Voters swarm to polls on Election Day 2008

— -- Americans by the millions continue to cast their votes Tuesday to choose the next president in an election that will be historic, no matter what the outcome.

Republican nominee John McCain and Democratic nominee Barack Obama voted, then went back on the campaign trail one last time to try to rally their supporters. If Obama wins, he will become the first African American president; a McCain victory will put into office the oldest person ever elected to a first term, as well as the first female vice president in Sarah Palin.

Lines of voters formed at polling places as early as 4 a.m. in many states. Obama led in national polls and appeared to have the edge in key battleground states, but Republicans expressed optimism that McCain could put together the 270 electoral votes needed to claim the presidency.

By tradition, the small New Hampshire community of Dixville Notch cast its ballots shortly after midnight and released the results: Obama 15, McCain six.

Except for snow in the Rockies and Northwest and rain along the Mid-Atlantic coast, weather did not appear to be a factor in voter turnout, which was heavy in some states.

In Columbus, Ohio, voting went smoothly. There were short lines or no lines at most polling places after a burst of early morning voting.

Four years ago, the state suffered long voting lines on Election Day, when some voters had to wait more than six hours to cast their ballot. This year, at least 1.5 million of Ohio's 8 million voters took advantage of absentee voting that permitted casting ballots by mail or in-person at election offices. The state also added thousands of voting machines to reduce waiting.

"I'm worried as can be, but things have worked smoothly for the most part," said Denise Sinkfield, the election supervisor at a large polling station at the Driving Park Recreation Center.

In Raleigh, N.C., where voters turned out despite a steady rain, Jimmie Taylor, 52, a truck driver who voted for the first time in 10 years, said the economy was his chief concern.

"People don't have jobs, and we need a change," Taylor said, adding that he was drawn to Obama because of his eloquence. "He talks good, I like what he says."

Many votes have been cast for days. Though the overall number of early votes was unknown, there were more than 29 million ballots cast in 30 states, suggesting an advantage for Obama.

Democrats voted in larger numbers than Republicans in North Carolina, Colorado, Florida and Iowa, all of which went for President Bush in 2004.

Obama, accompanied by his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, was the first of the two presidential hopefuls to vote. He marked a long paper ballot at Chicago's Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School as his daughters looked on.

"I feel great, and it was fun. I had a chance to vote with my daughters," Obama said. "I feel really good."

Asked whether he was feeling sentimental, Obama replied, "You know, I'm sure I will tonight — that's when polls close."

He then flew to neighboring Indiana to work the get-out-the-vote phones at an Indianapolis union hall. He planned to end Tuesday with an election night rally at Chicago's Grant Park.

McCain, who voted at a church in Phoenix, stepped out of a sport-utility vehicle with his wife, Cindy, as a small crowd cheered, "Go, John, go!" and "We love you!"

They walked into the church, cast their ballots and left within minutes, avoiding any lines. The senator signed a poster and gave the thumbs-up sign before leaving without speaking to reporters.

McCain then flew to Grand Junction, Colo., to address a cheering crowd.

"I feel the momentum. I feel it, and you feel it," he told the crowd. "And we're going to win this election. We're going to be up late tonight." He planned an election night rally in Phoenix.

McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Palin, returned to her hometown of Wasilla to vote and said she looked forward to the end of the day. She planned to join McCain Tuesday evening in Phoenix.

"I hope, I pray, I believe that I'll be able to wake up as vice president-elect and be able to get to work in a transition mode with a president-elect McCain," she said after voting in the town hall where she once served as mayor.

Obama's running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, voted at a private school about a half-mile from his home in the Wilmington area. Biden walked into the school holding the hand of his mother, Jean.

Biden's wife, Jill, and his daughter, Ashley, also cast their ballots. After emerging from the voting booth, Biden gave a thumbs up and kissed his wife. He joked with his mother, saying, "Don't tell them who you voted for."

