WASHINGTON U.S. President Barack Obama won a second term in the White House on Tuesday, overcoming deep doubts among voters about his handling of the U.S. economy to score a clear victory over Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Americans chose to stick with a divided government in Washington, by keeping the Democratic incumbent in the White House and leaving the U.S. Congress as it is, with Democrats controlling the Senate and Republicans keeping the House of Representatives.
Obama told thousands of supporters in Chicago who cheered his every word that "we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back" and that for America, the best is yet to come.
He vowed to listen to both sides of the political divide in the weeks ahead and said he would return to the White House more determined than ever to confront America's challenges.
"Whether I earned your vote or not, I have listened to you, I have learned from you. And you have made me a better president," Obama said.
The nationwide popular vote remained extremely close with Obama taking about 50 percent to 49 percent for Romney after a campaign in which the candidates and their party allies spent a combined $2 billion.
Romney, the multimillionaire former private equity executive, came back from a series of campaign stumbles to make it close after besting the president in the first of three presidential debates.
The 65-year-old former Massachusetts governor conceded in a gracious speech delivered to disappointed supporters at the Boston convention center. He had called Obama to concede defeat after a brief controversy over whether the president had really won Ohio.
"This is a time of great challenge for our nation," Romney told the crowd. "I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation."
He warned against partisan bickering and urged politicians on both sides to "put the people before the politics."
Obama told his crowd that he hoped to sit down with Romney in the weeks ahead and examine ways to meet the challenges ahead.
The president Obama scored impressive victories in the crucial state of Ohio and heavily contested swing states of Virginia, Nevada, Iowa and Colorado. They carried the Democrat past the 270 electoral votes needed for victory in America's state-by-state system of choosing a president, and left Romney's senior advisers shell-shocked at the loss.
Obama, America's first black president, won by convincing voters to stick with him as he tries to reignite strong economic growth and recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. An uneven recovery has been showing some signs of strength but the country's 7.9 percent jobless rate remains stubbornly high.
Obama's victory in the hotly contested swing state of Ohio - as projected by TV networks - was a major step in the fight for the 270 electoral votes needed to clinch the White House and ended Romney's hopes of pulling off a string of swing-state upsets.
Obama scored narrow wins in Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire - all states that Romney had contested - while the only swing state captured by Romney was North Carolina, according to television network projections.
Romney initially delayed his concession as some Republicans questioned whether Obama had in fact won Ohio despite the decisions by election experts at all the major TV networks to declare it for the president.
The later addition of Colorado and Virginia to Obama's tally - according to network projections - meant that even if the final result from Ohio were to be reversed, Romney still could not reach the needed number of electoral votes.
While Obama supporters in Chicago were ecstatic, Romney's Boston event was grim as the news was announced on television screens there. A steady stream of people left the ballroom at the Boston convention center.
At least 120 million American voters had been expected to cast votes in the race between the Democratic incumbent and Romney after a campaign that was focused on how to repair the ailing U.S. economy.
The same problems that dogged Obama in his first term are still there to confront him again.
He faces a difficult task of tackling $1 trillion annual deficits, reducing a $16 trillion national debt, overhauling expensive social programs and dealing with a gridlocked U.S. Congress that kept the same partisan makeup.
Obama's Democrats held their Senate majority - taking hotly contested Republican-held seats in Massachusetts and Indiana - while the Republicans kept House control.
Democrat Claire McCaskill retained her U.S. Senate seat from Missouri, beating Republican congressman Todd Akin, who stirred controversy with his comment in August that women's bodies could ward off pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape."
Democrats gained a Senate seat in Indiana that had been in Republican hands for decades after Republican candidate Richard Mourdock called pregnancy from rape something that God intended. Democratic congressman Joe Donnelly won the race.
In another high-profile Senate race, Democrat Elizabeth Warren, a law professor who headed the watchdog panel that oversaw the government's financial sector bailout, defeated incumbent Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown.
Former Maine Governor Angus King won a three-way contest for the Senate seat of retiring Republican Olympia Snowe. King ran as an independent, but he is expected to caucus with Democrats in what would amount to a Democratic pick-up.
Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson easily beat back a challenge from Republican congressman Connie Mack to win a third term, while Democratic congressman Chris Murphy beat Republican Linda McMahon, a businesswoman who had served as chief executive of a professional wrestling company.
Democrats were also cheered by several state referendums. Maryland voters approved same-sex marriage, the governor said, and a similar measure in Maine appeared on track to pass as well - marking the first time marriage rights have been extended to same-sex couples by popular vote.
In addition, Wisconsin Democratic congresswoman Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay U.S. Senator, defeating Republican former governor Tommy Thompson.
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Analysis: Obama re-election wont change much in Washington
By Andy SullivanReuters
WASHINGTON President Barack Obama won a second four-year term in office as voters handed him a victory on Tuesday over Republican challenger Mitt Romney, television networks projected.
Here is a snap analysis of the result:
* Obamas win is not likely to change the dynamic in Washington.
