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The presidency most likely will not be decided  until after midnight EST. However  there will be plenty of clues early in the evening on how things are going for President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney.

Here are some:

Virginia, the first of the battleground states to begin reporting results. If either candidate is comfortably ahead in Virginia, with 13 electoral votes, that could be a leading indicator of which way the night is going.

Romney desperately needs Ohio; no Republican has won the presidency without it. Without Ohio, Romney would need victories in nearly all the remaining up-for-grabs states and he’d have to pick off key states now leaning Obama’s way, such as Wisconsin and Iowa. Obama has more work-arounds than Romney if he can’t claim Ohio.

Also keep watch on Pennsylvania for any signs of a Romney surprise. The state has long been considered safe for Obama, but Republicans started running ads there in the final week of the campaign and the GOP ticket was campaigning there Sunday. No Republican presidential candidate has carried the state in nearly a quarter century.

If Obama wins Ohio and Wisconsin, Romney would have to have help from the West, in places like Nevada and Colorado. Nevada, where two-thirds of the electorate votes early, has been moving Obama’s direction in recent weeks, powered by strength in huge labor and Hispanic voting blocs. A Romney incursion there would really mean something

 1 a.m. Wednesday: The last of the polls close, in Alaska and the 270 electoral votes needed will determine the victor.

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