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20:22 - politics.co.uk's coverage of the election won't really start until 22:00 BST, but the night staff are now slowly drifting into the office, only half-prepared for the true horror of the shift they're about to pull. Our advice for this evening is to sit down in front of the TV with your laptop next to you. It's going to be a long night. We'll be keeping our eyes on all the American and British networks and touching base with our political analysts throughout the evening. politics.co.uk maintains an impeccably non-partisan approach to this sort of thing, even if it's overseas, but we will temporarily let our guard down to offer you this small piece of consolation: Whatever happens tonight, George Bush can't win. Good feeling, isn't it? Hold it close, like a blanket on a cold November night.
22:27 - OK, we're finally gearing up. Polls close in Indiana and Kentucky at 23:00, and then Virginia, eastern Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Vermont and most of New Hampshire at midnight. Our first two states probably won't call until midnight. Florida - by far the most important of the second round of states - won't call until about 01:00. If it goes to Obama, the ball is well and truly rolling. If it goes McCain's way its definitely not over, but those predictions of a landslide will be looking shaky. All of these times, it goes without saying, are British Standard Time.
23:01 - Tom Scotto, a lecturer in the department of government at Essex university and a specialist in American politics, is one of our analysts today. He says there's two important points we can make at this early stage. There's a high turnout, and that favours Obama, and there don't appear to be too many dirty tricks on the go. I'd say that favours Obama too, but I don't want a lawsuit. Here's what he had to say: "From the reports I've seen turnout looks very strong. There are waits at the polls of a few hours. That bodes well for Obama. There are people who probably haven't voted before going to precincts that haven't been ready for this kind of turnout so that's slowed things down a bit. Overall, there have been no big problems. Some machines were faulty but nothing huge. There have been very few reports of dirty tricks or anything like that. There would have been mass complaints already if this was going to be an issue. We've had the odd report of people getting emails saying the vote is on Wednesday not Tuesday, but nothing widespread."
23:42 - East coast results come in first. You need to look out for Virginia, North Carolina and Florida. "If those three go for Obama you don't need to stay up late," Tom says. Taking your eyes off the Obama/McCain show for a moment, North Carolina has an interesting Senate competition reaching its climax tonight. Kay Hagan is running against Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole - wife of the former presidential candidate Bob - in an all-female contest. Mrs Dole has proved spectacularly unpopular, and the Democrats are looking for a pick-up here. Don't stop paying attention just because it's not presidential. The Democrats want a 60 seat majority in the senate to make it 'filibuster proof'. If they hit that number, you're looking at a massive change in American politics. Obama will be able to pursue his agenda without any pesky Republicans getting in his way.
00:00 - Kentucky calls for McCain. Bear in mind this means nothing. Kentucky will vote Republican until the end-of-all-things.
00:04 - Vermont calls for Obama. This also means nothing. Vermont is solid Democrat.
00:10 - Alot rests on when Virginia calls. Many commentators are impressed Virginia is even in play at all. If it calls early for Obama, or it does so by 100,000 votes or so, it looks like it's over for McCain.
00:18 While we have a brief lull in proceedings, we should probably mention that when we say states are calling they're, um, not actually calling. States often take hours to call, but the networks base their calls on exit polls. This has previously caused alot of trouble, like when Bush became president essentially because Fox decided to unilaterally call for him. But don't worry, we'll be taking every care to not bring you results until we've ascertained their reliability. That means everything being double sourced from reliable, independent sources. Being impeccable journalists, of course, we would never do it any other way.
00:54 - South Carolina has called for McCain. Again, no surprises there. The state is solid Republican.
00:58 - A mass of polls are about to close, including Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Jersey, Alabama and Mississippi, whose name, as it happens, I rather enjoy writing down. The first polls are now closing in Texas, South Dakota and Michigan.
01:00 - Connecticut has called for Obama. DC has called for Obama. So has Maine, Vermont, Massachutts, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and Illinois.
01:03 - Three per cent of the popular vote is in and its 53 per cent for Obama and 46 per cent for McCain. Remember it's not the popular vote that decides the president, it's the electoral college. The candidates need 270 of those to pass the finish line. As it stands, McCain has 34, Obama has 103.
01:16 - Pennsylvania has called for Obama. This is pretty important, because it eases the need for him to win Florida. As things stand, you'd rather be in Obama's shoes.
01:30 - New Hampshire calls for Obama. This is a serious blow for McCain and really limits his options. He was relying on turning this state back to the Republicans, after it fell to John Kerry four years ago by one point.
01:33 - Oklahoma and Tennessee call for McCain.
01:38 - Arkansas and Alabama call for McCain.