Obamas victory will not strike fear into the hearts of Republicans, who are projected to retain control of the House of Representatives. Obamas Democrats will hold on to the Senate, but fewer moderates of either party will be returning to Capitol Hill.
That is a recipe for more white-knuckle showdowns over taxes and spending, and gridlock in other areas. Reaching consensus on even the most routine legislation will be difficult.
If theres no perception that going against Obama would detrimentally affect Republicans in 2016, theres not going to be a lot of goodwill on the Hill, said Princeton University history professor Julian Zelizer. The party lines will be hardened after this election.
* The economy showed just enough of a pulse to return Obama to office.
The United States is still digging out from the deepest recession in 80 years, and employers are barely adding enough jobs to keep up with population growth. But if the economy is not exactly roaring ahead, it improved steadily over the course of the year.
Historically, voters have given a second term to presidents who preside over even modest economic growth during an election year. That pattern appears to have held for Obama.
It was never going to be a landslide, said John Sides, a political science professor at George Washington University. But it was always his race to lose.
Obama also was helped by the fact that voters largely blame the recession on his Republican predecessor, President George W. Bush, and Obama argued that Romney would bring back policies that led to the crash in the first place.
* The auto bailout provided a crucial boost in Ohio.
Obama scored many legislative victories in his first two years in office, but they have not been terribly popular with the public.
But Obamas 2009 bailout of General Motors and Chrysler has been popular with a crucial slice of the electorate: white men in Ohio, where roughly 1 in 8 jobs is tied to the auto industry.
Obama did not win the white-male vote in Ohio, but he did better with that group in Ohio than elsewhere. According to Reuters/Ipsos exit polls, Obama lost white men nationwide by 20 percentage points. In Ohio, he lost by only 13 percentage points. (Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Marilyn Thompson and Peter Cooney)
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News media tiptoe to an early call
By David BauderThe Associated Press
NEW YORK News organizations anticipated a long night following the presidential race on Tuesday, but it all ended suddenly.
Networks fell in line after NBC, at 11:12 p.m. ET, declared that President Barack Obama would win the battleground state of Ohio and thus, the presidency.
The Associated Press called the race President Barack Obama at 11:38 p.m.
The calls, after a night of careful talk by new organizations, led to the odd spectacle of Republican strategist Karl Rove, a Fox News Channel analyst who helped raise money for GOP candidate Mitt Romney, vociferously complaining that the network had called the Ohio results prematurely for Obama.
It seems to me you have a lot of votes left to be cast, Rove said, appearing to refer to votes being counted.
Hours after some of the first polls closed, news organizations said most states that were considered true battlegrounds were too close to call. Burned eight years ago by early exit polls that proved misleading, care was taken not to draw too many conclusions this time partly, as CBS Bob Schieffer said, because many of the findings were contradictory.
Two of the three biggest broadcast networks had new leaders in place for presidential election night coverage. Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos teamed on ABC, and Scott Pelley led the CBS coverage. Brian Williams was back in the anchor seat at NBC.
But 2012 was notable for the vast array of outlets that an interested consumer could command to create their own media experience on different screens, with websites offering deep drill-downs in data and social media hosting raucous conversations.
A still-unclear picture early in the evening led to some tortured language on television. We are not in receipt of any information that were trying to hint about, said NBCs Brian Williams before 9 p.m. EST. All were saying is, if youre in the Romney organization, you would probably like some of these battlegrounds to have closed by now, or very soon.
News outlets carefully parsed information and sometimes used the same facts for contradictory conclusions.
Fox News analyst Brit Hume noted an exit poll finding that 42 per cent of voters said Superstorm Sandy was an important factor in their vote, suggesting that was a positive for Obama since he was widely considered to have been effective in his response. With the same information, the website Politico headlined: Exit Survey: Sandy Not a Factor.
On CBS, Scott Pelley noted that exit polls and early returns in Ohio seemed to be breaking Obamas way. Yet GOP strategist Karl Rove, a Fox analyst, used a white board to indicate county-by-county turnout results looked positive for Republican Mitt Romney.
Nobody has made more out of more fragmentary returns, Foxs Chris Wallace said.
There was a certain amount of vamping for time. Glenn Becks online network, The Blaze, had a blackboard straight out of the 1960s as a tote board. Beck killed time on the air by asking for cookie dough ice cream from the on-set food bar.
Waffle cone, please, Beck said.
When ABCs Diane Sawyer asked David Muir for the latest news from the Romney campaign, he reported the family had pasta for dinner and the candidate indulged in his favourite peanut butter and honey sandwich.
Fox News was most insistent on warning its viewers not to draw too many conclusions from exit polls, yet conversely spent the most time taking direction from them.
Commentator Bill OReilly said the Romney campaign had decided to take no chances and ride out its victory in the first debate until election day. That would have worked if it had not been for Sandy, which rendered Romneys campaign invisible for several days because of storm coverage.
