Maximising turnout key to winning in Ohio
Both candidates send thousands of volunteers to win over uncommitted voters in key counties
After all the fundraising, political ads, rallies, meetings and get-out-the vote efforts, a few counties in just one state - Ohio - could have an outsized say in the outcome of the election.
At a national level polls showed President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney tied. Under most calculations, Ohio with its 18 electoral college votes became the most critical battleground in the candidates' state-by-state race to capture the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Sunday showed Obama leading the former Massachusetts governor 48 per cent to 44 per cent in Ohio. Obama won the state by 4.6 percentage points in his defeat of Republican John McCain in 2008.
To win the state, the Obama team may have to maximise turnout in the north, particularly in Cuyahoga County around the industrial and manufacturing Democratic stronghold of Cleveland, an area that is home to roughly 10 per cent of the state's population. The northern part of the state is deeply tethered to the car industry and has a strong presence of organized labour.
Obama also needs to avoid losing badly in Hamilton County, which the Democrat won in 2008 but which typically leans Republican. Hamilton County is in the southwestern corner of the state, adjacent to Kentucky and includes the city of Cincinnati. It has many conservative voters - and is surrounded by some of the most Republican-friendly parts of Ohio, including House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner's 8th District. Obama is fighting for a draw there, said a Democrat with ties to the campaign. "But we can't lose by more than three to four points."
On the other hand the Romney campaign needs to maximise turnout in the suburban and rural areas, especially in the conservative southeast and in Hamilton County, and to eat into Obama's margin in the north. Romney likely needs to carry Hamilton County to have a shot at the state overall.
The battle for Ohio will likely be decided by each campaign's efforts on the ground. An Obama campaign spokeswoman said thousands of volunteers worked on its behalf over the weekend in Ohio; the Romney campaign said roughly 15,000 worked for it on Sunday. If both campaigns maximise turnout, everything could hinge today on the decisions of uncommitted voters, many of whom will be influenced by personal connections.
"Families and then friends influence people more than every other combination of TV ads, the news media and organizational affiliation," Ohio Democratic strategist Greg Haas said. "They are in the same boat."
Alexa Marinos' family, which owns a dry-cleaning business, pushed her into Romney's column even after she had donated cash to Obama, with whom she agrees over support of same-sex marriage. "I feel more confident in Romney being able to guide us out of this recession," she said.
Obama canvasser Jack Frase, plying for votes recently in Cincinnati, was able to use Obama's positions on women's issues to convince 44-year-old Janette Gregory, who was previously undecided, to back Obama.
The eight races to watch
Virginia - No state better represents America's old south versus its new south. The northern part of the state, which surrounds the city of Washington, is filled with highly educated Democrat supporters, while most of the rest of the state's white population is Republican. Expect this race to take hours for the networks to call as northern Virginia is usually the last to report.
Ohio - No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio. This year is not likely to be an exception. Do not expect the state to be called by the networks for at least four hours after closing.
Florida - George W. Bush won the state by 537 votes and with it the White House in 2000. Much of the northern two-thirds of the state is filled with residents whose families have lived in Florida for generations. These folks are Mitt Romney's strength. Barack Obama will do very well with a growing non-Cuban Hispanic population around Orlando, black people, and Jewish retirees in the southeast. Polls give Romney a slight edge, but it is too close to call.
New Hampshire - The state is nearly all white, yet has a unique mix of old-time libertarians, tax escapees from Massachusetts (there is no income or sales tax in New Hampshire) and social liberals on the state's western edge. The race here is also too close to call, with perhaps a slight edge to Obama.
Colorado - Latinos, along with a growing highly educated white suburban population around Denver, have shifted this former Republican stronghold into a state where either party can win. Jefferson county is likely to mirror the state's vote. Polling in the state indicates that the race is a true toss-up.
Wisconsin - Obama can count on Milwaukee with its black population, socially liberal whites around the University of Wisconsin and old-time Democrats in the west. Romney must crush in the Milwaukee suburbs, which are among the most conservative in the nation. If Romney does not win Ohio, he must win here. Polls give Obama a small lead.
Iowa - This is where the primary season begins, and it likes to keep Americans guessing. It is a mix of old heartland liberals in the east and conservative evangelicals in the west. Iowa has historically not been decided until very late.
Nevada - There may be no better example of the gathering Latino influence than in the American southwest. Democrats led by Senate Democratic leader Senator Harry Reid have been registering voters at an incredible pace. Romney is relying on a base in the rural areas, including a large Mormon population. Early voting suggests that Obama will carry the state.