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.

Still waiting on final Senate results (with Democrats at 56 and counting up, slowly) from Minnesota, Oregon, Alaska, and Georgia (where the race is for 50 percent).

Numbers not reached in a century? "It looks like 136.6 million Americans will have voted for president this election, based on 88 percent of the country's precincts tallied and projections for absentee ballots, said Michael McDonald of George Mason University. Using his methods, that would give 2008 a 64.1 percent turnout rate," the AP's Seth Borenstein reports.

Where from here? Obama will bring an unwieldy coalition with him to the White House.

"Which Barack Obama will dominate as he begins to govern?" Doyle McManus writes in the Los Angeles Times. "Too much of the ambitious liberal, and he rekindles partisan squabbles he was supposed to transcend. Too much the cautious mediator who reaches across the aisle to compromise with Republicans, and he risks losing the energy and idealism that attracted millions to his candidacy."

"Barack Obama played above the rim. He made the difficult look easy," Bloomberg News' Julianna Goldman and Michael Tackett write. "The larger problem for the Illinois senator, however, might be that he didn't adequately prepare the country for the extent of the problems that he will inherit as president."

Bigger than Obama: "It was the reality of power, not the symbolism, that changed Tuesday night in ways more profound than meet the eye," Politico's John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei write. "The rout of the Republican Party, and the accompanying gains by Democrats in Congress, mean that Barack Obama will assume office with vastly more influence in the nation's capital than most of his recent predecessors have wielded."

He sets his own (high) bar: "Obama will face difficult problems and, eventually, punishing political opposition. But in delivering on the central promise of his campaign -- to change the tone in Washington, America, and across the world -- he can succeed just by showing up," The Boston Globe's Peter Canellos writes.

"All that Obama rhetoric from the campaign trail about reaching across the aisle and moving past Washington's sterile partisan warfare -- indeed, Sen. Obama's very portrayal of himself as a new and different kind of national leader -- will be put to the test immediately," The Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib writes.

A new tone Tuesday night? "Fireworks were originally planned for this evening, but President-elect Obama canceled them," ABC's Jake Tapper reports. "Given the sobriety of the times, he didn't feel they were appropriate," senior adviser David Axelrod tells Tapper.

Among the key decisions: "He once promised that negotiations about his health care plan would be shown live on C-SPAN. Is he really going to be that transparent?" Slate's John Dickerson writes.

(When's the first press conference, Mr. President-Elect?)

What do his supporters want? "There's an alignment on what we want to accomplish, and what the people in the Obama movement want to accomplish. I expect we'll be working shoulder-to-shoulder with them,"'s Eli Pariser tells ABC News.

"Obama will have to contend with the hydraulic force of pent-up Democratic demands for action," Ruth Marcus writes in her Washington Post column. "After eight years without the White House, and two years in which a Democratic majority in Congress found itself stymied in delivering on its promises, the leftward precincts of his party are not inclined toward either compromise or patience."

At a more tactile level -- do you hear the Rahm drumbeat? "[Obama] is expected to name a White House chief of staff in the next day or two, and the clear front-runner is Rep. Rahm Emanuel, his longtime friend and ally from Chicago," Shailagh Murray writes in The Washington Post. "A game plan for moving forward will become clear by Friday, Obama sources said, and Cabinet announcements may start to trickle out next week."

At Treasury, per ABC's George Stephanopoulos: "There are two top candidates for Secretary of Treasury right now, which may be one of the first appointments that President-elect Barack Obama makes. One is Larry Summers who served as Treasury Secretary for President Clinton before becoming president of Harvard. Also Tim Geithner, who has been central during this financial crisis. He's the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York."

"He intends to start by naming three co-leaders of his transition team on Wednesday, including John D. Podesta, the former Clinton chief of staff; Valerie Jarrett, a longtime Obama adviser; and Pete Rouse, Mr. Obama's Senate chief of staff," Peter Baker reports in The New York Times.

"Mr. Obama may also have a news conference and announce top White House appointees by the end of the week, advisers said. Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, a former Clinton aide and close friend of Mr. Obama, may become White House chief of staff, well-connected Democrats said. Mr. Obama's advisers say they anticipate the nomination of secretaries of state and treasury by Thanksgiving," Baker writes.

Public words from President Bush Wednesday morning, with a statement scheduled for 10:40 am ET.

He won't say this again: "What an awesome night for you," the president told the president-elect late Tuesday, echoing the famous words spoken by John Quincy Adams to Andrew Jackson (not really).

Has there ever been a campaign this steady? The Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody: "Barack Obama will become the next President of the United States because he defined himself early with a clear message of change, centered in a maturity and calmness in which he never got knocked off stride."

"This is the first election of the future. In many ways, we are moving toward a post-racial America," per ABC's George Stephanopoulos. "Look at how race really wasn't an issue in this campaign. Eighty percent of voters said they didn't take it into account anyway, and only 19 percent of the voters said they did. And Obama won both groups."

"It's a historic new morning in America," Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh writes.

