Americans started to vote in a presidential election on Tuesday with polls showing President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney neck-and-neck in a race that will be decided in a handful of states.
Polling stations opened across the eastern United States and parts of the Midwest as dawn broke. At least 120 million Americans were expected to vote on giving Obama a second term or replacing him with Romney.
Their decision will set the country’s course for four years on spending, taxes, healthcare and foreign policy challenges like the rise of China and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
National opinion polls show Obama and Romney in a virtual dead heat, although the Democratic incumbent has a slight advantage in several vital swing states - most notably Ohio - that could give him the 270 electoral votes he needs to win.
Romney, the multimillionaire former head of a private equity fund, would be the first Mormon president and one of the wealthiest Americans to occupy the White House. Obama, the first black president, is vying to be the first Democrat to win a second term since Bill Clinton in 1996.
Fueled by record spending on negative ads, the battle between the two men was focused primarily on the lagging economic recovery and persistent high unemployment, but at times it turned personal.
As Americans headed to voting booths, campaign teams for both candidates worked feverishly at the last minute to mobilize supporters to cast their ballots.
Polls will begin to close in Indiana and Kentucky at 6 p.m. EST (2300 GMT) on Tuesday, with voting ending across the country over the next six hours.
The first results, by tradition, were tallied in Dixville Notch and Hart’s Location, New Hampshire, shortly after midnight (0500 GMT). Obama and Romney each received five votes in Dixville Notch. In Hart’s Location, Obama got 23 votes to 9 votes for Romney and two votes for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.
The close presidential race raises the prospect of a disputed outcome similar to the 2000 election, which was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Both campaigns have assembled legal teams to deal with possible voting problems, challenges or recounts.