Barack Obama resoundingly won another four years in the White House, sweeping nearly every swing state on his way to capturing more than 300 electoral votes.
It was an impressive victory for a president saddled with an anemic economy who struggled all year to hit 50 percent in the polls. But in the end, Mitt Romney fell short, crushing Republican hopes of ousting an incumbent they viewed as ripe for defeat.
Indeed, even after Fox News put Obama over the top by calling Ohio for the president about 11:20--as did the other networks--Fox analyst Karl Rove refused to accept the projection, arguing with his anchors on the air. For all the focus on Ohio, Obama didn't need it in the end, and even carried the highly contested battleground of Virginia, according to network projections after 12:30 a.m. The president also took Colorado.
Before a wildly cheering crowd in Chicago at 1:40 a.m., Obama struck a note of unity, saying: "We are are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation." He heaped praise on "America's happy warrior," Joe Biden, told his wife Michelle that "I have never loved you more," and thanked his supporters: "You lifted me up the whole way, and I will always be grateful."
Showing flashes of the passion of 2008, Obama again invoked the word hope. He conceded that campaigns can seem "small" and "silly" and called for compromise, even while admitting that "won't end all the gridlock." Obama said he had listened to his critics and would return to the White House "more determined and more inspired than ever." The president even reached back to his 2004 convention speech, again insisting that the country was not a collection of red and blue states but "the United States of America."
Earlier in Boston, in a gracious but notably short concession speech—his camp said he hadn't written one in advance—Romney said that "I pray the president will be successful in guiding our nation...At a time like this we can't risk partisan bickering and political posturing."
Obama swept the Northeast, Upper Midwest and West Coast en route to victory, with Romney seizing the South and much of the Mountain West.
With the president carrying such states as Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Michigan, Maryland, Illinois, even Paul Ryan's home state of Wisconsin, he got off to a strong start. Romney took a broad swath from Texas and Louisiana to South Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas and North and South Dakota but failed to steal a single blue state.
It was not an inspiring campaign, with the president running a largely negative effort and offering few details about a second term, raising questions about whether he can claim a mandate. Romney, who relentlessly attacked Obama on the economy, could never quite overcome doubts about his business background, changing positions and guarded personality.
But the victory means that Obamacare will survive, along with much of the president's progressive agenda, although he will still have to deal with House Republicans on a budgetary deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff at year's end.
In exit polls, Obama has an edge among voters who feel he relates to average people while Mitt Romney has an advantage on handling the economy.
President Obama speaks to Americans after winning a second term.
Six in 10 voters questioned while leaving the polls said--not surprisingly--that the economy is the top issue, CNN reported. On the question of which candidate is "more in touch with people like you," the president led, 52 to 44 percent. But on who is better equipped to manage the economy, CNN said, Romney had the advantage, 51 to 47 percent.
There is a generation gap as well, with the president holding a commanding lead among 18-to-29-year-olds, 60 to 37 percent. Romney is doing well among those over 65, leading Obama 57 to 42 percent.
Obama entered the general election with an enormous albatross, an ailingeconomy in which the jobless rate had only recently drifted below 8 percent. Romney was saddled with a reputation for changing positions, some bruises from the primaries and a career as a venture capitalist that was both his greatest asset and biggest vulnerability.
The president returned to Chicago, where he visited volunteers at one of his campaign offices, and congratulated Romney on a “spirited campaign.” Romney voted near his home in Belmont, Mass. Obama was doing a last-minute round of satellite interviews in such key states as Florida, Colorado and Ohio, while Romney was making last-minute stops in Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
They are winding up the most expensive presidential campaign in American history, with each side spending more than $1 billion. And yet it could come down to a few thousand votes in Virginia or Ohio, where both Obama and Romney have practically been camping out.
At stake is either a second term for the nation’s first African-American president or an initial term for its first Mormon president. But what is also on the line is a continuation of a Democratic philosophy of activist government, near-universal health insurance and aggressive regulation, or the return of a Republican approach of limited government, non-intervention in health care and lighter regulation.
With Obama assured of carrying wide swaths on both coasts, the battle always came down to Florida and a string of states in the upper Midwest. Romney, whose opposition to the auto bailout hurt him in Ohio, faced a tougher path to 270 electoral votes.
Romney had a significant advantage among white voters, and among men, while the president was trying to assemble a coalition based on women, gays, African-Americans and Hispanics, a growing segment of the electorate that was turned off by Romney’s harsh rhetoric on illegal immigration.
The race was remarkably static as it careened from one controversy to the next while Super PACs flooded the airwaves with ads. Romney got his biggest boost from the first debate, when Obama was surprisingly passive, while the president was aided by his convention, the second and third debates, and the devastation caused last week by Hurricane Sandy, which allowed him to perform as commander-in-chief while relegating Romney to the sidelines.
From the start, the economy overshadowed the election as Romney ran as a financial Mr. Fixit and Obama vowed to protect the middle class from a return to Bush-style capitalism. But other issues kept popping up—immigration, abortion, rape, Libya—along with a steady streams of gaffes and distractions.
In the end, in the wake of a devastating hurricane, Barack Obama, whose initial election once seemed so unlikely, managed to convince the country to give him another shot--and handed the Republicans their fourth defeat in the last six presidential elections.
John Avlon on the war correspondent who never settled for anything short of the truth.