President Barack Obama secured a second term by a healthy electoral vote margin late Tuesday and vowed reconciliation and bipartisanship for a still-divided nation.
Before a raucous crowd of 10,000 in Chicago, Obama reached out to those who voted for Republican Mitt Romney and said he would emerge from the campaign as a better leader, alluding to the fiscal crises that await before the end of the year.
“I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggest,” the president said in a 20-minute speech. “We are not as cynical as the pundits believe.”
But the Congress remains sharply split as the election maintained the status quo: Obama in the White House, Republicans running the House and Democrats holding the Senate. The result of an epic $6 billion election was to retain the government Americans claim to be dissatisfied with – but can’t agree on how to change.
The clashes that have consumed his presidency almost from the start are healthy, Obama said.
“When we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs up passions and controversy,” he said. “That won’t change tonight, and it shouldn’t.
“These arguments we had are a mark of our liberty,” the president said, “and we can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for the chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.”
Obama promised to sit down with Romney in the coming weeks to talk about ways they can work together.
In closing Obama recalled the words that launched him onto the national stage as the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, saying America is not a nation of red states or blue states, “We are the United States of America.”
About a half hour before Obama took the stage, Romney delivered a gracious concession speech in Boston laced with calls for reconciliation.
“The nation as you know is at a critical point,” Romney said. “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. And we citizens also have to rise to the occasion.”
He issued a plea to business leaders as well as politicians, saying. “We look to job creators of all kinds. We’re counting on you to invest, to hire, to step forward.”
Romney, who ran behind Obama for almost the entire campaign, closed the gap substantially in the final month after a dominating performance in their first debate.
Though Obama’s Electoral College margin was substantial, including a sweep of nearly all the swing states, the popular vote was close.
His second-term challenge will be finding a way to make policy in the face of a fractured electorate. Divided government pushed the nation to the brink in the 2011 debt ceiling standoff; after that, little serious policy was made as both parties began to campaign in earnest.
Obama campaigned on raising taxes on the wealthy as part of a “balanced” plan to reduce the deficit, but Republicans gave no sign Tuesday night of a willingness to do so.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, certainly provided no hint of movement toward compromise in a speech to supporters Tuesday night.
“With this vote, the American people have also made clear that there is no mandate for raising tax rates,” he said.
“What Americans want are solutions that will ease the burden on small businesses, bring jobs home, and let our economy grow.”
The clash will come to a head in the next two months: A cavalcade of tax increases and spending cuts are due at year’s end. Experts agree that so-called “fiscal cliff” could throw the country back into recession without a deal to avert it.
Democrats’ hand will be somewhat strengthened in the Senate, but Republicans will still have the numbers to mount a filibuster — as they have done at record rates.
“We have big challenges facing us in the months ahead. Democrats and Republicans must come together, and show that we are up to the challenge,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement.
Obama himself admitted during the campaign that he has not been able to change the culture of Washington as he had hoped and promised during his sensational rise to power in 2008.
The White House has visibly aged the 51-year-old president, and this campaign was conducted in far more prosaic terms than his first, with a narrower path to victory.
But Obama prevailed by holding together his coalition of young voters, Latinos and African Americans – who turned out in droves. And according to exit polls he grabbed a significant advantage over Romney among women. He swept nearly all of the closely contested states, though he won fewer in all than four years ago.
He successfully cast Romney as a creature of the past and of the rich, someone out of touch with the struggles of the middle class. Obama also campaigned on a grab bag of specific issues with little overarching thematic coherence: his successful order to assassinate Osama bin Laden; his difficult decision to bail out the auto industry; an executive order to provide legal status to some Latinos; his dedication to protecting abortion rights.
Georgia backed Romney by a wide margin. The state has not gone to a Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton in 1992, and Romney’s margin over Obama was wider than John McCain’s in 2008.
In the state’s most watched congressional race, Rep. John Barrow D-Augusta, triumphed in his attempt to survive as the lone white Democrat from the Deep South. Meanwhile, Republican Doug Collins cruised to victory in a newly created district. The state’s Congressional delegation now stands at nine Republicans and five Democrats.
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