All the US presidential election voting day news
All the news from the election in which Americans decide whether to re-elect President Barack Obama despite a plodding economy or to trust Mitt Romney to restore prosperity.
Ohio voters feel the weight of their ballot Sapa-AFP
Voters in Ohio felt like kingmakers Tuesday as the toss-up race for the White House looked set to be decided in their battleground state.
Months of frenzied phone calls, televsision ads and campaign speeches gave way at last to one heady reality: voters here know it is hard for President Barack Obama or rival Republican Mitt Romney to win without their support.
For Romney in particular, there are few paths to victory that don't pass through this Midwestern Rust Belt state.
Keenly aware of this, the Republican flew to Cleveland on Tuesday to rally volunteers for a final get-out-the-vote push at a campaign office.
Vice President Joe Biden made an appearance at a Greek diner in Cleveland, going booth by booth chatting up patrons, while Obama awaited the election results at home in Chicago.
One Ohio resident, Dave Rossi, said he dodged the flood of calls from pollsters and political groups that have bedeviled most Ohio voters because he uses an unlisted cell phone instead of a landline.
But the Republican still got the message: his vote mattered. That's the lesson he wanted his children to learn when he brought them to his polling place in the affluent Cleveland suburb of Highland Heights.
"I felt it inside that I needed to vote, more than I ever did," he said, after casting his ballot for Romney.
Sobhy Khalil, who also voted for Romney in Highland Heights, said he's glad the race is finally over.
"It was just tremendously irritating with the phone calls," he told AFP.
Khalil voted in mid-morning, when the pre-work rush had cleared out.
His polling place was busy but, unlike the mess of 2004 when voters had to wait hours to cast their ballots and many simply walked away, the lines moved quickly.
The 2004 debacle -- which saw President George W. Bush win a second term after less than 119,000 votes in Ohio gave him a narrow electoral college advantage -- led the Buckeye State to adopt flexible early voting rules.
Nearly 1.8 million people in Ohio voted early, which explains why there were so few lines observed Tuesday morning at several stations visited by AFP. But plenty of other people chose to participate in the Election Day ritual.
"It might sound kind of old-fashioned but I like voting on Election Day. I like going early. I want to make sure my vote gets there," Reggie Young said as he walked into a polling station in the University Heights neighborhood.
"Whoever wins Ohio gets into the White House, so it's very important for me to make this vote."
Young, who voted for Obama, said he and his friends discussed abortion and gay rights, but the economy was the main issue for them.
"This area was hit for a while. It looks like the jobs are coming back, but basically, it's the economy," Young told AFP.
Ohio's economy has been improving at a faster pace than the rest of the country, with its unemployment rate down to 7.0 percent in September compared with 7.8 percent nationally.
That's good news for Obama, who also benefits from his successful bailout of General Motors and Chrysler, given that one in eight Ohio jobs depends on the auto industry.
Print operator Tyrone Chisholm, 36, believes Obama has a lot more to offer the nation than just a firm hand on the economy.
"I understand him as a man, as a husband, as a father," he said. "It's not just one thing that he says. He really means a lot to this world."
At a polling place a few blocks away, Xamira Burgess said women's health issues galvanized her support for Obama.
"I feel like we have a right to say what we do with our own bodies, and no one has a right to say what we can and cannot do," she said.
Romney says he opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or a danger to the mother's health.
Ariel Travis, 18, was still trying to make up his mind as he walked into the polling station on Tuesday afternoon. He said he was leaning toward Obama because he prefers his stance on environmental issues.
"It was no easy choice for me," Travis told AFP.
"I really don't want to support either major party candidate because I think money has corrupted the political system. The reason I'm going to vote for Barack Obama is because Mitt Romney's plan for the environment is horrible."
Obama congratulates Romney on 'spirited campaign' - Reuters
US President Barack Obama congratulated Republican rival Mitt Romney on Tuesday for running a hard-fought race for the White House and expressed confidence he would win re-election during a stop at a local campaign office to thank volunteers.
"I ... want to say to Governor Romney congratulations on a spirited campaign. I know that his supporters are just as engaged and just as enthusiastic and working just as hard today," Obama said as volunteers made phone calls encouraging supporters to get to the polls.
"We feel confident we've got the votes to win, but it's going to depend ultimately on whether those votes turn out. And so I would encourage everybody on all sides just to make sure that you exercise this precious right that we have that people fought so hard for us to have."
Obama made calls to volunteers from the campaign office to thank them for working for his re-election.
"I expect that we'll have a good night, but no matter what happens, I just want to say how much I appreciate everybody who supported me, everybody who's worked so hard on my behalf," he said.
Opinion polls show Obama and Romney in a virtual dead heat, although the Democratic incumbent has a slight advantage in several vital swing states that could give him the 270 electoral votes needed to win the state-by-state contest.
Traditionally presidential candidates get media attention on Election Day by going to vote. But Obama cast his ballot in Chicago last month - part of his campaign's push to get its supporters to vote early.
So the president's visit to the office gave him a chance to get in front of the cameras, generate news coverage and encourage turnout.
