Overcoming powerful economic headwinds, President Barack Obama was re-elected Tuesday night in a contest that set the stage for continued confrontation with Congress over how to shape the nation's fiscal future. After receiving a call of concession from Republican challenger Mitt Romney, the president basked in the cheers of his supporters for a full two minutes before thanking his family, his partisans and lauding the campaign waged by Mr. Romney.
He said that the results reaffirmed his belief that, "We are an American family and we will rise and fall together as one nation."
After an often acrimonious campaign Mr. Obama said of Mr. Romney, "We battled fiercely but it's only because we love this country so deeply.
"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 States of America the best is yet to come."
"Thank you for believing all the way," he said. "Through every hill, through every valley. You lifted me up."
A few moments earlier, Mr. Romney had greeted his somber supporters in Boston, saying, "I pray the president will be successful in guiding our nation."
Romney praised his staff, his family and noted fondly that his wife, Ann, "would have been a great First Lady."
In his acceptance speech, the president thanked his wife, Michelle Obama. "I wouldn't be the man I am today without the woman who agreed to marry me 20 years ago."
Mr. Obama also praised the vice president as "America's happy warrior, the best vice president anybody could ever hope for, Joe Biden."
Mr. Obama won his first term in a historic election suffused with soaring rhetoric. The Democrat prevailed Tuesday after a less edifying struggle in which he and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney competed to portray one another as threats to the nation's future. Mr. Romney's efforts to equate unemployment and a lagging recovery with Obama policy failures fell short in one key state after another, however, as the president was on his way to a clear Electoral College victory.
As the counting went on, the tally of the popular vote remained less certain. The president finally climbed into a narrow advantage after trailing Mr. Romney most of the evening. After winding down the unpopular war in Iraq and presiding over the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, Mr. Obama came into the election with stronger foreign policy credentials than recent Democratic nominees. But public impatience with the pace of the economy remained his biggest hurdle to a second term. Exit polls joined every public survey over the last year in showing that the economy was by far the most dominant issue in the election.
The administration argued that its 2009 stimulus measure, passed with scant GOP support, staved off a still more damaging and lasting economic collapse. Democrats became more emboldened in recent months in talking up the virtues of the health care bill that was a lightning rod for criticism of the party in the 2010 midterm elections. But the president's campaign rested heavily on a months-long assault against Mr. Romney with hundreds of million of dollars invested in commercials that depicted him as a bloodless businessman who had enriched himself at the expense of ordinary workers.
The Romney campaign made a big late bet on Pennsylvania, a state both sides had largely ignored for most of the campaign. Mr. Romney made the final road stop of his five-year quest for the presidency in Pittsburgh, stopping for an eleventh-hour visit Tuesday afternoon to an Allegheny County GOP headquarters in Green Tree. Even more dramatic was the financial escalation as the campaign and its allies poured money into late advertising. But once again, Pennsylvania eluded a Republican nominee, making it more than a quarter century since the GOP was able to count on its electoral votes.
Republicans called the late move "expanding the map" of Mr. Romney's pathway to an electoral majority. Democrats called it desperation, insisting the Republicans were flailing around for new opportunities as their chances in the longtime battlegrounds, notably Ohio, began to look dimmer.
Mr. Romney's Pennsylvania hopes were buoyed by a massive turnout for a Bucks County rally in the eastern part of the state on the final weekend of the campaign. But early returns showed Mr. Obama running ahead there as well as in the other pivotal counties surrounding Philadelphia. Those results in tandem with Mr. Obama's anticipated strength in Philadelphia and Allegheny counties allowed the television networks to place the state's electoral votes in the Democratic column, continuing a streak unbroken since 1992.
Years of dismal economic news had prompted questions over whether the Obama forces could sustain the intensity and turnout levels of 2008. Philadelphia's results provided an affirmative answer as the president seemed on his way to coming out of the city with an even larger margin than he had amassed four years ago. Similar stories played out across the country as turnout levels met and exceeded the stratospheric levels of 2008.
