Obama re-elected, makes new promise

JOHN HARTEVELT IN CLEVELAND, OHIO
Last updated 05:00 08/11/2012

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There were three small words Barack Obama's supporters had dared not utter. Yes we can.

Last night, as news came through that the president had been re-elected, they burst forth once more.

Just as all the pundits had predicted, Ohio proved the decisive state. When Obama backers in Cleveland learned he'd secured Ohio, their reaction was rapturous. Cuyahoga County had voted for him almost two to one.

"Four more years" quickly gave way to "yes we can" - the mantra Obama had spread in 2008 but which was nowhere to be seen or heard this time around.

When the man himself took to the stage in Chicago to deliver his victory speech in front of thousands, he made the American people a new promise: "The best is yet to come."

He reiterated his desire to move ahead with plans to fix the economy and fight for equal opportunity.

But he noted that it would take co-operation from both sides of the political spectrum. "We will disagree, sometimes fiercely . . . progress will come in fits and starts."

Earlier, Republican challenger Mitt Romney also called for the United States to put its political differences aside during his concession speech. "At a time like this, we can't risk partisan bickering and political posturing."

It was Ohio and its 18 electoral college votes that tipped Obama over the 270-vote threshold and back into the White House, albeit with a winning margin that looks likely to be smaller than in 2008.

He defended his way to victory, in marked contrast to last time. He staved off Romney in almost all the swing states.

Florida remained too close to call late last night, and Mr Romney initially appeared reluctant to concede a razor-thin result in Ohio. But even without the two largest of the swing states, Mr Obama was safe by virtue of decisive wins in Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado and New Hampshire.

Prime Minister John Key responded to the result by saying he would send the president a letter of congratulations today and relay those sentiments in person at the East Asian Summit in Phnom Penh later this month.

"I have enjoyed working with President Obama during his first term as president and welcome the opportunity to continue our strategic partnership over the coming years."

Romney collected a lot of votes from people in despair with their country and its leaders, but missed vital votes in the middle ground with uncompromising or equivocal views on abortion, gay marriage and immigration.

It said a lot that one of the most celebrated Democratic victories of the night was Claire McCaskill over Todd Akin in a Senate race in Missouri. It was as though she had vanquished a dark and sinister force - Akin was nationally known for controversial remarks about rape and pregnancy.

Romney did well enough that perhaps the Republicans will not despair completely, but it was clear last night that there would be repercussions.

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Doubling down on conservatism had failed to put a Republican back in the White House, so would the Grand Old Party try to reform itself to reflect an increasingly diverse country?

The Republicans maintained their majority in the House of Representatives and a fiscal cliff now looms, within only a few weeks for it to flex its muscle against Mr Obama. How both parties break from here will have repercussions much wider than domestic US politics.

- John Hartevelt is travelling on a US Government-funded programme.

- Fairfax Media

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