Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Obama and McCain face judgment of voters

Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain face the verdict of U.S. voters on Tuesday after a long and bitter struggle for the White House, with Obama holding a decisive edge in national opinion polls.

At least 130 million Americans are expected to cast votes on a successor to unpopular Republican President George W. Bush and set the country's course for the next four years on the economic crisis, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an overhaul of health care and other issues.

The first polls begin to close in parts of Indiana and Kentucky at 6 p.m. EST on Tuesday. Voting ends over the next six hours in the other 48 states.

Obama, 47, a first-term senator from Illinois, would be the first black U.S. president. Opinion polls indicate he is running ahead of McCain in enough states to give him more than the 270 electoral votes he needs to win.

A victory for McCain, 72, would make him the oldest president to begin a first term in the White House and make his running mate Sarah Palin the first female U.S. vice president.

McCain, an Arizona senator, embraced his role as an underdog and says he is gaining ground on Obama. He finished a cross-country tour of seven states in his home state of Arizona in the wee hours of Tuesday morning as he tried to pull off the biggest upset in recent political history.

"It's wonderful to be home," McCain said in Prescott, reminding the crowd of the state's record of bad luck in getting Arizona candidates elected to the White House.

"Tomorrow, we're going to reverse that unhappy tradition and I'm going to be the president of the United States."

Obama was the winner in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, the tiny town that traditionally opens presidential voting right after midnight. He gained 15 votes to McCain's six, becoming the first Democrat to win there since Hubert Humphrey in 1968.

Both candidates hammered their campaign themes in the race's final hours, with Obama accusing McCain of representing a third term for Bush's policies and being dangerously out of touch on the economy.

"When it comes to the economy, the truth is that John McCain has stood with President Bush every step of the way," Obama told 90,000 supporters at his final campaign rally in Manassas, Virginia, a state Democrats have not won in a presidential election since 1964 but where Obama leads.

McCain, whose campaign has attacked Obama as a socialist and accused him of being a "pal" with terrorists, portrayed him as a liberal who would raise taxes.


"He's in the far left lane of American politics and he's stuck there," McCain said in Blountville, Tennessee.

Opinion polls show Obama ahead or even with McCain in at least eight states won by Bush in 2004, including the big prizes of Ohio and Florida. Obama leads comfortably in all of the states won by Democrat John Kerry in 2004.

Breakthrough victories in any of those traditionally Republican states -- including Virginia, Colorado, Indiana and North Carolina -- would likely propel Obama to the White House.

He took command of the race in the last month as a deepening economic crisis reinforced his perceived strengths on the economy, and in three debates where his steady performance appeared to ease lingering doubts for some voters.

McCain, however, has struggled to separate himself from Bush in a difficult political environment for Republicans, who are trying to hold on to the presidency for a third consecutive term.

Democrats are also expected to expand their majorities in both chambers of Congress. They need to gain nine Senate seats to reach a 60-seat majority that would give them the muscle to defeat Republican procedural hurdles.

That would increase pressure on Democrats to deliver on campaign promises to end the war in Iraq, eliminate Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy and overhaul a health care system that leaves 47 million Americans uninsured.

It was a bittersweet last campaign day for Obama. He choked up in North Carolina when talking about the death of his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, who helped raise him. Obama, who learned earlier in the day of Dunham's death from cancer in Hawaii, called her a "quiet hero."

Both presidential candidates planned more campaign stops on Tuesday. Obama will vote at home in Chicago and travel to Indiana to help get out the vote. McCain will visit Colorado and New Mexico.

Turnout could decide the outcome, and both campaigns revved up multimillion-dollar operations to identify supporters and get them to the voting booth.

But as many as one-third of U.S. voters have cast their ballots early. Obama aides were encouraged by reports of heavy Democratic turnout in early voting in key states like Colorado, North Carolina and Florida.

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