By The Associated Press, Associated Press
A selection of issues at stake in the presidential election and their impact on Americans, in brief:
Abortion and birth control are divisive issues in politics, and they've flared up at times in this campaign despite the candidates' reluctance to dwell on them.
President Barack Obama supports abortion rights. And his health care law requires contraceptives to be available for free for women in workplace health plans.
Republican Mitt Romney opposes abortion rights, though he previously supported them. He says the Supreme Court ruling establishing abortion rights should be reversed, allowing states to ban abortion. He's also criticized mandatory coverage for contraception as a threat to religious liberty.
Romney's ability as president to enact federal abortion restrictions would be limited unless Republicans gained firm control of Congress. But the next president could have great influence over abortion policy if vacancies arise on the Supreme Court. If two seats held by liberal justices were filled by Romney-nominated conservatives, prospects for a reversal of Roe v. Wade would increase.
The stakes now are similar to what caused the U.S. to invade almost 11 years ago: the threat of more al-Qaida attacks.
Obama says U.S. forces must not leave until Afghan forces can defend the country on their own. Otherwise the Taliban would regain power and al-Qaida might again launch attacks from there. Rival Romney appears to share that view.
What's often overlooked in the "al-Qaida returns" scenario is an answer to this question: Why, after so many years of foreign help, are the Afghans still not capable of self-defense? And when will they be?
The official answer is by the end of 2014, when the U.S. and its allies plan to end their combat role. The Afghans will be fully in charge, or so it is hoped, and the war will be over, at least for Americans.
This election probably will cost more than $1 billion. Big donors who help cover the tab could gain outsized influence with the election's winner. Your voice may not be heard as loudly as a result.
Recent court decisions have stripped away restrictions on how elections are financed, allowing the very rich to afford more speech than the rest. In turn, super PACs have flourished, thanks as well to limitless contributions from the wealthy — including contributors who have business before the government.
Disclosure rules offer a glimpse into who's behind the money. But the information is often too vague to be useful. And nonprofits that run so-called issue ads don't have to reveal donors.
Obama criticized the Supreme Court for removing campaign finance restrictions. Republican presidential nominee Romney supported the ruling. Both are using the lax rules with gusto.
The U.S. accuses China of flouting trade rules and undervaluing its currency to helps its exporters, hurting American competitors and jobs. But imposing tariffs could set off a trade war and drive up prices for American consumers.
Tensions now have spread to the automotive sector: The U.S. is seeking international rulings against Chinese subsidies for its auto and auto-parts exports and against Chinese duties on U.S. autos. Romney says he'll get tougher on China's trade violations. Obama has taken a variety of trade actions against China, but on the currency issue, he has opted to wait for economic forces to encourage Beijing to raise values.
Cheap Chinese goods have benefited American consumers and restrained inflation. But those imports have hurt American manufacturers. And many U.S. companies outsource production to China. One study estimated that between 2001 and 2010, 2.8 million U.S. jobs were lost or displaced to China.
This year America's weather has been hotter and more extreme than ever before, records show. Yet the presidential candidates aren't talking about it.
In the U.S. July was the hottest month ever recorded, and this year is on track to be the warmest. Scientists say that's both from natural drought and man-made global warming. Each decade since the 1970s has been nearly one-third of a degree warmer than the previous one.