At home, the presidential winner is likely to find struggles in dealing with Congress. Obama, the Democrat, is almost certain to be contending again with a Republican-led House of Representatives. Even if voters choose Romney, they may well keep the Senate in control of Democrats, which would limit his legislative agenda.
Indeed, the basic state of Washington politics is broken.
The next president will inherit that problem, which is often beyond the president’s ability to fix despite campaign promises, as Obama and Republican George W. Bush before him found.
Should the election be as close as polls suggest, the president next year will be leading a nation in which about half the people voted against him. Most states are so decidedly Democratic or Republican they were not even contested this year. In a country built by dreamers, hope and optimism are sagging.
The impending fiscal crisis will have a cascading effect on the next presidential term.
How it is resolved will shape the chances of serious change ahead on tax law and entitlement programs such as Medicare, the government health care program for the elderly.
January is on pace to bring across-the-board spending cuts of US$109 billion, which, in real terms, would undermine the military and the core functions of government. The cuts were never intended to take effect. They were an onerous incentive for lawmakers to reach a broad deficit-reduction deal, but that never happened.
The fiscal cliff also gets its name from a series of expiring tax cuts. Romney wants to extend all the Bush-era tax cuts. Obama wants to extend them only for individuals making less than US$200,000 and married couples making less than US$250,000. The new president also will have to get Congress to increase the debt limit again to avoid a crippling default.
The debt is now above US$16 trillion, with cries from every corner to reduce that figure or risk a choking of the economy.
One of the best known challenges awaiting is simply the unknown: A drought, a bridge collapse, a mass shooting, a major oil spill, a superstorm.
It will be the job of the next president of the US, ultimately, to handle everything.