Obama wins in Democratic sweep | AspenTimes.com

Obama wins in Democratic sweep

Adam Nagourney
The New York Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
President-elect Barack Obama celebrates at the election night rally in Chicago, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Barack Hussein Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States on Tuesday, sweeping away the last racial barrier in American politics with ease as the country chose him as its first black chief executive.

Obama’s election amounted to a national catharsis ” a repudiation of a historically unpopular Republican president and his economic and foreign policies, and an embrace of Obama’s call for a change in the direction and the tone of the country. But it was just as much a strikingly symbolic moment in the evolution of the nation’s fraught racial history, a breakthrough that would have seemed unthinkable just two years ago.

Obama, 47, a first-term Democratic senator from Illinois, defeated Sen. John McCain, Republican of Arizona, a former prisoner of war who was making his second bid for the presidency. McCain, 72, conceded the race in a speech to his supporters shortly after 9:15 p.m. Mountain time.

To the very end, McCain’s campaign was eclipsed by an opponent who was nothing short of a phenomenon, drawing huge crowds epitomized by the tens of thousands of people who turned out to hear Obama’s victory speech in Grant Park in Chicago.

McCain also fought the headwinds of a relentlessly hostile political environment, weighted down with the baggage left to him by President Bush and an economic collapse that took place in the middle of the general election campaign.

The day shimmered with history as voters began lining up before dark ” hours before polls opened ” to take part in the culmination of a campaign that, over the course of two years, commanded an extraordinary amount of attention from the American public.

As the returns became known, and Obama passed milestone after milestone, winning Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Iowa and New Mexico ” many Americans rolled into the streets to celebrate what many described, with perhaps overstated if understandable exhilaration, a new era in a country where just 143 years ago, Obama, as a black man, could have been owned as a slave.

For Republicans, especially the conservatives who have dominated the party for nearly three decades, the night represented a bitter setback and left them contemplating where they now stand in American politics.

Obama led his party in a decisive sweep of Congress, putting Democrats in control of both the House and the Senate ” by overwhelming numbers ” and the White House for the first time since 1995, when Bill Clinton was president. The president-elect and his expanded Democratic majority now faces the task of governing the country through a difficult period: the likelihood of a deep and prolonged recession.

The roster of defeated Republicans included some notable party moderates ” including Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire and Rep. Chris Shays of Connecticut ” signaling that the Republican conference that convenes in Washington next January will not only be smaller, but more conservative.

Obama will come into office after an election in which he laid out a number of clear promises: to cut taxes for most Americans, to get the United States out of Iraq in a fast and orderly fashion, and to expand health care. In a recognition of the difficult transition he faces, given the economic crisis, Obama is expected to begin filling White House jobs as early as this week.

The Democratic sweep took down some well-known Republican senators, including Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina and John E. Sununu of New Hampshire. But Democrats failed to achieve the 60-seat majority required to prevent Republican filibusters.

Obama defeated McCain in Ohio, a central battleground in American politics, despite a huge effort that brought McCain and his running-mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, back there repeatedly. Ohio was a state Obama lost decisively to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York in the Democratic primary.

McCain failed to take from Obama the two Democratic states that were at the top of his target list: New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. And in addition to Ohio, Democrats captured two other Republican states, Iowa and New Mexico.

Obama comes into office with Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, his vice-presidential running mate. Even before the final results were called, there were indications that McCain’s advisers were in fact unhappy with their vice-presidential candidate, Palin, who was announced by McCain to an explosion of enthusiasm and interest by conservatives and since caused a series of embarrassments for McCain.

McCain’s chief strategist, Steve Schmidt, demurred when asked whether he thought McCain was happy with Palin’s performance. “I’m not going to go there,” Schmidt said. “There’ll be time for the post-mortems in the race.”

Initial signs were that Obama benefited from a huge turnout of voters, but particularly among blacks. That group of voters made up 13 percent of the electorate on Tuesday, according to surveys of people leaving the polls, compared with 11 percent in 2006. In North Carolina, Republicans said that the huge surge of African-Americans was one of the big factors that lead to Dole’s loss.

Obama also did strikingly well among Hispanic voters, beating McCain did far less better among those voters than Bush did in 2004, suggesting the damage the Republican Party has suffered among those voters over four years in which Republicans have been at the forefront on the effort to crack down on illegal immigrants.

As thousands of people gathered in downtown Chicago to celebrate their hometown candidate, the audience erupted in bursts of applause each time a state was called for Obama. The party took on the air of a drive-in movie theater, with his supporters remaining eerily quiet until a new development flashed across giant television screens. A thundering roar sounded when the roll call of projected Democratic victories suddenly included Ohio.

