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WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama won a hard-fought second term to the White House after his colorful coalition of ethnic minorities, younger voters, and urban women overrode nationwide economic dissatisfaction and held off the challenge from a Republican vanguard of fading white population.
On the face of it, Democrat Obama's victory in an economically distressed America was impressive. He won 332 of the 538 Electoral Votes, comfortably more than the 270 he needed to retain the presidency. But the imposing Electoral College lead masked a relatively narrow margin of popular votes in battleground states that saw a tense finish: Overall, nationwide, Obama had polled around 59 million votes (just over 50 per cent) to Romney's 56 million (48.4 per cent) with many votes still to be counted. The turnout by the Democratic coalition ensured that would not lose the popular vote as some had feared.
It was a remarkable night for the President, the first American leader since World War II to win a second term in office amid high unemployment and a war-sapped economy. For the triumph, he gave credit where it was due in his victory speech â "to the best campaign team in the history of politics," and in the first phone call he made after Romney conceded defeat, to the wily Bill Clinton.
Together they forged a coalition which will take some beating in years to come, unless the Republican Party dramatically recasts itself. The alliance consists of minority voters (Black, Latino, and Asian) worried about immigration laws and Republican exclusivism; blue-collar workers, particularly in the so-called Rust Belt who are grateful to Obama and his government intervention in saving US manufacturing; women passionate about reproductive rights and pay parity, and a young, urban, collegiate demographic unimpressed by the domestic Republican conservatism and international machismo.
This broad coalition delivered three key battleground states to Obama that Romney desperately needed to snatch to reach 270 electoral votes -- Florida, Ohio, and Virginia. In each case they demonstrated their urban-centric power by helping Obama eke out narrow wins over Romney's narrower support base, centered on mostly white, older, richer men (WORMs), and inhabiting a different world.
In Florida, minority Latino votes in a few heavily populated southern-most counties neutralized Romney's lead from rest of the state's conservative outback. The Democrats' urban bias was even starker in Ohio. Although Romney won 90 per cent of the state's counties, mostly rural and thinly populated, Obama storm-troopers pulled in blue-collar votes in the Cleveland-Toledo industrial belt where the President's government bailout saved the auto industry. Likewise, in Virginia, Romney won the state's hinterland, but Democrats polled heavily in the three Northern Virginia counties adjoining Washington DC, home to 100,000 desis and the area's tech corridor.
As a result, Obama won the presidency even though the country remains mired in economic distress and was, like in the previous three elections, largely swathed in Republican Red with Romney winning rural county after conservative county in middle-America. Romney won more landmass across the nation, but Obama out-polled him in urban pockets heavily populated by minorities. Of course, there was always the big cushion of solidly Democratic California and New York, which between them have 84 electoral votes.
Initial numbers indicated that 45 per cent of those who voted for Obama are racial minorities, a record. They trumped mostly white senior citizens who gave a double digit lead for Romney. College-educated voters, urban women, gay rights and immigration advocates, health care evangelists, and other liberal constituencies broadened the Obama alliance to deliver a famous win in what is deemed as a seminal moment in American politics pointing to a new coalition dharma; what one Indian analyst saw as the mandalisation of the United States.
Democrats retain control of Senate, Republicans keep House; Americans get gridlock
While most attention fell on the Presidential election, there was also the small matter of Congress, state governorships, thousands of local body polls and propositions and referendums, all of which threw up a fractured verdict.
Two years and billions of dollars worth of campaigning later, Washington DC will look and sound much the same as it did before the 2012 Presidential elections. President Obama will be back in the White House, the Republicans will regain the House of Representatives, and the Democrats will retain the Senate. In one word: Gridlock, the old Washington horror story.
In that sense, Americans have again delivered a split verdict which some pundits feel maintains a balance of power but others feel is a recipe for inaction and crisis. Republicans blew a golden chance of taking full control of Congress with poor choices and poorer campaign strategies for key Senate seats, allowing Democrats to win back the majority they held in the elite chamber, a third of which is up for re-election every two years.
In fact, Democrats managed to whittle down the conservative streak in what is often referred to as the world's most exclusive club, voting in Elizabeth Warren, a free spirited liberal in Massachusetts, and electing Tammy Baldwin, the first openly lesbian Senator, who defeated popular former governor Tommy Thomson in Wisconsin. Baldwin, a seven-term Representative, is one of four openly gay lawmakers in Congress, all Democrats. Also retaining their Senate seats were Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown, an India caucus stalwart who backpacked across India during the Emergency, and Bernie Sanders, a Vermont veteran who dares to call himself a socialist at a time the word is taboo in the United States.
Equally strikingly, voters rejected Christian mullahs of the Republican variety, among them Richard Mourdock in Indiana, who, when asked for his views on abortion, enraged women by saying "even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen." Elsewhere, Todd Akin, a six-term Republican Congressman seeking to move to the Senate, lost to incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill. His priceless contribution to the abortion debate: a woman's body can prevent pregnancy after a "legitimate" rape. Over all, women, who constitute a bigger voting bloc 954 per cent) than men, boosted Obama to a win.
In fact, the fair sex made further inroads into the old boy's club, which did not elect a woman to the Senate till 1931 and to date has had only 39 female Senators from among 1931 who have served since 1789. Although some close races haven't been called yet, women will now constitute a record 20 per cent of the 100-member Senate.
Meantime, across inside the Capitol, Republicans retained their majority in the House of Representatives, where, unlike Indian legislators who are turfed out frequently, lawmakers are re-elected with metronomic regularity over multiple terms, lately on the strength of clever and manipulative redistricting. The Republican retention of Congress, not to speak of their hold on 30 state governorships and administrations, could presage logjams in a country that is rapidly earning the sobriquet of a Divided States of America.