WHO'LL WIN THE WHITE HOUSE? OBAMA V McCAIN THERE are just 151 days until Tuesday, November 4, and the election of the most powerful man in the world. Who will be the next president of the US? Illinois senator Barack Obama, who now has the Democratic candidacy in the bag, or Arizona senator John McCain for the Republicans? TOM HAMILTON examines how the big two got to where they are and what they stand for.
... Barack Obama, 46
Obama was born to a white woman from Kansas and a Kenyan student sent to Hawaii on a scholarship. His father never really left his first wife, Kezia, in Kenya, even when he married Obama's mother.
Obama has said: "How and when the marriage occurred remains a bit murky, a bill of particulars that I have never quite had the courage to explore."
Bring a "responsible end" to the war in Iraq.
Ensure affordable health care through a universal system. Health care will get a top-to-bottom overhaul, perhaps led by Hillary Clinton, as will education.
Secure the borders and crack down on employers to reduce illegal immigration.
Work with the international community to combat global warming and the spread of pandemic diseases.
From the start, Obama is promising a blizzard of reforms, beginning with closing Guantanamo, ending torture and shutting down the war in Iraq.
But Obama's offer to talk to the Iranian leadership disturbs Jewish voters, even though two-thirds of Americans back the president meeting leaders of enemy countries.
Funding & Support
Already the greatest fundraiser of all time for a presidential candidate.
He hauled in more than pounds 126million by the end of April.
Many celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Bruce Springsteen, George Clooney, Macy Gray, Halle Berry, Jennifer Aniston and Steven Spielberg back him.
Married to Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, 44, a Harvard Law School educated hospital executive and mother to nine-year-old Malia and six-year-old Sasha.
Obama works out on the basketball court every morning.
He also likes poker. He has no pets, although his children want a dog.
His doctors say he has no "excess body fat" as he is a regular jogger.
His history of smoking (and lying about quitting when he was still puffing last August) may come back to haunt him with the health police. His staff carry a pack of emergency nicotine replacements.
Obama is a fastidious eater who toys with poached salmon and lettuce but for the cameras, he puts on a show of eating big breakfasts and quaffing beers in sports bars.
In the Republican corner, John McCain, 71
McCain's father and grandfather were both highly decorated admirals and he was born in the Panama Canal Zone.
Fighter pilot McCain was tortured during the five-and-a-half years he was held by the Vietnamese after being shot down.
He divorced his first wife on his return from the war, hooking up with second wife Cindy - 18 years younger and heiress to a beer fortune.
Super-wealthy Americans might benefit from an attempt to make George Bush's tax cuts permanent.
McCain defines his mission as "reforming and reinventing government"- by which he means slimming it down.
He is hostile to the sort of government agencies responsible for the disastrously slow response to Hurricane Katrina and the housing market collapse.
Abroad, he is warning a nuclear armed Iran would threaten Israel and withdrawing troops from Iraq would weaken the entire Middle East.
He is trying to tar Obama as soft on terrorism, pointing out that the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas have endorsed him for the White House.
Funding & Support
McCain is running his campaign on a relative shoestring.
He has little more personal wealth than he did 20 years ago but Cindy is worth pounds 51million. Celebrity backers include composer Burt Bacharach, Frasier star Kelsey Grammer, actors Tom Selleck and Sylvester Stallone.
He has seven children and four grandchildren.
Cindy,54,became so addicted to painkillers after back surgery that she was stealing them from a medical charity she ran.
The 1994 episode "nearly destroyed both of us", she said. But she attended Narcotics Anonymous and prosecutors dropped charges.
The pride of the McCain family menagerie is a 25-inch iguana. Then there is the hamster and Leo the snake.
McCain has a scar - covered by make-up - from head and neck surgery for skin cancer in 2000.
Doctors say he is in excellent health but he suffers from kidney stones and takes medication for high cholesterol.
War wounds mean he can't raise his right hand above his shoulder - so cannot brush his own hair.
THE BATTLE GROUNDS
A HANDFUL of swing states will be crucial, the largest being Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. Obama needs to win the votes of hard-pressed, white working class families in the south and north-east.
He also needs the Latino and minority voters of Florida and California.
But it's not just the total number of votes that counts - it is seats in the electoral college after 50 state-wide polls. Win a state and you get all that state's college votes. The magic number of seats to become president is 270.