Despite fears of the same problems that marred the 2000 elections, long lines of voters are now deciding whether they want President Bush to continue leading the nation or whether they want Democratic Sen. John Kerry to take the country in another direction.
The time for verbal sparring between the two candidates has ended, and polls in most of the country have opened as Kerry and Bush prepare to wait for the election results tonight. The lines are long in many polling places as a record voter turnout is anticipated.
For weeks, various polls have shown Bush and Kerry in a virtual dead heat. Support for independent candidate Ralph Nader has been in the single digits. By election eve, millions had voted early in 32 states, including approximately 1.8 million in Florida. Just after midnight, the first Election Day votes were cast in two New Hampshire towns, Hart's Location and Dixville Notch.
Bush voted at a firehouse in Crawford, Texas, with his wife, Laura, and daughters at his side. He said he felt confident he would emerge victorious.
"This election's in the hands of the people and I feel very comfortable about that," Bush told reporters. "People know where I stand. I've enjoyed this campaign. It's been a fantastic experience traveling our country talking about what I believe and where I'm going to lead this country in four more years. … And I believe I'm going to win. I trust the judgment of the American people."
After late-night campaigning in Wisconsin, Kerry was expected to return to Massachusetts to vote and have lunch at the Union Oyster House in Boston.
The two candidates lobbied for votes until the early hours this morning, with Bush ending his campaign in Dallas and Kerry finishing in La Crosse, Wis. Bush campaigned in five states before heading to his ranch in Crawford, while Kerry made six stops in four states.
Bush and Kerry have sharpened their attacks on one another, and the bitterness has escalated as the race has tightened in recent weeks. In his final stops, Bush attacked Kerry's credibility, telling supporters that their choice at the polls should come down to "a matter of trust." Whether people have agreed or disagreed with him, they have always known where he stood on issues, Bush said, because he has shown conviction as president.
"The American president must lead with clarity and purpose," Bush said. "As presidents from Lincoln to Roosevelt to Reagan so clearly demonstrated, a president must not shift with the wind. A president has to make tough decisions and stand by them."
Kerry encouraged Americans to go to the polls, make their voices heard and start a new direction for the United States.
"Go to those polls," he said. "Help us. Join John Edwards and me and together we will change America. … Let's get the job done."