Obama victory makes history again

2012-11-07 05:55

President Barack Obama has swept to re-election, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney.

The 44th US president, and the first African American to claim the Oval Office, was returned to power after a bitter election campaign when television networks projected he would take Ohio and his spiritual political home of Iowa.

“This happened because of you. Thank you,” Obama tweeted to his 22 million followers on Twitter as jubilation erupted at his victory party in Chicago.

Obama became only the second Democrat to secure two White House terms since World War II, but exit polls revealed a deeply divided electorate and seemed to ensure a renewal of the polarisation that has gridlocked Washington.

Large crowds suddenly materialised at the White House, chanting “Four more years” and “Obama, Obama” as drivers cruising the streets of Washington honked their horns.

Supporters awaiting the president’s victory speech at a Chicago convention centre, said they could not find words to express their joy.

But once the euphoria fades, the president will face a tough task enacting his second term agenda, after Republicans, who have thwarted his every step, retained control of the House of Representatives.

Democrats kept the Senate but fell short of the 60-vote super majority needed to pass major legislation over Republican blocking tactics.

With a clutch of swing states, including Florida and Virginia still to be declared, Obama already had 290 electoral votes, more than the 270 needed for the White House, and he looked set for an even more comfortable victory.

There was no immediate concession from Romney, who remained out-of-sight in a Boston hotel, where he was expected to address disappointed supporters.

Obama paved the way to victory with a staunch defense of Democratic bastions in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, at which Romney had taken a last minute run when he saw more conventional paths to victory blocked.

The win in Iowa will be especially sweet for Obama, as the heartland state nurtured his unlikely White House dreams way back in 2007 and a tear rolled down his cheek as he held his last ever campaign rally there late 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 and which Romney opposed.

Obama, who took power as a prophet of hope, won re-election with a fiercely negative campaign, as he branded Romney, a former multi-millionaire corporate turnaround wizard as indifferent to the woes of the middle class.

Prior to Obama’s victory, no president in 70 years had won re-election with the unemployment rate above 7.4%. Although the economy has created more than five million jobs since the Great Recession, the rate is now 7.9%.

Exit polls showed that though only 39% 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 ran for re-election on a platform of offering a “fair shot” to the middle class, of fulfilling his pledge to end the war in Iraq, killing Osama bin Laden, and of building a clean energy economy.

The president’s coalition of Hispanic, African American and young voters, defied expectations and turned out in similar numbers to his euphoric change-fueled campaign in 2008, shocking Romney’s team.

Latino voters in particular helped Obama to victory in the desert state of Nevada, and in the Rocky Mountains state of Colorado, US television networks projected.

Republicans had insisted right up to election day that Obama’s army, disaffected by busted expectations for his first term, would stay home, and had predicted instead a late Republican wave that would elevate Romney.

Looking ahead
Now, Obama will get the chance to protect his historic reforms of healthcare and Wall Street and may have the chance to shape the Supreme Court for a generation, with several vacancies on the bench expected to arise.

Obama will also likely look abroad as he builds his legacy, but will face an immediate challenge early in 2013 and a possible decision whether to use military force to thwart Iran’s nuclear program.

More immediately, at home, Obama will face a swift showdown with Republicans on Capitol Hill, on the so-called “fiscal cliff” involving the expiry of Bush-era tax cuts and a need to raise the US debt ceiling.

Ruinous budget cuts designed to trim the ballooning deficit, which could tip the economy into recession, are also about to come due, unless
Obama can reach a deal with Republicans, who have opposed him tooth and nail for four years.

Obama and Romney had waged an ill-tempered campaign, and clashed in three highly contentious debates, as the president acted as a warrior for the middle class and the Republican said he was out of ideas for creating jobs.

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 publicly pull the levers of government.

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