A second term – and a second chance at the greatness he promised

 

Chicago

Barack Obama emerged early yesterday from the mincing machine of the presidential election, bruised but politically intact after decisively dispatching Mitt Romney and thus securing a second chance at becoming the transformative leader he had always promised to be.

After weeks of suspense that saw Mr Romney surge from behind to what seemed like grasping distance of the keys to the White House, Mr Obama finally ground out a victory in the Electoral College tallies, with none of the overwhelming margins or sense of grand destiny of 2008.

Mr Obama achieved only a razor-thin edge in the popular vote – with returns from 94 per cent of all precincts counted, he stood at 50 per cent against 48 per cent for his Republican rival – but what mattered was his dogged and successful defence of the handful of key battleground states. With Florida still too close to call yesterday, the President was guaranteed at least 303 votes to Mr Romney's 206 in the Electoral College. He had needed to 270 to prevail.

That was all that was required to ignite the more than 10,000 supporters who had poured into the McCormick Centre near downtown Chicago and, when the moment arrived, erupted into raucous delirium when Mr Obama, accompanied by his wife and two daughters, strode on to the stage to claim his second term

While some had predicted a long night and margins thin enough to trigger a storm of legal challenges and possible recounts, in the end the states that really mattered – Ohio, Virginia, Iowa, Colorado – lined up fairly swiftly for the President. It was 20 minutes after midnight on the East Coast when the networks declared the night for the incumbent and the Democrat roar went up.

But for all the hoopla and the ecstasy of his supporters, Mr Obama goes home to a Washington that in many ways is no different than before. And if he is, indeed, to remake himself in the image of the candidate we saw four years ago – the leader who was going to transcend partisan divisions and unify a fractured and economically battered nation – he must first cross a quagmire of long put-off problems and challenges, none of which will be easily solved.

While the nation voted to give him a fresh chance, they also rewarded Republicans with a still-solid majority in the House of Representatives.

Even if the Democrats were set to hold on to, or even expand, their narrow majority in the Senate, the bulwark of opposition to the President's agenda in the lower house remains. After suffering a second presidential loss in a row, the Republican mood looks bloody.

If at times as soaring as any we have seen him give before, Mr Obama's acceptance speech was also grounded in an acknowledgement of the difficulties ahead. "The best is yet to come," for the United States, he insisted. "You voted for action, not politics as usual." But partisan passions never go away, he added. "That won't change after tonight, and it shouldn't. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty."

He offered conciliation to Mr Romney – who had earlier delayed conceding for more than 40 minutes as aides scrambled to see if the networks had declared the race too hastily – and asked to sit down with him in the weeks ahead to seek his counsel.

But while he pledged to reach out to all Republicans, responsibility lay with them too, he said. "The recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won't end all the gridlock or solve all our problems or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus". Immediately looming is the "fiscal cliff" at the end of this year – before the inauguration for a second term – and will require a knitting together of a bargain to address both the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts for the rich and voluntary agreement on painful cuts in domestic spending.

If no deal is reached, an automatic process will kick in to slash defence spending and raise taxes by about $600bn – something that economists warn could very quickly push America back into recession.

Nothing in the negotiations that lay ahead suggests accommodation will be easy. The quest by Mr Obama to end the tax cuts so, as he said on the stump, the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share in the effort to tackle a $1 trillion in annual deficits and a national debt running at $1.6trn will be vigorously resisted by Republicans.

And yet, Mr Obama can dream to hope that the clouds can yet be parted. In one regard, his place in his history is already protected. The enormous undertaking that is the healthcare overhaul, which Mr Romney had pledged to repeal, is now secure, notwithstanding exit polling on Tuesday showing 50 per cent of Americans would like to see it gone and only 44 per cent in support.

Moreover, if the "fiscal cliff" can be averted and agreement reached on a new debt ceiling, there is reason to believe that while he spent all of his first term and his re-election campaigning facing the headwinds of the Great Recession, in the second he may enjoy an accelerating economic recovery.

Without the concerns of facing another election, Mr Obama may feel liberated to expand on that legacy, making swift moves to introduce reform of immigration laws and offering substantive proposals on global warming. Both issues were notably absent from his re-election campaign.

Polling over, the President must also urgently turn his attention to the world stage. While the leaders of the main allied nations, including Britain, may welcome having a familiar partner remain in the White House for four more years, they will instantly be pressing him to focus on everything from the crisis in Syria to the stand-off with Iran and the continuing uncertainty of the Arab Spring.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game