Barack Obama rode a wave of voter discontent to a historic Election victory, promising change as the first African-Amercian US president but facing enormous challenges from a deep economic crisis and lingering wars overseas. Obama led Democrats to sweeping victories around the country that expanded majorities in both houses of Congress as Americans emphatically rejected President George W. Bush's leadership.
Newspaper headlines captured the momentous nature of the result. A New York Times banner headline said simply "OBAMA", while the Washington Post declared "Obama Makes History" and USA Today: "America makes history; Obama wins". The son of a black father from Kenya and white mother from Kansas, Obama was born at a time when black Americans were still battling segregationist policies in the South. His triumph over Republican rival John McCain on Tuesday is a milestone that could help the United States bury its long and often brutal history of racism.
"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.
Raucous street celebrations erupted across the country, but Obama will have little or no time off to enjoy the victory. He was expected to start work on Wednesday on planning a course for his formal takeover on January 20 and putting together a team to tackle the huge challenges at home and abroad. Initial market reaction was muted. Analysts said Obama's victory had been largely priced in and concerns about the global economy were paramount.
The dollar rose against major currencies following its biggest one day slide in 13 years, but US stock index futures were down by between 1.3% and 1.6%. Obama won at least 349 Electoral College votes, based on results in state votes, far more than the 270 he needed. With results in from more than three quarters of US precincts, he led McCain by 52% to 47% in the popular vote.
He will face intense pressure to deliver on his campaign promises. He has vowed to restore American leadership in the world by working closely with foreign allies, to withdraw troops from Iraq in the first 16 months of his term and to bolster US troop levels in Afghanistan. But his immediate task will be tackling the 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.
A first-term Illinois senator who will now be the 44th US President, 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 in Chicago.
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 yr old Arizona senator and former Vietnam War prisoner, called Obama to congratulate him and praised his inspirational and precedent-shattering campaign.
"I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him but offering our next president our goodwill," McCain said.