After sweeping to a decisive victory in a historic race for the White House, Democrat Barack Obama turned his attention Wednesday to his transition into office.
The Obama campaign released the names of the people who will help guide the changeover: John Podesta, President Bill Clinton's former chief of staff; Valerie Jarrett, a longtime Obama confidant; and Peter Rouse, Obama's chief of staff in the Senate, will serve as co-chairs of the transition team. They will be assisted by an advisory board that includes Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano and several former Clinton Cabinet members: William Daley, who served as commerce secretary; Carol Browner, the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; and former Transportation and Energy Secretary Federico Pena.
Obama cautioned his supporters Tuesday night that many challenges lie ahead that will not be quickly resolved, including "two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century."
"The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep," the 44th president-elect said in a victory speech in Chicago's Grant Park. "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. I promise you: We as a people will get there."
The urgency of the economic crisis in particular had Democrats predicting that Obama will move quickly to begin assembling a White House staff and selecting Cabinet nominees. President Bush, in a brief address at the White House on Wednesday, said he would work for a smooth transition of power.
A Historic Election
The first African-American to be elected to the nation's highest office put his victory in perspective Tuesday night, echoing the sentiments of the late Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement four decades before.
"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," Obama told the cheering crowd in Chicago.
"It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment," he said, "change has come to America."
Throughout the nearly two-year campaign, Obama himself rarely raised the historic significance of his race. Asked in an interview with 60 Minutes why he didn't talk more about the fact that he is black, Obama smiled and said he figured people could see that.
"No matter how they cast their ballots, all Americans can be proud of the history that was made yesterday," he said.
Tallying Up The Votes
For Obama's Republican rival, John McCain, it was an election season that left his campaign groping for a message that resonated with voters after the war on terrorism was supplanted by the economy as the major concern.
In the end, 60 percent of people said the economy was the most important issue facing the nation, according to an Associated Press exit poll. None of the other top issues — energy, Iraq, terrorism and health care — was selected by more than 1 in 10.
Obama's Electoral College landslide included all of the states that voted Democratic four years ago. But he also won a number of key states that had supported President Bush, including Ohio, Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa, Virginia and Indiana — the last two of which had not voted for a Democratic president since 1964.
With most U.S. precincts tallied, the popular vote was 52 percent for Obama and 46 percent for McCain. The count in the Electoral College was more heavily lopsided in Obama's favor — 349 to 162 as of Wednesday afternoon, with North Carolina and Missouri still to be decided.
Obama's candidacy energized African-Americans, who turned out as never before. They increased their share of the electorate to 13 percent, and nearly one-fifth were first-time voters. Some said they never imagined a black man would be elected president in their lifetime.
Obama also captured voters across income and education levels, age groups and race. Although he trailed McCain among white voters, he did better among whites than John Kerry did four years ago.
Reaching Across The Aisle
Obama's campaign was the best-financed in memory, using the Internet to solicit a large number of new donors and breaking a promise to accept limited public financing for the general campaign. This allowed Obama to blanket the airwaves with ads attacking McCain on the economy, his health care plan and other issues.
McCain also aired a series of negative ads, and the last few weeks of the nearly two-year-long campaign battle turned bitter. Twice in his concession speech, when McCain mentioned Obama's win, the crowd erupted into boos. McCain quieted them, urging all Americans to "find the necessary compromises and bridge differences."
In his speech, Obama also reached out to McCain's supporters. "I may not have won your vote," he said, "but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your president, too."