Wednesday, 5 November 2008


It seemed like too much to hope for almost two years ago when he stood up on a cold February day in Illinois and announced that he was running for president. It seemed like something from fiction - something that the world, with all of its pain and hatred and cynicism would not allow to happen.

He can give a good speech, we said, but where's his experience? This isn't a local senate race - how can a Democrat honestly take on the Clintons, with all their influence and money and entitlement, and expect to win. America isn't ready for a black president, one step at a time. Back down, some said - don't rock the boat - get behind a more electable figure and wait your turn. Maybe in four years, or eight. Don't risk dividing the party over a pipe dream.

Even with the nomination gathered we were fearful. Sure, you can triumph against people who broadly share your views, but that's not a real triumph - what about the Republican smear machine? What will you do against the power of Karl Rove and Fox News? It's difficult enough for an old white Democrat to fight them, how does a relatively young, inexperienced black man expect to take on a war hero like McCain with all the backing and experience of the GOP's electoral team?

And yet last night the world watched into the early hours as America said that it was ready to take the next step, that it was ready for a change, ready for a Democrat, and ready for an African-American. We watched as Pennsylvania, visited by the Republicans 21 times during the campaign, threw itself behind him, closely followed by Ohio, home of Joe the Plumber. With no sign of the Bradley effect, Republicans were talking about what went wrong from the start of the night, and the BBC's coverage had all but named the new president from the start of the programme. With the race too close to call in four key states, we had to wait until 4am GMT for the big projection, as California and Washington state put their weight behind senator Barack Obama and pushed him over the magic 270 electoral votes.

There were many other states backing him, of course. In Virginia, where the populous north was described as not "real Virginia" by the Republicans, the north did its work, and took the state to the Democrats by four points. Florida finally threw off the memories of 2000, and turned itself blue, followed later by Indiana, which overturned a 20 point Republican margin from 2004. North Carolina, another solidly red state for eight years was too close to call through into this morning, with Obama holding onto a slender lead.

We watched McCain appear in Arizona and give a humble and gracious concession speech and then drove home listening to Obama's magnificent victory speech. In two and a half months time, he'll take on a country with huge financial, social and military problems both at home and abroad, without a filibuster-proof senate majority, and with a crippling global economic climate to contend with. It turns out the last 21 months of scrapping and debating and smears and slurs and great speeches and personal revelations and media scrutiny and rumours and robo-calls and polls and predictions and ups and downs was actually the easy bit. The real work starts here, and I couldn't be more confident in his ability to take it on.

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