Obama Makes History by Trouncing McCain

APPresident-elect Barack Obama celebrating his victory at an election rally attended by more than 100,000 supporters in Chicago late Tuesday night.
WASHINGTON -- Overcoming their nation's torturous racial history, American voters overwhelmingly elected Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States, turning to the inspiring young senator as their best hope to revive a country weary from economic turmoil and war.

Obama tore up the U.S. political map as he defeated John McCain, the veteran Republican senator who had struggled in vain to distance himself from George W. Bush's unpopular presidency. Obama captured states once seen as Republican strongholds -- including Florida, Indiana and Virginia -- while defending all traditionally Democratic states.

The election of Obama, the son of black Kenyan man and a white Kansan woman, is a remarkable turning point for a nation that denied the vote to many blacks just decades ago.

"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 said at a victory rally before more than 100,000 supporters in Chicago's Grant Park.

After almost two years of campaigning on a theme of hope and change, Obama told the crowd, "Change has come to America."

His supporters cheered, screamed and waved flags, welcoming his election in a delirious victory celebration in his hometown. Many, including civil rights leader and two-time presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, had tears in their eyes.

In cities around the country, drivers honked horns through the night. In New York's Harlem neighborhood, the roar of thousands of people gathered in a plaza near the legendary Apollo Theater could be heard blocks away.

In Washington, hundreds of residents spilled into the streets near the White House, carrying balloons, banging on drums and chanting "Bush is gone!"

Obama's victory marked the rise of a new generation in American leadership after 16 years of presidents who came of age during the Vietnam War era. Obama, 47, was still a child when most U.S. troops came home.

It also amounted to Americans' final, symbolic rejection of Bush's presidency. Bush's popularity soared after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, then collapsed with his administration's bungled response to Hurricane Katrina four years later, the errors leading up to and during the Iraq war and the chaos in the financial system.

Carolyn Kaster / AP
Senator John McCain speaking at an election night rally in Phoenix, Arizona.

When he takes office Jan. 20 as the 44th U.S. president, Obama will inherit one war in Iraq and another in Afghanistan, as well as the economic turmoil. It is perhaps the most trying environment for any new U.S. president since the Great Depression.

But he will do so with many allies in Congress as his Democratic Party expanded its majorities in both chambers.

Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, said: "Tonight, the American people have called for a new direction. They have called for change in America."

Obama scored a decisive win in the electoral vote, the state-by-state tally that determines the winner. Needing 270 votes to claim the presidency, Obama had 349 to McCain's 147, with three states still too close to call. By comparison, Bush won the White House twice, and never tallied more than 286 electoral votes. The largely symbolic popular vote was much closer: Obama had 51.7 percent to McCain's 47 percent with 84 percent of all precincts tallied. Voter turnout, still being counted, was expected to shatter records. The race was the most riveting in memory, and certainly the longest and most expensive. Obama and McCain had been on the campaign trail for almost two years.

McCain called his former rival to concede defeat -- and mark the end of his own 10-year quest for the White House. "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 told disappointed supporters in Arizona. "These are difficult times for our country. And I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face."

Bush added his congratulations from the White House and promised a smooth transition. "What an awesome night for you," he told Obama by telephone shortly after the race was decided.

An Obama presidency offers the prospect of a new style and tone in American foreign policy.

Obama has said he will try to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq in 16 months and has called for a new opening to U.S. adversaries such as Iran and Cuba. He has urged the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison and favors cap-and-trade systems to reduce global warming.

In his campaign, Obama mined a deep vein of national discontent, promising Americans hope and change throughout a nearly flawless 21-month campaign for the White House. He managed to raise more money and outmaneuver the candidate once seen as the inevitable nominee, former first lady Hillary Clinton.

After Obama's victory Tuesday, Clinton called her former rival to promise her full support. "In quiet, solitary acts of citizenship, American voters gave voice to their hopes and their values, voted for change and refused to be invisible any longer," she said in a statement.

Throughout his campaign, Obama had to overcome relentless false rumors about his religion, his ethnicity and his patriotism. Some pointed to his middle name of Hussein to claim that Obama, a Christian, was Muslim -- which would disqualify him in the eyes of many Americans.

In his race against McCain, Obama was steady and focused, keeping attention on the economy -- voters' biggest concern -- and linking McCain to Bush.

McCain, 72, was a tough rival for Obama. He is widely admired for the 5 1/2 years he spent as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. His reputation as a maverick gave Republicans hopes of winning over independents and moderate Democrats.

But McCain had an uphill fight. He tried without success a series of tactics: depicting Obama as too inexperienced, highlighting his association with a 1960s-era radical and casting him as an advocate of high taxes and socialism.

McCain also tried to shake up the race by naming Alaska's young conservative governor, Sarah Palin, as his vice presidential running mate. The choice energized much of the Republican base, but her lack of experience and poor performance in interviews worried many voters.

Obama picked a seasoned Senate veteran, Joseph Biden of Delaware, as his running mate. Biden won a seventh Senate term on Tuesday, but will relinquish it for the vice presidency.