US President Barack Obama swept to an emphatic re-election win over Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Tuesday, making history by transcending a dragging economy and the stifling unemployment that haunted his first term.
The 44th US president and the first African-American to claim the Oval Office was returned to power after a joyless election which appears to have deepened, rather than healed, his nation’s political divides.
“In this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back,” Obama, 51, said at a victory party in Chicago.
“I have never been more hopeful about America and I ask you to sustain that hope,” Obama said, striving for inspiration rarely shown in a campaign where the prophet of hope of 2008 became a conventional, brawling politician. “I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.”
With only Florida among the battleground states still to be declared, Obama had 303 electoral votes, more than the 270 needed to win the White House.
He had a slim lead in the national popular vote, leading Romney by 50 percent to 49 percent, after drawing more than 56 million votes. Turnout appeared strong, though official figures had yet to be released.
As Obama’s victory was confirmed with wins in rustbelt Ohio and his spiritual political home in Iowa, large crowds suddenly materialized outside the White House, chanting “four more years” and “Obama, Obama.”
Republican nominee Romney, 65, deflated and exhausted, offered a classy tribute as he consoled dejected supporters in Boston moments after telephoning Obama to formally concede.
“This is a time of great challenges for America and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation,” Romney said.
In a show of bipartisanship after a searing campaign, the president said he wanted to meet his vanquished foe to find common ground on which to move the country forward.
Obama’s victory means that he will get the chance to embed his healthcare and Wall Street reforms deep into the fabric of US life — Romney had pledged one of his first acts would be the repeal of Obama’s healthcare policy.
He may also get the chance to reshape the US Supreme Court in his liberal image for a generation, a move that would shape policy on issues such as abortion and gay rights.
The US president will also look abroad as he builds his legacy and he will face an immediate challenge early next year over whether to use military force to thwart Iran’s nuclear program.
Obama’s win bucked history, as it came with the unemployment rate pegged at 7.9 percent, the highest level for a re-elected president in more than 70 years.
Remarkably, his coalition of Hispanic, black and young voters turned out in similar numbers to those of his heady change-fueled campaign in 2008, shocking Romney’s team and presenting a new American face to the world.
However, once the euphoria fades away, the president will face a difficult task enacting his second-term agenda after the Republicans, who thwarted him repeatedly in his first mandate, retained control of the House of Representatives.