President Obama's victory speech was soaring and pragmatic. But was America celebrating?

Our correspondent reports from the McCormick Place convention center, Chicago, as Barack Obama gives his victory speech

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Last night I crawled beneath the broadcasters’ stands to sneak a prime spot to witness a triumphant Barack Obama address the nation and the world. I was close in Grant Park in 2008 and I wanted to taste that elixir of American history again.  It was not disappointing. Before a swelling crowd Mr Obama scaled his old heights of oratory.

No detail of the staging of Mr Obama’s declaration of victory – his dispatch of Mitt Romney – was unplanned. Even before he stepped forward a towering red curtain behind his podium swept open to reveal still more terraced ranks of flag-waving supporters. Indoors in an exhibition hall there was perhaps less grandeur than last time, but elation enveloped all. This was the choreography of confidence; they had known he was going to win all along.

If they did, we didn’t and every Democrats knows how nervous they were ahead of the count, still not over their candidate’s stumble in Denver and the deftness of Mr Romney’s shift to the middle. But the polls in the end had been spot on.  Slowly each of the battleground states ticked the box for Mr Obama even if the margins weren’t wide.  A night that many had though would be long was not.  The first projections of his victory came just after midnight East Coast time.  They might have heard the cheers all the way to Boston, where quiet had descended.

Mr Obama’s speech was soaring but also pragmatic, bearing a pledge to reach out to Republicans to achieve a political peace that eluded him in his first term.  “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,” he said.

No one can deny the sweetness of today’s election victory for Barack Obama, who now prepares for a second term and it is difficult to fathom the disappointment visited upon his rival, Mr Romney, who fought a determined battle until the end and who at times over the past weeks had seemed close to even to sinking the incumbent.

How much does America have to celebrate? At least, the race concluded with a clear decision and the fears of days or weeks of legal challenges did not materialise in Ohio or Florida. But after a bitter campaign that, all things taken in cost about $6.5 billion, the country is left exactly where it was when it started: riven down the middle. The Republicans held the House of Representatives and the Democrats the Senate

Mr Obama said he was honoured to be president of this country. But his was victory that exemplified how utterly divided it has become, not just between the ends of Pennsylvania Avenue but across its breadth.  He was carried through by a coalition of the progressive – women, young people and minorities – and what remains are the white men and the privileged whose prayers were with Romney. One group is delirious tonight, the other angrier than ever.

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