WASHINGTON — With Ohioans casting the decisive votes, President Obama was reelected Tuesday in a hard-fought battle with Mitt Romney that turned out to be nearly as close as advertised.
Network projections of an Obama victory in the perennial swing state of Ohio, shortly after 8:10 p.m. PST, put the nation’s first black president over the top in an uphill second-term fight in a country slowly recovering from the worst economic downtown since the Depression.
Thousands of Obama supporters at a victory celebration in Chicago erupted in cheers when the race was called, and a boisterous crowd quickly gathered in front of the White House as it did on election night four years ago.
The final minutes of a presidential contest that remained extremely tight for months were not without controversy. Romney strategists, closeted with their candidate at a Boston hotel, resisted the conclusion that the race was over, and the former Massachusetts governor did not immediately concede the election. The Romney camp was looking at official returns from Ohio that showed a margin of fewer than 15,000 votes, out of more than 4.3 million cast, separating the two men.
Their hesitation was bolstered, for a time, by former George W. Bush strategist Karl Rove, now a Fox News commentator, who conjured up memories of the news media’s premature decision to give Florida to Al Gore on the night of the 2000 election. Rove soon backed away, conceding that his network’s decision desk, which along with the other networks and the Associated Press called Ohio for Obama, had more information than he did.
Less than an hour later, the president carried Nevada and Colorado, making the dispute about Ohio irrelevant. Obama had amassed more than enough electoral votes to win without Ohio, or the largest battleground — Florida, which remained too close to call.
As expected, Obama also took the swing states of Iowa, New Hampshire and Wisconsin. He also repeated his 2008 victory in Virginia and carried the heavily Democratic West Coast and Northeast, as well as Illinois, Maryland and Hawaii.
Romney’s late play for Pennsylvania, a state no Republican has carried since 1988, fell short. The GOP nominee also lost his home state of Massachusetts and his native Michigan.
Romney, however, turned the electoral map red across a vast stretch of the South, Great Plains and much of the Mountain West. He won North Carolina and Indiana back from Obama, who had carried those states in 2008.
Defeats in Massachusetts and Wisconsin made Romney and his running mate, Paul D. Ryan, the first major party ticket to lose their home states since Democrats George McGovern and Sargent Shriver in the 1972 Nixon landslide.
Earlier in the day, both candidates delivered bullish remarks about their prospects, even as they were scrapping for every last advantage through media interviews that were beamed to battleground states and campaign events in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
During a visit to a local campaign office in his hometown of Chicago, the president congratulated Romney on “a spirited campaign.” Obama said he was “confident we’ve got the votes to win, that it’s going to depend ultimately on whether those votes turn out.”
Romney campaigned with Ryan in Ohio, the archetypal swing state that played a central role again this year. At one point Tuesday, both members of the Republican ticket and Vice President Joe Biden were in Cleveland at the same time.
PHOTOS: America goes to the polls