With thousands of Floridians still lined up to vote, the presidential race in the nations largest battleground state is as close as can be, according to exit polls showing that President Obama might have an edge.
The president leads Republican Mitt Romney 50 to 49 percent in Florida, according to Edison Researchs exit poll of 4,172 voters. The poll results are tentative and will be updated later in the evening.
Early vote returns for the state seesawed between Obama and Romney ever since the polls closed at 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
Obamas strength: Liberal Southeast Florida, where early vote returns show the president nursing a double-digit lead, according to exit polls and early votes. For the first time ever, a Democratic presidential candidate won absentee ballots typically a Republican strength in Miami-Dade County, with Obama eking out a 382-vote margin.
But Obamas position isnt solid. His lead in the exit polls is well within the error margin of the poll. And precincts in the Panhandle, a heavily conservative area, closed at 8 p.m. EST, around the time the initial exit polls were released.
Also, the exit polls and the early returns indicate that Obama isnt doing as well as he did in 2008 in Florida, which he won by fewer than 3 percentage points.
If Romney loses Florida, he likely loses his chance of unseating Obama.
Romneys strength: The economy the top issue for more than 60 percent of the Florida electorate, according to exit polling. Of these economy-first voters, Romney beats Obama by 10 percentage points.
Romney also persuaded some voters that, like Obama four years ago, he is the candidate who can bring about change.
We need a better change, said Samantha Gentile, a 20-year-old independent who voted Tuesday at St. Gregorys Church in Boca Raton.
We need an economic change, Gentile said. We need jobs.
Gentiles remarks stood out, in part, because of the T-shirt she wore that openly advertised her support of gay marriage which Romney opposes. Gentile said she also favors abortion rights, while Romney is opposed.
The exit polls indicated that Gentile was in the minority for those in her age group. Obama carried young voters, while he lost older voters to Romney, the exit polls showed.
Obama draws strong support among Hispanic voters, beating Romney 60-39 percent, the poll showed. Romney, meanwhile, is ahead with non-Hispanic white voters.
It will take hours for a final winner to be clear and it could even take days.
In Miami-Dade, voters will remain in line in some precincts until well past midnight.
The close race could easily trigger a recount under Florida law, which automatically kicks in when any race is decided by a margin of one-half of one percent or less.
If 9 million people vote in Florida a plausible figure, given reports of heavy turnout around the state that means there could be a recount if the presidential vote is decided by 45,000 votes or less.
In a recount, all ballots are submitted again into the tabulating machines to recount the votes. If the recount yields a margin of one-quarter of one percent or less, the local canvassing boards must then perform a manual recount to examine so-called undervotes and overvotes ballots that recorded no vote for president, or multiple votes for president.