Sen. Bob Casey was running slightly ahead of the president across the state. His re-election had been widely expected until his free-spending opponent, businessman Tom Smith, moved into apparent striking distance of the incumbent. But Mr. Casey overcame their spending imbalance in the closing weeks of the campaign, giving him a comfortable edge, and an early call from the networks.
Democratic candidates also swept the three state row offices on the ballot as Kathleen Kane defeated David Freed for attorney general, state Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-York, ran ahead of Upper St. Clair Rep. John Maher, and incumbent Treasurer Robert McCord easily held off a challenge from Washington County Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughan. Ms. Kane is the first woman and first Democrat to be elected the state's top prosecutor. Her victory, along with that of Mr. DePasquale, could spell headaches for Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who will for the first time be subject to the scrutiny of members of the opposite party armed with investigatory powers.
West Virginia fell to the Romney column early, making it the fourth election in a row in which the once reliably Democratic state had voted for the GOP presidential nominee. Mountain State voters were kinder to Democrats closer to home as they gave U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin a comfortable re-election.
As always, the election turned on a relative handful of battleground states. And as the Obama campaign demonstrated in its epic nomination victory over Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2008, his strategists knew the rules of the game. In one battleground state after another, the Obama campaign never left after their 2008 triumph, instead leaving the structure on the ground that would be fleshed out again as 2012 approached for a ground game that significantly more extensive than the Republicans.
Pivotal Ohio was a prime example. Only Michigan has a higher proportion of auto-related jobs than the Buckeye State, and the Democrats were relentless in reminding voters that Mr. Romney had opposed the federal bailout that allowed the manufacturers to return to health. The issue gave the Obama campaign an issue to appeal to working-class white voters who were a challenge to the incumbent's campaign in states across the country.
Ohio fell to the Democrats along with all of the other heavily contested states of the Midwest and Northeast. Mr. Romney captured North Carolina. Florida was still being contested.
Exit polls showed the younger voters formed roughly the same share of the electorate as in 2008, easing a key concern of the Obama campaign. The early exit polls, which are an incomplete survey of the entire electorate also indicated that Latino voters represented a slightly larger share of the total than in 2008.
Democrats also hoped to battle back from the devastating legislative losses they suffered at the state and federal levels in the GOP's 2010 landslide. Pennsylvania voters were tough on congressional incumbents in each of the last three election cycles, but last night favored the status quo. The conspicuous exception was the 12th Congressional District, where Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown, fell short in fending off a challenge from Republican Keith Rothfus in a race where third party spending fueled an extraordinarily expensive contest. As the counting began, no other Pennsylvania incumbent appeared in danger.
Earlier in the year, national Democrats talked optimistically about recapturing the U.S. House majority they lost two years ago, but their hopes of capturing the 25 seats needed to seize the speakers' gavel appeared to have faded before yesterday's balloting began. Republicans, by the same token, had once been confident of taking over the majority in the Senate, as 23 of the 33 seats in the chamber at stake this year were held by Democrats. But Majority Leader Harry Reid's job -- and a thin Democratic majority -- seemed secure Tuesday night.
In part, Democrats could thank conservative Republicans and tea party activists who were successful in several states, notably Indiana and Missouri, in nominating conservative champions over more moderate Republicans who might have been stronger candidates. The classic example of that phenomenon was the primary in which the veteran Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, was denied his party nomination by Richard Mourdock, who went on to lose to Democrat Joe Donnelly even as Mr. Romney was carrying Indiana.
The collective results promised a continuation of the divided government that has produced near paralysis in Washington since the 2010 power shuffle. The stakes in the standoff will be still more significant as a series of fiscal deadlines loom at the end of the year. The include the expiration of the Bush-era tax rates, and the automatic and severe spending cuts that would be imposed in the absence of a deficit cutting deal.
Politics Editor James O'Toole: email@example.com or 412-263-1562. First Published November 7, 2012 6:00 AM