JACKSONVILLE, November 3 – Barack Obama stood on the threshold of history Monday as polls awarded the Democrat a decisive edge over John McCain 24 hours out from the most scintillating presidential election in a generation.,
But McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, was adamant he would confound the pollsters to stage a shock comeback and wrench victory from the African-American Obama’s grasp on Tuesday.
McCain was to launch a frenetic dash through at least seven states on the marathon campaign’s final day.
Obama was blitzing through Florida, North Carolina and Virginia bidding to flip Republican bastions into his column.
Obama, on a historic quest to be America’s first black president, took to the stage in Cleveland, Ohio Sunday evening after a rousing set from rocker Bruce Springsteen that ended with the campaign’s anthem "The Rising."
"A rising is coming," the 47-year-old Obama exclaimed to 80,000 supporters in drenching rain. He confessed his delight to be rejoined on the campaign trail by his wife Michelle and two young daughters.
"Everything looks a little better. Crowds seem to grow and everybody’s got a smile on their face," he said. "You start thinking that maybe we might be able to win an election on November 4."
Obama lacerated McCain on the stricken US economy and said his rival’s policies would extend President George W. Bush’s legacy of financial crisis and "war without end" in Iraq, while neglecting resurgent militancy in Afghanistan.
The final pre-election poll of Gallup-USA Today published Monday gave Obama a yawning lead of 11 points: 55 percent to 44 for McCain.
"It would take an improbable last-minute shift in voter preferences, or a huge Republican advantage in election day turnout, for McCain to improve enough upon his predicted share of the vote in Gallup’s traditional likely voter model to overcome his deficit to Obama," the polling organization said.
CNN’s latest poll Sunday had Obama with a 53-46 percent edge, a Washington Post-ABC News poll gave him a 54-43 percent margin, and Rasmussen said the Democrat was on 51 percent to McCain’s 46.
Obama leads also in the battleground states where the election will be won and lost, including in states such as Virginia and North Carolina that have not backed a Democratic hopeful in decades.
McCain’s whistlestop tour Monday was expected to include campaign stops in Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Indiana, New Mexico and Nevada before the Republican was to head home to Arizona.
The Arizona senator, 72, said the polls had been wrong before, and would be proven wrong again come Tuesday.
"My friends — the Mac is Back," he roared Sunday in Pennsylvania, a Democratic state in 2004 that the Republican must win to have any chance of securing victory in an election year that is proving toxic to his party.
McCain renewed his attacks on his opponent’s patriotism and economic plans, arguing the Democrat was a quasi-socialist who would run amok with taxpayers’ money and surrender to Islamic extremists abroad.
"I’ve been in a lot of campaigns, I know when momentum is there. We’re going to win Pennsylvania, we’re going to win this election," the Republican insisted.
McCain’s campaign manager Rick Davis predicted a "slam-bang finish" as his boss shreds the pundits’ playbook in the greatest comeback of his storied career.
But the battle has narrowed down to states that have been reliably Republican in recent elections, as Obama’s deep-pocketed campaign expands the electoral map to places where the Democrats have not won in years.
If he wins every state John Kerry took in 2004, the Illinois senator has multiple routes that could take him to the world’s most powerful address at Washington’s 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. McCain has no room for error.
Victories in Colorado and Nevada out west, on top of his lock on Iowa in the US heartland, would enable Obama to clinch the White House without even winning the states that decided the last two elections: Ohio and Florida.
Each candidate is battling to reach the magic number of 270 votes in the Electoral College that formally selects the next president. States are apportioned electoral votes based on their population.
With the Democrats already on course to tighten their grip on Congress in Tuesday’s nationwide elections, the Republicans have been stepping up warnings about the dangers of one-party rule in Washington.
Asked about the possibility of a landslide win for Obama, his chief strategist David Axelrod said wryly: "That’s just a problem that we’ll have to deal with at the time."