President-elect Barack Obama dove immediately into his transition to the White House this morning, accepting congratulations from President Bush and the Pope, preparing to commence intelligence briefings and reportedly asking Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) to be his chief of staff.
As gleeful supporters continued to celebrate his watershed Election Day victory, the man who will be the nation's first African-American president ate breakfast with his daughters and worked out at the gym.
Across the country, he added to his drubbing of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the Electoral College with a narrow victory in Indiana, a state that voted overwhelmingly for Bush four years ago. That pushed Obama's electoral vote count to 349, with two states - Missouri and North Carolina, with a combined 26 votes--still too close for television networks and the Associated Press to call.
With 97 percent of precincts reporting nationwide, Obama had secured nearly 63 million votes, the largest total in history. He led McCain 52 percent to 46 percent in the popular vote--the highest percentage of any Democratic presidential nominee in 40 years.
Turnout experts estimated more than 64 percent of eligible American voters cast ballots, the best showing in at least 40 years--and in one estimate, since 1908.
Speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House Wednesday morning, Bush called Obama's election a victory in the nation's long civil rights struggle.
"All Americans can be proud of the history that was made yesterday,'' Bush said. "They showed a watching world the vitality of America's democracy and the strides we have made toward a more perfect union.'' Obama's life story, and his election, are a testament to the fulfillment of the American story, he said.
"Many of our citizens thought they would never live to see that day,'' said Bush, not specifically citing the election of the first African-American president but alluding to it with his words - "especially uplifting for a generation that witnessed the struggle for civil rights with their own eyes.''
Pope Benedict XVI sent Obama a personal note Wednesday, The Associated Press reported, saying he would pray for God's blessings on the American people and on the new president-elect after his historic victory.
Benedict's spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told journalists that Obama will receive the message later in the day when it is relayed through the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. "The pope expresses the wish that the blessing of God will support him (Obama) and the American people so that with all people of good will, a world of peace, solidarity and justice can be built," the spokesman said.
The AP also reported Obama will begin receiving highly classified briefings from top intelligence officials Thursday. The briefings typically last 45 minutes to an hour, but Obama's initial one is expected to be longer. A U.S. intelligence official speaking to the AP on condition of anonymity said Joe Biden, the vice president-elect, also will begin receiving briefings this week.
Briefing documents are mostly written by the Central Intelligence Agency and include the most critical overnight intelligence for the president. They sometimes dig deeply into a specific topic to give the president an in-depth understanding.
Obama is expected to rapidly choose his transition team. ABC News reported Wednesday morning that he offered the chief of staff position to Emanuel, the hard-charging veteran of the Clinton Administration - and long-time Obama ally - who is the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House.
Obama's prosperity extended to Congress, where Democrats made substantial gains in both the House and Senate. But it appeared Wednesday that those gains may not be as large as the party initially had hoped.
While Democrats supplanted Republicans in five Senate seats-in Colorado, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Virginia-success beyond those remained elusive as votes were still being counted Wednesday morning.
The tightest race was in Minnesota, where Republican incumbent Norm Coleman reportedly was leading challenger Al Franken by less than 600 votes. Under state law, that could trigger an extended recount.
Georgia, too, remained an open question, as Republican Saxby Chambliss, trying to hold onto his Senate seat, was clinging to a 50 percent share of the vote. Under Georgia law, if Chambliss falls below that number, he faces a run-off in a month with his Democratic challenger, Jim Martin. Votes were still being counted Wednesday.
Oregon, too, was a toss-up, with incumbent Gordon Smith holding a one-percent lead over Democratic challenger Jeff Merkley, with three-fourths of the vote counted. That state uses a ballot-by-mail system that takes time to tabulate.
And in Alaska, in one of the evening's biggest surprises, Sen. Ted Stevens, convicted last month on seven felony corruption charges, was leading his Democratic opponent, Anchorage mayor Mark Begich, by about 4,000 votes Wednesday. Because absentee ballots need to be counted, the race may stay in flux for two weeks.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said that a convicted felon cannot serve in the Senate. But it would take a vote of two-thirds of the body to expel the 84-year-old veteran, who has served for 40 years.
One Senate seat in flux - but guaranteed to stay in Democratic hands - is Obama's. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, will appoint Obama's successor. He planned to talk about the task on Wednesday. Vice president-elect Joe Biden, a senator from Delaware, will also vacate his seat and see a replacement named by a Democratic governor.
Over in the House, Democrats attained their largest majority in 15 years. But it appeared they would fall short of pre-Election Day projections that suggested they would take anywhere from 25 to 30 seats. Instead, they were on course to secure about 20, which would give them something like a 252-173 advantage in the House.
Obama still could be on course to approach Bill Clinton's 379-electoral-vote tally in the 1996 election; that was the last time a presidential candidate topped 300 votes.
With nearly all ballots reportedly counted, he leads by about 12,000 votes in North Carolina and trails by less than 6,000 in Missouri.
Barack Obama starts new life as president-elect
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