Election: Obama becomes fifth black senator in nation’s history

Associated Press

Associated Press

By Caroline Kim with wire reports

CHICAGO – Illinois’ Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, Barack Obama, began his campaign with the slogan, “Yes we can!” After winning last night’s election with 81 percent of the vote, he proved that phrase with a declaration of, “Yes we did!”

A crowd of about 2,000 people filled the Grand Ballroom at Chicago’s Hyatt Regency Hotel last night to celebrate Obama’s victory over Republican opponent Alan Keyes. People of all ages and races held blue and white Obama signs; one supporter even held a sign professing the northwest suburbs’ love for the senator-elect.

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Ian Tobin, a senior at Chicago’s Westmont High School, said he came to the rally for a project on political campaigning.

“The attitude and overall feel here is really, really optimistic,” Tobin said. “There’s a real unity feel here. There’s a lot of diversity in the crowd.”

Obama will be the only black senator in the next session of Congress. The 43-year-old Democrat attributed his victory to the “core decency of the American people.”

“My first priority is to the people of Illinois and so my primary emphasis is going to be learning the legislative craft so that I can deliver concrete improvement to the lives of working families in the state,” Obama said.

He said his priorities would include health care, the tax code and making sure the educational system has adequate resources from the government. He said he expected enormous progress.

“I’ve always viewed politics as a team sport – not an individual sport,” Obama said.

Obama’s wife, Michelle, said no one could have predicted that a “skinny guy with no money, no organization and a funny name” could win.

“Today we made history,” Michelle Obama said. “We ignored the odds. We didn’t vote for the richest candidate. We didn’t vote for the best-connected candidate. We didn’t vote for the slickest-talking candidate. What we did today was vote for the best candidate for the job.”

Fellow Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin said he had a long talk Monday with Obama about the Senate committees, the rules, the members and his relationship. Obama said he and Durbin would work “extremely well” together.

“He’s ready to hit the ground. He’s ready to work for Illinois,” Durbin said.

Durbin also said Obama’s reputation would precede his entry into the U.S. Senate.

“Most people know him because he’s a national figure with that wonderful speech at our convention. Since that convention, he has helped so many senators,” Durbin said.

But Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, who claims the seat that Obama will fill, said Obama’s high profile might do more harm than good, according to The Associated Press.

“Some of his colleagues in the Senate may see him as competition,” Fitzgerald said. “Some people will be grateful and will return the favor, but others … may be secretly trying to undermine him.”

Keyes, 54, moved to Illinois from his home state of Maryland after the original Republican nominee, Jack Ryan, dropped out of the race amid sex scandals that tainted his campaign. Keyes promised to rejuvenate the Illinois Republican party, strongly emphasizing morality. His controversial campaign speeches, which included comparisons of abortion to slavery, drew criticism from conservatives, moderates and liberals alike, according to The Associated Press.

Ginny Hill, senior in LAS, said she was not surprised by Obama’s landslide victory.

“He had overwhelming support by both Republicans and Democrats which shows by the vote. … He deserves it. I know he has a well-rounded stance on every issue. … The percentage speaks for itself.”

Senior in engineering Rob Schaffer was not surprised by Obama’s victory either, though he voted for Keyes.

“I voted for Keyes and I voted for him because he is Republican,” he said. “The Republican National Committee put Keyes up here as a lamb to slaughter. No Republican is going to beat Obama.”

But for Chris Garrison, junior in LAS, 81 percent was not enough.

“The fact that 22 percent of Illinois voted for Keyes upsets me,” Garrison said. “I think (Obama’s victory) should have been unanimous.”

Obama said that although the campaign was over, the journey has just begun.

“In the ultimate equation, we will not be measured by the margin of victory,” Obama said. “But we will be measured by whether we can deliver concrete improvements to people all across the United States.

“Today, we stand here in the Land of Lincoln,” Obama said. “We stand here as one people, as one nation, proclaiming ourselves as being one America with the capacity to work together to create a better future.”