The longest presidential campaign in history is settled today as voters go to the polls to determine who will lead our nation for the next four years. After months of traveling across the country to make their case before voters and engaging in televised debates, Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain are at the mercy of the electorate. As polls open around the country, Senator Obama has a solid lead and his numbers were holding up on all the key indicators of voter sentiment, from being seen as the best candidate to deal with the economy to voters’ preference for his health care proposal. He has even closed the gap on national security, with voters suggesting he is equally capable with Senator McCain to confront issues in that area.
Both candidates made last minute appeals to voters yesterday in key battleground states. For Senator Obama the day began on a somber note. He learned his 86 year old maternal grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, had passed away in Hawaii. Just about two weeks ago he had temporarily suspended his campaign and rushed to her bedside upon word that she had taken a turn for the worse. Last night as he took the stage at the University of North Carolina Charlotte for an outdoor rally, it was clear that he was emotionally drained. Visibly moved, he began his remarks acknowledging the death of his grandmother and wiped away tears as he recalled what she had meant to him and describing her as one of the “every day heroes” in America that don’t receive the attention or media notoriety but are responsible for making the nation great. It was a moment that may best define this presidential election for it captured the sense of “mission” that has embodied Senator Obama’s campaign.
For the McCain campaign it was a day to try to stop the momentum of the Democratic candidate and rally the Republican base. While publicly discounting the polls indicating voters’ preference for Senator Obama, the McCain campaign was well aware of the uphill battle it faced to beat back their opponent with time running out. The Republican ticket was hemorrhaging in “red states” and was left with no choice but to play defense. In state after state that was seen as pivotal to the electoral vote count, Senator Obama was holding a lead or the trend was in his favor. In certain battleground states, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, Senator McCain appeared to have no chance of recovering. In others, such as Florida, the race was still close but early voting indicated a trend toward Senator Obama.
Then there are states that few expected would be in play for the Democratic candidate, such as North Carolina. In the Tar Heel state Obama was coming on strong as he made his fourth appearance of the campaign in Charlotte. The strength of the Obama campaign in Charlotte was evident by the tight race for the United States Senate as the incumbent, Senator Elizabeth Dole, was trailing in most polls against a state legislator, Kay Hagan, who initially few gave any chance of upsetting the well known spouse of former Senator Bob Dole. In the closing days of the campaign a negative ad by the Dole campaign calling Hagan “godless” ignited a firestorm and backfired on the Republican candidate. Should Dole lose her seat, and North Carolina turn “blue”, it could well be an indication of an electoral mandate for Senator Obama.
While most voters will be focused on the presidential balloting, the races for Congress down the tickets will define the governing philosophy in Washington for the next two years at least. With the Democratic presidential ticket running strong, its coattails may usher in a veto proof Democratic majority in Congress. Across the country there are open seats that polls indicate the races are trending Democratic and several Republican incumbents fighting to hold onto their House and Senate seats. If the polling data holds up, we may witness the largest Democratic majority in Congress in forty years. Coupled with an Obama victory, it would represent an undeniable mandate from the electorate for a new direction for the country.
What is certain as this marathon of a campaign comes to an end is that the nation has witnessed a historic bid for the presidency that no one could have imagined when Senator Obama announced his candidacy in Springfield, Illinois. Time and again he has proven pundits and experts wrong, from his disposing of the seemingly invincible Senator Hillary Clinton in the primaries to his ability to raise record sums of money, and his appeal to white voters. It was a campaign that defied odds and has set a new standard for presidential politics. No matter the outcome, the nation has been changed by the Obama candidacy and a new generation of activists is poised to make their mark. As much as John McCain was running against Barack Obama, the Republican was really running against destiny.