Gordon Campbell Live Blogs The US Election

8.20pm Ok, time to wrap this up for the night But first a recap, and then some consideration of the parallels to New Zealand. First, George Bush made it nigh on impossible for John McCain to win this election.

Essentially, McCain was faced with trying to get a mandate for a third term of Dubynomics – ie, Cronyism for Dummies – and for his failed foreign policy adventures. A hard ask. But then again. McCain made it even harder than it needed to be. Here he was facing an inexperienced black adversary and he still made himself look more unstable and far more risky a choice – and that failure was crystallised by his hare-brained selection of Sarah Palin, who thankfully we need never think of or mention again, ever. Oh, and lets mention that Obama, honed by the campaign against Clinton, built and inspired a colossal grassroots political campaign of whose like we will never see again in our lifetime.

How is any of this momentous event even passably relevant to the parish pump election contest we are having on Saturday ? John Key may try to deck himself in the mantle of change, but once again, he would really be faking it if he tried. In fact, please let’s call a moratorium on using cheap political slogans from the US. I even heard the debate tonight invoke “Joe the Taxi Driver.” Spare us. John Key – unlike Obama – hasn’t earned a mandate for change. he has only sought a mandate not to be seen as Helen Clark.

As for Bill English’s recent taped slagging of Obama… Well, this was cretinism of Rob Muldoon vintage, redolent of Muldoon’s slagging of Jimmy Carter, a guy who earned his academic credentials in nuclear physics, as a peanut farmer. Typical, both times. For all of the talk about the pursuit of excellence, this is not what the centre right is really about – in reality, they practice the politics of envy, in spades., Except that their envy is not about an envy of wealth, but of intelligence. Like English, they resent people with vision – and that’s the problem facing us on Saturday. We seem on the cusp of electing a government resentful of everything that Obama stands for – and we will be dumping a government that has been too timid to pay anything but lip service to the goals he articulates. The tragedy of the Helen Clark years is that she could have led, but chose to calculate the percentages instead, and play them.

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7pm OK, here’s a real irony. The mere fact that Proposition 8, the California initiative that would outlaw gay marriage is on the ballot has already played – whatever the eventual outcome – against the conservatives. In the past, the problem with California is that the result pattern back East can cause people to give up and go home before casting their vote. In 1980 for instance, Jimmy Carter’s totally stupid and unnecessary early concession did major damage to the Dems in California. This time, having such a controversial Prop 8 on the ballot will have boosted the turnout and vote – for President, for the House for the Senate – in populous California among the Democrats. 

The Proposition 8 measure is a reaction against a California Supreme Court ruling that said gay couples have a constitutional right ( under the California state constitution) to marry. The wording of Proposition 8 would restrict that marriage right to a couple comprised of  a  man and woman. So a yes vote would ban gay marriage, while a No vote would protect the  California Supreme Court ruling. After 21% of the vote counted, the Yes vote was well ahead, but SF Bay Area returns are not yet in, so it could be a long night on Prop 8. Other worthy Propositions  ie, to fund prisoner rehabilitation and drug treatment programmes within California’s bloated, punitive and hyper expensive and economically unsustainable prison system – which Act’s Rodney Hide wants to replicate here with his moronic “Three Strikes” policy  – are going crashing to defeat. Alas. 

In Senate races, the Al Franken/ Norm Coleman race in Minnesota is virtually deadlocked, with Republican Coleman just 12,000 votes ahead of the SNL comedian. If Franken can win this, it should get the Dems up to 58 Senate seats., The 60 seats target, always a mirage, is now beyond them In Florida, the House races have seen both of the villainous Diaz-Balart brothers get re-elected, thus preserving the iron rule of the anti-Castro faction in south Florida. Damn. In Georgia, the Senate race involving the Republican Saxby Chambliss was coming down last time I looked, perilously close to the 50 % mark that – under Georgia law – would require a run-off. It will all come down to the returns from Democratic DeKalb county. More on that race, and on the Proposition 8 result, as the night progresses. 

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6.20pm

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6.15pm Solid, but not a soaring speech by Obama, which is good. This result, as he says, belongs jointly to the people and the workers that he inspired to elect him, but the real struggle now begins. Stuff that can’t be done on rhetoric. Two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the worst financial crisis in a century, people putting their kids to bed at night fearful about whether they can make their mortgage. There is work ahead. But also..for now, there is a victory to savour. People win so few of these victories against the tidfe of right wing bullshit, that its really worth celebrating this one.  

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5:30pm  A gracious concession speech from John McCain, who looks like he can now reclaim the person he used to be before he chose to surrender himself to the strictures of the campaign. The line about ” the fault was all mine” was an interesting way of tackling one of the core differences between the Obama and McCain campaigns : namely, that Obama, in state after state has out organised, out inspired and out mobilised the Republican effort.  So if the failure was McCain’s, this  victory belongs to every single person who has worked their hearts out for Obama – many of them fourteen hours a day – for the past 18 months, who believed in him and who made it happen. People have rhapsodized about ” People Power” before. This has been the real thing. 

