Time to vote

Politics | After months of campaign rhetoric, ads, and robocalls, voters across the country head to the polls to cast their ballots
by Edward Lee Pitts
Posted 11/06/12, 08:24 am

On Monday night, just hours before the nation’s polls opened, the two men vying for the White House closed out their campaigns in places where they each began their presidential journeys.

Republican challenger Mitt Romney stood before a boisterous crowd of 12,000 supporters in Manchester, N.H., a little more than 17 months after he kicked off his run for the White House in the Granite State.

“I won’t just represent one party. I will represent one nation,” Gov. Romney said as part of his final plea. It was the last stop in a day that took the former Massachusetts governor to rallies in Florida, Virginia, and Ohio (see “Overflowing support,” Nov. 5). “The only thing that stands between us and some of the best years we have ever imagined is lack of leadership … tomorrow we begin a new tomorrow.”

At nearly the same time, President Barack Obama stood before thousands of his supporters in Iowa—the state where a win in the 2008 Democratic caucuses vaulted him from underdog to contender.

“I’ve come back to Iowa one more time to ask for your vote,” said Obama, who also visited Wisconsin and Ohio on Monday. “This is where our movement for change began. … We are not done yet on this journey.”

For one of these men the journey does end Tuesday, as this long election season finally goes to the voters. 

The last preelection Gallup poll released Monday showed Romney with a one-point lead over Obama, 49 percent to 48 percent. Several polls in battleground states give Obama a slight advantage in the states that likely will decide which candidate reaches the magical number of 270 electoral votes needed to win.

With the race so close, the odds are high that legal challenges may soon follow the results in numerous battleground states. Democrats already filed a lawsuit in Florida, convincing a judge over the weekend to extend early voting hours in one county.

Democrats have an edge in early voting nationwide. But Republicans see hope in the fact that the edge is considerably smaller than the one Democrats enjoyed four years ago. Meanwhile Romney’s team has reached out to significantly more voters than Republican John McCain did in 2008.

Four years ago, Obama electrified the nation’s voters with his message of hope and change. Today the president has replaced that theme with a message that he needs more time to solve the problems he said he inherited from former President George W. Bush. Facing an enthusiasm deficit among some of his core 2008 backers, Obama has spent the campaign season blaming Republicans in Congress for the gridlock in Washington and pushing a philosophy that it is the government’s responsibility to make sure everyone gets their fair share. He hopes that message will attract the block of black, Hispanic, and young voters that flocked to his 2008 campaign.

With Obama now having a four-year White House record to defend, the mantle of change for this campaign season belongs to Romney, who has traveled the country asking voters if they “want four more years like the last four years.” As the country endures a stagnant economy and a dismal job market, Romney has touted his business background and his executive experiences as both a governor and as the head of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. He also has found his own saying to counter Obama’s “fair share” sermon. Romney’s “trickle-down government” derisively refers to Obama’s belief in a bigger government that spends more, taxes more, and regulates more.

Romney unleashed the phrase during the first presidential debate in early October. At the time Obama, according to polls, appeared to be pulling away. But Romney’s forceful performance that night injected a new energy into the race’s final month. He not only energized Republicans who had yet to warm to him after a contentious and lengthy GOP primary fight, but he also attracted the attention of the nation’s independent voters.

Americans frustrated by stagnant wages and rising gas and healthcare prices seemed reluctant to back Romney after the Obama campaign spent the summer bombarding the airwaves with ads depicting Romney as a capitalist vulture who would only cater to the nation’s elite. But Romney appeared both human and presidential during the first debate, and if he wins the election that performance likely will be considered his watershed moment.

Obama, on the other hand, has had a chance to look presidential during the last week of the campaign, as he has comforted suffering Americans in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. He even managed to receive praise from New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who was the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention. Republican strategists already are suggesting that the storm’s tragedy may have stunted Romney’s momentum. Regardless, the storm has deflected attention away from questions surrounding the U.S. Consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead including the U.S. ambassador.

The stakes in this election extend far beyond economic policy. An Obama administration given four more years likely would remain a threat to the liberty of religious organizations. Organizations like Catholic Charities already have been pressured to provide contraceptives to their employees despite the group’s faith convictions. A further eroding of this liberty may include limiting the ability of such faith groups to hire based on shared beliefs. In addition, the new president may get to appoint one or more U.S. Supreme Court justices, and those selections will affect such issues as the future of traditional marriage and abortion.

On Tuesday voters will decide more than the nation’s next president: the entire U.S. House, 34 U.S. senators, and 11 governorships are on ballots. Republicans will try to maintain its majority in the House, gain the majority in the Senate, and increase their majority in the states’ governor’s mansions. Thousands of ballot initiatives also go before voters across the nation, including four states with referendums dealing with same-sex “marriage.”

But voters will be watching most closely the presidential race. The country is so divided that one of the candidates could win the popular vote while the other candidate secures the 270 electoral votes needed to win the Electoral College (and the election). Such a split vote has happened four times in U.S. history, including in 2000. It is not a stretch to predict that the results will be so close that no winner will be announced on Tuesday night.

Indeed, the very first votes counted early Tuesday morning may have foreshadowed a long night: The small New Hampshire town of Dixville Notch traditionally casts its votes each election year as the clock strikes midnight. This year’s results: five votes for Obama and five votes for Romney. It’s the first presidential tie in the village’s history.

Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.

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