It's coming down to a fierce finish between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
Both candidates are sharpening their closing lines, both aiming at the mainstream middle while lashing out at one another and trying to rally their bases.Virtually all of the nine homestretch battleground states are getting personal attention from the contenders or top members of their teams.
Urgency can be felt all across the campaign, from the big and boisterous crowds to the running count that roughly 24 million people already have voted.
As the tense race heads into the last days, here's where Obama and Romney stand on the issues.
Abortion and birth control:
Obama: Supports access to abortion. Health care law requires contraceptives to be available for free for women enrolled in workplace health plans, including access to the morning-after pill, which does not terminate a pregnancy but is considered tantamount to an abortion pill by some religious conservatives. Supported requiring girls 16 and under to get a prescription for the morning-after pill, available without a prescription for older women.
Romney: Opposes access to abortion except in cases of rape, incest or risk to the woman's life. Previously supported access. Says state law should guide abortion rights, and Roe v. Wade should be reversed by a future Supreme Court ruling. But says Roe v. Wade is law of the land until that happens and should not be challenged by federal legislation seeking to overturn abortion rights affirmed by that court decision. "So I would live within the law, within the Constitution as I understand it, without creating a constitutional crisis. But I do believe Roe v. Wade should be reversed to allow states to make that decision." Said he would eliminate federal aid to Planned Parenthood.
Obama: Failed in pledge to cut the deficit "we inherited" by half by the end of his first term. The deficit when he took office was $1.2 trillion, and the $800 billion stimulus bill Obama signed soon afterward increased the shortfall to more than $1.4 trillion. The deficit for the recently completed 2012 budget year registered at $1.2 trillion, marking the fourth consecutive year of trillion-dollar-plus red ink. Now promises to cut projected deficits by $4 trillion over 10 years, a goal that will require Congress to raise the capital gains tax, boost taxes on households earning more than $250,000 a year and impose a minimum 30 percent tax on incomes above $1 million. The target also assumes a reduction in the amount of interest the government must pay on its debt and incorporates $1 trillion in cuts already signed into law. Nation's debt surpassed $16 trillion this year. Federal spending is estimated at 23.5 percent of gross domestic product this year, up from about 20 percent in the previous administration, and is forecast to decline to 21.8 percent by 2016.
Romney: Promises to cut $500 billion per year from the federal budget by 2016 to bring spending below 20 percent of the U.S. economy and to balance it by 2020, but vital specifics are lacking. At the same time would increase military spending, reverse $716 billion in Medicare cuts and cut taxes. Defended 2008 bailout of financial institutions as a necessary step to avoid the system's collapse, opposed the bailout of General Motors and Chrysler. Stayed silent on the debt-ceiling deal during its negotiation, only announcing his opposition to the final agreement shortly before lawmakers voted on it. Instead, endorsed GOP "cut, cap and balance" bill that had no chance of enactment. Favors constitutional balanced budget amendment. Proposes 10 percent cut in federal workforce, elimination of $1.6 billion in Amtrak subsidies and cuts of $600 million in support for the arts and broadcasting.
Obama: Term marked by a deep recession that began in previous administration and officially ended within six months, and gradual recovery with persistently high jobless rates of above 8 percent until the last two months of the campaign. Mixed jobs report for October showed unemployment rising to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent in September, but strong hiring as more people started looking for work. Obama responded to the recession with a roughly $800 billion stimulus plan that nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated cut the unemployment rate by up to 1.8 percentage points. Continued implementation of Wall Street and auto industry bailouts begun under George W. Bush. Proposes tax breaks for U.S. manufacturers producing domestically or repatriating jobs from abroad and tax penalties for U.S. companies outsourcing jobs. Won approval of South Korea, Panama and Colombia free-trade pacts begun under previous administration, completing the biggest round of trade liberalization since the North American Free Trade Agreement and other pacts went into effect in the 1990s.
Romney: Favors lower taxes, less regulation, balanced budget, more trade deals to spur growth. Would replace jobless benefits with unemployment savings accounts. Proposes replacing certain provisions of the law toughening financial industry regulations after the meltdown in that sector. Proposes changing the law tightening accounting corporate regulations to ease requirements for mid-sized companies. "We don't want to tell the world that Republicans are against all regulation. No, regulation is necessary to make a free market work. But it has to be updated and modern.
