By Tom Cohen
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Barack Obama will be re-elected as president of the United States, CNN projects. He will win the critical swing state of Ohio, putting him over the 270 electoral votes needed to secure the White House, CNN projects.
Mitt Romney took an early lead over Obama with more than half the races decided Tuesday, but the Republican challenger lost both his home and birth states and was trailing in key battleground states, according to unofficial returns and CNN projections.
All races called so far went as expected after the roller-coaster ride of an election campaign that was buffeted by a superstorm and missteps on both sides.
Meanwhile, CNN projected that Republicans would retain their majority in the U.S. House, raising the prospect of another divided Congress with analysts expecting Democrats to hold onto their narrow control of the Senate.
Obama and Romney ran dead even in final polls that hinted at a result rivaling some of the closest presidential elections in history, reflecting the deep political chasm in the country.
Obama will win his home state of Illinois as well as Romney’ s home state of Massachusetts — where the Republican previously served as governor. He will also win Pennsylvania, Romney’s birth state of Michigan, along with New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Maine, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia, according to the CNN projections.
Romney will win Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Wyoming, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Georgia, CNN projects.
Voters also determined the makeup of a new Congress, choosing all 435 members of the House of Representatives and 33 of the 100 senators. Democrats and independents who caucused with them held a 53-47 advantage in the Senate heading into the election, and the unofficial returns indicated the party was likely to retain its majority.
Tuesday’s outcome will influence the direction of a government and country facing chronic federal deficits and debt as well as sluggish economic growth in the wake of a devastating recession and financial industry collapse that confronted Obama when he took office as the first African-American president in January 2009.
Voters also will determine the makeup of a new Congress, choosing all 435 members of the House of Representatives and 33 of the 100 senators. Analysts expect Republicans to maintain control of the House and Democrats to keep their narrow advantage in the Senate.
Around the country, voters formed long lines at polling places after record numbers participated in early balloting, indicating a strong turnout.
Don Palmer, secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections, said the turnout this year may be stronger than in 2008, when Obama became the first Democrat to win the Southern state in 44 years.
Obama visited a local Democratic election center in the Chicago area, while Vice President Joe Biden made “an unannounced but long-scheduled” stop in the key battleground state of Ohio.
Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, also arrived separately in Ohio, with Romney’s campaign plane and Air Force Two, which carries the vice president, crossing paths at Cleveland’s airport.
Earlier Tuesday, Romney cast his ballot outside of Boston, while Obama previously became the first sitting president to vote early when he did so in Chicago last month.
Despite the building drama toward Election Day in the campaign expected to cost $2.6 billion, much of the outcome already was known.
Only a handful of states were considered up for grabs and both candidates and their campaigns concluded an exhausting final sprint through them over the weekend and on Monday.
The barnstorming amounted to a montage of Americana electioneering, with Obama and Romney shouting themselves hoarse before boisterous crowds, joined by top surrogates and star power such as Bruce Springsteen singing for Obama and Kid Rock for Romney.
Emotion overtook the president at the end of the day.
His eyes welled with tears as he thanked the people “who’ve given so much to this campaign over the years,” during a stop in Des Moines, Iowa — a place where his first campaign gained an early foothold in his first run for the White House.
“You took this campaign and made it of your own and you organized yourselves block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, county by county, starting a movement that spread across the country,” Obama said wiping away tears three times as he talked.
In North Carolina, first lady Michelle Obama exhorted voters to endure the expected long lines to vote on Tuesday, telling a Charlotte crowd: “Once you are in that line, do not get out. Don’t get out. And the waits could be long. We need you to wait it out.”
For his part, Romney called Obama’s record one of underachievement and failure, telling a cheering Virginia crowd at his second stop of the day that “almost every measure he took hurt the economy, hurt fellow Americans.”
It takes 270 of the 538 total electoral votes to win the presidency.
As the challenger, Romney sought to frame the election as a referendum on Obama’s presidency and to capitalize on his own background as multimillionaire businessman by depicting himself as better able to handle economic issues identified by voters as their biggest concern. His campaign stump speech hammered Obama over high unemployment and what he called excessive taxes and regulations that Romney said stifled faster growth.
Obama and his team attacked Romney’s politics and his background as a venture capitalist, saying he would back policies favoring the wealthy over the middle class and exacerbate the already widening income and opportunity disparity in the country. The president wanted the race to come down to competing visions for the future and his oft-repeated goal of restoring the promise of the American dream of equal opportunity for all.
Aside from the policy differences, the election amounted to a campaign chess match targeting specific states and demographic groups as part of plan to create a path to 270 electoral votes. Polling portrayed a race that hinged on the social and democratic divides in American society, with Obama supported most strongly by women, minorities and young respondents, while Romney did better among wealthy and middle class white men, from senior citizens down to 30- year-olds.
In response, Obama emphasized the anti-choice positions of Romney and conservatives on abortion, their stance against gay rights and their opposition to providing a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants.
Re-election offered Obama, 51, the chance to secure a two-term legacy and seek further reforms he promised in his historic campaign of 2008 but was unable to deliver in the first four years. In particular, he has made comprehensive immigration reform a top target, as well as a deficit reduction plan that ends tax breaks for income over $250,000.
However, the wave of optimism that carried to him to victory in 2008 seemed muted four years later, with former supporters angered by the failure to achieve the kind of change in Washington they believed Obama had promised but failed to deliver.
Particular issues of discontent included Obama’s expanded use of unmanned drones to attack terrorist targets abroad, the lack of broad immigration reform and the continued existence of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
For Romney, the election concluded a six-year quest for the presidency to achieve the office that his father — former Michigan Gov. George Romney — briefly and unsuccessfully sought in 1968.
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