Barack Obama elected 44th president of America

BARACK Hussein Obama has been elected the 44th president of the United States, sweeping away the last racial barrier in American politics with ease as the country chose him as its first black commander-in-chief.

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 American nation's fraught racial history, a breakthrough that would have seemed unthinkable just two years ago.

* Click here to read Barack Obama's victory speech in full *

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Obama, a 47-year-old first-term senator from Illinois, defeated Senator John McCain of Arizona, 72, a former prisoner of war who was making his second bid for the presidency. To the very end, McCain's campaign was eclipsed by an opponent who was nothing short of a phenomenon, drawing huge crowds epitomised by the tens of thousands of people who turned out on Tuesday night 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 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, 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. This new Democratic majority now faces the task of governing the country through a difficult period: the likelihood of a deep and prolonged recession.

Obama will come into office after an election in which he laid out a number of clear promises: to cut taxes for most Americans, get the United States out of Iraq in a fast if orderly fashion, and 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.

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

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And McCain failed to take from Obama the two previously 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 Senator Joe Biden 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 in was happy with Palin's performance as McCain's running mate. "I'm not going to go there," he said. "There's be time for the postmortems 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 per cent of the electorate on Tuesday, according to surveys of people leaving the polls, compared with 11 per cent in 2006. In North Carolina, Republicans said that the huge surge of African-Americans was one of the big factors that lead to Mrs. 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.

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 Bush did in 2004 and continued to campaign after the polls opened.

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McCain left his home in Arizona after voting early on 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, Colorado "I need your help. Volunteer, knock on doors, get your neighbours 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 epitomise the audacity of his effort this year. Indiana has not voted 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 play basketball, his election-day ritual.

Obama cast his ballot at 7:36 a.m., Central 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 afterwards. "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.

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.

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Obama, 47, waged in many ways an improbable campaign. He is a first-term US 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, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, thought that he would not last.

But Obama proved to be a phenomenal campaigner, drawing huge and excited crowds and defeating Mrs. Clinton in Iowa, an overwhelmingly white state. That outcome, more than any other single vote, signalled 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 US 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.


• Chicago parties for its new, home-grown President, Barack Obama

• Alex Massie: This is Obama's time

• Defeated John McCain pledges support to President-elect Obama

• US election graphic: How the states were won

• Slideshow: Obama and McCain give their final speeches

• Slideshow: Obama supporters react in Chicago

• How it happened: Scotsman live blog

• Video: Hillary Clinton pledges her support for Obama

• Voting system creaks during record turnout

• Prime Minister 'looking forward' to working with Obama

• 'We are going to the White House!' - Obama's Kenyan family celebrate victory

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