Obama and Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and private equity executive, have fought a largely negative campaign. Obama's team attacked Romney for his business record, and Romney's team criticized the president for presiding over high unemployment and a slow economic recovery.
Obama's conciliatory comments represent the close of the bitter campaign and could appeal to last-minute undecided voters, who are turned off by the lack of bipartisanship in Washington.
In addition to his campaign office stop, Obama is doing a round of interviews and is expected to play basketball with friends, a tradition for the sports-loving president on Election Day.
Tale of the states that will decide White House race Sapa-AFP
As Americans head to the polls on Tuesday, the tight White House race between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney has narrowed to a fight over less than 10 states.
Obama's strategy is to solidify his last line of defense in the industrial Midwest, and to try to pluck away several insurance states from Romney's target list elsewhere.
The Republican challenger trails the president in polls in many of the battleground states but retains a narrow and plausible path to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
Romney's camp argues that the challenger may not even be behind, claiming that state polls are based on unrealistic assumptions of the size of the Democratic slice of the electorate and underplay Republican enthusiasm.
Here is the state of play in swing states that will decide whether Obama wins a second term, or Romney recaptures the White House for Republicans.
The number of electoral votes each state has is in brackets.
OBAMA'S LAST LINE OF DEFENSE
If Obama wins Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa, and avoids any upsets on his turf, he is all but certain to become only the second Democrat to win two White House terms since World War II.
Romney spent months trying to tear the president's Midwestern "firewall" but was hampered by an Obama advertising blitz hammering him as a wealthy plutocrat who disdains the middle class.
In most recent polls, Obama led Ohio between two and five points, an ominous sign for Romney, as no Republican since the Civil War has lost the state and gone on to win the White House.
Obama touts his bailout of the indebted auto industry in 2009 and Romney's opposition to it, as one-in-eight jobs in the state are linked to the sector.
His team believes that Romney has undermined his hopes in Ohio by running an ad warning that Chrysler will outsource production of its Jeep vehicles to China, a charge the company's CEO has said is false.
Obama leads an average of polls in Ohio by the RealClearPolitics (RCP) website by 2.9 percent.
Wisconsin has been solid Democratic territory for years: the last time a Republican won the state was Ronald Reagan in 1984.
But Republicans, who managed to repel an attempt by Democrats to oust Governor Scott Walker in a recall election this year, have a solid ground game in the state, and Romney's running mate Paul Ryan is a local boy.
The president leads the RCP average by 4.2 percent.
Where it all started for Obama. The president built his grass roots operation in the agricultural heartland state and believes that after carving out an advantage in early voting, he has the edge on Romney.
Obama leads the RCP average in Iowa by 2.4 percent.
The Sunshine State, the largest electoral battleground, is often decisive in presidential elections, but may not be the kingmaker this time. But Obama is competing fiercely there because if he wins, it is all but impossible for Romney to take the White House.
A punishing foreclosure crisis and an unemployment rate higher than the national average have many analysts expecting Florida to swing to Romney.
Obama has led several recent polls however, and if he can get a bumper turnout in Democratic strongholds in the southern part of the state, he could pull off a surprise.
Romney leads the RCP average by 1.5 percent.
Neither side seem to know whether the state will revert to Republicans after Obama became the first Democrat to win there since 1964. Obama needs to maximize turnout among students, and African American voters around the cities of Richmond and Norfolk.
Romney will count on old school conservatives in rural areas of the state and look to cut down on Obama's margins with educated middle class voters in the Washington DC suburbs.
Currently, Obama leads the RCP average by 0.3 percent.
NORTH CAROLINA (15)
The most likely state to move from Democratic to Republican because Obama won it by only 14,000 votes in 2008. Romney aides are certain their man will win, but the Obama camp has mobilized a massive early voting effort, which it says will keep the president competitive into election day.
Romney is up 3.8 percent in the RCP scoreboard.
Romney's best chance to grab a western swing state. Obama is relying on women and Hispanic voters to keep him in the game here and currently heads the RCP average by 1.5 percent.
NEW HAMPSHIRE (4)
The flinty northeastern state with an independent streak knows Romney well after he served as governor of neighboring Massachusetts.
Obama won this state, in 2008 and leads the RCP average this year by 2.0 percent.
MAY BE OVER
The Obama campaign says it has a substantial lead after early voting which means Romney needs to win big in election day voting.
Obama has a powerbase among Hispanic voters, and his trip to the bowels of a vast Las Vegas casino hotel to greet culinary workers a few weeks ago looks to have paid off.
Obama leads Nevada by 2.8 percent in the RCP average.
ROMNEY'S LAST STAND
PENNSYLVANIA (20), MICHIGAN (16), MINNESOTA (10)
Romney made a late swoop into Pennsylvania after ignoring the Keystone State for much of the campaign. Democrats say his move shows desperation and a recognition that he cannot get to 270 electoral votes elsewhere. Obama leads the RCP average by 3.8 percent.
Republicans have also made big advertising buys in Democratic states Minnesota, where Obama is up by 5.2 five points, according to RCP and in Michigan where Obama leads by 4.0 percent in the averages.
