Now Barack Obama must validate the hope and deliver the change he promised.
He’s already changed America by becoming the first black man to win the White House. His challenge is to change the course of its government and guide it through hard times and past the financial crisis he inherits as he takes office.
“The Audacity of Hope,” the title of his book, could also have been the title of his campaign. It certainly was audacious for a fledgling senator from Illinois to run for president, challenging conventional Democratic wisdom and a field of rivals dominated by the supposedly unstoppable Sen. Hillary Clinton. He stopped her with an incredible campaign built from the ground up, raised more money than any presidential candidate in history — about $700 million over two years — and beat veteran Republican Sen. John McCain in an electoral college landslide.
U.S. Democratic President-elect Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) (L) and his running mate, Vice-President-elect Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) wave during their election night rally in Chicago November 4, 2008. REUTERS/Jason Reed
Obama is the first Democrat in 32 years to win election with a popular vote majority, and Jimmy Carter barely got past 50 percent in 1976. Obama gained 52 percent to 46.8 percent with 90 percent of all U.S. precincts tallied. In electoral votes, shortly after 3 a.m. in the East, it wasn’t even close — 349 to 147.
At 47, after a scant four years as a senator, Obama overcame the inexperience argument and a barrage of McCain attack ads. Obama drew remarkable crowds as a campaigner, and 125,000 jammed into Chicago’s Grant Park on election night, not only to rejoice in victory, he said, but to join in facing the rigors ahead.
“Even as we celebrate tonight, we know that the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest in our lifetime,” Obama said. “Two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.”
While the campaigning Obama hewed to his hope and change theme start to finish, with detours to take the offensive amid the GOP attacks, McCain tried an assortment of messages before settling in the closing days on his own claim to be an agent of change, and his assertion that the Democrat was a tax-and-spend socialist.
It didn’t work. “I don’t know — I don’t know what more we could have done to try to win this election,” McCain said in Phoenix, after calling Obama with his congratulations. He did more, commending Obama for “inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans,” saying he had achieved a great thing for himself and his country.
It was a grace note to end a contest short of such notes. He said the disappointment of defeat was natural, “but tomorrow, we must move beyond it and work together to get our country moving again.”
And Obama, in triumph, warned against a return to “the partisanship and pettiness” he said has poisoned politics for too long. And he told Americans who voted against him that he hears their voices. “I need your help,” he said. “And I will be your president, too.”
Such fine vows are traditional when a new president is elected. Delivering on them after an often bitter campaign is the work ahead.
In exit polls, based on interviews with voters who had just cast their ballots, six in 10 said the economy was the most important issue facing the nation. And that was Obama territory. Eight people in 10 said they were worried about what will happen economically in the next year. And now that is Obama territory, too, because as president, he inherits the problem and the demand for solutions.
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