- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2008

UPDATED:

President-elect Barack Obama turned his attention Wednesday to selecting Cabinet officers to help deliver on his campaign pledges to right a faltering economy and ease public concern about two drawn-out wars, offering a key job in his administration to Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel.

Democratic officials say Mr. Emanuel, a former aide in the Clinton White House, has been offered the job chief of staff in the Obama administration, according to the Associated Press. Elected in 2003, he is the fourth-highest ranking Democrat in the House and chairs the Democratic House caucus.

Like Mr. Obama, Mr. Emanuel is known for his knack in raising campaign money. He’s the former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the fundraising arm for House Democrats. The group poured tens of millions of dollars into House races nationwide, outspent Republicans and helped Democrats pick up more than a dozen seats Tuesday.

The campaign announced John Podesta, chief of staff to former President Bill Clinton, longtime Obama friend Valerie Jarrett and aide Pete Rouse will oversee Mr. Obama’s transition team, which is being set up through a newly created nonprofit entity called the Obama-Biden Transition Project.

The chief executive of a Chicago real estate management company, Ms. Jarrett could be in the running to head the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs. And Lawrence Summers, former Treasury Secretary under President Clinton, is among the names reportedly considered to lead the Treasury.

The campaign also announced Wednesday afternoon that a 12-person board, including former Clinton Commerce Secretary William Daley and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, will advise the transition team. Other advisers on the panel include Carol Browner, who headed the Environmental Protection Agency in the Clinton White House.

Across the halls of government, the reality of an orderly transition sunk in Wednesday morning. CIA Director Michael Hayden greeted his own troops with an e-mail preparing them for the job of serving two masters for the next few months: President Bush’s team and the transitional government of President-elect Barack Obama.

“Presidential elections are a centerpiece of our democracy,” Mr. Hayden wrote in his e-mail to staff. “Now that the American people have had their say, their federal government assumes an additional responsibility. Beyond all the tasks in place on November 4th, the public expects us to do what we can to ensure a smooth, effective transition to a new administration. Our Agency would have it no other way.”

Mr. Hayden said the Agency’s “outreach to the President-elect” included two CIA officials who would give Mr. Obama his daily intelligence briefings. The CIA Director also had a candid message for intelligence officers wondering about the security of their jobs in an Obama administration.

President Bush also pledged a smooth transition into the next administration over the next 11 weeks.

Mr. Bush told reporters in the Rose Garden yesterday of a “warm” conversation with Mr. Obama Tuesday night, “I told the president-elect he can count on complete cooperation from my administration as he makes the transition to the White House.”

Mr. Obama’s victory reshaped the electoral map on the strength of historic turnout among both enthusiastic young and minority voters. And his landslide victory ended a two-decade era of politics dominated by the Bush and Clinton families.

The president said the election of a black man to the nation’s highest office “showed a watching world the vitality of our democracy and the strides we have made toward a more perfect union.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, before leaving for the Middle East Wednesday, called Obama “inspirational” and said that as an African American, “I am especially proud because this is a country that’s been through a long journey in terms of overcoming wounds and making race not the factor in our lives. That work is not done, but yesterday was obviously an extraordinary step forward.”

Just a half century after the strife of the civil rights movement, Americans of all races celebrated Mr. Obama’s historic rise — from the grasses of Chicago’s Grant Park to the paved streets of the nation’s capital that once hosted the country’s most bitter protests.

Mr. McCain, a former prisoner of war and a self-styled political maverick who has dominated the national scene for nearly a quarter century, graciously congratulated his former rival for a victory he said healed the nation’s racial wounds.

“We have come to the end of a long journey. The American people have spoken and they have spoken clearly,” Mr. McCain said in his concession speech in Phoenix.

Mr. Obama was expected Wednesday to stop at his Chicago campaign office to thank his staff. He began Wednesday with breakfast with his wife, Michelle, and their daughters then left his Chicago home for a nearby gym. He was dressed in a baseball cap, sunglasses and workout clothes, according to a press pool report.

Foreign leaders congratulated Mr. Obama while waiting to see how his election will shape U.S. policy abroad. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called it “a moment that will live in history as long as history books are written.” Manmohan Singh, prime minister of India, said Mr. Obama’s win “will inspire people not only in his country but also around the world.”

In a handwritten note addressed to “Dear Barack,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy extended “my warmest congratulations, both personally and on behalf of the French people as a whole. Your stunning victory rewards a tireless commitment to serving the American people. It is also the crowning achievement of an exceptional campaign whose brilliance and high tone demonstrated the vitality of American democracy to the entire world, while keeping them spellbound.