Obama aide David Axelrod is so confident that he has offered to shave his trademark moustache if Romney wins any of the trio.
Battle-hardened Obma challenges history again - Sapa-AFP
Whenever his presidency ends, Barack Obama's legacy will be historic: posterity will know him as the first black president of a nation scarred at birth by a deep racial fault line.
But for Obama partisans, the hope of re-election lies in the idea that only with a full eight White House years, will he be remembered for the change he wrought, not just for who he was.
Though it was key to the euphoria that greeted his election in 2008, Obama's race has rarely been a dominant political theme since.
Quickly, the same political dynamics faced by many of his predecessors: divided, vicious, partisan politics threatened to swamp the 44th US president.
All presidents crave the validation of a second term, but for Obama, that desire may be even more keen, as his Republican foe Mitt Romney vows to quickly reverse much of his legacy.
Obama's whole political project, the idea that America is not as divided as it seems, that a grass roots movement can change a nation from the bottom up, and that hope has tangible political power, is on the line.
"Our destiny is not written for us; it's written by us," Obama told a crowd at a recent New Hampshire rally, seeking to revive the sense of possibility that powered his first election win, but has since dissolved.
"We look forward to that distant horizon, to that new frontier. We imagine a better America and then we work hard to make it happen."
Should Obama win on November 6, much of his second term will be devoted to cementing the legacy of his first.
He will enshrine his health care reform -- the most sweeping social legislation for 50 years, which Romney promises to end on his first day in the Oval Office -- deep into American life.
Obama may get several more chances to reshape the Supreme Court for a generation, after adding two women, including the first Hispanic justice in his first term.
And the president, 51, will solidify reforms on gay rights, women's rights, student loans and financial reform and may tackle global warming and immigration reform.
Obama, now a graying, sometimes terse and wizened figure is a changed man from the beaming young dreamer who bounced onstage in early 2007, on a bitterly chill day in Illinois, and announced for president.
"You have seen the scars on me to prove it. You've seen the gray hair on my head to show you what it means for fight for change, and you have been there with me," he told a crowd on Monday in Madison, Wisconsin.
Rocketing from political obscurity, Obama, only a senator for two years, promised to use "the power of hope" to transform a nation -- a message he belted out to massive 2008 crowds, often moving his audience to tears.
He invoked a politics where people could "disagree without being disagreeable."
But the hope and optimism of his win over Republican John McCain barely survived the first contact with polarized Washington politics.
Obama the president emerged as an elusive figure, of many contradictions.
A Nobel Peace laureate who got US troops out of Iraq, Obama ruthlessly applies lethal force, in a drone war and the mission to kill Osama bin Laden.
Candidate Obama chided political leaders who feuded over "small things" yet lambasted his 2012 foe for a flip flopping condition he calls "Romnesia."
Obama inspired a generation into politics for the first time: but once president, appeared to disdain the grubby business of getting things done in Washington.
He was devoted to the grand gesture on the world stage -- for example his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo in 2009 -- but despite some success, his presidency hardly transformed America's place in the world.
And the hope that exploded in 2008, soon fizzled.
Four years on, Obama is locked in a grim grind to the finish with the joy of four years ago but a memory.
Some things have not changed. Obama retains the burning self confidence, -- foes call it arrogance -- and a fierce will to win.
In its way, victory on Tuesday night would have its own historic sweetness, should Obama defy economic blight that made other presidents one termers.
Busting convention is written in Obama's political DNA -- not for him a political apprenticeship in the Senate: he left to slay the mighty Hillary Clinton machine in the 2008 Democratic primary.
Matching dazzling oratory with a formidable grass roots network, Obama, along with cerebral aides like David Plouffe, re-invented how US elections are won in 2008.
His massive operation will redefine re-election races if he wins next week.
Obama, despite the claims of conservative conspiracy theorists, was born in Hawaii in 1961 to a black Kenyan father and white mother from Kansas. His father abandoned the family when "Barry" Obama was just two.
His mother Ann, an anthropologist who died in 1995, took her son with his new stepfather to Indonesia and he returned to live with his grandparents in Hawaii in his restless teens.
After attending an elite Hawaii academy and two colleges including Columbia University in New York, Obama went to the elite Harvard Law School and was the first African-American to edit the Harvard Law Review.
Married in 1992 to Michelle, a fellow lawyer, Obama rose through bare-knuckle world of Illinois politics then announced himself to the world at the 2004 Democratic convention.
Alabama Republicans 'gunning' for election night victory - Reuters
Alabama may not be a battleground state but its Republicans will be armed for victory on Tuesday night.
The party, which dominates local politics and is a champion of gun rights, will hold its main election night celebration at a firing range and gun shop on the outskirts of Birmingham.
"It is consistent with our philosophy to celebrate in a place that sells guns. A gun is a way to protect yourself and to hunt, a great Alabama sport," said Bill Armistead, chairman of the Alabama Republican Party.
