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First thoughts: The 44th President

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carrie Dann
*** The 44th President: In just a little more than four years, an Illinois state senator who delivered a rousing speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention will now become the 44th president of the United States and the country's first African-American president. As of publication time, Obama gained 349 electoral votes to McCain's 173, (just before publication NBC News named McCain the "apparent" winner in Missouri. But North Carolina (15) and Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District are still undecided. In addition, Obama won the popular vote, 52%-46% -- the first time a Democrat won more than 51% since LBJ did it in 1964. But Obama's election wasn't the only good news for the Democrats last night. They picked up five Senate seats (with GA, AK, OR, MN still outstanding), 1 governorship (MO), and at least a net of 17 House seats (with some still outstanding).

VIDEO: Watch Obama's victory speech.

*** Putting 'Country First': As for the man who lost last night, he delivered a concession speech that might stand the test of time. "Sen. Obama and I have had and argued our differences, and he has prevailed," he said. "No doubt many of those differences remain. These are difficult times for our country. And I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face. I urge all Americans...  I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together." It was a pitch-perfect speech, and will spur the same questions that we heard after Gore's concession speeches: Where was that person on the campaign trail? John McCain and his alter ego Mark Salter have always had a sense of history and it came through last night.

VIDEO: Watch McCain's concession speech.

*** Payback and geography: Obama's victory last night was a payback of sorts for Democrats. He won the state that eluded Gore in 2000 (Florida), as well as the one that escaped Kerry in 2004 (Ohio). But those weren't the only battleground states Obama went on to win. In fact, he won in several different parts of the country: 1) the Midwest, especially the states surrounding Illinois like Iowa, Indiana, and Wisconsin; 2) out in the West, in Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico; 3) the Rust Belt, in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania; and 4) the New South, including Florida, Virginia, and (perhaps North Carolina). The only places where Obama didn't win: the Deep South and the Plains. By the way, take a look at Indiana one more time. This is a state Bush won by 20 points… TWENTY?!?!?? And Obama flipped it. Every other flip Obama made was explainable in some way -- demographics, etc. But to flip Indiana, not a growth state like Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina or Florida. If any state screams, "It was the economy, stupid" it was Indiana.

*** Keys to the Keystone: Lost in Obama's impressive 11-point win in Pennsylvania is that McCain's Western PA strategy worked. The problem? There weren't enough votes out there. Eastern PA, from the Philadelphia suburbs to Scranton (thanks Joe the Senator and Hillary), went in blowout margins for Obama. Obama overperformed Kerry in places like Lackawanna -- where Scranton is – which went for Obama, 63%-36%. Kerry carried it 56%-42%. We weren't sure Obama could hold THAT margin. It was the same story all throughout the Eastern counties – Lehigh (51%-48% for Kerry, 58%-41% for Obama); Luzerne (51%-48% for Kerry, 54%-45% for Obama); Monroe (which Bush won by four votes, went for Obama 58%-41%); Northampton (Kerry 50%-49%, Obama 56%-43%). In the Philly 'burbs, Obama got big margins out of Bucks, Chester (which Bush won) and Montgomery counties. In fact, in Montgomery, Obama got 249,000 votes from a 60%-39% win; Kerry got 222,000 from a 56%-44% victory. In Western PA, First Read was watching three counties -- Beaver, Washington and Fayette, all counties Kerry carried narrowly. McCain flipped each of them, but the three counties combined had about 227,000 TOTAL votes. (For more states, see Battleground section below.)

VIDEO: NBC's Chuck Todd analyze the results that led to Obama's victory.

*** Obama's four-legged chair: Our final NBC/WSJ poll before the election showed that Obama had a three-legged stool of support that contributed to his lead over McCain -- African Americans, Hispanics, and 18-29 year olds. And that poll (and others like it) proved to be right. Obama won African Americans, 95%-4%; Hispanics, 66%-32%; and 18-29 year olds, 66%-32%. But Obama had one extra bit of support that turned a three-legged stool into a four-legged chair: college-educated whites. McCain narrowly beat him here, 51%-47%, which helped reverse a 17-point deficit Kerry had with all whites in 2004 to the 12-point deficit Obama had last night. And it's what helped Obama do so well in suburban counties like the ones above in Pennsylvania or the ones in the I-4 corridor of Florida or the ones in Northern Virginia. That's the difference, folks, between losing an election and winning one.

