Winning a second term in a closely divided election, President Barack Obama said Wednesday that Americas common bond can help the country overcome its biggest disagreements, because thats who we are.
Thats the country I'm so proud to lead as your president, Obama told a jubilant crowd of supporters in Chicago just before 2 a.m. And tonight, despite all the hardship weve been through, despite all the frustrations of Washington, I've never been more hopeful about our future.
The election was a referendum on who could better ease Americans economic anxiety, and Obama appealed to voters for more time to fix the problems he inherited. Republican challenger Mitt Romney asserted that Obama had made the problems worse and promoted his own business experience as the solution.
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.
Obama, who was to return to the White House on Wednesday afternoon, said he looked forward to sitting down with Romney in the coming weeks to begin to address the nations looming challenges, including a set of automatic spending cuts and tax increases.
Romney conceded just before 1 a.m. in Boston. This is a time of great challenges for America and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation, the former Massachusetts governor said.
It was a close election to the finish. Obama defeated Romney with more than 300 electoral votes and broke 50 percent of the popular vote.
Saying that the best for America was yet to come, Obama concluded, We can seize this future together, because we are not as divided as our politics suggest.
But Washington the day after the election remained divided: a Democratic president, a Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a Democratic-majority Senate.
The president will have to work with the same Republican leaders who opposed his major policy initiatives, from the economic stimulus and health care to climate change and immigration reform.
"Now it's time for the president to propose solutions that actually have a chance of passing the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a closely divided Senate, step up to the plate on the challenges of the moment, and deliver in a way that he did not in his first four years in office, said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
During the campaign, Republicans alienated key constituencies, including women and Latinos, who were crucial to the presidents victory. They lost Senate seats in Massachusetts and Indiana and failed to capture others from vulnerable Democrats.
Obama held together the same coalition that put him in the White House in 2008. He widened his lead among Latinos, the nations fastest-growing minority group. He also maintained his overwhelming support from African-Americans and won a majority of women and young people.
Obama, the second Democrat to win a second term since World War II, won 26 states and the District of Columbia, sweeping the Northeast and West Coast and winning most of the Rust Belt battlegrounds, including Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. He held onto states in the interior West with fast-growing Hispanic populations, such as Nevada and Colorado.
Two states Obama won last time _ North Carolina and Indiana _ went to Romney.
Romney won 23 states in all, largely dependably Republican states across the South and into Texas and the Great Plains. Obama held a 46,000-vote lead in Florida early Wednesday.
Turnout was reported heavy. Experts still expected it to remain below 2008 levels, finding voters less engaged. About 32 million people had voted early, either in person or by mail.
Obamas vote total early Wednesday stood at 50 percent to Romneys 48 percent, with 97 percent of precincts reporting.
Romney, who is 65 and has pursued the presidency twice without success, made no announcement of his immediate plans, but his wife, Ann, earlier indicated that this campaign would be his last.
Obama took office in January 2009 with a mandate to revive an economy still struggling to recover from the Great Recession of 2007-2009, the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Six of 10 voters Tuesday said the economy was the most important issue, well ahead of health care or foreign policy. Three of four voters said the economy remained poor or not so good.
Obama touted the economys steady progress on his watch. Romney cited stubbornly high unemployment and mounting federal debt as he argued the recoverys pace was too slow. In exit polls, slightly more than half said Obama was more in touch with people like them, compared with 44 percent for Romney.
Obama was dogged throughout the year by voters expressing qualms about his stewardship of the economy. He was unlikely to match the nearly 53 percent share of the popular vote he got in 2008, or match the 365 electoral votes he won that year.
Obama was vulnerable from the beginning. Within weeks of taking office he pushed through an $831 billion economic stimulus plan aimed at easing the recessions impact. In 2010, he won approval of a historic overhaul of the nations health system, which will require nearly everyone to obtain coverage by 2014.
Both measures were passed with virtually no Republican support and often bitter partisan wrangling. Republicans saw a huge political opening, and fueled by the grassroots tea party movement, the party won control of Congress in 2010 by protesting what it called Obamas over reliance on and expansion of government.
At the same time, the economy struggled to recover. The nations unemployment rate, 7.8 percent the month Obama took office, went to 10 percent that October and was 7.9 percent last month more ammunition for the Republicans.
Obama, though, got some breaks. The economy did recover. Unemployment has dropped from its highs. Consumer confidence inched up. And Romney struggled at first to win the hearts of the conservative base of the Republican Party.
Obama exploited Romneys past, recalling his support of Massachusetts abortion rights laws and his support for the states health care law, considered a model for the federal program.
Romney won the nomination only after an unexpected struggle against a weak field, and not until the summer and fall did the party base begin rallying around him. The choice of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, a rising young party leader, helped energize the right, but Romneys biggest boost came during the Oct. 3 debate in Denver.
Romneys assured performance that night galvanized conservative support and seemed to give him new momentum. He briefly opened up a larger lead over Obama, only to see it fade as the president came back and did well in the next two debates.
By David Lightman and Curtis Tate