Barack Obama today won a stunning and historic victory in the American presidential election and then delivered a message to the world — change has arrived.
The 47-year-old senator from Illinois will become the first black president of the United States after he won a series of key battleground states during a night of high electoral drama.
During his victory address the president-elect told an audience of tens of thousands in Chicago that a “new dawn of American leadership is at hand”.
Defeated republican opponent John McCain paid gracious tribute to his opponent before urging his supporters to throw their weight behind the President-elect Obama and his running mate Joe Biden.
There were euphoric scenes across the nation as thousands of people poured onto the streets of major cities in the US to herald the result which could transform race relations.
Questions will now be asked about Mr Obama’s commitment to politics in Northern Ireland
with the US facing its worst economic crisis in 75 years and involved in conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, he has already stated that he will retain the US special envoy to the province and has created a team of prominent Irish-American legislators to counsel him.
The election was settled as Mr Obama swept a series of battleground swing states leading to a landslide in the electoral college voting system. The first major blow to the 72-year-old McCain was when the Democrats held Pennsylvania. When Mr McCain also failed to win Ohio, it was clear that his White House bid would fail.
When California also declared for the Democrats at 4am UK time, it pushed Mr Obama through the 270 electoral vote mark which ensured he would become the 44th President of the United States. He will be sworn in on January 20.
Hours later he delivered a powerful speech in Chicago’s Grant Park where he was joined by wife Michelle and daughters Malia (10), and Sasha, seven.
He said: “The new dawn of America leadership is at hand. To those who would tear the world down, we will defeat you.
“To those who seek peace and security, we support you.
“And to all those who have wondered if American's beacon still burns as bright, tonight we've proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope. That's the true genius of America.”
He went on: “The road ahead will be long, our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year, or even in one term, but America I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.
“I promise you, we, as a people, will get there.”
Many in the crowd were crying and even political pundits on major US TV networks wiped tears from their eyes as the man who could transform race relations in America ascended to the highest office in the land.
America is a place where all things are possible and the “dream of our founders” is alive, he said.
“We are, and always will be, the United States of America.”
He said it was time to put “hands on the arc of history and bend it once more to the hope of a better day.
“It's been a long time coming but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America,” he said.
Earlier Mr McCain addressed subdued supporters in his home state of Arizona with running-mate Sarah Palin by his side and pledged to do everything he could to support Obama.
The former Vietnam prisoner of war said Mr Obama's victory was historic and had a particular significance for African Americans.
He said: “This is something I deeply admire and commend him for achieving.”
Mr McCain placed the blame for defeat squarely on his own shoulders, prompting chants of “No!” and “We want John” from the crowd. “We fell short. The failure is mine not yours,” he said.
There were joyous scenes in Kenya, the birthplace of Mr Obama’s father, which has declared tomorrow to be a national day of celebration.
World leaders have acclaimed the President-elect. Gordon Brown said: “The relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is vital to our prosperity and security.
“Barack Obama ran an inspirational campaign, energising politics with his progressive values and his vision for the future.”