CHICAGO—In the end, it was Barack Obama by a mile.
With a comprehensive victory over John McCain that included solid wins in traditional Republican strongholds, the Obama campaign emphatically ended the era of George W. Bush and prepared to take power armed with a mandate for change.
"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 our founders is alive in our time," Mr. Obama said from a flag-adorned stage in front of tens of thousands of euphoric supporters here in Grant Park, "tonight is your answer."
Before Mr. Obama’s declaration of victory, and John McCain’s concession of defeat, Mr. Obama’s closest allies were already heralding the dawning of a new political era.
“The fervor for change has now played itself out in the votes tonight,” Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania told The Observer, as swing states slid one after another towards Mr. Obama. “I think it was a vote of confidence. As difficult as this economy is right now, people believe that this vote for change tonight can be the beginning to help us dig out of that economic ditch.”
Asked about the apparent overcoming of racially based opposition in Pennsylvania, which had been a campaign narrative for months, Mr. Casey added, “I always thought that there would be a potential prejudice factor in the state. I hope what it means is that we have washed that away, not only in our state but across the country.”
“He’s a transcendent figure,” Mr. Casey added.
The manner of Mr. Obama’s historic victory—the first black major-party nominee in American history, he overcame a heavily favored Clinton candidacy in the primary and ground the vaunted Republican attack machine to dust—seemed, in the end, extraordinarily routine. As the McCain campaign veered wildly from attack to attention-grabbing attack, the Obama campaign stayed its course, giving a convincing impression of steadiness as the nation’s economy went to bits.
Relatively early in the night, Mr. Obama had already locked up the critical electoral college votes of Ohio and Pennsylvania, the major blue state in which the McCain campaign had hoped to make a stand. As each of the states was called for Mr. Obama, it prompted ecstatic celebration from the enormous crowds gathered in the park against the backdrop of the Chicago skyline and just blocks from Mr. Obama’s headquarters.
With the win, Mr. Obama and his allies are in a position to shift the center of gravity not only of the Democratic Party but of American politics, fulfilling the promise, with newly swollen Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, of moving federal policy in a progressive direction.
But when the euphoria dies down, Mr. Obama will be faced with certain realities. He will be governing in straitened economic circumstances, and with the unpleasant task of winding down the American occupation of Iraq. And, despite the Democratic hegemony in Washington—or maybe because of it—he will find himself in acute need of partners.
Among these unyielding facts of life for President Obama will be Hillary Clinton.
Election Day 2008 ended arguably the most gut-wrenching, suspenseful and exhausting campaign in the country’s history, but it also raised the curtain on a new era in which Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton will retain their starring roles in the most enduring of American political dramas.
“We’re not done with it,” said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor and veteran Senate observer at the Cook Political Report.
In some ways, in fact, the Obama-Clinton era is only just getting under way.
Mr. Obama’s stunning and epochal victory assures his place center stage in American life for at least the next four years. But Mrs. Clinton, far from diminished, is going to be right there with him, either as a looming menace or as an enabling partner. Or both.
“She has the preeminent voice on one of the singular issues of the day, health care, and a powerful voice representing the dominant constituency of the day, which is the middle class,” said Representative Anthony Weiner of New York, a close Clinton ally.
Mr. Weiner said that her “stamp of approval” will be required for Mr. Obama’s proposals to go forward on areas affecting those issues. “She clearly is going to be the good housekeeping seal of approval on issues related to the middle class and health care when Barack is governing.”
“She is going to be a major player,” said Representative Gregory Meeks, also of New York, and also a Clinton supporter. “There is no question she is going to be a powerhouse. Obama is going to need her because she is such an influential person in the Senate. You can’t do it yourself; you need allies.”
Several of her former campaign aides and advisers said the dashed presidential ambitions of the former first lady actually had the potential, essentially, to liberate her from the constant political calibrations that they believed have guided her—and held her back, legislatively—for years. With ulterior motives shelved, some advisers now say, she will have the opportunity to come into her own as the effective, aisle-crossing legislative leader she portrayed herself as during the primaries. By championing an issue like health care or persistently advocating for issues important to the working-class Americans who rallied around her in the closing weeks of her campaign, she could solidify her place as a colossus in the Senate and American politics.
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