CLEVELAND (AP) — Campaign 2012 packed frantic suspense to the finish, with Vice President Joseph R. Biden flying in unannounced next to Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign plane in battleground Ohio on Tuesday, even as voters across the country were deciding who would win the White House.
President Obama stayed in hometown Chicago, reaching out to swing-state voters on the phones and via satellite while the other three men on the rival tickets had a high-noon faceoff near the shore of Lake Erie.
Mr. Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan, his running mate, had scheduled the stop together just Monday, and Mr. Biden’s plane arrived between the two to play defense in a state that’s critical to the victory plan for both sides. The vice president rolled off the tarmac without comment to the surprised media traveling on his plane, just as Mr. Ryan’s charter was pulling in for a landing.
Mr. Romney said the eleventh-hour campaigning was meant to leave him with no regrets.
“I can’t imagine an election being won or lost by, let’s say, a few hundred votes and you spent your day sitting around,” Mr. Romney told Richmond radio station WRVA earlier in the day. “I mean, you’d say to yourself, ‘Holy cow, why didn’t I keep working?’ And so I’m going to make sure I never have to look back with anything other than the greatest degree of satisfaction on this whole campaign.”
Meanwhile, Americans headed into polling places in sleepy hollows, bustling cities and superstorm-ravaged beach towns deeply divided. All sides are awaiting, in particular, a verdict from the nine battleground states whose votes will determine which man can piece together the 270 electoral votes needed for victory.
Mr. Obama has more options for getting there, so Romney decided to make the late dash to Cleveland and Pittsburgh on Tuesday while Mr. Ryan threw in another stop in Richmond.
Mr. Obama visited a campaign office close to his home in Chicago and was met by applause and tears from volunteers before he picked up a phone to call voters in neighboring Wisconsin. He told reporters that the election comes down to which side can get the most supporters to turn out.
“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,” the president said.
Mr. Romney was asked on WTAM radio in Cleveland whether he agreed that voters always get it right in the end.
“I won’t guarantee that they’ll get it right, but I think they will,” Mr. Romney replied.
Mr. Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, were among the first voters Tuesday in at a polling place in Greenville, Del., Mr. Biden’s home state. Smiling broadly, Mr. Biden waited in line with other voters and greeted them with a handshake. Outside, he sent a message to people across the country who may encounter crowded polling places.
“I encourage you to stand in line as long as you have to,” the vice president told television cameras.
The Obamas voted last month in an effort to encourage supporters to vote early. The men on the GOP ticket each voted with their wives at their side Tuesday morning in their hometowns — Mr. Romney in Belmont, Mass., and Mr. Ryan in Janesville, Wis. — then headed to meet in Cleveland for some retail politicking at restaurants and other unannounced stops. The last-minute nature of the swing made it too difficult to arrange a big public event, but their hope was that their joint visit would get local news coverage that might translate to more support.
Both sides cast the Election Day choice as one with far-reaching repercussions for a nation still recovering from the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression and at odds over how big a role government should play in solving the country’s problems.