-- Democrat Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States on Tuesday, becoming the first African American to win the post and completing a stunningly rapid rise from state senator to the White House.
A win in California put Obama over the top, giving him 55 electoral votes — enough to surpass the 270 needed to defeat Republican John McCain and claim the presidency. The Illinois senator won key state after key state Tuesday, with victories in the battlegrounds of Ohio, Virginia, Florida and Pennsylvania being harbingers of the outcome.
By early Wednesday, the AP projected Obama had 349 electoral votes. McCain had 147.
The popular vote was significantly closer than the electoral vote. With 83% of precincts reporting, Obama led McCain nationally, 51.7% to 47.1%.
"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of the founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer," Obama told thousands of cheering supporters at an enormous rally in Chicago's Grant Park.
"I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to. It belongs to you."
He was gracious to McCain, saying his opponent "fought long and hard in this campaign. He has fought even harder and longer for the country that he loves."
Obama, 47, called for a renewal of the American spirit and spoke directly 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."
Only four years ago on election night, Obama was a newly minted U.S. senator-elect after serving for eight years in the Illinois legislature. Now he holds the title of president-elect.
"My friends, we have come to the end of a long journey," McCain told his supporters in Phoenix. He congratulated Obama for the victory, saying he admired Obama's ability to unite diverse groups.
"Senator Obama and I have had — and argued — our differences, and he has prevailed," McCain said. He pledged to help Obama "lead us through the many challenges we face."
"I wish godspeed to the man who was my former opponent, and will be my president," McCain said.
Obama won California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, Washington state and the District of Columbia. McCain claimed Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.
A handful of states remained in play early Wednesday. Obama had a narrow lead in North Carolina; McCain was ahead in Georgia, Missouri and Montana.
Turnout was high in many parts of the nation. Lines of voters formed at polling places as early as 4 a.m. in some states, and the AP reported that turnout in Ohio — one of the key states in this election — might approach 80% of registered voters
Early surveys of voters, conducted by a consortium of news organizations, indicated 60% listed the economy as their most important issue, with no other issue — including the war on Iraq and terrorism — getting more than 10%.
More than 80% of voters said they were very worried the current economic crisis will harm their family's finances over the next year, but 47% also said they felt the economy will improve in the next year. Two-thirds said they were worried about obtaining health care.
Only 28% of those polled said they approved of President Bush's job performance — an issue Obama hammered on throughout the campaign as he tried to tie McCain to Bush.
Many votes had been cast for days. Though the overall number of early votes was unknown, there were more than 29 million ballots cast in 30 states, suggesting an advantage for Obama.
Obama's victory triggered celebrations in the U.S. and around the world.
In Washington, residents poured into the streets. Hundreds of people 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.
."I never thought tonight was possible," said Robert Lewis Jackson, 43. "Not in my lifetime."
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.
In Germany, where more than 200,000 people flocked to see Obama this summer as he burnished his foreign policy credentials during a trip to the Middle East and Europe, the election dominated television ticker crawls, newspaper headlines and websites.
House, Senate races
The presidency was far from the only office at stake Tuesday. In House and Senate elections, Democrats extended their hold on Congress.
Democrats ousted Republican Sens. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina and John Sununu of New Hampshire. They also captured seats held by retiring GOP senators in Virginia and New Mexico.
With 25 of 35 Senate races called, Democrats were guaranteed at least a 54-46 majority, including two holdover independents who vote with Democrats. But they were hoping for even greater gains.
North Carolina state Sen. Kay Hagan, little known politically before her run, defeated Dole — a former Cabinet member in two Republican administrations and 2000 presidential hopeful. Dole had tried to tie Hagan, a former Presbyterian Sunday school teacher, to atheists in an ad that appeared to backfire.
In New Hampshire, former Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen defeated Sununu in a rematch of their 2002 contest.
The Democratic goal was to reach a 60-seat, filibuster-proof Senate majority. Leaders in both parties said that was a long shot, but Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., head of the party's senatorial campaign committee, acknowledged that "Democrats are poised to pick up some seats."
His Democratic counterpart, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., predicted "a whole lot of seats" for Democrats, but he said reaching a 60-vote majority was unlikely.
In the House, Democrats unseated incumbents in Florida and Connecticut and jumped to early leads over Republicans in more than a dozen other contests as they pressed to increase their majority.
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.
And Republicans 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.
If the Democrats increase their majorities, it would be the first time in more than 75 years that the party received larger congressional margins in back-to-back elections.
With 10 of 11 gubernatorial race results reported, incumbents were the victors.
Indiana, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia re-elected sitting governors. 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 and GOP challenger Dino Rossi, a former state senator, restaged their 2004 contest that Gregoire won by 133 votes after two recounts and a lawsuit.
Voters in California, Florida and Arizona appeared to be favoring constitutional amendments banning gay marriage, although the races were close. All three amendments were leading just an hour after the last poll closed in California.
In Florida, the constitutional amendment needed 60% approval to pass. With 86.3% of precincts reporting, the amendment was winning 62.1% to 37.9%.
In Arizona with 73.7% of precincts reporting, it was leading 56.2% to 43.8%. In California, where both sides raised some $73 million in a markedly divisive campaign, the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage was leading 54.4% to 45.6% with 8.3% of precincts reporting.
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 considered a ban on abortion, except in cases of rape, incest of when the woman's health was at risk.
California voters considered whether to require parental notification for a minor to get an abortion, and a first-of-its-kind abortion measure in Colorado would define human life as starting "from the moment of fertilization." Proponents, including the Colorado Right to Life, and opponents, including NARAL Pro-Choice America, agreed it would criminalize abortion and halt embryonic stem-cell research.
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