Election over, Obama looks ahead to tasks of new job

Barack Obama, still basking in euphoria at home and abroad over his stunning election as the 44th U.S. president, faced the more mundane task Wednesday of putting together a new administration and dealing with the twin problems of war and financial crisis.

At noon ET, with 97% of U.S. precincts tallied, the popular vote was 52% for Obama and 46% for McCain, with the Democrat leading by more than 7 million votes.

But the count in the Electoral College was much more lopsided —349 to 147 in Obama's favor as of early Wednesday —with North Carolina still to be decided.

The 47-year-old Obama, a first-term senator who campaigned across the country for 21 months, planned to remain in Chicago for the rest of the week.

In his first post-election misson, the president-elect took time off for a workout at the gym. Wearing a baseball cap and holding a newspaper, Obama left his Chicago home in a SUV, waving at onlookers through the glass.

He planned to meet with the media later this week as he moves quickly to begin assembling a White House staff and selecting Cabinet nominees, particularly a Treasury secretary.

The Associated Press reported that Obama had offered Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., the job of White House chief of staff, but it was not known whether he had accepted.

ABC News reports that Obama has added Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, former Clinton Transportation and Energy Secretary Federico Peña, and former Clinton Commerce Secretary William Daley to his transition team.

While Obama turned to tasks at hand, the man who will become his predecessor offered his thoughts on the historic election.

In brief remarks at the White House, President Bush said Obama's election was "especially uplifting for a generation of Americans who witnessed the struggle for civil rights with their own eyes and four decades later see a dream fulfilled."

He said he had invited the president-elect to visit the White House soon. "It will be a stirring sight to watch President-elect Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their beautiful girls step through the doors of the white House," he said.

The president also emphasized that he would keep the president fully informed during a time of transition and would fulfill his chief responsibility of protecting the nation.

"The world can be certain that this commitment will remain steadfast under our next commander in chief," he said.

As for Obama, the president-elect set the tone for the tasks ahead in an address before a jubilant crowd of 125,000 people at Grant Park in Chicago late Tuesday.

"We know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime — two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century," Obama said. "There is new energy to harness and new jobs to be created, new schools to build and threats to meet and, for us to lead, alliances to repair."

He said there would be "setbacks and false starts" ahead as the nation grappled with war and economic crises.

"The road ahead will be long," he said. "Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there."

Tears were mixed with joy as the cheering audience listened to the acceptance speech of America's first African-American president.

Such emotional outpourings occurred across the country:

•In Washington, residents poured into the streets at 11 p.m. ET when the networks added California's rich trove of 55 electoral votes to his list, putting Obama over the top.

Hundreds gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, dancing and cheering. At historically black Howard University, students hugged and chanted "Yes, we did."

"We're so happy. We want to be part of history. You cannot let it just pass," said Eskinder Zeluel, an Ethiopia native who joined the celebration outside of the White House. "You can tell your kids you can be anything you want to be in this country."

• In New York's Harlem, thousands of people poured into the streets. Near the historic Apollo Theater, men played conga drums and revelers blew noisemakers.

•In Philadelphia, thousands of blacks and whites converged at City Hall, dancing to music blaring from car radios. Drivers stopped in the middle of the street, opened their car doors and broadcast Obama's acceptance speech.

•At Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached, Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights hero, said he was hardly able to believe that 40 years after he was left beaten and bloody on an Alabama bridge as he marched for the right for blacks to vote, he had cast a ballot for Obama.

"Tonight is a wonderful night," Lewis said. "It is a night of thanksgiving."

Many people abroad shared in the enthusiasm:

• In Kenya, President Mwai Kibaki declared a public holiday on Thursday in honor of Obama, who father was from Kenya. In the tiny village where Obama's 87-year-old grandmother lives, villagers swarmed the family home, banging drums, ululating and waving tree branches.

•Australians filled a hotel ballroom in Sydney. Brazilians partied in Rio de Janeiro. In the town of Obama in Japan, dancers cheered in delight when their namesake's victory was declared.

•Obama's win "shows that America truly is a diverse, multicultural society where the color of your skin really does not matter," said Jason Ge, an international relations student at Peking University in China.

• South African Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu likened Obama's victory to his country's triumph over apartheid and Nigeria's President Umaru Yar'Adua said the result had "finally broken the greatest barrier of prejudice in human history."

•In Brussels, European Union officials hailed Obama's election victory Wednesday as an opportunity to renew a tenuous trans-Atlantic relationship and join forces in "a new deal for a new world."

In Baghdad, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told Al-Arabiyah TV: "We don't expect any change to happen overnight or any hasty change in U.S. policy and commitment toward Iraq." But he acknowledged that Obama "will not have the same enthusiasm and momentum for this situation" in Iraq as Bush.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev issued a congratulatory telegram saying there is "solid positive potential" for the election to improve strained rela tions between Washington and Moscow, if Obama engages in constructive dialogue.

