Millions of Americans go the polls today to elect the man who will lead the global fights against recession and terror following one of the most dramatic US presidential races in history.
Rivals John McCain and Barack Obama spent the final few hours of campaigning criss-crossing the country in a last push for votes in key states as the most expensive election ever entered its final stages.
Polls suggest Senator Obama is on course to make history by becoming the first black president of the United States, leading McCain by up to seven points in national polls.
However, he has been rocked by the loss of his grandmother, who died on Sunday. He suspended his campaign for two days last month so he could travel to Hawaii to spend time with Madelyn Dunham, who helped raise him, after her health deteriorated.
The first polls will close at 11pm UK time and a clear victor should be known by tomorrow morning. Under the system, each US state is given a certain number of Electoral College votes. California has the largest number at 55, with seven states having just three. #The first candidate to reach 270 votes wins the race to the White House.
Senator McCain mounted an eleventh-hour surge with rallies in key states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio — which he must win if he is to score an upset.
He declared “the Mac is back” as he set off to get out the vote by making seven stops in the final day. However, the polls indicate that his increasingly personal attacks on Senator Obama are not popular with voters.
Speaking at a rally in North Carolina, the Illinois senator revealed the news that his 86-year-old grandmother had died of cancer. He described her as the “cornerstone of our family” but vowed to fight on to “change the county and change the world”.
Yet, despite the confidence in the Obama camp, niggling doubts remain about the fallibility of opinion polls, and whether or not America is finally ready to allow a black man to attain its highest office.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown today said the campaign had been “historic” but refused to say who he wanted to win.
Mr Brown said: “I think whatever the result of the American election ... history has been made in this campaign — the women coming to the fore, a black candidate coming to the fore. But it is for the American people to decide.”
Professor Allan Lichtman of the American University in Washington DC said: “It is one of the most important elections in the history of the country and the history of the world.
“The next president will have to face perhaps the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and one of the gravest challenges in the history of mankind — catastrophic climate change.”
Mr Lichtman said today's election will herald a “sea change” in America.”