UPDATED: 2:03 a.m. Nov. 7, 2012
WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — President Barack Obama won re-election Tuesday night despite a fierce challenge from Republican Mitt Romney, prevailing in the face of a weak economy and high unemployment that encumbered his first term and crimped the middle class dreams of millions.
“This happened because of you. Thank you” Obama tweeted to supporters as he secured four more years in the White House.
President Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters, took the stage at the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago at around 1:35 a.m. to thunderous applause. Obama then thanked everyone that helped get him four more years and attempted to paint a picture of a united America going forward.
“We are an American family and we rise and fall together as one nation; as one people,” Obama said. “We know it in our hearts, for the United States of America, the best is yet to come.”
The president was gracious in victory, lauding Romney as an extremely worthy challenger.
“I just spoke with Governor Romney and I congratulated him and Paul Ryan on a hard-fought campaign. We may have battled fiercely, but it’s only because we love this country deeply. We care so much about its future,” Obama said.
Obama apologized for the tenacity of the campaign, but explained it as a necessary evil to make sure the right man is in the White House.
“Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy, and messy, and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply-held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs up controversy. That won’t change tonight, and it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are part of our liberty,” Obama said.
“We believe in a generous America; in a compassionate America; in a tolerant America – open to the arms of an immigrant’s daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag; to the young boy on the South Side of Chicago who sees a light beyond the nearest street corner; to the furniture worker’s child in North Carolina who wants to become a doctor or a scientist, an engineer or an entrepreneur, a diplomat or even a president. That’s the future we hope for. That’s the vision we share. That’s where we need to go – forward,” Obama said.
Obama then made it clear that the only way America thrives going forward is if elected officials, regardless of party, and the public all work together.
“Tonight you voted for action, not politics as usual,” the president added. “The role of citizen in our democracy doesn’t end with your vote. America has never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us together.”
The president sealed his victory in Ohio, Iowa, New Hampshire and Colorado, four of the nine battleground states where the two rivals and their allies spent nearly $1 billion on dueling television commercials.
Ultimately, the result of the brawl of an election campaign appeared likely to be the political status quo. Democrats won two more years of control of the Senate, and Republicans were on track to do likewise in the House.
Romney was in Massachusetts, where his long and grueling bid for the presidency came to an unsuccessful end. CBS News confirmed that Romney called Obama to concede at around 12:45 a.m. and then gave his concession speech 10 minutes later.
“This is a time of great challenges for America and I pray the president will be successful in guiding our nation,” Romney said.
Romney then lauded his running mate, Paul Ryan, and thanked his wife, children and campaign team and supporters for their patience and perseverance.
“Ann would have been a wonderful first lady,” Romney said.
To his supporters, Romney said, “I don’t think there’s ever been an effort in our party that compares to what you have done over the last few years.”
Romney made his remarks brief and was embraced by his faithful.
“I believe in America. I believe in the people of America. And I ran for office because I am concerned about America. But this election is now over. Like so many of you, Paul and I left it all out on the field. We gave it our all, but our nation chose another leader.”
The two rivals were close in the popular vote. Romney led most of the night, but just after midnight Obama overtook his opponent and had eked out a 400,000-vote lead, with both men garnering more than 51 million votes. As of 1 a.m., only Florida had yet to be called by CBS News. Obama had a 60,000-vote lead in that state with more than 92 percent of the precincts counted.
But Obama’s laser-like focus on battleground states gave him the majority in the electoral vote, where it mattered most. He had 303, or 33 more than needed for victory. Romney had 206.
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 percent 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.
About 4 in 10 said the economy is on the mend, but more than that said it was stagnant or getting worse more than four years after the near-collapse of 2008. The survey was conducted for The Associated Press and a group of television networks.
Democrats got off to a quick start in their bid to renew their Senate majority, capturing seats in Indiana and Massachusetts now in Republican hands.
In Maine, independent former Gov. Angus King was elected to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe. He has not yet said which party he will side with, but Republicans attacked him in television advertising during the race, and Democrats rushed to his cause.
Polls were still open in much of the country as the two rivals began claiming the spoils of a brawl of an election in a year in which the struggling economy put a crimp in the middle class dreams of millions.
The president was in Chicago as he awaited the voters’ verdict on his four years in office. He told reporters he had a concession speech as well as victory remarks prepared. He congratulated Romney on a spirited campaign.
“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 him for more than a year.
Earlier, he raced to Ohio and Pennsylvania for Election Day campaigning and projected confidence as he flew home to Massachusetts.
“We fought to the very end, and I think that’s why we’ll be successful,” Romney said, adding that he had finished writing a speech anticipating victory but nothing if the election went to his rival.
But the mood soured among the Republican high command as the votes came in and Obama ground out a lead in critical states.
Like Obama, Vice President Joe Biden was in Chicago as he waited to find out if he was in line for a second term. Republican running mate Paul Ryan was with Romney in Boston, although he kept one eye on his re-election campaign for a House seat in Wisconsin, just in case.