Only unloaded guns will be allowed through the facility's secured doors and into the firing range. The firing range, but not the bar, will be open to guests and customers until 8 p.m. at Hoover Tactical Firearms, organizers said.
"It is a very nice place to have a reception," said Armistead, citing a roomy ballroom and convenient deli.
Security will be tight, he said, adding that some "very intimidating looking people who will be armed and ready" would be working security at entrances to the site.
In addition to a White House win for Republican challenger Mitt Romney, Alabama Republicans hope to be celebrating a shutout of Democrats from all statewide offices.
If that happens, it would be the first total Republican sweep in the state since Reconstruction in the late 19th Century.
Storm-weary voters in U.S. Northeast face delays, confusion - Reuters
Already exhausted from a massive cleanup and nightmarish commutes to work, thousands of U.S. voters in storm-struck New York and New Jersey encountered confusion and long lines as they tried to cast ballots in a cliffhanger presidential election.
Election officials face unprecedented challenges across the U.S. Northeast, where polling stations were among the thousands of buildings damaged by superstorm Sandy eight days ago.
New York and New Jersey took measures to ease the way for residents already coping with devastating flood damage, power outages and widespread fuel shortages.
Sandy roared ashore on the Jersey coast on Oct. 29 as a rare hybrid superstorm after killing 69 people in the Caribbean and then merging with a strong North Atlantic system.
It killed at least 113 in the United States and Canada and knocked out power to millions of people while swamping seaside towns and inundating New York City's streets and subway tunnels.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said New Yorkers would be able to vote at any polling place by presenting an affidavit. In New Jersey, those affected by Sandy will be designated as overseas voters, allowing them to cast ballots by fax or email.
"We want everyone to vote. Just because you are displaced doesn't mean you should be disenfranchised," Cuomo said.
Cuomo's order appeared to create confusion among poll workers, with paper ballots and affidavits in some cases being distributed even to voters who arrived at their regular polling place as opposed to only those whose assigned voting station was elsewhere.
At a voting precinct set up in an unheated tent in the Rockaways, a beachfront community in the New York City borough of Queens that was hit hard by Sandy, voting was delayed for about a half hour while poll workers struggled with the generators.
By 7 a.m., about 50 voters - including some who had lost their homes and traveled from temporary lodgings to get here - had starting filling out ballots.
"We wanted to be the first ones in and out," said Melissa Hays, a 34-year-old stay-at-home mom who lives in the Rockaways but has been staying with relatives in the Brooklyn neighborhood of East Flatbush since the storm. "Once the sun comes up, it's going to get crazy here."
Voting at the YMCA on West 63rd Street in Manhattan was delayed because election officials could not find the ballot cards and scanners were not working properly. Among those arriving to vote there was Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of investment banking powerhouse Goldman Sachs. He left before voting there began.
While President Barack Obama was expected to win easily in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the states most affected by Sandy, the storm could expose fissures in the arcane Electoral College system that decides the presidency.
One possibility is that low voter turnout in storm-ravaged states could allow Republican challenger Mitt Romney to win the popular vote even if Obama wins the state-by-state Electoral College race.
Romney and Obama are virtually tied in pre-election polls.
Some 1.4 million homes and businesses were still without power or heat as temperatures dropped below the freezing mark across much of the area overnight. More than 217,000 people have registered for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and about $199 million in aid has been provided.
The exhausted region faced the prospect of a new storm - a strong "nor'easter" forecast to bring frigid temperatures and more rain and wind by the middle of the week.
With the ground in coastal New Jersey towns still saturated with ocean water, officials feared the nor'easter could flood them again. In Belmar, Lake Como and Spring Lake, officials pumped out three lakes to allow groundwater to drain into them.
"By draining the lakes, we're lowering the water table in the neighborhoods around them," Mayor Matt Doherty of Belmar said on Monday. "We did this last year with Hurricane Irene and we found it made a difference."
Just a couple of towns to the south in Brick, town officials have issued a mandatory evacuation for waterfront neighborhoods in advance of the new storm system's arrival. Residents of those areas must leave by 6 p.m. Tuesday, the town said.
In New York City, most of the 15,070 schools reopened on Monday but 57 suffered structural damage, 19 lacked power and 16 were closed because they were being used as shelters, officials said. Schools were closed again Tuesday for Election Day.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed a director of housing recovery operations to assist 30,000 to 40,000 people in need of shelter.
With the region's transportation network still disrupted a week after the storm, commuters stood for an hour or more on train platforms or street corners in New Jersey, Long Island and Connecticut on Monday waiting for trains and buses.
The New York City subway ran at about 80 percent of its normal service.
Motorists endured long lines at gas stations. Many stations still lacked electricity or gasoline. Fuel rationing was in force in New Jersey, where some residents hired school children to stand in line with gas cans.
Wreckage from the storm was spread far and wide. On Long Island's southeastern shore, Southampton Town Trustee Bill Pell spent Monday on a boat in the bays, retrieving 275-gallon (1,040-litre) home fuel tanks that had been uprooted by the storm.
"We started getting calls over the weekend about fuel tanks floating in the bay," said Pell, 52, a fourth-generation resident of eastern Long Island.
