At 1 a.m., Mr. Obama had 303 electoral votes to 203 electoral votes for Mr. Romney, but the popular vote in the country was split down the middle. With 77 percent of the vote counted across the country, Mr. Obama had 51,052,000 votes compared to 50,814,000 votes for Mr. Romney — 49 percent to 49 percent — indicating a deeply divided nation.
Mr. Obama, 51, overcame attacks from Republicans over the stagnant economy and the $5 trillion that was added to the national debt during his term to eke out victories in each of the battleground states - with the possible exception of Florida, which he lead by a slight margin.
He won Ohio by 50 percent to 48 percent, and carried Mr. Romney's home state of Michigan with 54.1 percent of the vote.
Mr. Obama fought back, slamming Mr. Romney as an out-of-touch plutocrat who harvested struggling companies for quick profits, pioneered the practice of outsourcing jobs to China, and wanted to give tax cuts to millionaires by raising taxes on the middle class.
Mr. Romney conceded at 12:56 a.m., when he said he had just called President Obama to congratulate him on his victory.
His voice hoarse from campaigning right through Election Day, including a campaign stop in the Cleveland area, Mr. Romney told supporters that while he had hoped to lead the country in a new direction and that he still believed in the principles he ran on, voters chose otherwise. He said that he hoped Democrats and Republicans could join together and do the public's work, and said he wished the President well.
“This is a time of great challenges for America and I pray the President will be successful in guiding our nation,” Mr. Romney said.
Both candidates battered their opponents with their own sometimes ill-chosenn words — Mr. Obama for suggesting that the private sector was "doing fine" and that small business owners "didn't build" their own businesses," and Mr. Romney for saying that 47 percent of the population was dependent on government and considered themselves victims.
With 91 percent of Ohio precincts reporting, Mr. Obama was ahead by less than 2 percentage points. About 1.5 percent of the vote was shared by five candidates, the largest of which was Libertarian Gary Johnson with just under 1 percent. Mr. Johnson campaigned last weekend in Bowling Green.
As expected, Mr. Obama carried heavily Democratic Lucas County by 64 pecent to 33.4 percent. Four years ago, he won Lucas County 142,852 to 73,706, or with 64 percent of the vote.
Voter turnout was higher in Lucas County than four years ago. In 2008, with 318,036 voters on the rolls, the turnout was 70 percent, with 220,457 voters. The county went through a purge of inactive voters two years ago, reducing the registration to 310,123.
What may have been the key issue in Ohio, a crucial swing state that no Republican president has ever failed to win, was the contrast between Mr. Obama's 2009 bailout of the auto industry and Mr. Romney's recommendation in a 2008 New York Times column titled, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."
Mr. Obama engineered a rescue plan to save Chrysler LLC and General Motors from a catastrophic bankruptcy, at a cost to taxpayers of $80 billion. Democrats said the move saved 150,000 jobs directly connected with the auto industry and as many as 600,000 others that relied indirectly on auto and parts manufacturing.
After the car companies rebounded from their 2009 bankruptcy restructuring, President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden made several high-profile trips to Toledo to bask in the glory.
By the time he visted the Jeep plant in Toledo in 2011, all three domestic automakers were profitable for the first time since 2004, and all were gaining market share for the first time since 1995. Mr. Obama said he bet on the American worker to save more than 1 million jobs that would have been destroyed in a cascade of auto-related business failures that would have followed the collapse of GM and Chrysler.
“That’s why we stood by the American auto industry … and what you’ve done vindicates my faith,” Mr. Obama said then.
An Obama campaign TV commercial featured Toledo auto worker Brian Slagle, now of Springfield Township, who feared he would lose his job.
"Obama stuck his neck out for us, the auto industry. He wasn't going to let it just die, and I'm driving in this morning because of that, because of him," Mr. Slagle said in the TV ad for the Obama campaign.
Mr. Romney found himself boxed in due to his strongly worded editorial for the New York Times in November, 2008. The column said he would support government guarantees of private loans, and Mr. Romney and his surrogates argued in vain that Mr. Obama actually followed his advice, since the companies literally went through a managed bankruptcy.
A slip of the tongue at a rally in Defiance Oct. 25 may have sealed Mr. Romney's fate. Quoting from a news report that Chrysler said was inaccurate, Mr. Romney told the crowd he heard Chrysler was considering moving all of its Jeep production to China.
Mr. Romney backed away slightly but not much when he produced a round of radio and TV ads that sounded like they threatened the same thing.
Far from phasing out production, Chrysler is in the process of investing $500 million in its Toledo plant with plans to hire 1,100 additional workers in 2013.
Jim Ruvolo, of Ottawa Hills, a former state Democratic chairman, said he urged the Obama campaign early in 2011 to target the auto bailout in Ohio.
