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White House, control of Congress on ballot

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.

More is at stake, including "Obamacare" and Medicare, though 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.

"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 incorrectly 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 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 justices to the Supreme Court, which has four who are older than 70. The potential exists to alter the balance of a sharply divided court 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.

Also at this weekend, opinion polls showed a race for the popular vote so close that only a statistically insignificant point or two separated the two rivals. Obama appeared certain to carry 15 states and the District of Columbia, accounting for 191 of the 270 electoral votes required for victory.

Romney was similarly secure in 23 states, also totaling 191.

Nine other states have seen much of the campaigning by the two men and their running mates, Paul Ryan for Romney and Vice President Joe Biden for Obama. They were also the targets of most of the nearly $1 billion in television advertising financed by the candidates and their allies, both named and anonymous.

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).

Republicans must gain three Senate seats 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 Republican, a lopsided split that for months made the GOP favored to capture control.

Not even Democrats claim they will pick up the 25 seats they need to win House control, a virtual concession that the tea party-infused majority that swept to power two years ago will remain. All 435 seats are on the ballot, though only about 60 are seriously contested.

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