Barack Obama emerged from the mincing machine of the US presidential election, bruised but politically intact after dispatching Mitt Romney and thus securing a second chance at becoming the transformative leader he promised to be.
After weeks of suspense that saw Mr Romney surge from behind to what seemed like grasping distance of the White House, Mr Obama finally ground out a victory, with none of the overwhelming margins or sense of destiny of 2008.
Mr Obama achieved only a razor-thin edge in the popular vote -- with returns from 94pc of all precincts counted, he stood at 50pc against 48pc for his Republican rival -- but what mattered was his dogged defence of the key battleground states. With Florida still too close to call yesterday, Mr Obama was guaranteed at least 303 votes to Mr Romney's 206 in the Electoral College. He had needed to 270 to prevail.
That was all that was required to ignite the more than 10,000 supporters who had poured into the McCormick Centre near downtown Chicago and, when the moment arrived, erupted into raucous delirium when Mr Obama, accompanied by his wife and two daughters, strode on to the stage to claim his second term.
While some had predicted a long night and margins thin enough to legal challenges and recounts, in the end the states that really mattered -- Ohio, Virginia, Iowa, Colorado -- lined up fairly swiftly for Mr Obama.
But for all the hoopla and the ecstasy of his supporters, Mr Obama goes home to a Washington that in many ways is no different than before. And if he is, indeed, to remake himself in the image of the candidate we saw four years ago -- the leader who was going to transcend partisan divisions and unify a fractured and economically battered nation -- he must first cross a quagmire of long put-off problems and challenges.
Even if the Democrats were set to hold on to, or even expand, their narrow majority in the Senate, the bulwark of opposition to Mr Obama's agenda in the lower house remains. After suffering a second presidential loss in a row, the Republican mood looks bloody.
Mr Obama's acceptance speech was soaring but also acknowledged the difficulties ahead. "The best is yet to come," for the US, he insisted. "You voted for action, not politics as usual." But partisan passions never go away, he added. "That won't change after tonight, and it shouldn't. These arguments are a mark of our liberty."
He offered conciliation to Mr Romney -- who had earlier delayed conceding for more than 40 minutes as aides scrambled to see if the networks had declared the race too hastily -- and asked to sit down with him in the weeks ahead to seek his counsel. (© Independent News Service)