The Note: The Mandate

The One is the one. Yes, we can, and yes, he did -- but can he really?

A new dawn arrived, coming long before sunrise -- and closing out a long-lasting morning in America. It casts light on a new map, produced by a new electorate, and invites in a new president's vision for a troubled time.

President-Elect Barack Hussein Obama -- his name itself speaking to the improbable journey that brought him here -- gets a mandate to go with his landslide, yes. Now, out of the grand scramble to define what that means, comes the great challenge that may define a generation: What to do with it.

For Sen. John McCain -- a graceful exit that gives the nation the gift of finality, if not quite unity. A return to the Senate enhanced by a remarkable run of his own -- the chance, still, to serve his country.

For congressional Democrats -- expanded majorities in the House and Senate, though not the kind that makes compromise optional. (And will we find out what Nancy Pelosi's House looks like without Rahm Emanuel -- the odds-on choice to become Obama's chief of staff?)

For the GOP -- rock-bottom, perhaps, and new opportunities. The party is wide open for rebranding, and the smart minds know how quickly 2010 approaches. (In the meantime, it's going to get ugly.)

This is Obama's story though, with much still unwritten. He won his way: A calm, confident campaign that defied conventions and disproved assumptions. A broad demographic and geographic sweep -- the kind we've been trained to think can no longer exist in polarized American politics.

Can he govern the same way?

"A national catharsis," declares The New York Times' Adam Nagourney, "a repudiation of a historically unpopular Republican president and his economic and foreign policies, and an embrace of Mr. Obama's call for a change in the direction and the tone of the country."

"Barack Obama built his victory out of a concrete base of near unanimous support from black voters, layered with overwhelming support from Hispanics, young people and enough white voters to remake the partisan landscape in the United States," ABC's Brian Hartman writes.

"This happened because we did this -- we did this, America did this," Oprah Winfrey told ABC's Robin Roberts, on "Good Morning America" Wednesday.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime event. At odd intervals -- 1800, 1860, 1932, 1980 -- the nation reaches a 'pivot point,' an election that draws the line between the past and the future. And 2008 appears to be just such a line in the shifting sands of our convulsive times," the AP's Ron Fournier writes. "On Tuesday, he received the huge wave of support he sought. But will he be able to do all that he promised? Will his ecstatic supporters be satisfied with anything less?"

"Interpreting his mandate will be only one of several critical decisions Obama must make as he prepares to assume the presidency," The Washington Post's Dan Balz writes. "Others include transforming his campaign promises on taxes, health care, energy and education into a set of legislative priorities for his first two years in office."

Says an Obama adviser: "We're all wary of the lessons of 2006, when expectations were raised so high prematurely."

Still too close for projections Wednesday morning (with Obama at 338 and counting, per ABC News' electoral count): Indiana, North Carolina, and Missouri.

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