“In choosing you, the American people have chosen the path of change, openness and optimism. At a time when the world is in torment and doubt, the American people — true to the values that have always been at the very core of America’s identity — strongly expressed their faith in progress and in the future.”

Mr. Sarkozy promised that “France and Europe, which have always been bound to the United States through their ties of history, values and friendship, will thus be re-energized to work with America to preserve peace and prosperity in the world. Rest assured that you may count on France and on my personal support.”

In an election dominated by a battered economy at home and two wars abroad, Mr. Obama exploited President Bush’s unpopularity to create opportunities for Democrats in states where they haven’t been competitive in a generation. He won all of the states that Democrats took in the 2004 election and won in formerly Republican-leaning states of Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico and Iowa. The Associated Press reported that Mr. Obama also won the state of Indiana, while losing Montana.

His Democratic colleagues in Congress significantly increased their majorities with defeats of such well-known Republicans as Sen. Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina and John E. Sununu in New Hampshire.

They also added at least a dozen seats to their majority in the House, with more potential gains to come races to be decided in late-breaking contests.

“A wave has swept this country. A wave of hope, hope for the future,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, calling the evening “a historic mandate.”

Mr. Obama will enter the White House on Jan. 20 with a strong mandate, backed by what is likely to be the highest popular vote total for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964.

Americans packed schoolhouses and streamed in long lines around city blocks to participate in an election that offered a certain history-making result. Both candidates campaigned to the very last minute, offering voters a choice between the first black president or a war hero whose running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, would shatter the political glass ceiling for women.

In Chicago, Mr. Obama’s supporters literally ran to get the best spots when the gates opened at his victory celebration. The crowd was estimated at 125,000 by Chicago authorities.

Lashawn Walker of Chicago, who is black, was overjoyed.

“This means that we have finally overcome most of our racial issues in the United States. I’ve been a victim of racial profiling before, and to see him be able to come this far is a major step,” the 34-year-old Chicago woman said. “Look around. There are whites, blacks, Asians, Latinos and there is no pushing and no fighting. They are all here to support him.”

Ellen Rothfeld of Buffalo Grove sported an “I was there” button bearing Mr. Obama’s face.

“It’s history. We’ve been waiting a long time for this,” she said. “It means hope.”

Obama’s top donors and friends were allowed into a pen area directly in front of the podium. They sang along with the National Anthem, many of them openly weeping, and the crowd waved hundreds of tiny American flags.

By Wednesday, the campaign had transformed BarackObama.com into a thank-you page that also solicits donations for the Democratic National Committee. The home page — which helped the Democrat raise record sums upwards of $600 million for his bid — features a photo of Mr. Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden waving, along with “Thank you” in Mr. Obama’s handwriting and the words, “Change can happen.”

The celebrations continued throughout the evening in the District.

Georgetown crowds streamed out of bars chanting, “Obama! Obama!” shortly after the race was called in his favor. Fireworks went off on Capitol Hill and in Northeast. Crowds cheered in U Street bars and restaurants as drivers beeped their horns in celebration.

In his speech, Mr. Obama also addressed the world at large, announcing, “The new dawn of American leadership is at hand.”

He also assured his daughters Sasha and Malia: “You have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House.”

Mr. Obama will be the fifth-youngest president to take office, and has just four years on the national political scene, starting with his upstaging break-out speech to the Democratic National Convention in 2004.

His campaign broke all the records for fundraising, he has compiled the political world’s most valuable donor and volunteer list and built the most formidable machine in politics, helping him top the masterful Clinton machine in the primaries and swamp an undermanned and outspent Republican operation in the general election.

Along the way he faced down false accusations about his religious affiliation, barbs over his middle name “Hussein,” and questions from Republicans over his associations with his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., and former Weather Underground member, William Ayers.

The winner will have to wait until later this year for the Electoral College to make his selection official, and for Jan. 6, when Congress is scheduled to convene in a joint session to receive the Electoral College vote.

Electors are not legally bound to the candidate to whom they are pledged, but it is almost inconceivable that they would choose someone other than the winner. The next president will be inaugurated on the steps of the Capitol on Jan. 20.

Mr. Obama voted in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago on Tuesday morning before last-minute campaigning in Indiana, while Mr. McCain voted in Phoenix before making stops in Colorado and New Mexico.

Mrs. Palin voted in Alaska and Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. voted in Delaware before heading off to Phoenix and Chicago respectively to await the results.

Mr. Obama ran his general election campaign the same way he ran his primary bid — by opposing Mr. Bush at every turn, arguing that his foreign policy put off the nation’s enemies and allies alike and his tax cuts and spending have produced record deficits that are contributing to the economic slow-down.

