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On the McCain Plane: 'We Hung In There All the Way,'
6:43 p.m. E.T.
On the final flight of Straight Talk Air, John McCain came back to thank the press and reaffirm that he is feeling good about the race. He was followed by Steve Schmidt, the campaign's top strategist. McCain, said Schmidt, has "been working very hard over the last 100 days of the campaign. Long day yesterday. Late night. Early start this morning. And he's going to cross the finish line head up, running all the way. We will see results here in a few hours."
"It's the only way to finish anything that you do in life," he continued, "that's a competitive venture, which is full speed ... We did our absolute best in this campaign in really difficult circumstances. We had some tough cards to play all the way through, and we hung in there all the way."
"You look back in the middle of September," Schmidt said, "[the] economic collapse of the country, a number of different things. We did the best we can in historically difficult circumstances from a political climate. It is entirely doubtful that anyone will have to run in a worse political climate than the one John McCain had to run in this year. And we have a path to victory. We are going to know what it is in a few hours. But certainly on a personal level, I am very proud to have a chance to be associated with John McCain. He's a hell of a good guy. ""The global economic collapse in the middle of September occurred at a time when we were ahead in the race," Schmidt continued, "dropping the right-track number to roughly 5%, 6%, 7%, which are numbers that I don't think will ever be seen again in any of our lifetimes. It was a bad economic environment throughout the election, where people were angry at the incumbent party. At the end of the day, I don't think there is another Republican that the party could have nominated that could have made this a competitive race the way that John McCain did." "It's one thing we know for sure is that at a congressional level, the Senate Democratic majorities and the House Democratic majorities will expand," Schmidt said. "The party has been very unpopular. The President's approval numbers were not helpful in the race. But the party as a whole is unpopular with the American people, and that was a big albatross."
Asked if he was happy with the choice of Sarah Palin as McCain's running mate, Schmidt said, "You know, there will be time for all the postmortems in the race. I think that we'll know in a few hours what the results are, and there will be a time for all the postmortem parts of it." By Michael Scherer, with the McCain campaign
The Moon Over Kenya: With the Obamas of Kogelo,
6:03 p.m. E.T.
The clan made 20 L of moonshine to prepare to celebrate, and by the time midnight came around in Kenya on Nov. 4, all of it was gone and the Obamas of Kogelo in the Rift Valley were asleep. To be sure, a rainstorm had washed out much of the clan's festivities. But clearly no one was staying up to wait for the U.S. networks to declare a winner in that presidential race far away be it their favorite relative or not. (See pictures of Barack Obama's family tree.) They will wait for daybreak or a long-distance call for that news. By Alex Perry / Kogelo
Optical Scanning Problems in Ohio,
4:50 p.m. E.T.
There are reports coming in from around the state that several precinct-level optical scanners are breaking down. About half of Ohio's 88 counties use optical-scanning technology, where voters fill in ovals on paper ballots that are then read by an optical scanner. The rest use electronic touchscreen machines.
The precinct-based machines are significant they are used by voters to double-check their votes. A lack of them was the subject of an ACLU lawsuit against the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections this spring. Federal law requires voters to be given a chance to check their ballot for errors, also known as second-chance voting. (Studies have shown that mistakes on ballots lead them to be thrown out at higher rates in low-income, minority communities.)
In Cuyahoga County, at least three precincts saw a scanner malfunction, according to the Cleveland ACLU. Other counties are seeing similar problems. However, the ACLU adds, most boards of elections have dispatched troubleshooters to fix the problems, leading to only short delays. The larger issue at hand is that in the interim which was 45 minutes at one Cleveland precinct and at least four hours at a suburban voting location voters are simply putting their ballots into locked boxes, without the ability to scan them through first. That's turning into a violation of the Help America Vote Act's second-chance voting provision.
Isolated incidents of touchscreen-machine problems are also coming in. Again, the ACLU says, boards of elections are responding quickly to fix problems so they don't turn into nightmares. By Charu Gupta / Cleveland
How John McCain Waits,
4:42 p.m. E.T.
When the voters finally take over, the candidates are left to go to the movies or cocoon themselves in hotel rooms with nothing better to do. In the past, John McCain has favored the movie route. Back in 2004, he went and saw Ray on Election Day. Now, his aides say, they may bring a DVD player to his hotel room to pass the time Tuesday afternoon.
