President Barack Obama won Pennsylvania and its 20 electoral votes Tuesday, fending off a late incursion by GOP challenger Mitt Romney in a state that's long played a key role for Democrats seeking the White House.
Obama continued the Democrats' winning streak in Pennsylvania, which hasn't picked a Republican for president since 1988, amid heavy turnout and some confusion over the state's suspended voter-identification law.
Voters also gave Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey a second six-year term; elected the first woman and first Democrat to be attorney general; and picked candidates for all 18 of Pennsylvania's congressional seats, most state legislative seats, and two other statewide row offices.
The presidential campaign had bypassed Pennsylvania — seemingly confirming its diminished status as a battleground — until a late blitz of TV ads by Romney and his Republican allies. The Obama campaign responded in kind, defending a state crucial to the incumbent's re-election hopes. No Democrat has won the White House without Pennsylvania in 64 years.
Democrats called Romney's play for Pennsylvania an act of desperation and were quick to distribute a list of earlier GOP contenders who'd made similar last-minute forays — only to see their hopes crushed on Election Day.
Undeterred, Romney visited twice in the closing days of the campaign, including an Election Day stop in Pittsburgh. Former President Bill Clinton made the case for Obama in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Scranton, the boyhood home of Vice President Joe Biden.
As Pennsylvania voters headed to the polls, their foremost concern was the state of the economy. Six in 10 called it their top issue, according to results from an exit poll conducted for The Associated Press and television networks. Only one in five voters said they're better off today than they were four years ago.
But many said weren't prepared to hand the White House keys to Romney.
Franco Montalto, 39, an environmental engineer voting for Obama in Philadelphia, said the frustration he felt over the slow pace of economic recovery was tempered by his distaste of "dangerous" Republicans.
Outside a volunteer fire station in rural Lamar in Clinton County, though, auto parts store employee Frank Frederick said he didn't like where the country was headed under Obama and gave Romney his vote.
"He's a take-charge guy. He impresses me because he can fix things," said Frederick, 66.
In the mostly low-profile but aggressively fought Senate contest, Casey — namesake son of the late governor, former state officeholder and reliable ally of organized labor — fended off a challenge from Smith, a conservative who poured millions of dollars of his own coal mining-industry fortune into the campaign.
Smith portrayed his opponent as a do-nothing rubber stamp of Obama. Casey, in turn, cast Smith as a tea party darling whose positions were too extreme for Pennsylvania.
Candidates for Congress ran in 18 districts newly drawn by Republicans who control the Legislature. The GOP holds 12 of the state's 19 seats in the U.S. House, but the state lost one seat as a result of the 2010 census.
Republicans hoped to build on that majority by taking the rejiggered 12th District in western Pennsylvania, where Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Critz faced a tough challenge from conservative Republican Keith Rothfus. Few of the other congressional races were expected to be competitive this year.
The open seat for attorney general attracted the most attention of three statewide offices up for grabs as Kathleen Kane, a former prosecutor from Lackawanna County, became the first woman elected to the office — and the first Democrat — since its creation in 1980. She beat Republican David Freed, the Cumberland County District Attorney.
Democratic State Treasurer Rob McCord won re-election to a second four-year term, downing Republican Diana Irey Vaughan, a longtime Washington County commissioner.
In the race for auditor general, the state's independent fiscal watchdog, Democrat Eugene DePasquale of York County downed Republican John Maher of Allegheny County. Incumbent Jack Wagner is stepping down after serving the maximum two consecutive terms.
Republicans were expected to hang on to their healthy majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature.
Tuesday's election brought familiar claims of voting irregularities. Scattered problems were reported at polling places across Pennsylvania, including an electronic voting machine that switched a vote from Obama to Romney, concerns over a mural of Obama painted on the wall of a school being used as a polling location, and a court battle over dozens of Republican election workers improperly barred from polling places in Philadelphia.
Though a state judge temporarily blocked a new law that requires voters to show photo identification in order for their ballots to count, Philadelphia-based election watchdog group Committee of Seventy said some election workers still demanded ID from voters.
Superstorm Sandy, meanwhile, forced the relocation of a single Pennsylvania polling place. Voters in the Philadelphia suburb of Riegelsville, Bucks County — some of them still lacking electricity more than a week after the storm — went to the fire station to cast ballots on machines powered by generators, according to phillyburbs.com.
Associated Press writers Patrick Walters in Philadelphia and Genaro C. Armas in Lamar contributed to this report.