Months of listening tours and speaking engagements throughout New York state paid off last night, as Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first sitting first lady to win an elected office, beating Republican Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.) for a seat in the U.S. Senate.
As of 3 a.m., Clinton had 3,410,511 votes, or 55 percent; opponent Rep. Rick Lazio had 2,669,374 votes, or 43 percent of the vote.
Six hours before the nation learned that a razor thin margin of 500 votes in Florida would prevent a presidential election result from being announced, a triumphant Senator-elect Clinton spoke before a cheering crowd at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City, accompanied by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Sen. Charles Schumer, President Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea.
"We heard all the naysayers and all the negative attacks and everything else, and you know what [Hillary Clinton] did?" asked Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). "She stuck to the issues, she talked about what matters to New Yorkers. She won this election, not because she was First Lady, but because she worked hard and she earned it."
President Bill Clinton also appeared on stage with the first lady when she declared victory shortly before 11 p.m. Afterward, the couple waded into the jubilant, adoring crowd to shake hands.
''I mean, wow, this is amazing,'' the senator-elect told her supporters as they chanted ''Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!'' She promised to ''work my heart out for the next six years.''
Clinton acknowledged that the race had been hard-fought and said that "62 counties, 16 months, three debates, two opponents and six black pant suits later, here we come!
"Thank you for opening up your minds and your hearts, for seeing the possibility of what we could do together for our children and for our future, here in this state and in this nation," she added. "I am profoundly grateful to all of you for giving me the chance to serve you."
Clinton also took a moment to show appreciation for her opponent's efforts during the campaign. "I congratulate [Lazio] on a hard-fought race," he said.
Elated campaign volunteers were glad to see that their hours of behind-the-scenes work had not been in vain. "I volunteered because this election is crucial, and I wouldn't trust Lazio to walk my dog, let alone represent my state," said Danielle Tagger. "Thank God it's over -- now I can find a job that actually pays!"
"The fact that she actually won makes me believe that there are more people here -- in New York State, not just New York City -- who care about issues and don't care about the stigma attached to the Clinton name," said Yavaughnie Wilkins, a graduate student at New York University.
"I volunteered for Hillary because I believe in a lot of the same issues, especially prescription drugs for the elderly and low income housing," said volunteer Mike Myers. "I am just overly, overly excited -- I was very confident of her winning, and I never had any doubts!"
Elated campaign volunteers and members of the press danced to Billy Joel standards played by a jazz band while others hovered before television coverage of the presidential race. Loud celebration quickly turned to quiet because of the presidential race, however, as Florida's vital 25 electoral college votes flipped from Gore to Bush and then back to uncertainty late last night.
"My stomach turned when they took away Florida, and it's still turning," Wilkins said.
"I felt like someone took a knife and ripped it in my heart," Tagger said.
Clinton's victory marked the end of the longest and costliest race in New York State history; the candidates had spent more than $58.6 million by Election Day.
Clinton's campaign planning began in the living quarters of the White House last February, the same day the Senate voted on whether to remove her husband from office. In July, she was at Moynihan's upstate New York farm to kick off her "listening tour," during which she traveled throughout the state exploring local concerns.
In January, Clinton moved into a $1.7 million house in Chappaqua, the Westchester County town where she and her family cast their votes yesterday.
"Today we voted as Democrats and Republicans, tomorrow we begin again as New Yorkers," Clinton said. "I will work my heart out for the next six years for all of you. Thank you, thank you, thank you."
-- The Associated Press contributed to this article
Archived article by Katherine Davis