Updated 12:57 p.m. - President Barack Obama hailed a Supreme Court opinion upholding his signature health reform law as "a victory for people all over this country," as Mitt Romney led galvanized conservatives in vowing to seek the legislation's repeal.
The political stakes imbued in the high court's 5-4 ruling allowing the Affordable Care Act to stand were starkly evident by midday Thursday in Washington, as Obama and Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, laid out clearly different visions when it came to the law, "Obamacare."
The opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, who joined the court's liberals, determined that the act's individual mandate -- the requirement that individuals purchase health insurance, or face a penalty -- was constitutional as a tax.
"I know there will be a lot of discussion today about the politics of all this, about who won and who lost," Obama said in remarks at the White House, in which he emphasized many of the law's benefits. "That discussion completely misses the point. Whatever the politics, today's decision was a victory for people all over this country whose lives are more secure because of this law and the Supreme Court's decision to uphold it."
A few minutes earlier, Romney renewed his promise to seek the full repeal of the law from his first day in office.
"What the court did not do on the last day of its session I will do on my first day as president," Romney said. He called the court's opinion both bad law and bad policy.
Each candidate's comments underscored, though, the political dividing lines that will shape the battle for control of the White House and Congress this November.
For Obama and Democrats, the decision represented an unmitigated victory after he had championed passage of the law at considerable political expense.
And for Romney, the decision is poised to mobilize conservatives who have, at times, been less than enthusiastic about his candidacy. A number of Republicans' statements in reaction to the ruling emphasized the need to defeat Obama this fall. As a token of that enthusiasm for Romney, his campaign's aides boasted of raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations after the decision was handed down.
"This is now a time for the American people to make a choice," Romney said in remarks to reporters in downtown Washington. "Our mission is clear" -- if we want to get rid of Obamacare, we're going to have to replace President Obama."
The president treated the Affordable Care Act as a settled matter, now that the court has ruled. He urged the country to move forward.
"The highest court in the land has now spoken. We will continue to implement this law, and we'll work together to improve upon it where we can," Obama said. "But what we won't do -- and what the country can't afford to do -- is re-fight the political battles of two years ago, or go back to the way things were."
But already, House Republicans have scheduled a vote to repeal the law for July 11. They have made similar attempts in the past, but their legislation has failed in the Senate, where a supermajority of 60 votes is needed to advance legislation.
"Today's ruling underscores the urgency of repealing this harmful law in its entirety," said House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) in a statement. "Republicans stand ready to work with a president who will listen to the people and will not repeat the mistakes that gave our country Obamacare."
Democrats, though, were jubilant. Many liberals had been bracing for defeat in front of the Supreme Court after the conservative jurists aggressively questioned Obama administration lawyers in oral arguments earlier this year.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) helped shepherd the law to passage in the House as speaker in spring of 2010; Democrats lost control of the chamber in that fall's midterm elections, in part due to Republican-driven fury toward the health reform law.
"In passing health reform, we made history for our nation and progress for the American people," she said in a statement. "Today, the Supreme Court affirmed our progress and protected that right, securing a future of health and economic security for the middle class and for every American."
Democratic aides on Capitol Hill said that Pelosi this morning called Vicki Kennedy, the widow of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), a longtime champion of health reform.
"Now, Teddy can rest," Pelosi told Kennedy.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), speaking on the Senate floor, said he was "pleased to see the Supreme Court put the rule of law ahead of partisanship."
It was difficult, hours after the opinion was issued, to discern how the day's news would affect the long arc of the presidential campaign.
Romney has mostly focused his criticism of Obama on the anemic state of the economy; the health reform law Romney had signed as governor of Massachusetts also included an individual mandate. (Obama, in his remarks, took a shot at Romney, noting that many political figures had supported that provision, "including the current Republican nominee for president.")
But while the Supreme Court's opinion lets stand the Affordable Care Act, the law still invites intense political reaction from voters, and it's likely to remain as a central issue in the electoral battle for the presidency and control of Congress.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released earlier this week found that 37 percent of Americans said they would be pleased if the court struck down the law, while 22 percent would be disappointed.
And more Americans -- 41 percent -- said they thought the law was a bad idea, versus 35 percent who said it was a good plan.