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President-Elect Obama Faces Daunting Challenges

WASHINGTON (AP) - His storied election behind him and weighty
problems in his face, Barack Obama turned Wednesday to the task of
building an administration in times of crisis as Americans and the
world absorbed his history-shattering achievement as the first
black leader ascending to the presidency.

With just 76 days until the inauguration, Obama is expected to
move quickly to begin assembling a White House staff and selecting
Cabinet nominees. Campaign officials said Illinois Rep. Rahm
Emanuel was the front-runner to be Obama's chief of staff. The
advisers spoke on a condition of anonymity because the announcement
had not yet been made. Obama planned daily briefings, starting
Thursday.

With these moves and many others to come upon him quickly, Obama enjoyed an everyman day-after in his hometown of Chicago on
Wednesday after an electric night of celebration, anchored by his
victory rally of 125,000 in Chicago and joyful outpourings of his
supporters across the country. The president-elect saw his two
young daughters off to school, a simple pleasure he's missed during
nearly two years of virtually nonstop travel, and then a workout.

President Bush pledged "complete cooperation" in the
transition and called Obama's victory a "triumph of the American
story."

Naming the staggering list of problems he inherits in his
decisive defeat of Republican John McCain - two wars and "the
worst financial crisis in a century," among them - Obama sought to
restrain the soaring expectations of his supporters late Tuesday
night even as he stoked them with impassioned calls for national
unity and partisan healing.

"We may not get there in one year or even in one term," he
said. "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."

Helping him to get there will be a strengthened Democratic
majority in both houses of Congress. When Obama becomes the
president on Jan. 20, with Delaware Sen. Joe Biden as his vice
president, Democrats will control both the White House and Congress
for the first time since 1994.

A tide of international goodwill came Obama's way on Wednesday
morning, even as developments made clear how heavy a weight will
soon be on his shoulders.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev issued a congratulatory
telegram saying there is "solid positive potential" for the
election to improve strained relations between Washington and
Moscow, if Obama engages in constructive dialogue.

Yet he appeared to be deliberately provocative hours after the
election with sharp criticism of the U.S. and his announcement that
Russia will deploy missiles near NATO member Poland in response to
U.S. missile defense plans.

In Afghanistan, where villagers said the U.S. bombed a wedding
party and killed 37 people, President Hamid Karzai said: "This is
my first demand of the new president of the United States - to put
an end to civilian casualties."

Young and charismatic but with little experience on the national
level or as an executive, Obama easily defeated McCain, smashing
records and remaking history along the way.

Ending an improbable journey that started for Obama a long 21
months ago, he drew a record-breaking $700 million to his campaign
account alone. The first African-American destined to sit in the
Oval Office, he also was the first Democrat to receive more than 50
percent of the popular vote since Jimmy Carter in 1976. He is the
first senator elected to the White House since John F. Kennedy in
1960.

And Obama scored an Electoral College landslide that redrew
America's political dynamics. He won states that reliably voted
Republican in presidential elections, such as Indiana and Virginia,
which hadn't supported a Democratic candidate in 44 years. Ohio and
Florida, key to President Bush's twin victories, also went for
Obama, as did Pennsylvania, which McCain had deemed crucial for his
election hopes.

With most U.S. precincts tallied, the popular vote was 52.3
percent for Obama and 46.4 percent for McCain. But the count in the
Electoral College was much more lopsided - 349 to 147 in Obama's
favor as of early Wednesday, with three states still to be decided.
Those were North Carolina, Georgia and Missouri.

The nation awakened to the new reality at daybreak, a short
night after millions witnessed Obama's election - an event so rare
it could not be called a once-in-a-century happening. Prominent
black leaders wept unabashedly in public, rejoicing in the
elevation of one of their own, at long last.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who had made two White House bids
himself, said on ABC's "Good Morning America" that the tears
streaming down his face upon Obama's victory were about his father
and grandmother and "those who paved the fights. And then that
Barack's so majestic."

Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat and leading player in the
civil rights movement with Jackson, said on NBC's "Today" show:
"He's going to call on us, I believe, to sacrifice. We all must
give up something."

Speaking from Hong Kong, retired Gen. Colin Powell, the black
Republican whose endorsement of Obama symbolized the candidate's
bipartisan reach and bolstered him against charges of inexperience,
called the senator's victory "a very very historic occasion." But
he also predicted that Obama would be "a president for all
America."

On Capitol Hill, Democrats ousted incumbent GOP Sens. Elizabeth
Dole of North Carolina and John Sununu of New Hampshire and
captured seats held by retiring Republican senators in Virginia,
New Mexico and Colorado. Still, the GOP blocked a complete rout,
holding the Kentucky seat of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
and a Mississippi seat once held by Trent Lott.

The Associated Press prematurely declared incumbent Sen. Norm
Coleman the winner in a race against Democratic former comedian Al
Franken that by state law is subject to a recount based on the
571-vote margin. The party also held onto a Mississippi seat once
held by Trent Lott.

In the House, with fewer than a dozen races still undecided,
Democrats captured Republican-held seats in the Northeast, South
and West and were on a path to pick up as many as 20 seats.

"It is not a mandate for a party or ideology but a mandate for
change," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

After the longest and costliest campaign in U.S. history, Obama
was propelled to victory by voters dismayed by eight years of
Bush's presidency and deeply anxious about rising unemployment and
home foreclosures and a battered stock market that has erased
trillions of dollars of savings for Americans.

Six in 10 voters picked the economy as the most important issue
facing the nation in an Associated Press exit poll. None of the
other top issues - energy, Iraq, terrorism and health care - was
selected by more than one in 10. Obama has promised to cut taxes
for most Americans, get the United States out of Iraq and expand
health care, including mandatory coverage for children.

McCain conceded defeat shortly after 11 p.m. EST, telling
supporters outside the Arizona Biltmore Hotel, "The American
people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly."

"This is an historic election, and I recognize the special
significance it has for African-Americans and the special pride
that must be theirs tonight," McCain said. "These are difficult
times for our country. And I pledge to him tonight to do all in my
power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face."

The son of a Kenyan father and a white mother from Kansas, the
47-year-old Obama has had a startlingly rapid rise, from lawyer and
community organizer to state legislator and U.S. senator, now not
even four years into his first term.

Almost six in 10 women supported Obama nationwide, while men
leaned his way by a narrow margin, according to interviews with
voters. Just over half of whites supported McCain, giving him a
slim advantage in a group that Bush carried overwhelmingly in 2004.

The results of the AP survey were based on a preliminary partial
sample of nearly 10,000 voters in Election Day polls and in
telephone interviews over the past week for early voters.

In terms of turnout, America voted in record numbers. It looks
like 136.6 million Americans will have voted for president this
election, based on 88 percent of the country's precincts tallied
and projections for absentee ballots, said Michael McDonald of
George Mason University. Using his methods, that would give 2008 a
64.1 percent turnout rate, the highest since 65.7 percent in 1908,
he said.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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