Americans will flock to the polls to vote at the end of the longest US presidential campaign in history.
Polls show Obama leads in key states
WASHINGTON // Millions of Americans will flock to the polls today - and many will queue for hours - to cast votes at the end of the longest and most expensive US presidential campaign in history. Finally, after nearly two years of rallies, campaign trail speeches, TV ads, mudslinging and debates, the US public will choose as its new commander-in-chief one of two very different men: John McCain, the war veteran and longtime Republican legislator from Arizona, or Barack Obama, the freshman Democratic senator from Illinois who has enjoyed a meteoric rise in national politics. Recent polls have Mr Obama leading Mr McCain in the national popular vote by several percentage points. Mr Obama led Mr McCain in six of eight key battleground states one day before the US election, according to a series of Reuters/Zogby polls released yesterday, including in Florida, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. All of those, except Pennsylvania, were won by George W Bush in 2004, and are critical, for both candidates, to amassing a winning combination of 270 electoral votes. Mr McCain led narrowly in the other two, Indiana and North Carolina. Voters have already turned out in record numbers in states that offer early balloting - more Democrats have voted so far - and experts expect the levels to remain high today. Such turnout befits an election that will be historic no matter the outcome. If the Democrats win, the United States will swear in its first black president in January and, if the Republicans prevail, Sarah Palin, the popular but polarising vice presidential nominee, will become the first woman to hold that office. Despite the poll numbers, the McCain camp has said it is "pretty jazzed up" by movement it sees in the Republicans' direction in the very latest surveys, and Rick Davis, the campaign manager, predicted a surge of support from undecided voters that would spell a comeback - hardly Mr McCain's first. The McCain campaign vowed to outspend Mr Obama by US$10 million (Dh36.7m) in the final days, although the Democrat raised substantially more overall. The last days of the campaign saw the four candidates sprinting to rallies in all the battleground states and, in Mr McCain's case, even to New York City, where he - and his wife, Cindy - made a weekend appearance on Saturday Night Live. "I want to repeat to you one more time, my friends, we're going to win, and we're going to bring real change to Washington," Mr McCain told a crowd in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, on Sunday. "Don't believe for a second this election is over," Mr Obama said to supporters in Columbus, Ohio. "Don't think for a minute that power will concede without a fight." Big-name surrogates have also been stumping for the candidates, adding to the symbolism of this election. Hillary Clinton campaigned for her one-time rival in several states, including Virginia, and Al Gore travelled to Florida, the state where he suffered a razor-thin defeat in 2000 that ultimately cost him the presidency. On Sunday, Bruce Springsteen performed at a rally of 80,000 with Mr Obama and his wife, Michelle, in Cleveland. A few days earlier, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former actor and champion bodybuilder who is now California's Republican governor, campaigned for Mr McCain, also in Ohio. He drew laughs from the crowd when he ridiculed Mr Obama's "skinny legs" and "scrawny little arms", adding: "If you only could do something about putting some meat on his ideas." Mr Bush, who has been absent from the campaign trail throughout the summer and into autumn, remained so after paying an unannounced visit to the Washington headquarters of the Republican National Committee last week to boost morale. But the vice president, Dick Cheney, who made an unusual weekend campaign appearance in his home state of Wyoming on behalf of the whole slate of Republican candidates, praised Mr McCain as "a man who understands the danger facing America" and "who has looked into the face of evil and not flinched". The contest has presented a steeper climb for the Republican ticket. Last month's financial-market meltdown reshaped the contours of the race in favour of Mr Obama, who has come to be viewed as stronger on economic issues. Mr McCain has also had to overcome record low approval ratings of the current Republican administration. Whoever wins will take the reins during a tumultuous time, as the United States is embroiled in two wars overseas and faces serious economic uncertainties at home, in a contest that has gripped many even outside America. Mr McCain has tried to cast himself as a "maverick" politician willing to challenge his own party, and Mr Obama as a tax-and-spend liberal unprepared for the presidency. Mr Obama has portrayed himself as the only true change agent in the race, while painting Mr McCain as a policy clone of Mr Bush. Both candidates are expected to return to their home cities to monitor election results tonight. Mr McCain will spend the evening with family and supporters in Phoenix, the capital of the state he has represented in Congress for nearly three decades. Mr Obama will return to his adopted hometown of Chicago, where he once worked as a community organiser and where he launched his political career. firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com