"While we were out retrieving fuel tanks in the bay, the bay constables were going after looters, who are now trying to access these areas by sea to loot the houses."
Crime had dropped 27 percent in New York City in the last week compared to the same period last year, the police department said, but burglaries were up 6 percent.
Mitt Romney casts ballot in US election - Sapa-AFP
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney cast his ballot Tuesday in the US elections with his wife Ann before heading to Ohio and Pennsylvania for one last push to get out the vote.
The Romneys voted at the Beech Street Center in the town of Belmont, Massachusetts, the community center where they voted in the Republican primary in March.
Romney, who served for four years as governor of Massachusetts, a Democrat-leaning state, were greeted by a crowd outside the building as they entered, some bearing signs in support of President Barack Obama.
A pro-Romney sign read: "Mitt and Ann enjoy your new White House."
The Romneys picked up voting materials and walked over to a row of voting booths in the room, cast their ballots side by side, then inserted their sheets into a ballot collection box, a process that took about three minutes in all.
Asked who he voted for, Romney said, "I think you know," adding that he felt "very, very good" about his election prospects against Obama.
The two candidates are going to the wire on election day, with most polls showing the Democratic incumbent with a slight edge in the key battleground states where voters will likely to decide the election outcome.
Among them is Ohio, perhaps the nation's ultimate battleground, where Obama holds a slight lead.
When a reporter asked Romney how he felt about Ohio -- his first stop Tuesday on a last-minute trip to thank volunteers and help get out the vote -- he responded, "Yeah, I feel great about Ohio."
Romney will return from Ohio and Pennsylvania early Tuesday evening shortly before the first polling stations close, and will host a watch party in Boston where he and his team will watch the election results come in.
Obama, who will watch the results in Chicago, cast his ballot late last month in his home state of Illinois, becoming the first US president to vote before election day, as he highlighted a push for early voting in battleground states in a bid to boost turnout.
Obama or Romney? Voters are deciding close race - Reuters
Capping a long and bitter race for the White House, Americans cast their votes on Tuesday with polls showing President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney neck-and-neck in an election that will be decided in a handful of states.
Polling stations opened across the eastern United States and Midwest, with the West Coast soon to follow, as Election Day dawned. At least 120 million people were expected to render judgment on whether to give Obama a second term or replace him with Romney.
Their decision will set the country's course for the next four years on spending, taxes, healthcare and foreign policy challenges like the rise of China and Iran's nuclear ambitions.
National opinion polls show Obama and Romney in a virtual dead heat, although the Democratic incumbent has a slight advantage in several vital swing states - most notably Ohio - that could give him the 270 electoral votes needed to win the state-by-state contest.
Romney, the multimillionaire former head of a private equity fund, would be the first Mormon president and one of the wealthiest Americans to occupy the White House. Obama, the first black president, is vying to be the first Democrat to win a second term since Bill Clinton in 1996.
Whichever candidate wins, a razor-thin margin would not bode well for the clear mandate needed to break the partisan gridlock in Washington.
Romney voted at a community center near his home in a Boston suburb before dashing off for two last-minute stops, including the most critical of all swing states - Ohio.
"I feel great about Ohio," he said when asked about what is considered a must-win for him.
Obama, settled into his home town of Chicago, made a final pitch to morning commuters with pre-recorded interviews broadcast in battleground states.
"Four years ago, we had incredible turnout," Obama told a Miami radio station. "I know people were excited and energized about the prospect of making history but we have to preserve the gains we've made and keep moving forward."
Fueled by record spending on negative ads, the battle between the two men was focused primarily on the lagging economic recovery and persistent high unemployment, but at times it turned personal.
As Americans headed to voting booths, campaign teams for both candidates worked the phones feverishly to mobilize supporters to cast their ballots.
Polls will begin to close in Indiana and Kentucky at 6 p.m. EST (2300 GMT) on Tuesday, with voting ending across the country over the next six hours.
The first results, by tradition, were tallied in Dixville Notch and Hart's Location, New Hampshire, shortly after midnight (0500 GMT). Obama and Romney each received five votes in Dixville Notch. In Hart's Location, Obama had 23 votes to nine for Romney and two for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.
The close presidential race raises the prospect of a disputed outcome similar to the 2000 election, which was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of George W. Bush over Al Gore. Both the Romney and Obama campaigns have assembled legal teams to deal with possible voting problems, challenges or recounts.
The balance of power in the U.S. Congress also will be at stake in Senate and House of Representatives races that could impact the outcome of "fiscal cliff" negotiations on spending cuts and tax increases, which kick in at the end of the year unless a deal is reached.
Obama's Democrats are now expected to narrowly hold their Senate majority, while Romney's Republicans are favored to retain House control.
Amid uncertainty over the U.S. election outcome, world stock markets and the dollar held steady on Tuesday as investors waited for the result.
Despite the weak economy, Obama appeared in September to be cruising to a relatively easy win after a strong party convention and a series of stumbles by Romney, including a secretly recorded video showing the Republican writing off 47 percent of the electorate as government-dependent victims.
