President Barack Obama walks on stage with first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia to deliver his victory speech on election night at McCormick Place in Chicago.
President Barack Obama won re-election Tuesday in a closely fought race, overcoming the doubts of a nation ravaged by a prolonged economic downturn and setting up a test of whether he can forge a productive second term in a divided political system.
Mr. Obama’s victory in the bruising campaign marks a landmark in modern election history. No sitting president since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940 has won re-election with a higher unemployment rate, which stands at 7.9%. It is also the first time since 1816 the U.S. has had three consecutive two-term presidents.
In retaining the presidency, Mr. Obama, 51 years old, defeated former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, 65, who had been seeking the office for six years.
“We may have battled fiercely, but it’s only because we love this country deeply and we care so strongly about its future,” the president said in a victory speech that came after 1:30 a.m. Eastern time. He said he would meet with Mr. Romney in the coming weeks to discuss various issues confronting the country.
“I so wish that I had been able to fulfill your hopes to lead the country in a different direction. But the nation chose another leader,” said Mr. Romney in his concession speech.
Propelling Mr. Obama to victory was the unique coalition he forged four years ago, one that reflects the changing nature of the U.S. electorate—notably, the diminished influence of white Americans and the rising clout of Latino voters.
Greeting Mr. Obama will be a divided Congress. Democrats retained their Senate majority while Republicans looked set to keep control of the House of Representatives. After the election, Washington remained aligned exactly as it was Tuesday morning, despite $6 billion in spending and 1.2 million political ads in the presidential race alone.
Americans handed Mr. Obama the job of navigating conflicting impulses in both Washington and the nation, a partisan divide the president has previously struggled to master.
Despite Mr. Romney’s focus on the economy, pitching himself as a onetime businessman capable of fixing what ails the U.S., he couldn’t overcome missteps and attacks from Democrats over his work as a private-equity executive.
At stake were two starkly different visions of the role of government and the recipe for economic revival. Mr. Romney called for reducing taxes and scaling back regulations, which he said would trigger economic growth.
Mr. Obama laid out a model of public investment in alternative energy and education, along with tax increases on wealthier families to help cut deficits. He has also voiced plans to pursue a revamp of U.S. immigration laws.
The president’s re-election campaign was light on details of his second-term agenda, in contrast to the ambitious list he brought to the office in 2008.
Mr. Obama sealed his victory with wins in swing states including Ohio, Colorado and Virginia. He was running neck and neck in Florida.
The contest showed how dramatically the U.S. has changed in recent years. According to exit polls, Mr. Romney won 60% of the white vote. Mr. Obama won 38%, five points less than his 2008 showing. Not since Walter Mondale, who was swept aside by Ronald Reagan in the 1984 presidential race, has a Democrat recorded a smaller share of the white vote.
Mr. Obama will have little time to savor his victory. Looming almost immediately is the so-called fiscal cliff, a series of tax increase and spending cuts that come into force Jan. 1, and which could unravel the economy’s fragile gains, unless the president and congressional leaders engineer a compromise. The U.S. will also hit its borrowing limit in coming months, raising the prospect of a battle like the one last year that led to a downgrade of the U.S. debt rating.
Mr. Obama hopes to broker a far-reaching agreement, the kind of “grand bargain” that eluded him last year, which would include raising taxes on wealthier Americans. Republicans have said they would oppose any tax increase. The White House is already working to convene a meeting between the president and congressional leaders.
A key player will be Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Mr. Romney’s running mate and an expert on fiscal matters, who retained his House seat.
Mr. Obama notched a victory in a political climate that seemed ripe for his defeat. Polls showed more than half the population believed the U.S. was on the wrong track, and that the government performs too many functions best done by the private sector—attitudes that would seem to favor Republicans.
Mr. Obama was favored to win for most of the campaign, but the race narrowed in the final month after he turned in a lackluster performance in the first of three presidential debates.
Mr. Romney closed the gap in the polls, raising the possibility that the nation’s first African-American president might be voted from office at the end of a single term.
Mr. Obama prevailed through an aggressive and well-funded campaign. He championed middle-class interests while depicting Mr. Romney as an uncaring businessman whose economic policies would favor the wealthiest Americans.
