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Rice congratulates Obama on victory

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WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday hailed Barack Obama's election as the first black U.S. president as an "extraordinary step forward" in efforts to overcome racism.

"As an African-American, I'm especially proud," Rice, her eyes glistening with emotion, told reporters at the State Department.

Hours after Obama easily defeated Republican John McCain in a triumph that reflected Americans' weariness with eight years of President Bush's administration, Bush's chief diplomat said that America has "been through a long journey, in terms of overcoming wounds and making race not the factor in our lives.

"That work is not done, but yesterday was obviously an extraordinary step forward," Rice said.

Rice pledged that the State Department would work to make sure the transition to an Obama administration is smooth.

Rice called Obama "inspirational" and said that McCain was "gracious" and a "great patriot."

America "continues to surprise," Rice said. "You just know that Americans are not going to be satisfied until they really do form that perfect union. And while the perfect union may never be in sight, we just keep working at it and trying."