President Barack Obama. Credit: Getty Images.
By William M. Welch, USA TODAY
President Obama won the critical battleground state of Ohio to gain an edge in the race for the presidency against Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
CNN and other television networks projected Obama's re-election after that critical state fell into line for the Democratic incumbent, prompting widespread celebration among supporters of the president.
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Exit polls of voters leaving their voting places suggested a razor-close outcome in a deeply divided nation, with the incumbent holding a small advantage, 50%-48%. That finding was from a survey of more than 23,000 voters nationally.
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, held a lead in the popular vote after two-thirds of the states had been decided But his loss of the state of Ohio was considered a huge blow to his chances as it was a state he had campaigned in repeatedly and needed to achieve an electoral vote majority.
Another key state was Florida, where the two were running neck-and-neck, the Democrat with a tiny lead.
One of the smallest of the battleground states, New Hampshire, went for Obama. In another, Nevada, exit polling showed Obama ahead.
The president also won Pennsylvania, a state Romney looked to late in the campaign for a potential upset. Romney won North Carolina, a state that Obama narrowly carried four years ago, and had a narrow lead in Virginia, where Obama also won in 2008.
Romney won at least 22 states, including much of the South, Plains and mountain West states.
On the West Coast, Obama won California and Washington.
Obama won two of Romney's home states -- Massachusetts, where the Republican won one election as governor, and Michigan, where Romney was born. Romney also has a home in New Hampshire, where he lost.
Obama won at least 16 states and the District of Columbia as he carried the northeast and parts of the Mid-Atlantic region, including New York. He won his home state of Illinois as well as Vice President Biden's Delaware.
The real race was for electoral votes awarded by winning individual states, with 270 votes needed to win.
Exit polls of voters in key states showed the economy was the top issue on voters' minds, and on that and other key issues the nation remains sharply divided. It was clear that Obama would not do as well as he did in 2008, when he won with a 7.3% margin of the popular vote.
The exit polls suggested Romney was winning among men by double digits. Obama was winning among women, who were a focus of much of the campaign, but by a smaller margin than four years ago.
The polling also suggested Romney had a narrow advantage among suburban voters, who were critical for Obama's 2008 election. The president retained a strong lead in cities.
The president appeared to have gained an edge among late-deciding voters, the exit polls suggested.
Among those who decided who to vote for in the last few days, 49% voted for Obama, 46% for Romney. Among those who said Obama's response to Hurricane Sandy was important to their vote, Obama was favored by almost two-to-one.
Across battleground states where the outcome was in doubt, and where both candidates focused most of their energies and dollars, more than a million political commercials aired on TV stations during the long campaign.
Romney made final campaign dashes to Ohio and Pennsylvania on Election Day. Biden matched the late GOP campaigning with his own Ohio appearance, while Obama made calls from a campaign office in Chicago and relaxed with a game of basketball.
Obama awaited the results in Chicago. Romney was in Massachusetts.
After 17 months and more than $2 billion spent by each presidential candidate, it was up to the people who flooded churches, schools and auditoriums to cast their ballots. Campaigns on both sides did last-minute blitzes to boost turnout and get out their supporters, and lines were reported at voting places all over the nation.
There were glitches and confusion, but by late afternoon things seemed to be going smoothly in most places.
The struggling economy was on voters' minds.
"Business is rough. Everybody wants someone to blame," said Frank Robles, 45, who employs 15 at his North Las Vegas shoe store. Yet Robles is supporting Obama, saying he's not responsible for the worst of the economic crisis: "People need to give him a chance."
But A.J. Jotipra, 69, a retired IBM worker says Obama has had his chance. Jotipra lost his Henderson, Nev., house to foreclosure last year. "The last four years, Obama has done nothing," Jotipra says.
In Ohio, a key battleground for both sides, the atmosphere at some polling places was informal and happy, despite the intense campaign and barrage of negative TV ads.
Retired nurse Nancy Manion, 74, of Dublin, Ohio, was excited to vote for Romney "to put God back in schools." But she also was thankful that campaign ads would end.
"Too many ads, too much slander," Manion says.
In Northern Virginia, Robert Adams, who has doctorates in business and psychology, said he voted for Romney and had four words to describe the campaign: "Too long. Too noisy." He said that "after awhile I just had the mute button on the television all the time."