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U.S. ELECTION

President Barack Obama wins re-election

Antonella Artuso, QMI Agency

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A deeply divided America returned President Barack Obama to the White House Tuesday night.

While his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, was competitive in the popular vote, Obama crossed the 270 electoral-vote threshold by taking key swing states.

"In this election, you - the American people - reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back, and we know in our heart that for the United States of America the best is yet to come," the president said after winning the grinding, see-saw battle that was the U.S. presidential campaign.

With Florida still undecided early Wednesday morning, Obama had 303 electoral votes to Romney's 206.

The Democrats, as expected, retained their majority in the Senate.

In his concession speech, Romney called for both sides to work together.

"The nation, as you know, is at a critical point," Romney said. "At a time like this, we can't risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the peoples' work."

Romney, as expected, won much of the American south while Obama took large parts of the north and east coast.

Television stations hesitated until after 11 p.m. Tuesday night to call a winner — largely because the crucial states of Virginia, Ohio and Florida were close battles — and Romney's camp frequently reassured viewers their man was still in the game.

The Republican’s chances were hit by Obama victories in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, as well as New Hampshire.

Romney last week visited Wisconsin, home state of his vice-presidential running mate, Paul Ryan, and had stopped in Pennsylvania earlier on Tuesday in hopes of pulling off a surprise win there.

In a victory that also limited Romney’s path to a victory, Obama won Michigan, the Republican leader’s state of birth, where he ran afoul of voters by opposing an auto industry bailout pushed by Obama. Before Tuesday, some polls had shown a tight race there.

Election day in the U.S. - the conclusion of a seemingly endless campaign that polls had predicted would be a dead heat - was marred by voting hassles and irregularities, including robocalls misdirecting voters in some states and voting machine malfunctions.

New Jersey extended the deadline to allow citizens forced out by Hurricane Sandy to vote by e-mail.

But there were no immediate claims of anything widespread or systematic enough to cast doubt on the credibility of the election outcome.

At least 120 million people had been expected to render judgment on whether to give the nation’s first black president a second term or replace him with Romney, a multimillionaire former head of a private equity firm and former governor of Massachusetts, who would have been the first Mormon president and one of the wealthiest Americans to assume the nation’s highest office.

The campaign was fought in the shadow of a sickly U.S. economy, crippling debt, chronic domestic troubles and rancorous, divisive debate over health care, taxation and foreign policy.

Two starkly different paths emerged for Americans on spending, taxes, health care and foreign policy challenges, such as the rise of China and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The 51-year-old Obama laid out an election platform aimed straight at middle-class voters.

“President Obama is fighting to grow the economy from the middle out, not the top down,” his website says. “Mitt Romney wants to go back to the exact same policies that caused the recession and hurt the middle class.”

If that pitch wasn’t direct enough for Americans, Obama called his plan “jobs and middle-class security.”

Obama promised he’d extend middle class tax cuts, increase taxes on “millionaires,” recruit 100,000 math and science teachers and boost domestic energy supply.

Romney’s five-point plan would bring America “roaring back,” the candidate vowed, after four years of sluggish economic performance.

The Republican candidate, 65, had promised to reduce marginal income tax rates across the board by 20%, cut the corporate tax rate, lower government spending except for the military, which would see increased funds, and gradually wean rich seniors from social security and medicare benefits.

Romney made it clear his first act, if elected president, would have been to axe Obamacare – a controversial health care program introduced by the president.

Many voters interviewed outside polling booths expressed concern for the economy, providing insight into why pro-business Romney was leading in the popular vote well into the night. Obama eventually captured the popular vote when west-coast polling closed late Tuesday.

But some exit polls suggested voters were just as likely to blame former president George W. Bush for the fiscal woes as they were Obama.

The lengthy campaign was marked with gaffes and setbacks on both sides.

Romney ran into trouble when he appeared to be criticizing the summer London Olympics organizers, and most damagingly when he was exposed on videotape taken secretly referring to 47% of Americans as dependent on government and, thus, unwilling to vote for him.

Obama turned in a lacklustre performance in the first of three televised debates, and struggled for the rest of the campaign to regain lost ground.

The president was criticized for his handling of the death of an ambassador and three other Americans in Libya.

- files by Reuters

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