01:42 - Georgia calls for McCain. That's all well and good, but he still needs an exceptional night in order to win now. If he drops any of Bush's states at this stage, the lights will start going out. He could start turning blue states red, of course, but that seems deeply unlikely.
01:50 - The Georgia vote will be a disappointment to Obama. He put alot of effort - and money - into the state, which easily went for Bush last time. Black voters made up about 35 per cent of those casting early and Democrat strategists were hoping for an African-American surge to get them in.
01:57 - Polls are about to close in New York, Michigan, New Mexico, Colorado and Wisconsin. New York will go Obama. New Mexico is an interesting one. It tends to flip between Republicans and Democrats, but with its massive Hispanic population , it will give some indication as to how far this group has warmed to Obama. US Hispanic voters showed signs of staying away from Obama due to his race - hence their support for Hilary Clinton in the Democrat contest - and liberal social attitudes.
02:00 - Michigan and Minnesota call for Obama. So does New York, with its big batch of electoral college votes. Kansas calls for McCain.
02:02 - Wisconsin calls for Obama.
02:03 - Rhode Island calls for Obama.
02:04 - Fox news is calling that Obama has taken Ohio. It's not being backed up by any other sources we can find yet, but if he has that's game over for McCain
02:08 - North Dakota calls for McCain.
02:11 - Wyoming calls for McCain. Depending on who you listen to, and in this particular case we are listening to CBS, Obama has 174 electoral college votes to McCain's 100.
02:22 - Leighton Vaughan-Williams, director of political forecasting at Nottingham Trent University, finally catches up with us after doing the rounds at Radio 4. We ask him if McCain has any chance now. "There hasn't been a way for him to get out of it for more than two hours now," he says. "We knew the result as soon as we saw first four precincts from Indiana. You need to compare them to 2004, and Obama was doing so much better than Kerry you could predict across the nation what would happen." Conversation moves on to Ohio, a key state. "Ohio is past the post, effectively," he replies. "It's in the Obama column. It's now just about how much he'll win by. It's only because everyone's still so jittery after the 2000 election that the major stations haven't called it for Obama already."
02:24 - And with that, Ohio calls for Obama. The immediate stats are that Obama took it with 56 per cent.
02:36 - Louisiana and West Virginia call for McCain, but New Mexico has called for Obama.
02:39 - Texas calls for McCain. According to ABC, Obama is now on 200 to McCain's 124.
02:42 - Something very few people are talking about is the insane tightness of the popular vote. Obama is on 50 per cent and McCains on 49 per cent. That's interesting, because there was some suggestion Obama would dominate in the popular vote, but perhaps struggle a little in the electoral college vote.
02:50 - Back to that Senate race in North Carolina. Elizabeth Dole is out by 44 per cent to 53 per cent. She's giving a rather senile speech right now, about a little boy who doesn't want to go heaven. Apparently her husband Bob baked her a cake earlier. Nice.
02:53 - Huge crowds are gathering in Grant Park, in Chicago, where Obama is set to deliver his speech. Chicago, of course, is where Obama began his political career as a community organiser. Assuming he wins, and everyone at this stage is assuming exactly that, you need to tune into that speech. Over the course of your life you will see many replays of it (remember Blair stepping out in 1997 to say "a new dawn has broken has it not"?) so you might as well be there for the real thing.
03:00 - Iowa calls for Obama.
03:05 - By the way, we're not sure if you noticed yet, but Barack Obama is the next president of the United States. There's really no way back now. The American networks are being cautious to the point on lunacy and here's what the Spectator has to say about the BBC's coverage: "The BBC could take a lead and forecast what is now a no-brainer; but its coverage is as timid as the US networks." It's hard to properly appreciate what is happening when you're in the thick of it and trying to double-source results, but dimly in the back of our minds we're aware that America just voted its first black president, and that today is a genuinely historic day.
03:26 - Similar things are going in Arizona, where crowds are growing to see John McCain make his speech. I say similar, but apparently there's only six to eight thousand people there. Not quite the same as the sea of humanity in Chicago. Republican officials are briefing the press that they always wanted to keep it small. Nebraska has just called for McCain, by the way.
03:41 - Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, is making a speech. Obama "has a great vision for the future of America," she says. No surprises there. "Although the results are not in yet, it looks like we'll be increasing our majority in the Senate," she continues. That's about as close to a victory speech as you're going to get from her, apparently. Everyone's still hyper-cautious.
04:00 - Utah calls for McCain.
04:00 - The last set of results are about to come in. Brace yourself. This should close the deal. Alaska come in later so it shouldn't affect anything. It would be a nice cherry on Obama's cake though, for him to take Sarah Palin's state.
04:01 - California and Washington call for Obama. That takes him to 273 electoral college votes. Barack Obama is the next president of the United States.
