President Barack Obama stepped to the brink of re-election Tuesday night, capturing battleground Ohio from former Gov. Mitt Romney and edging ahead in other pivotal states despite a weak economy and high unemployment that crimped the middle class dreams of millions.
At home in Chicago, the president all but claimed victory. “This happened because of you. Thank you” he tweeted to supporters.
Romney was in Massachusetts after a long and grueling bid for the presidency. He led in the national popular vote with 41 million votes, or 50 percent. Obama had 40 million, or 49 percent, with 59 percent of the precincts tallied.
But Obama led in the competition for electoral votes, where it mattered most.
His triumph in Ohio as well as in Iowa and New Hampshire, two other battlegrounds, gave him 265 electoral votes of the 270 needed for victory, Romney had 200.
Obama also carried Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont in early New England tallies, while also, as expected, winning his home state of Illinois, Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Delaware — the home state of his vice-presidential running mate, Joe Biden.
Romney rang up South Carolina, Oklahoma, Kentucky and West Virginia in his column. He also won Indiana, a state Obama carried in 2008 but did not contest this year.
The election was largely being seen as a referendum on Obama and his efforts to revive an economy still struggling to recover from the Great Recession of 2007-2009, the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Six of 10 voters said the economy was the most important issue, well ahead of health care or foreign policy. Three of four voters said the economy remained poor or not so good, according to preliminary exit polls.
Obama touted the economy’s steady progress on his watch; Romney cited stubbornly high unemployment and mounting federal debt as he argued the recovery’s pace was too slow. In the exit polls, slightly more than half said Obama was more in touch with people like them, compared with 44 percent for Romney.
Turnout was reported heavy, particularly in swing states as well as storm-battered New York and New Jersey. Experts still expected it to remain below 2008 levels, finding voters less engaged. About 32 million people had voted early, either in person or by mail.
The president spent Election Day in Chicago. He stopped by his campaign’s Hyde Park field office in south Chicago to greet workers and call voters. He called six Wisconsin voters, then talked to supporters at the office.
He congratulated Romney for a “spirited campaign” and said he felt good about the results. “We feel confident we’ve got the votes to win, that it’s going to depend ultimately on whether those votes turn out,” Obama said.
After voting in Belmont, Romney then made hastily scheduled campaign swings to Ohio and Pennsylvania. Ohio is considered crucial for Romney; no Republican has been elected president without winning the Buckeye State.
The last day’s scramble was vividly on display at the Cleveland airport. As Romney was waiting for running mate Paul Ryan to arrive, Vice President Joe Biden’s plane took off. Biden made his own last-minute trek to Ohio.
Romney visited a Cleveland-area campaign office, where he proclaimed, “This is a big day for change.”
Afterward, he and Ryan went to lunch at a local Wendy’s restaurant. Romney ordered a quarter-pound hamburger, chili and a frosty, while Ryan had a quarter-pound burger and a salad.
It takes 270 electoral votes to win. Final poll averages showed Obama with small leads in a handful of states likely to decide this race: Virginia (13 electoral votes), New Hampshire (4), Ohio (18), Colorado (9), Iowa (6), Wisconsin (10) and Nevada (6). Romney led in Florida (29) and North Carolina (15).
Michigan (16 electoral votes) and Pennsylvania (20), states Obama won handily last time, were also being watched closely, though the networks declared both of those states as leaning toward Obama as of 10 p.m.
For updates on this and other races later today, look back to the goloucestertimes.com.