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Obama Holds Pennsylvania, First Big Prize of the Night November 5, 2008

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By MICHAEL COOPER
Published: November 4, 2008

Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, opened an early lead in electoral-college votes on Tuesday night, and won the crucial state of Pennsylvania, which Senator John McCain had made central to his election strategy, according to preliminary voting returns.

Mr. McCain’s loss in Pennsylvania, along with a defeat in New Hampshire, another key Democratic state he had hoped to win, significantly narrowed his potential path to victory, and made it all the more vital for him to carry the states that President Bush won four years ago.

But all the television networks called the state of Ohio for Mr. Obama, delivering him a key swing state — with 20 electoral votes — that President Bush carried in both 2004 and 2000. A loss there would deal a blow to Mr. McCain’s hopes.

After a day in which millions of Americans wrote the ending to a political saga that has lasted for nearly two years, the results were clear quickly in many states.

Mr. McCain won Kentucky, and its 8 electoral votes, while Mr. Obama won Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and his home state of Illinois, with a total of 87 electoral votes, according to The New York Times.

Beyond that, the television networks projected that Mr. McCain had won Alaska, Kansas, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Wyoming, while Mr. Obama had won Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. There was little doubt before Election Day about how most of those states would vote.

In voting booths in every corner of the land, the people were collectively writing the conclusion to a political saga that has been unfolding for nearly two years, during a tumultuous, uncertain period of American history in which three out of four voters told exit pollsters that the country was seriously off on the wrong track.

As the polls closed in the key Eastern states, including Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia and Missouri, a portrait of the electorate and its leading concerns began to emerge.

By a wide margin, voters said that their top concern was the economy. Six in 10 voters surveyed cited the economy as the most important issue; by contrast, the war in Iraq, terrorism, and health care were each cited as the top concern by 1 in 10 voters.

Voters were less likely to describe themselves as Republicans. Forty-percent of those surveyed leaving the polls said that they were Democrats, and 31 percent said that they were Republicans; just four years ago the nation was evenly divided, with 37 percent calling themselves Democrats and 37 percent calling themselves Repubilcans. The exit poll was conducted by Edison/Mitofsky for the television networks and The Associated Press.

It was unclear whether young people — a closely watched demographic segment this year — were turning out in greater numbers this year. Preliminary figures from exit polls found that voters under 30 and first-time voters made up the same share of the electorate this year that they did in 2004. That could mean that the predicted surge of young and new voters did not materialize at the polls, or that it did but was balanced by similar increases in turnout among older voters.

The most sought quality in a president, the preliminary exit polls found, was the ability to bring about needed change, followed by sharing the voter’s values. More of those surveyed said they thought Mr. McCain had the experience to serve effectively as president than said Mr. Obama did. But more voters said that they viewed Mr. Obama as in touch with people like themselves, and as having the right judgment to make a good president.

Larger than usual turnout was reported at polling stations in a number of key states, and reports of lengthy lines, waits of an hour or more, and overflowing parking lots were not unusual. Some voting experts and campaign advisers predicted that some 130 million voters could cast ballots, which would be the highest percentage turnout in a century, and would shatter the previous record of 123.5 million people who cast ballots four years ago.

Kurt Browning, Florida’s secretary of state, said that the turnout there was medium to heavy, and could break records by the end of the day. He said at that there had been scattered glitches at the polls, but no widespread problems.

By midday, some precincts in Chester County, Pa., were reporting that up to half of their registered voters had already cast ballots, according to Agnes L. O’Toole, the county’s deputy director of voter services, who said that some voters waited as long as two hours .

“This is above and beyond an anomaly,” Ms. O’Toole said. “Our phones are off the wall.”

And by 1 p.m, some 3,000 people had cast votes in Purcellville, Va. — more than the 2,900 people who voted there in the entire 2004 election, said Robert Lazaro, the town’s mayor.

Surveys of voters leaving the polls painted a portrait of the qualities people said that they were looking for in a president. The top quality sought, the preliminary exit polls found, was someone who could bring about needed change, followed by someone who shared their values.

