Voters go to polls today to cast ballots in a presidential election that many believe will be the closest contest in 40 years, as Democratic Vice President Gore and Republican Texas Gov. George W. Bush battle to succeed one of the most conflicted men ever to occupy the Oval Office.
Also up for grabs is control of the U.S. House and Senate, where Republicans fight to retain their narrow margins in both legislative chambers.
The presidential candidates have criss-crossed the Midwest making campaign stops to pitch their proposals to residents in Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, laboring in the shadow of President Clinton, who ends his second term with one of the highest job-approval ratings in modern history, but with one of the lowest personal-approval ratings.
Mr. Gore has pledged to continue the economic prosperity that has blossomed during the last eight years, while Mr. Bush has seized on President Clinton's moral failures and promised to bring “honor and integrity back to the White House.”
Public opinion polls give a slight lead to Mr. Bush, but the race is too close to call in a handful of critically important states, which will decide the outcome of the election because of the makeup of the Electoral College.
It takes 270 electoral votes to win the presidency. It is easy to build scenarios in which each could win.
A wild card is the amount of support that Green Party candidate Ralph Nader will win. Mr. Nader, who appeals mostly to liberals and labor union members, is thought to take most of his support from Mr. Gore and may tip the balance in key states like Wisconsin, Minnesota, Washington, and Oregon to Mr. Bush.
In Ohio, polls open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m. In Michigan, they open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Election officials project turnout to be 69 per cent of registered voters in Lucas County and in Ohio, while 63 per cent of Michigan's registered voters are expected to vote.
Weather forecasts for Michigan and Ohio call for rain, particularly in the morning, with chilly temperatures.
The nonpartisan Center for the Study of the American Electorate predicts that the turnout will be close to the 1996 nadir of 49 per cent, the lowest level since 1924. Turnout could be higher in several of the swing states where polls show a close race. Those include Florida, Michigan, Missouri, and Washington.
In Ohio, voters will choose between U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, a Republican looking for a second six-year term, and Democratic challenger Ted Celeste, a Columbus businessman making his first run for public office.
Though Mr. DeWine was thought by Democrats to be vulnerable 18 months ago, he consolidated his political base and has held a substantial lead throughout the campaign. Mr. Celeste has had trouble raising money and finding issues appealed to voters.
Michigan voters are faced with a decision to return Republican U.S. Sen. Spencer Abraham to a second term or to replace him with Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Stabenow. Unlike the Ohio race, this one is still too tight for pollsters to predict.
Mr. Abraham has pointed to his work to dramatically increase the amount of money Michigan receives from the federal government for road and bridge repair. Ms. Stabenow has charged that he is a puppet of special interest groups and is unable to support legislation that would help “working families.”
Republicans must win Senate races in several states to keep control. One race in Missouri pits incumbent Republican John Ashcroft against the late Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan, who died in an airplane crash south of St. Louis last month. His name remains on the ballot because his death occurred too late to remove it, and his wife is campaigning in his place.
She said she would replace her dead husband in the Senate should he win. The late governor holds a narrow lead in the polls.
All 19 U.S. House seats in Ohio are up for grabs today, but there is only one race in which the seat is in question: Columbus's 12th District seat being vacated by Republican John Kasich. There, Democrat Maryellen O'Shaughnessy, a Columbus city councilwoman, is running against Republican state Sen. Pat Tiberi.
All 16 House seats in Michigan are up for election, but, like Ohio, only one seat is in question: the 8th District seat that Ms. Stabenow is giving up. The race features two state senators - Democrat Dianne Byrum and Republican Mike Rogers.
Should Republicans retain control of both houses of Congress and Mr. Bush win the presidency, it would be the first time since 1952 that the GOP would hold the levers of power in the legislative and executive branches of the federal government simultaneously. In 1954, Democrats won back control of the House and kept it for 40 years.
Voters in Ohio will decide two races for the state Supreme Court, where incumbent Alice Robie Resnick of Toledo is challenged by state Appeals Court Judge Terrence O'Donnell, and incumbent Deborah Cook is challenged by municipal court Judge Tim Black.
In Michigan, three justices are up for election: Cliff Taylor, Stephen Markman, and Robert P. Young, Jr. Mr. Taylor is opposed by Marietta Robinson and Robert Roddis; Mr. Markman is opposed by David Raaflaub and Edward Thomas, and Mr. Young is opposed by Thomas Fitzgerald and Jerry Kaufman.
Ohio Governor Taft, Senator DeWine, Sen. George Voinovich, Attorney General Betty Montgomery, Ms. Cook, and Mr. O'Donnell made a lunchtime swing through Toledo to greet voters yesterday as part of a “fly around” to major media markets in the state. They talked with diners at the restaurants in International Park in East Toledo.
Ohio voters are asked to decide whether to approve a constitutional amendment to allow the state to borrow up to $400 million, with half of it going to clean up polluted sites. The other half would go into a grant fund to help farmers preserve their land and to preserve river corridors, wetlands, and forests. Supporters say taxes would not have to be raised to pay off the bonds.
In Michigan, a constitutional amendment to allow state money to be spent on private school vouchers appears to be in trouble. The measure, which calls for teacher testing, is opposed strongly by public school administrators and teachers. A recent poll commissioned by The Blade shows the measure is opposed by about two of three voters.
Voters in various jurisdictions in Lucas County will be voting on measures that would allow the governments to negotiate for favorable electric rates. The measures are a reaction to deregulation of the electric industry.
Lucas County voters will decide five races for the Ohio House and one for the Ohio Senate. Republican Randall Gardner is unopposed in Senate District 2 and Democrat Jack Ford is unopposed in House District 49. In House District 50, voters get a rematch between Republican John Garcia, who held the seat for two terms before losing to Democrat Jeanine Perry, who seeks re-election.
In District 51, Republican Lynn Olman is challenged by Democrat John Billis, a retired Toledo police officer. In District 52, Republican James Mettler is challenged by Democrat Teresa Fedor and William Stephenson, a Libertarian. In District 53, Democrat Chris Redfern is opposed by Republican Joseph Woods.
Three Lucas County races are contested this year. In the race for county commissioner, Democrat Bill Copeland faces a challenge from Republican Rob Ludeman, a Toledo city councilman. Mr. Copeland has said his opponent cannot be effective as a commissioner if he continues to work as a real estate agent. Mr. Ludeman countered that he will lay aside his private business if elected, and charged that Mr. Copeland, 78, is no longer able to be effective as a commissioner, in part because of his age and in part because he follows the lead of Sandy Isenberg, president of the board.
In the race for county engineer, incumbent Democrat Keith Earley is challenged by Republican Roger Baker. Mr. Earley has relied on his 16 years of experience as engineer in Mercer County, and Mr. Baker charged that his work there was less than perfect and that it is time for a fresh start in the office.
One county judicial race is contested. Judge James Bates, a Democrat, is challenged by Mark Berling, a Republican, who has charged that Judge Bates has a conflict of interest because he is married to county Prosecutor Julia Bates, who sends her assistants into his court to represent her. Judge Bates has disagreed, saying he has recused himself from cases in which the relationship was an issue to defendants.
Voters in the Toledo Public School District will decide whether to approve a 6.5-mill levy to fund the district. If approved, it will add $16 million a year to the school district's operating revenues. If it fails, as similar measures have, at least $5 million will have to be cut from the annual budget.
Hearst Newspapers contributed to this report.