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Close race will fuel bitterness

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers questiduring first presidential debate Oct. 3 University Denver.  |  Charlie Neibergall~AP

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers a question during the first presidential debate on Oct. 3 at the University of Denver. | Charlie Neibergall~AP

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Updated: December 7, 2012 6:11AM

Whew! Can anyone recall a nail-biting, down-to-the-wire election like this one between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney?

Who’ll win in Tuesday’s voting? Who knows? Predictions are all over the place — from a landslide to a squeaker that will keep us in the dark about the winner until Wednesday or later.

Landslide prophecies range from Democratic consultant Donna Brazile and ABC News contributor Matthew Dowd, who predict 300-plus Electoral College votes for Obama, to journalists Michael Barone and George Will, who see that kind of blowout for Romney.

And then there’s everything in between. The most far-fetched soothsaying is a 269-269 tie in the Electoral College throwing the election to Congress, where the GOP House makes Romney president and the Democratic Senate keeps Joe Biden as vice president.

Another scenario has Romney winning the popular vote while Obama captures the Electoral College victory — a replay of George W. Bush’s 2000 photo finish over Democrat Al Gore without the legal wrangling. Or maybe not. Lawyers have lined up in battleground states such as Ohio to redo a 2000 Florida vote recount and courtroom struggle if the results are razor thin.

Fueling all this speculation are the polls. The national polls show essentially a draw. That the race is a toss-up is remarkable because just a few weeks ago it was considered all but over with Romney dead in the water.

The Republicans had a so-so convention that didn’t do much to boost Romney’s hopes. The Democrats had a rousing convention with former President Bill Clinton making the case for Obama’s re-election that the president hadn’t been able to.

Months and millions of dollars of advertising and accusations by Obama and his supporters had depicted Romney as some kind of devil who killed people and as a felonious tax cheat.

Then came the first debate, and the voters got to see Romney himself — unfiltered by the Obama-admiring East Coast media and not even remotely resembling the scary images of Democratic propaganda.

Game on. Romney bounced back in the polls. He started drawing huge, wildly enthusiastic crowds, akin to the passionate rallies that in 2008 helped propel Obama to the White House. Romney’s likability ratings rose as his economic message resonated with his passion to put out-of-work Americans back on the job.

“The man oozes resolve and commitment the way steelworkers ooze sweat,” one person attending a Pennsylvania rally told the Power Line blog.

Obama had his own enthusiastic crowds, but nothing like the gigantic outpourings of four years ago. Both candidates have celebrity backers, but it was news accounts of Obama rallies that most often mentioned the stars. Did Obama need Bruce Spring­steen to turn out crowds for his events?

Romney sounded optimistic, adopting the mantle of hope, whereas Obama was constantly on the attack, like he was the challenger. And sometimes Obama sounded small, as when he told one rally that “voting is the best revenge.” Revenge for what?

The stakes are high as the contest pits starkly competing visions — one of limited government, one of ever-expanding Washington influence in everyday American life.

If the election turns out as close as most are predicting, half of America will find the outcome bitterly disappointing.

What does that tell you about what the next four years will be like?

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