In final month, economic woes helped to doom McCain
PHOENIX — The economy played the deciding factor for 62 percent of voters in the 2008 presidential election as Sen. John McCain was unable to overcome the economic record of Republican President George W. Bush.
The Republican candidate from Arizona had closed the gap in national polls following the selection of Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin on Aug. 29, but following the collapse of Lehman Brothers, AIG and a $700 billion federal bailout of investment banks, Sen. Barack Obama took a four point lead nationally in CNN's poll of polls.
It was a lead he would not relinquish.
With 82 percent of the votes in, Obama led McCain by 5 percent in the popular vote and had 338 electoral votes compared to McCain's 156.
At approximately 11:20 p.m. last night, McCain conceded the election.
McCain praised Obama for becoming the first black man to be elected president, but said he'd leave it to others to determine what caused his defeat.
"After Sarah Palin was nominated, McCain came out ahead by three or four points and he stayed ahead," said McCain supporter Barry Greenberg, a Scottsdale, Ariz., resident. "Then in September the economy and the stock market crashed and people blamed it on the Republicans in office."
Obama hammered McCain for saying that the "fundamentals of our economy are strong," while McCain said Obama was putting politics over country by "phoning it in" to the Senate leading up to the first debate on Sept. 26.
McCain tried to redefine the economic debate leading up to the third and final debate on Oct. 15., seizing on an Obama statement to Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, a plumber from Holland, Ohio.
"When the economy is down you don't kick it in the teeth," Greenberg said. "McCain may have waited too long to talk about people like Joe."
Independent voter Samuel Mclean, a Phoenix resident attending McCain's election night watch party in the Arizona Biltmore Ballroom, disagreed.
"Everyone would still realize the economy is in bad shape," he said. "They're not going to care what a plumber from Ohio says."
With four states too close to call, Obama picked up six of the states Bush won in 2000: Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico, Virginia and Ohio.
With 82 percent of the votes counted over 106 million people cast their votes for Obama or McCain. After all the votes are counted, 2008 may be one of the highest voter turnout years in over 40 years.
McCain led among seniors 53 to 45 percent over Obama, but young people, African Americans and Hispanics all favored Obama, according to Fox News exit polls.
Among first-time voters, Obama won 72 percent, according to CNN exit polls.
"Young people don't like the current state of things and are looking for a change," said Diana Lara, an Arizona State University junior majoring in nursing.
The Obama campaign did a good job of stirring up young voters through social networking sites like Facebook, said Arizona State University first-year student Derek Lull, representing the ASU College Republicans.
"People just getting out of college are looking to the future towards jobs and the outlook of the economy which is slumped right now," Lull said.
McCain may have waited too long to highlight Joe the Plumber, said ASU College Republican Victor Mai, a junior in the College of Education.
But he added that it helped close the polls because Joe the Plumber was a spitting image of average Americans.
African Americans and Hispanics also tipped the election in Obama's favor, according to exit polls.
In Virginia, a state Bush carried in 2004, Obama carried 92 percent of the African American vote, while McCain carried 60 percent of the white American vote, according to Fox News exit polls.
Bush carried New Mexico in 2004, but with 40 percent of the state's electorate now Hispanic, a 68 to 31 percent tilt towards Obama, according to Fox News exit polls, changed the state to blue.
Michael Pittman, a Phoenix resident, said the war and the economy were the top influences on his vote for president and the reasons voter turn out was high this year, after casting his vote for Obama.
"It's a historical election," Pittman said. "[People] are tired of the current state of things."
Despite McCain's loss, many supporters were still proud to have voted for him.
After hearing news organizations call Ohio, a state that no victorious Republican candidate has lost, for Obama, Mclean said the Republican Party needs to reconnect with the American people.
But he added, "I'm honored to have voted for a war hero like John McCain."
Many residents of McCain's home state said they voted for Obama because of the record of the Bush administration.
"Obama is our future," said Pam Nicholson, a Phoenix resident who voted at the Central United Methodist Church at the corner of North Central Avenue and East Palm Lane.
Unlike at other polling locations around the country, the Central United Methodist Church was operating smoothly yesterday morning.
Dorelyn Kunkel, a Phoenix resident, said it only took her 15 minutes to vote at that site.
The poor management of the war in Iraq motivated her to vote for Obama, Nicholson said.
Phoenix residents said they saw a difference between their senator and "candidate McCain."
"McCain was more forceful running for the president than he was [running for] the Senate," said Phoenix resident Mavis Youngman.
McCain fought harder because this was a tougher race than his elections for the Senate, Youngman said.
"People are really involved this year because we're in a variety of crisis, from the war to the economic crisis. So people who did not feel like they had to take action before now feel like they need to get more involved," said Kunkel, who voted for Obama.
Change defined election night from the start, as Obama became the first Democrat to carry Dixville Notch, N.H., whose votes are reported first every year.
Republicans at the McCain election night watch party said they were unsure where the Republican Party would go from here.
"I don't know who will lead the Republican Party moving forward," said Jean Daly, a Phoenix resident.
Palin and Mitt Romney would be excellent choices, Mclean said.
The College Republicans Lull and Mai said the next leader in the Republican Party could be an outsider because of the success of Obama and Palin.