|Best is yet to come, says victorious Obama
WASHINGTON Glowing with triumph, President Barack Obama revived his old theme of hope on Wednesday, telling Americans “the best is yet to come” after defying dark economic omens with a decisive re-election win.
The 44th US president and the first African-American to claim the Oval Office was returned to power after a joyless election which appears to have deepened, rather than healed, his nation’s political divide.
“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,” Obama, 51, said at a victory party in Chicago.
“I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope,” Obama said, striving for inspiration rarely shown in a campaign where the prophet of hope of 2008 became a conventional, brawling politician.
“I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting,” Obama said.
With only Florida among the battleground states still to be declared, Obama had 303 electoral votes — well over the 270 needed to win the White House — and Republican challenger Romney formally conceded the race.
Obama had a slim lead in the national popular vote, leading Romney by 50 per cent to 49 per cent after drawing more than 56 million votes. Turnout appeared strong, though official figures had yet to be released.
As Obama’s victory was confirmed with wins in rustbelt Ohio and his spiritual political home in Iowa, large crowds suddenly materialized outside the White House, chanting “four more years” and “O-bama, O-bama.”
Obama also thanked Mitt Romney on a spirited campaign.
Romney, 65, deflated and exhausted, offered a classy tribute, as he consoled dejected supporters in Boston moments after phoning Obama to formally concede.
“This is a time of great challenges for America and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation.” Romney said.
In a show of bipartisanship after a searing campaign, the president said he wanted to meet his vanquished foe to find common ground to move America forward.
Obama’s victory means that he will get the chance to embed his healthcare and Wall Street reforms deep into the fabric of American life — Romney had pledged one of his first acts would be the repeal of Obamacare.
The president may also get the chance to reshape the Supreme Court in his liberal image for a generation, a move that would shape policy on issues like abortion and gay rights.
The president will also look abroad as he builds his legacy, and will face an immediate challenge early in 2013 over whether to use military force to thwart Iran’s nuclear programme.
Obama’s win on Tuesday bucked history, as it came with the unemployment rate pegged at 7.9 per cent, the highest level for a re-elected president in more than 70 years.
The president paved the way to victory with a staunch defence of Democratic bastions in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, at which Romney had made a last-minute run when he saw more conventional paths to the White House blocked.
Obama also locked in swing states, including Virginia — where he became the first Democrat to win since 1964 four years ago — Nevada, Ohio, New Hampshire, Colorado and Iowa, crushing Romney’s slim hopes of a viable path to victory.
Romney could only wrestle Indiana and North Carolina from Obama’s 2008 map.
The win in Iowa will be especially sweet for Obama, as the heartland state nurtured his unlikely White House dreams way back in 2007. A tear rolled down his cheek as he held his last-ever campaign rally there late on Monday.
His victory in Ohio represents a delayed repayment for his gutsy call in 2009 to mandate a federal bailout of the auto industry, on which one in eight jobs in the state depend. Romney had opposed the move.
Obama won with a fiercely negative campaign branding Romney — a multi-millionaire former corporate turnaround wizard — as indifferent to the woes of the middle class.
Exit polls showed that though only 39 per cent of people believed that the economy was improving, around half of Americans blamed former Republican president George W. Bush for the tenuous situation, and not Obama.
Obama’s victory was a complete vindication for a campaign team that had predicted a close but winnable election, despite the painful after-effects of the deepest economic crisis since the 1930s Great Depression.
The president may have been helped at the 11th hour when superstorm Sandy roared ashore, killing more than 100 Americans but giving Obama the chance to project leadership at the head of a multi-state disaster response.
Emboldened by a resounding victory, Obama immediately pledged to reach across America’s political divide and seek deals on stubborn issues that dogged his first term.
“You voted for action, not politics as usual,” Obama said, calling for compromise and pledging to work with leaders of both parties to reduce the deficit, to reform the tax code and immigration laws, and to cut dependence on foreign oil.
The problems that dogged Obama in his first term, which cast a long shadow over his 2008 election message of hope and change, still confront him. He must tackle the $1 trillion annual deficits, reduce a $16 trillion national debt, overhaul expensive social programs and deal with the split Congress.
The immediate focus for Obama and US lawmakers will be to confront the “fiscal cliff,” a mix of tax increases and spending cuts due to extract some $600 billion from the economy at the end of the year barring a deal with Congress.
Romney came back from a series of campaign stumbles to fight a close battle after besting Obama in the first of three presidential debates.
The nationwide popular vote remained extremely close with Obama taking about 50 per cent to 49 per cent for Romney after a campaign in which the candidates and their party allies spent a combined $2 billion. But in the state-by-state system of electoral votes that decides the White House, Obama notched up a comfortable victory.
Early on Wednesday, Obama had 303 electoral votes, well over the 270 needed to win, to Romney’s 206. Florida’s close race was not yet declared, leaving its 29 electoral votes still to be claimed.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell gave no sign that he was willing to concede his conservative principles, in a sign of potential confrontations ahead.
“The voters have not endorsed the failures or excesses of the president’s first term, they have simply given him more time to finish the job they asked him to do together with a Congress that restored balance to Washington after two years of one-party control,” McConnell said.
Obama’s win puts to rest the prospect of wholesale repeal of his 2010 healthcare reform law, which aims to widen the availability of health insurance coverage to Americans, but it still leaves questions about how much of his signature domestic policy achievement will be implemented.
Obama must continue his efforts to ignite strong growth and recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s. An uneven recovery has been showing some signs of strength but the country’s jobless rate, currently at 7.9 per cent, remains stubbornly high.
In keeping control of the 100-member Senate, Democrats seized Republican-held seats in Massachusetts and Indiana while keeping most of those they already had, including in Virginia and Missouri.
The Republican majority in the 435-member House means that Congress still faces a deep partisan divide as it turns to the fiscal cliff and other issues.
While the Senate result was no surprise, Republicans had given themselves an even chance of winning a majority, so the night represented a disappointment for them.