Political scientists and pundits will debate for decades tonight's results. Many will argue that there was almost no way any Republican could have won in 2008 given the bad economy, an unpopular war and President Bush's low popularity ratings. Here's an early take.
Top Ten Reasons Why John McCain Lost:
1) The Economy. The bankruptcy on Sept. 15 of Lehman Brothers, a venerable Wall Street investment bank founded in 1850, ushered the collapse of McCain's campaign.The credit crisis, sparked by record home foreclosures, sent the Dow Jones Industrial average plummeting 27 percent since Jan. 1. Voters blamed Republicans, the party of deregulation, and the woes for the GOP compounded when McCain said immediately afterward that the fundamentals of the economy were strong.
2) Sarah Palin. The governor of Alaska mobilized and excited the Republican base. But she scared away the vital independent voters. A CBS-New York Times poll last week found 59 percent of Americans said she was unqualified to be president or vice president. Being mocked for weeks on "Saturday Night Live" also helped give Palin lower approval ratings by Election Day than Dan Quayle had in the 1988 election.
3) McCain did not have a clear message. "I am not George Bush" wasn't enough.
4) George Bush. The president's approval rating is 23 percent in the latest Gallup poll. That's lower than Richard Nixon's in 1974 one month before he resigned amid the
5) The War. Two-thirds of Americans want it ended. Obama was against it from the beginning. Iraq helped deny Hillary the nomination, and McCain, who did not offer a timetable out, left himself vulnerable to comparisons with Bush and Cheney.
6) The message. Obama's staff built their message around the middle class in a year of middle class anxiety. That only made McCain's argument about preserving tax cuts for the rich more difficult, let alone the news that he owned eight houses.
7) The debates. Like Ronald Reagan in 1980, Obama was a new figure who was an unproven quantity to many Americans. As with Reagan, he looked confident and presidential in the debates, and surveys showed independent and older voters broke to his side, as they did with Reagan, once they were comfortable with him as Commander-in-Chief.
8) History. It's rare for any party to win three presidential terms in a row.
9) The Internet. Obama broke an earlier pledge and opted out of public financing, allowing him to raise at least $200 million in September and October, in millions of donations averaging $86. He raised more than twice as much money as McCain, and was able to pay for staff and ads in states and in numbers that McCain could only dream about. His 30-minute infomercial six days before the election drew more than 34 million viewers — more people than watched the finale of "American Idol" last year or the final game of the World Series.
10) Better ground game. Obama mobilized young people and used technology, from text messages to internet meet-ups, in ways that built the first truly 21st century campaign. It might have brought guffaws at the GOP Convention, but it turns out that being a "community organizer" is a good skill to have when running a presidential campaign.
QUIRKS AND TRENDS
ABORTION: It has been a difficult night for the anti-abortion movement. Two of the main anti-abortion ballot measures in the nation failed. Voters in South Dakota rejected by a margin of 55-45 percent Initiative 11, which would have banned abortion except in cases of rape, incest or serious health risk to the mother. And in Colorado, they trounced Amendment 48, which would have defined life at the moment of conception. It failed by 73-27 percent.
Meanwhile, in California, Proposition 4, which would require parental notification, but not permission, for girls under 18 who sought abortions, trails 52-48 percent with 46 percent of the precincts in.
GOP DIVERSITY: Three Cuban-American House members in the South Florida area who were facing tough re-election decisions all won their races. The three are Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Had all three lost, the GOP would have had no minority members in its entire House delegation.
WINNING FELON? With nearly half the precincts reporting, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, who was convicted last week on seven felony counts of political corruption in connection with tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and free improvements to his house from an Alaska oil industry executive, leads Democratic Mayor Mark Begich of Anchorage, 49-46 percent. If Stevens wins, it would stun the political world and set up an immediate brawl in the U.S. Senate. Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would begin expulsion hearings against Stevens if Stevens won re-election. If Stevens does win but gets expelled, and both are far from certain, Gov. Sarah Palin would appoint his successor. Senator Palin, anyone?
NEW ENGLAND REPUBLICANS, EXTINCT: Congressman Christopher Shays of Connecticut was the last Republican in the House from any New England state. An indepdendent-minded moderate, he could not hold back the Democratic wave this time, and lost.
