WASHINGTON // It's almost over. Tomorrow, Americans, or the vast majority who did not vote early, will decide who will lead them for the next four years.
In the blue corner: Barack Hussein Obama, the incumbent president, who has failed to live up to the high - unreasonably high, in some cases - expectations that greeted his election four years ago as the nation's first African-American president.
He undoubtedly inherited a mess. One, as he has argued on the campaign trail, that he has had to spend most of his time fixing. There has been progress, he says: Osama bin Laden is dead, the US-led occupation of Iraq has ended, its occupation of Afghanistan will end soon, the recession has been bucked and unemployment, while still high, is coming down.
Fundamentally, his argument is that the US needs active government to support private-sector growth, protect the vulnerable and ensure that "everyone plays by the same rules". And while the country's massive debt means government spending needs to be reduced, he is more inclined to seek those cuts from the country's defence budget than from social programs. He also intends to raise taxes on the wealthiest citizens.
His most important domestic achievement was the passing of healthcare reforms that help to extend health insurance to all. A victory for Mr Obama would see those reforms take hold.
In the red corner: Willard Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, who made a fortune in the private sector and who oversaw the 2002 Winter Olympics, one of the most profitable in history.
Mr Romney poses a dilemma for voters: is he the anti-welfare, anti-universal health care, socially conservative, foreign policy hawk that ran for the nomination of an ever more right-leaning party?
Or is he the far more moderate politician who, as governor, created a statewide healthcare system that became the model for Mr Obama's?
Mr Romney has been consistent in arguing that government has to play a smaller role and "get out of the way" of the private sector. He opposes all tax increases but says he wants to do away with exemptions and tax loopholes. Promising more defence spending, he has struggled to explain how this will address the county's budget deficit.
He has pledged to overturn Mr Obama's healthcare reform on his first day in office.
Tuesday's vote could also be hugely consequential on an issue that has hardly been touched upon in the campaign: the environment and global warming.
Mr Obama has tried to encourage alternative sources of energy and reductions of carbon emissions. Mr Romney is a climate-change sceptic. He opposes carbon-emission regulation and supports the traditional energy sector.
Both sides have claimed this to be one of the most important elections in recent memory. Ultimately, though, voters are being asked to believe Mr Obama's argument that, while flawed, his record suggests that the US is on the right track. Or, take a leap of faith that a vote for Mr Romney's private-sector prowess - his most consistent appeal to US voters - will be the road best explored.
Barack Obama profile
Name Barack Hussein Obama, Jr.
Birthdate August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Age: 51) His mother, Ann Dunham, grew up in Wichita, Kansas. His father, Barack Obama Sr., was born in Kenya’s Nyanza Province and grew up herding goats, eventually earning a scholarship to go to college in Hawaii. Parents divorced when Barack was 2.
Education Punahou Academy (Hawaii), Occidental College, Columbia University, Harvard Law School
Job experience Professor, University of Chicago Law School (1992-2004). Wins seat in the Illinois State Senate (1996). Loses Democratic primary for seat in the US House of Representatives (2000). Wins seat in the US Senate (2004). Elected first African-American president, defeating John McCain (2008).
Personal Married Michelle Robinson (1992). They have two daughters: Malia (14) and Sasha (11)
Playlist “I’ve got old school - Stevie Wonder, James Brown. I’ve got Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan . . . . And then I’ve got everything from Jay-Z to Eminem, to the Fugees . . . . I’ve got some jazz - John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Gil Scott-Heron. You’ve got to mix it up. I just depends on what mood I’m in.”