America made history tonight as it elected its first Black President, Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois. The results left no doubt as to the country’s mood as Senator Obama scored a landslide victory and changed the electoral map solidly blue in states that had been dependably red in elections past. It is a remarkable achievement that few thought was possible when Senator Obama announced his candidacy in Springfield, Illinois a year and half ago. His election caps a remarkable run that first saw him vanquish Democratic rival Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, and the set fundraising records en route to tonight’s victory over his Republican candidate, Senator John McCain of Illinois.
Senator Obama’s victory was tinged with personal tragedy as he was still bearing the impact of the death of his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham; age 86, in Hawaii on Monday. Wiping tears from his eyes, Obama spoke of his grandmother at a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina on the campus of the University of North Carolina – Charlotte late yesterday afternoon. On Tuesday night Senator Obama could take solace in knowing that his grandmother was a part of his victory as she had cast an absentee ballot for her grandson knowing she might not live to see the outcome of the election.
Early on in the evening it was apparent that Senator Obama could be on the verge of a significant victory. Capturing Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Iowa began a trend of the Democrat taking states that were either Republican leaning or identified as critical in the electoral vote calculus. Once those states fell, and others reported to be close but with Obama in the lead, it became apparent that the Democrat was building an insurmountable lead. Throughout the evening it was clear that Senator McCain was not making any inroads in Democratic territory and his back was to the wall defending his own turf. Soon, the west coast states’ polls were closed and the networks quickly declared California, Oregon and Washington for Senator Obama. It was the final blow for Senator McCain.
In his concession speech in Arizona Senator McCain acknowledged the special significance Senator Obama’s victory held for Black Americans, recalling the historical struggle for civil rights and applauding Obama on his achievement. He also pledged his support for Senator Obama and encouraged all Americans to do so. McCain also acknowledged his running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. A controversial choice to share the ticket, the “Palin effect” will be debated for some time as many attribute Senator McCain’s difficulty in gaining ground in the final weeks of the campaign to the missteps of his running mate.
Within twenty minutes of Senator McCain’s speech, Senator Obama, the President-elect, took to the stage before a huge crowd of supporters in Chicago’s Grant Field. As he took to the stage with his wife Michelle and their two daughters, the crowd roared its approval for the nation’s first Black president. Senator Obama declared, “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, tonight is your answer.” He went on to exclaim, “It’s a long time coming, but because of what we did on this day, at this defining moment, change has come to America.”
The President-elect took time out to reflect on his grandmother and to thank her for her support throughout his life, as well as other family members, simply saying “I miss them tonight.” Throughout the audience people were visibly moved to be witnessing history in the making as men and women, young and old, could be seen with tears in their eyes as Mr. Obama spoke from the podium. It was a reminder of just how remarkable and unlikely journey his candidacy was and how it had dramatically moved the nation.
He also took time out to acknowledge his wife Michelle, calling her the “love of his life” and recognizing her as the new “first lady”, and letting his daughter know that a new puppy would accompany the family to the White House. One of the most poignant images of the evening was of the new “first family,” a Black family that will now represent a new portrait of the American experience. After the President-elect finished his remarks he was joined on stage by Vice President-elect Joe Biden and his wife as the nearly half million supporters in Grant Park cheered wildly.
It was a remarkable scene that had been 400 years in the making. Election 2008 represents a sea change for the nation, not just in terms of its political orientation, but in confronting a past in which Black Americans have been marginalized. The immediate task at hand for President-elect is mobilizing his transition team and preparing for his inauguration on January 20 of next year.