Barack Obama on Wednesday moved swiftly to capitalise on the momentum from his historic victory by announcing a string of senior appointments aimed at reassuring the markets and ensuring a confident transition to the presidency in January.
Senior campaign officials said Mr Obama, who was on Wednesday showered with effusive congratulations from leaders around the world, will also appoint at least two Republicans to senior cabinet positions. He wants an “administration which is young and diverse”, said one person close to Mr Obama.
His decision to move quickly on senior economic posts – probably within the next 48 hours – follows his emphatic victory over John McCain on Tuesday, which made him America’s first black president and the first Democratic contender to win more than 50 per cent of the popular vote since 1976.
Mr Obama beat his rival in almost all voting groups bar whites and the elderly. He scored clear victories among Hispanics, African-American, young and first time voters and women. He swept both cities and suburbs.
The election saw the Democrats strengthened their grip on Congress, increasing the party’s majority in both the House of Representatives and Senate, but looking likely to fall short of securing the 60 seats in the upper chamber needed to prevent legislation being blocked.
Obama insiders say the lack of this power may prove a relief to the new president, who wants to reach across the political divide to moderate Republicans.
“It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America,” the 47-year-old president-elect told a cheering crowd of 125,000 supporters at his victory rally .
The series of early moves include two key additions to Mr Obama’s already well-entrenched transition team headed by John Podesta that will guide America’s next leader to his inauguration on 20 January. These are Valerie Jarrett, who is one of Mr Obama’s closest friends and advisers from Chicago, and Peter Rouse, his Senate chief of staff.
Senior cabinet appointments will include Mr Obama’s Treasury secretary, with Lawrence Summers, who held the job under Mr Clinton, or Timothy Geithner, chairman of the New York Fed, seen as front runners.
Rahm Emanuel, the pugnacious Democratic congressman from Illinois who served in President Bill Clinton’s administration, has also agreed to serve as White House chief of staff.
Markets and Political threats
However, the euphoria surrounding Mr Obama’s victory failed to boost the markets on Wednesday as increasing gloom over the outlook for the global economy saw a broad retreat. The S&P 500 lost 5.27 per cent and the FTSE closed down 2.3 per cent.
In his speech, Mr Obama said: “To all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world – our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.”
World leaders rejoiced in his victory. Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president, said: “With the world in turmoil and doubt, the American people . . . have ex-pressed with force their faith in progress and the future.”
One note of dissonance came from Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, who threw down a gauntlet to Mr Obama, declaring the Kremlin would station missiles in Kaliningrad, which borders Poland.