After months of campaigning and millions of dollars spent, America spoke Tuesday, and spoke convincingly.
A little after 11 p.m., all the major news networks agreed on one thing — Barack Obama would be the next president of the United States.
“Clearly a resounding Democratic victory and I think the makings of a mandate of President Obama,” said state Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Squirrel Hill). “I think he really rewrote the books for how campaigns should be waged.”
All night Obama won key state after key state, including the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio.
“They’ve always been very close states,” Frankel said. “It seems to me that the given the momentum and the outstanding campaign this was really unprecedented — it was extraordinary.”
A key to winning the battleground states was Obama’s ability to win a convincing percentage of the Jewish vote. JTA reported that according to exit polls, 77 percent of Jews nationwide voted for Obama. The high percentage was a vast improvement of what initial polls were showing at just 60 percent before the election, and even more than the 75 percent John Kerry got in 2004.
“I’m ecstatic by the outcome and the confidence the Jewish community showed Obama in the teeth of some of the nastiest campaigning I’ve ever seen,” Ira Forman, the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council told the JTA. “People got a chance in the last three months to see Barack Obama and the idea that they should be afraid or frightened didn’t wash.”
“I think Barack Obama resonated with the Jewish community and got through all the hysterical static that attempted to discredit him in the Jewish community,” Frankel said.
In Squirrel Hill all the polling places saw mobs of people coming in throughout the day. From the young to the old, this Election Day was truly like no other.
“It’s has been a huge turnout,” said Lorrie Cranor, an election judge in the 25th District. “The line was out of the door for almost three hours.”
Voters turned out in record numbers to cast their ballot at the Jewish Community Center, which was the polling place for the 35th, 38th and 40th Districts. Ann Truxell, an election judge in the 38th District was shocked at the initial turnout early in the morning.
“A line started to form by 6:40 a.m.; 80 people came to vote in the first hour — that’s unusual, it was crazy,” she said. “It’s been fabulous, it’s really exciting.”
While the polls leading up to the election were tabbing Obama the winner, people for both candidates were out in full support.
“I voted because of two issues, one —freedom before hope,” said McCain supporter Fred Mayer of Squirrel Hill. “Two — Jews and Israel. I believe these were the most important issues of the day.
Israel and the Middle East were on a lot of peoples’ minds when they went to cast their vote. Both the Republicans and the Democrats swore to make the region one of their top priorities.
“He [Obama] will restore the dignity of the United States in the eyes of the world and he has the intelligence, balance and diplomatic capacity to deal appropriately with the concerns of the Middle East and to protect Israel,” said Obama supporter Jan Marlan, also of Squirrel Hill.
Her husband Stan also voted for the Democratic candidate.
“I like his health care plan better, I like his economic strategy and I think what I like most of is his intelligence, integrity and I think he will put our country in better touch and respect in the international stage,” he said.
As the first returns came in Tuesday night, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Obama took Vermont, while McCain coasted to victory in Kentucky. It was when the first big toss-up states were announced for Obama that the election took a new direction.
Flipping key Bush states from 2004, Obama won Ohio, Iowa and Florida and with his expected dominance in the northeast and a convincing win in Pennsylvania, a long night feared by most, turned out to end much earlier than expected.
“It’s very hard on television to be told what is going on,” Frankel said. “If you look at states and certain counties and you put them in historical perspectives you can make some pretty clear assumptions.”
“Pennsylvania was such a great victory for Obama,” he continued. “It was very clear I think. The pundits on TV were restrained to call it (the election) until 11:15.”
The 2008 election made history in more than just one way, whether it was voter turnout or the first African-American in office.
“It’s clear that there is a referendum that is taking place in the presidential election,” Frankel said. “Americans were fed up with eight years of clearly failed domestic and foreign policy. This is a changed election and Obama personified that more than any candidate.”
The Chronicle made calls for comment to a couple local Republican leaders, but they were not returned.
(Alon Melamed contributed to this story. Mike Zoller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)