By Jonathan Easley - 11/06/12 01:44 AM EST
President Obama and Mitt Romney enter Election Day in a statistical tie, according to most national polls, with the race for the White House coming down to a handful of swing states.
Ohio is the top prize, as winning the election without that state’s 18 electoral votes will be difficult for either candidate, but it is closely followed by Florida, Virginia, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado and New Hampshire.
Obama’s campaign hopes an early-voting effort has built up a big enough lead that it will be impossible for Romney to overtake the president on Election Day. Republicans note Obama’s advantage is much diminished from four years ago; they also argue polls forecast too high a proportion of Democrats in the electorate.
Here’s a snapshot of the race on the election’s eve, state by state:
Obama has been ahead or tied in every poll in Ohio except one on Oct. 28, according to the RealClearPolitics (RCP) website.
Going back even further, 29 polls since Oct. 1 have had Obama in the lead, compared to four polls that showed Romney with a lead and six polls that found a tie.
All of this suggests it will be difficult for Romney to pull Ohio from Obama’s grasp.
About 30 percent of the state’s likely voters have already cast ballots, but because the state does not register voters by party, the statistics are difficult to quantify.
In a Nov. 2 memo, Obama national field director Jeremy Bird said that by a 2-to-1 margin, the early votes were coming from counties that went for Obama in 2008. Romney’s campaign counters that 557,000 Ohio Democrats have voted early or received absentee ballots, which they say is down 155,000 from 2008. They also claim 481,000 Republicans have voted early, up from 108,000 four years ago.
The state is the key for both sides, and both have made repeated visits. Romney will come to Cleveland on Tuesday, while Obama brought out Bruce Springsteen and Jay-Z on Monday to rally his supporters.
The state is particularly crucial for Romney, as no Republican has ever lost Ohio and won the presidency.
With 29 electoral votes, Florida is the biggest swing-state prize available.
Romney seems to have an edge. He has led in 19 polls taken since the first presidential debate, compared to six for Obama and two ties.
Florida’s eclectic ethnic, social and geographic mix makes the state notoriously difficult to poll, and recent results have ranged from a Tampa Bay Times poll last week that found Romney with a 6-point edge to an NBC-Marist poll that had Obama ahead by 2 points.
Early voting gives Obama an edge, as 43 percent of the 4.5 million who have already voted identified as Democrats, compared to 39 percent who said they were Republican and 18 percent who identified as independent.
But that’s a big drop-off from 2008, when Obama held a 7-point lead among early voters into Election Day and still only carried the state by 3 points. While Vice President Biden on Tuesday expressed confidence in winning Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa, he described Florida as a state where the president has a “real shot” to win.
Romney and Obama have both made two trips to Florida over the last week. The president also dispatched the popular first lady to campaign in the state on Monday.
Virginia also moved toward Romney after the first debate, but is seen as more of a toss-up.
RCP finds Obama ahead by three-tenths of a percentage point, but Republicans argue some recent polls, such as an Oct.23-28 CBS/New York Times Quinnipiac poll that had an 8-point gap between Republicans and Democrats polled, have included too many Democrats to be reliable indicators.
Romney has worked feverishly to shore up support in Virginia, staging four events there in the final week before the election, compared to only one for Obama.
Early voting is not as big in Virginia, which does not register voters by party. Nearly half a million people have already voted, or about 11 percent of likely voters.
According to an analysis from the Cook Political Report, absentee voting in Virginia has actually declined from 2008 levels. The decline is smaller in counties that were carried by Sen. John McCainJohn McCainNBC's Lester Holt emerges from debate bruised and partisan Pundits react: Clinton won first debate Overnight Defense: Debate night is here | Senate sets vote on 9/11 veto override | Kerry, McCain spar over Syria MORE (R-Ariz.) in 2008 than in those carried by Obama, but only by a modest amount.
As of Monday, the data showed absentee ballots cast in “McCain counties” represented about 87 percent of the total cast in those same counties in 2008. By contrast, the corresponding figure for 2008’s “Obama counties” was 83 percent. Absentee ballots, however, accounted for less than 10 percent of Virginia’s total vote in 2008.
Wisconsin hasn’t voted for a Republican since Ronald Reagan in 1984, but George W. Bush came awfully close in 2004 and Romney believes his running mate, Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanRyan: Trump ‘met expectations’ at the debate Reid: Dems 'likely' to block spending bill Senate Dems: Add Flint aid to spending deal MORE (R-Wis.), can help pull the state’s 10 electoral votes into his column on Tuesday.
Obama’s campaign appears worried about the possibility, too, as the president spent part of the day before Election Day in Madison — with Bruce Springsteen.
Polls show a close race, but they also show Obama with a consistent edge. No poll since mid-August has found Obama trailing Romney in Wisconsin. The RCP average has Obama ahead by 4.2 points.
Indications suggest early voting is down this year in Wisconsin, which does not register voters by party. In 2008, more than 21 percent voted early, while in 2012, as of Monday, fewer than 9 percent had already cast ballots.
Obama might have some breathing room in Iowa. After Romney nearly pulled even with the president in late October, a handful of recent surveys show Obama with leads of between 2 and 6 points, and the president enters Election Day with a 3-point advantage in the RCP average.
Democrats also have a wide registration advantage among the more than 600,000 early voters. Forty-two percent of those voters are Democrats, compared to 32 percent who are Republicans.
Obama and Romney have both visited Iowa over the past three days.
Obama and Romney have split the last four public polls released in the state, which run from showing a 3-point lead for Romney to a 2-point lead for Obama.
Colorado has been tough going for Democrats, with only Obama (in 2008) and Bill ClintonBill ClintonBiden bashes Trump: 'What in the hell is he talking about?' Aide: Trump was prepared to bring up Bill Clinton’s past Five takeaways from wild debate MORE (in 1992) winning the state in recent years.
Early voting is crucial. Nearly 80 percent of the 2.4 million ballots cast in 2008 were from early voters. Republicans appear to have a small but important lead among the 1.7 million who have already voted in 2012, with 37 percent having identified as Republicans against 35 percent for Democrats. Obama’s party had a 4-point lead among early voters in 2008.
Obama holds a 2-point edge over Romney in New Hampshire, according to RCP.
Still, the polls have tilted in Obama’s favor throughout, and he’s posted leads of between 1 and 6 points in the last seven public polls, with one survey from WMUR-UNH going from a tie in late October to a 3-point Obama advantage over the weekend.
Romney, who owns a vacation home in New Hampshire and governed in nearby Massachusetts, announced his candidacy in the Granite State and was scheduled to end his campaign there on Monday night, before he added Election Day events in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
It was Romney’s third trip to New Hampshire over the last week, compared to only one for Obama.
New Hampshire does not publish early-voting numbers.
Obama leads by 4 points, according to RCP, and won’t visit the state in the week before the election — though he did send Clinton to shore up support. Romney has booked two events in the state in the last 48 hours after not having visited it the previous week.
Pennsylvania does not publish early-voting totals.
— Karissa Straughen and Niall Stanage contributed to this report.