The presidential campaign of 2012 is now measured in hours and minutes.
Early voting has been under way for weeks across the country, but with Election Day almost here, the presidential candidates and their supporters are offering one last burst of activity in a handful of swing states that will determine the occupant of the Oval Office next year.
President Obama began his last day of campaigning in Wisconsin, a state that almost every Democratic model for an Obama victory assumes will be in his column. After being introduced by Bruce Springsteen and his voice hoarse from days of intense campaigning, the president told a crowd of 18,000 bundled up outside the state Capitol in Madison, "Our fight goes on." He described his vision of an America where "everybody is doing their fair share, everybody is playing by the same rules, that's why you elected me in 2008 and that's why I'm running for a second term!"
At Mitt Romney's morning rally earlier in Sanford, Fla., supporters chanted "45! 45! 45!" — a reference to the fact that Mr. Romney would become the nation's 45th president if he is elected.
The Republican nominee has a hectic, state-hopping 14-hour campaign schedule on Monday, traveling from Florida to Ohio, Virginia and New Hampshire.
During his speech just outside Orlando, Mr. Romney toned down his sometimes harsh words for Mr. Obama, focusing on a sunny outlook for the country under a Romney presidency that he vowed would be friendly to business and diplomatic to Democrats.
"If there is anyone who is worried that the last four years are the best we can do, or if there is anyone who is fearing that the American dream is fading away, or if there is anyone who wonders whether better jobs and better paychecks are a thing of the past, I have a clear and unequivocal message: with the right leadership, America is about to come roaring back," Mr. Romney said.
"We are Americans; we can do anything," he said. "The only thing that stands between us and some of the best years we've ever imagined is lack of leadership. And that is why we have elections."
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Such candidate appearances are the visual embodiment of the presidential campaigns, but they are hardly the most important in the final hours. That distinction goes to the thousands of volunteers on both sides who are deployed in swing states with the mission of making sure that supporters who have not already voted find their way to a polling place.
In Florida, Ohio and Iowa, that effort has become tied up in some legal wrangling as both parties play out the final days of their yearlong battle over provisional ballots, voter identification and early voting.
Mr. Romney has not officially weighed in on the partisan battles unfolding in Florida and Ohio over early voting and provisional ballots. But his word choice at the rally in Sanford was telling, mimicking the Republican Party's emphasis on policing against fraudulent balloting, which Democrats have cast as attempts to suppress voting.
"Look, we have one job left," Mr. Romney said. "And that's to make sure that on Election Day we get, make certain that everybody who's qualified to vote gets out to vote."
The last-minute demands on the candidates' schedules were intense. Three of Mr. Romney's rallies on Monday are veritable flybys, held in airport hangars so that Mr. Romney can land, jog down the steps of his private plane to the blaring thrum of Kid Rock's "Born Free," and then begin taxiing to the next city nearly as soon as he has shaken the last hand and kissed the last baby.
When Mr. Romney's plane touched down in Florida after an 18-hour day (four events in four states) just before 1 a.m. Monday, his aides had already begun setting up for the day's rally. A "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose" sign greeted the plane, and an empty hangar waited lighted and ready for the voters who would file in just hours later.
For Mr. Obama, who held a weekend marathon across every swing state, the schedule on Monday looked almost tame by comparison. Even so, he will be hitting three states before he heads to sweet home Chicago for the night.
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After his Monday morning stop in Madison, a college town, Mr. Obama will return one last time to the swing state of all swing states for a rally in Columbus, Ohio. The president has been holding on to a small lead in the polls in Ohio, and his campaign aides believe that if he wins the state, he will win the election. Unless, that is, Mr. Romney manages to sweep all the other swing states, or turn a blue state — Mr. Romney planted a flag in Pennsylvania on Sunday — red.
After Ohio, Michelle Obama will join her husband for one last rally where the two like to insist that it all started — Des Moines.
— Michael Barbaro contributed reporting from Sanford, Fla., and Helene Cooper from Madison, Wis.