WASHINGTON (AFP) — Americans opened the voting in their historic election on Tuesday, with front-running Democrat Barack Obama seeking to become the first black president and his Republican rival John McCain hoping for a poll-defying comeback.
After an epic campaign , voters could also spark a political realignment in Washington, with Democrats targeting big gains in the Senate and House of Representatives after eight turbulent years under President George W. Bush.
Polls opened in the northeastern state of Vermont at 5:00 am (1000 GMT), an electoral official at a polling station in the town of Bennington told AFP by telephone.
History’s longest, most costly White House campaign ended with Obama the hot favorite, enjoying wide leads in national polls and the edge in a string of battleground states which could swing the election either way.
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With polls showing 90 percent of voters believe the United States is on the wrong track, Obama should be a lock for victory — but whether his race or perceived lack of experience could give voters pause is an intangible.
McCain aides dispute poll numbers favoring Obama, and point to a late tightening of surveys in key states to argue he can still win.
A Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll put Obama ahead 51 percent to 43. A Washington Post-ABC News poll said the race was so far Obama’s by 54 percent to 43, and Rasmussen had him up 51 percent to McCain’s 46.
The final Gallup Daily tracking poll before the election day said Obama was leading the race 53 percent to 42 percent. A CNN poll published just hours before voting started gave Obama a narrower seven-point lead, 51 to 44 percent.
The Democrat has an easier path to the 270 electoral votes and has a small but solid lead in many of the battleground states needed to win the White House. He may have built an advantage as millions of Americans voted early.