The campaign’s tone was coarse. Mr. Obama largely jettisoned the hopeful message of his 2008 campaign, convinced that to win he needed to paint Mr. Romney as an unpalatable alternative.
Mr. Obama’s rise to power might have been dismissed as a fluke had he not secured a second term. His biography is nothing like that of recent predecessors. Mr. Obama was raised by a single mother and his grandparents. His father was from Kenya and his mother’s family from Kansas. Mr. Obama spent most of his childhood in Hawaii, where he attended a prestigious private school.
After graduating from Columbia University, he attended Harvard Law School, becoming the first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Review. He eventually moved to Chicago, where he became a community organizer and met his wife, first lady Michelle Obama.
His political resume is short. He served in the Illinois State Senate until 2004, when he captivated the nation with a keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. He was elected to the U.S. Senate that same year and hadn’t served a full term before he won the White House in 2008.
His first term included passage of the health-care law, the financial regulation bill and a series of dramatic interventions to save the banking system from the worst downturn since the Great Depression.
After the midterm elections in 2010, Republicans took charge of the House and Mr. Obama was forced to curb his ambitions.
The president has predicted that he would have better results in a second term. David Plouffe, a senior White House adviser, said any ill will from the election would quickly vanish.
Mr. Obama has said he would push several pieces of unfinished business left over the first term. He wants to pass an immigration overhaul that would provide a path to legal status for the 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally.
Republicans might conclude it is in their interest to cooperate. In Tuesday’s elections, the GOP got a lesson in the dangers of alienating Latinos. Many Republicans strategists have said the party must soften its stance on illegal immigration. Latinos now account for 16% of the population, and that figure is expected to jump to 22% by 2030.
With Hurricane Sandy ravaging the East Coast, Mr. Obama had a chance to show compassion to storm victims and deploy government resources to neighborhoods left in ruins. No less a critic than New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who gave the keynote speech at Mr. Romney’s nominating convention, went out of his way to praise Mr. Obama’s performance. About two-thirds of the public approved of the president’s handling of Hurricane Sandy, a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll showed.
Worse for Mr. Romney, the storm froze the race at a moment when he had been gaining momentum and cutting into Mr. Obama’s lead. Sandy diverted the nation’s attention for precious days, forcing Mr. Romney to cancel some events and juggle attacks on Obama with expressions of sympathy for storm victims.
Still, Mr. Obama’s re-election would have seemed unlikely in the nadir of his presidency, the fall of 2010, when voters in the midterm election gave Republicans control of the House. Mr. Obama termed that election, “a shellacking.” White House advisers turned their attention to his political revival, knowing he was in a tough spot.
Unemployment hovered near 10%. Aides worried that independent voters had abandoned the president. And internal focus groups showed that voters didn’t give credit to Mr. Obama for the stimulus program, even though many economists concluded the stimulus staved off an even more serious downturn.
Aides settled on a strategy that emphasized steady improvement in the jobless rate while positioning Mr. Obama as a champion of the middle class.
Rather than save their money for the post-Labor Day race to November, the Obama campaign spent millions of dollars in TV ads attacking Mr. Romney for his record at the private-equity firm, Bain Capital. They painted him as a predatory capitalist who bought companies and laid people off in search of a quick profit.
Mr. Obama burned through a good chunk of his campaign cash, making some Democrats uneasy. But he made Mr. Romney unpopular among voters.
In the end, Mr. Obama suffered no shortage of funds. In September alone, he took in $181 million in campaign donations. All together, the president and allied groups will have raised nearly $1 billion over the course of the campaign.
—Patrick O’Connor and Colleen McCain Nelson contributed to this article.
- CBS News: Obama Wins Re-Election (washington.cbslocal.com)
- Obama wins re-election (qctimes.com)
- Romney: I’ve only written a victory speech; Obama: I’ve written two (kdvr.com)
- Obama wins second term in close race (utsandiego.com)
- Obama re-elected as US president (bbc.co.uk)
- Barack Obama wins second term (news.smh.com.au)
- President Barack Obama Wins Re-Election (people.com)