*** More exit numbers: Obama claimed the center, winning independents, 52%-44% and moderates, 60%-39%. McCain slightly underperformed among evangelicals, winning them 74%-24%; Bush won them in 2004, 78%-21%. In addition, 60% viewed Palin as unqualified to be president, compared with 66% who saw Biden as qualified. What's more, 42% said that their economic situation was worse off than it was four years ago. Obama won those people, 71%-28%. And Bush was a big drag on McCain: 71% said they disapproved of Bush's job, and those people broke for Obama by a 67%-31% margin. By the way, Bush makes a Rose Garden statement on last night's election at 10:40 am.

*** Highest turnout rate since '08 -- 1908: Provided the number stands, the turnout rate for yesterday's election was the highest in 100 years, according to the estimate from turnout guru Dr. Michael McDonald at George Mason University. Almost 137 million (136,631,825) went to the polls -- 64.1% of the voting-eligible population. 1960 saw 63.7% of the populace go out to vote; In 1908, 65.7% voted. It was, of course, the most people ever to go to the polls topping 2004's 122 million. That's 12% increase from 2004. For those wondering why the current total vote in the presidential adds up to approximately 117 million, note that it's going to climb. There is still a ton of vote missing on the West coast.

*** It could have been worse: That may be the new slogan of the 2008 Republican Party. The Congressional bloodbath was bad, but it wasn't as bad as some Republicans feared it would be last week. Ted Stevens may yet survive (4,000 votes); Minnesota Senate is headed for a recount; Saxby Chambliss still has some chance to eke out 50% though the trendlines don't look good and a ton of votes (perhaps a million) appear to be outstanding in Oregon, meaning Gordon Smith's fate may not be known for a few days. And in the House, it appears the Democratic pickup could be in the mid-20s, not the 30+ some had feared. Still, the glass isn't half full for the GOP, it simply has some condensation.

*** What's next Grand Old Party: It's hard not to look at the map -- particularly in the House -- and not view the GOP as a regional party right now. If it weren't for the party's relative strength in the South, the party would be in even worse shape. Later this week, as the party deconstructs this election, the recriminations will begin. Who will emerge as the next group of leaders? Mitch McConnell survived re-election, but will he survive any leadership challenge? What about House GOP leader John Boehner? No doubt he'll be challenged. Still, will McConnell and Boehner be the true leaders of the minority party? There will be a spirited race for the RNC chairmanship. State chairs from Michigan and South Carolina will run as will some former governor, maybe even Newt Gingrich. A group of current and former governors will also get together and attempt to have a say in the party. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana even has an Iowa visit planned later this month; Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and Jeb Bush could all also play roles. As will Mark Sanford and Haley Barbour. Bottom line, there is a massive leadership vacuum inside the Republican Party and there are no shortage of candidates who will attempt to fill that vacuum. The first thing to watch for: Will the fight be to do this from inside the RNC or will there be a DLC-like organization that emerges from the outside?

*** Some first clues: NBC-WSJ GOP pollster Neil Newhouse did a post-election survey last night, and here's what he found: Just 12% of those surveyed believed Palin should be the GOP's new leader; instead 29% of voters said Romney, followed by 20% who say Huckabee. Among GOPers, it was Romney 33%, Huckabee 20% and Palin 18%. Look for more from this survey later today. 

*** Transition watch: All eyes are on Rahm Emanuel as he ponders whether to take the White House CoS job or stay in Congress and attempt to some day become Speaker of the House.

*** For those about to Barack, we salute you: NBC/NJ's Athena Jones wonders: Just how many new babies in the United States – and throughout the world – will be named Barack?

Countdown to Electoral Vote Count: 64 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 76 days

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