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Obama powers to re-election despite weak economy

President Barack Obama rolled to re-election Tuesday night, vanquishing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney despite a weak economy that plagued his first term and put a crimp in the middle class dreams of millions. In victory, he confidently promised better days ahead.
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama rolled to re-election Tuesday night, vanquishing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney despite a weak economy that plagued his first term and put a crimp in the middle class dreams of millions. In victory, he confidently promised better days ahead.

Obama spoke to thousands of cheering supporters in his hometown of Chicago, praising Romney and declaring his optimism for the next four years. "While our road has been hard, though 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," he said.

Romney made a brief, graceful concession speech before a disappointed crowd in Boston. He summoned all Americans to pray for Obama and urged the night's political winners to put partisan bickering aside and "reach across the aisle" to tackle the nation's problems.

Still, after the costliest - and one of the nastiest - campaigns in history, divided government was alive and well.

Democrats retained control of the Senate with surprising ease. With three races too close to call, they had the possibility of gaining a seat.

Republicans won the House, ensuring that Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Obama's partner in unsuccessful deficit talks, would reclaim his seat at the bargaining table. With numerous races as yet uncalled, the size of the GOP majority was unknown.

At Obama headquarters in Chicago, a huge crowd gathered waving small American flags and cheering. Supporters hugged each other, danced and pumped their fists in the air. Excited crowds also gathered in New York's Times Square, at Faneuil Hall in Boston and near the White House in Washington, drivers joyfully honking as they passed by.

With returns from 88 percent of the nation's precincts, Obama had 55.8 million, 49.8 percent of the popular vote. Romney had 54.5 million, or 48.6 percent.

The president's laserlike focus on the battleground states allowed him to run up a 303-206 margin in the competition for the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House, the count that mattered most. Remarkably, given the sour economy, he lost only two states that he captured in 2008, Indiana and North Carolina.

Florida, another Obama state four years ago, remained too close to call.

The election emerged as a choice between two very different visions of government - whether it occupies a major, front-row place in American lives or is in the background as a less-obtrusive facilitator for private enterprise and entrepreneurship.

The economy was rated the top issue by about 60 percent of voters surveyed as they left their polling places. But more said former President George W. Bush bore responsibility for current circumstances than Obama did after nearly four years in office.

That boded well for the president, who had worked to turn the election into a choice between his proposals and Romney's, rather than a simple referendum on the economy during his time in the White House.

Unemployment stood at 7.9 percent on Election Day, higher than when the president took office. And despite signs of progress, the economy is still struggling after the worst recession in history.

Obama captured Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado and Nevada, seven of the nine states where the rivals and their allies poured nearly $1 billion into dueling television commercials.

Romney won North Carolina among the battleground states.

Florida was too close to call, Obama leading narrowly in a state where there were still long lines of voters at some polling places long after the appointed closing time.

Romney, who grew wealthy in business and ran the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City before entering politics, spoke only briefly to supporters, some of whom wept.

"I so wish that I had been able to fulfill your hopes to lead the country in a different direction," he said. "But the nation chose another leader and so Ann and I join with you to earnestly pray for him and for this great nation."

Moments later, Obama stepped before a far different crowd hundreds of miles away.

"Tonight you voted for action, not politics as usual," he said. He pledged to work with leaders of both parties to help the nation complete its recovery from the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Boehner issued a statement of his own, noting that while Obama won, so, too, did his House Republicans "If there is a mandate, it is a mandate for both parties to find common ground and take steps together to help our economy grow and create jobs, which is critical to solving our debt," he said.

By any description, the list of challenges is daunting - high unemployment, a slow-growth economy, soaring deficits, a national debt at unsustainable. To say nothing of the threat of a nuclear Iran and the menace of al-Qaida and other terrorist groups more than a decade after the attacks of Sept., 11, 2001.

There was no doubt about what drove voters to one candidate or the other in the presidential race.