DON'T HOLD YOUR TONGUE: Rep. John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, won re-election handily, by a 58-42 margin, despite describing his constituents in less-than-glowing terms to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, saying: "There is no question that western Pennsylvania is a racist area." After apologizing, he called them "rednecks." They elected him to am 18th term anyway.
10:25 pm: Democrats enlarge Senate, House majorities
Democrats began tonight with a 51-49 seat majority in the U.S. Senate. So far, they have picked up at least five seats, and have a fairly strong possibility of winning another three, which would give them 59, just one shy of the 60-seat margin needed to cut off filibusters and pass legislation without the Republicans able to block it.
One under-told story in this election, however, is that while Republicans faced a difficult 2008, they will face an equally difficult scenario in two years, when 19 of the 34 Senate seats up for re-election will be GOP seats. Included in those 2010 seats will be John McCain, who trails in polls now in a hypothetical match-up with Arizona Gov. Jane Napolitano, a Democrat. Other GOP senators on the hot seat will be Mel Martinez of Florida, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and George Voinovich of Ohio.
If the Democrats have 58 seats after tonight, and a popular new president, it won't be hard for them to find at least two vulnerable moderate Republicans like Gregg, Voinovich or McCain, to pass significant legislation, including potentially health care for children, tax cuts for the middle class, an increase in the minimum wage, and a variety of stricter environmental laws.
The Democrats have not lost any Senate seats tonight. Their only vulnerable incumbent, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, leads challenger John Kennedy 50-47 percent with 97 percent of the vote in.
The Democrats who picked up GOP seats are:
- Colorado: Mark Udall defeats Bob Schaffer to win the seat of retiring GOP Sen. Wayne Allard
- New Hampshire: Jean Shaheen defeats GOP incumbent John Sununu
- New Mexico: Tom Udall defeats Steve Pearce to pick up the seat of retiring GOP Sen. Pete Domenici.
- North Carolina: Kay Hagan defeats incumbent Sen. Elizabeth Dole.
- Virginia: Mark Warner defeats Jim Gilmore to win the seat of retiring GOP Sen. John Warner
Undecided Senate races are:
- Alaska: Incumbent Republican Ted Stevens, convicted on seven felonies in a corruption scandal last week, faces Democratic Anchorage mayor Mark Begich.
- Oregon: Incumbent Republican Gordon Smith narrowly trails Democratic challenger Jeff Merkley 48-47 percent, with 40 percent of the vote counted.
- Minnesota: Incumbent Republican Norm Coleman leads Democrat Al Franken 43-41 percent, with 73 percent counted.
- Georgia: Incumbent Republican Saxby Chambliss leads Democrat Jim Martin 51-46 percent with 97 percent counted.
In the House, Democrats have so far picked up 16 seats.
9:22 pm: "Change has come to America"
President-elect Barack Obama just finished delivering a victory speech in Chicago's Grant Park:
"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," Obama said, "tonight is your answer."
"It has been a long time coming, but because of what we did on this day in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America."
"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," Obama said.
"Sasha and Malia, I love you more than you can imagine. And you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House."
"America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight."
"We know the government can't solve every problem, but I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face."
"This victory is not the change we seek. It is only the chance to make that change."
"Let us summon a new spirit, a patriotism of responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in."
"A new dawn of American leadership is at hand."
"That's the true genius of America. That America can change. Our union can be perfected."
He closed by talking about 106-year-old Atlanta woman who voted in this election. "Through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change. Yes we can. America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do."
8:57 pm How sizable is Obama's mandate?
With victories in Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Colorado and New Mexico, Barack Obama broke out of the electoral straight jacket tonight that has frustrated Democrats over the past decade. As president starting Jan. 20, he will be able to claim not a narrow bi-coastal victory that can be dismissed by opponents, but instead a broader mandate.
Now leading McCain in the popular vote by 51-48 percent, he also may emerge as the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976 to win more than 50 percent of the popular vote.
Historically, however, his win is not the largest of any Democrat. Far from it. Obama now has 333 electoral votes. If he wins the five remaining states — North Carolina, Indiana, Missouri, Montana and Nevada — he would reach 378 electoral votes.
By comparison, Bill Clinton won 379 electoral votes in 1996. And Democrat Lyndon Johnson won 486 electoral votes the last time an Arizona Republican ran for president, trouncing Barry Goldwater in 1964. Ironically, John McCain is staying in the Goldwater Suite tonight at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix.
