DES MOINES — After months of television ads and dozens of campaign rallies, voters in battleground Iowa got their chance to weigh in Tuesday.
Polls opened at 7 a.m. and were busy but with few lines, in part because up to 40 percent of voters cast their ballots early.
At a polling place in southeast Des Moines, Hanna Biers, 34, said she would vote for President Barack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney.
"I just believe in what he's doing and think that he's done a decent job for what he was given," Biers said. "I don't think Romney is a decent person to have in the office. I watched his debate and I don't like him."
Biers said she was especially troubled by Romney's belief that no federal money should go to Planned Parenthood, which provides health care for women including abortions.
"I don't believe in abortion personally," she said. "I would never do it but people have to make their own decisions."
Des Moines real estate appraiser Brett Blanchfield, 37, said he voted for Romney largely because he thinks the Republican will boost the economy.
"My company is based on economic productivity. I appraise commercial property." Blanchfield said. "I've seen a massive slowdown."
Thomas Harris, 41, of Des Moines, said he opted for Libertarian Gary Johnson.
Harris said he couldn't decide between Obama and Romney, so began looking into Johnson's stands and found he largely agreed with the third-party candidate.
Although he agrees with Romney on some issues, Harris said he was put off by his stance on social issues, such as gay marriage and abortion rights.
"That's where I have a problem with Romney. I'm socially liberal. I'm pro-choice. I think what somebody else does with their body is their decision. It's not for anybody to say," Harris said. "I think people have the right to be married no matter what their relationship is."
For many, Election Day couldn't come soon enough after non-stop campaign ads that began months before the state's January 2012 presidential caucus, and never stopped.
"People talk all the time about how they basically mute their TV or shut it off," said Republican Rep. Tom Latham, who is locked in a heated campaign for Iowa's 3rd Congressional District with Democratic incumbent Leonard Boswell.
Campaign volunteers have experienced voter fatigue, too.
"People are going to be glad when we forget their names and forget where their houses are," said Caroline Koppes, an Obama campaign volunteer in Dubuque. "They're tired of it."
It's a high-stakes election for many candidates — presidential, congressional and legislative alike. Iowa voters also were tasked with deciding whether to retain an Iowa Supreme Court justice who supported gay marriage.
Tuesday is especially noteworthy for nine-term incumbent Latham and eight-term incumbent Boswell, as losing will mean the end of a long political career. Latham, 64, chose to move into the 3rd District after Iowa lost a congressional seat due to once-a-decade redistricting that reflected population changes noted by the U.S. Census. The district stretches from Des Moines west to the Missouri River.
Their race has been expensive — Latham's $3.1 million fundraising haul is double Boswell's $1.5 million — and poll numbers indicate it is close.
"It's been a very spirited contest but we're competitive and we've been able to follow the plan that we laid out," said Boswell, 78.
The 4th Congressional District race, which pits a well-known incumbent against Iowa's former first lady, has also attracted plenty of attention.
Republican Rep. Steve King, known for his outspoken conservative views, has cruised in every race since he was first elected in 2002. But the 63-year-old acknowledged this year's challenge by Democrat Christie Vilsack has been difficult. Vilsack, 62, is married to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who was Iowa's governor for eight years.
Her victory would be historic: She would be Iowa's first woman in Congress.
The races in the 1st and 2nd Districts lean toward incumbent Democrats because of a slight voter registration edge. Democrat Bruce Braley is facing a rematch with 2010 Republican challenger Ben Lange in the 1st District, and incumbent Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack moved to Iowa City in order to remain in the 2nd District, where he's facing Republican attorney John Archer.
Voters have been engaged this year, setting a record for early voting with more than 640,000 absentee or in-person ballots cast by last weekend.
The state legislative races may result in the biggest changes, though. Republicans are hoping to win a majority in the state Senate, which would let them move ahead with an ambitious agenda backed by GOP Gov. Terry Branstad that calls for tax cuts, education changes and social policy moves related to abortion and same-sex marriage.
The gay marriage issue also is reflected in a judicial retention vote for David Wiggins, one of the Iowa Supreme Court justices who joined in a 2009 ruling that cleared the way for same-sex marriages.