Finally it's election day

November 4, 2008 1:40:24 PM PST
I remember when we first looked up the date: Nov. 4, 2008. The election for the 44th President. It seemed so far away back then, when we first talked about the date on air, in the late spring of 2007. "An eternity in politics," is how we described it.

And now, looking back, it does indeed seem long ago. Back when Barack Obama didn't have any gray in his hair. Back when Rudy Giuliani led the early polls among Republicans. Back when the economy didn't seem to be issue number one; the war in Iraq was. Back when John McCain had no money, few staff, and carried his own bags through the airport. Back when Hillary Clinton seemed assured of getting the Democratic Party's nomination. Back before anyone heard of Sarah Palin. Back before the candidates spent $1 billion for the chance to live at 1600 Pennsylvania.

I won't dwell in this space today about how this election process has been way too long, way too expensive and way too negative, way too deceitful.

Instead, the focus on this Election Day will be positive. History will be made, no matter who wins. Either the country will elect the first President who happens to be African-American, or it will elect a man who happens to be the oldest ever elected President and the first Vice President who happens to be a woman. (Which is different, I think, from saying a black President or a woman Vice President.)

And the response to this campaign - the first since 1952 that a sitting President or Vice President isn't on the ballot -- is remarkable and exciting. Long lines, huge lines, blocks long lines, in so many cities before people went to work. And millions of them are first-time voters.

For John McCain, the challenge is obvious: Will he be able to win virtually every state that's still considered "in play" and not already solidly in anyone's camp? The polls indicate that the challenge will be at best arduous.

But if McCain should somehow win this election, then the pollsters and the polls should be tossed out and not used again.

I know that's harsh -- but the poll numbers have been so consistent, and the implications so damning for the Republicans, that even some of the most ardent conservative political wags are predicting an Obama victory. Their predictions are all based on the polling. And we in the media have used the polls, in one form or another.

If it's true that the polls reflect reality, then I think it's also true that the polls help build momentum for a campaign. Success begets success. And if the polls are somehow wrong, then we would be wrong to use them in the news.

Tonight, finally, we'll see. The only polls that really matter are the ones where Americans are voting and pulling the levers.

We will be here all night - on air and on the web. ABC News' coverage begins at 7 p.m. and Liz Cho and I will be bringing you updates every half hour on air, with longer coverage on our website, 7Online.Com. You can view the updates by going to http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/livenow?id=6479402.

We, like the candidates, are using the Internet like never before, and tonight represents another big step for us.

And finally, there are 7 states to watch with polls that close between 7 and 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. How they fare will serve as political canaries in the coal mine -- and all are critical for John McCain.

Closing at 7 will be Indiana and Virginia, which is a typically Republican state that is up for grabs this year.

At 7:30 polls close in North Carolina and Ohio; keep in mind that no Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio. And at 8, voting ends in Florida, Pennsylvania and Missouri - which has voted for the winning President every election except one, since 1904. That one exception: it voted for Adlai Stevenson in 1956; Dwight Eisenhower won re-election.

And what will news organizations do about calling this election if by some chance there is a landslide? If one candidate gets more than the required 270 electoral votes before every state has had a chance to vote, what to do? With all the information available on the Internet - ABC News has a fantastic interactive electoral vote map - anyone can keep tally over who has won which state, and how many electoral votes they have. So trying to keep this information away from the public -- despite calls from some politicians to hold off till all the states vote -- seems a bit impractical, even though it's not ideal.

With all that as prelude, hope you can join us tonight, as we report on democracy's big night.

BILL RITTER


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