By Amie Parnes - 11/07/12 01:33 PM EST
CHICAGO — President Obama has won reelection to an historic second term after defeating Republican Mitt Romney.
Romney conceded the race to Obama shortly after midnight, well after it was apparent that Obama had scored a decisive victory.
A short time later Obama addressed an ecstatic crowd in Chicago, with the president offering kind words for Romney and calling for the country to come together.
“We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the disruptive power of a warming planet. We want to pass on a country that’s safe and respected and admired around the world.
“Whether I have earned your vote or not, I have listened to you, I have learned from you and you have made me a better president,” he said.
Obama will now need to turn his attention quickly to the so-called fiscal cliff of tax hikes and spending cuts set to take effect in January. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced Wednesday morning he would address the issue this afternoon as leaders in Washington immediately set out to define the terms of the debate.
In his address, Obama said he looked forward to meeting with Romney to discuss ideas on dealing with the nation's problems.
Obama's winning total in the Electoral College is approaching a level similar to the margin he enjoyed in 2008, though his winning margins in individual states are much smaller than they were four years ago.
The president has lost only two states to Romney that he won in 2008 — North Carolina and Indiana. He has won the swing states of Virginia, Ohio, Iowa, Nevada, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Colorado. He also won Pennsylvania, a state Romney made a bid for at the end of the campaign.
By Wednesday morning, an outcome still had not been called in Florida, where Obama was also narrowly ahead.
Obama also won the popular vote after speculation for the last few weeks that there could be a split between the popular vote and Electoral College winners.
In his concession speech, Romney congratulated the president and offered him his prayers.
“I wish all of them well but particularly the president, the first lady and their daughters," Romney said. "This is a time of great challenges for America and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation.”
The victory ensures Obama's signature legislative achievement — the healthcare law he and his opponents have called "ObamaCare" — will survive and be implemented in his second term.
Obama's first-term achievements of the healthcare law, a huge stimulus measure, a bailout of U.S. auto companies and the Dodd-Frank financial reform law had already given his presidency an historic tinge. Obama has said that in his next term, he would like to reach a major deficit-reduction deal with Republicans and win approval of an immigration reform law.
The president will be dealing with a Republican House, but Senate Democrats won enough seats early on Tuesday to ensure they would hold the majority in the upper chamber. As of Wednesday morning, they had picked up two seats, including Sen.-elect Angus King, an independent from Maine expected to caucus with Democrats.
Races in North Dakota and Montana had not been called, though Democratic candidates held leads in both states.
All of the major networks projected Obama as the winner shortly after 11 p.m., declaring that he had won the key swing state of Ohio. The news was greeted with loud cheers at Obama's campaign headquarters in Chicago but with gloom by Romney's supporters gathered in Boston.
A crowd of several hundred to 1,000 also gathered at the White House, some of them chanting "four more years." Several people climbed the trees out front of the White House, including one shirtless man and another holding an American flag.
Many observers had expected a final result would not be known until early Wednesday morning, but networks ended up calling the election only about 20 minutes later than when Obama won his first term in 2008.
Good news for Obama came early in the night, when exit polls showed a razor-tight race in Florida, Virginia and North Carolina, a state where Romney was thought to have an edge. Another positive omen came after Michigan's polls closed at 9 p.m., and networks immediately called it for Obama.
As recognition that the election was slipping out of grasp dawned on Romney's collected supporters gathered in the Boston convention center, the room fell into an anxious silence.
While the Romney campaign first tried to rally supporters, calling on senior adviser Ed Gillespie and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) to deliver encouraging messages, the realization of the long odds soon began to overtake the room. Further depressing the mood was the decision to air Sen. Scott Brown's (R-Mass.) concession speech after he lost to Elizabeth Warren.
The final blow came as Fox News projected that the president would capture Ohio, leaving Romney supporters in stunned silence. Audience members stared at video screens projecting the president's reelection, with only a low, disappointed murmur rising above the crowd.
Obama campaign aides sought to portray their confidence even after results were projected, as one after the other they said "there were no surprises" in the results.
"Remember when everyone thought we were spinning in recent days about the outcome of this race? Well, now you know," one aide said. "We felt like we had the momentum, the ground game and the right vision on where we wanted to take the country. That's reflected in the outcome tonight."
While aides began the evening a little tense, their worry quickly lifted on Tuesday night, as Obama was able to secure a string of back-to-back battleground states including Ohio, Iowa and Colorado.
And just minutes after Obama was declared the winner of the election, aides threw their fists in the air, and some supporters danced on tables.
The song "How you like me now?" wafted from the speakers, followed by Aretha Franklin's "Respect."
—This story was posted at 11:20 p.m. and updated at 8:33 a.m.