In this Jan. 18, 2009 photo, President-elect Barack Obama speaks at the Lincoln Memorial during an inaugural concert in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
In the most expensive presidential race in American history, President Barack Obama earned a narrow victory over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, according to several televised reports.
At least 120 million American voters were expected to decide between the Democratic incumbent and Romney after a long, expensive and bitter presidential campaign centered around repairing the ailing U.S. economy.
If the early election night trends held up, Obama looked poised to win a second four-year term. He will be faced with a difficult task of reducing a $16 trillion national debt, overhauling expensive social programs and dealing with a gridlocked U.S. Congress that looked likely to maintain the same partisan makeup.
In the state-by-state battle to get to 270 electoral votes needed for the presidency, Obama and Romney piled up early victories in the states they were expected to win easily.
Early vote-counting in the swing state of Florida showed them running neck-and-neck. Obama led in the critical battleground state of Ohio and Romney held the lead in a third swing state, Virginia. Romney needed all three of those states to earn the presidency, while Obama could afford to lose one or two of them and still win a second four-year term in office.
The Republican’s chances were dimmed 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. He has a vacation home in New Hampshire and his last campaign rally was there on Monday night.
In a victory that also limited Romney’s path to a victory, Obama won Michigan, the Republican’s state of birth but where he ran afoul of voters by opposing an auto industry bailout pushed by Obama.
Television networks projected Romney the winner, as expected, in Republican states Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky, West Virginia, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Indiana. He was declared the winner in Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Obama was projected the winner in the Democratic strongholds of New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts and his home state of Illinois, as well as Washington, D.C.
Election Day was unexpectedly busy for both campaigns. While Obama kept a low profile in Chicago, the campaign dispatched Vice President Joe Biden to Ohio where he visited a Cleveland restaurant and later posed for pictures with volunteers before joining up with the president.
The visits rounded out a grueling battle for the White House. For Obama, the election is the last time he says his name will appear on a ballot. For Romney, the vote marks the close of a nearly six-year run for the presidency.
Both candidates were expressing confidence as millions of voters flocked to the polls. Obama visited a Chicago campaign field office Tuesday morning, before playing his traditional Election Day game of pick-up basketball.
“The great thing about these campaigns is, after all the TV ads and all the fundraising and all the debates and all the electioneering, it comes down to this,” Obama said.
In this election, the voting came down to the economy. President Obama scored better on the economy than Romney probably would have liked, according to preliminary results from a national exit poll of voters released on Monday.
The preliminary results show that more voters said the economy is getting better rather than getting worse by a rate of 38 to 32 percent.
And four years after Obama was elected, more voters — 51 percent — still blame George W. Bush for the weak economy rather than Obama. The exit polls found that 40 percent of voters blamed Obama for the state of the economy.
But the national exit poll indicated that Obama ended the campaign on a higher note on several counts. For instance, Obama beat Romney 52 to 44 percent on the question of who is more in touch with the public.
But Romney won on a key question in the exit poll: Who can better handle the economy? He scored 50 percent to Obama’s 47 percent there.
More than half of voters said Romney’s policies would benefit the rich, while 43 percent said Obama’s policies favor the middle class.
Voting kicked off overnight in two tiny villages in northern New Hampshire. Obama and Romney each won five votes in the small town of Dixville Notch, which was the first to announce its results after polls opened and closed within 43 seconds.
Obama closed out his campaign with a late-night rally in Iowa on Monday. The event was held in the same state where his 2008 caucus victory jump-started his path to the White House.
The president was photographed with tears running down his face as he spoke before a crowd of 20,000 supporters, telling them “this is where our movement for change began.”
Material from published reports contributed to this story.