President Barack Obama rolled to re-election Tuesday night, vanquishing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney despite a weak economy that plagued his first term and put a crimp in the middle class dreams of millions.
“This happened because of you. Thank you” Obama tweeted to supporters in celebration.
Romney telephoned the president, then spoke to disappointed supporters in Boston. In a graceful concession, he summoned all Americans to pray for Obama and urged the night’s political winners to put partisan bickering aside and “reach across the aisle” to tackle the nation’s problems.
After the costliest — and arguably the nastiest — campaign in history, divided government seemed alive and well.
Democrats retained control of the Senate with surprising ease. Republicans did the same in the House, ensuring that Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Obama’s partner in unsuccessful deficit talks, would reclaim his seat at the bargaining table.
At Obama headquarters in Chicago, a huge crowd gathered waving small American flags and cheering. Supporters hugged each other, danced and pumped their fists in the air. Excited crowds also gathered in New York’s Times Square, at Faneuil Hall in Boston and near the White House in Washington, drivers joyfully honking as they passed by.
With returns from 79 percent of the nation’s precincts, Obama had 52.2 million, 49.5 percent. Romney had 51.7 million, 49 percent.
And the president’s laserlike focus on the battleground states allowed him to run up a 303-203 margin in the competition for electoral votes, where the White House is won or lost. It took 270 to win.
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 percent of voters surveyed as they left their polling places. But more said former President George W. Bush bore responsibility for current circumstances than Obama did after nearly four years in office.
That boded well for the president, who had worked to turn the election into a choice between his proposals and Romney’s, rather than a simple referendum on the economy during his time in the White House.
Unemployment stood at 7.9 percent on Election Day, higher than when he took office. And despite signs of progress, the economy is still struggling after the worst recession in history.
Obama captured Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado and Nevada, seven of the nine states where the rivals and their allies poured nearly $1 billion into dueling television commercials.
Romney won North Carolina among the battleground states. Florida was too close to call, Obama leading narrowly in a state where there were still long lines of voters at some polling places long after the appointed closing time.
Romney, who grew wealthy in business and ran the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City before entering politics, spoke only briefly to supporters, some of whom wept.
“I so wish that I had been able to fulfill your hopes to lead the country in a different direction,” he said. “But the nation chose another leader and so Ann and I join with you to earnestly pray for him and for this great nation.”
There was no doubt about what drove voters to one candidate or the other.
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.
In the battle for the Senate, Elizabeth Warren turned Republican
Scott Brown out of office in Massachusetts, and Rep. Joe Donnelly captured a seat from GOP hands in Indiana.
Deb Fischer picked up a seat for Republicans in Nebraska, defeating former Sen. Bob Kerrey.
In Maine, independent former Gov. Angus King was elected to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe. He has not yet said which party he will side with, but Republicans attacked him in television advertising during the race, and Democrats rushed to his cause.
In the presidential race, Obama won in the reliably Democratic Northeast and West Coast. Pennsylvania was his, too, despite two late campaign stops by Romney.
Romney won most of the South as well as much of the Rocky Mountain West and Farm Belt.