WASHINGTON - Barack Obama swept to victory as the nation's first black president Tuesday night in an electoral college landslide that overcame racial barriers as old as America itself. 'Change has come,' he told to a huge throng of jubilant supporters.
The son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, the Democratic senator from Illinois sealed his historic triumph by defeating Republican Sen. John McCain in a string of wins in hard-fought battleground states - Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Iowa and more.
In Newton County, less than 500 votes separated Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain. Obama garnered 20,825, with McCain getting 20,331, and Libertarian Bob Barr coming in at 237 votes.
Theresa Robinson said it was primarily the presidential election that brought her out to vote three weeks early. She voted for McCain, she said, because, "I think he's the better candidate and he's done more for the country and I thank him for what he did for our country on his tours of duty."
Unlike Robinson, Flemmie Pitts said he was more concerned with local races, adding that he based his vote on who was "the best person."
In the presidential race, he voted for Obama, he said because "He's a fresh candidate."
"We need younger blood," Pitts said. "I'm about 67 and (McCain's) older than I am. Everybody has their time in history. Certain people are born to do things, and now is (Obama's) time."
On a night for Democrats to savor, they not only elected Obama the nation's 44th president but padded their majorities in the House and Senate. Come January they will control both the White House and Congress for the first time since 1994.
Obama's election capped a meteoric rise - from mere state senator to president-elect in four years.
In his first speech as victor, to thousands at Grant Park in his home town of Chicago, Obama catalogued the challenges ahead. 'The greatest of a lifetime,' he said, 'two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.'
He added, '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.'
McCain called his former rival to concede defeat - and the end of his own 10-year quest for the White House. 'The American people have spoken, and spoken clearly,' McCain told disappointed supporters in Arizona.
President Bush added his congratulations from the White House, where his tenure runs out on Jan. 20. 'May God bless whoever wins tonight,' he had told dinner guests earlier.
Obama, in his speech, invoked the words of Lincoln and echoed John F. Kennedy.
'So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder,' he said.
He and his running mate, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, will take their oaths of office as president and vice president on Jan. 20, 2009.
Obama will move into the Oval Office as leader of a country that is almost certainly in recession, and fighting two long wars, one in Iraq, the other in Afghanistan.
The popular vote was close - 51.3 percent to 47.5 percent with 73 percent of all U.S. precincts counted - but not the count in the Electoral College, where it mattered most.
There, Obama's audacious decision to contest McCain in states that hadn't gone Democratic in years paid rich dividends.
Obama has said his first order of presidential business will be to tackle the economy. He has also pledged to withdraw most U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months.
A survey of voters leaving polling places on Tuesday showed the economy was by far the top Election Day issue. Six in 10 voters said so, and none of the other top issues - energy, Iraq, terrorism and health care - was picked by more than one in 10.
In Washington, the Democratic leaders of Congress celebrated.
'It is not a mandate for a party or ideology but a mandate for change,' said Senate Majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
Said Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California: 'Tonight the American people have called for a new direction. They have called for change in America.'
Shortly after midnight in the East, The Associated Press count showed Obama with 338 electoral votes, well over the 270 needed for victory. McCain had 141 after winning states that comprised the normal Republican base.