Obama Crowds Flock to; Backing Singers: P Diddy, Jay-Z, Mary J Blige, Def Jams Russell Simmons and Beyonce Knowles at a Rally for Barack Obama in Columbus, Ohio, One of the Critical States

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Byline: JOE MURPHY

POLICE set up road blocks today as vast crowds headed for Chicagos Grant Park in the hope of celebrating the election of the first black President of the United States.

The worlds most powerful nation began voting at 6am to deliver its verdict on the two-year contest between Barack Obama and John McCain, seen by many as the most electrifying duel since JFK v Nixon.

Todays opinion polls suggested a slight widening of Mr Obamas national lead to 7.5 per cent. His team was confident but some analysts were not ruling out a surprise victory by a dogged Mr McCain, who kept campaigning around the country even after voting started.

Mr Obama, the Illinois senator and now Chicagos most famous resident, will give his first reaction to the result in Grant Park, which has been the scene of a papal mass and pop concerts. Some 70,000 tickets were issued for a central area while tens of thousands more were being allowed in a separate unticketed area. But after warnings that a million supporters were flooding into the area, city officials ordered the police to turn people away if necessary.

In a symbolic boost to his hopes, the tiny hamlet of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, swung behind him. It opened its polls at midnight in order to be the first to vote and after a 100 per cent turnout of all 21 voters, Mr Obama was declared victor by 15 to six. The village backed George W Bush in 2004.

Riding a wave of resentment against President Bush and over the economic downturn, Democrats were also hoping to make major gains in elections to Congress. They hoped to gain nine Senate seats, giving them a big enough majority to ignore Republican procedural devices that are used to block proposed laws. …