THE Republican era launched 12 years ago by Ronald Reagan ended abruptly with a Democratic electoral landslide as America's voters gave Gov. Bill Clinton a decisive coast-to-coast victory over President Bush.
From Maine to Michigan to California, Americans deeply troubled about the nation's economic future turned to the Arkansas governor and his Tennessee running mate, Sen. Al Gore Jr. The governor immediately called for a "new patriotism" of unity and individual responsibility to renew economic growth.
Across the country, millions of voters stood in long lines, sometimes for an hour or more in bad weather, to cast their ballots. Election officials hailed the turnout, estimated at a record 100 million, which ended a steady decline in voter participation since 1960.
Governor Clinton's electoral vote passed the winning level of 270, signaling victory at 10:50 p.m. on Tuesday, when computer projections put Ohio into his column. Twenty-five minutes later, Mr. Bush conceded, saying: "The people have spoken."
The unusual, three-sided presidential election saw billionaire Ross Perot picking up nearly 1 out of 5 votes nationwide, the best showing by a third-party candidate in 70 years.
The election, which drew huge numbers of young voters, clearly signaled the "passing of the torch to a post-World War II generation," says George Grayson, a political scientist at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.
David Chagall, a California political analyst, says many young voters in the West looked at this as "their" election, an opportunity to take over the reins of government. "The younger people now can say, `this is our presidency,' " he says.
Analysts say the vote also showed that voters are ready for a more activist government. Americans indicated renewed support for government action on health care, job creation, the environment, and education.
Fred Greenstein, a political historian at Princeton University, says the Clinton victory appears to be a "major watershed," particularly in domestic policy.
The new Clinton White House, when combined with scores of new faces in Congress, could bring changes as great as Mr. Reagan did in 1981, or as John Kennedy did in 1961, Dr. Greenstein says. Clinton could significantly change the "trajectory of domestic policy."
On the other hand, Greenstein doesn't expect Clinton's presidency to be as historic as Franklin Roosevelt's in 1933. The times are not as severe.
Clinton's mandate for action will be enhanced by the new House of Representatives. Many of the newly elected members will be anxious to follow presidential leadership - an attitude that will give Clinton running room during his first critical year.
The president-elect's greatest hindrance may be the $300 billion budget deficit. It reduces his options, though experts predict that he and Congress will make bigger cuts than Bush in the Pentagon's budget to free up money for domestic needs such as education.
Long after Clinton moves into the White House, analysts will be debating what went wrong with the Bush campaign. With only 38 percent of the popular vote, he was the first incumbent since Herbert Hoover to get less than 40 percent. Yet only 20 months ago, Bush's approval ratings were at record highs.
Political scientist Earl Black at the University of South Carolina says Bush violated a basic principle of politics. He campaigned toward his base of support - the conservative right - rather than toward the moderate center, where he could have picked up the winning votes.
"You have to get that center that is not partisan, while uniting your base," Professor Black explains.
How to hold that base? The president must reward them during his first term, just as Mr. Reagan gave conservatives the tax cut they wanted during the early 1980s. Instead, Bush alienated the right by agreeing to higher taxes, Black says.
Black was impressed by Clinton's ability to satisfy his left-wing base - Jesse Jackson, the labor unions, and feminists - while reaching out to middle-of-the-road independents.
Clinton will need to reward his left wing to assure his prospects for reelection in 1996. But he will have many ways to do that, particularly with a jobs program and health-care reform.
Meanwhile, America will begin adjusting to its new chief executive, the second Southern Democratic governor, besides Jimmy Carter, to capture the White House in the past 16 years.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, who was defeated by Bush in 1988, says the country is in for a pleasant surprise with President Clinton: "Clinton is one of the best three or four people I've ever worked with in public life. I've known this guy for 15 years."
Mr. Dukakis adds: "He's a very smart guy. Second, he's a great coalition builder.... Third, he loves the process, and he's good at it. Fourth, he cares. When he talks about ... really caring about kids ... it's no joke."
Vice President Dan Quayle also struck a concordant note about Clinton: "If he runs the country as well as he ran his campaign, we'll be all right."