If Obama wins, Sandy is one of the reasons, he said.
The media personality with perhaps the most on the line was Nate Silver of The New York Times, whose FiveThirtyEight blog was sought out by 20 per cent of the people who visited the newspapers website on Monday. He has used statistical data throughout the campaign to predict an Obama victory and by Tuesday, had forecast a 90.9 per cent chance that Obama would win.
CNNs Wolf Blitzer was an excitable host, exclaiming wow when a close result popped on the screen. John Kings computer screen promoted confusion because it painted states red or blue based on incoming votes and not, as is usually the case, after the network had projected the race.
On ABC, Diane Sawyers relaxed, folksy delivery drew social media attention. The rock group They Might Be Giants tweeted: and Diane Sawyer declares tonights winner is ... chardonnay!
Four years after she was CBS top anchor, talk show host Katie Couric joined ABC to monitor social media reaction.
Television Writer Frazier Moore contributed to this report.
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Analysis: Obama wins big on voter trust in his vision, but a divided Congress awaits again
By Ben Feller
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON President Barack Obamas victory means his economic vision is still alive and about to drive the political conversation with his adversaries. The legacy of Obamas first term is safe and enshrined to history.
Obama will push for higher taxes on the wealthy as a way to shrinking a choking debt and to steer money toward the programs he wants. He will try to land a massive financial deficit-cutting deal with Congress in the coming months and then move on to an immigration overhaul, tax reform and other bipartisan dreams.
He will not have to worry that his health care law will be repealed, or that his Wall Street reforms will be gutted, or that his name will be consigned to the list of one-term presidents who got fired before they could finish.
Yet big honeymoons dont come twice and Republicans wont swoon.
And if Obama cannot end gridlock, his second term will be reduced to veto threats, empty promises, end runs around Congress and legacy-sealing forays into foreign lands.
Voters decided to put back in place all the political players who have made Washington dysfunctional to the point of nearly sending the United States of America into default for the first time ever.
The president likely will be dealing again with a Republican-run House, whose leader, Speaker John Boehner, declared on election night that his party is the one with the mandate: no higher taxes.
Obama will still have his firewall in the Senate, with Democrats likely to hang onto their narrow majority. But they dont have enough to keep Republicans from bottling up any major legislation with delaying tactics.
So the burden falls on the president to find compromise, not just demand it from the other side.
For now, he can revel in knowing what he pulled off.
Obama won despite an economy that sucked away much of the nations spirit. He won with the highest unemployment rate for any incumbent since the Great Depression. He won even though voters said they thought Romney would be the better choice to end stalemate in Washington.
He won even though a huge majority of voters said they were not better off than they were four years ago a huge test of survival for a president.
The suspense was over early because Obama won all over the battleground map, and most crucially in Ohio. Thats where he rode his bailout support for the auto industry to a victory that crushed Romneys chances.
The reason is that voters wanted the president they knew. They believed convincingly that Obama, not Romney, understood their woes of college costs and insurance bills and sleepless nights. Exit polls shows that voters thought far more of them viewed Obama as the voice of the poor and the middle class, and Romney the guy tilting toward the rich.
The voice of the voter came through from 42-year-old Bernadette Hatcher in Indianapolis, who voted after finishing an overnight shift at a warehouse.
Its all about what hes doing, she said. No one can correct everything in four years. Especially the economy.
Formidable and seasoned by life, Romney had in his pocket corporate success and a Massachusetts governors term and the lessons of a first failed presidential bid.
But he never broke through as the man who would secure peoples security and their dreams. He was close the whole time.
I mean, I looked, said Tamara Johnson of Apex, N.C., a 35-year-old mother of two young children. I didnt feel I got the answers I wanted or needed to hear. And thats why I didnt sway that way.
The election was never enthralling, and it was fought for far too long in the shallow moments of negative ads and silly comments.
It seemed like the whole country endured it until the end, when the crowds grew and the candidates reached for their most inspiring words.
Americans dont settle. We build, we aspire, we listen to that voice inside that says We can do better, Romney pleaded toward that end.
Americans agreed. They just wanted Obama to take them there.
Incumbents get no transition, so Obama will be tested immediately.
A fiscal cliff of expiring tax cuts and budget cuts looms on Jan 1.
If they kick in, economists warn the economy will tank, again. Obama, at least, won the right to fight the fight on his terms.
If Ive won, then I believe thats a mandate for doing it in a balanced way, he said before the election that is, fixing the budget problem by raising taxes on people instead of just cutting spending. Obama is adamant that he will not agree to extend tax cuts for people making above $200,000 or couples with incomes above $250,000.
He had not even been declared the winner before Boehner offered a warning that the House was still in Republican hands.
With this vote, Boehner said, the American people have also made clear that there is no mandate for raising tax rates.
Obama, never one to lack from confidence, is ready to take that fight to Congress.
In his eyes, he just won it, thanks to the voters.
(Ben Feller has covered the presidencies of Barack Obama and George W. Bush.)
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