Race to the finish as US vote looms

THE RACE to be elected President of the United States has entered its final 24 hours, with polls suggesting that Democrat incumbent Barack Obama is ahead by the narrowest of margins.

Last night Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney were mid-way through a frantic dash across key states, making dozens of public appearances in the hope of attracting the few remaining undecided voters and ensuring their support bases remain fired-up ahead of polling day.

The first results from New Hampshire will be announced in the early hours of Wednesday morning UK time, signalling the beginning of the end of the costliest election in history.

One estimate puts the total bill for this year’s presidential and congressional campaigns at $5.8bn (£3.6bn). But despite months of saturation advertising and vicious personal attacks it is still unclear which man will be leading the world’s biggest economy at the end of January 2013.

Yesterday a national Reuters/Ipsos poll of 3,805 likely voters found 48 per cent said they would vote for Obama, while 47 per cent sided with Romney – within the margin of error. But the US uses an electoral college system, meaning the result will be decided by the results in just a handful of swing states.

Obama is currently slightly ahead in the key targets of Ohio, Iowa and Virginia – but Romney enjoys a poll lead in North Carolina and has been gaining momentum in recent weeks.

Some states appear to be dead heats and there is no clear leader in Florida, which accounts for 29 of the 538 electoral college votes. As a result the race is likely to be won by whichever side is better at making sure its supporters turn out to vote tomorrow.

“It’s up to you. You have the power,” Obama told a crowd of more than 14,000 people who filled the streets of Concord, New Hampshire. “You will be shaping the decisions for this country for decades to come, right now, in the next two days.”

Romney, addressing a crowd in the Midwest state of Iowa declared: “Accomplishing real change is not just something that I talk about. It's something that I’ve done. And it’s something I’m going to do when I am president of the United States.”

Those looking for an alternative way of predicting the result have increasingly kept an eye on bookmakers. Last night betting exchange Betfair gave Obama a 75 per cent chance of winning re-election and yesterday Paddy Power paid out on a Democrat win. But if the polls remain so close then results may be challenged and legal battles over the admissibility of votes are expected.