Local Politics

Historic night for Obama, Perdue

Posted November 4, 2008 7:25 p.m. EST
Updated October 19, 2011 9:36 a.m. EDT

— A campaign marked by historic candidacies and a high voter turnout culminated Tuesday with the nation's first African-American president and North Carolina's first female governor.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was declared the winner of the national electoral college by 11 p.m. ET, although Republican rival John McCain continued to run neck-and-neck with him in North Carolina.

Obama swept to victory with 333 electoral votes – 270 were needed to win – and 52 percent of the popular vote.

An estimated 100,000 people packed Grant Park in downtown Chicago late Tuesday for Obama's victory rally. They roared with approval as Obama rolled up victories throughout the night, eagerly awaiting for the new president-elect's first address.

At about midnight on the East Coast, he and his family made their triumphant appearance.

"Because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America," Obama said. "This victory tonight is not the change we seek. It is only the chance to make that change."

North Carolina and Missouri remained the only states in which a winner hadn't been called by Wednesday morning.

Obama led McCain by about 12,000 votes with 100 percent of North Carolina's 4.2 million votes counted, according to unofficial results. That margin of less than 0.3 percent would allow a recount under state law if McCain's forces were to request it.

North Carolina hasn't backed a Democrat for president since Jimmy Carter in 1976, but Obama's all-out blitz forced McCain to defend a state that the GOP had taken for granted for more than a generation.

Obama and his running mate, U.S. Sen. Joe Biden, and McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, had visited the state more than a dozen times combined since late September.

Still, other battleground states proved to be the difference in the election. Obama captured Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, Iowa and Indiana on his way to victory.

No Republican has ever won the White House without winning in Ohio. Also, McCain had bet heavily in recent days on turning Pennsylvania, which traditionally votes Democratic, to his favor.

"The American people have spoken, and spoken clearly," McCain told disappointed supporters in Arizona late Tuesday.

McCrory concedes to Perdue

Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue became the state's first female governor when Republican candidate Pat McCrory, mayor of Charlotte, unexpectedly conceded the election shortly before 11 p.m.

McCrory was about 100,000 votes behind at the time, with 83 percent of votes counted. He apparently saw the writing on the wall, with his home turf of Mecklenburg County leaning toward Perdue, along with her strong showing in eastern North Carolina, the Triangle and part of the Triad.

"Neither of my parents graduated from high school," Perdue told supporters. "I bet they are up there tonight saying, 'You go, girl!'"

McCrory had sought to become the first Republican governor since Gov. Jim Martin left the office in 1992. He also looked to break the "Charlotte curse" – mayors of the state's largest city have lost their past seven statewide elections.

"It's always been about public service, and I'm proud to be a public servant," McCrory said.

Running on the same outsider theme as the McCain-Palin ticket, McCrory called Perdue part of the Raleigh status quo establishment and said he would shake up state government. Perdue said she also would change the way state agencies operate, including the mental system and highway projects.

"There's a new sheriff in town," Perdue said. "I'm going to open the windows wide in the State Capitol, and we're going to let the sun shine in."

Hagan ousts Dole in Senate race

Democrats grabbed an early victory when state Sen. Kay Hagan defeated Republican U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole following an increasingly nasty campaign.

“What we were able to accomplish in a little less than a year is a testament to how hungry people are for a change,” Hagan said to supporters in Greensboro.

“It’s been the highest honor in my life to be elected as the first female senator in North Carolina history,” Dole said in her concession speech at the Salisbury train depot.

The Democratic Party had targeted Dole's seat as it tried to build a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Outside groups poured $22 million into ads for both sides, and Dole ads in the closing days of the campaign sparked a strong response from Hagan and the public.

The ads linked Hagan to an atheist group and questioned her faith. Hagan shot back that she valued her Christian faith and taught Sunday school, and polls started tipping more in her favor after the ad hit the airwaves.

The Senate seat had been in Republican hands for 36 years, since the late Sen. Jesse Helms won his first election in 1972.

Democrats also captured at least three other Senate seats held by Republicans – two of them were retiring – and added to their majority in the U.S. House as they tried to solidify their hold on Congress.

Democrats capture statewide seats

In other statewide races, Democratic state Sen. Walter Dalton downed his Republican colleague, Robert Pittenger, and will succeed Perdue as lieutenant governor.

Democrat Beth Wood upset incumbent Republican Les Merritt in the state auditor's office, and Democrats Janet Cowell and Wayne Goodwin won the open seats for state treasurer and insurance commissioner, respectively.

Incumbents captured all other Council of State seats.

Cherie Berry, the incumbent Republican labor commissioner, beat Democratic challenger Mary Fant Donnan 51 percent to 49 percent. Steve Troxler, the incumbent Republican commissioner of agriculture, beat Democratic challenger Ronnie Ansley 52 percent to 48 percent.

Most incumbents also breezed to victory in congressional races across North Carolina. The lone exception was Democrat Larry Kissell's upset of Eighth District Rep. Robin Hayes by a 55 to 45 percent margin.

Voter turnout approaches record

The historic election brought a surge in voting, with tens of thousands of people registering to vote for the first time and a record-setting 2.6 million taking advantage of early voting.

State officials had predicted another 2 million people would cast ballots on Election Day, but rain kept some people away. According to unofficial totals, 4.2 million votes were cast in the election, for a 66 percent turnout.

The state record for voter turnout was 69 percent, which was set in 1984.