More voters said that they thought that Mr. McCain had the experience to serve effectively as president than said that Mr. Obama did. But more voters said that they viewed Mr. Obama as being in touch with people, and as having the right judgment to make a good president, than said they saw Mr. McCain that way.

As the voters trooped to the polls, the candidates made the long election season one day longer, fitting in a few final campaign stops on Tuesday. Mr. Obama visited a phone bank in Indiana, a traditionally Republican state that he hopes to win.

“I’d like to get your vote,” he told one man on the phone, according to a pool report. “Don’t be discouraged if there are some long lines.”

Mr. McCain made stops in Colorado and New Mexico, two western states that voted for President Bush in 2004 and that he hopes to keep in the Republican column. At a rally in Grand Junction, Colo., surrounded by friends and family, he sounded an urgent call for help.

“Get out there and vote!” Mr. McCain said. “I need your help. Volunteer, knock on doors, get your neighbors to the polls, drag ’em there if you need to!”

Both candidates made nods to Election Day rituals. When Mr. Obama returned to Chicago, where he plans to watch returns come in tonight at a big party in Grant Park, he also fit in an afternoon game of basketball — an election-day ritual that he skipped only twice during the primaries.

Mr. McCain, whose Election Day tradition is to watch movies to relieve stress and pass the time, had a flat-screen television and a DVD player set up on his campaign plane. But as of 2:20 p.m. Mountain time, when his plane touched down safely in Albuquerque after a rocky aborted landing, Mr. McCain had yet to watch a film, according to one of his traveling companions, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut.

The candidates started their days, like many other Americans, by voting.

Mr. Obama cast his ballot at 7:36 a.m. Central time at the Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School in Chicago, accompanied by his wife, Michelle, who also voted, and by their daughters Sasha and Malia. “I noticed that Michelle took a long time though,” Mr. Obama said afterwards. “I had to check to see who she was voting for.”

Mr. McCain voted later in Phoenix, at 9:08 a.m. Mountain time, at the Albright United Methodist Church. He and his wife, Cindy, were greeted there by supporters with cheers of “Senator McCain!” and “Thank you, Senator! We love you!” He emerged with a sticker on his lapel that said, “I voted today.”

Mr. Obama’s running mate, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, voted in Wilmington with his wife, Jill, and his 91-year-old mother, Jean Finnegan Biden. Mr. McCain’s running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, voted in Wasilla with her husband, Todd. “Tomorrow I hope, I pray, I believe that I’ll be able to wake up as vice president-elect,” she told reporters there.

In tiny Dixville Notch, N.H., which casts its ballots just after midnight, Mr. Obama won 15 votes to Mr. McCain’s 6. The town usually votes Republican, and President Bush won the vote there in 2004.

There were some reports of voting problems — some jammed scanners in Florida, three polling sites in Virginia that opened late because of “human error,” rain-dampened ballots that fouled optical scanning machines. And at a polling place on the east side of Philadelphia, several voting machines were not working because they were too far from an available electrical outlet and no extension cord was available. But most areas reported that voting was going smoothly.

Regardless of who wins on Tuesday, the election will make history. If Mr. Obama is elected, he will become the nation’s first African-American president. If Mr. McCain wins, his running mate will be the first woman elected vice president.

Presidential elections are really 51 separate contests waged in each state and the District of Columbia, and for Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain, the day was all about trying to win enough of those states to secure the 270 electoral-college votes needed to win the presidency.

Looming over the race was the unpopular Republican president, George W. Bush, whose approval ratings are hovering at record lows after he started a war in Iraq that many Americans concluded was a mistake and presided during an financial crisis this fall that left millions of people worrying about their mortgages and retirement savings.

Mr. Obama, 47, a first-term Democratic senator from Illinois, premised his candidacy on change, arguing that he would turn the page on President Bush’s policies and make the country respected again at home and abroad. Mr. McCain, 72, a son and grandson of admirals who was held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam for five and a half years, ran as the candidate with the most experience to be commander-in- chief, but he also argued that he had a track record of bucking his own party and would bring change to Washington as well.

