The battle for the US presidency entered its final hours on Monday with polls showing Barack Obama holding a solid lead in his historic quest to become the US’s first black president while rival John McCain grasped for a last minute upset.
On the last day of his 21-month campaign for the White House, Obama told supporters in Jacksonville, Florida, that the outcome of the longest, most expensive US presidential contest in history was up to them.
“That’s how we’re gonna change this country — with your help,” he told the crowd. “And that’s why we can’t afford to slow down, sit back, or let up, one minute, or one second in the next 24 hours. Not one minute. Not one hour. Not one second. Not now. Not when so much is at stake,” he added.
Meanwhile, McCain was racing through seven states in a last campaign swing that ends on Tuesday morning, in a bid to persuade undecided voters that he, not his rival, was more qualified to lead the US.
“With this kind of enthusiasm, this kind of intensity, we will win Florida and we will win the election,” McCain told a relatively modest crowd in Florida.Looking, again, to distance himself from the unpopular incumbent, President George W Bush, McCain stressed that he, too, opposed the Republican president’s economic policies. But he insisted that Obama could be counted on to raise taxes, something he would not do.
Some polls showed tightening races in Florida, Ohio and a number of battleground states, as the Republicans hammered away at Obama as a tax-and-spend Democrat — historically, the Republicans’ most potent weapon in the US presidential contests. They launched a last-minute advertising effort, hoping to turn the Democratic tide.
But some national polls suggested Obama’s lead was widening overall as the candidates moved to the final stages of the race, with the Democrat leading in Pennsylvania and other states.
The final pre-election poll of the Gallup-USA Today published on Monday gave Obama a yawning lead of 11 points — 55 per cent to 44 for McCain.“It would take an improbable last-minute shift in voter preferences, or a huge Republican advantage in election day turnout, for McCain to improve enough upon his predicted share of the vote… to overcome his deficit to Obama,” the pollster said.
A new Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll put Obama ahead on 51 per cent to 43. CNN’s latest poll had Obama with a 53-46 per cent edge, a Washington Post-ABC News poll gave him 54 per cent to 43, and Rasmussen said he was at 51 per cent to McCain’s 46.
Obama also leads by slimmer margins in the battleground states where the election will be won and lost, including in states such as Virginia and North Carolina that have not backed a Democratic hopeful in decades.
A Quinnipiac University poll examining the three states with the largest number of electoral votes — Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida — found Obama’s lead had narrowed slightly to 51-42 in Ohio and 53-41 in Pennsylvania, while Florida was too close to call.
A separate poll by The Washington Post and ABC said that in six states considered to be up for grabs, support was roughly split with 51 per cent support for Obama and 47 for McCain.A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) survey said that 59 per cent of voters feel Obama can bring “change,” while about the same number say McCain cannot, the network reported on its website.
Another CNN/ORC poll suggested that McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, might be dragging down the Republican’s chances. The news network said that McCain had 48 per cent support, but backing for McCain and Palin as a unit was lower, at 46 per cent. With the economy in trouble and Bush’s approval ratings at near-record lows, polls suggest Democrats will not just capture the White House, but expand their majorities in both chambers of the US Congress.
In Florida, Obama once again called McCain Bush’s “sidekick.” Determined to make sure that partisans translate their support into votes, both campaigns were shifting focus to get-out-the-vote efforts.
But a large part of the electorate has already rendered their verdict. A record 27 million votes cast absentee or early ballots in 30 states as of Saturday night. Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the pre-Election Day voting in key states.
Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois, appealed to voters frustrated with wars abroad and economic turmoil at home. He benefited from a campaign that raised hundreds of millions more than his opponent and capitalised on a US demographic shift as more young and non-white voters enter the electorate.
The Republicans have tried to curtail Obama’s surge, dubbing him too inexperienced, too liberal and too tainted by associations with the political left to craft the kind of change needed in the country.
McCain’s vice-presidential running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, seized on the taxation issue in her final day of campaigning in Ohio.
While promising that she and McCain would lower taxes, balance the budget and eliminate the US$10 trillion budget deficit, she said that Obama had an ideological commitment to higher taxes and had consistently chosen “the side of bigger, more controlling government.”
While McCain’s message appealed to core Republican voters, it may have failed to win many Democrats and independents in crucial states, where the US elections are decided.To win, a candidate must win at least 270 of the 538 electoral votes distributed to states roughly in proportion to their population.
In most cases, the candidate who wins a plurality of votes in a state wins all of that state’s electoral votes.Obama is favoured to win all the states Democrats captured in 2004, when Bush defeated Democratic Senator John Kerry. That would give him 251 votes.
He is leading or tied in several states won by Bush, giving him several paths to the 270 vote threshold — such as with victories in Ohio or Florida, or in a combination of smaller states.