President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney are now taking center stage as they wait for voters to make their decision during Election Day on Tuesday, a choice that will impact the U.S. Government and the nation for years to come.
After a grinding presidential campaign that continues to pack suspense, Americans are heading to polling places throughout the country, including sleepy hollows, bustling cities and superstorm-ravaged beach towns. All sides are waiting for a verdict from the nine battleground states whose votes will determine which man can piece together the 270 electoral votes needed for victory.
Romney decided to make a late dash to Cleveland and Pittsburgh on Tuesday while running mate Paul Ryan threw in stops in Cleveland and Richmond. Obama chose to make a dozen radio and satellite TV interviews from his Chicago hometown to keep his closing arguments fresh in voters’ minds.
“I feel optimistic but only cautiously optimistic,” said Obama. “Because until people actually show up at the polls and cast their ballot, the rest of this stuff is just speculation.”
Vice President Joe Biden and wife Jill Biden were among the first voters Tuesday in Delaware, Biden’s home state, where he greeted voters with a handshake.
Both sides cast the Election Day choice as one with far-reaching repercussions for a nation still recovering from the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression and at odds over how big a role government should play in solving the country's problems.
"It's a choice between two different visions for America," said Obama. "It's a choice between returning to the top-down policies that crashed our economy, or a future that's built on providing opportunity to everybody and growing a strong middle class."
Meanwhile, Romney is arguing that Obama blew his chance.
"The president thinks more government is the answer," said Romney. "No, Mr. President, more jobs, that's the answer for America."
It wasn't just the presidency at stake Tuesday.
Every House seat, a third of the Senate and 11 governorships were on the line, along with state ballot proposals on topics ranging from gay marriage and casino gambling to repealing the death penalty and legalizing marijuana. Democrats were defending their majority in the Senate, and Republicans doing likewise in the House, raising the prospect of continued partisan wrangling in the years ahead no matter who might be president.
An estimated 46 million ballots, or 35 percent of the 133 million expected to be cast, were projected to be early ballots, according to Michael McDonald, an early voting expert at George Mason University who tallies voting statistics for the United States Elections Project. None of those ballots were being counted until Tuesday.
Obama’s final campaign closing lineup featured Bruce Springsteen, Jay-Z, Mariah Carey, Ricky Martin, John Mellencamp, Derek Fisher, Samuel L. Jackson and Chris Rock. For Romney, it was Kid Rock and country rock performers The Marshall Tucker Band.
The forecast for Election Day promised dry weather for much of the country, with rain expected in two battlegrounds, Florida and Wisconsin. But the closing days of the campaign played out against ongoing recovery efforts after Superstorm Sandy. Election officials in New York and New Jersey were scrambling to marshal generators, move voting locations, shuttle storm victims to polling places and take other steps to ensure everyone who wanted to vote could do so.
Obama voted 12 days early. Romney was voting at a community center near his home in Massachusetts before heading to Ohio and Pennsylvania.
After an expensive campaign, Americans are showing signs of fatigue. A Pew Research Center poll released Monday showed 47 percent of Americans followed news about the election closely last week, down from 52 percent a week earlier.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.