HARRISBURG — Presidential candidates, surrogates and volunteers swarmed across Pennsylvania on the last full day of campaigning Monday, while local officials braced for an Election Day deluge of voters that was expected to be the largest turnout in decades.
Republican nominee John McCain, a frequent visitor to the state in recent days, appeared at a rally at Pittsburgh International Airport as a part of a seven-state barnstorming tour. He criticized Democratic nominee Barack Obama on a range of issues, from taxes to energy policy to foreign policy.
Polls showed Obama, who hopes to become the first African-American president, maintaining a double-digit lead in the battle for Pennsylvania’s 21 electoral votes. Obama was not scheduled to return to the state before polls close this evening.
Both candidates were well represented across the state on the eve of the election. Obama was getting help from his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, and former President Bill Clinton. Also, hip-hop artists Jay-Z, Sean “Diddy” Combs and Mary J Blige were in North Philadelphia for an Obama get-out-the-vote event. McCain was getting last-minute help from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Pennsylvania voters also will be deciding statewide contests for state attorney general, treasurer and auditor general, as well as competitive races for the U.S. House of Representatives and the state General Assembly.
Political observers predict about 6 million Pennsylvanians — 65 percent of residents old enough to vote — will cast ballots Tuesday. The weather forecast called for cloudy skies and daytime highs in the 60s across most of the state.
“We have the potential to have the largest turnout since 1960,” said Terry Madonna, a professor and pollster at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, referring to the year that John Kennedy beat Richard Nixon. In that election, more than a decade before 18-year-olds won the right the vote, 70 percent of eligible Pennsylvanians cast ballots.
McCain hopes to become the first Republican in two decades to carry Pennsylvania. He is counting on support from Republican strongholds in the central and northern regions, as well as crossover votes from working-class Democrats in the western and northeastern areas who helped Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton defeat Obama in the April primary.
Obama is banking on a strong showing in Philadelphia, its suburbs and other areas Democratic nominee John Kerry won in 2004.
This year, thanks to a relentless voter recruitment drive by Obama’s campaign, Democrats have added nearly 600,000 Pennsylvania voters to their rolls while the GOP lost a little ground. Democrats currently outnumber Republicans by more than 1 million.
Since early June, when Obama clinched his party’s nomination and the general-election contestants became clear, McCain has visited Pennsylvania on 25 days. Obama has campaigned in the state on nine days.
Christopher Borick, a political science professor and pollster at Muhlenburg College, said the historic nature of this year’s election — the first black nominee of a major party versus a war hero who would be the oldest first-term elected president — is heightened by public concern over the economy, the stock market and the Iraq war.
“How could you not be interested this year?” Borick asked.
At a Philadelphia news conference, Gov. Ed Rendell said Pennsylvania’s voting system was designed for turnouts of 60 to 65 percent, and that he believes some places may see turnout as high as 80 percent. He warned voters to expect delays — particularly during peak hours before 9 a.m. and after 3 p.m. — and urged them to be patient.
“This is an important election,” he said. “If you have to stand in line ... hang in there.”