WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama won the reliably Democratic Northeast, and Republican Mitt Romney secured his conservative base Tuesday night in a duel for the White House shadowed by a weak economy and high unemployment.
The critical battlegrounds with the key to victory were unsettled, Virginia, Ohio and Florida among them, with long lines in many locations after poll-close time.
Romney led in the popular vote, gaining 8.2 million votes, or 52 percent, to 7.5 million or 47 percent for Obama, with 5 percent of the precincts tallied.
Romney also held an early electoral vote advantage, 76-64, with 270 needed for victory.
The polls were still open in much of the country as the two rivals began claiming the spoils of a brawl of an election in a year in which the struggling economy put a crimp in the middle class dreams of millions.
Obama carried Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine and Romney's home state of Massachusetts. Also, as expected, he won Delaware and Maryland as well as the District of Columbia and Illinois.
Romney had Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Kentucky and West Virginia in his column. He also won Indiana, a state Obama carried in 2008 but did not contest this year.
Voters also chose a new Congress to serve alongside the man who will be inaugurated president in January, Democrats defending their majority in the Senate, and Republicans in the House.
In Maine, independent former Gov. Angus King won a Senate seat long in GOP hands, the first potential switch of the evening. He has not yet said which party he will side with, although Republicans attacked him during the campaign with television advertising, and Democrats rallied to his cause.
The economy was rated the top issue by about 60 percent of voters surveyed as they left their polling places, but more said former President George W. Bush bears responsibility for current circumstances than Obama does after nearly four years in office.
About 4 in 10 said the economy is on the mend, but more than that said it was stagnant or getting worse. The survey was conducted for The Associated Press and a group of television networks.
The long campaign's cost soared into the billions, much of it spent on negative ads, some harshly so.
In the presidential race, an estimated one million commercials aired in nine battleground states where the rival camps agreed the election was most likely to be settled -- Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado and Nevada.
In a months-long general election ad war that cost nearly $1 billion, Romney and Republican groups spent more than $550 million and Obama and his allies $381 million, according to organizations that track advertising.
In Virginia, the polls had been closed for several minutes when Obama's campaign texted a call for volunteers "to make sure everyone who's still in line gets to vote.''
In Florida, there were long lines at the hour set for polls to close. Under state law, everyone waiting was entitled to cast a ballot.
Romney raced to Ohio and Pennsylvania for Election Day campaigning and projected confidence as he flew home to Massachusetts to await the results. "We fought to the very end, and I think that's why we'll be successful,'' he said, adding that he had finished writing a speech anticipating victory.
Obama made get-out-the-vote calls from a campaign office near his home in Chicago and found time for his traditional Election Day basketball game with friends. Addressing his rival, he said, "I also want to say to Gov. Romney, `Congratulations on a spirited campaign.' I know his supporters are just as engaged, just as enthusiastic and working just as hard today.'' Romney, in turn, congratulated the president for running a "strong campaign.''
According to the exit poll, 53 percent of voters said Obama is more in touch with people like them, compared to 43 percent for Romney.
About 60 percent said taxes should be increased, taking sides on an issue that divided the president and Romney. Obama wants to let taxes rise on upper incomes, while Romney does not.