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 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.
"You want to know that your president means what he says and says what he means," Obama told a crowd of 4,000 Saturday in Northeast Ohio, a reference to Romney's late-campaign commercials suggesting that Jeep was creating jobs in China at the expense of domestic workers. "And after four years as president, you know me."
Romney and his supporters projected confidence in Dubuque, Iowa. "Three more days!" they chanted as he stood on a stage adorned with a banner that read "Real Change." Said Romney: "The president speaks well, but I have a plan" to restore the economy and create jobs.
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 strongly oppose, even if they win 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.
Additionally, the winner could wind up appointing one or more new justices to the U.S. 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 back up to 7.9 percent.
"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 supporters chanted.
Obama countered that more than 5 million jobs have been created since the depths of the latest recession. He ended the campaign as he began it, insisting the election isn'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 adopting 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. Soundings in the nine battleground states tightened after Obama's poor performance in the first debate, on Oct. 3, and stayed that way.
Yet Republicans quietly acknowledged that Romney so far had been unable to achieve the breakthroughs needed in Ohio and Wisconsin, and he left it to running-mate Paul Ryan to make a campaign-ending trip to Nevada, rather than go himself.
Looking elsewhere for electoral votes, Romney and his allies sought to expand the political map into Pennsylvania and, to a lesser extent, Minnesota and Michigan. Obama's aides expressed confidence about all three, although some private Democratic polls showed relatively close contests and the two sides engaged in a late advertising war.