President Barack Obama sprinted easily to re-election Tuesday, largely by holding his firewall in the Midwest and securing the majority of late-deciding voters over the last weekend of the campaign.
As of press time, Obama had won 303 electoral votes to Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s 206. Florida was still too close to call.
Obama also won the popular vote. With 97 percent of the vote counted, the president had won 50 percent of the ballots, or 59.6 million votes, to Romney’s 48 percent, or 57 million votes.
The president also pulled a repeat victory in Wisconsin, though his vote totals were decidedly down from his 2008 margin, hovering in the single digits. He won by 14 percent in 2008.
Closer to home, Romney carried both Oneida and Vilas counties, but it was a tale of two different counties. Romney was on cruise control in Vilas, scoring a resounding 59-40-percent win, but he only squeaked by in Oneida County, 51-48 percent. That holds with a recent pattern showing Oneida County trending more Democratic.
While pundits had expected a long and late night awaiting results, the election was actually called by 10:30 p.m. Central time. Obama’s win in Wisconsin was called less than a half hour after the polls had closed.
The best is yet to come
In accepting his victory in Chicago, the president promised America that the best was yet to come.
“Tonight, more than 200 years after a former colony won the right to determine its own destiny, the task of perfecting our union moves forward,” Obama declared. “It moves forward because of you. It moves forward because you reaffirmed the spirit that has triumphed over war and depression, the spirit that has lifted this country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope, the belief that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family, and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.”
America, he said, was poised for its best successes.
“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,” Obama said.
Obama also had conciliatory words for his defeated challenger, and said he would sit down with Romney in the coming weeks to discuss the nation’s challenges.
“We may have battled fiercely, but it’s only because we love this country deeply and we care so strongly about its future,” Obama said.
Despite all the political differences in the land, the president said, most of us share certain hopes for America’s future.
“We want our kids to grow up in a country where they have access to the best schools and the best teachers – a country that lives up to its legacy as the global leader in technology and discovery and innovation – with all of the good jobs and new businesses that follow. We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened up by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet. We want to pass on a country that’s safe and respected and admired around the world, a nation that is defended by the strongest military on earth and the best troops this world has ever known, but also a country that moves with confidence beyond this time of war to shape a peace that is built on the promise of freedom and dignity for every human being.”
The nation, the president said, is still a place where dreams can come true for all.
“We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America open to the dreams of an immigrant’s daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag to the young boy on the south side of Chicago who sees a life beyond the nearest street corner to the furniture worker’s child in North Carolina who wants to become a doctor or a scientist, an engineer or an entrepreneur, a diplomat or even a president.”
In his concession speech, Romney called for an end to partisan rancor.
“This is a time of great challenges for America, and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation,” Romney said. “The nation, as you know, is at a critical point. 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.”
Romney said Americans should look to each other for inspiration.
“We look to our teachers and professors, we count on you not just to teach, but to inspire our children with a passion for learning and discovery,” he said. “We look to our pastors and priests and rabbis and counselors of all kinds to testify of the enduring principles upon which our society is built: honesty, charity, integrity and family. We look to our parents, for in the final analysis everything depends on the success of our homes. We look to job creators of all kinds. We’re counting on you to invest, to hire, to step forward. And we look to Democrats and Republicans in government at all levels to put the people before the politics.”
How it played out
In the days before the election, conservative observers questioned the validity of polls showing either a tie or slight advantage for Obama, and Obama leading in key swing states.
The polls were flawed, they contended, because they oversampled Democrats. Rather than weighting the polls to the heavy Democratic turn-out of 2008, these pundits said, the polls should be weighted to a more normal pattern such as 2004. As a result, the argument was, the polls were underestimating Romney’s strength by anywhere from 4 to 6 points.
In fact, the polls were deadly accurate. The race was a popular vote tie for much of the way, with late deciding voters finally giving Obama the popular vote margin, while Obama stormed to early wins in the battleground states, as the polls indicated he would.
In winning, the president became the first incumbent to win re-election since 1940 with such high unemployment, and he did so with a slight majority of voters telling exit pollsters they thought the country was on the wrong track.
But the exit polls also provided an interesting glimpse into Obama’s success, despite those numbers. For example, a majority of voters felt the economy was either improving or the same as it was four years ago.
And voters also said by a 53 percent to 38 percent margin that they blamed George W. Bush for the nation’s economic troubles, not Obama. The Democrats repeated that theme throughout the campaign.
In other words, Bush had created the economic problems that were now improving or at least not worsening, and that emboldened voters to embrace Obama’s plea for four more years to finish the job.
The president’s attacks on Romney as wealthy and out of touch – a campaign barrage that went largely unanswered all summer – also took its toll. Voters viewed Romney more unfavorably than favorably, while 54 percent said his policies favored the rich.
On the demographic side, Romney won 60 percent of the white vote, while Obama tallied just 38 percent, five points lower than his 2008 total. Only Walter Mondale among Democrats carried a smaller portion.
But the total white share of the vote has been declining, from 87 percent in 1992 to 72 percent on Tuesday, and Obama won startingly big among nonwhite populations, and not just in the black community. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out, Romney lost Hispanics by almost 40 percent, Asians by almost 50 percent and blacks by more than 80 percent.
It was the Latino vote for Obama that captured most of the punditry talk on Wednesday morning, with conservative and liberal commentators saying the GOP had lost touch with that constituency and would have to find a way to connect again.
Whatever the validity of that argument, it must also be observed that Romney could have won the Latino vote outright on Tuesday and would still have lost the election. That’s because Latinos did not make the difference in the states that carried the day for Obama, namely the firewall states in the Midwest, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Iowa.
While the auto bailout was undoubtedly a factor in Michigan and Ohio, observers will be combing the Romney wreckage of Wisconsin to find an answer for his defeat there, despite a Republican state government and native son Paul Ryan on the ticket.
Elections have consequences, and this one shall be no different. Obama’s victory, along with the Democrats’ retention of the Senate, now means that the health-care issue is finally laid to rest: Obamacare is the law of the land, and shall be implemented.
Richard Moore may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org