November 04, 2008 07:15 AM

As the clock struck midnight Tuesday – signaling the start of Election Day – both John McCain and Barack Obama couldn’t help feeling sentimental.

Obama marked the occasion with a solemn stroll through his campaign plane before it carried him home to Chicago. The Democratic hopeful shook the hand of each of the five dozen journalists aboard, some of whom had traveled with him for all 21 months of his long campaign. (One photographer, who was celebrating her birthday, even got a kiss!)

And when one in the entourage said, “Good luck,” Obama simply shook his head. “It’ll be fun,” he replied, “fun to see how the story ends.”

And, early Tuesday, Obama and his wife Michelle cast their ballots at a polling place in Hyde Park, just a few minutes from their home. Their daughters were with them.

Asked by reporters if he was feeling sentimental, Obama replied, “I’m sure I will tonight. That’s when the polls close and the journey ends.”

Barack Obama votes

At the same time in Wilmington, Delaware, his running mate Joe Biden, along with his family, was doing the same.

Meanwhile, in Prescott, Ariz., Obama’s Republican rival was also eagerly anticipating his final day of stumping.

“I’m confident,” he told the crowd at the Yavapai County courthouse. And while polls show the Arizona Senator running behind Obama, McCain added, “I have seen the momentum.”

McCain has spent the day on a whirlwind tour of seven key cities – including Tampa, Fla., Pittsburgh, Pa. and Roswell, New Mexico – along with his wife, Cindy, and daughter Meghan.

“It’s been a long day coming home – and a wonderful day,” an emotional Cindy McCain said from the stage, her voice breaking as she introduced her husband.

On Tuesday, McCain will vote in Phoenix, Ariz., before doing some last minute campaigning in New Mexico and Colorado.

• Reporting by Liz McNeil and Sandra Sobieraj Westfall

See McCain and Obama on the covers of PEOPLE

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