BARACK Obama captured a second White House term, blunting a mighty challenge by Republican Mitt Romney as Americans voted for a leader they knew over a wealthy businessman they did not.
Obama, America’s first black president, easily captured far more than the 270 electoral votes needed for victory and further cemented his place in American history on Tuesday with a victory, despite having led the country through its most difficult economic times since the Great Depression in the 1930s, a time of stubbornly high unemployment and anxiety about the future.
Romney said he had called President Barack Obama to concede the presidential race, and in appearance before supporters in Boston he congratulated Obama, saying, “I pray that he will be successful in guiding our nation.”
Obama’s victory reflected Americans’ suspicions about Romney, who had a history of shifting positions to keep pace with the increasingly hard right political stands of his Republican party.
“This happened because of you. Thank you” Obama tweeted to supporters as he celebrated four more years in the White House.
After the costliest campaign in history - and one of the nastiest in recent history- divided government seemed alive and well.
Democrats retained control of the Senate with surprising ease.
Republicans were on course for the same in the House, making it likely that Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Obama’s partner in unsuccessful deficit talks, would reclaim his seat at the bargaining table.
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, led narrowly in the popular vote, with 47.5 million votes, to 47.3 for Obama with votes counted in 70 percent of the nation’s precincts.
But Obama’s laserlike focus on the battleground states allowed him to run up a sizeable margin in the competition for electoral votes, where it mattered.
The president is chosen in a state-by-state tally of electors, not according to the nationwide popular vote, making such “battleground” states - which vote neither Republican nor Democrat on a consistent basis - particularly important in such a tight race.
Obama won Ohio, Wisconsin, Virginia, Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado and Nevada, seven of the nine battleground states where the rivals and their allies poured nearly $1 billion into dueling television commercials.
Romney was in Massachusetts, his long and grueling bid for the presidency at an unsuccessful end. Obama had retreated to his home on the south side of Chicago
Of the nine battleground states, Romney captured only North Carolina. The final swing state - Florida - remained too close to call.
The election emerged as a choice between two very different visions of government - whether it occupies a major, front-row place in American lives or is in the background as a less-obtrusive facilitator for private enterprise and entrepreneurship.
The economy was rated the top issue by about 60 percent of voters surveyed as they left polling places. But more said former President George W. Bush bore responsibility for current circumstances than Obama did after nearly four years in office.
About 4 in 10 said the economy is on the mend, but more than that said it was stagnant or getting worse more than four years after the near-collapse of 2008. The survey was conducted for The Associated Press and a group of television networks.
Polls were still open in much of the country as the two rivals began claiming the spoils of a brawl of an election in a year in which the struggling economy put a crimp in the middle class dreams of millions.
The president was in Chicago as he awaited the voters’ verdict on his four years in office. He had told reporters he had a concession speech as well as victory remarks prepared. He congratulated Romney on a spirited campaign. “I know his supporters are just as engaged, just as enthusiastic and working just as hard today” as Obama’s own, he added.
Romney reciprocated, congratulating the man who he had campaigned against for more than a year.
Earlier, he raced to Ohio and Pennsylvania for Election Day campaigning and projected confidence as he flew home to Massachusetts. “We fought to the very end, and I think that’s why we’ll be successful,” he said, adding that he had finished writing a speech anticipating victory but nothing if the election went to his rival.
But the mood soured among the Republican high command as the votes came in and Obama ground out a lead in critical states.
Like Obama, Vice President Joe Biden was in Chicago as he waited to find out if he was in line for a second term. Republican running mate Paul Ryan was with Romney in Boston, although he kept one eye on his re-election campaign for a House seat in Wisconsin, just in case.
The long campaign’s cost soared into the billions, much of it spent on negative ads, some harshly so.
Obama and Romney spent months highlighting their sharp divisions over the role of government in Americans’ lives, especially in bringing down the stubbornly high unemployment rate, reducing the $1 trillion-plus federal budget deficit and reducing a national debt that has crept above $16 trillion.
Obama insists there is no way reduce the staggering debt and safeguard crucial social programs without asking the wealthy to pay their “fair share” in taxes. Romney, who bragged of his successful business background said that gave him the expertise to manage the economy. He have favored lowering taxes and easing regulations on businesses, saying it would spur job growth.
No U.S. president since Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s had run for re-election with a national jobless rate as high as it is now - 7.9 percent in October.