 1980 campaign.
“Today, we’re starting another historic grassroots movement and that’s election reform,” Karst told the crowd, which frequently broke into chants, “We love Trump.”
“I don’t think anyone here can think of anything more systematically unjust than a stolen election,” former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gabelman told the crowd.
At the end of the rally, police had to separate about a dozen protesters and some rallygoers.
Trump and his attorneys have already demanded a recount in Wisconsin and have also filed litigation in several states. But legal experts have said they do not see a legal path to reelection for Trump, and neither Trump nor anyone on his team has offered evidence to substantiate their claims.
It’s also worth noting that Biden’s margin of victory — both in electoral votes and the popular vote — by Saturday appeared to be comfortable.
A chance for civility to return?
Christian Ellihausen, a Biden supporter who gathered at the Capitol on Saturday, said he thinks things will calm down after today.
“Once we get through some of the initial emotional reaction, civility will take over,” he said.
But at the Brookfield Library, a Trump supporter was distressed by the results.
“There is no healing,” he said. “You can’t do what they did for three years and get the other side to hug everybody.”
Gilbert Manegold, a Biden supporter who lives on the east side of Milwaukee, felt differently. He was overcome with emotion when he heard the news Saturday morning at work.
As he passed customers and co-workers at the grocery store where he works in Shorewood, he was spreading the news and punctuating it with hallelujahs.
“I was on my break … and I saw that it said Biden and Harris win. And the first thing I said was, ‘Hallelujah, Amen.’ It’s a great day in America. It’s a wonderful day in America again,’ Manegold said.
“We’re going to have civility, humanity, people being good to each other and a wonderful man and woman in charge of the White House. And it’s a real blessing for us, for America. I’m so grateful that our prayers have been answered.”
Dave Violette, 56, a financial analyst from Pewaukee, said he caught the news on Twitter and felt relief.
“I always had quiet confidence,” he said. “It wasn’t surprising. I know my wife and I will be having shots of tequila tonight to celebrate.”
Kathleen Mulligan is interested in seeing how Biden governs as president and plans to watch the administration closely.
“A lot of us who supported Joe Biden and worked very hard for him also want to challenge him to do more for everyone in this country,” Mulligan said. “I am disturbed that 70 million people voted for Donald Trump and I think that says that we have a lot of work to do to reach out to our neighbors and to also put forth a vision of the America that we stand for.”
Allison Garfield and Doug Schneider of USA Today Network-Wisconsin and Annysa Johnson, Mike Johnson, Ricardo Torres, Mary Spicuzza and Ben Steele of the Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.
Contact Molly Beck at email@example.com.