WASHINGTON -- A roller-coaster ride of an election campaign, buffeted by a superstorm and missteps on both sides, finally concludes Tuesday when America decides if President Barack Obama gets a second term or Republican challenger Mitt Romney will move into the White House in January.
In a contest reflecting the nation's deep political chasm, Obama and Romney ran dead even in final polls that hinted at a result rivaling some of the closest presidential elections in history.
The first polling results of the day in New Hampshire's Dixville Notch did nothing to change that notion. It was a tie.
Obama and Romney each received five votes.
The town in the state's northeast corner has opened its polls shortly after midnight each election day since 1960. but Tuesday's draw was the first in its history.
Tuesday's outcome will influence the direction of a government and country facing chronic federal deficits and debt as well as sluggish economic growth in the wake of a devastating recession and financial industry collapse that confronted Obama when he took office as the first African-American president in January 2009.
Candidates usually take Election Day off, but this year, both camps continued to campaign even as voting was under way.
While Obama remained low-key in Chicago, Vice President Joe Biden made "an unannounced but long-scheduled" stop in the key battleground state of Ohio.
Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, also arrived separately in Ohio.
In fact, Romney's campaign plane and Air Force Two, which carries the vice president, crossed paths at a Cleveland's airport Tuesday
Biden descended the plane's steps just a couple hundred yards away from where Romney's plane sat. The plane for Ryan was also landing as Biden's motorcade began rolling on the tarmac.
Voters also will determine the makeup of a new Congress, choosing all 435 members of the House of Representatives and 33 of the 100 senators. Analysts expect Republicans to maintain control of the House and Democrats to keep their narrow advantage in the Senate.
No matter who wins the presidency, the White House and Congress will face fresh pressure to legislate a comprehensive deficit reduction deal that has been stymied so far by intransigence on the issue of tax reform, with Republicans refusing to consider any kind of tax increase while Obama and Democrats insist on at least the wealthy paying a higher income tax rate.
Despite the building drama toward Election Day in the campaign expected to cost $2.6 billion, much of the outcome already was known.
Only a handful of states were considered up for grabs and both candidates and their campaigns concluded an exhausting final sprint through them over the weekend and on Monday.
The barnstorming amounted to a montage of Americana electioneering, with Obama and Romney shouting themselves hoarse before boisterous crowds, joined by top surrogates and star power such as Bruce Springsteen singing for Obama and Kid Rock for Romney.
In their final speeches, the candidates and their running mates blended inspirational visions for a better future with well-honed attacks in hopes of ensuring their committed supporters actually cast ballots while trying to coax votes from anyone still undecided.
Obama, Romney make final pitches
Obama briefly waxed nostalgic at his first event on Monday in Madison, Wisconsin, referring to Springsteen when he said: "I get to fly around with him on the last day that I will ever campaign, so that's not a bad way to end things."
He cited accomplishments of his first term, including ending the war in Iraq, winding down the war in Afghanistan, passing health insurance and Wall Street reforms, and ending the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that banned openly gay and lesbian personnel from the military.
"I know what real change looks like," the president said, referring to what he characterizes as Romney's false claim of being an agent of needed change. "You've got cause to believe me because you've seen me fight for it and you've seen me deliver it. You have seen the scars on me to prove it. You have seen the gray hair on my head to show you what it means to fight for change. And you've been there with me. And after all we've been through together we can't give up now because we've got more change to do."
Emotion overtook the president at the end of the day.
His eyes welled with tears as he thanked the people "who've given so much to this campaign over the years," during a stop in Des Moines, Iowa -- a place where his first campaign gained an early foothold in his first run for the White House.
"You took this campaign and made it of your own and you organized yourselves block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood,