Long Lines as Voters Flock to Polls
(WALL STREET JOURNAL) – A closely divided electorate, worried about the economy and the direction the country is headed, went to the polls Tuesday to decide a presidential race that has been defined by its intensity and razor-thin margins.
Most voters rated the condition of the nation’s economy as “not so good” or “poor,” and a slight majority said the country is “seriously off on the wrong track,” according to an early wave of exit polls released Tuesday.
But the first glimpse of the 2012 electorate yielded conflicting messages, as many previous polls had, with a small majority saying that they have a favorable opinion of President Barack Obama. Fewer voters held favorable opinions of Mitt Romney, the exit polls found, and just over half said the Republican’s policies favored the rich.
Messrs. Romney and Obama entered Election Day locked in a near-dead heat, with both candidates expressing confidence that their supporters would deliver a win. Ultimately, voters in a handful of battleground states will have the final say in what has been the most expensive presidential contest in history. Polls suggest that decision day could stretch into a long night.
Many voters encountered long lines Tuesday, and waits at some polling places around the country were reported at two hours or more.
At an elementary school in Fulton County, Ga., lines of voters snaked through the gymnasium and out into the hallway, and some voters waited more than two and a half hours to vote.
In Manassas, Va., poll worker Maurica Rodgers, who has volunteered at the site for 15 years, watched the line of hundreds of voters and said, “This is the most I’ve seen for a presidential election.” At a Burbank, Calif., church, two dozen people were waiting to vote before the polls even opened, poll workers said.
Scattered problems with voting machines and poll watchers were reported across the country, mostly of the kind that are typically seen on Election Day.
Mr. Romney continued to press his case during the final hours before the polls closed, flying to Ohio to visit a campaign office in Richmond Heights with running mate, Paul Ryan. Mr. Romney also made a stop in Pennsylvania Tuesday.
“We are about to change America—to help people in ways that they didn’t imagine they could be helped with good jobs and better take-home pay,” Mr. Romney told supporters at the office near Cleveland. “The country has been going in the wrong direction, we are going to steer it back onto a course that it going to help the American people have a brighter future.”
Vice President Joe Biden headed to Cleveland as well, making an unannounced stop in the coveted battleground of Ohio on his way to Chicago for election night.
The president was off the trail Tuesday, spending the day in Chicago after making his final swing through tossup states on Monday. Mr. Obama stopped at a local campaign office and made one last pitch to battleground states with radio and television interviews Tuesday, and he planned to continue his tradition of playing an Election Day basketball game.
As Mr. Romney prepared to depart for Cleveland Tuesday morning, his chief strategist, Stuart Stevens, predicted that the Republican nominee would win Ohio and dismissed suggestions that campaigning in Ohio and Pennsylvania on Election Day was a sign of concern.
“I never thought that going out and talking to voters and working was anything but what we are supposed to do,” Mr. Stevens said.
The Republican nominee had been riding a wave of momentum after the first presidential debate, but polls show his rise tapering off and the president regaining his footing in recent days.
In a radio interview Tuesday morning, Mr. Romney said his path to victory would run through Virginia. He declined to say which states would end up in his column Tuesday night but predicted that Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota all would be close.
“I believe I’m going to win, but I can’t tell you which state is going to be the one that puts me over the edge,” Mr. Romney told WMAL in Washington, D.C.
The president said Tuesday that he’s “cautiously optimistic” that he’ll secure a second term if enough people turn out to vote.
“I think that people just feel like we want to protect the changes that we’ve already made and we’ve got to keep pushing forward,” Mr. Obama said in a radio interview that aired on the Steve Harvey show Tuesday morning.
More than 30 million people already have cast ballots, but the two campaigns are counting on their ground game and a final, Election Day push to determine the winner.
The race was tight from the start. And now that nearly $3 billion has been funneled into attack ads, super-PAC expenditures and get-out-the-vote efforts, many polls show a contest that is too close to call. The final Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey of likely voters showed Mr. Obama leading by a hair, 48% to 47%.
Polls give the president a slight edge in several key battlegrounds, but many are within the margin of error
For both candidates, the goal is the same: accumulate 270 electoral votes. Mr. Obama appears to have more paths to reach that number, but Romney campaign officials point to the Republican nominee’s strength with independent voters and the intensity of his support as evidence that Election Day could break his way.
Tuesday started with Mr. Biden casting his ballot in Delaware. Mr. Romney voted in Massachusetts Tuesday morning, and Mr. Ryan was in his home state of Wisconsin to vote. Mr. Obama became the first president to vote early when he cast a ballot on Oct. 25.
Early Tuesday, the lines were long at many polling places.
By 7:30 a.m., the wait to vote at Short Pump Middle School in Glen Allen, Va., was 30 minutes. Four years ago, there was no wait, said 42-year-old Daniel Hark as he walked to his car in the packed parking lot, having cast his ballot for Mr. Romney.
“To see this many people out this early makes you think there’s a lot more enthusiasm than there was four years ago,” Mr. Hark said.
In Pittsburgh, a heavily Democratic city that Mr. Romney plans to visit Tuesday, voters were turning out early. By 9 a.m. nearly 40% of voters in Pittsburgh’s 14th ward, the largest in the city and second-largest in the state, had already cast their votes, according to Sam Hans-Greco, chairman of the ward’s Democratic committee.
Several voters at a polling station in the city’s tree-lined East End said they wanted to give Mr. Obama another term to continue his economic policies.
“I think Barack Obama is actually doing as good a job as anyone could with the position he found,” said Dan Droz, 62, a marketing consultant.
—Kris Maher, Cameron McWhirter, Ryan Tracy and Tamara Audi contributed to this article.