Yet he appeared to be deliberately provocative hours after the election with sharp criticism of the U.S. and his announcement that Russia will deploy missiles near NATO member Poland in response to U.S. missile defense plans.

Obama is expected to keep a low profile this week. Although this week he told reporters to expect a news conference the day after the election, aides said afterward that it would probably happen later in the week.

But Obama was already beginning the transition from presidential-hopeful to president-elect.

On Tuesday night, the senator began the delicate process of trying to win over those who did not vote for him, calling for a renewal of the American spirit in a direct appeal to McCain supporters.

"I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices," Obama said. "I need your help and I will be your president, too."

The presidency was far from the only office at stake Tuesday. In House and Senate elections, Democrats extended their hold on Congress:

•Senate, House

In North Carolina, Democratic state Sen. Kay Hagan ousted Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole while in New Hampshire, former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, beat Sen. John Sununu. Democrats also captured seats held by retiring GOP senators in Virginia, New Mexico and Colorado.

The race in Minnesota between incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and former comedian Democrat Al Franken was deemed to close to call. A recount appeared likely.

Races remained without clear winners early Wednesday in Oregon, Alaska and Georgia.

Despite the Senate pickups, Democrats will fall short of the 60 votes needed to prevent a Republican filibuster.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada credited the excitement and record turnout that helped propel president-elect Obama to victory.

"Obama ran a terrific campaign, he inspired millions of people," Reid said. "It's been a really good night."

In the House, Democrats captured GOP-held seats in the Northeast, South and West, adding at least 17 seats to the 30 they took from Republicans in 2006. Fewer than 10 races remained undecided. Going into Tuesday's election, Democrats controlled the House 235-199 with one vacancy. It is the first time in more than 75 years that the party received larger congressional margins in back-to-back elections.

"Tonight, the American people have called for a new direction. They have called for change in America," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

Republicans encountered early trouble in Florida, where Rep. Tom Feeney — under fire for ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff — was the first to fall at the hands of former state Rep. Suzanne Kosmas. Rep. Ric Keller of Florida lost to his Democratic challenger, attorney Alan Grayson.

Republicans also surrendered their last House seat in New England when Democrat Jim Himes, a Greenwich businessman, defeated 22-year veteran Rep. Chris Shays in a wealthy southwestern Connecticut district that heavily favored Obama.


Eleven incumbents held their seats, including governors in Indiana, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

Jay Nixon, a Democrat, won a seat in the Missouri's open race that was previously held by a Republican. Jack Markell won Delaware's open race, keeping the position in the hands of Democrats. In North Carolina, Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue won an open race against Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory.

In Washington state, Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire defeated GOP challenger Dino Rossi, a former state senator, in a rematch of a hotly contested 2004 race.

•Referenda, amendments

In other balloting, voters in California, Florida and Arizona approved constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.

In Arkansas, voters approved a ban on unmarried couples adopting or being foster parents.

Massachusetts voters approved decriminalizing possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana. Under the new law, taking effect in 30 days, those caught must give up the marijuana and pay a $100 fine but won't face criminal penalties. Eleven other states have similar laws.

Michigan became the 13th state to allow residents — with a doctor's approval — to use marijuana to treat pain caused by cancer and other diseases.

Gambling, which gives states revenue without directly increasing taxes, was on the ballot in eight states. Maryland voters approved a measure that legalizes slot machines, dedicating half the revenue from up to 15,000 machines to public schools. Ohioans approved a state lottery to fund college scholarships.

Ohio voters, however, also rejected a measure approving a new casino. And in Massachusetts, citizens approved a ban on commercial dog racing.

Despite a weak economy, voters didn't necessarily embrace lower taxes. In Massachusetts, they rejected a measure to repeal the personal income tax, which supplies 40% of the state's budget. Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick warned it would force deep cuts in services statewide.

In South Dakota, voters rejected a ban on abortion, except in cases of rape, incest of when the woman's health was at risk.

California voters turned down a measure to require parental notification for a minor to get an abortion, while Colorado voters rejected a first-of-its-kind abortion measure that would define human life as starting "from the moment of fertilization."

In Michigan, a ballot asked voters whether they would amend the state's constitution to repeal its existing ban on research involving embryos.

Voters considered varying measures that affect immigrants, including one that Arizona rejected that would have revoked the business licenses of employers who knowingly hired illegal immigrants.

Missouri voted to make English the state's official language.

In Oregon, voters considered whether to limit the teaching of bilingual education to two years or less.

Contributing: Peter Eisler, in Raleigh, N.C.; Larry Copeland in Tampa; Marisol Bello in Detroit; Dennis Cauchon in Columbus, Ohio; Janet Kornblum in San Francisco; Mike Carney in Washington; Wendy Koch in McLean, Va.; the Associated Press