Prior to Obama’s victory, no president in 70 years had won re-election with the unemployment rate above 7.4 percent. Although the economy has created more than five million jobs since the Great Recession, the rate is now 7.9 percent.
Exit polls showed that though only 39 percent of people believed that the economy was improving, around half of Americans blamed former Republican president George W. Bush for the tenuous situation, and not Obama.
Obama’s victory was a complete vindication for a campaign team that had predicted a close, but winnable election, despite the painful after effects of the deepest economic crisis since the 1930s Great Depression.
The president ran for re-election on a platform of offering a “fair shot” to the middle class, of fulfilling his pledge to end the war in Iraq, killing Osama bin Laden, and of building a clean energy economy.
The president’s coalition of Hispanic, African American and young voters, defied expectations and turned out in similar numbers to his euphoric change-fueled campaign in 2008, shocking Romney’s team.
Latino voters in particular helped Obama to victory in the desert state of Nevada, and in the Rocky Mountains state of Colorado, US television networks projected.
Republicans had insisted right up to election day that Obama’s army, disaffected by busted expectations for his first term, would stay home, and had predicted instead a late Republican wave that would elevate Romney.
Large crowds suddenly materialised at the White House, chanting “Four more years” and “Obama, Obama” as drivers cruising the streets of Washington honked their horns.
Now, Obama will get the chance to protect his historic reforms of health care and Wall Street and may have the chance to shape the Supreme Court for a generation, with several vacancies on the bench expected to arise.
Obama will also likely look abroad as he builds his legacy, but will face an immediate challenge early in 2013 and a possible decision whether to use military force to thwart Iran’s nuclear program.
More immediately, at home, Obama will face a swift showdown with Republicans on Capitol Hill, on the so-called “fiscal cliff” involving the expiry of Bush-era tax cuts and a need to raise the US debt ceiling.
Ruinous budget cuts designed to trim the ballooning deficit, which could tip the economy into recession, are also about to come due, unless Obama can reach a deal with Republicans, who have opposed him tooth and nail for four years.
Obama and Romney had waged an ill-tempered campaign, and clashed in three highly contentious debates, as the president acted as a warrior for the middle class and the Republican said he was out of ideas for creating jobs.
The president may have been helped at the 11th hour when superstorm Sandy roared ashore, killing more than 100 Americans, but giving Obama the chance to publicly pull the levers of government.