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5pm  Its official ! Barack Hussein Obama has been elected as the 44th president of the United States ! His electoral college tally is now 297, with more to come. And yet he’s the 44th president but – trivia question – only 43 people have been elected President. How come that’s the case ? Cleveland got elected twice, on two discrete occasions. 

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4.45pm Another big win. Fox News predicts Obama takes Virginia ! That would be, from memory, the first time since what…1964 ? that Virginia has gone Democrat. OK, lets also now talk about the Supreme Court. During the first term of the Obama administration, you can expect three retirements – justices David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginzburg and the 88 year old John Paul Stevens. At best, Obama will be able only to balance the bench against the solid conservative bloc of chief justice John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Obama will NOT be able to render it liberal, but instead will only be able moderate its headlong rush towards radical conservatism. And it does mean Roe vs Wade is safe.  

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4.24pm Its been a bad night for the myths – no sign of the Bradley Effect, and precious little sign of Hillary Clinton’s women supporters voting in pique for John  McCain. Another interesting snippet : ABC News asked a sample of voters earning $200,000 or more whether they would vote for someone who had pledged to raise their taxes. Answer, yes they would – by a margin of  53 – 45 %. Truly, that’s an answer for New Zealanders to ponder. Because cutting taxes need not be taken as gospel to be the nation’s top political priority, even by the wealthy – it can be having a better, more inclusive society, better public services, less crime, less income inequality, more care for the environment. 

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3.55pm More unintentionally hilarious lines from the glum panel on Fox News. Perhaps the image we had of Barack Obama from his past associations, of being far left, was not accurate, suggests one Fox talking head. That’s right, says the person from Fortune magazine. And just look at who he is now associating with for economic advice : Clinton era people like Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, Warren Buffett, Paul Volcker…So maybe he’s one of us. That’s what you call a seamless transition. 

Other news : McCain wins in Louisiana. I find that a bit puzzling. It has extremely poor regions and a large black population – as in Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas – but is fairly safe Republican territory. Anyhow, it also has in Bobby Jindal, the young governor of Louisiana, perhaps the best Republican bet to seriously challenge Barack Obama in four years time. Which would mean the first US black president vs the first Indo-American contender.  

In Minnesota, it looks as though, as predicted on Scoop, Norm Coleman may resist the tide, and beat comedian and Jon Stewart amigo, Al Franken. Its 43/38 to Coleman at half way through the counting. Another Senate seat ( Mo Udall in New Mexico for the Dems means they will probably top out at 58 seats, just short of what they were hoping for.  

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3.22pm Obama has just been projected to win Ohio. This it turning into a rout. MSNBC also says that McCain’s home state Arizona is too close to call. 

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3.20pm  Trying to get a handle on the Ohio results : the returns on the Ohio state site show that McCain has taken some of the rural counties that were not actually foregone conclusions for him : like Anglaize, Darke etc, but that Obama has just taken Perry County, touted here on Scoop last week, and by the Suffolk University pollsters as being the most crucial bellwether county in the entire state. Meanwhile the Cleveland Ohio, Plain Dealer newspaper front page says that the recent Obama /Bruce Springsteen concert/rally in Cleveland has cost the city $55,000 and they’re after Obama for payment of the bills. But he’s left town. 

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3.02pm  More wailing, and more wonders, from the Fox panel. We have thought of America as being a centre right country, says one panelist.  Are we now perhaps a centre left country? Yes, says Nina Easton of Fortune magazine, and isn’t that  because the financial meltdown has perhaps shown Americans that free markets do not necessarily produce a healthy economy ! Bill Kristol says the outcome in the presidential race, the House race and the Senate will produce the best outcome for the Democrats since  Lyndon Johnson in 1964. And remember it was from the ruins of the Goldwater campaign of 1964 that the New Right arose for Ronald Reagan to lead, and to the subsequent culture wars that the centre right has used to cloak its economic agenda. This Obama victory really may be a historical turning point for the United States. MSNBC/NBC in the meantime, are shaping as the fastest, surest on the draw in this election coverage. Check them out.

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2:30pm  Fox News, with what is clearly a heavy heart, also calls Pennsylvania for Barack Obama, and that folks is virtually the end of the contest. All else from here is gravy – and part of the gravy is Obama’s lead in Ohio, though that remains  too close to call definitively. In the Senate race, where the Dems needed 60 to construct a filibuster proof majority for President Obama’s legislative programme, they currently have 54. Which means they need to win 5 out of the remaining six races. Unlikely. By the way, the sad faces on Fox News and the sadness in the faces and voice tone, is priceless. How long have we waited to put the words ‘Bill O’Reilly’ and ‘schadenfreude’ in the same sentence? 

