Barack Obama opened a wide lead early Tuesday night and never looked back as voters across the country decisively elected the Illinois senator to the White House.
Obama, who made health reform a key issue in his campaign, handily defeated Republican challenger Sen. John McCain as Democrats took the White House for the first time in eight years and widened their majorities in Congress in an election that could potentially reshape how healthcare is delivered and paid for in the U.S.
Voters went to the polls in massive numbers yesterday, carrying Obama to victory while tapping a number of new congressional Democrats to go to Washington with him. The majority party picked up five seats in the Senate, moving to a 56-40 count, and 251 to 173 in the House, with 11 seats still undecided. Four Senate racesin Alaska, Georgia, Minnesota and Oregonare too close to call, though incumbents there hold slight leads.
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The Senate, however, holds the key to what could ultimately become a major overhaul to the healthcare sector. Sixty votes are often needed to pass legislation, and while shy of that number, Democrats are now poised to more easily pick up votes from moderate Republicans to help pass legislation.
Rick Pollack, an executive vice president at the American Hospital Association, said that it is "to early too tell" what impact the margins will have on Obama's healthcare agenda. "He faces a big inbox" when he takes office, he said, predicting that the new president will have to deal first with the sagging economy and other pressing issues here and abroad.
But, he added, "Obama clearly has a mandate to govern."
In a victory speech delivered in Chicago, Obama acknowledged that many challenges lie ahead, but called on a new spirit of patriotism, of service and responsibility, to help navigate them.
Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long, he said.