By Monday, the most expensive general election in U.S. history was winding down. In some states, political commercials were airing at a rate of more than 50,000 spots a day, according to media tracking data. In some places, in fact, there was no more room on the air.
So, without ad slots to buy, conservative groups began placing commercials in deep-blue states such as California and New York.
On Tuesday, the country’s first polls will open at 6 a.m. in some East Coast states, including Virginia (they open an hour later in Maryland and the District). The last ones will close 19 hours later, at 8 p.m. local time in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.
By then, we might finally know the outcome. This is the basic math of the race: Seven states are considered tossups. To win the White House, Romney needs to win at least four of them, including the biggest, Florida.
Obama has more options. He could secure reelection with just one of these states — Florida. Or he could win with several combinations of two, such as Ohio and Wisconsin, or Ohio and Virginia. This assumes Romney doesn’t pull off an upset somewhere unexpected, such as Pennsylvania.
“We’ve said we see many different paths to 270 [electoral votes], and all those different paths are still there today that we saw a year ago,” David Axelrod, a top strategist for Obama’s campaign, told reporters Monday. “That’s the difference between the campaigns.”
‘Very personal for me’
On Monday, the two campaigns did what they had been doing for months: calling and canvassing. They weren’t giving up.
“After the ninth, 10th, 11th call, I really feel for them,” said Antonette Smith, a volunteer in Colorado for the conservative group Americans for Prosperity who had been dialing up beleaguered swing-state voters all morning. It was Smith’s last day at an “action center” in a suburban office park. She said she came as much for her own sanity as anything else.
Smith, 50, who was laid off in May from a health-care marketing group, said it was too hard to sit home alone for the campaign’s final hours. She thinks this election could turn the economy around.
“I want to be with people. This is very personal for me,” Smith said, her eyes filling with tears. “My daughter needs a new pair of jeans.”
In Wisconsin, Romney volunter Dick Farrell went looking for votes in the oldest-fashioned way: knocking on doors. He had a clipboard with the names of likely Romney voters. And he had a script in which he was supposed to ask whether someone had voted, and if not, what time Tuesday they planned to head to the polls.
As the day went on, Farrell knocked a lot, and the homeowners answered only a little. He didn’t seem convinced that this was a great use of time.
“There isn’t much to this, is there?” he asked, squinting at house numbers, looking for the next one on his list. But campaign workers “say this is really important,” Farrell said, “and I’m taking their word for it.”
Then, in one of the last houses on Stardust Street in Waukesha, he found one: an actual undecided voter. After 523 days and $3 billion worth of campaigning, the gray-faced man behind the door hadn’t made up his mind.
He told Farrell that he’d voted for Obama last time. This time, however, he wasn’t sure if he’d do it again. Wasn’t sure, actually, if he’d vote at all.
“There’s too much to know,” the man told Farrell, “and I don’t know it.”
“Well,” Farrell said as a spitting rain began to fall on the quiet street, “I think about the debt, and I’d encourage you to vote for Romney . . . either way, I hope you vote.”
The man thanked him, and Farrell made another mark on his clipboard.
Jenna Johnson in Iowa; Steve Hendrix in Colorado; Emily Heil in Wisconsin; Craig Timberg, David Nakamura and Philip Rucker in Ohio; and Dan Eggen and Bill Turque in Washington contributed to this report.