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In Minnesota: Everyone Vs. Bachmann,
10:00 a.m. E.T.
There is an interesting twist in a House race here. After Republican incumbent Michele Bachmann said on MSNBC's Harball after incessant prodding from Chris Mathews she thought Obama "may have anti-American views," her Democratic opponent, Elwin Tinklenberg, saw more than $1 million in donations from across the nation in a week. Further, Aubrey Immelman, the Republican runner-up in the primary, is back in the race against her, running as a write-in candidate. He rejuvenated his campaign to pull Republican votes from Bachmann because she "dishonored her office." Says Immelman: "I've been waging a one-man campaign against Representative Bachmann since July, and now, for the first time, I have groups wanting to talk to me and giving me money," Immelman told TIME.By Justin P. Horwath / Minneapolis
In Missouri: Massaging the Vote, Literally
10:45 a.m. E.T.
When the Obama "Mobile Comfort Team" arrived at 5:30 this morning outside the Olive Branch Baptist Church in Kansas City's Brookside neighborhood, they found a line wrapped around the building in advance of the 6 a.m. opening. The volunteers were met with cheers when they began handing out chocolate chip cookies. Determined to make the long lines more bearable for Missouri voters, the Obama team was also provisioned with coffee, magazines, camp chairs, children's books and trail mix. They said that a licensed massage therapist was planning to tour the urban precincts, giving free neck massages to voters grown weary and stiff while waiting.
Democrat or Republican, all were welcome to a cookie in the bright sunshine of a gorgeous autumn day. One man enjoying the festive atmosphere, Kasey Denbleyker, allowed that he reluctantly chose John McCain after much vascillation. "I barely voted for him," he said. For the most part, though, this normally quiet polling place was swamped with Obama supporters, black and white, young and old. A volunteer attorney for Obama was on hand in case of difficulties or irregularities, though everything seemed to be going smoothly. "I felt blessed and privileged," Denbleyker said. "There's no security, no machine guns, it's not Zimbabwe." By Karen Ball / Kansas City
Texas: Who Did Early Voters Go for?
10:45 a.m. E.T.
Visits by Presidential candidates Obama and McCain have been as rare as jackalope sightings in Texas this campaign season, but apparently that has not dampened Texans' enthusiasm for the contest. Early voting turnout broke all the records this year with 8.5 million voters casting their ballots in the state's 15 most populous counties before early polls closed on Halloween eve. When the early vote totals come in from the state's other 239 counties the numbers could be staggering and Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade is anticipating up to 68% of the state's eligible voters will have voted by the end of Election Day.
Just what those high numbers mean in a state that is, for the most part, painted a deep red, is sending Texas pundits into hyperdrive. Is it Obamania? Evidence that Palin has inspired the base? Frustration at the economy (not as bad in Texas)? Or signs of a Democratic resurgence deep down the ballot over local issues like toll roads and education? Texans tend to describe themselves as conservative (48%) or moderate, according to a recent survey by the Texas Political Project, and have a rosier view of the Texas economy than the national one. Against that background, analyzing the turnout numbers is made even more tricky in a state with no party registration. Voters only "declare" their party when they vote in the primaries and this year most analysts believe up to 3% of the "declared" Democrats were crossover Republicans messing in the fight between Hillary Clinton and Obama.
But even in the most conservative areas of the state, for example, Lubbock, early voter turnout records are being broken. Among the 15 big counties, four of the five with 50% or just under turnout are bastions of conservatism Fort Bend (suburban Houston), Tarrant County (Fort Worth), Collin County (suburban Dallas) and Williamson County (suburban Austin). The fifth county is Travis, home of the state capital Austin and the big blue hole in the red doughnut. Hilary Hylton / Austin
Montana: McCain's Late Stand,
10:30 a.m. E.T.
Montana has only three electoral votes and has gone GOP in almost every presidential race for the past four decades. (LBJ won it in 1964; but Bill Clinton took it in 1992 only because Ross Perot chomped into what would have been the Republican vote for George H. W. Bush.) In 2008, however, the Obama campaign organized early for the Democratic primary there and has maintained its presence. Indeed, it has been running local TV spots continuously since June. While Barack Obama and his wife Michelle made several trips to the state this year, John McCain has not put in a single appearance. That kind of attention from the Democrats has apparently put the state up for grabs.
McCain's first Montana TV ads appeared just two weeks ago. There appears to be some kind of rushed response to the tightening at the polls. The Montana state GOP challenged the registration of 6,000 voters in seven predominantly Democratic counties but drew a stern admonition from a federal judge. The Republican executive director lost his job shortly after.
For McCain, who is counting on holding besieged Red states and taking one or two Blues to win, every electoral vote counts. Perhaps Montana's may prove decisive. As in many other places, the state is seeing a record number of early voters and absentee ballots. Meanwhile, the Obama campaign has recruited 300 volunteer lawyers in the state to be ready at polling places in case voters are challenged Election Day. The campaign has also set up a central call-in center in case someone needs to make a complaint or seek guidance. Polls open 8 a.m. Mountain Standard Time and close twelve hours later. By Pat Dawson / Billings