From sea to shining sea, Americans lined up across the country on Tuesday to vote for change. Some came two or three hours before the polling booths opened in their neighbourhood. All knew they were participating in history. Most expected to ensure that a black man ascended to the White House. A minority hoped to give the United States its first female vice-president.
The polls all point to Barack Obama, 47, becoming the first member of an ethnic minority and person of African descent to hold the world's most powerful job. Obama has been the candidate of change, relentlessly campaigning he will end business as usual in US politics. Even his challenger, John McCain, 72, a maverick in his own Republican party, ended his last few election rallies saying, “I promise you change.” That was the theme of this once-in-a-lifetime US election.
Whatever be the result, a replacement for George W Bush, arguably one of the most divisive Presidents in history, will be known early on Wednesday, India time.
The small New Hampshire town of Dixville Notch was the first place in the US to announce its results — 15-6 in Obama’s favour. Analysts promptly argued that the hamlet’s record was “not indicative” of the national trends.
Obama is projected to win the presidency with a comfortable margin. Realclearpolitics.org gave him a 7.3 per cent lead in its average of national polls. FiveThirtyEight.com gave him a 5.9 per cent lead. The
Republican Party’s hopes to pull off an upset lay largely with the six per cent of the voters still undecided at the time of going to press. Even Karl Rove, George W Bush’s wunderkind electoral strategist, conceded that a President Obama was inevitable.
Forecasts gave Obama an even more lopsided victory in the Electoral College, which allots electoral votes on the basis of a state's population and grants the votes in a winner-takes-all system. Most said he would win at least 350 of the 538 votes. He needs 270.
At the polls in Annunciation Catholic Church in Washington, Cornelia Charles, 25, a young black student, had been in line an hour before the polls opened. She said, “I’m tired of the status quo. I am voting for Obama. I hope he will win.”
Her sentiment echoed across the US.
Overwhelming majorities of Americans feel their country is on the wrong track, believe their system is not delivering and that Washington is largely to blame.
“I’m feeling kind of fired up. I’m feeling like I’m ready to go,” Obama told nearly 100,000 people at his final rally in Virginia on Monday night. "At this defining moment in history, Virginia, you can give this country the change it needs." That he was campaigning in this and states like Indiana, places seen as Republican strongholds, indicates to how much McCain is on the defensive.
If even two or three early-voting swing states like Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania go blue, Obama can expect a thumping victory. The Illinois senator's final day was marked by tragedy: his white grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, who helped raise him succumbed to cancer just days before elections.
McCain completed a cross-country trek through seven battleground states. But rather than end his campaign by watching a movie at his hometown of Phoenix, he went on to hold rallies in late-voting Colorado and Nevada — traditionally Republican states leaning towards Obama.
Despite the crowd-pulling abilities of his running mate Sarah Palin, McCain has struggled to make the case that he has the ability to pull the US out of the doldrums. The financial crisis will probably be seen as the event that killed his chances, even among white working class and business executives.
Obama, on the other hand, relentlessly portrayed his opponent as a man who’d spent decades as a Washington insider and a man whose policies were a continuation of those of George W Bush. "Do you want the same old, failed policies?" he asked crowds. The Republicans ran ads saying, "Barack Obama, too radical, too risky" — but betting on the new was exactly what the US electorate was prepared to do.