Barack Obama was elected the nation's first black president Tuesday night in a historic triumph that overcame racial barriers as old as America itself.
The son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, the Democratic senator from Illinois sealed his victory by defeating Republican Sen. John McCain in a string of wins in hard-fought battleground states - Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Iowa.
A huge crowd in Grant Park in Chicago erupted in jubilation at the news of Obama's victory. Some wept.
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.
Obama and his running mate, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, will take their oaths of office as president and vice president on Jan. 20, 2009.
As the 44th president, 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, 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.
Fellow Democrats rode his coattails to larger majorities in both houses of Congress. They defeated incumbent Republicans and won open seats by turn.
The 47-year-old Illinois senator was little known just four years ago. A widely praised speech at the Democratic National Convention, delivered when he was merely a candidate for the Senate, changed that.
Overnight he became a sought-after surrogate campaigner, and he had scarcely settled into his Senate seat when he began preparing for his run for the White House.
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.
'May God bless whoever wins tonight,' President Bush told dinner guests at the White House, where his tenure runs out on Jan. 20.
The Democratic leaders of Congress celebrated in Washington.
'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.'
SideBar: McCain concedes, congratulates Obama
PHOENIX - Republican John McCain conceded the presidential race to Barack Obama, saying the Democrat has achieved a 'great thing' for himself and the country with his historic victory.
Flanked by wife Cindy and running-mate Sarah Palin, McCain spoke to supporters outside the Arizona Biltmore Hotel shortly after 11 p.m. EST Tuesday, saying the 'American people have spoken and they have spoken clearly.'
He conceded the contest as polls closed on the West Coast, adding a string of states to Obama's electoral vote tally and sealing the Illinois senator's victory.
McCain stressed the historic nature of the election, noting that an invitation to Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House by Theodore Roosevelt had been viewed as an insult in some quarters.
'Senator Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for his country,' McCain said.
Although McCain had criticized Obama during the hard-fought campaign as too inexperienced to be president, the Arizona senator said that 'in a contest as long and as difficult as this campaign has been, his success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance.
'But that he managed to do so by inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans who had once wrongly believed that they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president is something I deeply admire and commend him for achieving.'
McCain told his supporters that it was natural 'to feel some disappointment. Though we fell short, the failure is mine, not yours.'
McCain had been all but counted out of the contest for the GOP nomination in the summer of 2007, when his campaign was all but broke, and his comeback was a remarkable political feat.
'I don't know what more we could have done to win this election,' McCain said. 'I'll leave that to others to determine. ... I won't spend a moment in the future regretting what might have been.'