Obama Wins Popular Vote, Controls Electoral College

Voters have given President Obama a second term in office. He defeated Republican Mitt Romney in a hard-fought race in which the economy was the dominant issue. In the end, Obama narrowly won the popular vote but captured more than 300 electoral votes to Romney's 206.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

It was well after midnight, but considerably earlier than some expected when President Obama strode on stage in Chicago. A closely fought campaign resolved itself in a clear reelection for the president. He won a little over half the popular vote. And as of this morning's count, with Florida still undecided, more than 300 electoral votes. Democrats maintain control of the Senate, while Republicans held control of the House.

INSKEEP: OK. Now let's talk about the results of that campaign with NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, who's watched it all. She's in our studios.

Mara, good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK. People talked about a very close election - not really that close in the end.

LIASSON: Nope. It wasn't a squeaker. It was a race that was supposed to be a tie, dead even. We heard about the possibility of recounts. But in the end, the president won the popular vote narrowly, and he won the Electoral College by a landslide. He held all the states except North Carolina and Indiana that he had one last time, and he did it all shortly after midnight.

INSKEEP: He held so many states, that even if there had been some massive dispute over a single state, it wouldn't have made a difference in the final results. So how did he manage to win so strongly?

LIASSON: Well, I think you could say the demographics trumped the undertow of a weak recovery. The president was able to fight Romney to a draw on the question of who's better for the economy. He also took full advantage of the changing demographics in the country. He built a sophisticated ground game to get out his supporters, particularly Latinos, young people, African-Americans. The auto bailout helped him win Ohio. And we shouldn't forget that relentless campaign that he waged to paint Romney as out of touch with the middle class.

INSKEEP: Well, in his victory speech this morning, actually, he talked about how some people might have found the campaign to be small or silly, but that he felt that it was about larger things.

LIASSON: That's right. And in his victory speech in Chicago he thanked every American who participated in the election.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Whether you pounded the pavement or picked up the phone, whether you held an Obama sign or a Romney sign, you made your voice heard and you made a difference.

LIASSON: The Obama campaign proved its supporters are now part of a mature movement, able to get to the polls even after the novelty and euphoria of the 2008 campaign had evaporated. Mr. Obama told them there would be more hard, frustrating work ahead.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: As it has for more than two centuries, progress will come in fits and starts. It's not always a straight line. It's not always a smooth path. By itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won't end all the gridlock, resolve all our problems or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward.

LIASSON: And he sketched out his priorities for a second term, which will involve working once again with a Republican House and a slim majority of Democrats in the Senate.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: And in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together: reducing our deficit, reforming our tax code, fixing our immigration system, freeing ourselves from foreign oil. We've got more work to do.

LIASSON: Romney, from Boston, called the president to congratulate him, and then spoke to a roomful of somber supporters.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

MITT ROMNEY: The nation, as you know, is at a critical point. 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 people's work, and we citizens also have to rise to the occasion.

LIASSON: Romney's speech was gracious. He said he prayed that the president will be successful.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

ROMNEY: I so wish - I so wish that I had been able to fulfill your hopes to lead the country in a different direction, but the nation chose another leader. And so Ann and I join with you to earnestly pray for him and for this great nation.

LIASSON: Romney had hoped to build a victory on an electorate that liked Mr. Obama personally, but was disappointed in his presidency, voters like Phyllis McCaugherty of Auburn, New Hampshire New Hampshire.

PHYLLIS MCCAUGHERTY: We need some change. I am tired of a rock star president.

LIASSON: After running as a severely conservative candidate in the primaries, Romney changed his tone in the last months of the campaign. That approach appealed to Phillip Morgan of Worcester, Massachusetts.

PHILLIP MORGAN: I really believe at his core, Romney's a moderate, and has to present himself as very conservative to be elected across the country. But I don't think that's really who the man is.

LIASSON: But in the end, Romney's majorities among independents and white voters were no match for the president's coalition, built on the support of voters like Opal Williams of Tampa, Florida and Jennifer Gonzales from Phoenix, Arizona.

OPAL WILLIAMS: I love my president, and we need him another four years, I feel like, because I know he didn't come into office with the world all together, and I know it may take eight years to get it together. And I'm hoping he can do that this year.

JENNIFER GONZALES: I know that he's going to bring more stuff towards our economy, to our people. So I trust in him a lot.

LIASSON: The Obama campaign had worked for five years to build a get-out-the-vote machine, would get the Obama electorate - young, Latinos, African-American voters - to turn out in greater numbers than they did four years ago, and it succeeded. Exit polls showed that while the black vote stayed the same as a percentage of the electorate, the Latino vote got a little bit bigger than it was four years ago. So did young people. White voters, on the other hand, were 72 percent of the electorate this year, down from 74 percent in 2008.

INSKEEP: We're listening to NPR's Mara Liasson.

Mara, you're just talking there about a change in country. Let's ask if anything is going to change in Washington. The president spoke of reaching out to leaders of both parties. It's common when your party has been defeated, you say something gracious on Election Night, even if you're not feeling very gracious.

But Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, has dug right back into the battles of the last couple of years. I want to read from his statement here: It's time for the president to propose solutions that actually have a chance of passing the Republican-controlled House of Representatives - which it still will be - and a closely divided Senate, step up to the plate on the challenges of the moment and deliver in a way that he did not in his first four years in office. That's Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader. Can anything really change in Washington?

LIASSON: Well, I think something can change. And don't forget, John Cornyn, who is the chairman of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, said this is going to be a time when Republicans have to recalibrate.

So I think whether the gridlock gets broken now will depend on a couple of things. First of all, what kind of lessons the president learned, what kind of mandate, if any, does he think he has now. He talked about a different kind of agenda, other than passing a big new entitlement, like health care reform. He's now talking about reducing the deficit and reforming taxes and immigration. That's a different kind of agenda that really does demand compromise.

And it also really depends on what lessons the Republicans learn. They're going to have to do a lot of soul-searching. Why do they think they lost? Do they think it was just because Romney wasn't a good candidate, he wasn't conservative enough, or maybe he was too tied to the Tea Party? I think this is different than if Romney had just lost in a squeaker in Ohio, and I do think Republicans are going to have to think through this and think about what they might do differently.

INSKEEP: Let me drill down on one of the issues you mentioned: immigration. The president said to the Des Moines Register during the campaign, he thought that if he won reelection, that there would be an opportunity for changes on immigration, that Republicans would realize they needed to change the position because of the changing demographics of the country. When you talk with Republicans, do you hear that desire?

LIASSON: Yes, among many of them. There are many Republicans that want to pass some kind of immigration reform for a variety of reasons, partly because they believe (unintelligible). Their states have big Hispanic populations, but also because they realize that they can't win the White House any longer unless they can do better with Hispanic voters.

INSKEEP: I was just listening to an analyst overnight here inside NPR state that it seems that the Democrats now have the advantage, almost a lock on the White House the way that Republicans once had a lock on the White House. Your expression suggests you don't buy that.

LIASSON: Yeah, well, for many years, the Republicans did have what they called an Electoral College lock. There's no doubt that demographics have shifted the advantage in the Electoral College to the Democrats. To say that it's a lock that's going to go on for forever is just not true. Obviously, the Republican...

INSKEEP: We'll see what happens in a couple of years, yeah.

LIASSON: ...eventually the Republicans' lock was broken. The Democrats have built up a pretty powerful coalition, pretty powerful geographic firewall for their coalition, but all those things can change.

INSKEEP: Much more to discuss in the days ahead. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: And you can hear election results and analysis all this morning on MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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