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'It has been a difficult road but we fought our way back'

BARACK Obama captured a second White House term, blunting a challenge by Republican Mitt Romney as Americans voted for a leader they knew over a wealthy businessman they did not.

Obama easily captured far more than the 270 electoral votes needed for victory, despite having led the country through its most difficult economic times since the Great Depression in the 1930s, a time of stubbornly high unemployment and anxiety about the future.

Obama told a rally of cheering supporters that the election "reminded us that, while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back".


For the United States, "the best is yet to come", he said.

Romney said he had called Obama to concede, and in an appearance before supporters in Boston he congratulated the president, saying: "I pray he will be successful in guiding our nation."

Both Romney and Obama spoke of the need for unity and healing the nation's partisan divide. But the election did nothing to end America's divided government. The Democrats retained their majority in the Senate, while the Republicans kept control of the House of Representatives.

That means Obama's agenda will be largely in the hands of House Speaker John Boehner, the president's partner in unsuccessful deficit talks.

Obama's narrow lead in the popular vote will make it difficult for him to claim a sweeping mandate. With returns in from 79pc of the nation's precincts, Obama had 52.2m (49.5pc) and Romney 51.7m (49pc).

But Obama did have a sizeable victory where it mattered, in the competition for electoral votes: at least 303 votes to Romney's 206.

The president is chosen in a state-by-state tally of electors, not according to the nationwide popular vote, making 'battleground' states -- which vote neither Republican nor Democrat on a consistent basis -- particularly important in such a tight race.


Obama won Ohio, Wisconsin, Virginia, Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado and Nevada, seven of the nine battleground states where the rivals and their allies poured nearly $1bn into duelling television commercials.

Romney captured only North Carolina. The final swing state -- Florida -- was too close to call.

The election emerged as a choice between two very different visions of government: whether it occupies a major, front-row place in American lives or is in the background as a less obtrusive facilitator for private enterprise and entrepreneurship.

The economy was rated the top issue by about 60pc of voters surveyed as they left polling booths. But more said former President George W. Bush bore responsibility for current circumstances than Obama did after nearly four years in office.

About four in 10 said the economy is on the mend, but more than that said it was stagnant or getting worse.

While Obama spent the final day of his final campaign in Chicago, Romney raced to Ohio and Pennsylvania and projected confidence as he flew home to Massachusetts.

"We fought to the very end, and I think that's why we'll be successful," he said, adding that he had finished writing a speech anticipating victory, but nothing if the election went to his rival.

But the mood soured among the Republican high command as the votes came in and Obama ground out a lead in critical states.

The long campaign's cost soared into the billions, much of it spent on negative ads.

Obama insists there is no way reduce the debt and safeguard crucial social programmes without asking the wealthy to pay their 'fair share' in taxes.

Romney, who bragged of his successful business background, favoured lowering taxes and easing regulations on businesses, saying it would spur job growth.

No president since Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s had run for re-election with a national jobless rate as high as it is now at 7.9pc.