Barack Obama was elected the nation's 44th president Tuesday, riding a reformist message of change and an inspirational exhortation of hope...
WASHINGTON — Barack Obama was elected the nation’s 44th president Tuesday, riding a reformist message of change and an inspirational exhortation of hope to become the first African American to ascend to the White House.
Obama, 47, the son of a Kenyan father and a white mother from Kansas, led a tide of Democratic victories across the nation in defeating Republican John McCain, a 26-year veteran of Washington who could not overcome his connections to President Bush’s increasingly unpopular administration.
“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are 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 told tens of thousands of supporters during a victory celebration in Chicago’s Grant Park.
“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.”
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Obama became the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976 to receive more than 50 percent of the popular vote, and made good on his pledge to transform the electoral map.
McCain congratulated Obama in a phone call minutes after polls closed in the West and then delivered a gracious concession to his supporters in Phoenix. “We have had and argued our differences,” McCain said of his rival, “and he has prevailed.”
Added the Arizona senator: “This is a historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African Americans and the special pride that must be theirs tonight.”
Obama’s victory also ushered in a new era of Democratic dominance in Congress, even though the party appeared to be falling short of the 60 votes needed for a veto-proof majority in the Senate. In the House, Democrats made major gains, adding to their already sizable advantage and returning them to a position of power that predates the 1994 Republican revolution.
Democrats will use their new legislative muscle to advance an economic and foreign-policy agenda that Bush largely has blocked for eight years. Even when the party seized control of Congress two years ago, their razor-thin margin in the Senate had allowed Republicans to hinder their efforts.
Obama overpowered McCain in a pair of states — Ohio and Pennsylvania — that the campaigns had spent months courting as the keys to victory, and he passed the needed 270 electoral votes with victories in Washington, Oregon and California.
The Democrat easily won most of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states that normally back Democrats, including New Hampshire, and ran strong in states that normally are solid for Republicans, such as Virginia, Indiana and Florida.
Bush called Obama at 11:12 p.m. to offer his congratulations.
“Mr. President-elect, congratulations to you,” Bush said, according to the White House. “What an awesome night for you, your family and your supporters. Laura and I called to congratulate you and your good bride.”
Obama melded the pride and aspirations of African Americans with a coalition of younger and disaffected voters drawn to his rhetorical style, and a unified base of Democrats worried about the economy and frustrated with the Iraq war.
The election was in many respects a referendum on Bush, who polls show is the most unpopular president since such surveys began in the 1930s, because of his administration’s handling of the economy, Hurricane Katrina and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush has not been seen with McCain since May, and the president has made no public appearances since late last week.
McCain’s top strategist acknowledged the team’s difficulties as the candidate returned to Arizona from his final campaign stop in New Mexico.
“I think we did our absolute best in this campaign in really difficult circumstances, we had a — we had some tough cards to play all the way through and we hung in there all the way,” senior adviser Steve Schmidt said. “I don’t think there’s another Republican the party could have nominated that could have made this a competitive race the way that John McCain did.”
During a sometimes chaotic race, McCain promised voters that he would reform a broken and corrupted Washington, and bring change that he said the American people demand. But his economic and national-security proposals largely echoed Bush’s policies, a charge that Obama made repeatedly.
Republicans watched Tuesday as the electoral map turned blue in places where they have labored for a decade to cultivate a permanent, conservative voter base that would ensure presidential victories.
The party — now clearly a minority one — is left wondering whether the Democratic rout is the result of a coincidental marriage of a powerful personality and a terrible political and economic environment or if it signals a deeper change in voter patterns and beliefs that will make it difficult for them to recapture the White House for years.
“This election, particularly when combined with the ’06 election, means the GOP is in serious trouble,” said Pete Wehner, a former Bush White House aide and conservative thinker. “To deny that would be to deny reality.”
The president-elect will immediately confront a national financial crisis, an unpopular war and a world reeling from economic uncertainty.
Obama is the fifth-youngest man elected to a first presidential term, after Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Ulysses S. Grant. Obama is the 16th senator to ascend to the office, and the first since Kennedy’s election in 1960.
In a sign that Obama’s ethnicity did not hold him back, he won as large a share of the white vote as any Democrat in the past two decades, although he still fell short of a majority. Preliminary exit polls showed him winning about 43 percent of white voters, while Sen. John Kerry won 41 percent in 2004 and Vice President Al Gore won 42 percent in 2000.
McCain styled himself as a maverick but ran a largely traditional Republican campaign that eroded his brand among independents, the majority of whom voted for Obama on Tuesday. Obama won 60 percent of self-described moderates, who once had formed the core of McCain’s support.
Obama appeared to have made huge gains among Hispanic voters, earning about two-thirds of their support, according to exit polls. He captured 96 percent of black voters.
Obama also captured a majority of both men and women, a rarity for a Democrat in a presidential campaign.
McCain appeared to have performed more poorly than his Republican predecessors, especially among young people. He earned about 30 percent of voters aged 18 to 29; Bush got 45 percent of that group in 2004.