Barack Obama Wins Historic Election

Barack Obama is promising supporters that "change has come." After his historic election as the nation's first black president, Obama promised to be a president for all Americans — including those who voted against him. In Arizona, McCain told disappointed supporters, "The American people have spoken, and spoken clearly."

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

(Soundbite of Democratic election night celebration, Grant Park, Chicago)

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.

(Soundbite of crowd ovation)

MONTAGNE: Barack Obama claimed victory last night before a sea of American faces in Chicago. And for Obama, it was a night of firsts. He is the first African-American to win the presidency. He is the first Democrat in decades to win a majority of the popular vote. Even Bill Clinton never did that. And he is the first person in years who's scrambled the electoral map. The map we saw on a November morning just four years ago - vast divided regions of red and blue - looks very different on this morning in 2008.

INSKEEP: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson has covered this campaign from the beginning, and she's with us one more time. Mara, good morning.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: The map that Renee mentioned, how is it different?

LIASSON: Well, Obama has broken that red-blue deadlock of the last two elections. He expanded the map for Democrats. He didn't just pick the lock that Republicans were once said to have on the Electoral College, he really busted down the door. He won red states like Virginia, Florida. He won in Ohio, in Nevada, and Iowa. He won in places where Democrats never thought they could win. And he did it by expanding the electorate, not just the map. He brought record numbers of African-Americans out to vote. He won a bigger share of Hispanics and white voters and Catholics and independents and moderates than Democrats had in the past. And that made the difference.

INSKEEP: I suppose it will be pointed out by some that Obama came into this election with huge advantages because of the political and economic situation.

LIASSON: Well, he certainly did have huge advantages. Exit polls showed that 75 percent of voters said they disapproved of George W. Bush, and 50 percent disapproved strongly. So the landscape was certainly tilted to the Democrats. But Obama also ran a pretty flawless campaign. He raised a tremendous amount of money. He used the Internet as an organizing tool, not just as an ATM machine. He was able to fund saturation-level television advertising. And he was able to fund a very sophisticated and comprehensive get-out-the-vote operation and voter registration drive. And of course, that is what led to the huge celebration in Chicago last night.

(Soundbite of Democratic election night celebration, Grant Park, Chicago)

(Soundbite of national anthem "The Star-Spangled Banner")

Unidentified Singer: And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air...

LIASSON: At Obama's victory celebration in Grant Park last night, the national anthem played. And then Obama, his wife, and his two girls walked out onto the stage.

President-elect OBAMA: 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.

LIASSON: At the end of an epic two-year-long campaign that had at times been ugly and personal, Obama tried to turn the page and set a new tone.

President-elect OBAMA: 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.

(Soundbite of crowd ovation)

President-elect OBAMA: 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 tonight, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your president too.

LIASSON: And he spoke to an audience outside the United States, enemies and allies alike.

President-elect OBAMA: To those who would tear the 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 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.

(Soundbite of crowd ovation)

LIASSON: Oprah Winfrey was one of the more than 100,000 in the crowd at Grant Park. So was Jesse Jackson, tears streaming down his cheeks. But it was ordinary voters like 64-year-old Aida White(ph) who expressed their wonder at what had just happened.

Ms. AIDA WHITE: I never thought that I would see this night where a black man becomes president of the United States of America. But it happened tonight.

LIASSON: Early in the evening, it became clear that the comeback John McCain's aides had so ardently predicted was not to be. At the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, Arizona, McCain conceded defeat with a gracious speech. Hushing boos from the crowd of his disappointed supporters, McCain honored the historic nature of Obama's victory, recounting the outrage that met his own Republican hero, Teddy Roosevelt, when 100 years ago he invited Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House.

(Soundbite of John McCain's concession speech, Phoenix, Arizona)

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): America today is a world away from the cruel and frightful bigotry of that time. There is no better evidence of this than the election of an African-American to the presidency of the United States. Let there be no reason now...

(Soundbite of applause)

Senator MCCAIN: Let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on earth.

LIASSON: McCain also reached out to his former rival, promising to do everything he could to help Obama lead the country through the difficult challenges it faces.

Senator 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.

LIASSON: Although that may be the kind of thing that candidates say at the end of elections, last night those words seemed to mark a true defining moment, as Obama likes to say. All at once, a historic racial breakthrough, a break with the policies of an unpopular president, and the stunning achievement of a young first-term senator who rewrote the rules of modern presidential campaigns and in the process, as John McCain said last night, inspired the hopes of millions of Americans who once wrongly believed they had little at stake in the election of an American president.

INSKEEP: We're listening to NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. And Mara, as huge as that election is, it was just one of the elections that was decided yesterday. How are the House and Senate going to be different after Tuesday?

LIASSON: Well, they're going to have a lot bigger Democratic majorities. The Democrats are just about back to the kind of majority they had before the Republicans took over the House in 1994. It's rare that there are two back-to-back elections with gains this big. The last time Democrats won back-to-back, double-digit gains in the House was in the 1930s.

INSKEEP: Although, we have to mention that in 1992, brand new President Bill Clinton came in with big Democratic majorities, and it didn't work out so well.

LIASSON: That's right, Steve. Bill Clinton had 58 Democratic senators and 258 Democrats in the House, but it was a different kind of majority. These new senators and new members of Congress are beholden to Obama in a way that Democrats were not to Bill Clinton. These new senators and congressmen didn't just ride the Democratic wave, they rode a wave that Obama helped to make bigger. And I think the real question for the Democratic majority and President-elect Obama is how they're going to confront these huge problems they're facing right now and whether they think they have a mandate or just a chance to make their case to the American people.

INSKEEP: Mara, thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. And of course, you can hear more election coverage throughout this morning at npr.org.

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