“When it comes to the central issue of this election, when it comes to the economy, the plain truth is that Senator McCain has stood with President Bush every step of the way,” Mr. Obama said in a late-season rally in Manassas on Monday night. “He hasn’t been a maverick on the economy. He’s been a sidekick.”

Mr. McCain tried mightily to declare his independence from Mr. Bush, but aides said he was never able to cut free from that weight, and exit polls Tuesday confirmed that.

Mr. McCain’s campaign and, at times, the candidate himself, seemed adrift over the past 45 days. He sought to show leadership on the Wall Street financial crisis and instead bounced from proposal to proposal and ended up backing Mr. Bush’s $700 billion bailout.

Mr. Obama’s appeal in Republican states is a validation of Democrats’ 50-state strategy to expand beyond traditional liberal strongholds in the Northeast, Great Lakes and West Coast. Between the 2006 and 2008 election cycles, the new strategy has produced dozens of pickups in the House and Senate and has now apparently delivered the White House.

It also marks an end to former Bush strategist Karl Rove’s dream of a permanent Republican majority — something that seemed to be just over the horizon after the 2004 elections.

While Mr. Obama earned his spot at the top of the Democratic ticket by outorganizing opponents, Mr. McCain was almost the accidental Republican, reviving a campaign that was broke and lost in 2007 and swerving through the minefield of Republican primaries as other candidates beat up on each other.

As late as September, Mr. McCain had grabbed leads in national polls and in many of the key battleground states and even appeared poised to put blue states such as Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan in play. But that all evaporated as the Wall Street financial crisis hit.

“The global economic collapse in the middle of September occurring at a time when we were ahead in the race, dropping the right track number to roughly 5, 6, 7 percent, which are numbers I don’t think will ever be seen again in any of our lifetimes, it was very difficult,” said Steve Schmidt, chief of the campaign’s day-to-day operations.

“It was a bad economic environment throughout the election where people were angry at the incumbent party and at the end of the day, I don’t think there’s another Republican the party could have nominated that could have made this a competitive race the way that John McCain did,” Mr. Schmidt told reporters aboard the final flight of Mr. McCain’s Straight Talk Air.

He declined to comment on the selection of Mrs. Palin, who energized conservatives but put off many independent voters who said she was too inexperienced to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

“There’ll be time for all the post-mortems in the race,” he said.

Whatever momentum Mr. McCain had after his convention evaporated under pressure from Mr. Obama’s unprecedented spending blitz, fueled by his $600 million campaign treasury.

With that money, Mr. Obama ran more ads than anyone in history — and, Mr. McCain charged, set a record for running the most negative ads ever.

Still, Mr. McCain himself ran a higher percentage of negative ads by far. At one point in early October, Mr. McCain was running only negative ads, according to the Wisconsin Advertising Project.

The harshest of the television ads came not in English but in Spanish, which is in keeping with Hispanics’ emergence as a powerful swing group, concentrated in Florida and Southwestern battleground states. Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain each accused the other of scuttling last year’s Senate immigration bill, even though both men voted for the measure.

Faced with Mr. Obama’s bank account, Mr. McCain’s campaign made the decision to hold off on spending to defend red states in September, leaving the airwaves almost completely to Mr. Obama.

Mr. McCain’s advisers were counting on an early October ad blitz to fight back, arguing that Republican-leaning states such as Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia would “snap back” once Mr. McCain ran ads telling voters of Mr. Obama’s liberal voting record. But the financial crisis and Mr. Obama’s campaign treasury prevented them from breaking through.

Only at the very end, after Mr. Obama had his run-in with “Joe the Plumber,” a working-class voter from Ohio, did Mr. McCain seem to regain some of his footing, arguing Mr. Obama’s “spread the wealth” comment exposed the Democrat’s real goal.

Nearly lost in the final month of the campaign was the war in Iraq, which dominated the primary season but faded from the press as casualties dropped and success built in the Middle Eastern nation.

Also gone were key issues from the 2004 campaign that delivered a re-election victory to Mr. Bush that year, including the focus on values voters.

Mr. Bush called Mr. Obama at 11:12 p.m. to congratulate him, telling him, “what an awesome night for you, your family and your supporters.”

“I promise to make this a smooth transition. You are about to go on one of the great journeys of life. Congratulations and go enjoy yourself,” he said, inviting Mr. Obama and his family to visit the White House soon.

Joseph Curl reported from the trail with the McCain campaign. Christina Bellantoni reported from the trail with the Obama campaign. Jon Ward contributed to this article. Jon Ward and Jim McElhatton contributed from Washington, D.C.

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