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The BBC's Paul Reynolds
"A most interesting and complex picture is emerging."
 real 28k

The BBC's John Simpson in Tennessee
"Gore has finally let go of his reserve"
 real 56k

The BBC's Phillippa Thomas in Texas
"The Bush campaign is so confident it's predicting the margin of victory"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 7 November, 2000, 19:09 GMT
White House cliffhanger
Voters in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania
Voters in action in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania
Millions of Americans are voting in the tightest US presidential election for 40 years, with all eyes on a handful of key states.

The main candidates are now resting after feverish last-minute campaigning.

Polling began on the east coast at 0600 local time (1100 GMT), and will close in the west 17 hours later.

The Republican candidate, Texas Governor George W Bush, had a narrow lead in most opinion polls. But his rival, Democratic Vice-President Al Gore, was leading by 48% to 46% in the latest MSNBC poll.

Both parties are making millions of phone calls and sending armies of volunteers to persuade their supporters to get out and vote.

Key states' closing times (electoral college votes)
0000 GMT
Florida (25)
N Hampshire (4)
0030 GMT
Ohio (21)
Michigan (18)
Tennessee (11)
Maine (4)
Missouri (11)
Pennsylvania (23)
0130 GMT
Arkansas (6)
0200 GMT
Minnesota (10)
Wisconsin (11)
0300 GMT
Iowa (7)
0400 GMT
Oregon (7)
Washington (11)
California (54)

Voting was reported to be brisk at many polling stations. But turnout was expected to hover around 50% - about the same as for the 1996 election.

The presidential election could be decided by just a million voters out of the 150 million who are registered. Observers say turnout will be crucial.

A closely-fought battle is also under way for control of the Senate and the House of Representatives. All 435 seats in the House are being contested, along with a third of the 100 Senate seats.

Key states

The first big test comes in Florida, where polls close at 1900 local time (0000 GMT). It is one of a dozen or so key marginal states - including Michigan, Missouri and Pennsylvania - which are likely to determine the outcome of the election.

Gore speaking to schoolchildren after voting in Tennessee
Al Gore: Gaining ground at the last minute
The Gore campaign believes that if he can win Florida and Pennsylvania, the victory is theirs. The latest opinion polls in both states gave the vice-president a slight lead, despite trailing in most national opinion polls.

The winner will not necessarily be the candidate who wins the most popular votes, but the one who captures a majority of the 538 electoral college votes.

I need your help, I need your vote

Al Gore
Winning a state, even by a small margin, entitles a candidate to all of that state's electoral votes - making it possible for the winner to have fewer votes nationwide than the loser.

Of the battleground states, Florida carries the most electoral college votes - 25 of the 270 needed for victory.

You are looking at the next president of the United States

George W Bush

An hour after the first exit polls for Florida, a pattern may emerge from Michigan, Missouri and Pennsylvania. But the winner may not be known until polls close in California, Oregon and Washington on the west coast three hours later.

The campaign was the most expensive in US history, at $3bn.

Among the early voters in Chappaqua, New York, were President Bill Clinton, his wife Hillary who is standing for the US Senate, and their daughter, Chelsea.

President Clinton said he was at peace with not being a candidate and was not thinking about making a political comeback four years from now.

In what are called ballot initiatives, voters are also being asked to express their opinion on hundreds of issues, such as tax cuts, gun control and the death penalty.

Green threat to Gore

Mr Gore has been targeting the Democrats' core supporters - trade union members, African-Americans and the elderly - and emphasising his theme that Mr Bush would favour the rich.

But his task has been complicated by the threat posed by Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, who argues that both main candidates are beholden to corporate interests.

Mr Nader has been polling about 5% in opinion surveys.

One of Mr Bush's main themes has been that Al Gore is a "Washington insider" who has forgotten his roots.

Correspondents say voters face a choice between a degree of continuity in the shape of Mr Gore, or a move to the right under Mr Bush.

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