Speaking in Chicago early in the morning in the US, Barack Obama claimed victory after a strenuous, hard-fought campaign, telling supporters that all Americans were one society that was fighting its way back from economic adversity and that the best was yet to come. Obama had warm words for his opponent as well as his running mate, Joe Biden - and, of course, his wife, Michelle Obama. Obama spoke to his supporters, to the nation and to hundreds of millions of people around the world, praising participation in political life as a tangible manifestation of the best in American idealism. Obama spoke to the as yet unrealized goals of his presidency - addressing debt, global warming, global peace, and further fuller opportunity for all citizens.
Admitting there will be disagreements with the other party and his critics, Obama stressed that the economy was recovering and a long war had ended - and that he looked forward to working with the leaders of both parties on the unfinished agenda. Perhaps channelling JFK's 1961 inauguration address, Obama charged the country's citizens to seize the challenge of “self-government” rather than passively waiting for government to do it for them.
Earlier, and in a dramatic fashion, Obama rolled to a victorious re-election to earn himself another four years in the White House, beating Mitt Romney in an election that was close in the national popular vote but convincing in its electoral vote results. The latest tally gave Obama 303 electoral votes out of 538, with no result yet from Florida and its 29 electoral votes.
Obama's convincing win vindicated his campaign's game plan, which was to focus on earning victories in the populous north-eastern states, most of the Midwest and the populous west coast. In doing this, they won the vital battleground states of Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Colorado, and almost certainly Florida as well. While Obama's 2012 result is not as impressive as the 365 seats he won in 2008, it was an impressive achievement nevertheless. It is remarkable that in a still ailing economy and under so much fire, Obama has lost only Indiana and South Carolina, which are traditionally red states anyway.
Of course, this election was not only about the presidency. Thirty three Senate seats were up for grabs and all 435 members of the House of Representatives were being selected, as well as many governors, mayors and hundreds of other state and local officials.
Not all the news was good for Obama and his merry Democrats. Crucially, they held onto their control of the senate, America’s upper house, even slightly increasing their majority. Republicans, however, many of them Tea Party members, have continued their hold on the House of Representatives, guaranteeing a contentious, divided governing arrangement. This will make it difficult to find resolutions to crucial issues such as the looming fiscal cliff that will kick in right at the beginning of the new year, and a bipartisan agreement on tax and spending.
A key measure of the American population's choice this year was the fact that while 60% of Americans polled continued to say that the country's economy was the key to their decision on how to vote, more than 50% also agreed with Obama's argument during the campaign that the blame for the country's economic worries was still to be laid at the fault of Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush. By contrast, health care and foreign policy issues consistently trailed the country's economy as the key issue of this campaign. It’s still the economy, stupid, as Bill Clinton would have said.
Although it took him a while, Mitt Romney eventually emerged to greet and thank his supporters and concede the election to Barack Obama, after phoning Obama to concede the race to the president. Romney called for leaders to rise beyond partisan divisions to address the nation's challenges – calling on those who create jobs or guide the country educationally and morally to step up and do their best.
Following Mitt Romney's defeat, the knives will be out in the Republican Party, trying to find someone to blame for their loss. However, the hard fact is that losing two presidential elections in a row is a ringing wake-up call to rethink the ethos of the party's ideology.
Who - or which faction, either moderate or even more conservative - will come out on top will occupy the attention of Republican politicians, analysts and strategists going forward and on to the midterm election of 2014. Already, the next round of campaigning is beginning.
This column appeared in The Daily Maverick.