Page last updated at 12:55 GMT, Friday, 7 November 2008

Martha Kearney's week

By Martha Kearney
Presenter, BBC Radio 4's World at One, in the US

Barack and Michelle Obama celebrate victory
The noise that greeted Obama's victory from his supporters was huge

Friday 31st October:

Our first day in the important battleground state of North Carolina which has 15 electoral votes.

It's been solidly Republican since 1976 but no longer. You can tell this is a very tight race by the fact that Barack Obama was here last Wednesday and will be back again on Monday, the eve of the poll.

We go on a quick tour of party HQs.

The Democrats are in a beautiful Southern townhouse with a neoclassical portico. Inside, elegant furniture fights for space with posters for all the candidates. People are voting not just for their president but senators, governor, police chiefs and judges.

Saturday 1st November:


There are long queues of people at the shopping mall in Cary, a small town near the capital city of North Carolina.

They've come, not for any mid-season sales but in order to cast their votes early. People are prepared to stand in line for hours in order to get to the polling booths. In some places like Charlotte there were queues of up to seven hours. I can't imagine that happening in Britain. In fact, demand for early voting here has been so strong that they've extended the hours. Twice as many people have voted early in comparison with 2004. Out of those 52% are registered Democrats, 30% Republicans.


I am writing this in the middle of a crowd of Caniancs, fans of the ice hockey team the Carolina Hurricanes. They've just scored and the stadium erupted in a wave of red, the team colours.

This unity is certainly absent in the state's political contest. I talked to a few hockey moms outside and reminded them of Sarah Palin's joke about pitbulls and lipstick. Most laughed and I suffered no injuries.

Their views on the candidates varied. Some claimed that Obama is as red as a Canes shirt, "a socialist, a Marxist". Others supported the Democrats and told me this was the most exciting election they could remember.

The hockey game was pretty brutal but then this campaign has been bloody at times too.

There's a lawsuit going on in the senatorial race after a controversial ad by Senator Elizabeth Dole suggested that her opponent Kay Hagan was backed by a group called Godless Americans and was an atheist herself. That's a huge deal here.


At the North Carolina state fairground listening to country music.

Last week there were hogs and cows on show here. Now it's been transformed into a political arena. Thousands of people are standing waiting for Sarah Palin to arrive. Only 7,000 can get in which leaves many disappointed. Plenty of Nobama stickers, T shirts saying Read My Lipstick and one woman in full Uncle Sam dress including the letters USA in glitter stuck on her cheeks.

The staff cause huge excitement by throwing pink T-shirts into the crowd.

By the time Sarah Palin arrives, there's near hysteria. Her message was that the far left of the Democrat party is trying to take over the country, with higher taxes and plans to withdraw from wars which are nearly won.

Just before he was due to speak, I grab a few words with Bob Dole, the former senator and presidential candidate. He tells me that the polls suggesting an Obama win "aren't necessarily accurate". His wife Elizabeth Dole was notable by her absence.

Sunday 2nd November:

North Carolina is known as the buckle of the bible belt and churches are very important in political life.

We visited the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church where I had the immense embarrassment of being introduced to the 3,000 strong congregation. For these African Americans an Obama victory would be a sign that the wounds of racial division are healing. One young woman told me "it would mean that I could tell my little boy that he can do anything he wants in life".

So as polling day approaches, who will win?

Obama is ahead in the polls, ahead too in six out of seven battleground states. But I can't help wondering if there is a possibility of a similar scenario to the 1992 British general election.

An unpopular incumbent government is behind in the polls for much of the campaign. Then the issue of tax gained momentum unnoticed by the pollsters because "shy Tories" were too embarrassed to say which way they were voting. Could the around 5% of American undecided voters really be shy Republicans?

Monday 3rd November:

We're back in Washington DC and I put that question to the associate editor of

Kyle Trygstad was sceptical about the idea there could be enough uncounted Republican voters to make opinion polls invalid, adding Obama is ahead in all the key states; Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

I file a package for the PM programme and tell Eddie that I am now so tired that I look like a pitbull without lipstick.

I have no idea how the candidates have coped with their punishing schedule for so long.

In this last day of campaigning, Obama and McCain are crisscrossing the states to make last minute appeals in the battleground states.

After WATO (and yet another enormous American breakfast) we head off for one of those key states, Virginia. This has been Republican in the presidential race but now has a lead for Obama.

I interview a former head of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, Congressman Tom Davis. He said his party had been hampered by an unpopular president and by facing unprecedented amounts of Democrat money.

Tuesday 4th November:


After two years, billions of dollars and thousands of miles on the campaign trail, election day is finally here. As I write this at 7am, long queues are building up outside polling booths.


I am writing this at the Republican election party as John McCain makes his very dignified concession speech.

The party faithful came here in a mood of guarded optimism. Then the band stopped playing, the senior politicians left and the mood plummeted. At the moment when the California result came through, pictures of cheering Democrats on the TV screens were in stark contrast to the stony silence in the hotel ballroom. Lavish food laid on for a victory party remains uneaten.

Outside, jubilant Democrats are driving past the hotel, hooting their horns and making rude gestures at their enemies within. Not everyone is gracious in victory!

Down the road at Democrat parties the mood really couldn't have been more different. Huge cheers erupted as the networks called different states for Obama.

Election night party
Many wanted to capture the moment of Obama's victory

When the news came that he had won, my producer's tape recorder couldn't cope with the wall of sound from the crowd. We waited to the very end of the party to grab a couple of words with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, who enthused about Obama's acceptance speech and hinted that John McCain may get a role in the new administration.

Walked back through the streets of Washington in the early hours and then headed back to the hotel for a couple of hours sleep before the programme.

Wednesday 5th November:

At 5am I head into the office to present WATO. The newspapers capture the history of the moment - Obama Wins!

We focus on what the result means for both parties. Joel Benenson, who is in Obama's inner circle as his pollster, gives us an exclusive interview.

He talked to the president elect last night just after his acceptance speech and told me how Barack Obama has greeted his victory with equilibrium.

We also analysed the new Democrat foreign policy which is likely to mean a demand for Britain to send more troops to Afghanistan. The Foreign Secretary David Miliband sounded lukewarm to say the least.

I am heading off to bed now even though it's only 9am. My body clock has gone berserk but it's been worth it to witness this extraordinary change.

Thursday 6th November:

I visit the Newseum in Washington, dedicated to journalism.

Outside many Americans are looking at a display of front pages about the election. My favourite was the Honolulu Advertiser - Hawaii's Own Makes History.

Add your comments using the form below.


Your e-mail address

Town/city and country

Your comment

The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.

Martha Kearney's week
24 Oct 08 |  Politics
Martha Kearney's week
17 Oct 08 |  Politics
Martha Kearney's week
26 Sep 08 |  Politics
Martha Kearney's week
19 Sep 08 |  Politics
Martha Kearney's week
13 Sep 08 |  Politics
Martha Kearney's week
01 Aug 08 |  Politics

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2017 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific