After nearly two years of campaigning, Election Day is finally upon us.
Both President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney have been thoroughly vetted and voters in 13 competitive states have heard their messages over and over again through $825 million in television ads and even more on-the-ground campaigning. Judging from the polls, a vast majority of voters have made up their minds with only a sliver remaining undecided.
Just over one month ago, Obama's reelection was thought to be as close to a sure thing as one can get in politics. But Romney's strong performance boosted his standing among voters and gave him confidence that he can unseat the president. Obama, however, still remains confident he will win with the polls showing a narrow advantage in several key battleground states.
Here are four things you should watch for as the nation picks its next president.
1. What Will the Electorate Look Like?
The winner will ultimately be decided by who wins the Electoral College, but trends within the national popular vote can tell us a lot about the result as well.
In particular, we will be looking at the racial composition of the electorate. In 2008, white voters made up 74 percent of the electorate down from 83 percent in 1992, at The Hotline's Reid Wilson noted this week.
The Obama campaign has made black and Latino voters the centerpiece of their coalition and are counting on turnout from minorities to tick upward in 2012, in line with the 18-year trend of minority turnout going up in every election. Read Ruy Teixeira's column for us yesterday for a breakdown of the numbers. If minority turnout increases just one percentage point to 27 percent, it could make Obama's path to victory much easier. If it ticks up two to 28 percent, Obama could run away with the election. That's because Obama could win 80 percent of minority voters, including a record 73 percent of Latinos, according to political opinion research firm Latino Decisions.
While everyone knows that Florida, Nevada, and Colorado could eventually be decided by Latino voters. Also keep your eye on Virginia, a state that carries 13 electoral votes that Obama flipped from red to blue four years ago for the first time since 1964. If Obama can win it again, it could hamper Romney's chances at winning 270 electoral votes.
Obama's key to success in 2008 was increased turnout from minority voters, particularly from Latinos and first time black voters. Making the stakes even higher this year is that the state is home to a highly competitive Senate race between Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine.
Making the Obama campaign optimistic is that the Latino voting population there is growing rapidly. Two years ago there were 183,000 eligible Latino voters in Virginia, but now there are 214,000. If Obama and Democrats can increase their share of the minority vote there, they could pull out a victory.
Gaston Araoz, a field coordinator with the Kaine campaign, touted the campaign's Latino outreach efforts, which include bilingual phone banks each night of the week.
"I think the stakes and the clear choices these voters will find here in Virginia. If we look at the Senate race, we have a candidate like Tim Kaine," he said at a recent phone bank in Alexandria. "They know him, they know what he did and what he wants to do for the country and the Latino community."
But Republicans have argued, per Wilson's story, that the racial composition of the electorate could stay the same as 2008, driven by a falling Latino share of voters due to disillusionment over the poor economy and lack of progress on immigration reform.