President Obama defeated Republican Mitt Romney on Tuesday to win reelection to the White House, echoing his historic victory of four years ago and concluding a campaign in which he vowed to deliver on promises of a morevibrant economy.
Obama, who needed 270 electoral votes to be elected, was declared the winner by television networks around 11:15 p.m. At McCormick Place in Chicago, the site of Obama’s rally, the crowd erupted in cheers and supporters jumped up and down, waving placards with the campaign slogan “Forward.” The Associated Press called the race for Obama at 11:35 p.m.
Nearly two hours later, Obama bounded on stage before a crowd of thousands, accompanied by his wife and two daughters, and soaked up the serenade of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” having delivered on his pledge of victory.
“The task of perfecting our union moves forward,” Obama said, invoking his campaign motto. “It moves forward because of you.”
Having promised change when he first ran for the presidency, he said the presidency has also changed him.
“I have listened to you,’’ he said. “I have learned from you . . . I return to the White House more determined and more inspired than ever.”
Reaching out to Romney and Republican voters, Obama said of his campaign combatant, “We may have battled fiercely, but it’s only because we love this country dearly.”
The scene was much more somber earlier in Boston as Romney appeared on Wednesday morning before a disappointed throng of supporters at the Boston convention center and conceded that his political quest was over.
“I have just called President Obama to congratulate him on his victory,’’ Romney said at 12:55 a.m. “His supporters and his campaign also deservecongratulations. This is a time of great challenges for America and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation.”
Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts and former head of Boston’s Bain Capital, who portrayed himself as a turnaround specialist who could revive the economy by curtailing government, lost in part because he was unable to move far enough beyond his base of support from white males, seniors, Southerners, and religious conservatives. His Mormon faith, which received wide notice, did not appear to play a decisive role in his defeat.
Obama, who became the nation’s first African-American president after he was elected in 2008, had faltered after a poor performance in the first of three debates but gradually recovered, as his support remained strong enough for him to carry crucial swing states including New Hampshire, Iowa, and Ohio.
The result stunned many of the Romney supporters gathered at what they hoped would be a victory party at the Boston convention center. Romney had told reporters earlier Tuesday that he had penned only a victory speech. Supporters sat in silence as the news networks — including Fox, which the television screens were showing — called the election for Obama. They turned more upbeat as Fox said that the Romney campaign had not yet conceded, with chants of “Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!”
Romney’s loss probably ended the political career of the 65-year-old Michigan native, son of that state’s former governor and failed presidential candidate George Romney. The younger Romney was elected to a four-year term as governor of Massachusetts in 2002 and then set his sights on fulfilling the dream of winning the White House, losing the primaries in 2008 before becoming the nominee earlier this year.
Obama’s victory coalition mirrored that of 2008, stitching together a rainbow of support from voters who are younger, female, Hispanic, or African-American.
As a result, Romney’s loss also will probably cause a time of soul searching among Republicans about the ideological direction of their party. Romney ran to the right in the primaries, calling himself “severely conservative” and alienating many in the growing Hispanic population by opposing the DREAM Act, which Obama supported as a path to citizenship for qualified illegal immigrants. Romney later presented himself in a more moderate light, but it was too late.
Obama based his reelection bid not on a call for dramatic change, as was the case in his first bid, but on what he portrayed as a steady hand of leadership in difficult times, citing the slowly improving economy, his bailout of the auto industry — which helped win the key state of Ohio — and the killing of Osama bin Laden.
As Obama was declared the victor in key states, one of the campaign anthems, “We Take Care of Our Own” by Bruce Springsteen, provided a thumping backdrop in McCormick Place to the growing excitement. Supporters pressed toward a grand, deep stage with blue flooring and flowing red curtains. Two huge, flanking television screens continued to spread encouraging news, such as leads for Obama in the swing states of Wisconsin and Colorado.
For Obama, the victory is yet another historic milestone, but one that will be followed by an array of daunting challenges that had largely been put aside as the nation focused on the campaign.
He must confront an exploding deficit and the year-end deadline of the “fiscal cliff,” which could cause huge cuts and tax hikes unless a bipartisan deal is reached.
Obama now must try to unite a nation deeply divided by the election, fraying along lines that are geographic, political, racial, and social. He is likely to face a House still under Republican control, and a Democratic Senate without enough votes to override a solid GOP filibuster. He needs a bipartisan compromise to achieve his next round of goals, but such harmony frequently has eluded him. His challenge may lie in trying to convince Republicans that the election is a mandate, not a status-quo mixed message.
Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff, said the president would face tough challenges if he won reelection. “We have a big battle ahead,” Emanuel said to reporters Tuesday, citing big-ticket programs such as Social Security and Medicare that could become prime targets for cuts or changes.
After the frantic, final days of the campaign, with little left for pundits and pollsters to say, the arguments and advertisements came to an end and voters had the final word.
Romney, who voted early Tuesday in Belmont and later made quick campaign stops in Ohio and Pennsylvania, told reporters aboard his campaign plane en route to Boston that he “put it all on the field.”
“We left nothing in the locker room,” the Republican presidential nominee said after wrapping up his campaigning in Pittsburgh. “We fought to the very end, and I think that’s why we’ll be successful.”
Obama, who had taken advantage of early voting to cast a ballot for himself on Oct. 25 in Illinois, began Election Day by traveling to a small campaign office on the South Side of Chicago, where volunteers greeted him with applause. He immediately sat down to make some telephone calls to campaign workers in the neighboring swing state of Wisconsin.
Dressed in a blue suit, white shirt, and striped tie, Obama took off his jacket, placed it on a chair, and said, “Let’s get busy. We’ve got to round up some votes.”
Across the nation, many voters waited in long lines to cast their ballots, the snaking queues around courthouses and town halls serving as the final expression of the passion generated by Obama’s reelection bid and Romney’s challenge.
An array of problems surfaced at polling places, sometimes resulting in waits of more than two hours to cast ballots. The campaigns, eager for every vote, issued messages reminding people that anyone in line at closing time could vote.
In the critical swing state of Florida, worth 29 electoral votes, most polls remained open as of 8:30 p.m., despite scheduled closures at 7 p.m., because of long lines.
With national polls indicating a statistical dead heat, and the race considered tight in battleground states such as Ohio and New Hampshire, both campaigns made their last get-out-the-vote push, calling voters, offering rides to the polls, and preparing for what each hoped would be a victory party, either in Romney’s Boston or Obama’s Chicago.
It was the most expensive general election campaign in history, marked by its persistent closeness with neither candidate able to retain a lead of statistical significance. Obama seemed to develop a lead just after the Democratic National Convention, but then slumped in the first debate. Romney capitalized, and appeared to have momentum carry him back into contention, and then Obama performed strongly in the last two debates, setting the stage for the battle that culminated on Election Day.
Michael Kranish can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKranish. Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com; Brian MacQuarrie at firstname.lastname@example.org. Globe correspondent Callum Borchers contributed to this report.