But Romney rebounded in the first debate on Oct. 3 in Denver, where his sure-footed criticism of the president and Obama's listless response started a slow rise for Romney in polls. Obama seemed to regain his footing in recent days at the head of federal relief efforts for victims of superstorm Sandy in the New York-New Jersey area.
The presidential contest is now likely to be determined by voter turnout - specifically, what combination of Republicans, Democrats, white, minority, young, old and independent voters shows up at polling stations.
Weather could be a factor. Much of the nation was dry and mild, though rain was forecast later on Tuesday in the Southeast, including Florida, an important swing state.
Obama and Romney raced through seven battleground states on Monday to hammer home their final themes, urge supporters to get to the polls and woo the last remaining undecided voters.
'WE KNOW WHAT CHANGE LOOKS LIKE'
Obama focused on Wisconsin, Ohio and Iowa, the three Midwestern swing states that, barring surprises elsewhere, would ensure that he reaches the 270 electoral votes needed to win. Romney visited the must-win states of Florida, Virginia and Ohio before finishing in New Hampshire.
After two days of nearly around-the-clock travel, Obama wrapped up his final campaign tour in Des Moines, Iowa, with a speech that hearkened back to his 2008 campaign.
"I came back to ask you to help us finish what we've started because this is where our movement for change began," he told a crowd of some 20,000 people. Obama wiped away tears as he reflected on those who had helped his campaign.
Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, ended Monday in Manchester, New Hampshire, the city where he started his campaign last year. "We're one day away from a fresh start," the hoarse-sounding candidate told a crowd of 12,000.
Obama ridiculed Romney's claims to be the candidate of change and said the challenger would be a rubber stamp for a conservative Tea Party agenda. "We know what change looks like, and what he's selling ain't it," he said in Columbus, Ohio.
Romney argued he was the candidate who could break the partisan gridlock in Washington, and said four more years of Obama could mean another economic recession.
The common denominator for both candidates was Ohio. Without the state's 18 electoral votes, the path to victory becomes very narrow for Romney.
Polls have shown Obama with a small but steady lead in the state for months, sparked in part by his support for a federal bailout of the auto industry, which accounts for one of every eight jobs in Ohio, and by a strong state economy with an unemployment rate lower than the 7.9 percent national rate.
That undercut the central argument of Romney's campaign - that his business experience made him uniquely qualified to create jobs and lead an economic recovery.
Romney's aides hoped an 11th-hour visit on Tuesday could also boost his cause in Pennsylvania, a Democratic-leaning state that he has tried to put in play in recent weeks.
Obama fought back through the summer with ads criticizing Romney's experience at the equity fund Bain Capital and portraying him as out of touch with ordinary Americans.
That was part of a barrage of advertisingin the most heavily contested battleground states from both candidates and their party allies, who raised a combined $2 billion.
The rise of "Super PACs," unaffiliated outside groups that can spend unlimited sums on behalf of candidates, also helped fuel the record spending on political ads.
Obama voted in October by taking advantage of early voting procedures. Vice President Joe Biden stood patiently in a long line Tuesday to cast his ballot in his home state of Delaware.
"Oh, I'm feeling pretty good," Biden said when asked if he had any prediction, according to a pool report.
Asked whether this would be the last time he would vote for himself, he said with a grin, "No, I don't think so." The 69-year-old former U.S. senator, who twice ran unsuccessfully for the White House before becoming Obama's running mate, has not ruled out another run in 2016.
US votes in election cliff-hanger Sapa-AFP
Americans headed to the polls Tuesday after a burst of last-minute campaigning by President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in a nail-biting contest unlikely to heal a deeply polarized nation.
The time for obsessing over the latest swing state opinion polls was over as the greatest political show entered its thrilling finale after an 18-month roller-coaster ride that has gone right down to the wire.
The most expensive campaign in history, and one of the most negative, saw more than $6 billion unleashed by the rival camps in a fight to persuade the American people over very different visions of the future.
Voters will decide whether to re-elect Obama despite the plodding economy or hand the reins to Romney, who has vowed a return to prosperity through smaller government.
Democrat Obama, 51, leads his Republican foe by a whisker heading into polling day as he seeks to defy historical precedent that suggests incumbent presidents fail to win a second four-year term at times of high unemployment.
Romney, 65, a former Massachusetts governor blasted by critics as a rich plutocrat indifferent to middle class pain, would make history as the first Mormon president and promises to ignite economic growth and job creation.
Polls opened in the first clutch of eastern states -- including battlegrounds New Hampshire and Virginia -- from 6:00 am (1100 GMT), with the rest of the country's six mainland time zones following suit through the day.
Within 20 minutes of polls opening dozens of voters were lined up outside stations in northern Virginia, an early sign of enthusiasm in a state where the two candidates are locked in a virtual tie.
In a quaint slice of Americana, the 10 voters in the hamlet of Dixville Notch, in northern New Hampshire, played their traditional roll of casting the first votes in the election as the clock struck midnight.
And in a possible precursor of a dramatic night ahead, Obama and Romney were tied at five votes each, a historic first.