Electoral Votes Won by Democratic Presidents in the Past 100 Years:
1996: Bill Clinton - 379
1992: Bill Clinton - 370
1976: Jimmy Carter - 297
1964: Lyndon Johnson - 486
1960: John F. Kennedy - 303
1948: Harry Truman - 303
1944: Franklin Roosevelt - 432
1940: Franklin Roosevelt - 449
1936: Franklin Roosevelt - 523
1932: Franklin Roosevelt - 472
1916: Woodrow Wilson - 277
1912: Woodrow Wilson - 435
8:15: McCain Concedes
"Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans." McCain tells a crowd of his disappointed supporters in Phoenix.
"We fought as hard as we could. And though we fell short, the failure is mine, not yours.," he said. "I wish the outcome had been different, my friends. The road was difficult from the outset but your friendship never wavered."
8:02 pm: Obama Wins
With victories in Florida, Virginia and California, Barack Obama has won more than the 270 electoral votes needed to be elected President of the United States. In a transformational moment in American history, four centuries after blacks were first brought to North America as slaves, and barely 50 years after public schools were integrated by the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, voters have elected a black man to the nation's highest office.
"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
— Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the final speech of his life, April 3, 1968 Mason Temple, Memphis Tennessee
7:10 pm: Obama victory likely within the hour: Will California crown the first black president?
Iowa (7) goes for Obama; McCain takes Mississippi (6), Utah (5).
Obama 207, McCain 135
The still-uncalled swing states of Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and Colorado are not important to the Obama campaign now, other than for building up a mandate for governing. Why? Look at the places where the polls are still open. If Obama wins California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii — some of the most Democratic states in the nation — that's 77 electoral votes, more than enough to take him from his current 207 across the 270-vote margin of victory.
6:57 pm: Election Blog: Obama wins New Mexico, McCain path to White House disappearing
McCain wins Texas (34), Louisiana (9) and Kansas (6), Obama wins New Mexico (5), Maine (4) and Rhode Island (4).
Obama 200, McCain 124.
The only question now, barring an unthinkable upset in a deep blue state, is which state will put Obama over the top. Also, the polls are open in California for another hour. If it is clear before 8 pm PST that Obama is the president-elect, what will the impact be on Proposition 8, the same sex marriage initiative? Will Democrats just heading home from work skip voting, sending it to victory and ending gay marriage? Or will conservatives and evangelicals give up? Or neither?
6:28 pm Election Blog: Obama wins Ohio
Barack Obama has won Ohio, according to CNN and other networks, sending crowds in Grant Park in Chicago into a jubiliant frenzy. In all certainty, that means he will be the next president of the United States. For John McCain to reach 270 electoral votes now, he would have to win a major state where Obama held a significant lead in the polls, like California., or a series of them, like Iowa, New Mexico and Oregon.
6:26 pm: McCain takes Georgia and West Virginia; Mitch McConnell wins re-election
Finally some good news for Republicans. McCain wins Georgia (15) and West Virginia (5). And the top-ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, wins re-election, turning back a strong challenge from businessman Bruce Lunsford.
Democrats needed to win that seat to have any chance of getting to a 60-seat, filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. So if Obama wins the White House tonight, there will be a check on his power — the 42 to 46 Republicans left in the Senate.
6:07 pm Election Blog: Democratic Tide Rolls, Obama 174, McCain 49; Liddy Dole loses Senate bid
Obama wins New York, (31), Michigan (17), Minnesota (10) and Wisconsin (10).
McCain wins Alabama (9), Arkansas (6), Wyoming (3), North Dakota (3).
Tally: Obama 174, McCain 49.
Meanwhile, Democrats pick up two more GOP Senate seats, with former New Hampshire Gov. Jean Shaheen beating incumbent GOP Sen. John Sununu and Democrat Kay Hagan outsting GOP incumbent Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina.
For the first time in 48 years there will be no Dole in the U.S. House or Senate.
5:52 pm: McCain fast running out of options
John McCain is running out of options. Having lost Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, he now must win all seven of the remaining battle ground states: Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Indiana, North Carolina, Colorado and Nevada. If he does that and does not lose any other state that George Bush won in 2004 (like South Dakota or Montana), he would win with 274 electoral votes.
If Obama wins a single one of those states, and retains the states like Iowa and New Mexico where he had significant leads in the pre-election polls, he is the 44th President of the United States.
