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Obama wins, says 'change has come to America'

Democrat Barack Obama captured the White House after an extraordinary two-year campaign, defeating Republican John McCain to make history as the first black to be elected US president. See Video: Obama's victory speechSee Full Coverage

world Updated: Nov 05, 2008 20:56 IST
John Whitesides

Barack Obama rode a wave of voter discontent to a historic White House victory on Tuesday, promising change as the first black US president but constrained by a deep economic crisis and two lingering wars.

Obama led Democrats to a sweeping victory that expanded their majorities in both houses of Congress as voters emphatically rejected President George W. Bush's eight years of leadership.

Obama is the son of a black father from Kenya and white mother from Kansas, and his election triumph over Republican rival John McCain marks a milestone in US history. It came 45 years after the height of the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King.

"It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, at this defining moment, change has come to America," Obama, 47, told more than 200,000 ecstatic supporters gathered in Chicago's Grant Park to celebrate.

Obama was born at a time when African Americans were still battling segregationist policies in the South and his dramatic rise could help the United States bury its long history of racial tensions. Raucous street celebrations erupted across the country.

Obama won at least 338 Electoral College votes, far more than the 270 he needed. With results in from more than three-quarters of US precincts, he led McCain by 52 percent to 47 percent in the popular vote.

A first-term Illinois senator who will now be sworn in as the 44th US president on Jan. 20, 2009, Obama said he would work to ease the country's sharp political divisions and listen to those who voted against him.

"The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there," he said.

McCain's hopes for a surprise win evaporated with losses in a string of key battleground states led by the big prizes of Ohio and Florida, the states that sent Democrats to defeat in the last two elections.

McCain, a 72-year-old Arizona senator and former Vietnam War prisoner, called Obama to congratulate him and praised his rival's inspirational and precedent-shattering campaign.

"We have come to the end of a long journey," McCain told supporters. "I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him but offering our next president our goodwill."

Blacks and whites celebrated together in front of the White House to mark Obama's win and Bush's imminent departure. Cars jammed the downtown Washington streets, with drivers honking their horns and leaning out their windows to cheer.

Thousands more joined street celebrations in New York's Times Square and in cities and towns across the United States.

"This is the most significant political event of my generation," said Brett Schneider, 23, who was in the crowd for Obama's victory speech in Chicago.

"This is a great night. This is an unbelievable night," said US Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who was brutally beaten by police in Selma, Alabama, during a voting rights march in the 1960s.

He was at a celebration in Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the home church of King, who led the civil rights movement and was murdered in 1968.

Rev. Jesse Jackson, a prominent civil rights leader and former presidential candidate, joined the celebrations in Chicago on Tuesday night, tears streaming down his cheeks.

Promises

Obama and Democrats will face intense pressure to deliver on their campaign promises. Obama has vowed to restore U.S. leadership in the world by working closely with foreign allies, to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq in the first 16 months of his term and to bolster U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan.

But his immediate task will be tackling the U.S. financial crisis, the worst since the Great Depression. Obama has proposed another stimulus package that could cost about $175 billion and include funding for infrastructure and another round of rebate checks.

Obama took command of the race in the last month as the financial crisis deepened and as his steady performance in three debates with McCain appeared to ease lingering doubts among voters.

His judgment on handling the economic crisis appeared to help tip the race in his favor. Exit polls showed six of every 10 voters listed the economy as the top issue.

In addition to Ohio and Florida, Obama won Virginia, Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado -- all states won by Bush in 2004. McCain's loss in Pennsylvania eliminated his best hope of capturing a Democratic-leaning state.

The vote capped an epic campaign marked by a rapid rise from obscurity for Obama and a bitter Democratic primary battle with New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, as well as McCain's comeback from the political scrap heap to win the Republican nomination.

In the general election battle, Obama accused McCain of representing a third term for Bush's policies and being out of touch on the economy. McCain's campaign attacked Obama as a tax-raising liberal and accused him of being a "pal" with terrorists.

In a difficult political environment for Republicans, McCain struggled to separate himself from Bush. Exit polls showed three out of every four voters thought the United States was on the wrong track.

In the fight for Congress, Democrats were making big gains but appeared to be falling short of picking up the nine Senate seats to reach a 60-seat majority that would give them the muscle to defeat Republican procedural hurdles.

Democrats gained at least five Senate seats and knocked off two-high profile Republican incumbents -- North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole, a former presidential candidate and wife of 1996 Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole, and New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu.

Democrats also gained about 25 more House of Representatives seats to give them a commanding majority in that chamber.