Both men, exhausted by the last manic Monday of a campaign that has raged for two years, made their final, heartfelt plea to voters in late night rallies attended by fervent supporters.
"Tomorrow, from the granite of New Hampshire to the Rockies of Colorado, from the coastlines of Florida, to Virginia's rolling hills, from the valleys of Ohio to these Iowa fields, we will keep America moving forward," Obama said.
Speaking in Iowa, the state that first nurtured his White House dreams in 2008, a single tear rolled down the president's face as he wrapped up what was -- win or lose -- his last-ever campaign event.
Romney put an exclamation mark on his campaign with his own, rowdy late night rally, at a sports arena in New Hampshire.
"Tomorrow is a moment to look into the future and imagine what we can do, to put that past four years behind us and build a new future," Romney said.
Voters are not solely picking a president for the next four years.
They will also cast judgment on a third of the Democratic-led Senate and the entire Republican-run House of Representatives. But with neither chamber expected to change hands, the current political gridlock will likely linger.
A dispiriting White House race, so different from Obama's euphoric change crusade of 2008, produced the election both sides expected -- a frantic scrap for thin victory margins in 10 or so swing states.
Obama, the first African American president, on Tuesday led by the slimmest of margins in averages of national polls, which measure the likely popular vote, possibly helped by his leadership during superstorm Sandy.
The president's early voting and polling leads in battleground states also stirred confidence in his campaign team.
Romney aides, however, predicted a surge of enthusiasm for the Republican would confound state polls, which they said overestimated the likely Democratic turnout and did not register the undercurrent of antipathy for Obama.
The central message of Obama's campaign has been that he saved America from a second Great Depression after the economy was on the brink of collapse when he took over from president George W. Bush in 2009.
He claims credit for ending the war in Iraq, saving the US auto industry, killing Osama bin Laden, offering almost every American health insurance, and passing the most sweeping Wall Street reform in decades.
Striking a populist theme, Obama said he would not rest until every American got a "fair shot" in an economy not rigged by the rich, and sought to disqualify Romney as a potential president with a barrage of negative ads.
Romney sought to mine frustration with the slow pace of the economic recovery and argued that the president was out of ideas and had no clue how to create jobs, with unemployment at 7.9 percent and millions out of work.
No president since World War II has been elected with the unemployment rate above 7.4 percent, and Obama is hoping to avoid the fate of a host of European leaders who paid for the economic crisis with their jobs.
US elections are not directly decided by the popular vote, but require candidates to pile up a majority -- 270 -- of 538 electoral votes from the 50 states and Washington, DC, calculated indirectly on the basis of population.
A candidate can therefore win the nationwide popular vote and still be deprived of the presidency by falling short in the Electoral College.
Obama seems to be clinging on to a last line of defense in the Midwestern states of Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa, which would, in conjunction with safe Democratic states, guarantee him re-election.
In poll averages calculated by the RealClearPolitics website, Obama led in Iowa (by 2.4 percent), Ohio (2.9 percent), Wisconsin (4.2 percent), Virginia (0.3 percent), New Hampshire (2.0 percent), and Colorado (1.5 percent).
Romney led by 1.5 percent in the biggest swing state, Florida, and in North Carolina, which Obama won by just three percent, or 14,000 votes, in 2008.
American voters will also weigh in on more than 170 state-wide ballots for everything from gay marriage to marijuana and abortion to electoral maps.
Romney camp projects confidence despite polls - Sapa-AFP
Either he is wearing the best poker face in politics, or Mitt Romney is his own truest believer, so sure of his destiny as the next US president that he refuses to contemplate the alternative.
"Confidence" is the singular word that senior strategist Stuart Stevens used to describe the Republican nominee's mood going into Tuesday's election, despite polls showing a slight lead for President Barack Obama.
Nearly everyone running for higher office projects an aura of accomplishment, strength, even inevitability, knowing that charisma can translate into votes.
But plenty of real-time writing on the wall about the US election would suggest to even the most optimistic Romney backer that things may not go as planned for the challenger.
Romney has always faced an uphill climb to the 270 electoral votes needed to win, and while national polls have shown the rivals in the tightest of races, recent gains by the president have left Romney with increasingly long odds.
Obama, say experts and pollsters, has a clearer path to the nomination, especially when one looks at the battleground states where voters will determine the next president.
Obama leads in poll averages in seven of those states, including Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. Of nine swing states experts say are up for grabs this year, Romney leads in just Florida and North Carolina, and by narrow margins.
But you wouldn't know that from speaking to Romney aides, who described the former Massachusetts governor as confident and optimistic as his five-year quest for the presidency approaches its decisive moment.
"He's very eager to lead the country," Stevens said Monday, dismissing suggestions that the Republican nominee might be nervous on the final full day of campaigning as he puts his political fate in the hands of American voters.
According to two Romney aides, the talk in the staff section of his campaign plane simply does not turn to the prospect of a defeat.
Those who travel day in and day out with Romney – Stevens, senior advisor Kevin Madden, Romney "body man" Garrett Jackson, travelling press secretary Rick Gorka, and trip director Charlie Pearce – have been reminiscing with Romney about the best moments of his campaign, Madden and Gorka said.
