Barack Obama re-elected: 'Best is yet to come'

Last updated 21:25 07/11/2012
Reuters

Americans hand Obama a second term, challenges await. Deborah Lutterbeck reports.

US President Barack Obama celebrates on stage as confetti falls after his victory speech.
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US President Barack Obama celebrates on stage as confetti falls after his victory speech.
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Supporters of US President Barack Obama cheer during his election night rally in Chicago.

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US President Barack Obama has rolled to re-election, vanquishing former Massachusetts Governor 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.

Obama told reporters he had a concession speech as well as victory remarks prepared. He congratulated Romney on a spirited campaign.

The president said he wants to meet with Romney to discuss how they can work together. They may have "battled fiercely, but it's only because we love this country deeply."

"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.

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 per cent of the nation's precincts, Obama had 55.8 million, 49.8 per cent of the popular vote. Romney had 54.5 million, or 48.6 per cent.

The president's laser-like 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.

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

DIFFERENT VISIONS

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 per cent 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 per cent 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 US$1 billion (NZ$1.2 billion) into duelling 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 fulfil 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.

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.

KEY CONGRATULATES US PRESIDENT

Prime Minister John Key has congratulated Obama on his win in the US presidential elections.

 “I will be sending President Obama a letter of congratulations tomorrow, and will also relay them in person when I see him at the East Asian Summit in Phnom Penh later this month,'' Key said tonight.

“The relationship between our two countries is an enduring and close one, and I look forward to developing it further.

“With President Obama’s re-election, there will be many opportunities to enhance the relationship, which is built on shared values, and a commitment to improve the prosperity and well-being of our people through initiatives such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“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.”

US Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa David Huebner also offered his congratulations.

“This election was a true celebration of our vibrant democracy. As it is for our friends in New Zealand and Samoa, it is always a proud moment to see democracy in action.”

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