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Tough tasks await Obama after winning another 4-year term

 
President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Jill Biden acknowledge the crowd at an election night party on Wednesday. (Photo: AP) November 2012 /
REUTERS/AP, WASHINGTON
President Barack Obama won a second term in the White House on Tuesday, overcoming deep doubts among voters about his handling of the US economy to score a clear victory over Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

After a long, bitter and expensive campaign, the 51-year-old Obama began trying to bring Americans together in a victory speech before thousands of cheering supporters in Chicago. Accused by Romney throughout the campaign of taking a partisan tone, Obama vowed to reach out to Republicans in his new, four-year term.

“You voted for action, not politics as usual,” Obama said, calling for compromise and pledging to work with leaders of both parties to reduce the deficit, to reform the tax code and immigration laws, and to cut dependence on foreign oil.

The nationwide popular vote remained extremely close with Obama taking about 50 percent to 49 percent for Romney after a campaign in which the candidates and their party allies spent a combined $2 billion. But Obama comfortably won the electoral votes needed in the state-by-state system used to choose US presidents.

Obama scored impressive victories across the country, so much so that the big build-up over Ohio, Virginia and Florida fizzled. Obama reached the 270 electoral votes needed for election even without those three states, rolling up wins in Democratic strongholds and carrying Nevada, Iowa and Colorado.

In the end, he also won Ohio and Virginia and was ahead in Florida, where votes were still being counted.

Romney, the multimillionaire former private equity executive, came back from a series of campaign stumbles to make it close after besting the president in the first of three presidential debates.

The 65-year-old former Massachusetts governor conceded in a gracious speech delivered to disappointed supporters at the Boston convention center.

“This is a time of great challenge for our nation,” Romney told the crowd. “I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation.”

He warned against partisan bickering and urged politicians on both sides to “put the people before the politics.”

Obama told his crowd he hoped to sit down with Romney in the weeks ahead and examine ways to meet the challenges ahead.

The same problems that dogged Obama in his first term are still there to confront him again. He faces a difficult task of tackling $1 trillion annual deficits, reducing a $16 trillion national debt, overhauling expensive social programs and dealing with a gridlocked Congress that kept the same partisan makeup.

‘Failures or successes’

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell did not sound like he was willing to concede his conservative principles, in a sign of potential confrontations ahead.

“The voters have not endorsed the failures or excesses of the president’s first term, they have simply given him more time to finish the job they asked him to do together with a Congress that restored balance to Washington after two years of one-party control,” McConnell said.

The result eliminates the prospect of wholesale repeal of Obama’s 2010 healthcare reform law but it still leaves questions about how much of his signature domestic policy achievement will be implemented.

The immediate focus for the president and Congress will be to confront the “fiscal cliff,” a mix of tax increases and spending cuts due to extract some $600 billion from the economy barring a deal with Congress.

Obama, America’s first black president, won a new term by convincing voters to stick with him as he tries to reignite strong economic growth and recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. An uneven recovery has been showing some signs of strength but the country’s 7.9 percent jobless rate remains stubbornly high.

Voter turnout shaping up to be lower than 2008

A drop in voter turnout in Tuesday’s election didn’t keep Obama from winning. Preliminary figures suggest fewer people voted this year than four years ago, when voters shattered turnout records as they elected Obama as the country’s first black president.

“By and large, people didn’t show up,” said Curtis Gans, the director of American University’s Center for the Study of the American Electorate.

Still, the full picture may not be known for weeks, because much of the counting takes place after Election Day.

With 95 percent of precincts reporting, The Associated Press figures showed more than 117 million people voted in the White House race, but that number will go up as more votes are counted. In 2008, 131 million people voted, according to the Federal Election Commission.

The biggest plunge by far, according to the American University analysis, came in East Coast states still reeling from last week’s Superstorm Sandy, which wiped out power for millions and disrupted usual voting routines. Fifteen percent fewer voters cast ballots in New York this year than in 2008. In New Jersey, it was almost 12 percent.

The gap in New Jersey could narrow in the coming days because elections officials have given displaced residents in some areas until Friday to cast special email ballots.

Several factors could have contributed to waning voter enthusiasm, Gans said. The 2012 race was one of the nastiest in recent memory, leaving many voters feeling turned off. With Democrats weary from a difficult four years and Republicans splintered by a divisive primary, neither party was particularly enthused about their own candidate. Stricter voting restrictions in many states may also have kept some voters away from the polls.

Both Obama and Romney made voter turnout a top priority in the waning days of an intensely close race. For months leading up to Election Day, both candidates were obsessed with a tiny sliver of undecided voters.

It may be that those who were still undecided Tuesday decided not to show up, said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

One bright spot in this year’s voting was the number of early and mail-in ballots cast. Before polls opened on Election Day, more than 32 million people had voted, either by mail or in person, in 34 states and the District of Columbia. In a number of states, early voting appeared to far exceed totals from 2008.

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