Early election returns in Missouri appear to be favorable for incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill.
With a little more than 25,000 votes counted --less than 1 percent of the expected turnout -- the Democrat was leading Republican Senate nominee U.S. Rep. Todd Akin by roughly 12 percent of the votes.
But in those same returns, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney leads President Barack Obama by approximately 15 percent of ballots cast. That means McCaskill has appeared to convince a sizable percentage of early voters to split their ballot, which will be crucial if she expects to beat Akin.
Akin's deficit, however, is a slight surprise. His strongest support is expected to come from rural counties, which often are among the first to report their votes.
McCaskill's strongholds, including highly populated urban precincts in Kansas City and St. Louis, usually report their results later in the evening.
Election authorities are expecting more than three million ballots to be cast in the state.
The attention of the nation has been focused on the Missouri Senate race for months.
McCaskill was once considered the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent in the country. In a state growing more conservative with each election cycle, the first-term senator's votes for the Affordable Care Act and the 2009 stimulus were thought to be problems for her campaign.
But in August Akin told an interviewer he believed women's' bodies could avoid pregnancy after "legitimate" rape. The comment rippled throughout the political world, prompting scores of Republicans -- including Romney -- to call on Akin to leave the race.
He refused to do so. Instead, he turned to support from the national evangelical community, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, for help.
Still, he has been badly outspent in the race. According to one estimate, McCaskill and outside groups supporting her have spent four times as much money as Akin and groups backing him.
However, he has been able to close a polling gap in recent days. Supporters have argued that electing Akin would help guarantee a Republican majority in the Senate.
But McCaskill has claimed her views are more in line with the state's moderate voters.
Her mother, Betty Anne, passed away recently. McCaskill left the campaign trail for a brief time, but resumed her pursuit of the office in the race's final hours.