The two men offered starkly different policy proposals. Mr. Obama called for ending American involvement in the war in Iraq over a period of about 16 months, while Mr. McCain called for continuing the fight until victory was achieved. Mr. Obama wanted to roll back President Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy while cutting taxes for the middle class; Mr. McCain wanted to extend the Bush tax cuts and add tax cuts for businesses. Mr. Obama wanted to use government money to expand health insurance for the uninsured, and to require coverage for all children, while Mr. McCain wanted to give individuals tax credits toward buying private insurance coverage.

In some areas, both men promised a break from the Bush administration, even if they differed on the details. Both agreed that global warming was real, and promised to take steps to reduce it; both pledged to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and both were outspoken in condemning torture after reports of waterboarding and other abuse of prisoners at the hands of American captors surfaced in recent years.

During the long, grueling campaign, Mr. Obama repeatedly claimed that a McCain presidency would effectively represent a third term for Mr. Bush. And while Mr. McCain has at times been a thorn in Mr. Bush’s side, as a presidential candidate he was proposing to continue enough of Mr. Bush’s policies, from tax cuts to the Iraq war, that the charge seemed to stick.

Mr. McCain, for his part, painted Mr. Obama as unprepared, noting that only four years ago he was still a member of the Illinois State Senate, and tried to sow doubts about him as still largely an unknown quantity.

Beyond the big issues, there were plenty of fleeting, insubstantial controversies as well. Mr. McCain mocked Mr. Obama as a substance-free celebrity, and Mr. Obama mocked Mr. McCain for being unable to remember how many homes he owned. At times the contest grew ugly, with Mr. McCain all but suggesting that Mr. Obama was a socialist for his tax-cut proposal, and Ms. Palin accusing Mr. Obama of “palling around with terrorists” for working sporadically with a former 1960s radical.

It was a presidential campaign that shattered all kinds of records, from the number of votes cast during the long, bitterly contested primary and caucus season to the huge amounts of money raised and spent on the general election after Mr. Obama withdrew his pledge to accept public financing of his campaign.

Each candidate went through lean periods when he was considered a long shot for his party’s nomination, only to prevail in the end. Mr. McCain overcame the implosion of his campaign in the summer 2007, which left him out of money and all but written off, by persevering and winning the New Hampshire primary. Mr. Obama was put on his path to the nomination by winning the Iowa caucuses, but the Democratic primary season became a long, drawn-out battle for delegates with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

It was a year when the running mates took on great importance. Mr. Obama, who was new to national politics, tapped a more experienced hand, Mr. Biden, as his running mate, picking someone with extensive foreign policy experience but a propensity for the occasional gaffe. Mr. McCain chose Ms. Palin, a first-term governor not widely known outside Alaska, arguing that her willingness to buck her party elders there made her a perfect fit for him. The choice galvanized social conservatives who had long been wary of McCain, but turned off some independents who came to view her as unprepared.

If both Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain were chosen by the parties in large part because of their positions on the Iraq war — Mr. Obama for opposing it from the beginning, and Mr. McCain for supporting the “surge” strategy that was later credited with reducing violence there — the election quickly turned to pocketbook issues. Four-dollar- a-gallon gasoline prices over the summer provoked outrage, and the worsening economy reached a crisis this fall when the nation’s financial institutions teetered on the brink of collapse and required a huge government bailout.

The family lives of the candidates did not pause for the campaign. One of Mr. McCain’s sons, Jimmy, a Marine, served a tour of duty in Iraq, and Ms. Palin and Mr. Biden each bade farewell to their own Iraq-bound sons during the campaign. Ms. Palin announced on the day the Republican National Convention began that her daughter Bristol, 17, was pregnant and engaged to be married. Mr. Biden’s mother-in-law died last month, and late on Sunday, just before the election, Mr. Obama’s grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, who helped raise him during his teenage years, died in Hawaii.

Julie Bosman, John M. Broder, Jack Healy, Dalia Sussman, Ian Urbina and Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting.

Kiriman Jhon Leknor

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