Published - Nov 01 2008 10:20PM EST | AP
By LIZ SIDOTI - Associated Press Writer
Counting down to Election Day, Barack Obama appears within reach ofbecoming the nation's first black president as the epic campaign drawsto a close against a backdrop of economic crisis and lingering war.John McCain, the battle-scarred warrior, holds out hope for aTruman-beats-Dewey-style upset.
Whoever wins, the country's 44thpresident will immediately confront some of the most difficult economicchallenges since the Great Depression.
In that effort, he'llalmost surely be working with a stronger Democratic majority inCongress, as well as among governors and state legislatures nationwide.GOP incumbents at every level are endangered just eight years afterPresident Bush's election ignited talk of lasting Republican Partydominance.
It's been an extraordinary campaign of shattered records, ceilings and assumptions. Indeed, a race for the ages.
Democrat Obama has exuded confidence in the campaign's final days, reaching for a triumph of landslide proportions.
"The die is being cast as we speak," says campaign manager David Plouffe.
Undeterred,Republican McCain vows to fight on, bidding for an upset reminiscent ofDemocrat Harry S. Truman's stunning defeat of Thomas E. Dewey in 1948.
Lookingback only to early this year, campaign manager Rick Davis says, "We arewitnessing perhaps, I believe, one of the greatest comebacks since JohnMcCain won the primary."
The odds for Republicans in 2008 havebeen long from the start: Voters often thwart the party that's been inpower for two terms. And this year, larger factors are working againstthe GOP: the war in Iraq, now in its sixth year, and the crisis on WallStreet and in the larger economy. Voters deeply distrust government andcrave a new direction.
Republicans are girding for widespread losses.
"It's a fairly toxic atmosphere out there," said Nevada Sen. JohnEnsign, chairman of the Senate GOP's campaign effort. Added his Housecounterpart, Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole: "We haven't caught very manybreaks."
Democrats are looking ahead to expanded power.
"Thingsare looking very good," said Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the headof the House Democrats' campaign committee. New York Sen. ChuckSchumer, chairman of the Senate Democrats' effort, predicted: "We'regoing to pick up a large number of seats, and that's going to makeDemocrats very happy."
The Democrats are reaching for a 60-vote Senate majority that wouldallow the party to overcome Republican filibusters, and could pick uptwo dozen or more House seats. Democrats also hope to pad their slimmajority of governorships and increase their ranks in what already istheir strongest majority in state legislatures in more than a decade.
Theimplications are far-reaching: Governors and state legislators electedTuesday to four-year terms will help preside over the redrawing oflegislative and congressional districts following the 2010 Census. Theparty in charge can redraw districts in its favor.
Atop theticket, Obama leads in national and key battleground state polling,though the race appears to be tightening as it plays out primarily instates that Bush won twice. Among the unknowns: the choices of one inseven likely voters who are undecided or could still change theirminds; the impact of Obama's efforts to register and woo new voters,particularly blacks and young people; the effect of Obama's race onvoters just four decades after the tumult of the Civil Rights movement.
"Rightnow, it's very clearly Obama's to lose, and I think his chances ofdoing so are pretty minimal," said Republican Dick Armey, the formerHouse majority leader from Texas. He said the possibility of a McCaincomeback is "getting down to slim-to-none."
An Obama victorywould amount to a wholesale rejection of the status quo: voters takinga chance on a relative newcomer to the national stage, a 47-year-oldfirst-term senator from Chicago, rather than stick with a seasonedveteran of the party in power. With strengthened Democratic majoritiesin Congress, he'd have to deal with the party's left flank whilegoverning a country that's more conservative than liberal.
The Republican Party essentially would be in tatters, searching for both a leader and an identity.
AnObama loss _ or McCain comeback _ would be a crushing disappointmentfor Democrats in a year tailor-made for the party. It would suggestMcCain's experience trumped Obama's clarion call for change, and raisetroubling questions about white Americans' willingness to vote for ablack man.
Blacks, in particular, might be furious and deeply suspicious of an almost sure thing that slipped away.
Tuesday's election caps a nearly two-year campaign unprecedented in many ways, merely unusual in others.
"Thecandidates are more interesting. The media is bigger. The technology isbetter. Participation has increased dramatically," said Bob Kerrey, aformer Democratic senator from Nebraska who once aspired to thepresidency himself. "This is the first global campaign that the UnitedStates has had. People will always remember this as an extremelyimportant election."
From the start, the race was different: It was the first since 1928 in which neither a president nor a vice president competed.
TheDemocratic primary was excruciatingly long, with historic andimprobable characters: Obama, a black upstart Illinois senator, againsta former first lady turned New York senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
McCain,at 72 once the GOP's most vocal scold, early on was the favorite forthe Republican nomination. His campaign all but imploded, then he cameback to overcome multiple opponents and win the party's nomination. Hechose the first woman for the national GOP ticket, Alaska Gov. SarahPalin.
Racism, sexism and ageism all colored the campaign, to varying degrees.
