Barack Obama was elected to a second presidential term Tuesday, defeating Republican Mitt Romney by reassembling the political coalition that boosted him to victory four years ago, and by remaking himself from a hopeful uniter into a determined fighter for middle-class interests.
Obama, the nation’s first African American president, scored a decisive victory by stringing together a series of narrow ones. Of the election’s seven major battlegrounds, he won at least six.
“While our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up,” Obama told a cheering crowd of supporters in his home town of Chicago early Wednesday morning. “We have fought our way back. And we know in our hearts that, for the United States of America, the best is yet to come.”
He said he intends to sit down with Romney in the weeks ahead to talk about how the two can work together.
Obama also made an oblique reference to the hard, negative edge of his campaign, saying that even this bitter election was something to be envied in nations around the world that enjoy fewer freedoms: “These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty.”
His election capped a night of gains for the once beaten-down American left. Democrats Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin and Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts won Senate races, as the party kept control of that chamber. Liberal causes also won in several states: Maryland and Maine became the first to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote. Colorado and Washington passed laws that legalized some marijuana use.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, had built his campaign around the single contention that the U.S. economy is battered and adrift because of Obama’s failures, and that his business experience uniquely qualified him to fix it.
In the end, that wasn’t enough, in part because the economy undermined his argument by showing signs of improvement. Just weeks before Election Day, the national unemployment rate dropped below 8 percent for the first time since Obama took office.
Voters also did not warm to Romney. Even after many months and millions of dollars put toward trying to make him look good, exit polls showed that just as many voters trusted Obama to handle the economy as trusted Romney.
“This is a time of great challenges for America, and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation,” a slightly hoarse Romney told his supporters in Boston early Wednesday morning. He said he and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), had left “everything on the field,” adding: “I so wish that I had been able to fulfill your hopes.”
As of early Wednesday, Florida was too close to call — but also irrelevant, as Obama had passed the threshold of 270 electoral votes.
Romney was beaten by a different Obama than the one who defeated Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) four years ago. Back then, Obama had run as a symbol of limitless hope.
This year, he ran as a symbol of hope’s limitations.
The president no longer pledged to sweep away Washington’s old partisan politics. He had tried that and was unable to do so. Now, he was pledging to plunge into those old politics and fight — battling Republicans whom Obama said favored the rich and waged a “war on women.”
As the election results came in, they showed that Obama’s promises had won over the groups for which he had promised to fight the hardest. He lost among white men by a large margin, as expected. But he performed strongly among African Americans, won by double digits among women, and routed Romney among a key and expanding demographic, taking 69 percent of the Latino vote in early exit polls.
Early returns also indicated that Capitol Hill’s balance of power would not change. Democrats would keep control of the Senate, after winning key races in Indiana, Massachusetts, Missouri and Virginia. Republicans were expected to keep the House, with virtually the same number of seats.
So now, ironically, the bruised Obama of 2012 has the job that the hopeful Obama of 2008 said he wanted: to conjure “change” out of a capital that is split and paralyzed by partisan battling.
For Romney, 65, Tuesday’s loss ends a personal marathon that began in June. But, in a broader sense, it started with his first presidential run, nearly six years ago. A longtime executive and investor, Romney ran a campaign that promised to bring a businessman’s clear-eyed conservatism to the problems of the U.S. economy.
He was helped immensely by a new breed of political action group, the free-spending super PACs that the Supreme Court legalized in 2010. Outside groups, including super PACs, poured an estimated $350 million into the race on his behalf, with pro-Obama groups spending an estimated $100 million.
For Romney’s family, it was the third unsuccessful attempt to capture the White House: Romney's father, George, a Republican governor of Michigan, ran in 1968.
But the upward course of the son’s campaign was a cold kind of victory.