November 5, 2008

Taps into the Public’s Anger Over Economy and War

By William M. Welch

Democrat Barack Obama secured a historic presidential victory Tuesday, shattering a racial barrier that once seemed unbreakable by tapping voter anger over the sinking economy and a long-running war.

Obama swept at least seven states that President Bush carried in 2004, including Florida, Indiana, Ohio and Virginia, as he reshaped the political map. Republican John McCain saw his candidacy crushed under the weight of an unpopular GOP president and his own support for the Iraq war.

Obama, 47, will be the first African-American president and one of the youngest. Just four years ago, the son of a Kenyan father and a white woman from Kansas was elected to the Senate from Illinois.

"It's been a long time coming," Obama told more than 200,000 supporters jammed around Chicago's Grant Park. "Because of what we did on this day, in this election, in this defining moment, change has come to America."

The crowd chanted "Yes, we can" as emotions flowed. Obama recalled the grandmother who raised him and died two days before the triumph that will make him the nation's 44th president.

"I'm almost past words," said Clara Jones, 58, a retired store manager in Chicago. "This is something I hoped I'd see but never expected to see in my lifetime ... We can't stop smiling."

McCain congratulated Obama and conceded before a tearful crowd of supporters in Phoenix. "The American people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly," the Arizona senator said.

"This is a historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight."

That a person of Obama's background won the White House is remarkable in a nation where race relations are still sometimes tense. Only four decades ago, when Obama was 4 years old, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act to ensure blacks can vote.

He won at least 338 electoral votes, far more than the 270 necessary, and became the first Democrat since 1976 to capture a popular-vote majority.

Obama swept Democrats to victory across the country: His party gained at least five Senate seats in Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina, New Hampshire and New Mexico and picked up at least 11 House seats. Among the ousted GOP senators was North Carolina's Elizabeth Dole, a White House hopeful in 2000. Democrat Jay Nixon was elected Missouri's governor.

For McCain, 72, a former Navy pilot and prisoner of war in Vietnam, the loss likely ended his White House dreams. He fell short of the GOP nomination in 2000 and was among the oldest nominees ever.

Surveys of voters as they left polling places showed broad support for Obama, especially among young voters, women and minorities.

Strong voter interest was visible in lines at polls in many states -- evidence of a likely record turnout. A much-feared meltdown at the polls failed to materialize. Scattered problems included hours-long delays caused by faulty malfunctioning machines.

Contributing: Martha T. Moore in Chicago (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>