Barack Hussein Obama has been elected the forty-fourth president of the United States. Obama swept Republican rival Senator John McCain in several key battlegrounds, scoring a landslide victory that makes him the nation’s first-ever African American president. In addition to traditional Democratic strongholds, Obama beat McCain in at least eight states that went Republican in 2004: Indiana, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio and Virginia. Obama also beat McCain in the swing states of Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, giving him an electoral college lead of 349 to McCain’s 162. Missouri and North Carolina have yet to be called. Shortly before midnight Eastern time, Obama took the stage at Chicago’s Grant Park to a crowd of hundreds of thousands of supporters.
President-Elect Barack Obama: "It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America."
Obama also acknowledged his opponent, Senator John McCain.
President-Elect Obama: "I received an extraordinarily gracious call from Senator McCain. Senator McCain fought long and hard in this campaign, and he’s fought even longer and harder for the country that he loves. He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine. We are better off for the service rendered by this brave and selfless leader. I congratulate him, I congratulate Governor Palin, for all that they have achieved, and I look forward to working with them to renew this nation’s promise in the months ahead."
McCain was quick to offer a concession speech, addressing supporters in his home state of Arizona.
Sen. John McCain: "A little while ago, I had the honor of calling Senator Barack Obama to congratulate him. [booing] Please… to congratulate him on being elected the next president of the country that we both love. In a contest as long and difficult as this campaign has been, his success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance. But that he managed to do so by inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans who had once wrongly believed that they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president is something I deeply admire and commend him for achieving. This is an historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight."
McCain went on to urge Americans to unite behind an Obama White House.
Sen. John McCain: "I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited. Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans."
Back in Chicago, Obama supporters were ecstatic with the victory.
Lynne Davis: "I, for the first time, want to hang an American flag. Please don’t say I’m being negative; I don’t mean it that way. I mean I feel it. I feel that I want to hang a flag, that I’m a part of the United States and that we matter, all of us."
Mary Dojnik: "I thought it was majestic, presidential, calming, a sense of peace, hope and just everything is going to be OK."
Dean Rose: "I think Barack Obama can unite the world, instead of — I mean, he’s going to unite the United States, but the world, you know, and it’s just amazing."
Obama won a larger share of the popular vote than any Democrat since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, beating McCain 52 percent to 46 percent. More than 62.3 million votes have been counted for Obama, compared to 55.2 million for McCain. Turnout was estimated at 64 percent, the most in a century. The Associated Press reports more than 136 million Americans are believed to have cast ballots, beating out the record 122 million in 2004. According to an Associated Press poll, more than six in ten voters listed the economy as their top concern. Ten percent of voters cited the Iraq war, while nine percent said terrorism and another nine percent said healthcare.
The Obama administration will come into office alongside an increased Democratic majority in Congress. Democrats picked up five seats in the Senate but appeared to fall short of the sixty needed to overcome Republican filibusters. In North Carolina, State Senator Kay Hagan ousted Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole. Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, former Democratic Governor Jeanne Shaheen defeated Republican Senator John Sununu in a rematch from 2002. Democrats Mark Warner of Virginia and the cousins Tom Udall of New Mexico and Mark Udall of Colorado all won seats vacated by retiring Republicans. Four key races remain unresolved in Alaska, Oregon, Minnesota and Georgia. In Minnesota, Republican Senator Norm Coleman is in a virtual dead-heat with Democratic challenger Al Franken. A recount is expected in their race. In the House, Democrats increased their majority by defeating twelve Republican incumbents and picking up nine open seats vacated by Republicans retiring their seats. In Connecticut, Democratic challenger Jim Himes defeated twenty-two-year incumbent Republican Congress member Chris Shays, giving Democrats every House seat from New England.
On the state level, Democrats also took a majority of open gubernatorial races, winning seven of eleven contests.
Americans also voted on more than a hundred ballot measures nationwide. In South Dakota, voters rejected a ban on abortions. Michigan voters approved the use of medical marijuana. Colorado voters defeated a measure that would have defined life as beginning at conception. In Massachusetts, a ballot initiative calling for the decriminalization of marijuana has passed. The most closely watched initiatives dealt with gay marriage. In California, Proposition 8 appears headed for approval. The Proposition would amend the California constitution to specify that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. Voters also passed gay marriage bans in Arizona and Florida.
Overall, more than 50,000 voters called the Election Protection hotline Tuesday to report problems at the voting polls. We’ll have more election coverage after headlines.
In other news, dozens of civilians have reportedly been killed in a US air strike in southern Afghanistan. Witnesses in Kandahar province say the victims were attending a wedding party when they came under attack. Al Jazeera is reporting some thirty civilians were killed, with many more trapped under the debris.
In Colombia, the commander of the Colombian military has resigned over a scandal linking his forces to the killings of scores of innocent civilians. General Mario Montoya steps down just one week after the firing of more than two dozen senior officers. A government probe found the military responsible for the disappearances of innocent civilians whose bodies were recently uncovered in a mass grave.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, fighting has reignited between the Israeli military and Palestinian fighters in Gaza. Earlier today, Palestinians fired a barrage of rockets after the Israeli military attacked areas inside Gaza. At least six Palestinians were killed, including one civilian. It was the first major Israeli air strike on Gaza since June.
And the Federal Communications Commission has approved a plan that could expand wireless broadband internet access to more of the country. On Tuesday, FCC commissioners voted to allow the unlicensed use of so-called “white space” television spectrum for wireless internet services. Proponents say white spaces could provide fast internet connection to tens of millions of Americans on the wrong end of the digital divide.