Both candidates say the winner will be determined by which of their operations can get the most supporters to the polls. "This is going to be a turnout election," the president declared in an interview airing Monday morning as he pleaded with urban radio listeners to get to the polls.
"We have one job left," and that's getting people out to vote, Romney told more than a thousand people just off the tarmac at the airport in Sanford, Fla. The crowd chanted "One more day!"
With national polls showing a neck-and-neck race, the final day's schedule showed where the two campaigns believe the race will be decided. Romney was in Florida, Virginia, and New Hampshire, while Obama was trying to protect Wisconsin from an eleventh-hour challenge from the GOP before heading to Iowa.
And in an indication of just how all-important Ohio was once again to the future occupancy of the White House, both candidates planned to be on the ground in Columbus Monday evening for dueling rallies seven miles apart.
Whoever wins Ohio has a simpler path to amass the 270 electoral votes needed to claim the presidency. With Obama showing a lead in most polls of the state's likely voters, Romney voiced guarded optimism Sunday in Cleveland, saying Obama's re-election is "possible, but not likely."
Obama also raised the possibility of defeat as he pleaded with listeners of The Rickey Smiley Morning Show to get to the polls. "If we don't turn out the vote, we could lose a lot of the gains we've already made," Obama said.
It was one of two of the president's radio interviews airing Monday aimed at turning out minority voters, the other with a Spanish-language station in Ohio. The president is relying on black and Hispanic voters to help offset Romney's lead with white men in particular, but the risk for him is that some of those key supporters aren't as motivated to vote as they were in 2008.
"Four years ago, we had incredible turnout and I know people were excited and energized about the prospect of making history," Obama said. "We have to preserve the gains we've made and keep moving forward."
Both candidates will also benefit from some star power Monday. Rock legend Bruce Springsteen is joining Obama at all three campaign rallies, and rapper Jay-Z will join him in Columbus. Romney planned a final rally in the last hour of election eve in New Hampshire with Kid Rock while country rock performers The Marshall Tucker Band was joining him in Columbus.
A final national NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll showed Obama getting the support of 48 percent of likely voters, with Romney receiving 47 percent. A Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll had Obama at 49 and Romney at 48. A Pew Research Center poll released Sunday showed Obama with a 3-point-point edge over Romney, 48 percent to 45 percent among likely voters.
Defying the odds, Romney drew one of his largest crowds Sunday in Pennsylvania, a state where Obama was holding onto a lead but where Romney aides said they detected soft support for the president. Despite a delayed arrival, Romney rallied thousands on a farm in a Philadelphia suburb on a cold night, taking the podium as loudspeakers blared the theme from "Rocky." The sign of energy in a key swing area of the state was only tempered by some early exits by supporters seeking to escape the cold.
Obama dispatched former President Bill Clinton to Pennsylvania on Monday for an eleventh-hour bid to keep the state in his column.
Meanwhile, about 30 million people have already voted in 34 states and the District of Columbia, either by mail or in person, although none will be counted until Election Day on Tuesday. More than 4 million of the ballots were cast in Florida, where Democrats filed a lawsuit demanding an extension of available time. A judge granted their request in one county where an early voting site was shut down for several hours Saturday because of a bomb scare.
Both men were spending the final days of the campaign presenting themselves as can-do leaders willing to break partisan logjams in Washington.
The former Massachusetts governor warned that a second Obama term would threaten the American economy because of the president's inability to work with Congress. "He's ignored them, he's attacked them, he's blamed them," Romney said.
Obama cited bipartisan work on middle-class tax cuts and on ending the Pentagon's don't-ask-don't-tell policy, but warned that he would not compromise away his priorities, such as health care. "I'm not willing to pay that price," he said.
As aides for both candidates looked for early marks of success, there were signs for the superstitious. Since 1936, with only one exception, whenever the Washington Redskins won on the Sunday before the election, the incumbent party would retain the White House. On Sunday, the Redskins lost to the Carolina Panthers, giving hope to Republicans.
But the Obama camp often compares this election to 2004, when President George W. Bush held the White House in his race against Democrat John Kerry. That year was the exception to the rule; the Redskins lost, and so did Kerry.