UNITED STATES – Congratulations to the new President of the United States of America! Barack Obama completed a journey late tonight that had once been unthinkable, becoming the first African-American president in U.S. history and raising hopes that this nation had entered a new, post-racial era.
The rookie U.S. senator from Illinois reshaped the American electoral map in his victory over Republican John McCain and stands poised to also redefine the way the world looks at this nation.
A presidential bid first forged on the themes of hope and change - then carried home by a candidate who personified calm and cool - came 45 years after Martin Luther King told the world he had a dream.
Millions of African-Americans who had lived lives of oppression and discrimination in this country helped craft Obama's victory, joined by many millions more across the racial spectrum who ultimately decided that race could be no barrier to electing a president in 2008.
Early returns contained one important message last night - there was no indication that Obama's race was a defining issue in this election.
With the world watching intently, Obama sealed his victory with easy wins in Ohio and Pennsylvania, the latter the one Democratic state in which McCain and his running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, had chosen to make their last stand in a 21-month campaign that sparked unprecedented passions in this nation.
West coast results from California, Oregon and Washington state put Obama over the top, setting off a wild round of celebrations in Chicago's Grant Park where 70,000 gathered to watch history.
Tens of thousands more poured into the streets of Chicago and other major U.S. cities.
Obama and McCain traded wins in states considered safe for their respective parties early last night, but the 47-year-old Obama threatened Republican dominance in three battleground states - Virginia, North Carolina and Florida - in which he battled the 72-year-old McCain evenly during the night.
There were any number of milestones passed in this country on a night that will be studied by generations to come.
A country thought to be centre-right had elected a man perceived to be a liberal, and a northern liberal at that, the first Democrat from north of the Mason-Dixon Line to be elected since John F. Kennedy in 1960.
He would also become the first president born outside the continental U.S., the first Hawaiian-born president and a first-term senator who as recently as four years ago was toiling in Springfield, Ill., as a state senator.
Obama became only the third senator to move directly to the White House and the first ever elected without even completing his first term.
He was also seeking to become the first Democrat to win more than 50 per cent of the vote since Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Even more history appeared to have been made today with a voter turnout that eclipsed U.S. records with people standing in line for hours on voting day, replicating scenes in recent weeks where millions cast ballots in early voting.
Americans also swept a majority of Democrats into the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Today was the final page of a political potboiler that spanned almost two years.
It was a campaign that began with Obama challenging the Clinton dynasty for the Democratic nod, at a time when the war in Iraq and national security appeared certain to again dominate voters' concerns.
Today, only one in 10 voters reported that Iraq was the most important issue to them and the economy eclipsed all else with the nation in the throes of a home-foreclosure and credit crisis, Wall Street humbled and largely crumbled, and confidence in the economic future in tatters. The Bush era of high oil prices, a weak American dollar, corporate crime, huge record budget deficits, and a host of domestic issues that have been ignored by the Bush Administration too focused on the war on terrorism can finally get presidential attention.
On the Friday before Obama declared his candidacy in February, 2007, the Dow Jones Industrial average was at 12,580 and he didn't take a single economic question at his first Iowa town hall meeting that day.
Today, a pre-election rally brought the Dow to 9,625.
The economic meltdown in September turned the race, allowing Obama to assert himself as the calm hand on the tiller while McCain lurched from one economic position to another, at one point suspending his campaign in a theatrical - and ultimately unsuccessful bid - to forge consensus on a $750 billion financial bailout bill on Capitol Hill.
Throughout the entire campaign, however, one thing remained constant: this was a nation anxious to bring the curtain down on the George W. Bush administration and in the final days of the race, the outgoing U.S. president was the loneliest man in the capital.
Obama successfully linked McCain to Bush, torpedoing the Republican's self-styled "maverick" image and painting him as a sidekick to Bush.
In fact, one of McCain's best moments came during the third and final debate when he told Obama he was not Bush, and if the Democrat wanted to run against Bush he should have done so four years ago.
Gallup reported yesterday that nearly three-quarters of voters said this year's election outcome mattered more to them than prior elections - the highest the polling organization had measured during the last four campaigns.
Obama voted early in Chicago with wife Michelle and they were accompanied by daughters Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7.
"Michelle took a long time, I had to check to see who she was voting for," Obama joked later.
In a television interview, he spoke, not of winning, but governing.
"When I think about things when the lights are out and I'm tossing and turning in bed, it's how do we make sure we fulfill the commitments to the American people that we've made throughout this campaign."
Following a brief appearance in Indiana, Obama found a little time to shoot some hoops.
That, in itself, was a liberating moment for a candidate after 21 months on the trail, because senior adviser Robert Gibbs told CNN that the campaign had tried to keep him off the court so he didn't emerge with a broken nose or a black eye before a campaign appearance or a debate.
Obama's running mate Joe Biden cast a ballot in Delaware, where he was also running for re-election as senator, then campaigned in Virginia.
McCain campaigned right to the bitter end, stopping mid-afternoon in Grand Junction, Colo.
"We're going to win it," he said, "we're going to win this election. And we're going to win right here in Colorado."
He was joined on the campaign trail on voting day by his 96-year-old mother, Roberta.
His running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, made the red-eye journey to her hometown of Wasilla to vote early yesterday before joining McCain in Phoenix.
Palin, wearing a hooded jacket emblazoned with the seal of the state of Alaska, was joined by her husband Todd in the polling station at the tiny city hall that was her office when she was town mayor.
She cited her right to privacy when reporters asked her how she voted - likely a bid to fend off questions about whether she voted for long-time Alaska senator, Ted Stevens, the senior Republican in the Senate. He was convicted on corruption charges last week and Palin and McCain called on him to resign. But Stevens returned to Alaska to try to protect his seat against the challenge of Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, the Democrat.
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