President Obama and Mitt Romney were winning the states they were expected to win as results began trickling in from across the country, but exit polls showed the list of battleground states too close to call.
Voters worried about the economy and wary of an activist federal government began bringing down the curtain on the most expensive and prolonged presidential election campaign in history Tuesday.
But it could be a long wait before President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney learn what the American people have decided.
In early results, the Associated Press projected Obama would win his home state of Illinois as well as Massachusetts, where Romney was governor and the place he still calls home. Maryland and the District of Columbia were put in Obama’s column as soon as polls there closed.
Romney was projected to win four states in the South, plus West Virginia and Indiana--traditional Republican states in the presidential contest.
But in battleground states such as Ohio, North Carolina and Florida, the exit polls showed races too close to call.
The same is true in Virginia, where voters not only will play a key role in the presidential race but also in deciding control of the Senate. Voters in Northern Virginia were reporting hours-long waits to cast ballots for president and to choose between two former governors — Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine — to replace retiring Democratic Sen. James Webb.
In Maine, which the Washington Post live elections results map shows as won by President Obama, Independent candidate Angus King won the open Senate seat. The Fix’s Aaron Blake reports:
Former Maine governor Angus King, an independent, won the open Maine Senate race Tuesday, beating back a challenge from Republican Secretary of State Charlie Summers, according to AP.
Even though no vote totals have been reported, AP has called the race for King. The Washington Post has not yet called the race.
Now that King has been elected to the Senate, questions will persist about whether he will caucus with Democrats. Despite steadfastly refusing to pick a party to caucus with during the campaign, national Democrats and Democratic-leaning outside groups dumped millions into the race to ward off Summers when the polls narrowed.
National Democrats never embraced their nominee, state Sen. Cynthia Dill, in this race, instead apparently banking on King caucusing with them.
King will replace retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe, a moderate-leaning Republican.
With Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) retiring, King’s win means the Senate will continue to have two independents out of 100 members. The other is Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with Democrats and was set to be reelected on Tuesday.
Early exit polls are showing an electorate that leans slightly more Repubican than in 2008, according to The Fix’s Chris Cillizza:
And, unlike in 2008, more voters oppose an active federal government than support it. But the mood of the country has improved from four years ago — with much of those gains coming among Democrats.
The economy remains the overwhelming top issue for most voters — both in national exit polling and in the nine swing state exit polls that The Washington Post subscribes to.
For all of the talk of the electorate swinging in the race’s final days — perhaps as a result of Hurricane Sandy and Obama’s handling of it — approximately seven in 10 voters said they made their mind up about a candidate before September.
This analysis is based on preliminary results from interviews of randomly selected voters as they exited voting places across the country Tuesday. Some states included telephone interviews with early voters. The poll was conducted by Edison Media Research for the National Election Pool, The Washington Post and other media organizations. Typical characteristics have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.