Voters across the United States are flocking to polling stations to choose a new president.
Republican John McCain is attempting to defy the opinion polls while Democrat Barack Obama is seeking to become the country’s first black president.
Obama, an Illinois senator, cast his ballot in Chicago. McCain has gone to Arizona, his home state, to vote. Record numbers were expected to turn out, adding their ballots to the 29 million who have voted early. In the first voting of the day, Obama won by 15 votes to six in the town of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire.
The town, which has a 60-year tradition of being first in the nation to vote, opened its polls at midnight, with a 100%turnout.
It was the first time the town had voted for a Democrat since 1968. Some 130 million Americans are expected to vote, in a higher turnout than in any election since 1960, the BBC’s North America editor Justin Webb says.
McCain continued his campaigning into election day with an early morning stump speech in Prescott, Arizona.
He promised supporters that he and his running-mate Sarah Palin would “change things in Washington”.
He said his momentum was growing and forecast an upset that would take him to the White House.”We are closing in the polls. All we got to do is get out the vote,” he said at the end of a hectic day criss-crossing the country visiting seven crucial states.”I will never be able to repay you, except to say to you that I will never, ever let you down and I haven’t and I won’tt Let’s go out and win this election and get our country going again.”
At his final rally in the suburbs of Washington, DC, Obama appeared before a crowd of 100,000 people. The man running to be the first African-American president of the US spoke of national unity just a few miles from the scene of the opening battle of the American Civil War.
At his speech in the Washington suburb of Manassas, Virginia, he told supporters that he had found the long journey to election day both humbling and enriching.
“You’ve filled me with new hope for our future and you’ve reminded me about what makes America so special.”
Earlier in the day, Obama said his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham – who largely raised him as a child – had died aged 86 in Hawaii after losing her battle with cancer.
Barack Obama voted in Chicago In a joint statement with his half-sister, he described her as “the cornerstone of our family, and a woman of extraordinary accomplishment, strength, and humility,” adding that their debt to her was “beyond measure”.
At an event in North Carolina, Obama appeared emotional as he spoke of his grandmother, saying she had died peacefully in her sleep with his sister by her side.
The final Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll of the election published on Tuesday found likely voters favoured Obama by 11 points over McCain, 54-43%.
If victory goes to Obama, there will be a lot of tears and a lot of memories, some painful
Other national polls indicate Obama increasing his lead over his rival to as much as 13 points.
But the BBC’s James Coomarasamy, in Washington, says that while Obama has held a consistent lead for several weeks, a number of factors could undermine the pollsters’ predictions.
Among them, he says, are the role the Illinois senator’s skin colour may play in voters’ intentions; whether newly registered voters will actually vote; and the Palin effect – whether McCain’s running mate has energised or alienated Republicans.
On Monday, both candidates dashed through states where the vote is expected to be close.
Opinion polls indicate that Obama leads the vote in all the states that Senator John Kerry captured in his unsuccessful run against President Bush in 2004.
John McCain tells supporters “we will win”
That would give him 251 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House.
He is leading or tied with McCain in several other states, meaning he has several paths to victory.
For this reason the results in Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Ohio are expected to be crucial to the outcome.
Under the US Electoral College system, states are apportioned votes based on their population. The winner in each state gets all its college votes.
Source: BBC Online