House, Senate races

The presidency was far from the only office at stake Tuesday. In House and Senate elections, Democrats seemed poised to extend their hold on Congress.

Of the 35 Senate seats at stake on Tuesday's ballot, 22 were held by Republicans, 13 by Democrats. Senate Democrats hold a narrow 51-49 majority because of the support of two independents.

Their goal was to reach a 60-seat, filibuster-proof Senate majority. Leaders in both parties said that was a long shot, but Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., head of the party's senatorial campaign committee, acknowledged that "Democrats are poised to pick up some seats."

His Democratic counterpart, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., predicted "a whole lot of seats" for Democrats, but he said reaching a 60-vote majority was unlikely.

In the House, Democrats counted on heavy turnouts to capture more than 15 seats held by Republicans, and they had a chance to wrest away an additional two dozen seats. Republicans had fewer than a dozen Democratic targets.

If the Democrats increase their majorities, it would be the first time in more than 75 years that the party received larger congressional margins in back-to-back elections.

Governors races

Voters chose governors in 11 states. Democrats have a 28-22 edge in governorships and appeared likely to win an open seat in Missouri. Close races were likely in North Carolina and Washington state.

In Washington, Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire and GOP challenger Dino Rossi, a former state senator, restaged their 2004 contest that Gregoire won by 133 votes after two recounts and a lawsuit.

Results may not be clear until later in the week because of mail-in votes that could be postmarked as late as midnight on Election Day.

The outcome could be delayed even longer in Vermont. The Republican incumbent, Gov. Jim Douglas, led in the polls but had less than 50% of the vote in the most recent surveys of his three-way race with Democratic House Speaker Gaye Symington and independent Anthony Pollina.

If no one gets 50%, the election goes to the state Legislature, which doesn't convene until January.

In North Carolina, a state that typically elects Democratic governors, Republican Pat McCrory, the mayor of Charlotte for 13 years, was in a dead heat with Democratic Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue. The winner will replace a Democrat, Gov. Mike Easley, who is stepping down because of term limits.

Perdue, seeking to become North Carolina's first woman governor, pitched her reputation as a problem solver after years in state government. In a twist on the national Democrats' change message, McCrory painted Perdue as a status quo candidate.

The results could hinge on how many newly registered Democrats and black voters casting ballots for Barack Obama also vote for Perdue.

Polls in Missouri gave Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon a strong lead over U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, who once worked for Nixon in the attorney general's office. The winner will replace Republican Gov. Matt Blunt, who did not seek re-election.

Ballot measures

Voters in 36 states considered 153 ballot measures. Most are referendums placed on the ballot by legislatures; 59 are grass-roots initiatives that needed tens of thousands of signatures to qualify.

Renewable energy is one of the top issues facing voters, along with ballot proposals that would ban abortion, legalize marijuana, protect farm animals, end affirmative action and use gambling to fund education.

Three states — California, Colorado and Missouri — have measures on their ballots that deal with alternative energy sources, including wind and solar power. "This is a fairly new issue to the ballot," says Jennie Drage Bowser, who has tracked ballot measures for more than a decade at the National Conference of State Legislatures. "It's a direct response to the demand for energy independence and the rising cost of energy."

Also new, she says, is a measure in South Dakota that would repeal eight-year term limits on state lawmakers and one in Colorado that would criminalize abortion by defining a person as "any human being from the moment of fertilization."

Californians considered animal rights. An initiative would require farms to give egg-laying hens, calves and pregnant pigs room to turn around, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs. Florida passed a similar measure in 2002 that protected pregnant pigs, and Arizona approved one in 2006 that covered pigs and calves.

Contributing: Peter Eisler, in Raleigh, N.C.; Larry Copeland in Tampa; Marisol Bello in Detroit; Dennis Cauchon in Columbus, Ohio; Wendy Koch and Randy Lilleston in McLean, Va.; the Associated Press