WASHINGTON // Democrat Barack Obama stood poised to make history as the US's first black president on Tuesday while Republican John McCain scrambled for an upset, as Americans cast their votes and capped a marathon struggle for the White House. Heading into election day, Mr Obama continued to lead in the polls and both campaigns launched get-out-the-vote efforts in a contest the Democrats were hoping would help them expand their majorities in both chambers of Congress. The first term Illinois senator voted early on Tuesday at an elementary school in Chicago as voters cheered him on. "The journey ends," Mr Obama told reporters later, "but voting with my daughters, that was a big deal." Mr McCain voted at a Phoenix church, in Arizona before heading to Colorado and New Mexico, two battleground states key to his hopes of an upset victory. "I'm very happy with where we are," Mr McCain told ABC television's 'Good Morning America' in an interview hours before polls opened. "We always do best when I'm a bit of an underdog." Later, Mr McCain implored voters at a rally in Colorado to support him: "America is worth fighting for. Nothing is inevitable here," said the former Navy pilot and Vietnam prisoner of war. He was headed later to meet with volunteers in New Mexico before returning to Arizona to watch election returns. His vice presidential running mate, Alaska Gov Sarah Palin, cast her ballot in her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, on Tuesday. "Tomorrow I hope, I pray, I believe I will be able to wake up as vice president elect and get to work in a transition mode with president elect John McCain," said Ms Palin, who helped Mr McCain galvanize support among ardent conservative Republicans, but has come under criticism for her inexperience on a range of issues, including foreign policy. While various polls had Mr Obama enjoying a comfortable lead, he was taking no chances, and continued his campaigning into Tuesday. "It's going to be tight as a tick here in Indiana," Mr Obama told volunteers in the Republican stronghold of Indiana, where some polls start to close at 6pm. "So the question is who wants it more." Mr Obama won the day's first contest, in two small New Hampshire towns where voters traditionally cast ballots shortly after midnight. Mr Bush carried both towns in the last two elections. The handful of votes there were the first of tens of millions expected to be cast before the end of the day. An estimated 153 million voters were eligible, and in an indication of interest in the battle for the White House, 40 million had already voted by Tuesday. Turnout was heavy. In Virginia, for example, officials estimated nearly 75 per cent of eligible voters would cast ballots. The southern state, where no Democratic presidential candidate has won since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, is one of eight key battleground states that could determine the winner. The others include Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri and Nevada.
Despite Mr Obama's lead in the polls, it remained to be seen whether some Americans would actually vote for a black man and make history in a country where, just a few decades ago, blacks were denied their right to vote in some states. The final hours of Mr Obama's campaign were bittersweet, with the young senator mourning the loss of his grandmother, Madelyn Payne Dunham, 86, who died of cancer in Hawaii late on Sunday.