CHICAGO -- Barack Obama, who introduced himself to the nation four years ago as "a skinny kid with a funny name," celebrated his election Tuesday night as the first African American president before a multiracial crowd of 125,000 on the shore of Lake Michigan.
"It belongs to you," Obama told his supporters. "This is your victory."
For Obama, a first-term senator with family connections that span the globe from Kenya to Kansas, it was the dizzying conclusion to an unlikely odyssey that began in the snow of February 2007, when he announced his candidacy near the Illinois statehouse where Abraham Lincoln, the nation's 16th president, served as a legislator.
"I was never the likeliest candidate," Obama said Tuesday.
Moments before he spoke, Obama received congratulatory phone calls from John McCain, the Republican senator he beat, and from President Bush.
Robert Gibbs, Obama's spokesman, said the Democratic president-elect thanked McCain for his "graciousness" and a campaign conducted with "class and honor" and asked his former rival to work with him. "I need your help. You're a leader on so many important issues," Obama told McCain.
Bush extended an invitation for Obama and his family to visit the White House soon and promised to smooth the transition, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
"You are about to go on one of the great journeys of life," the president told his soon-to-be successor. "Congratulations and go enjoy yourself."
A virtually unknown state legislator when he spoke to the Democratic National Convention in 2004, Obama galvanized viewers by turning his own struggle to come to grips with his biracial identity into a metaphor for the nation's need to rise above its divisions.
He echoed that theme again in his election night speech, calling on Americans to rise above "the partisan pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics."
"In this country, we rise or fall as one nation," Obama said.
As his hard-fought campaign came to a close, even he seemed to be having trouble grasping the history he was about to make, urging supporters not to let up their efforts — "not for one minute, not for one second" — in the closing hours of the election.
On Tuesday, Obama took his own advice, stumping for votes even as Americans were heading to the ballot box and as his supporters began streaming to the elaborate tent city where he would celebrate with the glittering skyline of Chicago before him, its skyscrapers lit in his honor.
Obama began his day by casting his ballot at Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School in this city's Hyde Park neighborhood. Then the Democratic presidential nominee took off for one last trip in a campaign plane that has logged 76,820 miles since its inaugural flight, emblazoned with his campaign logo, in July.
His destination: neighboring Indiana, a state that hadn't gone for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964.
Arriving at the United Auto Workers Local 550 union hall in Indianapolis, Obama joined the phone bank, borrowing volunteers' cellphones to participate in the get-out-the-vote work.
"Michael, this is Barack. How are you?" he said to one voter. "I'd like to get your vote. Don't be discouraged if there are some long lines."
His running mate, Joe Biden, voted in his home state of Delaware, then stopped in another Republican stronghold on his way to join Obama. The veteran Delaware senator greeted voters outside Montrose Elementary School in Richmond, Va.
Later, in Chicago, Biden continued campaigning by satellite all afternoon, doing 27 interviews with news media outlets in key campaign battlegrounds: Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio and even Nebraska, one of two states — Maine is the other — that does not award Electoral College votes on a winner-take-all basis.
Obama spent two hours playing basketball in a west Chicago gym with a group of friends including Democratic Sen. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, then dined at home with his wife, Michelle, and daughters Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7.
After receiving McCain's call, Obama and his family headed to Grant Park, where supporters and more than 2,000 members of the news media waited for his first words as the president-elect.
The park was infamous for the tear-gassing and beating of protesters during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Now Obama's supporters hope it will be remembered for a different piece of history.
"It makes me feel incredibly good about how far this country has come," Joan Patsios, a Chicago public defender, said as she waited for Obama's arrival.