Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama wins election as first African-American President of U.S.

Wednesday, 05 November 2008 13:28

Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States, opening a new chapter in the country's history as the first African-American to hold the world's most important job.

``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 more than 100,000 people who gathered for a victory celebration in Chicago's Grant Park.

The Illinois senator capped his 21-month quest with a sweeping electoral victory that also enhanced the Democrats' majority in Congress and marked the end of an era of Republican dominance in Washington.

Obama crossed the requisite threshold of 270 electoral votes to defeat Republican rival John McCain last night when television networks projected him winning the state of California. He had at least 338 electoral votes to McCain's 145, according to the Associated Press and television network projections. Six states remained undecided.

His victory, along with his party's gains in congressional contests, puts Democrats in firm control of the federal government for the first time since the early 1990s. That gives Obama an opportunity to turn his victory into a pivotal moment in the country's political history.

McCain's Concession

McCain, speaking to supporters in Phoenix, conceded the race and said he called his rival ``to congratulate him on being elected the next president.''

``Senator Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and his country,'' McCain said. ``This is an historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African- Americans and the special pride that must be theirs tonight.''

McCain pledged to do ``all in my power'' to assist Obama and urged his backers ``to find ways to come together'' for the good of the country.

During their phone conversation, Obama told McCain that he hoped to work with him in the future, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said. Obama told McCain, ``I need your help, you're a leader on so many important issues,'' Gibbs said.

Obama also received a congratulatory call from President George W. Bush, who promising a ``smooth transition,'' White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

Promising Change

Obama, 47, swept to victory by promising a change in Washington, inspiring millions of new voters and volunteers along the way. He persuaded the electorate that he could best handle the economic crisis facing the country. He raised more money than any presidential candidate in history, overwhelming McCain.

``He wants to be a transforming leader,'' said presidential historian James McGregor Burns in a Bloomberg radio interview. Such a leader, like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, ``knows how to proclaim great goals and summons the people to help him realize those goals,'' said Burns, who has written biographies of Roosevelt and other presidents.

Having based his presidential bid on change and using that theme to create a new electoral coalition, Obama must now follow through or risk alienating those supporters, Burns said.

``He has made that so crucial to his campaign: change, change, change,'' Burns said. ``This man cannot escape now the responsibilities of trying to bring it about.''

No Guarantees

And while Obama will have the opportunity to build on his appeal to young Americans and energize their generation, there is no guarantee of success, said Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center in Washington.
``The problems that George W. Bush has had, especially in his second term, have really hurt the Republican Party's brand,'' Keeter said. ``There's no reason to think that couldn't happen if Obama has problems as well.''

The racial symbolism of Obama's campaign was never far from the surface. He formally declared his candidacy in February 2007 in Springfield, Illinois, evoking the spirit of Abraham Lincoln and his call for the nation to overcome the divisions of slavery. Obama ended his campaign Monday night with a rally in Manassas, Virginia, the site of two Confederate Civil War victories.

At the same time, Obama generally avoided overt discussions of racial issues. The one exception was in March, when revelations of inflammatory remarks by his longtime pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, led him to deliver a lengthy address on the subject.

Break With Past

Obama's victory represents a break with the razor-thin margins in the last two presidential elections.

In 2004, the election was too close to call until the next morning, when Democrat John Kerry conceded after concluding he couldn't surpass Bush's vote total in the decisive state of Ohio, which Obama won tonight. Four years earlier, Bush's victory over Vice President Al Gore was in doubt for more than five weeks while Florida recounted its ballots. The Supreme Court finally halted the recount in December, and Gore capitulated.

Obama comes to the White House promising to pursue universal health-care coverage, alternative sources of energy and middle-class tax cuts. He faces daunting challenges: the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the lingering threat of international terrorism.

Obama will have a Democratic House and Senate behind him after he takes the oath of office on Jan. 20. While not all of the races have been decided, the president-elect's party has clearly made gains in Congress.