The best is yet to come, U.S. President tells nation; Romney says will pray for Barack’s success

Amidst high drama over five tense hours of vote-counting on election night, U.S. President Barack Obama won himself four more years to consolidate his legacy as the man who steered America through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

In securing his place in history, however, he will have to continue to face the challenges of a divided nation and Congress, as the popular vote in the highly divisive election was split evenly between him and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, at 49 per cent.

After his victory was confirmed, Mr. Obama received a rousing welcome from a packed stadium of supporters in the heart of downtown Chicago. Jubilant but tired after a gritty campaign, the President pledged to build an inclusive, economically secure America for the middle class.

‘It doesn’t matter who you are’

“I believe we can keep the promise of our founding, 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,” he said, adding “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, abled, disabled, gay or straight. You can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.”

Preliminary indications suggested that voter turnout was lower this year than the breathtaking levels that it soared to in 2008. Although it peaked at close to 70 per cent in some States such as Wisconsin, it also dropped heavily in others, by around 11 per cent in Texas.

The biggest plunge by far, according to media reports quoting a study by American University, was in Eastern Seaboard States that were still recovering from the devastation in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, which caused major property damage and knocked out power for millions, thus disrupting standard voting practices.

Voting proceeded smoothly across most parts of the nation, although in Florida, where the votes are still being counted and Mr. Obama is said to have a lead, complaints of long lines and slow voting were frequent and frustrations mounted. Although no major incidents of voter intimidation were reported, at a Chicago polling booth this correspondent was threatened with eviction and told the police would be called if he didn’t leave, despite his complying with all media regulations for monitoring voting.

Solid ‘ground-game’

Ultimately Mr. Obama’s victory came down to a solid “ground-game” lead over Mr. Romney in battleground States, which Team Obama likely consolidated over the summer by focusing on voter mobilisation efforts in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Colorado, Virginia, New Hampshire and Iowa.

The President also scored strongly with his support base comprising women, youth and non-white voters, reports indicated. He defied historical precedent to be re-elected with the highest unemployment rate, 7.9 per cent, “of any President returned to office since Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, and became only the second Democrat since Roosevelt to win another term,” it was noted.

However, voters chose to balance out their decisive White House mandate for Mr. Obama with strong support for Republicans in the House of Representatives. In the House, Republicans maintain overall control after scoring 232 seats and leaving Democrats with 191. They fared less well in the Senate, where Democrats clung on to a slim majority of 51 seats, while Republicans held 45.

Counting in some States such as Florida proceeded long after Mr. Obama reached the all-important 270 mark in the electoral college, the body that ultimately decides the winner in the race. Overall, the President secured 303 votes, while Mr. Romney won 206.

In his victory speech at campaign headquarters here, the President wasted little time acknowledging that he needed to build bridges to bipartisan consensus, if he had any hope of pressing on with reforms, including in contested areas such as comprehensive immigration reform and stimulus-type policies for economic growth and job creation.

While Mr. Obama’s dramatic win will stall any further efforts to repeal his landmark healthcare reform package at the national level, he may well need to quickly reach out to House Speaker John Boehner and his colleagues to urgently find a solution to the fiscal cliff that the U.S. economy is set to go over if deficit-reduction measures are not put in place in good time.

Long to-do list

With a long list of heavy-lift, to-do items on the medium-term agenda for the 45th President of the U.S., Mr. Obama is, however, likely to take a few moments to savour his victory and deliberate on the highly divided state of the union before the new year begins.

Click here for an interactive graphic that shows Electoral College votes by State and total

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