The most expensive presidential election in United States history reaches its climax tomorrow, billed by both Democrats and Republicans as a stark choice between two visions for America.
President Barack Obama, the country's first black president and seeking a second term, has been in a statistical dead heat with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who overcame conservative sceptics to reach striking distance of the White House.
But there are signs that Obama has recovered lost ground with voters, thanks to his astute handling of Hurricane Sandy. The latest opinion polls of likely voters put him at a slight advantage over Romney for the popular vote. On the electoral college map, which is the only thing that counts in a US presidential election, he also has a slim lead over the challenger, according to US media projections.
But in the end it will come down to turnout, particularly in the Midwestern state of Ohio which is crucial for the winner to gain the 270 electoral college votes needed for victory.
"The 'Ohio firewall' precariously stands for President Barack Obama, but a strong Republican turnout could enable Mitt Romney to tear it down on election day," the Ohioan newspaper the Columbus Dispatch reported.
One of the most eloquent descriptions of the candidates' contrasting visions came last week from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who gave a lukewarm endorsement to Obama while echoing damaging criticism of the Republican nominee accused of backing any policy in order to secure election.
Bloomberg, a former Republican turned political independent, said that although he would have preferred Romney had he stuck to earlier positions, he was influenced by Obama's action on climate change and women's issues, and his potential for bipartisanship in a second term.
It is uncertain whether the New York mayor has any influence in the swing states that are being courted assiduously by both camps in the closing hours of the campaign. But members of the Republican establishment, such as Colin Powell, a former Secretary of State who has endorsed Obama, have also made it clear that they harbour doubts about the evolving positions of Romney, a multi-millionaire businessman.
The most astonishing images last week were of Chris Christie, the Republican Governor of New Jersey, praising Obama on television before the pair viewed the damage from the megastorm together.
Karl Rove, the master strategist of the Republican party, acknowledged that Obama had benefited politically from his handling of the "October surprise" that dumped a wall of water along the eastern seaboard, leaving much of New York without power.
Both presidential candidates are sprinting across the country bringing out the vote. Obama hails the gradual but steady improvement in the economy while Romney points to the 23 million unemployed and promises to create 12 million jobs if elected.
Obama is being helped to the finish line by former President Bill Clinton who is hoarse from campaigning. "I have given my voice in the service of my President," he told a racially mixed audience of 24,000 at the weekend in the swing state of Virginia. He went on to say Romney "could be hired as the chief contortionist for the Cirque du Soleil".
Romney added Pennsylvania to his list of swing states visited in the final push, in a move described as a "desperate ploy" by an Obama campaign spokesman. Romney appealed to independent voters in Iowa and Ohio, before heading to Virginia. No Republican candidate has won the presidency without capturing Ohio's 18 electoral college votes.
Romney's stump speeches sought to knock down Obama's bipartisan stand, telling Iowans that "he's made the divide between our parties wider".
The election in numbers
Number of electoral college votes needed for victory
The number of electoral college votes at stake in the key swing states of Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, Florida, Colorado and Nevada
The last time Ohio backed the loser in a presidential election. The state has seen more visits from the candidates than any other during this campaign
($63m) Barack Obama's advertising bill in Ohio
Obama's total advertising bill
Obama's total campaign spending, from a total fundraising pot of US$1.076 billion
The amount the Republicans have spent on a publicity blitz in Ohio
Mitt Romney's total advertising bill
Romney's total campaign spending, from a total fundraising pot of US$1.125 billion
Expected number of votes that will be cast in the 2012 election
7.8 per cent
US unemployment rate, the same as when Obama took office, below the symbolic 8 per cent threshold. The rate touched 10 per cent in 2009 at the height of the financial crisis
US budget deficit, up from US$438 billion in January 2009
Troops currently in Afghanistan
Troops in Afghanistan when Obama took office in January 2009
Troops in Iraq when Obama took office in January 2009
Troops in Iraq today
Number of people who have cast their votes early, including 3.5m in Florida and 1.6m in Ohio. Early voters traditionally favour the Democrats
52 per cent
Proportion of men polled by the Wall Street Journal who said they would vote for Romney