US election diary - Jon Snow

There's someone, not on the ballot, who has really done well, and that's God

The great advantage of entering the United States through Philadelphia is that there are fewer international flights landing, so reducing the US immigration nightmare. Not this time. The doors into the immigration area are locked upon our arrival, and stay that way for more than 20 minutes. Three escalators throw hundreds of passengers on to the tiny waiting area, and a flustered, overweight marshal howls into her handset. When eventually we reach the fingerprinting, the facial scanning and the inquisition, the only welcome sign reads: "Anyone assaulting a Federal Employee will face a jail term of up to ten years and a maximum fine of $10,000." Now why on earth would anyone want to do that?

This is the most bitter and divided election I've ever reported here. My first proper campaign was Mondale v Reagan in 1984 - a gentlemanly affair by comparison. It's amazing to be back on the road, encountering the network big shots I worked with back then. So many of the men have had their teeth done, or hair implants, or worse.

Flying to Dayton, Ohio on USAir, I sit between a German businessman in the left-hand seat and an American in the right. I realise that I identify more with the German than with the American. Would that have been true 20 years ago? When we land and reach the arena where Bush will appear in an hour, a woman in the queue, hearing my accent, asks me if I'm from the Guardian. I am in the thick of a busload of Republicans from Clark County, Ohio. Some are upset that they never got a letter from the newspaper's readers urging them to vote for John Kerry; another boasts that her next-door neighbour did. Then another part of the queue starts praising Tony Blair. How they love him. They see him as an American who ought to come home and be here for his own safety.

George W Bush makes the same speech at every stop. He speaks confidently on matters of terror, but domestic policy leaves him stumbling through his notes.

Arriving in Orlando, Florida for a Kerry rally late at night, we hurtle down Freeway 4 North. Coming off the slip road a trifle fast, I cut up the driver behind. I completely forget the gun culture, until an old Honda with smoked-up black windows cruises to my side. It is the aggrieved driver. I hang back to let him go, but he swings in front and slows us to a crawl. I await the lowering of the smoky glass and a protruding barrel, as does my crew. We turn off and he doesn't - and that's it. Paranoia rules.

When Kerry appears the following day, he looks better in the flesh, yet his brain seems somehow too heavy for his head.

There are moments when I wonder whether America has peaked, especially in those old rust states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, with their haemorrhage of outsourcing and unemployment. Yet at other moments, amid the turning leaves and glimpses of the Jefferson Memorial, you feel that this is still a country of the brightest and the best. I am writing this diary as it happens each day. When I arrived here ten days ago, I gave the election to Bush by four points; tonight, on 1 November, I'm sticking my neck out: it's Kerry by a hair.

Early indications on this election night are that Kerry has it. But then West Virginia comes in - decisively Republican. We are trying to see how to deal with this story. How bad was Bush? Was it one of the worst, most self-interested teams ever to get hold of the White House, or is this ideological twaddle? Was it Kerry and his indifferent Senate record and verbosity on the stump?

There is someone else, not on the ballot, who's really done well - and that's God: Catholic God and evangelical God. America is shifting towards fundamentalism; heaven only knows what that means for the rest of us.

10pm, and God has smiled upon George Bush. America is as deeply divided as ever . . . but Bush is in every electoral way still president. Bush with a mandate and a majority . . . Doors to manual!

Jon Snow's Shooting History: a personal journey is published by HarperCollins (£20)

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