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'I have learned from you,' says president in tearful Chicago finale

CHICAGO — A teary-eyed President Obama called for unity in a divided nation after his historic reelection victory, and pledged to work with Mitt Romney and other Republican leaders.

Just hours after winning reelection on Tuesday night, Obama told voters that whether or not they helped send him back to the White House for a second term, “I have listened to you” and “I have learned from you.”

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“Despite all of our differences, most of us share hopes for America’s future,” Obama said before a crowd of thousands at the McCormick Place convention center in Chicago.

“We want our kids to grow up in a country where they have access to the best schools, the best teachers. 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.”

Obama, who won an easy victory in the Electoral College by sweeping most of the swing states up for grabs, said he was returning to the White House “more determined and more inspired than ever.”

“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,” Obama added.

Obama said he planned to meet with Romney in the coming weeks.

Obama will face immediate challenges even before his second term officially begins in 2013. Expiring tax rates and imminent spending cuts set to begin in January represent a “fiscal cliff” that economists warn could spark a new recession. The president is expected to begin serious negotiations almost immediately with Republican leaders on the issue.

The most divisive issue in the talks is what to do with tax rates on wealthier households. Obama wants to impose higher tax rates on families with annual incomes above $250,000, while congressional Republicans want to extend all of the existing rates.

Obama acknowledged the divisive nature of politics today, adding, “Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated.”

“That won’t change after tonight,” the president said. But he said the electorate was clear in his second election, voting for action and not “politics as usual.”

Just before taking the stage in Chicago, Romney called Obama to congratulate him on winning the race. Moments later, he told a crowd at a hotel ballroom in Boston, “I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation.”

“I believe in America,” Romney said. “I believe in the people of America. And I ran for office because I’m concerned about America. This election is over, but our principles endure.”

In Chicago, Obama — who watched the results at a local hotel in his hometown — was joined by his family and Vice President Biden, whom he called a “happy warrior” as confetti rained down upon them. He repeatedly thanked supporters, lingering on the stage as he applauded them.

“A long campaign is now over,” he said.