Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Obama fends off Romney, economy to win second term

WASHINGTON, November 7, 2012

Barack Obama captured a second White House term, blunting a mighty challenge by Republican Mitt Romney as Americans voted for a leader they knew over a wealthy businessman they did not.

A triumphant Mr. Obama heralded his re-election with a call to action early Wednesday, telling Americans that their citizenship doesn't end with their vote and declaring that the "best is yet to come."

Mr. Obama offered a call for reconciliation after a divisive election, but he also defended the freewheeling nature of politics and said big decisions "necessarily stir up passions."

Mr. Obama said he wants to meet with Republican rival Mr. Romney to discuss how they can work together and said he was willing to work with leaders of both parties to tackle upcoming challenges. Of his contest with Mr. Romney, he said they may have "battled fiercely, but it's only because we love this country deeply."

Mr. Obama made clear he had an agenda in mind, citing changes in the tax code, immigration reform and, as he put it, an America "that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet." More immediately, he and Congress need to negotiate a new fiscal plan that avoids massive cuts in defense and other domestic spending and sharp across-the-board tax increases. Obama has called for tax increases on households earning more than $250,000; House Speaker John Boehner has rejected any tax increases.

The President rolled to a second term over Mr. Romney, winning more than 300 electoral votes although he was only winning the national popular vote by a 50 per cent to 49 per cent margin.

"Tonight 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 and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America, the best is yet to come," he told an ecstatic crowd of thousands in the cavernous McCormick Place convention center on Chicago's lakefront.

Mr. Obama appeared about two hours after he was declared the victor in his re-election bid and less than an hour after Mr. Romney offered a cordial concession. The two men spoke by phone and Mr. Romney, in his own speech to supporters, said he prays "the President will be successful in guiding our nation."

Mr. Obama took the stage with first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia. When he finished he was joined on stage by Vice-President Joe Biden, whom Mr. Obama called "America's happy warrior," and Mr. Biden's extended family. In his remarks he paid special tribute to his campaign team and his volunteers as the best "in the history of politics. The best. The best ever."

"Thank you for believing all the way through every hill, through every valley," he said. "You lifted me up the whole way."

Dozens of Obama and Biden staffers gathered on the floor next to the stage for the speeches. Many stood with their arms around each other, some wiping away tears, as the President spoke.

Both Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama spoke of the need for unity and healing the nation's partisan divide. But the election did nothing to end America's divided government. The Democrats retained their narrow majority in the Senate, while the Republicans kept control of the House of Representatives.

That means Mr. Obama's agenda will be largely in the hands of House Speaker John Boehner, the president's partner in unsuccessful deficit talks.

Mr. Obama's narrow lead in the popular vote will make it difficult for him to claim a sweeping mandate. But Mr. Obama did have a sizeable victory where it mattered, in the competition for electoral votes.

The President is chosen in a State-by-State tally of electors, not according to the nationwide popular vote, making such "battleground" States which vote neither Republican nor Democrat on a consistent basis particularly important in such a tight race.

Mr. Obama won Ohio, Wisconsin, Virginia, Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado and Nevada, seven of the nine battleground states where the rivals and their allies poured nearly $1 billion into dueling television commercials.

Of the nine battleground States, Mr. Romney captured only North Carolina. The final swing State Florida remained too close to call.

The election emerged as a choice between two very different visions of government whether it occupies a major, front-row place in American lives or is in the background as a less-obtrusive facilitator for private enterprise and entrepreneurship.

The economy was rated the top issue by about 60 per cent of voters surveyed as they left polling places. But more said former President George W. Bush bore responsibility for current circumstances than Obama did after nearly four years in office.

About 4 in 10 said the economy is on the mend, but more than that said it was stagnant or getting worse more than four years after the near-collapse of 2008. The survey was conducted for The Associated Press and a group of television networks.

Polls were still open in much of the country as the two rivals began claiming the spoils of a brawl of an election in a year in which the struggling economy put a crimp in the middle class dreams of millions.

While Mr. Obama spent the final day of his final campaign in Chicago, Mr. Romney raced to Ohio and Pennsylvania for Election Day campaigning and projected confidence as he flew home to Massachusetts. "We fought to the very end, and I think that's why we'll be successful," he said, adding that he had finished writing a speech anticipating victory but nothing if the election went to his rival.

But the mood soured among the Republican high command as the votes came in and Mr. Obama ground out a lead in critical States.

Click here for an interactive graphic that shows Electoral College votes by State and total
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