WILMINGTON, Del. -- Joe Biden vowed to unite an America torn by crisis and contempt Thursday night, accepting the Democratic presidential nomination, a position he has sought for more than 30 years and through three White House bids.
Biden served three decades as a senator from Delaware before being tapped as former President Barack Obama's vice president. He first ran for president in 1988 and tried again in 2008 before launching his 2020 campaign last year.
The past hurdles fell away as Biden addressed his fellow Democrats and millions of Americans at home who he hopes will send him to the White House to replace President Donald Trump -- though his triumphant moment was drained of immediate drama by the coronavirus pandemic, which left him speaking to a nearly empty arena rather than to a joyously cheering crowd.
"Here and now I give you my word, if you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us not the worst," Biden declared. "I'll be an ally of the light, not our darkness."
"And make no mistake, we'll overcome this season of darkness in America."
Thursday's convention served as a national reintroduction of sorts that drew on some of the most painful moments of his life.
"I know how mean and cruel and unfair life can be sometimes," Biden said. He added: "I found the best way through pain and loss and grief is to find purpose."
As a schoolboy, Biden was mocked by classmates and a nun for a severe stutter. He became a widower at just 30 after losing his wife and infant daughter in a car accident. And just five years ago, he buried his eldest son who was stricken with cancer.
His allies Thursday included Brayden Harrington, a 13-year-old boy from Concord, N.H., who talked about the bond he shares with Biden over stuttering.
Biden promised that while he is running as a Democrat, he would be "an American president." He criticized Trump for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak and the economic devastation that followed, saying the country's condition will get worse if Trump is re-elected.
"Cases and deaths will remain far too high," he said. "More mom-and-pop businesses will close their doors, and this time for good."
Trump, he said, "keeps telling us, the virus is going to disappear. I have news for him: no miracle is coming. Our economy is in tatters. And after all this time, the president still does not have a plan."
Biden said he'd implement his own coronavirus plan on "day one" of his presidency, moving to deploy "rapid" tests to contain the outbreak, build medical supplies in the country and ensure schools can safely open to students.
"Our current president has failed in his most basic duty to the nation," Biden said. "He's failed to protect us."
Biden also more generally assailed Trump's behavior while president, describing him as unfit for the office he holds.
"The president takes no responsibility, refuses to lead, blames others, cozies up to dictators, and fans the flames of hate and division," Biden said.
The night's keynote address was the speech of a lifetime for Biden, who at 77 would be the oldest president ever to serve if he's elected.
His running mate, California's U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, accepted the vice presidential nomination Wednesday.
The final night of the Democratic National Convention was designed to be Biden's moment to soar.
But actor and comedian Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the master of ceremonies Thursday, gave him a run for his money, uncorking a roast of Trump.
"American carnage," she said, referring to the dominant theme of Trump's inaugural speech. "I assumed that was something he was against, not a campaign promise."
Later, after a segment on voting, she quipped: "If we all vote, there is nothing Facebook, Fox News or Vladimir Putin can do to stop us."
The convention leaned on a younger generation earlier in the night to help energize Biden's sprawling coalition.
New Jersey's U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, only the ninth Black senator in U.S. history, said Biden believes in the dignity of all working Americans.
He evoked the memory of his late grandfather to argue that Biden and Harris can bolster unions and empower the middle class.
"Joe Biden and Kamala Harris know the dignity of all working Americans," Booker said. "They know the urgency and the demand of our dream."
Booker said the Trump administration's policies have left "working people under attack" and the middle class shrinking. "He has failed us," Booker said.
Booker added of his grandfather, "If he was alive, Joe and Kamala, he would be so proud of you."
Andrew Yang, a 45-year-old Asian American political outsider whose love of math inspired millions during the primaries, cast Biden as a leader capable of digging America out of "a deep, dark hole."
After brief remarks by Yang, who ran in the Democratic primary, Democrats opened the night with a not-so-subtle dig at Republicans mispronouncing Harris' first name.
"I cannot wait to see her debate our current vice president, Mika Pints. Or is it Paints?" said Louis-Dreyfus, referring to Vice President Mike Pence. After Yang suggested that it was "Ponce," Louis-Dreyfus responded, "Oh, some kind of weird foreign name."
Harris is the child of immigrants, and her first name reflects her Indian heritage. Her name is pronounced "comma-la," like the punctuation mark.
MAN OF CHARACTER
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms cast Biden as a man of character.
"We know how important it is that we elect real leaders like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, people of honor and integrity who hold justice close to their hearts and believe that the lives of my four Black children matter," Lance Bottoms said.
She spoke ahead of a tribute to the late John Lewis, the Georgia congressman and civil rights leader who devoted much of his life to ensuring that Blacks are able to vote.
A video tribute that aired Thursday honored Biden's late son, Beau, recalling his life as a major in the Army National Guard and as Delaware's attorney general.
Beau died in 2015 of brain cancer. Biden often speaks of his son on the campaign trail as one of his heroes, and in the video he was described as an "inspiration" to his father even now.
