(WASHINGTON) — The costliest election in United States history is also one of the closest, as polls open Tuesday and the country finally picks its president after a long and divisive campaign.
After spending nearly $1 billion apiece, President Obama and Mitt Romney are today in much the same place they were months ago at the campaign’s outset — the president leads his Republican challenger by so small a margin it is statistically insignificant in most places.
The tightness of the race was expressed at midnight, when the first town to open and close its polls — the tiny hamlet of Dixville Notch, N.H. — evenly split its vote five to five.
On Tuesday, Romney will campaign up to the last minute, holding rallies in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, and doing interviews with radio stations in Ohio and Virginia.
Obama, meanwhile, will remain in his home state of Illinois on Tuesday, doing some satellite television interviews and playing a game of basketball — an Election Day ritual.
The fate of the election will rest on the outcomes in a few hard-fought swing states: Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and, most crucially, Ohio.
Victory or defeat may very well come down to Ohio, a battleground whose 18 electoral votes may be as critical this year as Florida was in 2000. Both candidates know it, and have spent more time there than anywhere else.
Ohio, or possibly Wisconsin, where Romney has trailed for months, create “a very narrow path to electoral college victory,” Republican strategist and ABC News consultant Matthew Dowd.
He said the first key state where polls will close is Virginia and a defeat or victory there for Romney could be crucial to the rest of his night.
“I think Virginia is going to tell us a lot. It’s going to tell us if this night ends early for Mitt Romney or if we’re in for a long night,” Dowd said.
There are also a few critical demographic groups to watch, including Latinos, young people and women.
Both campaigns have battled for the women’s vote, but Donna Brazille, a Democratic strategist and ABC News consultant, said Obama has an advantage with women.
“One thing to remember is that in the last six elections, Democrats are six and zero. We’ve won the women’s vote in every election. That’s what makes Democrats competitive,” she said.
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