How's this for expectations? "The struggle for equal rights is far from over, but we start afresh now from a whole new baseline. Let every child and every citizen and every new immigrant know that from this day forward everything really is possible in America," Tom Friedman writes in his New York Times column.

But what does it say? "What remains unclear, however, is whether Tuesday's results represent a vote for liberalism or against the failures of the Bush administration, including the early war years in Iraq, the calamity of Hurricane Katrina and the current economic slump," The Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman and Laura Meckler write.

As for the GOP: "The Republican Party begins debating its future Thursday in Virginia, where a group of leading conservatives will meet to discuss how to rebuild their movement. Party governors continue the conversation at a meeting next week in Miami," The Wall Street Journal's Greg Hitt, Stephanie Simon, and Nick Timiraos report. "Thus begins a battle for the soul of a party whose coalition has been fractured by war and economic turmoil after nearly three decades of electoral success."

They continue: "Complicating the coming fight is a widening gap between the party's grass-roots activists and its intellectual elite. Gov. Palin sits squarely in the center of the debate."

Palin might be a reelected governor, half-way through her second term, by the time the 2012 elections arrive -- sound familiar?

"Even in defeat, John McCain bequeathed an invaluable gift to his running mate, Sarah Palin: the national prominence that could allow her to compete for the GOP's presidential nomination in 2012," Juliet Eilperin writes in The Washington Post. "While the Alaska governor avoided speculating on a future White House bid in recent interviews, she made it clear that she intends to remain an important player within the party. And the national following she has developed among the conservative faithful over the past couple of months provides her with the sort of political and fundraising base that could support a run."

McCain's role? What he wants to make it: "He has failed in achieving his life's ambition. But there is little doubt that he will carry on as forcefully as ever," Time's Michael Scherer writes.

A McCain aide tells ABC's Ron Claiborne that he only realized it was all over when he returned to Phoenix from Albuquerque Tuesday afternoon and saw internal exit polls. He was upbeat, relaxed -- and at peace with the result -- all evening as he, family and friends watched the downward trajectory of returns and projections.

(How refreshing to think that the lawyers were bored.)

In Congress, among the stalwarts to drop: Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn.; Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio; Rep. Thelma Drake, R-Va.; Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo.; Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C.; Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H.

"The Democratic congressional majority grew broader and more muscular in Tuesday's historic elections, with new members ousting Republicans in the House and Senate and a team of their own heading to the White House," the AP's Laurie Kellman writes.

"With races still undecided in Minnesota, Oregon and Alaska, the Democrats were relishing the possibility of winning as many as 59 seats, their biggest majority since the 58 seats they held during the Carter administration in 1979 and 1980," The New York Times' Carl Hulse and Michael M. Grynbaum report.

A decision, soon? "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declined tonight to discuss the political future of Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, but said the two are expected to talk Thursday," Lisa Mascaro writes in the Las Vegas Sun.

"Democrats in the House of Representatives were on the way Tuesday toward their widest majority in 15 years, fueled in part by record turnout and discontent over the national economy," USA Today's John Fritze reports. "Democratic gains build on the 36-seat majority the party had in the House before the election and could have wide implications for President-elect Barack Obama's ability to advance his agenda in Washington."

"Democrats are on pace to gain about 20 seats in the House of Representatives, handing Nancy Pelosi the most commanding majority of any Democratic speaker in a generation -- and providing President-elect Barack Obama a secure launching pad for his legislative agenda," Politico's Glenn Thrush and Josh Kraushaar write.

"The new power Democrats hold will give them, or burden them with, a mandate to act on pressing crises that have Americans more overwhelmingly pessimistic about the direction of the country than at virtually any other time in history," Real Clear Politics' Reid Wilson writes. "The Democratic wins were sweeping, as the party picked up seats stretching from New York City to the Black Belt of Alabama, from the desert lands of the Navajo Nation to the sunny climes of Florida. With a dozen districts yet to be determined, the party is expected to end the election with at least a seventeen-seat gain and a pickup of as many as a twenty five-seat gain."

In the House, leadership challenges: "Florida Rep. Adam Putnam, until recently a rising star in his party, surprised leadership colleagues Tuesday night with the news that he plans to relinquish his post as the third-ranking Republican in the House," Politico's Patrick O'Connor writes. "Putnam's voluntary departure marks the first Republican leadership casualty of the 2006 and 2008 Democratic House victories. But it could also mitigate the GOP's post-election drama -- a drama that already seemed to be losing its punch in the wake of less-than-feared losses for the party, at least in the House."

And regional challenges: "The loss of Representative Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut, to Democrat Jim Himes leaves New England without a single House Republican in next year's Congress. The only Democrat in New England with a close race, Representative Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire, easily won reelection," Susan Milligan reports in The Boston Globe.

The Kicker:

"I love you both more than you can imagine, and you have both earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House." -- Barack Obama, to daughters Sasha and Malia.

"2012, 2012, 2012." -- Chants from the crowd in Phoenix, as Sarah Palin posed for photos after John McCain's concession speech.

Bookmark The Note: