Page last updated at 06:44 GMT, Tuesday, 4 November 2008

US rivals in last push for votes

Composite image of John McCain and Barack Obama campaigning on 3 November 2008
Mr Obama won the symbolic first votes cast in the hamlet of Dixville-Notch

The US presidential rivals have spent a hectic final day of campaigning criss-crossing the country in a last push for votes in key states.

Republican John McCain, trailing in opinion polls, started early in Florida and was to finish in Arizona. He urged his supporters to fight on to victory.

Democrat Barack Obama, at his last campaign rally in Virginia, told voters he had one word for them: "Tomorrow."

On Tuesday, voters will give their verdict and pick the 44th US president.

In a symbolic opening to election day on the US east coast, Mr Obama defeated his rival by 15 votes to six in the hamlet of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire.

Barack Obama pays tribute to his grandmother

The town, which has a 60-year tradition of being first in the nation to vote, opened its polls at midnight, with turnout of 100%. George W Bush won there in 2004, on his way to re-election.

On the eve of the ballot, Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin was cleared by an investigator for the Alaska Personnel Board of violating state ethics laws as governor of Alaska.

A separate report released last month found that she did abuse her office by allowing her husband and staff to pressure Alaska's top law enforcement official to fire her former brother-in-law.

Mrs Palin sacked Walt Monegan, the state public safety commissioner, but denied it was because of his refusal to dismiss her sister's ex-husband, a state trooper.

Tributes to grandmother

Meanwhile, Senator Obama said his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham - who largely raised him as a child - had died aged 86 in Hawaii after losing her battle with cancer.

In a joint statement with his half-sister, he described her as "the cornerstone of our family, and a woman of extraordinary accomplishment, strength, and humility", adding that their debt to her was "beyond measure".

Gavin Hewitt
If victory goes to Obama, there will be a lot of tears and a lot of memories, some painful
Campaign Trail: Gavin Hewitt

Senator McCain and his wife Cindy issued a statement offering their deepest condolences to Mr Obama and his family.

At an event in North Carolina, Mr Obama appeared emotional as he spoke of his grandmother, saying she had died peacefully in her sleep with his sister by her side.

Later, giving his final speech of a 21-month-long campaign, he told supporters in Manassas, Virginia, that he had found the long journey to election day both humbling and enriching.

"You have moved me again and again, you have inspired me, sometimes when I am down you've lifted me up," he said.

"You've filled me with new hope for our future and you've reminded me about what makes America so special."

A USA Today/Gallup poll published on Monday found likely voters favour Mr Obama by 11 points over Mr McCain, 53-42%.

John McCain tells supporters "we will win"

Other national polls indicate Mr Obama's lead over his rival is holding steady at between five to 11 percentage points.

But the BBC's James Coomarasamy, in Washington, says that while Mr Obama has held a pretty steady lead for several weeks, a number of factors could undermine the pollsters' predictions.

Among them, he says, are the role the Illinois senator's skin colour may play in voters' intentions; whether newly-registered voters will actually vote; and the Palin effect - whether Mr McCain's running mate has energised or alienated Republicans.

McCain defiant

Both camps are keenly aware of the need to get voters out in the states that polls suggest remain in the balance.

Mr McCain was to dash through half a dozen states on the marathon campaign's final day - including Florida, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Mexico and Nevada - before heading home to Arizona.

map of final day's campaign
Various polls suggest Mr Obama has a two- to four-point lead over him in electoral vote-rich Florida.

On Monday morning, the 72-year-old told a crowd of about 1,100 supporters in Tampa, Florida: "Senator Obama is running to spread the wealth, I'm running to create more wealth."

Mr Obama, 47, spent Monday targeting states that four years ago voted Republican but where he now has a chance of winning, including Virginia and North Carolina, which have not backed a Democratic hopeful in decades.

Both campaigns have thousands of volunteers working flat-out manning phone banks, handing out brochures and knocking on doors ahead of Tuesday's election.

Some 130 million Americans are expected to vote, in a higher turnout than in any election since 1960, the BBC's North America editor Justin Webb says.

A record 27 million people had already cast absentee or early ballots as of Saturday night.

Join us on 4 November to follow the news as America votes, including:
Live text updates through the day and night, with input from BBC correspondents around the US
Results as they come in, on a live updating map, from midnight GMT
Streaming video of the BBC election night programme in Washington
Analysis from BBC North America editor Justin Webb in Washington, and Gavin Hewitt and Matthew Price at the candidates' HQs

Under America's Electoral College system, states are apportioned votes based on their population, the biggest being California with 55 votes.

A candidate needs to gain 270 out of the 538 Electoral College votes to win the presidency.

When Americans go to the polls, as well as choosing a new president and members of Congress, they will be casting votes on a wide range of ballot initiatives such as same-sex marriage, abortion and animal rights.

Polls suggest the six closest state races on election day will be in Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Nevada and Ohio.

Mr McCain holds the lead in Indiana and North Carolina, but Mr Obama is ahead in the others, the latest polls from Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby suggest.

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