Barring a major upset, Barack Obama will defeat John McCain on Tuesday and become America's first black president. That any doubt remains about his victory is, in many ways, astonishing. Consider the hurdles McCain faces.
He has to persuade Americans, unhappy with George W Bush's presidency, to put a Republican in the White House again.
With Americans clamoring for change, McCain has to make the case that he, a 72-year-old senator with almost three decades in Congress, is more likely to shake up Washington than is Obama, a 47-year-old political newcomer.
Obama is a youthful, sharp-minded, charismatic candidate who has shattered fundraising records, built an awesome political operation and inspired waves of young Americans with his message of hope. All this suggests an Obama landslide.
But in the largely symbolic national vote, polls suggest the race may not be a blow out. While some give Obama a big lead, others in the final weeks show only a single-digit advantage. And it could shrink further. An AP-Yahoo News poll released Friday found one in seven voters hasn't fully committed to either candidate.
The first instinct might be to point to Obama's race. Certainly some people will not vote for a black candidate. But that may be offset by a greater turnout from black voters, plus the support of Americans thrilled to see the country turn a page in its troubled racial history.
Then there are the smears Obama endured _ lies about his background, religion and nationality. Internet-fueled rumors falsely label him a Muslim, which, despite American pride in religious freedom, remains a pejorative among some voters.
But there are other reasons. For many voters, Obama is seen as too liberal, especially on issues like taxes, abortion and gun rights.