America's historic verdict



• Exit polls predict decisive Obama win

• Six out of 10 say economy biggest issue



Barack Obama was on course for a victory over John McCain last night to win the White House and become the first African-American president, according to exit polls.

He was projected to hold on to all the states the Democrats took in 2004 and win half a dozen or more of the battleground states that had been held by the Republicans.

After scrutinising the exit polls, the Obama campaign team urged caution, fearful that a late surge of voters casting their ballots on their way home might yet cause upsets in key states, as happened to the Democratic candidate, John Kerry, in 2004.

But fears that many white voters would fail to vote for a black candidate when in the privacy of the polling booth appeared to be unfounded, suggesting that race is becoming less of an issue in the US.

Americans voted in epic numbers throughout the day as they finally got the chance to turn their backs on eight years of George Bush and choose a new president at the end of one of the longest and costliest election campaigns.

From the eastern shores of Virginia, across the industrial heartland of Ohio and on to the Rocky mountain states of Colorado and New Mexico and beyond, poll workers and voters reported long lines and waits of several hours in the most eagerly anticipated US election for half a century.

Turnout was at levels not seen since women were first given the vote in 1920. Election officials predicted turnout would come close to 90% in Virginia and Colorado, and 80% in Ohio and Missouri.

Exit polls gave Obama double-digit leads in states that had been bitterly contested and on which the outcome depended.

The odds had been stacked against McCain from the start, linked as he was to President George Bush, with his near-record-low popularity ratings, hostility towards the Iraq war and an impending recession. But McCain managed to hold his own until mid-September when the Wall Street crash saw Obama open up a commanding lead.

Early signs last night were that McCain had managed to hold on to West Virginia and South Carolina. Kentucky, the first state to call a result, also went to McCain, suggesting the true red state heartland was staying loyal to the Republicans.

The next president will inherit horrendous economic problems that will limit the scope of his ambitions. In his final rallies, Obama was already tempering his early promise of change with warnings about how he would have to curb some of his more ambitious plans, trying to lower expectations that he would be able to move quickly on healthcare and education reform.

The stockmarket experienced its biggest election day rally in 24 years on expectation of an Obama victory.

Exit polls nationwide provided an early suggestion that it was going to be Obama's night showing that the top concern of 62% of voters was the economy, the issue on which voters said they trusted him more than McCain, and blame much of the financial crisis on the Bush administration.

Other early exit poll figures also appeared to be good indicators for Obama, with 57% saying they felt he was more in touch with them than the 40% who said the same about McCain. Early expectations were of record turnout levels, with the morning bringing long lines at polling stations.

However, exit polls later in the day saw voters under 30, the target demographic of the Obama camp, voting at about the same levels as in 2004.

That would be a disappointment for the Obama camp which had been hoping that young voters would buck the tradition of showing enthusiasm for a candidate and then failing to turn out on the day.

Exit polls did, however, chart a rise in African-American turnout.

CNN, based on the exit polls, projected that Obama would win Vermont, no great surprise as it is traditionally Democrat.

Independent election monitors reported sporadic instances of delayed openings of polling stations, broken voting machines, ballot shortages, voter confusion and occasional abuse in a number of battleground states including Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The McCain camp raised its own charges of irregularities, accusing Black Panther activists carrying nightsticks of standing outside Philadelphia polling stations in an attempt to intimidate white voters.

McCain also accused out-of-state Obama volunteers of casting votes in Florida, and of voters casting multiple ballots in Florida.

Reflecting the intensity of the campaign, Obama and McCain put in a final burst of campaigning after casting their own votes. Obama made a final dash from his home in Chicago to neighbouring Indiana, which was Republican in 2004.

Reporters travelling with him reported that the candidate was in a subdued rather than celebratory mood, perhaps reflecting the news of the death of his grandmother on Monday.

Obama told them that whatever happened, the campaign, the longest in US history as well as the costliest at more than $1bn, had been "extraordinary".

ballot – karta do głosowania

buck – wspierać, wzmacniać

curb – ukracać, hamować

epic – imponujący

exit poll – sondaż prowadzony po wyjściu z lokali wyborczych

heartland – kraj lub obszar leżący w środku

impend – zblizać się, zagrażać

indicator – wskaźnik

intimidate – onieśmielać, zastraszać

scope – zakres

scrutinise – dokładnie analizować

subdued – przygaszony, przygnębiony

surge – nagły napływ, fala

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