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2.12pm  NBC has called Pennsylvania five minutes ago for Obama – based on early returns, though no-one else has done so  CNN doing great reporting on McCain under-performing (vis a vis the 2004 scores racked by by George Bush) both in the rural areas of Virginia, and along the crucial I-4 Tampa/St Petersburg corridor in Florida, when he really needs to over-perform there, if he’s going to match the likely big response in urban areas of Florida/Indiana/and the northern part of Virginia that borders on DC. Things still looking OK for an Obama victory, though the returns so far in Georgia are a bit disappointing.  

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1.57pm Conservative pundit Bill Kristol on Fox says the results so far are ‘consistent with the polls,’ and consistent with a ‘comfortable Obama victory.’ Virginia and Georgia though are not looking so far as if they are consistent with a landslide for Obama.  

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1.40pm After 12% of Indiana results McCain is still ahead, but as mentioned before the results from Gary and from Bloomington -not Marion, as I said earlier – have still to come in, so the Obama performance here is actually extremely good, in that he is staying within sight of McCain in the Republican’s strongest areas. Here’s Nate Silver’s take, from half an hour ago, on Obama’s performance relative to John Kerry in 2004, even in  the rural counties :

Steuben: Kerry 34%, Obama 42%
DeKalb: Kerry 31%, Obama 38%
Knox: Kerry 36%, Obama 54%
Marshall: Kerry 31%, Obama 50%

And in Florida, though after 2% only. Obama is well clear. More on that soon.

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1.02pm CNN has just projected two total non surprises : Vermont for Obama (3 electoral college votes) and Kentucky for McCain ( 8 votes ). New Hampshire, which was the one New England state in doubt a month ago for Obama, is clearing out to a firm lead for Obama, and in the New Hampshire Senate race John Sununu (Rep,) looks lost already.

In the Senate race in Kentucky things are currently closer than the outcome for the state itself, with the Republican favourite Mitch McConnell actually now being slightly behind after 9% of votes counted. The race for Indiana, after three per cent votes counted, is deadlocked – which should be OK news for Obama, since the urban areas of Gary and Marion still have to come in.

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12.40pm OK, first returns are coming in from Indiana and…no sign of which region but Obama has a slight 51/48 lead. In the Kentucky Senate race, Republican Mitch McConnell has cleared out to a 55/44 lead over his Dem opponent. McCain is, as expected well clear of Obama in Kentucky 61/37%. No trend so far.

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12 Noon Hi and welcome to Scoop’s US election day coverage. The first state polls close in exactly one hour, and nervous Obama supporters ( hello, world) could well have a rocky first half hour if this election is at all close, so let’s all be brave. Those first returns from Indiana and Kentucky may be rough.

Reason being, Indiana is at the outer edge of the Obama wishlist, and the first returns should come in from rural Indiana (John McCain territory) while the Obama strongholds ( the city of Gary etc) will come in later. Kentucky is also a McCain state, and the first Senate race of any consequence ( McConnell ® vs Lunsford (D) is tighter, but the seat should stay with the Republicans. Of course if the early Indiana returns go for Obama and Lunsford pulls ahead in Kentucky …its whoopee time !

The first indisputable signpost results will start to arrive around 1:30pm as polls close in Virginia ( seen by many as the litmus contest of the entire election) and in Florida. This morning, Virginia is already experiencing all three of the chief election process problems (a) registration book omissions (b) voting machine mechnical failure and (c) long, long lines of people waiting to vote. Virginia has stubbornly said it won’t extend the deadline for voting – but Florida, thanks to a sterling intervention by the Republican Governor Charlie Crist, has said that it will. Good on him.

The sight on CNN of long lines of people waiting patiently to exercise their right to vote is shameful, in the richest country on earth. Those lines remind me of the elections in South Africa in their first free election, in 1994. People there waited for twelve, fifteen hours or more to excise the precious right to vote. That’s something we should remember here on Saturday.

But in the US ? It has put people on the moon. It has spent hundreds of billions on the war in Iraq, and more hundreds of billions on bailing out the financial system. Yet when it comes to democratic choice, it runs a third world voting system. Bureaucratic hurdles, not enough voting machines, wet ballots in rainy Virginia, long voting lines etc…truly terrible.

Today, I’ll be relying on inputs from the usual suspects : the polling sites ( Five Thirty Eight.Com, RealClearPolitics.Com, and Pollster.Com) the Daily Kos commentary site, Chuck Todd on the MSNBC television site and blogs/commentary on scads of US newspaper sites. In times past, the state websites for Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia etc have all been useful, and are recommended.

The exit polls? After 2004 – and the false positives for John Kerry – I think everyone is now aware of the inherent uselessness of exit polls. I’d advise ignoring them totally.

My prediction ? An Obama win, with around 325 electoral votes, and a Senate race result with the Democrats winning 58 seats, two short of the magic 60 seats they need to over-ride a Republican filibuster on legislation – though one of those Senate contests ( the Saxby Chambliss Republican seat in Georgia) will almost certainly go into a run-off, so – even if it’s a good night for them – the Dems may have to wait a while to know if 60 is in their grasp. Talk to you again at 12.30.ish.