Interestappeared exceptionally high across the globe, particularly in Obama.More than 200,000 people turned out to attend an Obama speech in Berlinwhen he made a trip abroad to bolster his foreign policy credentials.His U.S. crowds also were gargantuan; 75,000 in Portland, Ore., beforehe was the nominee, more than 100,000 in Denver just a week before thegeneral election.
An estimated 42.4 million people tuned in to watch Obama and McCain accept their parties' nominations.
Morevoters cast ballots before Election Day than ever before. As ofSaturday night, there were some 27 million absentee and early votes in30 states. Democrats outnumbered Republicans in pre-Election Day votingin key states.
Fundraising and spending were off the charts, too.
McCain and Obama amassed $1 billion combined over the course of their candidacies.
Obamareversed a previous pledge to stay in the public financing system forthe general election if his opponent did. Thus, he became the first toreject taxpayer money, raising $641 million from a breathtaking 3.2million donors. That dealt what's almost certain to be a fatal blow tothe post-Watergate-era system for presidential campaigns. McCain, forhis part, collected more than $250 million in contributions, andaccepted $84 million in public funds.
Obama took the next stepafter Howard Dean's embrace of the Internet in 2004, creating aremarkable cyber-networking tool that brought in legions of new voters.
Heexpanded the Electoral College playing field by pouring advertising andmanpower into Republican bastions like Indiana and North Carolina.
Beyondany previous year, the Internet amplified the feeding frenzy nature ofthe media and gave campaigns new tools, including YouTube videos,partisan and nonpartisan blogs, and social networking sites likeFacebook.
Both campaigns also got burned and, as a result,curtailed the candidates' non-scripted interactions with reporters.Authenticity and spontaneity were sacrificed.
No matter how the presidential race plays out,Democrats are poised for gains in the 100-seat Senate. They currentlyhave the barest of majorities _ 51 seats under their control, includingtwo occupied by independents. Several pickups are likely, even ifDemocrats fall short of getting the magic 60 needed to stop filibusters.
Democratsare overwhelmingly favored to pick up GOP-held seats in Virginia, NewMexico and Colorado, where Republicans are retiring. And manyRepublican incumbents running for re-election are in difficult races,including Ted Stevens of Alaska, convicted this past week on sevencorruption counts.
No Democratic seats appear in jeopardy.
Democrats, with a 235-199 majority and one vacancy,are expected to add at least 20 seats. They hope Obama's coattails givethem a 35-seat gain or more. It would be the first time in more than 50years that a party saw large waves of victories that boosted theircongressional margins in back-to-back elections. All 435 seats are upfor election.
Many Republican incumbents are endangered, and openGOP seats are at risk in Arizona, Illinois, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia,and two each in New Mexico and New York.
Democratic Rep. TimMahoney of Florida, under investigation after admitting to adulterousaffairs, is in trouble, and Democratic Rep. John P. Murtha is in afight after calling voters in his Pennsylvania district "racist."
Chief executives in 11 states are on the ballot. Democrats hope to boost their 28-22 majority.
The GOP's best chances for gains are in Washington and North Carolina.
Washington's Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire and GOP challenger DinoRossi are in a repeat battle of 2004, when Gregoire won by 133 votesafter two recounts and a lawsuit. In North Carolina, Republican PatMcCrory, the Charlotte mayor, is in a dead heat with Democratic Lt.Gov. Beverly Perdue to replace term-limited Democratic Gov. Mike Easley.
Democratsexpect to gain a seat in Missouri, where Attorney General Jay Nixonleads GOP Rep. Kenny Hulshof. Republican Gov. Matt Blunt is leavingoffice.
Voters also will choose 5,824 lawmakers across 44 states.
Withtheir strongest majority in more than a decade, Democrats hold nearly55 percent of all legislative seats and control the legislatures in 23states; Republicans dominate in 14 states. Twelve states are split, andNebraska is nonpartisan.
The election could determine the controlof legislatures in several states. The biggest prize may be New York,where Democrats are two seats from taking the Senate majority. Theyalready control the House and the governorship.
Pennsylvania Republicans need a one-seat gain to take back the House,while Indiana Republicans need two. In Nevada, Democrats are one seataway from a Senate majority.
Some 153 initiatives are on the ballots in 36 states.
Voters will weigh constitutional amendments that would ban same-sex marriage in California, Florida and Arizona.
Anamendment in South Dakota would ban abortion except in cases of rape,incest and a serious health threat to the mother; another in Coloradowould define human life as beginning at fertilization.
Initiativesin Colorado and Nebraska would ban race- and gender-based affirmativeaction. Washington voters will decide whether to offer terminally illpeople the option of physician-assisted suicide.
A North Dakotainitiative would cut the state income tax rate by 50 percent forindividuals and 15 percent for corporations. A measure in Massachusettswould repeal the income tax altogether.
AssociatedPress writers Jim Kuhnhenn, Tom Raum and Julie Hirschfeld Davis inWashington, David Crary and Robert Tanner in New York, and AndrewWelsh-Huggins in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.