CHICAGO — A few minutes past ten o’clock here, Chicago resident Lester Montgomery paraded down an entranceway at McCormick Place, bouncing up and down and waving his arms in the air upon hearing news that Barack Obama was the projected winner of the 2012 presidential election.
Montgomery and his wife, Toya, crying on his arm, had been waiting for hours at the Obama campaign’s election night rally. Now came the moment they had been hoping for, in which the incumbent prevailed, defeating Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
In his victory speech, an impassioned Obama addressed the beaming crowd waving flags and cheering blissfully, and said that though the past four years have been challenging, the support of the American people on Tuesday is indicative of the promise of his coming term.
“Tonight, in this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back, and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America the best is yet to come,” Obama said.
Obama’s re-election — coming after a campaign season in which the two candidates paved distinct choices for the country’s future — seemed to signify that despite waning support, the electorate still believes in the vision of change the president first laid out four years ago.
However, his victory was not as decisive as the historic 2008 presidential election. In the final month following the Oct. 3 presidential debate, Obama faced a nationwide surge by Romney and tightening poll numbers that threatened his hold on crucial swing states and his prospects for a coveted second term.
As of 4 a.m., Obama holds 303 Electoral College votes to Romney’s 206 according to the Associated Press, a margin significantly lower than his 385-173 victory over Senator John McCain (R–Ariz.) in 2008. However, the popular vote remains close, with Obama holding a slim lead of just 50 percent to 48 percent.
Despite the challenges, Obama clinched the electoral votes of swing states like Ohio and Virginia, both of which projected narrow margins throughout the evening after the polls closed. He also won early victories in Pennsylvania and Michigan, two states that Romney singled out as late annexations to his electoral map, before Wisconsin, Nevada and Iowa also went blue.
In his concession speech from Boston early Wednesday morning, Romney told the crowd to put aside partisanship, as he stood before a banner bearing the words “A Believe in America”
“The nation, as you know, is at a critical point,” Romney said. “At a time like this, we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work.”
Romney’s defeat represented a sharp loss for Republicans, who touted the election as an opportunity to reverse the direction of the country over the last four years and to restore American values.
“I ran for office because I’m concerned about America,” Romney said. “This election is over, but our principles endure. I believe that the principles upon which this nation was founded are the only sure guide to a resurgent economy and to renewed greatness.”
The defeat for Romney was especially bitter for some in Michigan, as the candidate is a native of Bloomfield Hills and the son of former governor George Romney, who served from 1963 to 1969.
Early returns in the state, after Oakland County became the first county to report its results, were promising for Romney. But strong turnout among younger voters and minority voters and Obama’s support for the auto bailout gave him an edge in the state, where he ultimately won by 5 percent according to the Associated Press.
The call marked the sixth consecutive presidential election in which Michigan went Democratic, dating back to former President Bill Clinton’s victory in the state in the 1992 presidential election.
In Wood County, a critical district in Ohio, the election was particularly close, with Obama winning by less than 3,000 votes out of about 60,000 ballots cast.
Though the chairs of the county Democratic Party and Republican Party said before the election they anticipated that the county would likely be closely contested, students at Bowling Green State University in Wood County seemed to favor Obama.
BGSU undergraduate student and Romney supporter Paige Pitts, said she found the liberal bias of her peers frustrating.
“It was really upsetting,” Pitts said. “I feel like my age group is such a moldable time, and the fact that it was so biased made me really upset.”
Just as he did four years ago, Obama swept to victory with the help of high turnout among youth, African American and Latino voters.
Rather than directing efforts and funding toward television advertisements as the Romney campaign did, Obama focused on get-out-the-vote efforts to secure the presidency, according to Aaron Kall, director of the University of Michigan debate program.
“The turnout was probably the most important factor,” Kall said. “The (Obama campaign’s) get-out-the-vote effort was excellent, starting with the early voting.”
Obama will now return to the White House with the task of implementing the Affordable Care Act, continuing the economic recovery and ending the war in Afghanistan amid a host of other initiatives that will require bipartisan support, especially since Republicans maintained control of the U.S. House of Representatives, despite Democratic gains in the U.S. Senate.
After celebrating at the election night rally here, attendees said they expect the president to continue rebuilding the country moving forward.
“(In 2008), we had no direction — we were headed down to the pits of hell, let’s say that,” Washington, D.C. resident Clint McPherson said. “I’m more excited now because we’re going somewhere. We’re going somewhere.”
When Montgomery, the Chicago resident who danced in the aisle, paused to reflect on what the election meant for the country, he said Obama’s re-election will change the course of the country’s history.
“This is a referendum on two views of what the country should be, and it’s very clear, not by just by the fact that the president won, that the American people want to move this country forward in the way that Obama describes,” he said. “I think that’s the bottom line.”
— Daily Staff Reporter Alicia Adamczyk contributed reporting from Bowling Green, Ohio. The Associated Press also contributed reporting.