WASHINGTON, November 5 – Democrat Barack Obama took a huge step towards becoming the first black US president, as television networks projected he would win Pennsylvania to leave Republican John McCain a razor-thin route to the presidency.
On a night of high drama after millions of people cast votes in an election that could reshape US politics, Obama was also competitive in North Carolina, Indiana, and Virginia, formerly staunch Republican bastions.
Pennsylvania represented McCain’s best hope of capturing a state that was won by the Democrats in 2004, the central plank of his strategy given that polls show he will likely lose some of Republican states won by President George W. Bush in that election.
Tens of millions of people cast votes with America locked in a moment of national crisis, mired in the worst financial meltdown since the 1930s and tens of thousands of troops in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Pennsylvania call left Obama with a projected 103 electoral votes, more than a third of the way to the 270 electoral votes needed to clinch the White House.
Obama also won Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, Maine, New Hampshire and Maryland.
McCain captured Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, South Carolina and Oklahoma, the networks projected.
Another normally Republican state, North Carolina, was too close-to-call, as was midwestern Indiana, in another positive sign for Obama.
Two other key swing states of Virginia and Ohio had also halted voting, but there were insufficient votes counted to predict the trend.
Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said on ABC News that the campaign was cautiously confident.
"We like what we see in Indiana, we like what we see from a turnout perspective in Virginia and North Carolina," he said.
As expected, McCain snapped up Kentucky and West Virginia and Obama won Vermont, according to early network projections.
Democrats took a third seat from Republicans in the Senate on Tuesday, putting them on track to win a majority with 52 seats in the 100-member legislative body, major US news networks said.
Virginia’s Mark Warner filled a seat being vacated by veteran Republican Senator John Warner, who is of no relation to the winner, according to CNN and Fox, while Democrat Jeanne Shaheen unseated Republican John Sununu in New Hampshire, said NBC and CBS.
In the Senate, where a third of the 100 seats were up for grabs, Democrats made three early gains in New Hampshire, North Carolina and Virginia, leaving them a lock to gain at least a majority in the chamber.
It looked unlikely that they would win enough of the 35 seats of offer to reach the magic threshold of 60 seats needed to thwart Republican delaying tactics.
Among the Republican casualties was Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina, wife of former Senate majority leader and defeated 1996 presidential nominee Bob Dole.
Obama had a solid lead in final national polls and held the edge in a string of battleground states that could still swing the election either way, as both candidates hunted the 270 electoral college votes needed to win.
All day, long queues snaked outside polling places as voters braved hours-long waits, rain, or shivering cold amid unanimous predictions of record turnout at the climax of the longest and costliest White House race in history.
CNN reported that exit polls showed that the economy was the top priority, being named by 62 percent of voters, compared to Iraq with 10 percent, terrorism on nine percent and healthcare on nine percent.
Obama made a short election day trip to the midwestern swing state of Indiana, after casting his vote alongside wife Michelle with daughters Sasha and Malia close by.
"I feel great and it was fun, I had a chance to vote with my daughters," he said.
"I noticed that Michelle took a long time though. I had to check to see who she was voting for," the Hawaiian-born US senator from Illinois, 47, said with a laugh.
Obama later showed up with some friends at a Chicago gym for his traditional election day game of pickup basketball.
McCain kept silent as he voted in his home state of Arizona, but later led a boisterous rally in Grand Junction, Colorado, promising supporters: "We’re going to win it."
There were scores of reports of malfunctioning voting machines and sporadic accounts of small-scale incidents at polling stations.
McCain’s campaign filed suit complaining that Virginia counties failed to send absentee ballots to military personnel soon enough for them to vote on time.
In the south side of Chicago, there was joy and disbelief that an African American candidate seemed to be on the threshold of the presidency.
"I think that we’re gonna get him," said 92-year-old Roby Clark as he waited to vote for Obama at a Baptist church in Chicago.
"Through God’s blessings, I think we’re gonna get him," said Clark who vividly remembers being forced to sit at the back of a bus in the segregated southern United States.
In Christianburg, Virginia, Norma Jean Lundis said she voted for McCain because he "stands for what I believe in — less government, lets me control my money, the right to bear arms, life begins at conception, marriage between man and woman."
McCain, a former Vietnam war prisoner would be at 72 the oldest president inaugurated for a first term if elected.
Obama, the son of a black Kenyan father and white mother from Kansas, would become the first African American president after a stunning rise to the pinnacle of US politics.