US President Barack Obama accompanied by First Lady Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia appears on stage on election night in Chicago, Illinois. AFP photo/Jewel Samad
Barack Obama surged to a second term in the White House and promised to unify a country divided once again along political lines, much as it was when he won the presidency four years ago.
The United States’ first African-American commander-in-chief overwhelmed Republican Mitt Romney by 303 electoral votes to 206, with Florida still counting, though his lead was much narrower in popular votes.
With the Republicans retaining control of the House of Representatives in parallel congressional elections, potentially blocking key legislation, Obama was quick to signal reconciliation.
“Tonight you voted for action, not politics as usual,” the president told a cheering crowd of about 10,000 supporters in Chicago, adding, “in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together”.
Among the president’s first tasks will be to work with Congress to find a way to avoid the automatic spending cuts and tax increases that could come into effect from January 2013.
In a vintage Obama speech that moved many in the crowd to tears, the president underlined his commitment to the great American dream.
“It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try,” he said, to a thunderous ovation.
An estimated $6 billion was spent on Elections 2012.
But despite the expenditure, the US was exactly where it was the day before: Democrats kept the White House and the Senate and Republicans the House.
This was the “ultimate status quo election”, said John Fortier, director of the Democracy Project, Bipartisan Policy Center, as the first trends became discernible on Tuesday evening.
The first call Obama placed after Romney conceded defeat was to former president Bill Clinton, who did over 30 campaign events for the president in the final days of the race.
One challenge for Obama would be building on Clinton’s legacy, which he claimed during campaigning. Can he bridge the political chasm like Clinton, a master at triangulation?
And will Obama, like Clinton, use the second term to try for a foreign policy achievement? He certainly will, said Daniel Serwer, professor at School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University.
Serwer said the president was not very successful with his Asia pivot initiative — giving the continent its due strategic importance — in the first term. He could give it another shot, as also addressing seemingly intractable problems in West Asia.
Romney held on to historically Republican states as expected. But stumbled in the nine battleground states. After coasting to a big lead in Virginia and Florida, he slipped.
As news networks called one state after another — in a uniquely American tradition, they announce results not an election commission — Romney started looking vulnerable.
He lost Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota, states that were so firmly in Obama’s column that neither campaign paid them much attention till quite late in the race.
And when the Romney campaign claimed a foothold there, not many thought they were serious. One Obama aide offered to shave his moustache if those states indeed went with Romney.
Senior adviser David Axelrod, that aide, kept his moustache.
Obama had by now inched ahead of Romney in both Virginia and Florida, narrowing the challenger’s path to 270 electoral votes required to evict Obama from the white House.
The big fight — as billed —was in Ohio, which remained so close the Romney campaign didn’t quite believe it when the networks called it for Obama, giving him a second term.
The country waited as the campaign looked at numbers, and their candidate’s prospects. And when it became clear Romney couldn’t win even if won Ohio, he gave up.
“This is a time of great challenges for America, and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation,” Romney said later in his concession speech in Boston, Massachusetts.
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