Obama re-elected as US president

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  By a Newsnet reporter  

Barack Obama has won the 2012 US Presidential Election.  By taking the vital swing state of Ohio, the President ensured he had sufficient votes in the Presidential Electoral College to secure his presidency for another 4 years.

The Republicans were especially disappointed as early indications suggested that Mitt Romney had narrowly won the popular vote, but lost the presidency.  Jubilant Democrats declared it to be “Al Gore’s revenge”. Democratic candidate Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 by 500,000 votes, but lost the presidency to George W Bush.

For the foreign observer, the election was in many ways a less exciting re-run of the previous election, which in Barack Obama saw a presidential candidate who promised change and hope, and who would himself embody a history making change by becoming America’s first Black president.  The gloss has long since come off Mr Obama’s presidency, as Americans struggle with the effects of the economic downturn.  

However his Republican opponents have found themselves in thrall to the religious right and the Tea Party movement – which seeks to reduce government spending and taxation to an absolute minimum.  Although popular with a sizeable and vocal minority, more moderate Americans are unattracted to the message of these groups.  

After a bitterly fought campaign to select a candidate, Republicans finally settled on Mitt Romney, former governor of the state of Massachusetts.  It was hoped that Romney would attract more centre-ground voters necessary for the Republicans to retake the presidency.  However in order to gain support within his own party, Romney was forced to ditch many of the policy positions which Republicans hoped would be appealing to moderate voters.

The national popular vote is not the basis for electing the US president.  The popular vote in each state is to return delegates to the Presidential Electoral College.

Each state is allocated as many delegates as it has representatives and senators in the United States Congress.  In addition there are 3 delegates representing the federal District of Columbia, where the capital Washington is located.  

In the electoral college, all the delegates from a state must vote for the presidential candidate who won that state’s popular ballot.  There are 538 electoral delegates in total.  In order to win the presidency, a candidate must secure the votes of an absolute majority in the Electoral College, or 270 delegates.

States tend to be solidly Republican or solidly Democrat.  States in the South and Mid-West – especially the so-called Bible Belt – are usually Republican, whereas states in the North East and the West Coast are usually Democrat.  Most attention on election night focussed on a small number of swing states, whose Electoral College votes a challenger must secure in order to unseat a sitting president.

The large swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, each with a substantial number of Electoral College delegates, were seen as key to the Romney campaign.  Despite confident claims from the Romney team that they expected to take Ohio and Pennsylvania, both states opted for President Obama.  

Of the three largest swing states, Florida had been regarded as being the most likely to fall to the Republicans.  However in a tight run contest with high voter turnout, the result was too close to call several hours after the polling stations closed.  By the time 85% of the ballots had been counted in the state, Obama had a narrow lead of just over 20,000 votes, a lead which gradually increased as the count went on.

It was an early sign that the Romney campaign was in trouble, as the Republican challenger needed to make an easy win here in order to be certain that his supporters could carry other swing states where the Democrat vote was stronger.

However by 4.30 am, the CNN news channel was confidently predicting that Obama had won in the state of Ohio, whose 18 Electoral College delegates took the incumbent President over the 270 line required for victory.