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President Obama wins re-election: 'You voted for action, not politics as usual'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 6, 2012 - WASHINGTON – Tired but triumphant, President Barack Obama emerged Tuesday night as the victor of a hard-fought campaign against his determined Republican opponent, Mitt Romney. 

That victory was declared after election analysts projected Obama as the winner of the crucial swing state of Ohio, putting him over the threshhold of 270 electoral votes. At the time, Romney and Obama were close in the popular vote, and the key states of Florida and Virginia were still in play.

"I return to the White House more determined and more inspired than ever about the work there is to do and the future that lies ahead,"an emotional Obama told a cheering crowd of 10,000 at his victory celebration in Chicago in the wee hours Wednesday. "You voted for action, not politics as usual."

Romney had called Obama to concede more than an hour after television networks first projected the victory at 10:20 p.m. CT. In a gracious but somber concession speech at his campaign's election-night gathering in Boston, Romney thanked his family, staff and supporters and said he prayed that "the president will be successful in guiding our nation."

Romney continued: "At a time like this, we can't risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people's work." 

In his soaring speech, Obama said he planned to work with "leaders of both parties" to try to solve the nation's intractable problems. And he said he hoped to meet soon with Romney to "talk about where we can work together" on some of those issues. 

Congress remains divided, GOP faces tough questions

The Obama victory -- giving him over 300 electoral votes and a 50 percent share of the popular vote (with Romney garnering 48 percent) -- had only limited coattails. Republicans will continue their control of the U.S. House of Representatives and Democrats will keep their majority in the Senate -- guaranteeing at least two more years of divided government.

Romney's loss also seemed likely to spur a struggle among GOP factions to define the future of the party. Tension between the Republican establishment and tea party insurgents has caused strains that have not yet been resolved, analysts say.

For Obama -- the former Illinois senator who took office four years ago as the nation's first African-American president -- the election results promised to extend his legacy as a transformative political figure, and validate his controversial health-care revamping.

For Romney, a successful businessman and former Massachusetts governor, the narrow defeat represented a crushing blow after a up-and-down campaign that had seen him recover from summer doldrums with a strong performance in the first presidential debate. He had hoped to realize the dream of his father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney, to win the White House.

The cost of the 2012 election campaigns was staggering, with estimates running as high as $6 billion nationwide. (The total cost in 2008 was $5.3 billion.) And the political costs may end up altering the political landscape for years to come and contributing to -- rather than breaking -- the gridlock in Washington.

In Tuesday's election, exit polls indicated that the economy was the top issue for six in 10 voters, with health care and the federal deficit each cited by about 15 percent of those surveyed. Romney held only a slight edge on how well he would handle the economy, but Obama was ahead on questions of economic fairness and empathy with voters.

While Romney won a majority in a majority of states -- sweeping the south other than (probably) Florida, and easily winning Missouri and several other Midwestern states -- Obama dominated the two coasts and held what his campaign described as a "firewall" of Rust Belt states including Ohio, Michigan and Illinois.

Transcript: The president's acceptance speech

The tight races in Virginia and Florida – both of which experts had said Romney must win to keep alive his hopes in the electoral college race – were very close past midnight. And Romney was even with Obama in Ohio even as analysts -- citing votes yet to come in from traditionally Democratic strongholds -- called the state for Obama.

In the battle to control the Congress, Republicans were projected to maintain their majority in the U.S. House, which is 242-193 in this Congress.  (NBC News projected that Democrats were likely to pick up eight House seats.) That means that Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is likely to retain that post.

In the Senate, Democrats -- including U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, who was reelected in Missouri -- held on to enough seats and added others to maintain a majority. Democrats now hold a 53-47 majority; the exact number in the next Congress was not clear as of midnight, but Democrats clearly will not have a "filibuster-proof" 60-vote majority.

Update  On Wednesday, the Associated Press declared U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., the winner of his re-election race against GOP U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg. That means Democrats are guaranteed to have a bigger Senate majority next year, with at least 54 seats. If Democrat Heidi Heitkamp's narrow lead holds in North Dakota over Republican U.S. Rep. Rick Berg, the Democratic majority in the Senate would grow by two seats.  End Update 

Democratic women were adding to their numbers in the Senate, with consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren unseating incumbent GOP Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., and Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin elected as the first openly gay U.S. senator in American history.

Nationwide, there were record numbers of voters in some states. As the votes were being tallied, some questions were raised by voters and poll watchers at various sites – including in storm-ravaged New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida – where voting problems were reported. There remained potential for challenges in some states.

Obama, Romney battle to the end

The projected victory for Obama came after an eventful final day of the divisive and often negative election campaign. Obama spent the day in Chicago, greeting campaign workers, talking with a few voters by phone, giving brief satellite interviews to local television and radio stations in key swing states – and playing basketball with friends.

In an election-day interview with a Virginia TV station, Obama said he was satisfied with his campaign. “Overall, we’ve run a race we could be proud of,” Obama said. He added, however, that he should have had “a few more cups of coffee before the first debate.” Separately, the president told reporters that Romney should be congratulated for waging a “spirited campaign.”

Romney, keeping up a frenetic pace until the polls closed, made last-minute campaign stops in Cleveland, Ohio, and Pittsburgh, Pa. On the flight back to his headquarters in Boston, Romney told reporters that he had no regrets and was optimistic.

“I feel like we put it all on the field,” said Romney, according to the Associated Press. “We left nothing in the locker room. We fought to the very end and I think that's why we'll be successful.”

A Romney senior adviser, former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent of St. Louis, said Tuesday afternoon in Boston that “we feel like we've got a lot of momentum, and there are states we can win that we didn't think we could -- Wisconsin and Pennsylvania probably at the top of that list.” In the end, Romney lost those states.

Both Vice President Joe Biden and Romney’s running mate U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., also stopped in Cleveland Tuesday – with Air Force Two wedged at one point between the Romney and Ryan campaign aircraft. Biden stopped on his way to join Obama in Chicago for their election-night party at McCormick Place.

When Biden voted in his home state of Delaware in the morning, he gave an intriguing response when a reporter asked if it was the last time he expected to vote for himself. “No, I don’t think so,” said Biden, in what may be a hint about his 2016 presidential ambitions, although he quipped later that he might “run for county council or something.”

Romney wins Missouri handily; Republicans react

In Missouri, some Republicans appeared to be stung by the fact that Obama won reelection handily even though he lost Missouri to Romney by a margin of 53.8 percent to 44.3 percent. That was a much wider margin than GOP nominee Sen. John McCain's slim victory in Missouri four years earlier.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., an early Romney backer who had spearheaded the former governor's efforts on Capitol Hill, said late Tuesday that “Missourians voted for change in the White House, and I continue to believe that the status quo is unacceptable in Washington.”

In a Tweet, Blunt added: “I'll continue to hold President Obama accountable and work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to help jumpstart our economy.”

David Cole, chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, said after the vote that Missourians had “repudiated” Obama’s agenda by giving Romney a strong majority in the state.

“Millions of voters proudly cast their ballots for America’s Comeback Team of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, because they understand that a real recovery will only come from low taxes, economic policies that create jobs, sensible energy policies, reigning in the federal debt, and a strong military,” Cole said.

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