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Monday, November 5, 2012

Early Scenes From States Up for Grabs

Campaign visits by the four presidential and vice-presidential candidates since the Republican National Convention, at the end of August.Lisa Waananen/The New York Times Campaign visits by the four presidential and vice-presidential candidates since the Republican National Convention, at the end of August.

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New York Times correspondents around the nation surveyed the activity in swing states a day before the election, and what they found was a frenzied push to the very end to coax voters to the polls. Many had already cast their ballots, but the bulk of the votes are expected Tuesday. And for some, Election Day will be even more significant, the start of a new life: from the Romney volunteer who moved with his wife from Texas to help the campaign's cause in Ohio, to the political junkie who makes his living selling memorabilia in battleground states during election years


MIAMI - “Mamita, tenemos una conga outside!” someone shouted. “We have a conga outside!”

It was voting Miami style. On a final, unexpected day of voting in Miami-Dade County, Obama supporters swayed in a conga line, with an actual conga drum at the front, all in the hopes of keeping voters waiting in yet another five-hour line excited. As the sun pounded voters, they gulped water, ate pizza, unfolded chairs and opened umbrellas, courtesy of the Obama campaign.

It was obvious why. Most voters waiting here sported Obama stickers. Some voters grumbled about the persistently long lines around the county. After a federal lawsuit was filed by Florida Democrats, six counties agreed to let voters fill out and drop off absentee ballots in person on Monday and Tuesday.< /p>

“I've been calling places for the last couple of days, but the wait time had been too long,” said Gabriela Reyes, 19, a student who works part time. “It's time-consuming. It has made it really hard for people to come out and vote.”

Nearby, Tania Mancia, 47, looked at her watch. She had one hour left before work beckoned. “There is always tomorrow,” she said with a sigh.



DUBLIN, Ohio - The parking lot at the Romney-Ryan state headquarters here in a suburban office park would be a bonanza for a minivan full of kids playing the license plate game.

Lots of Ohio, of course. Then the neighbors: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Then a bit farther afield: Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Then there is a tan Chevy Tahoe with Texas plates, belonging to John and Cheri Gilbert, a pair of soft-spoken believers in the Romney cause from the Houston area. “Our country recruited us,” said Mr. Gilbert, 67, a semiretired engineer.

Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert, by their count, have knocked on 4,000 doors and made more than 1,000 calls on behalf of the Republican ticket. Mr. Gilbert said he and his wife had never been involved in a presidential campaign.

President Obama lost them when he pushed health care through Congress without a single Republican vote, and when, in their view, he traveled abroad and “apologized for who we are.”

The Gilberts said that on Wednesday, win or lose, they would pack up and return to Texas. “But the fight is not over,” said Mrs. Gilbert, 66. “We are going to be watching Congress, the Senate and whoever is president and vice president and hold their feet to the fire.”



MILWAUKEE - Forget hanging chads and contested ballots. In Wisconsin, some election officials are worried about fistfights.

Law enforcement agents here are being traine d on mediating disputes at the polls.

In Milwaukee, lawyers from the district attorney's office will be on call if tensions get out of hand. Bickering has already broken out at the clerk's office in Sun Prairie, a small city outside Madison, where voters argued as they waited in line to cast absentee ballots.

Still reeling from a divisive recall fight this year, Wisconsinites are voting in a tinderbox atmosphere, stoked by a near-constant stream of attack ads. City clerks are bracing for a combustible combination of aggressive poll watchers and partisan voters. “We have to anticipate the worst,” said Neil V. Albrecht, the executive director of Milwaukee's election commission. “This is a very politically polarized state right now, and an electrically charged climate when it comes to issues like voter fraud and voter disenfranchisement.”

Some voters are yearning for the finish line. Mary Markwiese, 59, a legal assistant, said the end of the campaign w ould be a relief. “It's like watching the Packers in the Super Bowl,” said Ms. Markwiese, who supports Mitt Romney. “You're just too nervous about it.”



DENVER - Early voting is over in Colorado. The first completed ballots have already been scanned into computers. The candidates have all departed, making their last hoarse, passionate pushes for Colorado's nine electoral votes before flying east.

So for the army of election workers and county clerks across Colorado, Monday was the eye of the storm. As the campaigns papered neighborhoods with door tags reminding people to vote, election workers answered phone calls and sorted through mail-in ballots. They ran last-minute training seminars for election judges and made sure the voting machines were working. They marshaled their staff and braced for a frenzied day that would begin at 6 a.m. sharp and might well last until past midnight.

The night before would be a restless one.

“It's hard not having nightmares,” Gilbert Ortiz, the Pueblo County clerk, said in a telephone interview. “My wife is complaining to me that I'm giving speeches in my sleep about ballots.”