About 4 in 10 said the economy is on the mend, but more than that said it was stagnant or getting worse more than four years after the near-collapse of 2008. The survey was conducted for The Associated Press and a group of television networks.

In the battle for the Senate, Elizabeth Warren turned Republican Scott Brown out of office in Massachusetts, and Rep. Joe Donnelly captured a seat from GOP hands in Indiana.

Deb Fischer picked up a seat for Republicans in Nebraska, defeating former Sen. Bob Kerrey.

In Maine, independent former Gov. Angus King was elected to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe. He has not yet said which party he will side with, but Republicans attacked him in television advertising during the race, and Democrats rushed to his cause.

In the presidential race, Obama won in the reliably Democratic Northeast and on the West Coast. Pennsylvania was his, too, despite two late campaign stops by Romney.

Romney won most of the South as well as much of the Rocky Mountain West and Farm Belt.

The president was in Chicago as he awaited the voters' verdict on his four years in office. He told reporters he had a concession speech as well as victory remarks prepared. He congratulated Romney on a spirited campaign. "I know his supporters are just as engaged, just as enthusiastic and working just as hard today" as Obama's own, he added.

Romney reciprocated, congratulating the man who he had campaigned against for more than a year.

Earlier, he raced to Ohio and Pennsylvania for Election Day campaigning and projected confidence as he flew home to Massachusetts. "We fought to the very end, and I think that's why we'll be successful," he said, adding that he had finished writing a speech anticipating victory but nothing if the election went to his rival.

Like Obama, Vice President Joe Biden was in Chicago as he waited to find out if he was in line for a second term. Republican running mate Paul Ryan was with Romney in Boston, although he kept one eye on his campaign for re-election to the House from Wisconsin, a race he won.

The long campaign's cost soared into the billions, much of it spent on negative ads, some harshly so.

In a months-long general election ad war that cost nearly $1 billion, Romney and Republican groups spent more than $550 million and Obama and his allies $381 million, according to organizations that track advertising.

According to the exit poll, 53 percent of voters said Obama was more in touch with people like them, compared to 43 percent for Romney.

About 60 percent said taxes should be increased, taking sides on an issue that divided the president and Romney. Obama wants to let taxes rise on upper incomes, while Romney does not.

Other than the battlegrounds, big states were virtually ignored in the final months of the campaign. Romney wrote off New York, Illinois and California, while Obama made no attempt to carry Texas, much of the South or the Rocky Mountain region other than Colorado.

There were 33 Senate seats on the ballot, 23 of them defended by Democrats and the rest by Republicans.

Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy, a Democrat, won a Connecticut seat long held by Sen. Joe Lieberman, retiring after a career that included a vice presidential spot on Al Gore's ticket in 2000. It was Republican Linda McMahon's second defeat in two tries, at a personal cost of $92 million.

The GOP needed a gain of three for a majority if Romney won, and four if Obama was re-elected. Neither Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada nor GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was on the ballot, but each had high stakes in the outcome.

All 435 House seats were on the ballot, including five where one lawmaker ran against another as a result of once-a-decade redistricting to take population shifts into account. Democrats needed to pick up 25 seats to gain the majority they lost two years ago.

House Speaker Boehner, R-Ohio, raised millions to finance get-out-the-vote operations in states without a robust presidential campaign, New York, Illinois and California among them. His goal was to minimize any losses, or possibly even gain ground, no matter Romney's fate. House Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California campaigned aggressively, as well, and faced an uncertain political future after her party failed to win control.

Democrats toppled conservative tea party freshman Reps. Joe Walsh and Bobby Schilling in Illinois, as well as another freshman, Robert Dold and seven-term veteran Judy Biggert, a social moderate.

Other GOP casualties included Rep. David Rivera of Florida, who was hurt by investigations into his past campaign financing; Ann Marie Buerkle of New York, who lost to the Democrat she defeated in 2010, Dan Maffei, and New Hampshire Republican Charlie Bass, ousted by Ann Kuster, the Democrat he defeated narrowly two years ago.

