Pundits have been saying it for weeks; we may not know the results from the state of Ohio for many days -- and perhaps much longer.
Ohio (18 electoral votes) will be very close. The problem for Romney is that even if you toss out the polls that have unrealistic samples - i.e., the percentage of the electorate self-identifying as Democratic significantly ahead of 2008's 39 percent - you still have only one poll in recent weeks that has ever had Romney ahead - Rasmussen, and Rasmussen's most recent poll puts it at a 49-49 tie. Today's "Ohio Poll" from the University of Cincinnati says it's "too close to call," putting it at 50 percent to 48.5 percent in favor of Obama. There is a chance that the GOP turnout is as huge as the big crowds suggest, and the Romney campaign's confidence about coal country is probably well founded. The Columbus Dispatch poll also indicated that Romney enjoyed a "4-point edge in northwestern Ohio, which in past elections has proved a reliable barometer for the whole state."
The Romney campaign boasts that "in Ohio, Republicans have 368,000 more high-propensity voters available than Democrats - 72 percent more, in fact - and enough to off-set the Obama campaign's most optimistic (and unrealistic) early vote math."
So a narrow Romney win is possible - the problem is that a solid Romney win is hard to envision, and as John Fund points out, it may take weeks to sort out the "provisional ballots" cast on Election Day. A 2000-style "overtime" seems increasingly plausible.
If Romney wins by less than 100,000 votes, the Democrats will spring into action. They will pull every trick in the book - keeping polling stations open for hours past closing time, challenging rejected ballots, demanding hand recounts, disqualifying absentee ballots - the mischief they can mount is almost endless.
The goal is to count all the votes...then count some more...and count, and count, and count until Romney's total is less than Obama's. There will no doubt be "found" votes from Democratic precincts. There could be "lost" votes from GOP precincts.
But the real time consumer that might stretch out the vote in Ohio for weeks is the procedure on dealing with provisional ballots.
A last-minute order by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted that includes a disputed form to be filled out by provisional voters in the state led to a court filing within hours and commentary that the move was "The Biggest Legal Story of the Weekend."
The portion of the form in question was not new on Friday. It was designed by Husted's office earlier, and states that a voter is to check a box noting which type of identification he or she used in casting a provisional ballot - despite state law directing poll workers to make such notations. Husted's use of the form again on Friday led Ari Berman at The Nation to write that "Eleventh-Hour GOP Voter Suppression Could Swing Ohio."
Although there are conflicting signals from the secretary of state's office, the directive appears to have told county boards to toss out the ballots in question if the voter did not check off the box on the form. This was enough to raise red flags from Democrats who are watching Husted, a Republican, closely after having faced off in court with him already several times this year.
More than anything else, the quick back-and-forth legal moves and shouting-on-paper (or computer screen) outside responses are some of the clearest signs that 2000's Florida recount changed presidential elections - and even down-ballot races - for good.
An open invitation to the Democrats to gum up the works.
Don't doubt that if Obama is in the lead at the end of the night that the GOP won't mount their own challenges in Ohio. So perhaps the best we can hope for is that the winning candidate will be ahead in Ohio by enough votes as to make any challenges moot.