Barack Obama, a 47-year-old first-term senator from Illinois, shattered more than 200 years of history Tuesday night by winning election as the first African-American president of the United States.
A crowd of nearly a quarter-million jammed Grant Park and the surrounding area in Chicago, where Obama addressed the nation for the first time as its president-elect at midnight ET. Hundreds of thousands more — Mayor Richard Daley said he would not be surprised if a million Chicagoans jammed the streets — watched on a large television screen outside the park.
“If there is anyone out there who doubts that America is a place where anything is possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer,” Obama declared.
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“Young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled, Americans have sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of red states and blue states,” he said. “We have been and always will be the United States of America.
“It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America,” he said to a long roar.
McCain notes history in the making
Obama congratulated his opponent, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, for his “unimaginable” service to the United States, first as a prisoner of war for 5½ years in North Vietnam and then for nearly three decades in Congress.
McCain called Obama to offer his congratulations at 11 p.m. ET, Obama’s chief spokesman, Robert Gibbs, told NBC News. Obama thanked McCain for his “class and honor” during the campaign and said he was eager to sit down and talk about how the two of them could work together.
“The American people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly,” McCain told supporters in Phoenix, saying that he “recognized the special significance” Obama’s victory had for African-Americans.
“We both recognize that though we have come a long way from the old injustices that once stained our nation’s reputation and denied some Americans the full blessings of American citizenship, the memory of them still have the power to wound,” McCain said.
“Let there be no reason for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on Earth,” said McCain, who pledged his support and help for the new president.
President Bush called to congratulate Obama and promise a smooth transition of power on Jan. 20, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
“Mr. President-elect, congratulations to you. What an awesome night for you, your family and your supporters,” said Bush, who invited Obama and his family to visit the White House as soon as it was convenient.
The president also called McCain to say that he was proud of the senator’s efforts and that he was “sorry it didn’t work out.”
“You didn’t leave anything on the playing field,” Bush said.
Broad, deep victory
Campaigning as a technocratic agent of change and not a pathbreaking civil rights figure, Obama swept to victory over McCain, whose running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, was seeking to become the nation’s first female vice president.
Obama beat McCain by 52 percent to 46 percent, and he could realistically claim a mandate with nearly two-thirds of the Electoral College. As of Wednesday afternoon, he had 349 electoral votes compared to 173 for McCain, with only North Carolina and Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District left to declare.
And Obama should have a strongly supportive Congress to work with. Not since 1993 has an incoming president had such strong majorities in both houses of Congress.
Democrats will hold 258 of the 435 seats in the House and at least 54 of the 100 seats in the Senate , where t wo independents also caucus with the party. Four seats remained undecided, meaning the party mathematically could reach a procedurally important “supermajority” of 60 or more votes in the Senate, but NBC News projected that it would not reach that threshold.
Surveys of voters as they left polling places nationwide encapsulated the historic nature of the victory by Obama, the son of a Kenyan father and a white mother from Kansas. As expected, he won overwhelmingly among African-American voters, but he also won among women and Latino voters. And he won by more than 2-to-1 among voters of all races 30 years old and younger.
That dynamic was telling in Ohio and in Pennsylvania, where McCain poured in millions of dollars of scarce resources. Obama won both, along with Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and New York, all states with hefty electoral vote hauls, NBC News projected.
McCain countered with Texas and numerous smaller states, primarily in the South and the Great Plains.
In interviews with NBC News, aides to McCain said they were proud that they had put up a good fight in “historically difficult times.”
A senior adviser said McCain himself was “fine” but that he felt “he let his staff and supporters down.”
‘Transformation of America’
In the end, Florida, the scene of electoral chaos in recent votes, had little impact. The state had been watched closely, but results there and in some other closely contested states were delayed until after Obama clinched his victory, as record numbers of voters flocked to polling stations, energized by an election in which they would select either the nation’s first black president or its first female vice president.
The percentage of Americans who voted was unmatched in at least a generation and perhaps since 1908, according to election experts. Secretaries of state estimated turnouts approaching 90 percent in Virginia and Colorado and 80 percent or more in big states like Ohio, California, Texas, Virginia, Missouri and Maryland.
Voters were lured to the polls by the historic nature of an election that held the potential to yield an African-American president and reject the party of an unpopular president.
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a legend of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, said he was “overwhelmed” and had broken down in tears.
“I never imagined, I never even had any idea I would live to see an African-American president of the United States,” Lewis said in an interview on MSNBC.
“We have witnessed tonight in America a revolution of values, a revolution of ideals,” Lewis said. “There’s been a transformation of America, and it will have unbelievable influence on the world.”
Ellora Lyons, 81, of Peoria, Ill., recalled boarding a train to Oklahoma with her two oldest boys in 1948. Her brother had been killed in an accident, and they were going to his funeral.
“There was a sign on this train that said, 'n-----s to the back,’” she said. “And we couldn’t drink out of the same water fountain.”
“I remember my mom and my dad talking about black folks being not able to vote,” Lyons said. “I never thought that I would see a black man [in the White House], but I was hoping that one day that a black man would run for president.”
All told, election experts said nearly 140 million Americans voted, many of them minority, immigrant and younger Americans who were casting their ballots for the first time.
Maria Reyes, who immigrated from El Salvador and was sworn in as a citizen in August, was one of them. She cast her ballot with help from her daughter, Elvia.
“It’s wonderful time for our country right now — Obama!” Reyes said as she waved a small American flag.
In the Little Saigon section of Los Angeles, Timothy Ngo, a Vietnamese immigrant, turned out to support McCain.
“I came here as a refugee, so Mr. McCain and I grew up and fought in the same war in Vietnam,” Ngo said.
Obama, McCain cast their ballots
Obama and his wife, Michelle, voted with their young daughters at their sides at Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School in Hyde Park, Ill. The family was ushered inside ahead of a line of their neighbors that wrapped around the block.
Fellow voters watched in silence and snapped cell-phone pictures. They cheered when Obama held up his validation slip with a smile and said, “I voted.”
“The journey ends, but voting with my daughters, that was a big deal,” he told reporters later.
Obama’s final days of campaigning were bittersweet: He was mourning the loss of his grandmother Madelyn Dunham, who helped raise him but died of cancer Sunday night and never got to see the results of the historic election.
In Delaware, Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, went to the polls with his elderly mother. Speaking to reporters on his plane, Biden said he had made a deal with his wife, Jill.
“If you get the vice presidency and get elected, you can get a dog,” Biden said his wife told him. “I know what kind I want, [but] I don’t know what kind I’m going to get yet. We’re not there yet. The deal’s not closed yet.”
McCain, meanwhile, cast his ballot early Tuesday at a church near his home in central Phoenix. A small crowd cheered “Go, John, go!” and “We love you!” as he stepped out of a sport utility vehicle with his wife, Cindy. One person carried a sign that read, “Use your brain, vote McCain!”
Palin returned to where her political career began to cast her vote in the snow-dusted, two-story Wasilla City Hall where she once presided as a small-town mayor.
Palin, accompanied by her husband, Todd, voted just after 7 a.m. Tuesday, pushing aside a red, white and blue curtain on a voting booth and handing her white paper ballot to a clerk.
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