5:27 pm: Election Blog: Obama wins Pennsylvania and New Hampshire
Barack Obama dealt a devastating blow to John McCain's presidential hopes Tuesday evening, winning the state of Pennsylvania and its 21 electoral votes. MSNBC, ABC have called the state. McCain needed to win Pennsylvania, which has gone Democratic in the last four presidential elections, and take Florida and Ohio to get to 270 electoral votes. Without it, he will have to win Virginia, and Colorado, both states where Obama has led in the polls.
He also won New Hampshire and its four electoral votes, a state where McCain had hoped to come back.
Tally: Obama 102, McCain 34
5:13 pm: Obama 74, McCain 34
A wave of new results has crashed across the bow, washing Barack Obama into the lead. Obama wins Illinois (21), New Jersey (15) , Connecticut (7) , Delaware (3), Washington DC (3), Maryland (10) , and Massachusetts (12).
McCain takes Oklahoma (7) and Tennessee (11).
No surprises yet.
5:02 pm: McCain takes South Carolina, Indiana close
McCain picks up the Palmetto State, as expected, according to AP and CNN. Meanwhile a close race unfolds in Indiana, where McCain leads with 51-48 percent with 25 percent of the precincts reporting.
4:21 Election Blog: The first no-brainer states are called
In every election except the Holy Toledo landslides — years like 1936 when Franklin Roosevelt wiped out Alf Landon or 1984 when Ronald Reagan obliterated Walter Mondale — there are always some very reliable ruby red and navy blue states that networks and election experts call the moment the polls close.
We're at that point.
McCain wins Kentucky and its 9 electoral votes. And Obama takes Vermont and its 3 electoral votes.
Although all the votes in those states have not been counted, the polls there have closed and networks and the Associated Press make the winner projections based on exit polling, early vote totals and previous polling that showed a hugely lopsided advantage for one candidate.
Look for South Carolina to be called for McCain any minute now also.
Meanwhile, the Democrats have picked up their first U.S. Senate Seat takeaway of the night, with former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner defeating former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore to take the seat of retiring GOP senator John Warner (no relation). Keep your eye on Mark Warner. He's a tech millionaire and that rare Democrat who wins votes in the NASCAR counties of rural Virginia. He may run for president in 2016 or later.
4:01 pm: What to look for as polls close in key states from 5 pm to 6 pm
5 pm: The Main Event. All polls close in 15 states, including Pennsylvania, Missouri, Michigan and Florida. If McCain loses Florida, it's over. Election eve polls showed the race essentially tied there and in Missouri. McCain pulled out of Michigan a month ago, so it is likely to turn blue early.
As for Pennsylvania, that's another must-win for McCain. Can he pull out a state that has gone Democratic in the last four presidential elections? Meanwhile the only three Cuban-American House members in Congress, all Republicans from the Miami area, are each facing tough races. If they lose, the GOP would be without a single black, Latino or Asian member in the House.
6 pm: Colorado, New Mexico, Wisconsin and Minnesota polls close. Colorado has gone Republican nine out of the last 10 presidential elections back to 1968. But a growing number of tech professionals and Latinos, combined with a massive Obama organization, even in conservative areas like Colorado Springs, give Obama the edge in the battle for its 11 electoral votes. Obama can lose Pennsylvania, Ohio AND Florida, but can still narrowly win the White House if he takes Colorado, New Mexico and Virginia. More than half of Colorado voters had voted before today in early voting, and Obama held a 5-point lead in the RCP final polling average. John McCain visited the state today, and remained hopeful he could keep it red.
Similar story in New Mexico: A very close state in recent elections, but one that has trended Democratic. Governor Bill Richardson has stumped hard among fellow Latinos, and Democratic Rep. Tom Udall is favored in the Senate race for the seat of retiring GOP Western icon Pete Domenici. McCain's final stop of the 2008 campaign came today in Albuquerque. But in a moment of drama, his plane aborted a landing attempt when a C-130 military plane was slow to leave the runway. It circled around and landed minutes later.
Wisconsin and Minnesota? McCain had hoped to pick off one or both states, but has apparently not closed the gap, according to recent polls. If they don't go blue quickly for Obama, it could mean Obama is in trouble.
The closest Senate race of the night may come in Minnesota, where former "Saturday Night Live" writer Al Franken is locked in a brutally tight (and nasty) race with incumbent GOP Sen. Norm Coleman.