Obama: Has approved waivers freeing states from the most onerous requirements of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law with their agreement to improve how they prepare and evaluate students. "Race to the Top" grant competition has rewarded winning states with billions of dollars for pursuing education policies Obama supports. Won approval for a college tuition tax credit worth up to $10,000 over four years and more money for Pell Grants for low-income college students. Wants Congress to agree to reduce federal aid to colleges that go too far in raising tuition. Average tuition at four-year public colleges surged 26 percent in his term, by $1,800 to $8,655, as states cut aid, but federal grants and tax credits sheltered students from most of the increase, leaving them paying only $570 more.
Romney: Supported the federal accountability standards of No Child Left Behind law. In 2007, said he was wrong earlier in career when he wanted the Education Department shut because he came to see the value of the federal government in "holding down the interests of the teachers unions" and putting kids and parents first. Has said the student testing, charter-school incentives and teacher evaluation standards of Obama's "Race to the Top" competition "make sense" although the federal government should have less control of education. Says increases in federal student aid encourage tuition to go up, too. Wants to see private lenders return to the federal student loan program.
Energy and Environment:
Obama: Ordered temporary moratorium on deep-water drilling after the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but U.S. produced more oil in 2010 than it has since 2003 and all forms of energy production have increased under Obama. Approved drilling plan in Arctic Ocean opposed by environmentalists. Proposes Congress give oil market regulators more power to control price manipulation by speculators and stiffer fines for doing so. Sets goal of cutting oil imports by half by 2020.
Achieved historic increases in fuel economy standards for automobiles that will save money at the pump while raising the cost of new vehicles. Achieved first regulations on heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming and on toxic mercury pollution from power plants. The rules on mercury could force dozens of older coal-fired plants to shut or spend billions to upgrade. Spent heavily on green energy and has embraced nuclear power as a clean source.
Failed to persuade a Democratic Congress to pass limits he promised on carbon emissions. Shelved plan to toughen health standards on lung-damaging smog. Rejected Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada but supports fast-track approval of a segment of it. Proposes ending subsidies to oil industry but has failed to persuade Congress to do so.
Romney: Pledges U.S. will become independent of energy sources outside of North America by 2020, through more aggressive exploitation of domestic oil, gas, coal and other resources and quick approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Supports opening the Atlantic and Pacific outer continental shelves to drilling, as well as Western lands, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and offshore Alaska. He also has proposed reducing obstacles to coal, natural gas and nuclear energy development. Proposes accelerating drilling permits in areas where exploration has already been approved for developers with good safety records.
Says green power has yet to become viable and the causes of climate change are unknown. Proposes to remove carbon dioxide from list of pollutants controlled by Clean Air Act and amend clean water and air laws to ensure the cost of complying with regulations is balanced against environmental benefit. Says cap and trade would "rocket energy prices."
Obama: Opposes a near-term military strike on Iran, either by the U.S. or by Israel, to sabotage nuclear facilities that could be misused to produce a nuclear weapon. Says the U.S. will never tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran but negotiation and pressure through sanctions are the right way to prevent that outcome. Reserves the right to one day conclude that only a military strike can stop Iran from getting the bomb. Declined to repeat the Libya air power commitment for Syrian opposition, instead seeks to build international consensus toward the goal of persuading President Bashar Assad to leave and to press Russia and China to stop shielding his government from international sanctions. Chastised Israel for continuing to build housing settlements in disputed areas and has pressed both sides to begin a new round of peace talks based on the land borders established after the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict. Signed law to expand military and civilian cooperation with Israel. The law affirms U.S. support for negotiating the establishment of a Palestinian state, reflecting a U.S. bipartisan consensus. Opposes citing China as a currency manipulator, which could lead to broad trade sanctions, instead pressing the matter through diplomacy and aggressively bringing unfair-trade cases against China to the World Trade Organization.
Romney: Appears to present a clearer U.S. military threat to Iran and has spoken in more permissive terms about Israel's right to act against Iran's nuclear facilities without explicitly approving of such a step and while describing a U.S. attack against Iran as a last resort. "Of course you take military action" if sanctions and internal opposition fail to dissuade Tehran from making a nuclear weapon, he has said. Would identify those in Syrian opposition who share U.S. values, then work with U.S. allies to "ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat" Syrian government. But has not proposed direct U.S. arms supplies to rebels and opposes U.S. military intervention for now. Associates himself more closely with hard line Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pledges more military assistance to Israel and agreed with Israel's position that Jerusalem is the capital, disregarding the Palestinians' claim to the eastern sector annexed by Israel in 1967 in a move that is not internationally recognized. Has branded Russia the "No. 1 geopolitical foe" of the U.S. and threatened to label China a currency manipulator in a move that could lead to broad trade sanctions and a trade war.