"I said if you’re going to win this state it’s because of the auto rescue," Mr. Ruvolo said. He said exit polls showed that a majority of voters approved of the auto rescue. "He wouldn't even have been in the ballgame without it.
Ken Lortz, the director of the United Auto Workers union for the states of Ohio and Indiana, said the auto rescue galvanized workers in support of Mr. Obama.
"Ohio’s got more auto supplier plants than any other state. That’s just huge in this entire campaign. I truly believe this country could have suffered another Great Depression if not for those auto loans," Mr. Lortz said. "I've seen workers really excited and energized about this campaign, but when the Jeep comments came out, that just took it to another level. And when he kept repeating those comments in commercials, we used that to just further energize our folks."
Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney each made more than 30 campaign appearances in Ohio just since May, following the end of the divisive Republican primary election. Their wives and running mates also made campaign appearances, as did Jill Biden, wife of the Vice President.
More money was spent on the presidential campaign in Ohio than in any other state, according to a report in the National Journal -- $116 million by the two campaigns.
President Obama made two campaign trips into Toledo. On July 5 he launched a three-day bus tour of northern Ohio at the Wolcott House Museum Complex in Maumee, with stops in Oak Harbor, an outdoor fruit stand near Port Clinton, and Sandusky, and continuing on through Cuyahoga County to Pittsburgh.
On Sept. 3, Labor Day, President Obama led a spirited rally of union supporters in Scott High School, after shaking hands and making small talk in an unannounced stop at Rick's City Diner near the University of Toledo. He also campaigned in Lima and Bowling Green.
Mr. Romney visited Toledo in February, stumping among Republicans at a North Toledo steel post factory, when he was still vying for the GOP nomination.
He returned for a large rally held in the SeaGate Centre on Sept. 26, where he told his listeners, "The President just the other day said you can't change Washington from the inside, you can only change it from the outside. Well, we're going to give him that chance on Nov. 6," a line he was to use in many more rallies before the election was over.
Mr. Romney held a rally in Bowling Green and his wife held a "Women for Mitt" rally on the campus of the University of Findlay.
Vice President Joe Biden and Republican running mate Paul Ryan also campaigned in northwestern Ohio.
One thing the two candidates agreed on was choice of accommodations. Both used the Hilton Hotel on the campus of the University of Toledo Medical Center to lodge their large contingents of campaign aides, Secret Service agents, and traveling journalists.
"It's tough to beat an incumbent president," said Ohio Republican Chairman Bob Bennett of Mr. Romney's losing effort to unseat Mr. Obama. He noted that Mr. Romney was also trailing in Florida and Colorado, so Ohio wasn't the determining state, and it kept its bellwether status. "Once again we mirrored the nation. As goes Ohio so goes the nation."
Former Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, who was in Chicago to celebrate with the Obama campaign, said the Obama strategists focused on key swing states and planned early to run against Mitt Romney.
"It worked, but not by a lot," Mr. Finkbeiner said.
When asked the cause of Mr. Romney's defeat, state Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern uttered four words, “Let Detroit go bankrupt.”
“The Jeep facility, which was built with the support of a Republican governor, George Voinovich, Republican Gov. Bob Taft, and a Democratic governor, Ted Strickland, now finds itself not being supported by a Republican governor, John Kasich,” he said. “It's really remarkable that a Republican governor of a state that depends so heavily on manufacturing and the American automobile industry would literally walk away from that industry and hold hands with Mitt Romney, who literally believed then, as he believes now, that Detroit should go bankrupt.”
One Toledo voter who supported Mr. Obama said he deserved another four years, and said it was wrong for his political opponents to target him for defeat almost as soon as he was sworn into office.
"He was about making changes," said Jannifer Campbell, 60, of South Toledo, a retired Toledo Public Schools teacher. "Obamacare is good, the fact that he's putting in more money to help teachers, that's good. He was helping people that needed a helping hand." If she had a complaint, it's that Mr. Obama is too nice.
"He did a lot of good that people didn't give him credit for. He didn't learn to toot his own horn," Ms. Campbell said.
Dan Martin, 35, owner of two Misscue pool hall taverns in Toledo, said his business is suffering from the regulations and taxes he said are imposed by the government. He supported Mr. Romney but would have voted Libertarian if he thought a Libertarian could win.
“I can’t see why anybody in their right mind would put Barack Obama back in office after the last three years. I voted Republican across the board. Everything the Democrats do tends to make it harder and harder for me to run my business,” said Mr. Martin, who voted at Glendale-Feilbach School in South Toledo, with his wife, Amy Martin, 29, and their sons, Benjamin and Nathaniel.
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