Barack Obama stood on the threshold of history Monday as polls gave the Democrat a solid lead over John McCain on the last day of campaigning for the most dramatic US presidential vote in a generation.
But McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, vowed to confound the pollsters to stage a comeback and wrench victory from the African-American Obama’s grasp on Tuesday.
The 47-year-old Democrat stressed the historic nature of his quest to be America’s first black president, striking an optimistic tone as fresh polls gave him a wide lead and heaped further pressure on McCain.
"This is a defining moment in our history," Obama wrote in an article published Monday in The Wall Street Journal.
"Tomorrow, I ask you to write our nation’s next great chapter… If you give me your vote, we won’t just win this election — together, we will change this country and change the world."
McCain was defiant. "My opponent is measuring the drapes at the White House," he said, as he wrapped up a frenzied day of campaigning with a midnight rally in Miami.
"The Mac is back! And we’re going to win this election," he added, to deafening cheers.
The Republican was to dash through at least seven states on the marathon campaign’s final day. Obama was to blitz through Florida, North Carolina and Virginia bidding to storm Republican bastions and turn them over to his side.
Rallying supporters in Ohio on Sunday, Obama said his rival’s policies would extend President George W. Bush’s legacy of financial crisis and "war without end" in Iraq.
McCain also attacked his rival on the economy, in his own Wall Street Journal article. "Senator Obama wants to raise taxes and restrict trade," he charged. "The last time America did that in a bad economy it led to the Great Depression."
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… to overcome his deficit to Obama," the pollster said.
A new Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll put Obama ahead on 51 percent to 43. CNN’s latest poll on Sunday had Obama with a 53-46 percent edge, a Washington Post-ABC News poll gave him 54 percent to 43, and Rasmussen said he was at 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.
A separate poll by The Washington Post and ABC said that in six states considered to be up for grabs, support was roughly split with 51 percent support for Obama and 47 for McCain.
McCain’s whistlestop tour Monday was expected to include campaign stops in Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Indiana, New Mexico and Nevada before he was to head home to Arizona.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll meanwhile suggested that McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, may be dragging down the Republican’s chances. The news network said that McCain had 48 percent support among people questioned, but support for McCain and Palin as a unit was lower, at 46 percent.
The Arizona senator, 72, said the polls had been wrong before, and would be proven wrong again come Tuesday.
"We’ve got one day left until we take America in a new direction," McCain told the roaring crowd in Florida. "First, last and always we are all Americans and we’re going to unite this country and get this country moving again."
The battle has narrowed 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 various possible routes to the White House. 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 for the winning number of 270 votes in the Electoral College that formally selects the next president. States are apportioned electoral votes according to the size of their population and in most cases the winner of a state’s popular vote gets all its electoral ones.