Barack Obama won the US presidential election with a clear victory over Republican contender John McCain on Tuesday to become the country's first African-American president.
Obama comfortably exceeded the necessary majority of at least 270 Electoral College votes with victories in key battleground states such as Florida and Ohio. He will become America's 44th president and the first Democratic resident in the White House since President Bill Clinton made way for George W. Bush in January 2001.
Hundreds of thousands of Obama supporters in Chicago's Grant Park burst into ecstatic cheering after the outcome became clear. An hour later, Obama, 47, the son of a black father from Kenya and white mother from Kansas, held a moving speech to the Chicago crowd.
He said: "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, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."
Obama appealed for unity, saying: "We have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and always will be, the United States of America.... It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment change has come to America."
He expressed his respect for McCain as someone who had "endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine"and said he looked forward to working with him, but didn't give details.
As many in the crowd listened with tears in their eyes, Obama provided a little light relief by declaring a promise to his daughters Sasha and Malia. "You have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the new White House."
He thanked his supporters and his campaign team for their work in what has been an extraordinary campaign in which he defied expectations by beating New York Sen. Hillary Clinton in a bitter Democratic primary battle before beating McCain.
"I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to. It belongs to you. It belongs to you," Obama said to ecstatic cheers.
The financial crisis, the economic slowdown, the war on terror -- Obama also addressed the challenges he will face and asked for patience. "The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you, we as a people will get there.
McCain congratulated Obama, saying "the American people have spoken" and promising to help him address the country's many challenges. President George W. Bush also telephoned Obama to offer his congratulations, saying "You are about to go on one of the great journeys of life. Congratulations, and go enjoy yourself."
McCain addressed his supporters in an emotional speech at a Phoenix hotel after telephoning Obama to concede the election. Obama later said McCain's call had been "extraordinarily gracious."
"We have come to the end of a long journey. The American people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly," McCain said. "Senator Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for his country. I applaud him for it."
The 72-year-old Arizona senator urged all Americans -- including his supporters -- to rally behind Obama, saying he planned to help the new president-elect tackle the myriad issues the country faced.
Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden will be inaugurated in Washington on January 20, 2009.
Obama's victory was celebrated around the world and leaders rushed to congratulate him. Analysts cautioned that he may not be able to fulfil the enormous expectations of him but said his election victory alone would help undo some of the damage done to America's international standing under President George W. Bush over the last eight years.
In addition to Ohio and Florida, Obama won Virginia, Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado -- all states won by Bush in 2004. McCain's loss in Pennsylvania eliminated his best hope of capturing a Democratic-leaning state. With nearly two-thirds of US precincts reporting, Obama led McCain by 51 percent to 48 percent in the popular vote.
The results showed a majority of women, African-American, Latinos and first-time voters voted for Obama, while the majority of white voters opted for McCain. The 72-year old scored well with older citizens as well as with workers.
According to opinion polls, more than 50 percent of women, two thirds of Latinos and virtually all African-Americans who voted chose Obama. He also had a clear majority among young voters. Nine out of 10 voters said skin color and age had no impact on their decision. For many voters McCain's decision to pick Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate was a decisive factor. Four out of 10 voters said Palin's presence on the Republican ticket affected their decision.
cro -- with wire reports