Obama crosses ‘colour line’, elected first black US president (Afternoon lead)

November 5th, 2008 - 2:35 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWashington, Nov 5 (IANS) Declaring that “change has come to America”, Barack Obama created history Tuesday with a resounding win over rival John McCain, crossing the country’s “colour line” to be elected the country’s first African American president .”Change has come to America,” the Democratic candidate said, addressing the country as the president-elect from an open blue stage with flags waving behind him before an ocean of people in his hometown of Chicago.

“It’s a long time coming, but because of what we did on this day, at this defining moment, change has come to America,” he said to deafening roars from his supporters, many of whom, particularly blacks, wept at the achievement.

“The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. 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,” he said in a rousing speech that was heard by millions around the world.

Obama praised his vanquished Republican rival McCain, from whom he had received a “gracious” call conceding defeat minutes after major television networks projected Obama the winner at 11 p.m. EST (9:30 a.m. IST Wed) as he passed the threshold of 270 electoral votes.

By 2:00 a.m. Obama had stretched his lead to a formidable 338 to 159, according to CNN projections.

“He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine,” he said calling McCain “brave and selfless.”

Obama also congratulated McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin “for all they have achieved” and said he looks forward to working with them “to renew this nation’s promise.”

McCain in turn praised his rival’s inspirational and precedent-shattering campaign. “We have come to the end of a long journey,” he told supporters.

“I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him but offering our next president our goodwill.”

News of Obama’s win set off celebrations by supporters around the country, from Times Square in New York to Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, civil rights leader Martin Luther King’s home church.

“This is a great night. This is an unbelievable night,” said US Representaive John Lewis of Georgia, who was brutally beaten by police in Selma, Alabama, during a voting rights march in the 1960s.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a civil rights leader and onetime presidential contender, joined the celebrations in Chicago, tears streaming down his cheeks.

Obama’s extraordinary feat a mere 43 years after the blacks won full civil rights - and a long 138 years after they got the vote -in a large measure stemmed from what the New York Times called his “improbable, unshakable conviction that America was ready to step across the colour line.”

“Millions of voters - white and black, Hispanic and Asian, biracial and multiracial - put their faith and the future of their country into the hands of a 47-year-old black man who made history both because of his race and in spite of it.”

African-Americans wept and danced in the streets Tuesday night, declaring that a once-reluctant nation had finally lived up to its democratic promise.

Others exulted in small towns and big cities. And white voters marvelled at what they had wrought in turning a page on the country’s bitter racial history, the Times said.

President George Bush, whose long shadow weighed heavily on the McCain campaign with the election becoming a kind of referendum on his eight-year rule, too called Obama at 11:12 p.m to congratulate him on his victory.

“Mr. President-elect, congratulations to you,” Bush said, according to the White House. “What an awesome night for you, your family and your supporters. Laura and I called to congratulate you and your good bride.”

“I promise to make this a smooth transition,” the president said to Obama. “You are about to go on one of the great journeys of life. Congratulations, and go enjoy yourself.”

Obama became the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976 to receive more than 50 percent of the popular vote, and made good on his pledge to transform the electoral map.

He overpowered McCain in Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Pennsylvania-four states that the campaign had spent months courting as the keys to victory.

The Democrat easily won most of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states that normally back Democrats, including New Hampshire, and ran strong in states that are normally solid for Republicans, such as Virginia, Indiana and Florida.

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