'Change has come', says victorious Obama

 

BARACK OBAMA has swept to a landslide victory as the first black president of the United States, defeating John McCain after the longest and most expensive campaign in the country’s history, writes Denis Stauntonin Chicago.

Addressing tens of thousands of supporters in Chicago’s Grant Park, the president-elect promised to unite the country and to present a new face of America to the world.

“To all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world – our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand,” he said.

“To those who would tear this world down – we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security – we support you. And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright – tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.”

The mammoth crowd in Chicago was subdued as the results came in on giant screens, cheering as each state was called for Mr Obama but standing in awed silence much of the time. Many wept when it became clear at 10 pm local time that Obama would be their next president.

“I think I’m still in shock,” said Ann Marty, a 25-year-old Chicago architecture student. “I’ve been working for this and waiting for it and thinking about it for two years. Now I just can’t believe it.”

The crowd cheered when Mr McCain’s concession speech was broadcast and applauded each mention of the defeated candidate’s name in Mr Obama’s victory speech. McCain’s supporters in Phoenix, by contrast, booed every time the Republican mentioned the new president-elect.

The popular vote was closer than many polls had predicted, 51 per cent to 47 per cent with three quarters of the votes counted. Mr Obama’s victory in the electoral college was resounding, however, winning most of the major battleground states including Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Mr McCain’s fate was sealed when he lost Pennsylvania, the only big state John Kerry won in 2004 that the Republican was targeting this year.

Soon afterwards, Mr Obama won Ohio, the state that secured the 2004 election for President George W. Bush. One of the biggest cheers went up in Grant Park when Virginia, which last backed a Democratic presidential election in 1964, fell into Mr Obama’s column.

With most US States tallied, the popular vote was 51.9 per cent for Mr Obama and 46.8 per cent for Mr McCain.

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer,” Mr Obama declared as he stood before 25 US flags, looking out over the crowd and beyond it, the illuminated skyline of Chicago.

“It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.”

Mr Obama paid tribute to his late grandmother, who died in Hawaii hours before the polls opened, thanked his wife Michelle and offered a special word to his two daughters.

“Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much,” he said. “And you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House.”

Mr Obama will enter the White House next January with an expanded Democratic majority in Congress as the party picked up at least five seats in the senate and 14 in the House of Representatives. Two high-profile Republican senators, North Carolina ’s Elizabeth Dole and New Hampshire ’s John Sununu, lost their seats and the party lost its last remaining congressman in New England .

Mr Obama paid tribute to the Republican tradition, however, noting that the party had been founded by Abraham Lincoln on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity.

“Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress,” he said.

“As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, 'We are not enemies, but friends…though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.' And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn – I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.”