Obama-Romney Debate2After nearly $2 billion in spending, scores of attacks and counterattacks, hundreds of campaign stops and more ads than most anyone could count, the 2012 presidential race is finally – and many would say mercifully – coming to an end.

But it’s not quite there yet: The two major party candidates, exhausted though they may be, will spend all day Monday making last-minute appeals in battleground states. And where they’ve chosen to go during the home stretch highlights what polls show to be a very tight race.

Both candidates made it to four states on Sunday to rally supporters: President Obama was in New Hampshire, Florida, Ohio and Colorado, while Mitt Romney traveled to Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

It’s no surprise that both men stopped in Ohio, the most fiercely-contested battleground state in the nation. Both candidates have visited the Buckeye State more than any other: Mr. Obama has campaigned there 22 times, including Monday’s planned stop, and Mr. Romney has campaigned or will campaign there 25 times.

Why so much focus on Ohio? Because both candidates have a far easier path to the 270 electoral votes necessary to win the White House if they secure it. For Romney, in particular, Ohio’s 18 electoral votes are crucial. If Mr. Obama wins Ohio as well as Nevada, which looks likely to break for the president, he will be just nine electoral votes short of what he needs for reelection – assuming he takes all the states he is expected to win.

Without Ohio, Romney would need a near sweep of the remaining battlegrounds to take the White House; polls suggest he holds a clear lead in just one of those states, North Carolina. Two polls out over the weekend, meanwhile, showed Mr. Obama with a five point lead in Iowa, where a victory would give the president another six electoral votes. (The remaining battleground states, as identified by CBS News: Colorado, Florida, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wisconsin. Polls suggest the first four are effectively tossups; Mr. Obama has been polling slightly ahead in Wisconsin, which boasts 10 electoral votes.) Most recent polls have found Mr. Obama with a small lead in Ohio, though a Columbus Dispatch survey out Sunday suggested the two candidates are effectively tied.

There is one state the Romney campaign seems to be hoping will rewrite the Ohio-or-bust calculus: Pennsylvania. For most of the campaign, polls showed Mr. Obama with a clear lead in the state, and the Romney campaign largely ignored it. But buoyed by a poll last week suggesting the state’s 20 electoral votes are within Romney’s reach, the Romney campaign and the outside groups supporting it poured money into the Keystone State.

While Pennsylvania remains a relative long shot for Romney, his decision to stop in the state Sunday, during the precious final days of the campaign, is a signal that the investment may be more than just a head fake. The Romney camp has also said it is fighting for two other states where he faces long odds – Michigan and Minnesota – though the fact that Romney himself is not visiting either during the home stretch suggests he is most focused on Pennsylvania. The campaign did dispatch Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, to Minnesota on Sunday.

“The people of America understand we’re taking back the White House because we’re going to win Pennsylvania,” Romney said at a rally in Morrisville Sunday evening. The Obama campaign has portrayed Romney’s Pennsylvania play as a “Hail Mary” tied to his inability to lock down the more contested battlegrounds.

Romney continued to push his message Sunday that Mr. Obama deserves to be voted out because he had failed to sufficiently bring the economy back from the 2008 financial crisis; in a new ad, he suggested the president is “offering excuses,” while he has a plan that will allow America to come “roaring back.” He also said Mr. Obama has been a divisive figure more interested in pushing “a liberal agenda” than fixing the economy.

“We’re Americans. We can do anything,” Romney said in Iowa Sunday. “The only thing that stands between us and some of the best years we can imagine is a lack of leadership , and that’s why we have elections.”

The president, meanwhile, has used campaign stops to scoff at Romney’s claim to be the true candidate of change. Flanked by seemingly tireless surrogate Bill Clinton in New Hampshire, Mr. Obama told an estimated 14,000 supporters, “[w]e have come too far to turn back now. We have come too far to let our hearts grow faint.”

“I know I look a little bit older,” he added, “but I’ve got a lot of fight left in me.” While campaigning in Florida later int he day, the president’s voice sounded strained and at times cracked.

There was plenty of action away from the candidates as well: The vice presidential candidates were also busy campaigning on Sunday. Ryan was in Ohio, Colorado, Minnesota and Wisconsin — where he tailgated at a Green Bay Packers game — while Vice President Joe Biden crisscrossed Ohio. Biden offered a message of bipartisanship and attacked the Romney/Ryan ticket as divisive, saying, “I’ve never met two guys who are more negative about the country.”

Elsewhere, top surrogates for both campaigns took to local and national media outlets to claim their side has the edge in the election and argue over the Obama administration’s response to the Libya terror attack, the Romney camp’s misleading suggestion that Jeep is shipping jobs overseas and other issues. And volunteers and campaign staffers started their final push to get out the vote, pounding the pavement in an attempt to maximize turnout from their side.

In Florida – a state whose 29 electoral votes are nearly essential for Romney – the Miami-Dade elections department temporarily shut down operations Sunday after a crush of voters showed up to request and cast absentee ballots. The move came after Miami-Dade and other counties agreed to allow additional voting opportunities following a Democratic Party lawsuit, which came after Republicans shortened the early voting period. Both campaigns are girded for the possibility of battling over every last vote if a decisive state is too close to call on election night; in Ohio, where Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted will be in court Monday defending a directive that could invalidate thousands of provisional ballots, an Election Day outcome that finds the candidates within 50,000 votes of each other could extend the campaign for weeks or more.

Mr. Obama will campaign in Wisconsin, Ohio and Iowa on Monday; Romney will be in Virginia, Ohio and New Hampshire. Both candidates are expected to watch the election night returns from their home bases on Tuesday night: Mr. Obama at his campaign headquarters in Chicago and Romney at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in Boston.

If Mr. Obama triumphs on Tuesday, some Republicans will place the blame on a factor outside their control: Superstorm Sandy, which effectively deprived Romney of three days of media exposure at a crucial point — while allowing the president to project leadership in a time of crisis. Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, said Sunday that the “blackout” in Romney coverage broke Romney’s momentum and suggested it may have cost the Republican nominee the election. And the Romney campaign has acknowledged that the storm stalled whatever momentum they may have had entering the home stretch.

A Pew Research Center poll out Sunday found Mr. Obama with a three point lead among likely voters in a race that Pew found was deadlocked a week ago; 69 percent of them said they approved of the president’s handling of the storm. But three other survey out Sunday found the two candidates tied or within one point of each other nationally. The tight race has both sides pushing one simple message to supporters with renewed urgency: If you care about this election at all and have yet to vote, it’s absolutely essential that you cast a ballot on Tuesday.

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