President Obama won a decisive re-election Tuesday night by sweeping most of the industrial Midwest and breaking open what had been a deadlocked race against Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
The president stormed to victory in swing states from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin, assuring his election even as the verdict in Florida and Virginia remained in doubt.
Ohio put Obama over the top, a fitting status for the state that had commanded more candidate visits, manpower and campaign cash than any other all year long.
Supporters who jammed McCormick Place in Chicago for Obama's victory celebration broke into a frenzy when TV networks began projecting him the winner shortly after 11p.m.ET. The president was to address them later in the night.
Obama, seeking to capitalize on his bailout of the auto industry, put the election away by winning Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and Pennsylvania in the country's heartland. He won New Hampshire as well, while Romney captured North Carolina.
The national popular vote remained close early this morning, with both candidates slightly below 50%. Exit polls gave Obama an edge, however, making it likely he would emerge with the most votes.
The surveys showed that six in 10 voters felt the economy was the top issue -- and that those who decided at the last minute broke slightly for Obama, thanks in part to his response to Hurricane Sandy.
Obama became only the 17th president to win two terms -- a feat all the more noteworthy in the face of 7.9% unemployment, higher than any modern president has faced. He spent the day playing pickup basketball in his hometown of Chicago after stopping at a South Side campaign office, where he congratulated Romney for "a hard-fought race."
Romney voted in Belmont, Mass., but kept campaigning in Pennsylvania and Ohio, where his plane met those of vice presidential candidates Joe Biden and Paul Ryan on the Cleveland tarmac. "We fought to the very end," Romney said.
A fierce battle for Congress appeared to preserve the status quo. Democrats' Senate wins from Massachusetts to Missouri secured their majority, while Republicans headed toward continued rule in the House.
Now the victors face the hard work of governing: Obama and lawmakers have 55 days to reach a deal before scheduled tax increases and spending cuts threaten another recession.
All day long, voters encountered hours-long lines in Florida, Virginia and elsewhere, voting-machine malfunctions in key Ohio precincts and polling stations without power in the storm-stricken Northeast.
For some, the end couldn't come soon enough. In Virginia, Romney voter Robert Adams had four words to describe it: "Too long. Too noisy."