Genevieve Levin woke up Wednesday to a country that felt much different from the one that greeted her the previous morning, when she got up to vote for Barack Obama for president.

Gone was the harsh cynicism of the last eight years, replaced by a feeling that all was right for now, that the country had weathered the storm.

“There are no words to describe how exciting this is. It’s going to change not just the United States, but the world as well,” said Levin, of Gray, who worked the phones Tuesday calling prospective voters before heading to the Portland Harbor Hotel to watch the results. “We are finally going to get back to what we should have done after 9/11, which is use the compassion and goodwill we had. It’s thrilling.”

At polling places and political gatherings across southern Maine Tuesday, the desire was palpable for something new and different and positive in American politics. War, international condemnation of U.S. policy and, lately, the teetering pillars of the world economy, fit neatly into the eight years of the Bush administration. They seemed to cast a shadow over all Republicans, and led to record turnout and a smashing victory for the opposition.

“It was the Democrats’ year,” said Tony Oberley of Windham, who attended the Republican National Convention as an alternative delegate.

With the ill tidings already testing a weary electorate, the collapse of credit markets during the campaign homestretch doomed the party in power, he said.

“It just scared everybody and they said we need a change,” said Oberley, while watching the late-night returns with a somber Republican crowd at a party for U.S. House 1st District candidate Charlie Summers, who lost to Democrat Chellie Pingree. “Obama is charismatic, and he was positive throughout the campaign.”

Leaving the polling station at Gray’s Newbegin Gym Tuesday morning, Karen Kelleher anticipated with a mix of nervousness and excitement that the day could bring a victory for her candidate, Obama, and usher in a new era for the United States.

“He has to win,” said Kelleher, exiting the gym into the unseasonably warm sun. “I think people are really tired of the old way of things. We can’t afford it.”

After enduring a roughly two-year campaign, including intense coverage over the last few months of Obama and opponent Sen. John McCain, Democrats gathered Tuesday night at Empire Dine & Dance in Portland, where Pingree greeted supporters. With the polls closed and all ballots cast, Elizabeth Horton and Ellie Chase, both of Portland, waited anxiously for the official declaration of an Obama victory.

Polls leading up to Tuesday showed Obama with a healthy lead, and to the two friends, a Democratic presidential victory seemed likely, but almost too good to be true. Their candidate, they said, is intelligent, optimistic and exceedingly capable, a stark contrast to most politicians, including the current president. All their hopes for a national rebirth were with Obama.

“I didn’t sleep at all last night,” said Chase, who, with Horton, spent Tuesday night walking around Portland, searching for a like-minded crowd to enjoy, and endure, the election results with.

Even after Ohio and Pennsylvania were called in Obama’s favor, making a McCain comeback exceedingly unlikely, the women were hesitant.

“I almost don’t dare comment,” said Horton, summoning all her apprehension. “It’s looking good.”

Obama’s message of change, of moving past the harsh and combative mood of the Bush administration, resonated with voters in Maine, which set a record with an estimated 80 percent turnout and gave Obama a resounding, 18-point victory in the state.

It also swelled the ranks of Democratic volunteers, who showed up in high numbers at a phone bank in Portland to call prospective voters and make sure they could get to the polls Tuesday.

At 40, Lolly Comstock of Scarborough was volunteering on a political campaign for the first time. Comstock is usually non-partisan, she said, and tends to vote for the candidate who most appeals to her, regardless of party. But the current state of the country left her “horrified and depressed,” she said, as the United States lost respect around the world, and contributed to an international economic breakdown.

“I was feeling frustrated, like I needed to do something,” she said.

Comstock also shared with her fellow Obama supporters a visceral hatred of President Bush, a feeling that bled by association onto all things Republican.

“I just can’t stand our current president,” she said. “I can’t stand to watch him.”

Yet, some voters clearly felt Obama and the Democrats were not the answer. Some, citing experience in the military, felt McCain was the candidate to lead a country now fighting two wars.

Rick Airey, a registered independent from Windham, said he was not bowled over by either candidate, but felt McCain was stronger on his issue of choice: national security.

“I think Obama is just a little too left, a little too radical,” he said. “We’re choosing a commander-in-chief here. I think McCain is a little stronger.”

In Raymond, fellow 18-year-olds Janessa Brewer and Alissa Woodbury both voted for the first time, and cast ballots for McCain. Woodbury has two brothers in the military, and they have impressed upon the young women the need to keep American troops on the ground in the Middle East.

“That’s what they want,” said Brewer. “They’ve come so far. They want to finish the job.”

But back at the Empire, the upbeat, ’80s music provided the late-night soundtrack to the victories of both Obama and Pingree, who took to the stage to thank her supporters. The stress and conflict of the campaign gave way to the elation of victory, and the feeling of a revolution won.

“I could never quite understand how people got so excited about JFK,” said Chase, as an Obama victory looked all the more likely. “I get it now.”

The winner of the seat in the 1st congressional district, Chellie Pingree, speaks on Election Day at the Empire Dine & Dance, where the mood was far more upbeat than it was at a GOP party for her opponent Charlie Summers.Election worker Connie Meserve places absentee ballots into a ballot machine at Scarborough High School Tuesday evening, where a malfunctioning machine delayed election results until Wednesday.


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