After an historic 20 months of rallies, debates and countless commercials in the most expensive election campaign ever, voters will finally get their chance on Tuesday to pick the next US president.
Across the country, state officials are preparing for record turnout and huge lines at polling stations, a testament to the massive interest that has been generated in an election widely considered the most important in recent memory.
John McCain or Barack Obama will become president in January in the midst of two wars, an economy tail-spinning into
recession and a global financial system on the verge of collapse.
The world will be looking to the next president to rebuild a US reputation tarnished during the eight-year administration of President George W. Bush.
Some states are forecasting turnout of 80 to 90 per cent. That compares with nearly 60 per cent in 2004’s presidential election, which already had the highest participation rate since 1968.
“We will get closer to 100 per cent turnout on election day this year than ever before,” said Doug Chapin of a non-partisan website run by the Pew Charitable Trust. Tens of millions of people have already taken to the polls in recent weeks for early or absentee voting allowed in 31 states, including key battlegrounds Florida, North Carolina, Colorado and Nevada.
As many as 40 per cent of voters are expected to have voted before Tuesday.
The election stands to make history regardless of who wins. McCain, at 72, would be the oldest president to begin a first term, while Obama would become the first African-American president. Opinion polls continue to give Obama a significant edge over McCain. The economic crisis, compounding Bush’s unpopularity, helped to lift Obama and his message of “change”.
Of those heading to polling stations early, registered Democrats have outnumbered registered Republicans in some states by 2 to 1.
In an election climate stacked against the incumbent Republican Party, both Obama and McCain have promised change from what
they call the failed policies of the last eight years.
McCain has leaned hard on his longtime reputation as a “maverick” unafraid to take on his own party in the US Senate, while touting his 26 years in Congress, military career and expertise in foreign policy as making him the safer choice.
Obama has consistently sought to link McCain with the Bush administration, and his campaign was given last-minute fodder
when Vice President Dick Cheney said he was “delighted” to support McCain in a weekend speech in Wyoming. Both Bush and Cheney have been otherwise absent from the campaign trail. Recession has become the dominant force since September.
But McCain’s campaign has vowed a comeback, pointing to polls that show as many as one in seven voters remain undecided.
Volunteers from both sides made millions of phone calls and knocked on millions of doors over the final weekend, while the campaigns made last-minute pleas for donations to mount massive television advertising.
For all the worldwide attention the outcome will come down to a handful of “swing states” under the winner-take-all electoral college. Even a narrow victory in a state ensures the winner gets all of the electoral votes — the number depending on the state’s population.
Both candidates had one final, furious day of campaigning. McCain was set for a seven-state tour that includes Florida, Nevada and Pennsylvania. Obama planned rallies in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia.