Obama pulls out reelection in hard-fought battle
WASHINGTON — With Ohioans casting the decisive votes, President Obama was reelected Tuesday in a hard-fought battle with Mitt Romney that turned out to be nearly as close as advertised.
Network projections of an Obama victory in the perennial swing state of Ohio, shortly after 8:10 p.m. PST, put the nation’s first black president over the top in an uphill second-term fight in a country slowly recovering from the worst economic downtown since the Depression.
Thousands of Obama supporters at a victory celebration in Chicago erupted in cheers when the race was called, and a boisterous crowd quickly gathered in front of the White House as it did on election night four years ago.
The final minutes of a presidential contest that remained extremely tight for months were not without controversy. Romney strategists, closeted with their candidate at a Boston hotel, resisted the conclusion that the race was over, and the former Massachusetts governor did not immediately concede the election. The Romney camp was looking at official returns from Ohio that showed a margin of fewer than 15,000 votes, out of more than 4.3 million cast, separating the two men.
Their hesitation was bolstered, for a time, by former George W. Bush strategist Karl Rove, now a Fox News commentator, who conjured up memories of the news media’s premature decision to give Florida to Al Gore on the night of the 2000 election. Rove soon backed away, conceding that his network’s decision desk, which along with the other networks and the Associated Press called Ohio for Obama, had more information than he did.
Less than an hour later, the president carried Nevada and Colorado, making the dispute about Ohio irrelevant. Obama had amassed more than enough electoral votes to win without Ohio, or the largest battleground — Florida, which remained too close to call.
As expected, Obama also took the swing states of Iowa, New Hampshire and Wisconsin. He also repeated his 2008 victory in Virginia and carried the heavily Democratic West Coast and Northeast, as well as Illinois, Maryland and Hawaii.
Romney’s late play for Pennsylvania, a state no Republican has carried since 1988, fell short. The GOP nominee also lost his home state of Massachusetts and his native Michigan.
Romney, however, turned the electoral map red across a vast stretch of the South, Great Plains and much of the Mountain West. He won North Carolina and Indiana back from Obama, who had carried those states in 2008.
Defeats in Massachusetts and Wisconsin made Romney and his running mate, Paul D. Ryan, the first major party ticket to lose their home states since Democrats George McGovern and Sargent Shriver in the 1972 Nixon landslide.
Earlier in the day, both candidates delivered bullish remarks about their prospects, even as they were scrapping for every last advantage through media interviews that were beamed to battleground states and campaign events in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
During a visit to a local campaign office in his hometown of Chicago, the president congratulated Romney on “a spirited campaign.” Obama said he was “confident we’ve got the votes to win, that it’s going to depend ultimately on whether those votes turn out.”
Romney campaigned with Ryan in Ohio, the archetypal swing state that played a central role again this year. At one point Tuesday, both members of the Republican ticket and Vice President Joe Biden were in Cleveland at the same time.
PHOTOS: America goes to the polls“You know, intellectually I’ve felt we’re going to win this and have felt that for some time,” Romney told reporters aboard his campaign plane on a flight back to Boston after a final stop in Pittsburgh. “We left nothing in the locker room. We fought to the very end. And I think that’s why we will be successful.”
But Romney acknowledged that his efforts could fall short. “The prospect of losing, I don’t give that a lot of thought. I know it’s possible,” said the former Massachusetts governor. “There’s nothing certain in politics, but I have, of course, a family and a life that are important to me, win or lose.”
For Obama, 51, gaining a second term during a weak economic recovery proved even more difficult than his historic selection as the nation’s first African American president four years ago.
The reelection drive bore only a faint resemblance to the “hope and change” campaign that brought him to power in 2008, a time of deepening financial crisis and voter dissatisfaction after eight years of a Republican administration.
This time, Obama abandoned his high-minded appeal in favor of a preemptive, bare-knuckled attempt to disqualify his Republican challenger.
Throughout the summer, the president and his “super PAC” allies unleashed a relentless attack on Romney’s character, his reluctance to more fully disclose his personal taxes, his career as a private-equity executive at Bain Capital and his conservative stance on abortion rights and contraception. Independent fact-checkers judged more than a few of Obama’s charges as whoppers, including his claim that Romney, as governor, outsourced jobs to China, and an inflated figure for the annual cost to seniors of Romney’s Medicare overhaul plan.
In its overall thrust, the anti-Romney effort was similar to the ultimately successful campaign waged by President George W. Bush and the Republicans against Democratic challenger John F. Kerry in the tight 2004 election, which returned a threatened incumbent to the White House. That election, the first of the post-9/11 era, revolved largely around national security and fighting global terrorism.
In this year’s campaign, national security played no significant role. Republicans were unable to go after Obama with one of their most reliable anti-Democratic themes — weakness on defense policy. The president had essentially inoculated himself with a successful gamble: ordering the military mission that killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011.
Instead, the economy and jobs were the overwhelming concerns of American voters, with nearly 8% unemployment on election day, a slightly higher rate than when Obama took office.
For months, the president’s effort to distract attention from economic issues appeared to be working, thanks largely to the continued negative assault on Romney and a successful Democratic convention. The early September convention in Charlotte, N.C., was highlighted by former President Clinton’s persuasive defense of Obama’s record and contention that a President Romney would merely revive the policies that had gotten the country into economic trouble in the first place.
Still, Romney rallied in the final month of the campaign, and found increasing success in framing the election as a classic referendum on the incumbent president’s handling of his job. Romney never fully fleshed out his plans for the next four years, but he managed to put Obama on the defensive over the president’s failure to lay out a detailed second-term agenda.
The turning point in Romney’s favor, by all accounts, came Oct. 3 in Denver, when the two men met onstage for the first time. One of the largest TV debate audiences in history magnified the importance of the event, as did subsequent media coverage, virtually all of it highly favorable to Romney.
That night, Romney, a veteran of nearly 20 GOP primary debates, gave a commanding performance. To viewers, many of whom were getting their first close-up look at him, Romney came across as presidential. Obama, by contrast, appeared passive and, in the judgment of those polled afterward, lost the debate decisively. The event provided a major lift to Republican spirits, while doing little to turn around flagging enthusiasm for Obama among many of his 2008 supporters.
But Obama closed the gap in the final weeks of the campaign. An October surprise, in the form of one of the fiercest coastal storms to strike the mid-Atlantic in memory, allowed Obama to step away from the campaign grind and back into his role as president.
With polls showing one of the tightest presidential races ever, Obama gained ground with voters in the final days before the election, polls showed. Even Republicans said Superstorm Sandy had helped his reelection chances by denying Romney a final foothold.
But it is steps that Obama took earlier — in 2009, with the auto industry bailout; in the election year, with a decision to offer a limited form of amnesty to young undocumented immigrants; and his all-out effort to plant doubts about Romney in the minds of persuadable voters — that were more likely to make a difference with voters.
Romney, meantime, was seeking to become the first Republican to unseat a Democratic incumbent since Ronald Reagan in 1980.
The 65-year-old Republican nominee zeroed in on Obama’s handling of the economy during the country’s halting climb from the depths of the deepest recession since the Depression of the 1930s.
Romney, whose only previous government experience was a single term as governor of Massachusetts, was the first Mormon to head a major-party ticket, and his election would be seen as a breakthrough for that uniquely American religion. Romney formerly served as a bishop of the church and donated generously of his time and money to it. But unlike John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism in the 1960 campaign, Romney’s faith was never an overt issue in the election.
His 6-year-long presidential quest was an intensely personal one for Romney. He idolized his late father, George Romney, a popular three-term governor of Michigan whose 1968 run for the GOP presidential nomination met with failure. On his plane Tuesday, Romney said he regretted that his parents weren’t around to be part of his campaign, but added, “I hope they’re able to watch in their own way.”
Romney had tried unsuccessfully for his party’s nomination in 2008. He spent more than $42 million of his own money in that losing effort, but came away with a seasoned team of campaign aides and valuable personal experience as a national candidate.
With a personal fortune estimated at between $190 million and $240 million or more, Romney was one of the wealthiest men to seek the White House.
After serving as a relatively moderate governor, Romney went where the votes were during the GOP primaries, running to the right on issues such as abortion, immigration and taxes. He wrapped up the nomination only after a prolonged and expensive fight that strained his campaign’s resources (he gave just $5,000 of his own money to his campaign, while collecting more than $390 million in contributions), and that left him at an initial disadvantage against Obama.
During the summer Romney fell behind in the polls, before his early October rally.
The challenger’s overarching message of change was pitted against Obama’s campaign of trust, a choice that sharply divided the country and led many in both parties to predict that the election would be one of the closest in history.