WASHINGTON America changes course Tuesday at noon when Barack Obama takes office as the nation s 44th president.
He does so at a time of unusual peril, with a sputtering economy at home and U.S. troops still in harm s way in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The inauguration of the youthful and popular new president and the departure of the unpopular incumbent, George W. Bush will set off a potentially dramatic shift in direction on policies, from the wars abroad to the role of the federal government at home.
At the center of it all is the 47-year-old son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas who ll become the first African-American to reach the nation s highest office.
Thousands of people poured onto the National Mall yesterday, spreading a festive mood across the capital city among those eagerly anticipating not only the swearing-in ceremony and the inaugural parade but also the start of a new era.
They were the vanguard of what s likely to be a million-plus throng there today. Estimates of how many people are flocking to Washington run up to 3 million.
Uniformed military personnel patrolled Washington street corners, the advance guard of a massive securitypresence planned for the oath-taking, inaugural speech, parade, and other festivities.
Officers checked out some suspicious packages and vehicles, but everything was cleared, said FBI spokesman Richard Kolko.
The city and the people seem to be in a good mood and good spirits, he said. Security is going well, that s what all the planning is for.
Mr. Obama heads to the White House with the great hopes and patient optimism of the American people, according to a new McClatchy-Ipsos Poll.
It offers a stark contrast to the crisis of confidence in the economy and government that s gripped the country in recent months.
Mr. Obama attended a dinner last night honoring his Republican rival for the presidency, Sen. John McCain.
At last evening s dinner, Mr. Obama lauded Mr. McCain (R., Ariz.) for his war record and political independence, saying he hoped their ability to set aside the heated rhetoric of the campaign would help set a new tone.
Each of us in public life has a responsibility to usher in a new season of cooperation built on those things we hold in common, Mr. Obama said. Not as Democrats. Not as Republicans. But as Americans.
He also urged that the dinner featuring the two major party rivals set a broad precedent for a capital city marked for two decades by angry division.
I d like to close by asking all of you to join us in making this bipartisan dinner not just an inaugural tradition, but a new way of doing the people s business in this city, Mr. Obama said.
We will not always agree on everything in the months to come, and we will have our share of arguments and debates. But let us strive always to find that common ground, and to defend together those common ideals, for it is the only way we can meet the very big and very serious challenges that we face right now.
We can accomplish anything, Mr. Obama said earlier Monday. One of the goals of my administration will be to make sure that we have a government that s more responsive and more effective and more efficient at helping families. But don t underestimate the power for people to pull together and to accomplish amazing things.
Nearly two out of three Americans already are feeling better about the country with Mr. Obama taking office, according to the McClatchy-Ipsos Poll released Monday.
The same number think that he can improve the economy.
They trust Mr. Obama more than anyone else to dig the country out of its economic hole, with 44 percent saying they trust him the most, 28 percent trusting the private sector the most, and 10 percent placing most of their trust in Congress.
Yet the support for Mr. Obama doesn t necessarily translate into support for all of his policies.
While the poll found 62 percent agreeing with him that it s necessary for the government to stimulate the faltering economy, a smaller majority of 55 percent agrees that it s necessary to spend nearly $1 trillion to do it.
He comes in as president with what looks like a strong mandate, said Cliff Young, a vice president at Ipsos, the public affairs firm that conducted the poll for McClatchy.
The survey was conducted Thursday through Sunday. For the survey, Ipsos interviewed a nationally representative, randomly selected sample of 979 people 18 and older across the United States.
The error margin for them was plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.