President Obama wins four more years as America delivers decisive verdict
- guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 7 November 2012 03.57 EST
Barack Obama promised the American people that the ‘the best is yet to come” as he accepted a second term in the White House after easily beating off the challenge from his Republican rival, Mitt Romney.With a second chance to fulfill some of the expectations that greeted his election in 2008, Obama used his soaring victory speech at a rally in Chicago– by far his best of the entire campaign – to press for a bipartisan approach to politics and returned once again to his theme of hope.Stepping up to the lectern to the upbeat strains of Stevie Wonder’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours, Obama told the ecstatic crowd of supporters: “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 Statesof America the best is yet to come.”In a speech that lasted more than 25 minutes, after paying emotional tribute to his wife Michelle and his daughters Malia and Sasha – as well as to his vice-president, Joe Biden – Obama returned to the message that first brought him to national attention.”We are not as divided as our politics suggests,” he said. “We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and forever will be, the United States of America.”Obama made clear he had an agenda in mind for his second term, 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 needed to negotiate a new fiscal plan that avoided massive cuts in defence 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.
When he finished his speech, Obama was joined on stage by Biden, whom Obama called “America’s happy warrior”. 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.”
The address was the finale to a night that had begun with many of the swing states too close to call but ended with an overwhelming victory as Obama held seven of the nine battlegrounds upon which his presidency had been founded. With votes still being counted in Florida, Romney managed to secure victory in just one state, North Carolina.
After one of the most closely fought and polarised campaigns in recent history, Obama held Ohio, Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa and Wisconsin.
Shortly before 1am ET, Romney phoned the president to concede. In a gracious concession speech in Boston, Romney told his supporters: “The nation, as you know, is at a critical point. 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.”
He continued: “This is a time for great challenges for America and I pray the president will be successful in guiding our nation.”
Romney paid tribute to his wife, Ann, and running mate, Paul Ryan, as he said they had given everything to the campaign. “Paul and I have left everything on the field. We have given our all to this campaign. I so wish – 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.
Obama, in a speech that saw a return to the kind of oratory he produced regularly on the campaign trail in 2008, offered a practical example of the kind of bipartisanship he had in mind, saying he had offered to sit down with Romney in the coming weeks to see if they could work together.
He was gracious about Romney, talking not only about his challenger but his father, the former governor of Michigan. “The Romney family has chosen to give back to America through public service,” Obama said.
Obama now has the chance to build a real legacy – his victory on healthcare reform – but also to preside over a possible US economic recovery. Obama has also promised to make immigration reform a priority along with major investment in education.
But he faces immediate challenges, not least finding a way to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff of tax rises and automatic spending cuts that are due to kick in at the end of the year. As in his first term, he will have to deal with a hostile, Republican-led House of Representatives.
Republican activists were stunned by suddenness with which victory was declared for Obama. At a so-called ‘victory party’ in Tampa, there was a stampede for the door when the announcement came.
Among those who remained was Brad Evans. “I really don’t know what happened,” he said. “He should have hit Obama a bit harder on Libya.”
Summer Turner simply refused to accept reality. “I remember going to bed crying when they declared Al Gore the winner and I remember waking up and he was no longer the winner. So I don’t believe it,” she said.
The campaign almost throughout has been a referendum on Obama. Although there was widespread disillusionment with the slow pace of economy recovery and a high unemployment level, Americans decided to stick with the incumbent.
Historically, it would have been a disappointment for African-Americans and many white liberals if the first black presidency had ended in failure, halted prematurely.
Romney fought a largely lacklustre campaign, with only one flash, his overwhelming win over Obama in the first presidential debate on 3 October.
The Republicans now face a lengthy period of bloodletting.
While some rightwingers will argue the defeat is because Romney was not conservative enough, there is a new generation of younger Republicans such as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio who will lead the argument for a new, inclusive coalition that will welcome women, Latinos and African Americans. Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, unlikely to be tarnished despite running on a losing ticket, is also likely to be part of the debate.
Conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer said he had always regarded Romney as being no more than “a transitional figure”.
Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential challenger in 2008 and one of the undeclared leaders of the Tea Party movement, told Fox she could not believe “the majority of Americans would do this”. She added: “It’s a perplexing time for many of us right now.”
Romney secured at least one consolation prize when he took North Carolina, an unexpected win in the south by Obama in 2008.
The rightwing commentator Erick Erickson saw the loss of Pennsylvania as crucial. “At this point, I am thinking game over,” he tweeted.
Turnout was reported to be at record levels in many states, reflecting the strength of feeling aroused by the long election campaign. There were still long queues of people waiting to vote after polls had officially closed.
Early exit polls showed the economy was the dominant issue for voters, with four out of 10 saying the economy was getting better – more than in 2008. Forty-six per cent said the country was headed in the right direction, while 52% said it was on the wrong track. More than half of those surveyed blamed the economic mess on George W Bush.
Asked about what they regarded as the biggest economic issue, 40% said unemployment, 37% rising prices, 13% taxes and 8% the housing market.
Eight out of 10 said they had made up their minds who to vote for in September, suggesting that neither Romney’s victory in the first presidential debate nor Obama’s widely praised handling of Sandy were major factors.
Final estimates show the election was the most expensive in US history, with Obama having raised close to $1bn and Romney more than $800m. When figures for spending by supporters – mainly by the Super Pacs – are included, the total is well over $2billion.