a DESPERATE battle to secure the support of undecided voters was continuing last night as the United States prepares to vote today in its presidential election.
Nationwide polls show the two locked in one of the closest presidential races in US history. It is also the most expensive, with both sides spending a total of more than $2bn.
A majority of polls in the swing states show Mr Obama with a slight advantage, giving him an easier path to the 270 electoral votes needed for victory.
No Republican has won the White House without carrying Ohio, and it even remained possible that Mr Romney will make a last-minute visit to the state today.
Under the US system, the winner is not determined by the nationwide popular vote but in state-by-state contests, making nine states that do not consistently vote Republican nor Democratic extremely important in such a tight race.
Mr Obama needs the support of blacks and Hispanics to counter Mr Romney’s support among white men, but his campaign knows that the feeling of making history by electing America’s first black president that fired up the 2008 campaign has cooled.
Mr Romney, who described himself as “severely conservative” during the Republican primary campaign, has shifted sharply in recent weeks to appeal to the political centre and highlights what he says was his bipartisan record as governor of Democratic-leaning Massachusetts. He continues to insist that his experience as a businessman would help fix the still-weak US economy – a top issue with voters.
Mr Obama has come back from a weak performance in his first of three debates with Mr Romney last month and hammered at Mr Romney’s shifting positions.
The final national NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll, released on Sunday, showed Mr Obama with the support of 48 per cent of likely voters, with Mr Romney receiving 47 per cent.
The final poll from the Pew Research Centre found Mr Obama with a three-point edge over Mr Romney, 48 per cent to 45 per cent among likely voters, an improved showing that indicates the president may have benefited from his handling of the response to last week’s Superstorm Sandy. Mr Obama suspended three full days of campaigning to deal with the East Coast disaster.
If the election was held at the time of the poll, Mr Obama would be all but assured of 249 electoral votes by carrying 20 states that are solidly Democratic or leaning his way and the District of Columbia. Mr Romney would lay claim to 206, from probable victories in 24 states that are strong Republican ground or tilt toward the Republicans.
Up for grabs are 83 electoral votes spread across Colorado, Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wisconsin. Of those, Republicans and Democrats alike say Mr Obama seems in slightly better shape than Mr Romney in Ohio and Wisconsin, while Mr Romney appears to be performing slightly better than Mr Obama or has pulled level in Virginia and Florida.
With Mr Obama sustaining his lead in Ohio, Mr Romney made a surprise, last-minute move in neighbouring Pennsylvania. The state has voted Democratic in the last five presidential elections and has long been counted for Obama.
The theme from the movie Rocky blared from loudspeakers as he stepped to the podium in a Philadelphia suburb. “The people of America understand we’re taking back the White House because we’re going to win Pennsylvania,” he said.
Mr Obama’s campaign said Mr Romney’s move in Pennsylvania showed the Republican’s desperation over his diminished chances in Ohio. The Obama campaign announced that former President Bill Clinton – Mr Obama’s most powerful supporter – would make four campaign stops in Pennsylvania.