Republicans turned Rep. Kathy Hochul out of office in New York, as well as Larry Kissel in North Carolina, Mark Critz in Pennsylvania and Ben Chandler in Kentucky.

In gubernatorial races, Republicans picked up North Carolina, where Pat McCrory won easily. The incumbent, Democratic Gov. Bev Purdue, did not seek re-election.

In a campaign that traversed contested Republican primaries last winter and spring, a pair of political conventions this summer and three presidential debates, Obama, Romney, Biden and Ryan spoke at hundreds of rallies, were serenaded by Bruce Springstein and Meat Loaf and washed down hamburgers, pizza, barbecue and burrito bowls.

Obama was elected the first black president in 2008, and four years later, Romney became the first Mormon to appear on a general election ballot. Yet one man's race and the other's religion were never major factors in this year's campaign for the White House, a race dominated from the outset by the economy.

Over and over, Obama said that during his term the nation had begun to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression. While he conceded progress had been slow, he accused Romney of offering recycled Republican policies that have helped the wealthy and harmed the middle class in the past and would do so again.

Romney countered that a second Obama term could mean a repeat recession in a country where economic growth has been weak and unemployment is worse now than when the president was inaugurated. A wealthy former businessman, he claimed the knowledge and the skills to put in place policies that would make the economy healthy again.

In a race where the two men disagreed often, one of the principal fault lines was over taxes. Obama campaigned for the renewal of income tax cuts set to expire on Dec. 31 at all income levels except above $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples.

Romney said no one's taxes should go up in uncertain economic times. In addition, he proposed a 20 percent cut across the board in income tax rates but said he would end or curtail a variety of tax breaks to make sure federal deficits didn't rise.

The differences over taxes, the economy, Medicare, abortion and more were expressed in intensely negative advertising.

Obama launched first, shortly after Romney dispatched his Republican foes in his quest for the party nomination.

One memorable commercial showed Romney singing an off-key rendition of "America The Beautiful." Pictures and signs scrolled by saying that his companies had shipped jobs to Mexico and China, that Massachusetts state jobs had gone to India while he was governor and that he has personal investments in Switzerland, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.

Romney spent less on advertising than Obama. A collection of outside groups made up the difference, some of them operating under rules that allowed donors to remain anonymous. Most of the ads were of the attack variety. But the Republican National Committee relied on one that had a far softer touch, and seemed aimed at voters who had been drawn to the excitement caused by Obama's first campaign. It referred to a growing national debt and unemployment, then said, "He tried. You tried. It's OK to make a change."

More than 30 million voters cast early ballots in nearly three dozen states, a reflection of the growing appeal of getting a jump on the traditional Election Day.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Text of Barack Obama's speech after re-election

Thank you so much.

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.

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.

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.

I want to thank every American who participated in this election, whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time. By the way, we have to fix that. Whether you pounded the pavement or picked up the phone, whether you held an Obama sign or a Romney sign, you made your voice heard and you made a difference.

I just spoke with Gov. Romney and I congratulated him and Paul Ryan on a hard-fought campaign. We may have battled fiercely, but it's only because we love this country deeply and we care so strongly about its future. From George to Lenore to their son Mitt, the Romney family has chosen to give back to America through public service and that is the legacy that we honor and applaud tonight. In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Gov. Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward.

I want to thank my friend and partner of the last four years, America's happy warrior, the best vice president anybody could ever hope for, Joe Biden.

And I wouldn't be the man I am today without the woman who agreed to marry me 20 years ago. Let me say this publicly: Michelle, I have never loved you more. I have never been prouder to watch the rest of America fall in love with you, too, as our nation's first lady. Sasha and Malia, before our very eyes you're growing up to become two strong, smart beautiful young women, just like your mom. And I'm so proud of you guys. But I will say that for now one dog's probably enough.

To the best campaign team and volunteers in the history of politics. The best. The best ever. Some of you were new this time around, and some of you have been at my side since the very beginning. But all of you are family. No matter what you do or where you go from here, you will carry the memory of the history we made together and you will have the lifelong appreciation of a grateful president. Thank you for believing all the way, through every hill, through every valley. You lifted me up the whole way and I will always be grateful for everything that you've done and all the incredible work that you put in.