Obama: Supports legal recognition of same-sex marriage, a matter decided by states. Opposed that recognition in 2008 presidential campaign -- and in 2004 Senate campaign -- while supporting the extension of legal rights and benefits to same-sex couples in civil unions. Achieved repeal of the military ban on openly gay service members. Has not achieved repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages and affirms the right of states to refuse to recognize such marriages. Administration has ceased defending the law in court, but it remains on the books. Directed government to require all hospitals that get Medicare and Medicaid financing to grant visitation privileges to gay and lesbian partners of patients. But has declined to issue an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against gay employees, holding out instead for congressional action to extend such protection to workers in all sectors. In 1996 Illinois state Senate campaign, stated: "I favor legalizing same-sex marriages," a position he later abandoned at the federal level and now embraces again. "I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married," he said.
Romney: Opposes legal recognition of same-sex marriage and says it should be banned with a constitutional amendment, not left to states. "Marriage is not an activity that goes on within the walls of a state." Also opposes civil unions "if they are identical to marriage other than by name," but says states should be left to decide what rights and benefits should be allowed under those unions. Says certain domestic partnership benefits -- largely unspecified -- as well as hospital visitation rights are appropriate but "others are not." Says he would not seek to restore the ban on openly gay military members. Asserted in 2002 campaign for Massachusetts governor that "all citizens deserve equal rights, regardless of sexual preference," in tune with statements years earlier as a Senate candidate that equality for gays and lesbians should be a "mainstream concern." But did not explicitly support marriage recognition and, as governor, opposed same-sex marriage when courts legalized it in Massachusetts. "My view is that marriage itself is between a man and a woman."
Obama: Has not pushed for gun control measures as president. Signed laws letting people carry concealed weapons in national parks and in checked bags on Amtrak trains. Favors "robust steps, within existing law" to address gun issues, White House says. Voices support for renewed ban on assault-type weapons but has not tried to get that done. Has not swung behind longshot Democratic bill, introduced after the Colorado movie theater shooting in July, to let only licensed dealers sell ammunition, require police to be notified after any sale of more than 1,000 rounds to an unlicensed person and require buyers who aren't licensed dealers to show a photo ID. Backed tougher gun control as Illinois and U.S. senator, including proposals to renew the assault-weapons ban and require background checks for buyers at gun shows.
Romney: Opposes stricter gun control laws. Suggested after the Colorado shooting that he favors tougher enforcement of existing gun laws, although the theater attack was carried out with legally obtained weapons. As Massachusetts governor, vowed in 2002 to protect the state's "tough gun laws," and in 2004 signed a Massachusetts ban on assault weapons. Quadrupled state's gun-licensing fee but loosened rules on the licenses and extended their duration. In 2008 primary campaign, said he would have signed the federal assault weapons ban if it had come to him as president, but he opposed any new gun legislation.
Obama: Achieved landmark overhaul putting U.S. on path to universal coverage now that Supreme Court has upheld the law's mandate for almost everyone to obtain insurance. Under the law, insurers will be banned from denying coverage to people with pre-existing illness, tax credits for middle-income people will subsidize premiums, people without work-based insurance will have access to new markets and small business gets help for offering insurance. Millions of low-income uninsured are to be reached through expansion of Medicaid with hefty subsidies to states, but Supreme Court limited federal power to penalize states that want to opt out of the expansion. Law's biggest changes start in 2014. "Nobody is going to go broke just because they get sick. And Americans will no longer be denied or dropped by their insurance companies just when they need care the most. That's what change is."
Health care law improves Medicare benefits, adding better coverage for seniors with high prescription costs as well as removing co-pays for a set of preventive benefits. It also cuts Medicare payments to hospitals and other providers by more than $700 billion over a decade. Those cuts are being used to provide health insurance to more working-age Americans, and the government also counts them as extending the life of the Medicare trust fund. Any future deficit-reduction deal, though, is likely to increase costs for middle-class and upper-income Medicare recipients, and Obama has indicated a willingness to consider increasing the eligibility from 65 to 67.
Romney: Promises to repeal Obama's health care law modeled largely after his universal health care achievement in Massachusetts because he says states, not Washington, should drive policy on the uninsured. Would expand individual tax-advantaged medical savings accounts and let the savings be used for insurance premiums as well as personal medical costs. Would let insurance be sold across state lines to expand options, and restrict malpractice awards to restrain health care costs. Says he would protect people with pre-existing conditions, though his plan only does so for those who maintain continuous coverage, not a major change from federal protections in effect before Obama's health care overhaul.