Mr. Ortiz was subsisting on Power Bars, coffee and pot roast his mother brought him for lunch. Other clerks had similar arsenals lined up for Tuesday.

“Coffee and Dr Pepper,” said Terri Carver, an election official in Alamosa County. “We just take one minute at a time, and keep smiling.”



DES MOINES - Most political junkies get their election fix from the comfort of their homes, where they watch pundits on cable television or scour the latest polls online.

But Jeff Reul needs to be closer to the action. So, for the past two presidential election cycles he has hopscotched swing states, hawking political pins and T-shirts from parking lots outside rallies to support his travels.

As he stood in t he cold outside a rally for Representative Paul D. Ryan here on Monday afternoon, it was easy to see from his pins where he stood politically. There were the pins that said: “I'LL TAKE THE MORMON OVER THE MORON.” Others said “Don't Tax Me Bro!” or “Hot Chicks Dig Ryan,” and “GIVE ME LIBERTY NOT DEBT.”

“It's the best road trip you can take,” Mr. Reul said. “I can say I was there for history.”

Mr. Reul said that he had shaken hands with both Mitt Romney and Mr. Ryan, and sold buttons to celebrity politicians.

When asked what he planned to do after the election on Tuesday, Mr. Reul, a dietitian from Columbia, Mo., said: “Just go back to my boring life.”



ARLINGTON, Va. - Elaine Dawes has had pretty good luck calling people on President Obama's behalf over the past month.

“Usually I get the enthusiastic people,” Ms. Dawes, 72, said Monday as she stood next to a power outlet clo gged with charging cellphones.

In a storefront humming with activity two miles from the Pentagon, 20 volunteers dotted the room, many leaning forward in their folding chairs as they made last-minute calls.

“This is your neighbor in Arlington,” one volunteer said into a cellphone, sitting near a banner tracing progress toward their goal of knocking on 142,000 doors. As of Monday afternoon, the banner put them at just over 106,000.

Gabriel Thoumi, 41, estimated that they had seen about 30 percent more people coming in to volunteer on Monday compared with last week. He said volunteers were focused on encouraging people not only to vote, but also to decide ahead of time when to vote and how they would get to the polls.

“Their voice is as important as anybody else in this country, and it's absolutely critical that everybody gets to vote, whoever they are,” he said. “Republican, Green, Libertarian, Democrat, it doesn't matter. That's the beauty of our country.”



MANCHESTER, N.H. - Hours before Mitt Romney visited here on Monday, two of his sons, Tagg and Ben, traveled through the state visiting Romney “victory” offices and encouraging voters to get to the polls.

It is familiar turf for the family: they have a summer home in New Hampshire, and throughout the grueling race they would get together on Lake Winnipesaukee for breaks from the campaign trail.

But the state has not always been kind to Mr. Romney. In 2008, Senator John McCain won the presidential primary here, reviving his once moribund candidacy. But this campaign cycle, Mr. Romney won the primary decisively, and he hopes to repeat that success on Tuesday.

Both President Obama and Mr. Romney have rolled out their top surrogates across the state and have enlisted armies of volunteers to canvass and host get-out-the-vote efforts.

In the battle of signs, the Romney-Ryan ticket domin ated Granite Avenue, a main stretch in downtown Manchester.

Ricardo Rodriguez, 42, a delivery man for a florist and an Obama volunteer, was undeterred.

“I'm not a political person,” he said on a cold Manchester night as snow began to fall. “But listening to Mitt Romney's ideas about where he wants to take the country, it just sounds scary.”



A rally in Reno on Monday for the Republican presidential ticket.Josh Haner/The New York Times A rally in Reno on Monday for the Republican presidential ticket.

LAS VEGAS - With the advantage apparently going to President Obama in early voting in Nevada, Mitt Romney's campaign has imported a 600-member volunteer army from nearby states. The group ga thered on Monday morning at the Las Vegas offices of Brady Industries, a facility supply distributor.

One volunteer was Lisa Vander, 50, of San Diego, who said she was unemployed despite an “incredible” résumé and blamed the current economy. “It's really about jobs, jobs, jobs,” said Ms. Vander, who added that she believed Mr. Romney would do more for the economy.

But the Obama campaign was also working to secure every remaining vote. At a senior housing complex named after Senator Harry Reid in downtown Las Vegas, Betty Barfield, 74, a volunteer coordinator for the Obama campaign, was sitting outside in her wheelchair. Half the residents of the complex of 100 apartments had voted early, Ms. Barfield said. She had arranged two buses to come take the remaining ones to polls on Tuesday. Almost all of them will vote for Mr. Obama, she said.

“It's really been a joy and a privilege for me,” said Ms. Barfield, a minister who is African-American. “ I never thought I would see this and it would happen in my lifetime. I thank God for letting me live long enough.”