3:46 pm: It's still the economy, stupid
It's still the economy, stupid. Exit polls released this afternoon from the major networks show that just like in 1992, when that slogan carried Bill Clinton to the White House, voters today overwhelmingly said the top issue for them is the economy.
A staggering 62 percent of voters said the economy was the most important issue facing the nation. None of four other issues on the list — health care, energy, Iraq, terrorism — was picked by more than one in 10.
3:10 pm: Key returns from 3 pm to 4:30 pm. All times are Pacific Standard Time:
3 pm: The first polls in the United States close, in eastern Indiana and in Kentucky. No Democrat has won Indiana since LBJ carried the state 1964, but it is close this year. Obama campaigned in the Hoosier state 48 times this election season; McCain only twice, yet McCain held a 1-point lead in the final RealClear Politics average of polls. Meanwhile, McCain parties nationwide will raise a cheer when the networks call the Bluegrass State and its eight electoral votes for their man early.
4 pm: Polls close in Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina and the rest of Indiana. To get to 270 electoral votes, McCain must win all four states, all of which President Bush won in 2004. If he loses any one of them, his White House chances are fast slipping away. If he wins Virginia, it could be a sign of a much closer race than pundits are expecting. And an upset win in New Hampshire, where McCain won the GOP primary earlier this year, would send waves of rapture through McCain HQ.
Obama has held a steady lead in Virginia (4.4 percent in the final RealClear Politics average). And he visited the Hoosier State 49 times this election season — including today again -—compared to two visits for McCain this season. McCain held a narrow lead in the final polls (1.4 percent). Indiana results may be late. In the Democratic primary, as in years past, glitches and delays have plagued precincts in Gary, a heavily black industrial city near Chicago.
Senate Race of Note: Watch the Georgia contest between incumbent Republican Saxby Chambliss and Democratic challenger Jim Martin. Chambliss normally would be an easy victor in this red state, but with a massive African-American turnout during early voting this year (35 percent of Georgia earlier voters were black), an Obama wave could swamp him. If Chambliss holds on, the Republicans will be likely to block Democrats from picking up all nine seats they need to reach a 60-seat margin in the US Senate, the magic number for shutting off filibusters.
4:30 pm: Polls close in Ohio and North Carolina. No Republican has won the White House in modern history without winning Ohio. Enough said. Obama clung to a 2.5 percent lead in the Buckeye State in the final RCP poll average. But Republicans have been well organized for years in this state, and it gave Bush the White House in 2004 despite a huge Kerry effort there.
North Carolina, a normally red state, is notable this year for the Senate race where GOP incumbent and party figurehead Elizabeth Dole trails Democratic challenger Kay Hagan. Obama has mounted a powerful ground game here. If the state goes blue, Obama will be measuring the drapes. at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
2:54 p.m.: What to look for tonight
The BIG PICTURE: In the presidential race, the two most important states to watch tonight are Pennsylvania and Virginia. If Barack Obama wins either one, he is probably president. Why? Polls have shown that Obama starts with a lead in every state that John Kerry carried in 2004. That's 252 electoral votes. He also has solid leads in the polls in two states that Bush won: New Mexico (5 electoral votes) and Iowa (7 electoral) votes. That's 264. A traditional win is 270 electoral votes. A 269-269 tie probably means that Obama wins, since the House of Representatives, dominated by Democrats, then would choose the president. So assuming no major surprises, to reach 269, Obama must carry just one more state from the following battleground list: Virginia (13), Nevada (5), Colorado (9), Missouri (11), Indiana (11), Ohio (20), Florida (27), or North Carolina (15).
What's McCain's path? He must win all three of the "crown jewels," Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, and then pick up one more of the eight battleground states above.
If McCain can keep Virginia red and wrest away Pennsylvania as the night wears on, he remains in the game. But it won't be easy. In Pennsylvania, Obama held a 7.3 percent lead in the final RealClear Politics polling average, and in Virginia he led by 4.4 percent in the same survey average. He'll win Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Northern Virginia big, but nobody knows for sure what rural and suburban white voters will do, and McCain has campaigned hard in the past two weeks in both states for them.
Mercury News staff writer Paul Rogers will be blogging throughout the evening tonight as returns come in on national, state and Bay Area races in this historic election.