On Medicare, would introduce "generous" but undetermined subsidies to help future retirees buy private insurance or join a government plan modeled on traditional Medicare. Gradually increase the eligibility age to 67. Repealing Obama's health care law would roll back improved benefits for seniors unless Congress acts to protect them. It also would reverse Obama's Medicare cuts to hospitals and other providers. This would have the unintended consequence of hastening the insolvency of Medicare's trust fund. Would turn Medicaid program over to the states as a block grant.
Obama: Issued directive in June that immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children be exempted from deportation and granted work permits if they apply, a step that could benefit 800,000 to 1.4 million. "It's a temporary measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while offering some justice to these young people." Took the step after failing to deliver on a promised immigration overhaul, with the defeat of legislation that would have created a path to citizenship for young illegal immigrants enrolled in college or enlisted in the armed forces. Says he is still committed to it. Government has deported a record number of illegal immigrants under Obama, nearly 400,000 in each of the last three years.
Romney: Favors U.S.-Mexico border fence, opposes education benefits to illegal immigrants. Opposes offering legal status to illegal immigrants who attend college but would do so for those who serve in the armed forces. Would establish a national immigration-status verification system for employers and punish them if they hire noncitizens who do not prove their authorized status. The government's existing E-Verify system is voluntary. Proposes more visas for holders of advanced degrees in math, science and engineering who have U.S. job offers and would award permanent residency to foreign students who graduate from U.S. schools with a degree in those fields. Would end caps on visas for spouses and minor children of legal immigrants. Would honor work permits granted to illegal immigrants under Obama's policy of protecting those who came as children, but not accept new applicants. Promises to put a comprehensive immigration plan into place before those permits expire.
Obama: Has not proposed a comprehensive plan to address Social Security's long-term financial problems. During budget negotiations in 2011, proposed adopting a new measurement of inflation that would reduce annual increases in Social Security benefits. The proposal would reduce the long-term financing shortfall by about 25 percent, according to the Social Security actuaries.
Romney: Protect the status quo for people 55 and over but, for the next generation of retirees, raise the retirement age for full benefits by one or two years and reduce inflation increases in benefits for wealthier recipients.
Obama: Wants to raise taxes on the wealthy and ensure they pay 30 percent of their income at minimum. Supports extending Bush-era tax cuts for everyone making under $200,000, or $250,000 for couples. But in 2010, agreed to a two-year extension of the lower rates for all. Wants to let the top two tax rates go back up 3 to 4 percentage points to 39.6 percent and 36 percent, and raise rates on capital gains and dividends for the wealthy. Health care law provides for tax on highest-value health insurance plans. Together with Congress, built a first-term record of significant tax cuts for families and business, some temporary.
Romney: Keep Bush-era tax cuts for all incomes and drop all tax rates further, by 20 percent, bringing the top rate, for example, down to 28 percent from 35 percent and the lowest rate to 8 percent instead of 10 percent. Curtail deductions, credits and exemptions for the wealthiest. End Alternative Minimum Tax for individuals, eliminate capital gains tax for families making below $200,000 and cut corporate tax to 25 percent from 35 percent. Does not specify which tax breaks or programs he would curtail to help cover costs.
Obama: Approved the raid that found and killed Osama bin Laden, set policy that U.S. would no longer use harsh interrogation techniques, a practice that had essentially ended late in George W. Bush's presidency. Largely carried forward Bush's key anti-terrorism policies, including detention of suspects at Guantanamo Bay despite promise to close the prison. Also has continued with military commissions instead of civilian courts for detainees and invocation of state secrets privilege in court. Expanded use of unmanned drone strikes against terrorist targets in Pakistan and Yemen. The deadly attack by militants on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in September raised questions that persist about the quality of U.S. intelligence and about why requests for added security there were denied before the assault.
Romney: No constitutional rights for foreign terrorism suspects. In 2007, refused to rule out use of waterboarding to interrogate terrorist suspects. In 2011, his campaign said he does not consider waterboarding to be torture.
Obama: Ended the Iraq War he had opposed and inherited, increased the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan then began drawing down the force with a plan to have all out by the end of 2014. Approved use of U.S. air power in NATO-led campaign that helped Libyan opposition topple Moammar Gadhafi's government. Major reductions coming in the size of the Army and Marine Corps as part of agreement with congressional Republicans to cut $487 billion in military spending over a decade.
Romney: Proposes increase in military spending. Now fully endorses Obama's plan to end U.S. combat in Afghanistan in 2014. Would increase strength of armed forces, including number of troops and warships, adding almost $100 billion to the Pentagon budget in 2016. In addition, criticized congressional Republicans for negotiating a deficit-cutting deal with the White House that will mean automatic and massive cuts in Pentagon spending next year if federal budget deal is not reached in time.