"It's been a light mood up front," Gorka told reporters on the campaign plane Monday.
"It's been an incredible journey. We're very, very excited for these last events today, and we're very, very optimistic about our chances tomorrow."
Romney himself is not a candidate likely to reveal much of his inner emotions out on the trail. As a supremely successful businessman and private equity investor, he had a steely bearing during public campaign events.
In recent days, though, he has boldly told crowds that a victory in their state -- Florida, Ohio, Virginia, New Hampshire – will put him over the top and make him the nation's next president.
He has sometimes appeared exhausted in recent days, as has Obama, as the two men have criss-crossed the country in a feverish final effort to shore up support and win over undecided voters.
But while Obama grew wistful Monday night, his eyes moist at his final campaign rally, Romney was charged-up.
The crowds certainly help. They have built steadily in the final weeks of Romney's campaign, and a night-time rally at a Pennsylvania farm on Sunday drew 25 000 people.
With the race coming to a close, senior officials in Romney's circle, including campaign manager Matt Rhoades and senior advisors Beth Myers and Peter Flaherty, joined the final campaign ride on Monday.
At a rowdy rally in battleground Ohio, Romney's plane rolled into a hangar as some 10 000 supporters chanted "One more day! One more day!"
With the theme of the movie Air Force One playing, Romney and his wife Ann stepped out of the plane's doorway to a loud roar from the crowd, then walked down the steps and over to a stage.
Several top Romney aides were grinning broadly, sharing hugs and high-fives.
First counting in close US presidential race results in tie - Sapa-dpa
The first voting in Tuesday's US presidential election produced a tie as nationwide polls showed incumbent Barack Obama and former governor Mitt Romney neck and neck.
The first voting in Tuesday's US presidential election produced a tie as nationwide polls showed incumbent Barack Obama and former governor Mitt Romney neck and neck.
Each candidate received five votes in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, in the first tie in the hamlet's 50-year tradition as the first place to cast and count votes on election day, CNN said.
Opinion polls showed a close race nationwide as well with attention focussing on seven states where the outcome is a toss-up, and one of them is the New England state of New Hampshire.
Both Romney and Obama urged their supporters to get friends and family to the polls as turnout could prove crucial to determining the winner.
"It just comes down to each of us as citizens," Obama said Monday night in a voice hoarse from constant campaigning in the closing days of the campaign. "That's how our democracy is supposed to be."
He ended his campaigning in the toss-up state of Iowa, recalling his campaign four years ago that made him the first African-American president.
"When the cynics said we couldn't, you said, 'Yes we can,'" he said as a few in the crowd shouted Obama's 2008 slogan with him.
Romney urged his supporters at an election eve rally to talk to undecided voters.
"Ask them to look beyond the speeches and the attacks and all the ads, and ask them to look at the record," he said in Manchester, New Hampshire. "Change was promised by the president, but change is not measured in speeches. It's measured in achievements."
Romney, who is to continue campaigning Tuesday, ran down a list of election vows that he accused Obama of failing to fulfil. The president in 2008 "promised to do so very much, but he has fallen so very short," said Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who previously made a fortune as a private-equity investor.
"I've not only promised change, I have a record of achieving it," he said.
Obama also emphasized change in his rallies in a country suffering high unemployment and sluggish economic growth.
"When Americans come together determined to bring about change, we cannot be stopped," he said. "After all that we've been through together, we cannot give up now."
Regular voting is to begin Tuesday at 5 am (1000 GMT) when polls open in Vermont, which borders New Hampshire.
US states set their own polling hours, so polling centres would then open and close in waves across the four time zones of the continental United States. Montana, North Dakota, California and Idaho would be the final of the 48 continental states to vote, closing their polls at 0400 GMT Wednesday.
Further west, Hawaii finishes voting at 0400 Wednesday, followed by the last Alaska polls closing at 0600 Wednesday.
Dixville Notch, 30 kilometres south of the Canadian border, vies each year with Harts Location, 130 kilometres away and also in New Hampshire, for the honour of being the first place to vote in the presidential election.
Both open voting at midnight (0500 GMT) with all their residents in attendance and close after the voters all cast ballots for an immediate hand count.
Obama held the advantage in Harts Location with 23 votes, compared with nine for Romney.
Bob Dylan predicts Obama 'in a landslide' Sapa-AP
Bob Dylan says he thinks President Barack Obama is going to win in a landslide.
Dylan made the prediction Monday night midway through the song "Blowin' in the Wind" during a concert in the battleground state of Wisconsin.
Dylan spoke to the Madison audience as he was wrapping up his concert that came just hours after Obama appeared at a morning rally in the same city with rocker Bruce Springsteen.
Dylan made his comments during his encore when he said, "We tried to play good tonight since the president was here today."
He went on to say he thinks Obama will prevail Tuesday.
Dylan says, "Don't believe the media. I think it's going to be a landslide."
After his comments, Dylan completed the song to the roar of the crowd.
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