The video featured Obama delivering Beau Biden's eulogy, saying "some folks may never know that their lives are better because of Beau Biden, but that's OK."
The video's voice-over declared of Beau that "you never had to ask if he'd do something the right way -- he didn't know any other way."
The video closed with Beau's words during his convention speech in 2008. He told the audience that he wouldn't be able to be with his father during the fall campaign and asked them to "be there for my dad like he was for me."
Biden's positive focus Thursday night marked a break from the dire warnings offered by Obama and others the night before.
Obama, the 44th president of the United States, warned at the convention Wednesday night that American democracy itself could falter if Trump is reelected, while Harris, and 2016 presidential nominee Hillary Clinton declared that Americans' lives and livelihoods are at risk.
Throughout their convention, the Democrats have summoned a collective urgency about what they believe are the dangers of Trump as president. In 2016, they dismissed and sometimes trivialized him. In the days leading up to Biden's acceptance speech, they cast him as an existential threat to the country.
Beyond Biden's speech, Thursday's program was designed to highlight the diversity of the Democratic Party and the nation he hopes to lead.
Speakers included four former rivals: Pete Buttigieg, who was trying to become the nation's first openly gay president; New York ultra-billionaire Michael Bloomberg; Booker and Yang.
Buttigieg said his experience as a gay man and military veteran shows how far the U.S. has come in just a few years and how much farther it has to go.
The former mayor of South Bend, Ind., said when he was born in 1982, it was unthinkable for an openly gay person to seek any federal office. Yet, he noted Thursday that he had campaigned for the presidency.
He says he did so "often with my husband at my side, winning delegates to this very convention."
Buttigieg, a combat veteran in Afghanistan, also noted that when he joined the military, "firing me because of who I am wasn't just possible -- it was policy," because of "don't ask, don't tell."
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth also spoke at the convention and called Trump a "coward in chief" who has proved himself unfit to lead the U.S. armed forces.
The Illinois Democrat and military veteran lost her legs during a helicopter crash while serving in Iraq. She said Biden understands the sacrifices military families make.
Duckworth said "Joe knows the fear military families live because he's felt that."
She said Trump, on the other hand, is uninterested, doesn't read his daily briefing and has been manipulated by dictators who are enemies of the U.S.
"Donald Trump doesn't deserve to call himself commander in chief for another four minutes, let alone four more years," she said.
The Democratic Party has sought this week to put forward a cohesive vision of values and policy priorities, highlighting efforts to combat climate change, tighten gun laws and embrace a humane immigration policy. It has portrayed Trump as cruel, self-centered and woefully unprepared to manage the nation's mounting crises and policy challenges.
Voting was a prime focus of the convention Thursday as it has been all week. Democrats fear that the pandemic -- and the Trump administration -- may make it difficult for voters to cast ballots in person or by mail.
Comedian Sarah Cooper, a favorite of many Democrats for her videos lip syncing Trump's speeches, put it bluntly: "Donald Trump doesn't want any of us to vote because he knows he can't win fair and square."
Biden's call for unity comes as some strategists worry that Democrats cannot retake the White House simply by tearing Trump down. Biden needs to give his coalition something to vote for, they say, and that's easier said than done in a modern Democratic Party made up of disparate factions that span generations, race and ideology.
For that reason, Thursday's program, like much of the convention, emphasized what is believed by many to be Biden's personal values like decency, honesty and empathy more than any single policy proposal or achievement.
The pandemic forced Biden's team to abandon the typical pageantry of the evening and rely instead on a highly produced, all-virtual affair that has failed to draw the same television ratings as past conventions.
The silence was noticeable Wednesday night, for example, as Harris took the stage to make history in a cavernous hall inside the Chase Center in downtown Wilmington, Del. She was flanked by American flags but no family, and her audience consisted of a few dozen reporters and photographers.
On Wednesday night, Harris, 55, the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, addressed race and equality in a personal way that Biden could not.
"There is no vaccine for racism. We have got to do the work," Harris declared.
Beyond the scripted confines of the virtual convention, there have been modest signs of tension between the moderate and progressive wings of Biden's Democratic Party.
In particular, some progressives complained that pro-Biden Republicans such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich have been featured more prominently than the party's younger progressive stars like New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The Republican National Convention is next week. Trump, who abandoned plans to host his convention in North Carolina and in Florida, is expected to break tradition and accept his nomination from the White House lawn.
In the meantime, he's sought all week to take attention from Biden. On Thursday, Trump continued his swing-state tour with a stop near Biden's birthplace of Scranton, Pa.
However, while seeking to stay on offense, he has faced a series distractions this week.
On Thursday, a federal judge ruled that prosecutors could access his long-hidden tax returns. Also Thursday, New York prosecutors announced the indictment of Steve Bannon, Trump's former campaign manager and White House chief counsel, who was charged with fraud.
Information for this article was contributed by Steve Peoples and Alexandra Jaffe of The Associated Press; and by Mark Niquette and Jennifer Epstein of Bloomberg News.