I know that political campaigns can sometimes seem small, even silly. And that provides plenty of fodder for the cynics that tell us that politics is nothing more than a contest of egos or the domain of special interests. But if you ever get the chance to talk to folks who turned out at our rallies and crowded along a rope line in a high school gym, or saw folks working late in a campaign office in some tiny county far away from home, you'll discover something else.

You'll hear the determination in the voice of a young field organizer who's working his way through college and wants to make sure every child has that same opportunity. You'll hear the pride in the voice of a volunteer who's going door to door because her brother was finally hired when the local auto plant added another shift. You'll hear the deep patriotism in the voice of a military spouse who's working the phones late at night to make sure that no one who fights for this country ever has to fight for a job or a roof over their head when they come home.

That's why we do this. That's what politics can be. That's why elections matter. It's not small, it's big. It's important. Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy.

That won't change after tonight, and it shouldn't. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.

But despite all our differences, 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 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 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 - 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.

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 - that's the future we hope for. That's the vision we share. That's where we need to go - forward. That's where we need to go.

Now, we will disagree, sometimes fiercely, about how to get there. As it has for more than two centuries, progress will come in fits and starts. It's not always a straight line. It's not always a smooth path. By itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won't end all the gridlock or solve all our problems or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward. But that common bond is where we must begin.

Our economy is recovering. A decade of war is ending. A long campaign is now over. And whether I earned your vote or not, I have listened to you, I have learned from you, and you've made me a better president. And with your stories and your struggles, I return to the White House more determined and more inspired than ever about the work there is to do and the future that lies ahead.

Tonight you voted for action, not politics as usual. You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours. And in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together. Reducing our deficit. Reforming our tax code. Fixing our immigration system. Freeing ourselves from foreign oil. We've got more work to do.

But that doesn't mean your work is done. The role of citizen in our democracy does not end with your vote. America's never been about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us together through the hard and frustrating, but necessary work of self-government. That's the principle we were founded on.

This country has more wealth than any nation, but that's not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military in history, but that's not what makes us strong. Our university, our culture are all the envy of the world, but that's not what keeps the world coming to our shores.

What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth. The belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations. The freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights. And among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That's what makes America great.

I am hopeful tonight because I've seen the spirit at work in America. I've seen it in the family business whose owners would rather cut their own pay than lay off their neighbors, and in the workers who would rather cut back their hours than see a friend lose a job. I've seen it in the soldiers who reenlist after losing a limb and in those SEALs who charged up the stairs into darkness and danger because they knew there was a buddy behind them watching their back.

I've seen it on the shores of New Jersey and New York, where leaders from every party and level of government have swept aside their differences to help a community rebuild from the wreckage of a terrible storm. And I saw just the other day, in Mentor, Ohio, where a father told the story of his 8-year-old daughter, whose long battle with leukemia nearly cost their family everything had it not been for health care reform passing just a few months before the insurance company was about to stop paying for her care.

I had an opportunity to not just talk to the father, but meet this incredible daughter of his. And when he spoke to the crowd listening to that father's story, every parent in that room had tears in their eyes, because we knew that little girl could be our own. And I know that every American wants her future to be just as bright. That's who we are. That's the country I'm so proud to lead as your president.

And tonight, despite all the hardship we've been through, despite all the frustrations of Washington, I've never been more hopeful about our future. I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope. I'm not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. I'm not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight.

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.

America, I believe we can build on the progress we've made and continue to fight for new jobs and new opportunity and new security for the middle class. I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you're willing to work hard, it doesn't matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn't matter whether you're black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you're willing to try.

I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We're not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.

And together with your help and God's grace we will continue our journey forward and remind the world just why it is that we live in the greatest nation on Earth.

Thank you, America. God bless you. God bless these United States.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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