04:10 - Idaho calls for McCain. None of this really matters anymore, but we've started so we'll finish. Texas and Mississippi have also called for him.
04:15 - Colorado calls for Obama, as does Florida.
04:17 - McCain has stood up to make his concession speech.
04:18 - "The American people have spoken," he says. When he says he called Obama to concede, some people in the crowd jeer. McCain stops them. He's full of praise for his opponent. "I've always believed America offers opportunities to those who have the will to seize it," he continues. "Let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on Earth. The senator has achieved a great thing." He offers Obama his sympathy for the death of his grandmother.
04:22 - "I urge all American s who supported me" to come together. It's really a good concession speech. There are lots of people there, by the way. It's hard to take anything from McCain right now; he's immensely modest. "The failure is mine, not yours," he tells the crowd. They shout: "We love John" at him, and then: "U-S-A".
04:24 - He tells everyone how grateful he is, and expresses, in that way American politicians must, how much he loves his wife. You'll hear people say this alot over the next couple of days, but we're looking at the McCain we used to see. The kind of candidate you look at and think: "Good bloke". He's gracious, modest and proud, nothing like the angry, uncertain figure we've been looking at the last few weeks.
04:26 - "A lost election will never mean more to me than the privilege of your faith and friendship," he says. "This campaign was and will remain the great honour of my life."
04:27 - Every time he mentions Obama or his running mate Joe Biden, the crowd boo, and every time they do that he stops them. "I call on all Americans to not despair of our present difficulties. Americans never quit. We never hide from history, we make history." Yes I know. But you have to appraise American speeches in their context. It was an excellent speech for an American politician. If it was a British politician we'd have been on the floor laughing. Sarah Palin seems happy. Presumably she's going home to plan her 2012 run.
04:39 - More states we forgot to tell you about are as follows: Obama took Hawaii, Oregan, Nevada and Virginia. McCain took Nebraska and Utah. Obama has basically won every competitive state in the country so far, apart from West Virginia. That, basically, is a mandate. President Bush has called Obama up, apparently, and told him - you couldn't make this stuff up - that it's an "awesome night".
04:53 - Kenya (Obama is half Kenyan) has just announced it plans to hold a national holiday because of the victory. Obama is expected to make his speech in about five minutes.
05:00 - Obama and his family have stepped out onto the stage in Chicago. "If there's anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where anything is possible, tonight is your answer."
05:01 - He's basically making that convention speech from four years ago about America not being a collection of red states and blue states, but this time he's the president. "Change has come to America," he continues. How long has he been waiting to say that, I wonder. He starts praising McCain, and the sacrifices he's made "for America".
05:02 - He thanks his running mate Biden, "a man who speaks from his heart". And it's on to praising his wife, "the love of my life". And his daughters: "I love you both more than you can imagine." He's going to buy them a new puppy, he says. Someone in the office just said how cute that is. That's not the reaction I had, which involved mostly horror. He mentions his grandmother, who just died. He's thanking so many people from his campaign team it risks turning into an Oscar speech. Let's hope he changes tack soon and makes this more historic.
05:05 - OK, here we go. His campaign was built by working people who were willing to give small amounts of money, on young people who disproved what people say about their apathy. "This is your victory," he says. "I know you didn't do this just to win an election. I know you didn't do it for me." They did it, apparently, because they understood the challenges facing America. Wars and recession, all that. He doesn't mention the near-terminal decline of the American empire. Now isn't the time. "The road ahead will be long. But America, I have never been more hopeful." The crowd shout: "Yes we can."
05:08 - "What began 21 months ago cannot end on this Autumn night." He calls for a new spirit of sacrifice - of "patriotism and responsibility". In America, he says, they rise and fall as one people. He praises the Republicans as a party. A party built on self-reliance, he says. That's pretty interesting. Stepping beyond praising his opponent to the party itself is beyond what he needs to do here. "The new dawn of American leadership is at hand." That's a soundbite if ever I heard one. "The true strength of our nation comes from the enduring power of our ideals."
05:12 - He talks about a woman who voted for him who is over a hundred years old. He uses her story to dramatise how much America has changed - votes for women and blacks, World War Two, man on the moon, that sort of thing - always cutting in with the phrase "yes we can". He's quite like a small town preacher, but an extraordinarily effective one. "Out of many, we are one. When we breathe we hope. Yes we can. Thank you. God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America." That's how he ends it. Really good stuff. Nothing spectacular, but he's really rather wonderful at this, and even a just above-average speech becomes Martin Luther King territory in his hands.
<05:35 - OK, that's it from us. Stay with politics.co.uk for all the comment and analysis of tonight's events. It's been quite a night. One day, someone will ask you where you were when it happened.