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Biden Supporters Celebrate In Solid Red Florida Panhandle County

President-elect Joe Biden’s calls for unity were echoed at a victory party in Panama City four days after vote counting began on election night.

"He did a marvelous job of encouraging all of us to be civil with one another and to stop demonizing one another," said local attorney Alvin Peters, who hosted the event. "Bay County needs to listen to that message."

More than a hundred people watched the president-elect’s live televised address on a large, flat-screen TV outside the county's Biden-Harris Victory Center, where nearly every person wore a mask. After the address, they cheered, danced and chatted with each other about the next four years.

Peters says he feels like "a weight has been lifted.”

Six hours after news of Biden’s victory broke, supporters wanted to throw a party. “I got so many calls and text messages from people who wanted to come out and celebrate,” Peters said. “And we tried to celebrate in a safe way outdoors.”

Before revelers in Republican-heavy Panama City basked in a Biden victory, the Florida State Capitol became the site of a protest of nearly 200 Trump supporters in solidly-blue Tallahassee.

Biden supporters dance to songs like "We Are Family" and "We Are the Champions" near downtown Panama City after the president-elect's televised victory speech on Saturday night.
Valerie Crowder
Biden supporters dance to the song "We Are Family" near downtown Panama City after the president-elect's televised victory speech on Saturday night.

Biden addressed the nation after he won more than 270 electoral votes and major news outlets declared him the winner.

States certify those results on various dates spread over the next couple of months.Typically, the winner is declared on election night - long before states make their results official - and the loser concedes.

This time ballot counting took longer than usual in a number of states - delaying the results until Saturday.

“Our democracy worked; the people spoke,” Peters said. “Donald Trump may be upset that so many people spoke through a mail-in ballot, but that’s still a legal ballot.”

President Trump has been casting doubt on the legitimacy of some states' unofficial results. His reelection campaign is raising money to help fund recounts and legal challenges in states he won in 2016 but lost to Biden, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona and Wisconsin. Biden is ahead in Georgia, where Trump is also demanding a recount.

But the president’s allegations of elections fraud weren’t a topic of discussion at the local Biden victory event, where the focus was solely on the next administration.

“We have people who are out of work - millions of Americans out of work. We’ve got to work on that,” said Beverly Wall, a Biden supporter and local political activist. “We’ve got to restore our position in the world. We’ve lost a little bit of our world status.”

Wall says she actively campaigned with the Democratic Women’s Club of Bay County and the Florida Democratic Party.

Panama City resident William Hinton, 40, was among a hundred Biden supporters at a victory party on Saturday night.
Valerie Crowder
Panama City resident William Hinton, 40, was among a hundred Biden supporters at a victory party on Saturday night.

Now, she’s planning on getting involved with two critical Senate runoff elections in Georgia early next year. Those two seats will determine which party has control of the Senate. Wall says she’s hoping for a Democratic victory. “I just want everybody to roll up their sleeves, and let's get to work.”

She says Biden’s victory has renewed her sense of hope for America’s future. “Even though I know there’s a part of America that’s disappointed, I hope that through Joe Biden’s actions and the words that he’s saying they can look at it and say, ‘I want to give this man an opportunity.’”

Before Biden’s speech, supporters watched Vice President-elect Kamala Harris address the nation as the first woman to hold the office. Wall views Harris’s election as history-making.

“We’re cracking that ceiling a little bit,” Wall said. “I can’t help but be happy.”

William Hinton, 40, is another supporter who attended the Biden victory party.

Hinton is among 27% of Bay County voters who cast a ballot for the president-elect. “He’s not worried about the drama," he said.

Hinton says Biden’s focus instead has been on the pandemic and the economy - where it needs to be. “That’s our lives. We’ve got kids,” he said. “We can’t play around with that. Nobody can.”

Panama City resident Chandler Strong, 33, was at the Biden victory event. Strong is a community organizer who helped register hundreds of people with felony records to vote ahead of the election.

Strong says he was pleased with Biden's message of unity.

Over the next four years, he says he hopes to see “every race have an opportunity to rise and build in their communities.”

Though attorney Alvin Peters and other Democratic Party loyalists reveled in a Biden victory over the weekend, the celebration won't last long. Soon, they'll get back to work trying to make up for losses in state and local races.

The next major statewide election takes place in November 2022 when Gov. Ron DeSantis is up for reelection.

“There’s not much rest in Florida,” Peters said. “As soon as we’re done with the presidential election, you have the gubernatorial election.”

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.