President Barack Obama has won reelection, a victory that will protect his landmark health care legislation and offer him a chance to extend his agenda into a second term.
The historic battleground of Ohio proved decisive for the president, putting him over 270 electoral votes in a path to victory that led through Western states like Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado. (Governor Mitt Romney had not conceded defeat in Ohio Tuesday evening, though major networks had called that state and another difference-making state, Colorado, for Obama.)
Romney's efforts to "expand the map" into Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota fell short, leaving his campaign dependent on winning Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, and at least one other state. Neither his conservative platform nor his late pivot to the center swung a crucial core of voters. And the Republican's opposition to the auto bailout proved an impossible obstacle to overcome for the Republican.
Obama's task in the next weeks and months is to reunite a country fractured by a divisive campaign, find a path for his agenda through a divided Congress, and to tackle the enormous fiscal issues looming at the end of the year.
"The task of perfecting our union moves forward," Obama said, celebrating his victory. "It moves forward because of you."
As the results in Ohio were announced, a raucous crowd cheered in Chicago where President Barack Obama's election night party was being held, as Romney supporters stood in stunned silence in Boston.
"This is a time of great challenge, and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation," a very gracious Romney said in his concession speech early Wednesday morning.
The election has little in common with Obama’s triumphant sweep in 2008, and had more of the feel — in both hopeful campaigns — of 2004, a race that could have gone either way and that was decided by Ohio voters, who preferred to stick with a flawed incumbent than to take a risk on a challenger. George W. Bush won the state that year by about 40,000 votes. Now Obama is the incumbent arguing to stay the course, while Romney provided a failed argument that the country needs a change.
Meanwhile, Republican hopes of retaking the Senate — which had burned bright at the beginning of 2012 — also slipped away Tuesday night, as two contests in competitive states slipped from the party's hands: Democrat Bill Nelson cruised to victory in Florida, while Independent Angus King, who is expected to caucus with Democrats, won the three-way Maine race. In Connecticut, Democrat Chris Murphy also won, defeating former wrestling executive Linda McMahon. Additionally, Democrat Tammy Baldwin won a close race in Wisconsin, while liberal Sherrod Brown retained his seat as expected, and Democrats picked up what had been expected to be difficult seats in Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota.
Exit polling released by the news organizations that sponsor it appeared to follow follows pre-election public polls, suggested that the economy is the most important issue for voters this cycle. But more voters blamed former President George W. Bush for the economic malaise, even as only 4 in 10 believe the economy is improving.
While polls tightened in a host of "blue" states in the Midwest, Obama was buoyed by strong turnout by minorities, while maintaining the so-called "gender gap" in swing states. According to national exit polling, Obama won women by 12 percentage points, while Romney won by 7 points among men.
Latino voters broke for Obama by a margin of 40 percentage points — more than his 2008 margin — largely due to aggressive voter outreach and Romney's hardline position on immigration.
The result is already causing soul-searching in the Republican Party, with pundits and grassroots supporters alike realizing a loss this year of all years — to a president with a 7.9% unemployment rate — now requires a rethinking of the party's traditional electoral focus on white men.
“I think Republicans have done a pathetic job of reaching out to people of color," former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Tuesday night before polls closed. "That's something we’ve got to work on. It’s a group of people that frankly should be with us based on the real policy of conservatism.”
“But Republicans have acted as if they can’t get the vote, so they don’t try. And the result is, they don’t get the vote," he added.
"GOP needs to evolve," tweeted Republican consultant Alex Castellanos.
In a slightly positive sign for Republicans, the 18- to 29-year-old vote, which went 66% for Obama in 2008, only went the president's way by 60% this year — even as turnout among the demographic increased from 18% to 19%.
Obama surpassed 300 electoral votes with an early-morning win in Virginia, while Florida remained too close to call.