By Terence Hunt
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — His name etched in history as America’s first black president-elect, Barack Obama turned Wednesday from the jubilation of victory to the sobering challenge of leading a nation worried about economic crisis, two unfinished wars and global uncertainty.
“The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep,” Obama cautioned.
Young and charismatic but with little experience on the national level, Obama smashed through racial barriers and easily defeated Republican John McCain to become the first African-American destined to sit in the Oval Office, America’s 44th president. He was the first Democrat to receive more than 50 percent of the popular vote since Jimmy Carter in 1976.
“It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment, change has come to America,” Obama told a victory rally of 125,000 people jammed into Chicago’s Grant Park.
After an improbable journey that started for Obama 21 months ago and drew a record-shattering $700 million to his campaign account alone, Obama scored an Electoral College landslide that redrew America’s political map. He won states that reliably voted Republican in presidential elections, like Indiana and Virginia, which hadn’t supported the Democratic candidate in 44 years. Ohio and Florida, key to President Bush’s twin victories, also went for Obama, as did Pennsylvania, which McCain had deemed crucial for his election hopes.
With most U.S. precincts tallied, the popular vote was 52.3 percent for Obama and 46.4 percent for McCain. But the count in the Electoral College was lopsided — 349 to 147 in Obama’s favor as of early Wednesday, with three states still to be decided. Those were North Carolina, Georgia and Missouri.
With just 76 days until the inauguration, Obama is expected to move quickly to begin assembling a White House staff and selecting Cabinet nominees. Campaign officials said Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel was the front-runner to be Obama’s chief of staff. The advisers spoke on a condition of anonymity because the announcement had not yet been made.
With these moves and many others to come upon him quickly, Obama planned a low-key, everyman day-after in his hometown of Chicago. The president-elect was taking his two young daughters to school, and then heading to the gym, with little else on his schedule.