Obama set to make voting history

But the McCain campaign, fighting to the end in key states, vows it’ll be a ‘slam-bang’ finish.

Pat Carter/AP
Determined to vote: Altanese Johnson waited in line to vote early Saturday in Miramar, Fla. Records are likely to be broken, certainly among voters who cast ballots ahead of Election Day.

On the eve of the historic 2008 presidential election, Illinois Democrat Barack Obama appears poised to win.

Both nationally and in polls of many battleground states, Senator Obama holds a steady lead, comfortably outside the margin of error. Just adding up the states that polls show are solidly in Obama’s column and those leaning in his direction, he has 278 electoral votes, more than the 270 needed to win the presidency, versus 132 for Republican John McCain. The more likely scenario, with Obama competitive in more than a dozen states won by Republican President Bush four years ago, gives Obama well over 300 electoral votes on Tuesday.

“At this point, John McCain probably can’t win without divine intervention,” writes Charles Cook, editor of a nonpartisan political newsletter.

A look at where the two candidates campaigned on the final day tells the story: Obama was on offense, slated to appear only in states won by Bush four years ago: Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia. McCain played mostly defense, appearing in Ohio, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and McCain’s home state of Arizona. Of those, only one – Pennsylvania – voted for Democrat John Kerry four years ago.

Bush’s victory map from 2004, totaling 286 electoral votes, gives McCain little room for error. Iowa already appears well out of reach for McCain, and he trails in Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. With 21 electoral votes, Pennsylvania has become a must-win state for McCain.

On RealClearPolitics.com, which calculates the averages of recent polls, Obama is ahead in Pennsylvania by 7.6 percentage points and in Ohio by 4.3 percent. In modern history, no Republican has won the presidency without winning Ohio.

On Sunday, McCain’s campaign team argued vigorously that the senator from Arizona can come back, pointing to selective polls – and the campaign’s own internal polling – that show all is not lost. Appearing on Fox News Sunday, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis noted that the Mason-Dixon polling firm now shows McCain ahead in Ohio by two points and up by only four points in Pennsylvania.

“I think that what we’re in for is a slam-bang finish, I mean, it’s going to be wild,” said Mr. Davis. “I think that we are able to close this campaign. John McCain may be the greatest closer politician of all time.”

Also speaking on Fox News Sunday, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe presented an alternate scenario. He says that the Democrats’ big registration push in Pennsylvania – where there are now 1.2 million more registered Democrats than Republicans – gives Obama a decisive edge there. He also predicted a higher national turnout than the 130 million voters the McCain has forecasted, which itself would beat the record 122 million voters who turned out four years ago.

“For us, the most important thing is we are seeing newly registered supporters of ours, younger voters, African-American voters, Hispanic voters, which in many states are a base for us turning out at big levels,” said Mr. Plouffe.

Back in March, at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor, GOP pollster Bill McInturff stated that for the Republicans to hold onto the presidency, they would need to win at least 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. Now McCain’s pollster, Mr. McInturff is not highlighting that prediction. And the news from the latest polls is not good for McCain on the Hispanic front, a bloc of voters he hoped to woo with his moderate position on immigration reform.

The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, which shows Obama ahead of McCain overall by eight points, has Obama winning the Latino vote 68 percent to 27 percent. Other polls show that gap even wider.

Other demographic groups where Obama holds a decisive lead includes African-Americans and young voters, those ages 18 to 34 years old. Obama is also winning among independent voters by 10 points, blue-collar voters by 7 points, suburban voters by 5 points, and Catholics by 3 points. McCain leads among evangelical voters by 59 points, senior citizens by 13 points, white men by 12 points, and white women by 1 point.

The poll also found that 30 percent of voters had already voted, and that Obama wins that group, 51 percent to 43 percent. The McCain campaign has argued that many of the early voters are Obama supporters, and that McCain voters will make up the gap on Election Day.

On the final full day of campaigning, Obama harked back to a comment McCain made seven weeks ago that may well prove to be the turning point of the election - that “the fundamentals of our economy are strong.”

“Well, Florida, you and I know that’s not only fundamentally wrong, it also sums up his out-of-touch, on-your-own economic philosophy,” Obama told a crowd in Jacksonville, Fla.

“It’s a philosophy that says we should give a $700,000 tax cut to the average Fortune 500 CEO and $300 billion to the same Wall Street banks that got us into this mess. It’s a philosophy that says we shouldn’t give a penny of relief to more than 100 million middle-class Americans. And it’s a philosophy that will end when I am president of the United States of America.”

McCain summarized his last-day argument in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal: “The presidential election occurs at a pivotal moment. Our nation is fighting two wars abroad, suffers from the greatest global financial crisis since the Great Depression, and is facing a painful recession. I believe in the greatness of America. I believe in our capacity to prosper, and to be safer and remain a beacon of light on the global stage. But we cannot spend the next four years as we have spent much of the last eight: waiting for our luck to change. We have to act immediately. We have to fight for it.”

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