Voters also chose a new Congress to serve alongside the man who will be inaugurated in January, Democrats defended their majority in the Senate, and Republicans in the House.
The long campaign’s cost soared into the billions, much of it spent on negative ads, some harshly so.
In the presidential race, an estimated 1 million commercials aired in nine battleground states where the rival camps agreed the election was most likely to be settled — Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado and Nevada.
In a months-long general election ad war that cost nearly $1 billion, Romney and Republican groups spent more than $550 million and Obama and his allies $381 million, according to organizations that track advertising.
In Virginia, the polls had been closed for several minutes when Obama’s campaign texted a call for volunteers “to make sure everyone who’s still in line gets to vote.”
In Florida, there were long lines at the hour set for polls to close. Under state law, everyone waiting was entitled to cast a ballot.
According to the exit poll, 53 percent of voters said Obama is more in touch with people like them, compared to 43 percent for Romney.
About 60 percent said taxes should be increased, taking sides on an issue that divided the president and Romney. Obama wants to let taxes rise on upper incomes, while Romney does not.
Other than the battlegrounds, big states were virtually ignored in the final months of the campaign. Romney wrote off New York, Illinois and California, while Obama made no attempt to carry Texas, much of the South or the Rocky Mountain region other than Colorado.
There were 33 Senate seats on the ballot, 23 of them defended by Democrats and the rest by Republicans.
Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy, a Democrat, won a Connecticut seat long held by Sen. Joe Lieberman, retiring after a career that included a vice presidential spot on Al Gore’s ticket in 2000. It was Republican Linda McMahon’s second defeat in two tries, at a personal cost of $92 million.
The GOP needed a gain of three for a majority if Romney won, and four if Obama was re-elected. Neither Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada nor GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was on the ballot, but each had high stakes in the outcome.
All 435 House seats were on the ballot, including five where one lawmaker ran against another as a result of once-a-decade redistricting to take population shifts into account. Democrats needed to pick up 25 seats to gain the majority they lost two years ago.
Depending on the outcome of a few races, it was possible that white men would wind up in a minority in the Democratic caucus for the first time.
Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, raised millions to finance get-out-the-vote operations in states without a robust presidential campaign, New York, Illinois and California among them. His goal was to minimize any losses, or possibly even gain ground, no matter Romney’s fate. House Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California campaigned aggressively, as well, and faced an uncertain political future if her party failed to win control.
In gubernatorial races, Republicans picked up North Carolina, where Pat McCrory won easily. The incumbent, Democratic Gov. Bev Purdue, did not seek re-election.
In a campaign that traversed contested Republican primaries last winter and spring, a pair of political conventions this summer and three presidential debates, Obama, Romney, Biden and Ryan spoke at hundreds of rallies, were serenaded by Bruce Springsteen and Meat Loaf and washed down hamburgers, pizza, barbecue and burrito bowls.
Obama was elected the first black president in 2008, and four years later, Romney became the first Mormon to appear on a general election ballot. Yet one man’s race and the other’s religion were never major factors in this year’s campaign for the White House, a race dominated from the outset by the economy.
Over and over, Obama said that during his term the nation has begun to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression. While he conceded progress has been slow, he accused Romney of offering recycled Republican policies that have helped the wealthy and harmed the middle class in the past and would do so again.
Romney countered that a second Obama term could mean a repeat recession in a country where economic growth has been weak and unemployment is worse now than when the president was inaugurated. A wealthy former businessman, he claimed the knowledge and the skills to put in place policies that would make the economy healthy again.
In a race where the two men disagreed often, one of the principal fault lines was over taxes. Obama campaigned for the renewal of income tax cuts set to expire on Dec. 31 at all income levels except above $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples.
Romney said no one’s taxes should go up in uncertain economic times. In addition, he proposed a 20 percent cut across the board in income tax rates but said he would end or curtail a variety of tax breaks to make sure federal deficits didn’t rise.
The differences over taxes, the economy, Medicare, abortion and more were expressed in intensely negative advertising.
Obama launched first, shortly after Romney dispatched his Republican foes in his quest for the party nomination.
One memorable commercial showed Romney singing an off-key rendition of “America The Beautiful.” Pictures and signs scrolled by saying that his companies had shipped jobs to Mexico and China, that Massachusetts state jobs had gone to India while he was governor and that he has personal investments in Switzerland, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.
Romney spent less on advertising than Obama. A collection of outside groups made up the difference, some of them operating under rules that allowed donors to remain anonymous. Most of the ads were of the attack variety. But the Republican National Committee relied on one that had a far softer touch, and seemed aimed at voters who had been drawn to the excitement caused by Obama’s first campaign. It referred to a growing national debt and unemployment, then said, “He tried. You tried. It’s OK to make a change.”
More than 30 million voters cast early ballots in nearly three dozen states, a reflection of the growing appeal of getting a jump on the traditional Election Day.
(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)