Historic Election 2008: For the Record Books

Watershed election breaks records in race, gender, age and fundraising.

ByABC News
November 3, 2008, 11:52 AM

Nov. 4, 2008 — -- First, most, longest. Election 2008 has redefined American politics in a rainbow of historic records that are likely to resonate across the cultural landscape for decades to come.

The historic campaign -- nearly two years long -- was marked by breakthroughs in race, gender, age, fundraising and use of technology.

The primaries were the most contested, the debates the most contentious and the cost the highest -- nearly $1 billion by today's Election Day. In earlier primaries, voter turnout soared and, in the case of the Democrats, broke all records.

By day's end, an all-time high of 136 to 140 million Americans are expected to have voted. And in the growing trend of early voting in 32 states, almost one- third of those had cast early ballots before Election Day.

Facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and fighting two foreign wars, 9 million Americans registered to vote for the first time with an excitement not witnessed in generations.

Marked by both passion and polarization, the race drew legions of African Americans, youth and disaffected independents who had historically not played such a large role in determining the victors.

"We won't know for years to come, but the potential is that 2008 is a realigning election, measured not only in voter registration rolls but in how we see ourselves," said Richard Norton Smith, presidential scholar at George Washington University.

"And if a new president can foster and begin to break down that 50-50 mutually suspicious, if not hostile, climate that we have grown up with in this country in the last couple of presidencies, we can become an even larger and less polarized country, defined less by our differences and more by our common needs," he said.

As polls for this 56th election close, either the first African American or the first female will be elected to the presidency or the vice presidency, top offices that have been held by white men since the inauguration of George Washington in 1789.

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama and Republican vice presidential nominee Gov. Sarah Palin landed spots on the tickets of the major parties after two decades of increased numbers of women and minorities entering the political arena.

Many of these relative newcomers to politics helped Obama raise an eye-popping $659 million, more than double the fundraising of both John Kerry and George W. Bush in 2004.

This election marks the first time since 1928 that no president or vice president was on the ballot at any stage of the campaign. Both McCain and Obama would also be the first sitting U.S. senator elected since John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1960 and only the second in history (Warren Harding, who died in office, was the first).