WASHINGTON (CNN) — A roller-coaster ride of an election campaign, buffeted by a superstorm and missteps on both sides, finally concludes Tuesday when America decides if President Barack Obama gets a second term or Republican challenger Mitt Romney will move into the White House in January.
In a contest reflecting the nation’s deep political chasm, Obama and Romney ran dead even in final polls that hinted at a result rivaling some of the closest presidential elections in history.
The outcome will influence the direction of a government and country facing chronic federal deficits and debt as well as sluggish economic growth in the wake of a devastating recession and financial industry collapse that confronted Obama when he took office as the first African American president in January 2009.
Voters also will determine the makeup of a new Congress, choosing all 435 members of the House of Representatives and 33 of the 100 senators. Analysts expect Republicans to maintain control of the House and Democrats to keep their narrow advantage in the Senate.
No matter who wins the presidency, the White House and Congress will face fresh pressure to legislate a comprehensive deficit reduction deal that has been stymied so far by intransigence on the issue of tax reform, with Republicans refusing to consider any kind of tax increase while Obama and Democrats insist on at least the wealthy paying a higher income tax rate.
Despite the building drama toward Election Day in the campaign expected to cost $2.6 billion, much of the outcome already was known.
Only a handful of states were considered up for grabs and both candidates and their campaigns concluded an exhausting final sprint through them over the weekend and on Monday.
The barnstorming amounted to a montage of Americana electioneering, with Obama and Romney shouting themselves hoarse before boisterous crowds, joined by top surrogates and star power such as Bruce Springsteen singing for Obama and Kid Rock for Romney.
In their final speeches, the candidates and their respective running mates — Vice President Joe Biden and GOP Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin — blended inspirational visions for a better future with well-honed attacks in hopes of ensuring their committed supporters actually cast ballots while trying to coax votes from anyone still undecided.