IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Obama wins re-election; Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin prove pivotal

Image: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at his final presidential campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa
President Barack Obama speaks at his final presidential campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa, Nov. 5, 2012, on the eve of the presidential election. Jason Reed / Reuters
/ Source: NBC News

President Barack Obama won re-election in a tight campaign, besting Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in enough swing states to secure four more years in office.

Propelled by wins in Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa – states long touted as Obama’s “firewall” – the president won a long-fought election in which the economy, its slow pace of recovery and Obama’s management of it, became the central issue.

NBC News declared Obama the projected winner of Ohio and the election after polls had closed on the West Coast. The president also held onto a series of Democratic strongholds, beating back Romney’s efforts to take back states Obama had won in 2008 and make inroads into traditionally Democratic strongholds, like Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Exit polls suggested that the economy was, by far and away, the issue at the front of voters’ minds on Election Day. Romney edged Obama nationally by six points among voters who said the economy was their top issue.

But Obama outperformed Romney on questions of empathy, and voters nationwide were virtually tied on the more direct question of who would better handle the economy and the budget deficit.

Obama also held a demographic edge over Romney among two key groups of voters. The president bested the former Massachusetts governor by 10 points among women (Romney beat Obama by 8 percent among men). Hispanic or Latino voters also broke heavily for Obama by a 39-point margin.

In losing, Romney fails at his task of becoming the first challenger to unseat a sitting president since 1992.

The president will enter his second term facing a political landscape much like his last two – that is, gridlock. NBC News projected that Republicans would retain their majority in the House, and that Democrats would retain their majority in the Senate (because Vice President Joe Biden would be able, in his official capacity as president of the Senate, to break a 50-50 tie).

The specter of gridlock would undoubtedly loom before Obama as he confronts an immediate task in addressing the series of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts – the so-called “fiscal cliff” – set to spring into place at the end of this year. As Obama won a second term, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Republicans’ retention of their House majority meant “the American people have also made clear that there is NO mandate for raising tax rates.”

As election results continued to trickle in, Nevada, Florida, Colorado and Virginia remained too close to call. North Carolina, where Romney was declared the apparent victor, was the lone state that flipped from Obama in 2008 to Republicans this election cycle.

Obama awaited results earlier in the evening at his home in Hyde Park, Chicago, where he had dinner with the first family. Romney joined his family at a hotel suite near his election night party in Boston. The president spent the day doing a series of interviews and participating in a pick-up game of basketball, an Election Day tradition for Obama.

Romney, meanwhile, added some last-minute campaigning to his schedule instead of enjoying down time. He stopped in Cleveland and Pittsburgh in a last-minute bid for votes in the crucial battleground state of Ohio.

Speaking to reporters traveling with him from Pittsburgh to Boston, Romney said he sensed that victory was on the horizon.

“You know, intellectually, I've felt we're going to win this and have felt that for some time,” Romney told reporters traveling with him from his last campaign stop from Pittsburgh back to Massachusetts. “But emotionally, just getting off the plane and seeing those people standing there … just seeing people there cheering as they were connected emotionally with me and I not only think we’re going to win intellectually, I feel it as well.”

Both candidates could know their fate in just a few hours, as vote totals and additional exit poll data paints a bigger picture of the American electorate this Election Day.