The exit polls found that a broad majority of voters considered the economy to be the most important issue facing the nation. And Obama was viewed as much more qualified than McCain to deal with that issue.

Blacks made up 13 percent of the total electorate, up from 11 percent last time, the polls showed. More than 95 percent of them said they had voted for Obama, an African-American.

Obama was also winning overwhelmingly among Latino voters. McCain was faring much poorer among those voters compared with how President Bush performed in 2004, suggesting a long-term problem for the Republican Party with a rapidly growing demographic group.

Reflecting Obama’s ability to draw new voters to his side, 70 percent of people voting for the first time said they had backed him. A similar percentage of voters under 30 years old also supported him.

The only age group that went for McCain, who is 72, were voters 65 and older, according to the exit polls conducted by Edison/Mitofsky.

One in eight respondents said that age was an important factor in their vote; of those, three quarters voted for Obama.

The election ended what by any definition was one of the most remarkable contests in American political history, drawing what was by every appearance unparalleled public interest. Throughout the day, people lined up at the polls for hours ” some showing up before dawn ” to cast their votes. Aides to both campaigns said that anecdotal evidence suggested record-high voter turnout.

Reflecting the intensity of the two candidates, McCain and Obama took a page from what President Bush did in 2004 and continued to campaign after the polls opened.

McCain left his home in Arizona after voting early Tuesday to fly to Colorado and New Mexico, two states where Bush won four years ago but where Obama waged a spirited battle. These were symbolically appropriate final campaign stops for McCain, reflecting the imperative he felt of trying to defend Republican states against a challenge from Obama.

“Get out there and vote,” McCain said in Grand Junction. “I need your help. Volunteer, knock on doors, get your neighbors to the polls, drag ’em there if you need to.”

By contrast, Obama flew from his home in Chicago to Indiana, a state that in many ways came to epitomize the audacity of his effort this year. Indiana hadn’t went for a Democrat since President Lyndon B. Johnson’s landslide victory in 1964, and Obama made an intense bid for support there. He later returned home to Chicago to play basketball, his election-day ritual.

Obama cast his ballot at 6:36 a.m., Mountain time, at the Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School in Chicago, accompanied by his wife, Michelle. “I noticed that Michelle took a long time though,” he said afterward. “I had to check to see who she was voting for.”

McCain voted later, at 9:08 a.m., Mountain time, at the Albright United Methodist Church in Phoenix. He and his wife, Cindy, were greeted there by supporters with cheers of “Senator McCain” and “Thank you, senator.”

The nation’s faltering economy seemed to weigh in voters’ minds: A survey of voters leaving polling places found that 6 in 10 said this was their dominant concern, a reflection of the economic collapse that provided the backdrop for the general election contest.

In a sign of how much the terrain of this election changed since Obama and McCain started campaigning in their party caucuses and primaries more than a year ago, only 1 in 10 cited the war in Iraq.

The first exit polls suggested a spike in voting among blacks that had been a source of concern among Republicans.

Across the country ” in Florida, Georgia, New York and North Carolina, to name a few places ” polling stations reported overflow crowds, with long waits and packed parking lots. McCain’s advisers had predicted that 130 million people would vote, compared with 123.5 million who cast ballots four years ago, reflecting the intense interest in the race.

Obama waged in many ways an improbable campaign. He is a first-term United States senator from Illinois who just five years ago was serving as a state senator. It was because of that resume that his main opponent in the battle for the Democratic nomination, Clinton, thought that he would not last.

But Obama proved to be a phenomenal campaigner, drawing huge and excited crowds and defeating Clinton in Iowa, an overwhelmingly white state. That outcome, more than any other single vote, signaled to Democratic leaders the potency of the Obama appeal. But the two candidates battled through the very last primary battle in June before Clinton, bowing to the inevitable, pulled out of the race.

McCain also won his party’s nomination improbably after he had, a year ago, appeared doomed when his campaign ran out of money. He persevered through a combination of scrappiness and a field of primary opponents who each had problems with the fractured Republican electorate.

In his campaign, Obama offered some fairly ambitious promises, including tax cuts for most Americans, a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq and an expansion of health care coverage. McCain pledged not to leave Iraq without a victory and promised to continue Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy.

Early exit polls suggested that Obama was receiving the support of half of men. If that continued, he would be the first Democratic candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1976 to do so.

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