President Barack Obama has told cheering supporters that “the best is yet to come” for the United States as he stormed to a second term by defeating Republican Mitt Romney.
After taking the stage at a raucous Chicago victory party early on Wednesday with wife Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia, Obama returned to the themes of his re-election bid, vowing to fight for the middle class and the American dream.
“In this election, you, the American people, 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,” Obama told hundreds of cheering supporters.
“We know in our hearts that for the United States of America the best is yet to come.”
Obama said he had spoken to Romney, congratulating him and his running mate Paul Ryan on a “hard-fought campaign” and vowing to sit down with the former Massachusetts governor to discuss the way forward.
“We may have battled fiercely but it’s only because we love this country deeply and we care so strongly about its future,” Obama said.
“In the weeks ahead I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward.”
Obama reached out to those who supported his opponent in the closely-fought race, saying: “Whether I earned your vote or not, I have listened to you. I have learned from you. You’ve made me a better president.
“With your stories and your struggles I return to the White House more determined and more inspired than ever about the work there is to do and the future that lies ahead,” he said.
“Despite all the hardship we’ve been through, despite all the frustrations of Washington, I’ve never been more hopeful about our future. I have never been more hopeful about America.”
Obama thanked the army of campaign workers and volunteers whose efforts secured his re-election to a second four-year term, calling them the “best campaign team and volunteers in the history of politics”.
Near the end of his speech Obama hinted at a more far-reaching agenda in his second term despite the lingering partisan gridlock in Washington, calling for a future that “isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet”.
“I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggest. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of individual ambitions,” Obama said.
“Together with your help and God’s Grace we will continue our journey forward and remind the world just why it is that we live in the greatest nation on earth. Thank you, America. God bless you. God bless these United States.”
Earlier Romney conceded defeat in a short and simple address, telling his supporters he had called Obama to congratulate him on his victory.
“His supporters and his campaign also deserve congratulations,” Romney said in Boston.
“I wish all of them well but particularly the president, the first lady and their daughters.”
It was a quick, underwhelming end to an 18-month campaign that started on a farm in New Hampshire, survived brutal Republican infighting during the party primaries early this year, and a barrage of negative attack ads by the Obama camp, and rose to give the incumbent a serious scare weeks before the election.
Romney was neck-and-neck with the president for a considerable part of the campaign, but despite repeated trips to swing states like Colorado, Ohio, Florida, and Virginia, Obama held on to leads in the battlegrounds, which eventually became the challenger’s undoing.
“This election is over, but our principles endure,” said Romney, who said he believed smaller government, limited regulations and lower taxes could create more jobs and bring a speedier economic recovery.
“I so wish that I had been able to fulfil 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 this great nation,” Romney said to cheers and applause.
Several members of Romney’s senior staff stood next to the stage, many stone-faced and sombre, as the Republican nominee addressed his supporters.
Romney returned to a theme that he started injecting into his stump speeches in the closing two weeks of the campaign: the need for greater bipartisanship in Washington.
“At a time like this, we can’t risk partisan bickering and posturing,” he said.
“Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work and we citizens have to rise to the occasion.”
Romney also thanked his running mate, congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, as well as wife Ann Romney, his tireless surrogate on the campaign trail whom he called “the love of my life”.
“She would have been a wonderful first lady,” he mused, to loud applause.
Romney’s comments were brief and basic, and it was not immediately clear if he had written a concession speech.
Earlier in the day, when asked by reporters on his campaign plane whether he had two speeches ready to go for Tuesday night, he said he was confident of defeating Obama and had penned an 1118-word victory speech.