America Gets Ready for a Giant Obama Party; Backing Singers: P Diddy, Jay-Z, Mary J Blige, Kevin Liles and Beyonce Knowles at a Campaign Rally for Barack Obama in Columbus, Ohio, One of the Critical States in the Election

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Byline: JOE MURPHY

A MILLION Americans were gathering in Chicago's Grant Park today in the hope they will be celebrating the election of the first black President of the United States before the night is through.

The world's 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.

Today's opinion polls suggested a slight widening of Mr Obama's national lead to 7.5 per cent. His team were confident but some analysts were not ruling out a surprise victory by a dogged Mr McCain, who kept campaigning even after voting started.

Mr Obama, the Illinois senator and now Chicago's 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 but one million supporters were expected to watch on giant screens.

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.

The Obama campaign climaxed at a massive rally early today in Manassas, Virginia near the site of the first major battle of the American Civil War that ended slavery where an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 people turned out. …

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