Barack Obama cruised to victory Tuesday night in an historic triumph that promised change, overcame centuries of prejudice and fulfilled Martin Luther King's dream that a man be judged not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character.
Obama, a first-term senator with little experience on the national level, made history by becoming the nation's first black president and defeating Sen. John McCain in a landslide.
In his acceptance speech before some 150,000 supporters in Grant Park in Chicago, Obama complimented McCain on a hard-fought campaign and promised that a "new dawn of American leadership is at hand."
"It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America," Obama said, echoing a key theme of his campaign.
Looking ahead to an economic crisis and turbulent foreign affairs, he told the sea of supporters, "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."
Obama was joined by his wife, Michelle, and daughters Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, and he again paid tribute to his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, who died Monday a day before his historic triumph.
He had a special message, however, for his daughters.
"Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much," he said, "and you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House."
Obama had a special text message for supporters as well, telling them digitally, "We just made history. All of this happened because you gave your time, talent and passion to this campaign. All of this happened because of you. Thanks, Barack"
McCain called Obama from Phoenix to concede the election at 10 p.m. in Chicago. Soon after, the Arizona senator went before his supporters to thank them and graciously applaud the man who defeated his ambitions.
Acknowledging the momentous moment of a black man winning the White House, McCain said, "We've come a long way from the old injustices that once stained our nation's reputation."
"I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us," McCain said.
"I wish Godspeed to the man who was my former opponent and will be my president, and I call on all Americans, as I have often in this campaign, to not despair in our present difficulties but to believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit."
President Bush also called Obama shortly after 11 p.m. to say, "Mr. President-elect, congratulations to you. What an awesome night for you, your family and your supporters."
Bush invited Obama to the White House and said to his successor, "I promise to make this a smooth transition. You are about to go on one of the great journeys of life."
Obama's history-making victory was fueled by his soaring rhetoric, his themes of change and hope in uncertain economic times, as well as deep dissatisfaction with the last eight years of the Bush administration.
Obama's campaign was historic for reasons beyond his skin color. He raised more money than any other candidate in U.S. history, and had to first defeat Sen. Hillary Clinton, who was the party's early favorite to win the Democratic nomination.
Voters from a broad swath of America's diverse ethnic enclaves and economic communities celebrated Obama's win Tuesday night, particularly those in the African-American community.
Thousand's flocked to Chicago's Grant Park to await the election results. In Harlem and Times Square in New York, Americans took to the streets to celebrate. There was particular jubilation among black Americans.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson was seen crying in Grant Park when election results were announced.
African-Americans poured into the streets of Washington, D.C., waving flags, honking car horns and setting off fireworks.
"I've been an Obama supporter from the beginning," said Sophie Logothetis, an elementary school history teacher who waited an hour to get into Grant Park, "and I just had to be here."
In Harlem, Jeff Mann, a 51-year-old construction worker said, "You can't be anything but joyful. Obama is going to change the world," said Jeff Mann, 51, a construction worker in Harlem.
Crucial to Obama's victory was winning all of the states that Democrat John Kerry won four years ago and the flipping of Ohio, New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia, Iowa, Florida and Nevada, states that all voted Republican in 2004.
Obama, 47, the son of a black man from Kenya and white woman from Kansas, served just two years in U.S. Senate before declaring his candidacy and ultimately taking on one of the most experienced politicians in the United States.
A moderate conservative who tried to emphasize his credentials as a maverick and distance himself from an unpopular president, McCain, 72, was unable to motivate his base and overcome his associations with Republican incumbent President Bush.
Obama built a coalition grounded on a base of near unanimous support from black voters, who made up 13 percent of the national vote. Obama also won nearly 70 percent of the vote of Hispanics. While John McCain was able to win white voters by 54-44 percent, Obama made inroads with them as well.
Voters shifted to the Democratic Party in this election, with Republican turnout falling to its lowest point since 1980.
By almost every quantifiable measure -- from the $640 million Obama raised in the month of October to the nearly $1 billion the campaigns have spent combined to 9 million newly registered voters -- records have been shattered.
Yet another record may fall once the number of voters is tallied. Turnout was heavy throughout the day and could surpass previous voting turnout records. The existing records were set in 2004 when more than 122 million Americans went to the polls, and in 1960 when 64 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot.
Each of the candidates was a dark horse who pundits predicted would never make it past the first weeks of their parties' respective primaries. Obama ultimately beat out Clinton for the nomination, the first glimmer of future success.
In perhaps the greatest and most calculated flip-flop of his campaign, Obama forwent public financing allowing him to raise hundreds of millions of dollars from donors contributing small amounts of money, proving that he was not just a neophyte who could make good speeches but a scrappy politician from Chicago.
McCain, too, changed course. In the final weeks of the campaign, the Arizona senator struck a more negative tone and, along with vice presidential running mate Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, began attacking Obama's relationships and judgment.
In the third and final presidential debate, McCain assailed Obama for his relationship with 1960s radical William Ayers and his campaign began aggressively using auto-dialed calls -- known as robocalls -- to voters to relay negative messages, frequently focusing on the Democrat's experience and readiness for the White House.
That strategy didn't seem to achieve the desired effect, with voters responding in polls in the race's final weeks that they were turned off by the negative ads and attack tactics.
The economy is nationally the overwhelming issue for voters who cast their ballots in today's historic presidential election, according to early exit polls.
Despite the possibility of Obama becoming the nation's first black president, the turnout of black voters as a percentage of the national vote was 13 percent, just slightly higher than in 2004, according to early exit polls.
The economy has long dominated the campaign, and voters' concerns became heightened when the major banks and credit markets needed a massive federal bailout to avoid a fiscal catastrophe.
Four in 10 voters said their family's financial situation was worse than it was four years ago, and eight in 10 are worried the current economic crisis will hurt their family finances over the next year.
In an indication of how intensely fought this campaign had been, both candidates kept holding large rallies and television interviews even as voters swarmed to their polling sites. In the past, presidential candidates have halted their campaigns on Election Day.
McCain voted early in Phoenix before heading off for some last-minute get-out-the-vote efforts in New Mexico and Colorado, two states where the GOP presidential pick had trailed but hoped to pull out narrow victories.
"I promise you if I'm elected president, I will never let you down," an energized McCain told a crowd in Colorado.
"I think we ought to hear one more time 'drill, baby drill,'" he cheerfully suggested and the crowd obliged with the campaign's chant.
After voting at a Chicago school, Obama spent the morning campaigning in Indiana before returning to Chicago to conduct television interviews broadcast via satellite to the swing states of Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, Nevada and Missouri.
Obama voted with his two young daughters in Chicago before he plunged into a final round of campaigning in Indiana.
"I voted," the Democratic presidential candidate said, holding up the validation slip he was given after turning in a ballot at the Shoesmith School in his Chicago neighborhood.
Obama voted at the same polling station as William Ayers, the former 1960s radical who became a flashpoint in the campaign when Palin accused Obama of "palling around" with a domestic terrorist.
Sarah Palin, McCain's running mate, voted in her hometown of Wasilla and then joined McCain in Phoenix to watch the results.
After voting, Palin noted that the result would be historic, implying that the voters would elect either the country's first black president or the first female vice president.
"It bodes so well the progress our country is making," she said.