Washington: Democrat Barack Obama stood at the edge of history, the likely victor in his marathon bid to become America’s first black president. Republican John McCain stubbornly promised an underdog upset in Tuesday’s election.
Obama and McCain, separated by 25 years and a seemingly unbridgeable political gulf, had agreed on only one thing during the longest presidential campaign in U.S. history - their promise to slam the door on the era of George W. Bush.
But they were deeply at odds over how to fix the nation’s crumbling economy and end the 5 1/2-year war in Iraq, both issues inescapably linked the Bush’s eight-year presidency.
Record numbers of Americans were expected at polling stations across the nation adding their ballots to 29 million citizens who had already voted in 30 states. The early vote tally suggested an advantage for Obama, with official statistics showing Democrats outnumbering Republicans who had already cast ballots in North Carolina, Colorado, Florida and Iowa. All four voted for Bush in 2004.
Sad news overlaid the campaign Monday when Obama announced the death of his grandmother, whose personality and bearing shaped him deeply. Madelyn Payne Dunham was 86 when she died of cancer late Sunday in Hawaii.
“She’s gone home,” Obama said, tears running down both cheeks as tens of thousands of rowdy supporters at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte grew silent as he announced Dunham’s death. The family said a private ceremony would be held later.
McCain, a 72-year-old four-term Arizona senator, ended the contest Monday with a frantic and grueling dash through several traditionally Republican states still not securely in his camp or even leaning to Obama.
McCain stopped in Florida, Virginia, Indiana, New Mexico and Nevada. And he again passed through Pennsylvania, the only state that voted Democratic in 2004 where he still hoped for a win.
He was closing out the endurance test past midnight at a home-state rally in Prescott, Arizona, a state where Obama has been running television commercials in the campaign’s final days.
On election eve, Obama, 47 and a first-term senator from Illinois, was favored to win all the states Democrats captured in 2004, when Bush defeated the Democratic Sen. John Kerry. That would give him 251 electoral votes.
He was leading or tied in several states won by Bush, giving him several paths to the 270 vote threshold - such as victories in Ohio or Florida, or in a combination of smaller states.
McCain, meanwhile, must hold as many Bush states as possible while trying to capture a Democratic stronghold, such as Pennsylvania.
While no battleground state was ignored, Virginia, where no Democrat has won in 40 years, and Ohio, where no Republican president has ever lost, seemed most coveted. Together, they account for 33 electoral votes that McCain must win.
Obama sprinted into the lead after economic concerns overwhelmed the war in Iraq, as the primary concern among voters.
Even though Republican experts argued the race was tightening, several polls suggested Obama’s lead was growing.
A USA Today/Gallup poll published Monday found likely voters nationwide favoring Obama by 11 points over McCain, 53-42%, with a margin of error of 2%. Other polls showed Obama with a 7 - 8% lead.
Polls conducted by Quinnipiac University showed Obama with significant leads in two critical swing states, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and tied with McCain in Florida, where the prize is 27 electoral votes. A win for Obama in any of these three states would be hard for McCain to overcome.
The American presidential election amounts to separate contests in the 50 US states plus the District of Columbia, home to the capital city. At stake are 538 electors, with the winning candidate needing to capture at least half plus one. Electors are apportioned to the states roughly according to population.
The rivals began election eve in Florida, a traditionally Republican state with 27 electoral votes. Polls there show a close contest.
“We are one day away from change in America,” said Obama, whose victory would mark one of the most radical social shifts in American history.
McCain, however, sought to raise fears among Americans that Obama was outside the American mainstream. “Sen. Obama is in the far left lane. He’s more liberal than a guy who calls himself a Socialist and that’s not easy,” McCain said, referring to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who formerly called himself a Socialist.
As he sought to distance himself from the unpopular Bush, McCain stressed he was deeply at odds with White House economic policies while promising to clean house in the capital after years of scandal.
The likelihood of Republican defeats in both the White House and Congress was not lost on Bush, who has become virtually invisible in the final days of the campaign.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the president was out of sight because “the Republican Party wanted to make this election about John McCain.”
Obama, 47, a first-term senator from Illinois, has benefited from an astounding fundraising effort and capitalized on a U.S. demographic shift as more young and nonwhite voters enter the electorate.
The Republicans have tried to curtail Obama’s surge, dubbing him too inexperienced, too liberal and too tainted by associations with the political left to trust with the presidency. The message appealed to core Republican voters, but appears to have failed to convince a significant number of Democrats and independents .
In the campaign’s final days, the Republicans launched a barrage of phone calls to voters in battleground states that featured Hillary Rodham Clinton’s criticism of Obama in the Democratic primary.
The Pennsylvania Republican Party also unveiled a TV ad featuring Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, declaring “God damn America!” in a sermon.
During the primaries, Obama was forced to distance himself from Wright, but McCain said he would not make the pastor an issue in the general election.