After he cast his ballot in the morning, McCain took a quick flight from Phoenix to Grand Junction, Colo., for a final rally, along with a visit to volunteers in New Mexico. (The pilot of Straight Talk Air was forced to abort the initial landing in Albuquerque because of winds and heavy turbulence. We circled around and landed. Press cheered and sang "Highway to the Danger Zone," a regular campaign rally favorite.)
These events were designed to give the television networks fresh pictures to remind people to vote. But it's all a kabuki dance. The last days of a modern presidential campaign have a rote feel quick flights followed by airport-hangar rallies in which McCain makes jokes, strains his vocal cords and repeats the same speech he has been making for about two weeks. If the microphones are not working well, which is often the case, he jokes that they are "brought to you by the Democratic National Committee." When he gets to the part where he calls Barack Obama a "redistributionist in chief," he tends to slow down, because well, those words are tricky to say.
His staff continues to maintain that they are feeling good, pointing to those polls that show the race tightening in key states. But the race remains a hard hand for McCain to win. The public polls show him behind in a bunch of states that George W. Bush won in 2004. But polls don't decide elections. Voters do. And so McCain must now wait. As a practical matter, his campaign is already over. All that's left is to find out how well the American people think he did. By Michael Scherer, with the McCain campaign
Democracy Disney World at New York City's Election Plaza,
4:35 p.m. E.T.
The unseasonably warm weather brought tourists and New Yorkers out in droves to Rockefeller Center's "Election Plaza," an enchanting display of democracy on ice literally. NBC has temporarily transformed the iconic Rockefeller skating rink into a frozen map of the U.S.; the states will turn red or blue this evening as the election results are announced. In front of the art deco landmark, a gigantic TV screens display footage of the past 20 months of the campaign as The Today Show ticker streams news updates across the street. Tourists mill about in campaign buttons and patriotic outfits, posing for photos with the Republican donkey and Democratic elephant as if they were Disney World characters at the Magic Kingdom. Both animals seem to be equally popular, although based on the number of campaign pins, the crowd leans heavily toward Obama. Several teenagers even took photos lying down on the bright blue carpet that NBC rolled out for the occasion, the very same spot where the city's most famous Christmas tree will sit next month. Surrounded by cameras and curious pedestrians, MSNBC's Nora O'Donnell sits in front of the rink delivering the latest news about the historic election as Rockefeller guards implore the crowd to "just keep moving" and one frustrated local shouts, "It's just a lady speaking into a camera. I have to get to work!"
By M.J. Stephey and Claire Suddath / New York City
Why Palm Beach Democrats Are Smiling,
4:30 p.m. E.T.
A Democratic Party operative in Palm Beach County, Fla., is ecstatic. Not only does the high early-voting turnout favor Democratic voters, but the party appears to be ahead in absentee ballots, traditionally dominated by Republicans. "[In the past,] we've won races on the machines and lost them in the absentee," says Mark Alan Siegel, president of the Democratic Club of Boca Raton-Delray Beach, in the southern part of the county.
Of the county's 145,792 early-voting ballots, more than 88,000 came from registered Democrats, around 27,000 for Republicans and more than 29,000 from other parties that include independents. Siegel said Democrats currently outnumber Republicans in absentee ballots 43,000 to 36,000. Historically, it's not unusual for Republicans to outnumber Democrats 3 to 1 in that category. But county GOP chairman Sid Dinerstein says he isn't worried. "We'll catch up by 7 o'clock," he predicts. Hector Florin / Boynton Beach
Missouri's Divided County,
4:25 p.m. E.T.
Pundits talk all the time about a nation equally divided between red and blue, but Liberty, Mo., is the real thing. It's the seat of Clay County, where Al Gore beat George W. Bush by just one vote out of more than 78,000 cast in 2000. Just north of Kansas City, leading employers there range from a Ford plant to a liberal-arts college. Six different lines were going at the mega Pleasant Valley Baptist Church, some of the queues spilling out onto a parking lot scaled nearly as big as those at a pro-football stadium.
"Did you vote for socialism or democracy?" pipe fitter Danny McIntyre, 37, playfully asked a reporter at a nearby gas station after he voted. He said 12 of the 13 union workers in his shop were voting for McCain despite AFL-CIO efforts to convince them otherwise. This is about taxes, he said, not race. "The guys we work with they'd vote for Condoleezza Rice if she were on the ticket. They're pro-America." By Karen Ball / Kansas City