WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama defeated his Republican challenger Tuesday despite a bitterly contested election that had the U.S. president's supporters fearful he was doomed to the indignity of a single term.
Victory was declared after several gut-wrenching hours that saw Obama and Mitt Romney spend election night much as they did the campaign -- in a neck-and-neck, topsy-turvy horse race.
Obama's supporters in Chicago -- and around the world -- erupted in jubilation as soon as he was declared the winner. At Romney's headquarters in Boston, the mood was grim following an election believed to be well in the Republican's grasp.
On his website shortly after he was declared the winner, Obama sent a message to supporters: "I will spend the rest of my presidency honouring your support, and doing what I can to finish what we started... Today is the clearest proof yet that, against the odds, ordinary Americans can overcome powerful interests."
Obama's success this year was in stark contrast to his triumph in 2008, when he became the country's first African-American president and won the White House on an inspiring message of hope and change. In 2012, Obama's rhetoric was decidedly less soaring.
Little wonder -- Americans are still struggling to recover from a devastating economic recession that took unrelenting hold of the country soon after the president took office.
Obama was no longer promising to dramatically change the toxic political culture in the U.S. capital, for example -- instead, he was vowing to finish the work he'd started and urging Americans not to give up on him.
The election exposed bitter partisan fault lines that threaten to endure for years to come.
Obama won the votes of women, African-Americans, young Americans and Hispanics, but Romney won with older Americans and white men.
Indeed, in Pennsylvania, the high turnout of African-American voters -- reportedly even higher than it was in 2008 -- was thought to have played a critical role in Obama's victory there.
His triumph was the culmination of one of the hardest-fought presidential campaigns in recent U.S. history, even though Romney appeared to be ahead in the popular vote late Tuesday.
Under the American system, presidential candidates compete not for popular vote, but for the electoral college votes up for grabs stateside. Those votes are assigned based on a state's population and representation in Congress.
Seven states, representing 89 electoral college votes, were considered key battlegrounds: Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia, Florida and New Hampshire. Nevada and North Carolina were also in play for both Obama and Romney.
Romney, 65, a former Massachusetts governor, insisted the president had failed miserably to deliver on his heady promises of 2008, assailing him in particular for his handling of the United States' enduring economic woes. He asserted his own business experience would make him a better choice for Americans.
Election day dawned following a $2.6-billion election campaign.
Romney fought until the bitter end, making last-minute campaign appearances Tuesday in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
"This is a big day for big change," Romney said in Richmond Heights, Ohio.
"The country's been going in the wrong direction for the last few years; we're going to steer it back onto a course that's going to help the American people have a brighter future."
Obama officially ended his final political campaign with an emotional appearance with his wife, Michelle, on Monday night in Iowa, where he won his first primary season contest in 2008.
The 51-year-old president spent election night in Chicago, playing basketball with longtime friends -- former Chicago Bulls forward Scottie Pippen was on his team -- before awaiting the results.
Earlier in the day, Obama stunned campaign workers in the Windy City when he showed up unexpectedly to make calls to voters.
"Let's get busy," he told the campaign staffers around him as he prepared to dial Wisconsin. "We've got to round up some votes."
Republicans maintained control of the House of Representatives and Democrats kept the Senate.
-- The Canadian Press