Washington Barack Obama swept to victory as the nation's first black president Tuesday night in an electoral college landslide that overcame racial barriers as old as America itself. "Change has come," he told a jubilant hometown Chicago crowd.
The son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, the Democratic senator from Illinois sealed his historic triumph by defeating Republican Sen. John McCain in a string of wins in hard-fought battleground states - Ohio, Florida, Iowa and more. He captured Virginia and Indiana, too, the first candidate of his party in 44 years to win either.
Obama's election capped a meteoric rise - from mere state senator to president-elect in four years.
Spontaneous celebrations erupted from Atlanta to New York and Philadelphia as word of Obama's victory spread. Supporters filled Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House.
In his first speech as victor, to well more than 100,000 people in Grant Park in Chicago, Obama cataloged the challenges ahead. "The greatest of a lifetime," he said, "two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century."
He added, "There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as president, and we know that government can't solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face."
McCain called his former rival to concede defeat - and the end of his own 10-year quest for the White House. "The American people have spoken, and spoken clearly," McCain told disappointed supporters in Arizona.
President Bush added his congratulations from the White House, where his tenure runs out on Jan. 20. "May God bless whoever wins tonight," he had told dinner guests earlier.
Obama, in his speech, invoked the words of Lincoln, recalled Martin Luther King Jr., and seemed to echo John F. Kennedy.
"So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder," he said.
He and his running mate, Sen. Joseph Biden, of Delaware, will take their oaths of office as president and vice president Jan. 20, 2009. McCain remains in the Senate.
Sarah Palin, McCain's running mate, returns to Alaska as governor after a tumultuous debut on the national stage.
He will move into the Oval Office as leader of a country that is almost certainly in recession, and fighting two long wars, one in Iraq, the other in Afghanistan.