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Some Key Early Election Bellwethers: Fagen

Photo by Adam Jeffery for CNBC.com

The last public polls have been released and now the only thing left to do is wait for the actual ballots to be counted.

All but one national survey released over the past week shows the race a dead heat.

The President has a slight edge in several of the closest swing states, but few polls are outside the margin of error. While Barack Obama is believed to have a better ground game, Mitt Romney has a more enthusiastic base and bigger crowds.

President Obama is clearly benefiting from an improving economy with a job approval rating at or near 50% in most polls, yet voters have more confidence in Governor Romney to grow the economy and create jobs. The bottom line is there are mixed signals on who will emerge the victor tonight.

With that in mind, here are a few bellwether counties in Virginia, Ohio, and North Carolina to watch in the early part of evening (polls close in Virginia at 7:00 p.m. EST and in Ohio and North Carolina at 7:30 p.m.).

Results from these counties should give us a window into just how close the race will be:

Virginia: Prince William, Fairfax and Chesapeake Counties. Both President Bush and President Obama won Prince William County. Team Romney will breathe a sigh of relief if the GOP standard-bearer wins this fast-growing exurban D.C. community. President Obama will surely win Fairfax county, also outside Washington D.C. But, if Romney can hold the President's lead to around 30,000 votes here, he should win Virginia.

The other key area I'm watching in the Old Dominion is Chesapeake City, south of Norfolk. The President narrowly won this county and the critical Hampton Roads region in 2008, making him the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Virginia since 1964. Romney will need to win Chesapeake City and Hampton Roads to win Virginia's 13 electoral votes.

Ohio: Hamilton, Wood, and Lake Counties. These counties all went Republican in 2004, but swung to President Obama in 2008. It's hard to imagine Romney taking Ohio's 18 electoral votes if he does not win Hamilton County. The other two counties, Wood in suburban Toledo and Lake in Suburban Cleveland, will be key Ohio bellwethers. Wood was decided by fewer than 5,000 votes in both 2004 and 2008 and Lake by just 1,013 votes in 2008.

North Carolina: I think Governor Romney will win North Carolina, but watch the Wilmington area. New Hanover County has been trending Democratic as many northeasterners relocate to the popular beach community. Watch for Romney to garner at least 51% of the vote share here. If this county looks more competitive, it could mean North Carolina is in play.

Sara Taylor Fagen is a partner at DDC Advocacy and a former Political Director for President George W. Bush. She is also a CNBC contributor.

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