"Our strategy all along has been to expand the playing field. People thought we were crazy, but it is paying off." - Campaign Manager David Plouffe, Oct. 22, 2008
Nearly six days after polls closed, ballots are still being counted in some counties (with Missouri still yet to be officially called) but it's not too soon to look back and consider what happened last Tuesday.
Over 121 million voters cast a ballot in this election, and the final number may be considerably higher. The number of votes already counted for Barack Obama -- 68.5 million -- is the largest total for any candidate in history.
In addition to the states won by John Kerry in 2004, on Tuesday Barack Obama won the battleground states of Ohio, Florida, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado and Iowa. A willingness to compete everywhere and a commitment to expand the electoral map resulted in victories in a number of traditionally Republican states as well.
On Tuesday, a Democrat carried the state of Indiana, the state of Virginia and an electoral vote in Nebraska for the first time since 1964. On Tuesday, a Democrat won the state of North Carolina for the first time since 1976.
What happened on Tuesday, especially in states like Indiana and North Carolina, was driven in part by record youth turnout. MSNBC reported:
An estimated 24 million Americans ages 18 to 29 voted in this election, an increase in youth turnout by at least 2.2 million over 2004, reports CIRCLE, a non-partisan organization that promotes research on the political engagement of young Americans. That puts youth turnout somewhere between 49.3 and 54.5 percent, meaning 19 percent more young people voted this year than in 2004, estimates John Della Volpe, the director of polling for the Harvard Institute of Politics. And that’s a conservative estimate, Della Volpe says.
"It looks like the highest turnout among young people we’ve ever had."
What happened on Tuesday was fueled by an ambitious, 50-state voter registration drive that brought millions of new voices into the political process and shifted the political make-up of over a dozen states. In Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Florida, Latino voters turned out in record numbers to vote for Barack Obama.
What happened on Tuesday wouldn't have happened if not for an unprecedented grassroots movement that began over two years ago, and was ultimately transformed into the largest field organization in the history of American politics.
What happened on Tuesday was the result of ordinary Americans who invested in this campaign in whatever way they could: giving five or ten or twenty dollars, knocking on doors and making phone calls, talking to their friends and family and organizing within their own communities.
Writing for the Christian Science Monitor, Alexandra Marks explained what happened on Tuesday this way:
An estimated 136 million Americans – as many as 66 percent, the most since 1908 – pulled a lever, touched a screen, or filled in ballot. They are part of a radical transformation of American politics – not just in terms of ideology and party identification. It goes much further than that.
President-elect Barack Obama, harnessing the lightening speed of digital technology, tapped a new generation of young people, inspiring them to work, knock on doors, make phone calls, convince their parents, friends, neighbors, and grandparents that there was something in America still worth fighting for.
On Tuesday millions of Americans -- young and old -- fought for the hope of a better day, and won.
But what happened on Tuesday didn't end on Tuesday. As Barack himself explained, this victory itself was not the change we seek – it is only the chance for us to make that change.What happened on Tuesday is just the beginning.