WASHINGTON — The White House, the Senate, the tea party revolution in the House and 11 governorships are on the line Tuesday in a fantastically costly, relentlessly negative election played out in unsettled economic times.
There is more at stake, though — the future of “Obamacare,” the fate of Medicare, too — in a land where the campaign tab is counted in the billions of dollars, where voters have been polled to the point of rebelliousness, and where a 4-year-old approached national hero status when she tearily protested the onslaught of campaign advertising.
“I’m tired of Bronco Bamma and Mitt Romney,” sobbed Abby Evans of Fort Collins, Colo., in a video that went viral in the campaign’s final, frantic days.
And why not? The rhetoric alone was cringe-inducing.
Democrats accused Romney of a “war on women.” Romney said President Barack Obama was waging a “war on coal.”
Plunging through a final weekend of campaigning, the two rivals honed their appeals as they flew from one battleground state to another.
Apart from the candidates, divided government — perhaps a politically correct term for dysfunctional government — is on the ballot after a two-year stretch that produced gridlock on many issues and record-low congressional approval ratings.
A victory by Democrat Obama would ensure the survival of the health care law that Republicans oppose so strongly, even if they win contested control of the Senate and, as expected, hold the House.
A triumph by Republican challenger Romney would slam the door on tax increases on the wealthy, even if Democrats demand them as the price for a deficit deal that includes curtailing the costs of programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
As well, the winner could wind up appointing one or more new justices to the Supreme Court, where four justices are older than 70. The potential exists to alter the balance of a tribunal that recently has issued 5-4 rulings on abortion, affirmative action, campaign finance and religion in public life.
The economy has trumped all other issues in a campaign carried out in the shadow of slow growth, high unemployment and huge federal deficits. Heading into the race’s final weekend, the government reported that 171,000 jobs were created in October. Unemployment ticked up to 7.9 percent.
The nine battleground states account for 110 electoral votes combined, and include areas with particularly high joblessness (Nevada and North Carolina) as well as low unemployment (Iowa, New Hampshire and Virginia). Also large Hispanic populations (Colorado and Florida), an economy heavily dependent on the auto industry (Ohio) and the home of Romney’s running mate (Wisconsin).
They reflect many of the key differences that have defined the presidential struggle. Among them are the competing visions of economic policy, the disagreement over raising taxes on upper-income Americans, the 2009 auto bailout that Obama said saved an industry and that Romney opposed, and immigration, where the Republican sought to move to the middle after calling during the primaries on illegal immigrants to self-deport.
The Senate races feature all that — and more.
Republicans must gain three for a majority if Romney wins the White House, otherwise four. There are 33 seats on the ballot, 23 currently in Democratic hands and 10 in Republicans’, a lopsided split that for months made the GOP favored to capture control.
“The question of this election is, ‘Do you want four years of the same or do you want real change?’ ” Romney asked an audience in West Allis, Wis., on Friday. He said, correctly, that unemployment is higher than when Obama took office, and he contended the president would fail to improve the economy with a second term. “Four more days,” his supported chanted.
Obama countered that more than 5 million jobs have been created since the depths of the Great Recession. He ended the campaign as he began it, insisting the election wasn’t a referendum on his performance in office, but a choice between him and his rival. It’s “between going back to the top-down policies that crashed our economy or adapting the kinds of policies that will make sure we’ve got a strong and growing middle class,” the incumbent said Friday in Hilliard, Ohio.
Going into the final weekend of the campaign, opinion polls showed a race for the popular vote so close that only a statistically insignificant point or two separated the two rivals.