For weeks, months - make that years - the conventional wisdom has been that the presidential election would all come down to Ohio, and Ohio would be very close. Well, that was partially right. Ohio was very close, but as NPR's Tamara Keith reports, not as pivotal as predicted.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Jack Shumate(ph) flew into Ohio last Thursday from Dallas, Texas. He came here because this was the place where he felt he could really make a difference for his candidate, Mitt Romney.
Now, four years ago, the most surprising state on the electoral map was Indiana. That Republican-leaning state went for President Obama. Last night, Indiana returned to the Republican column for Mitt Romney, also elected a new Republican Governor, Mike Pence. But Indiana did not vote Republican for U.S. Senate. Richard Lugar, the longtime incumbent, lost a primary earlier this year, and his replacement on the Republican ticket lost last night.
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In Wisconsin, Democrats won big just five months after a stinging defeat in their effort to recall Republican Governor Scott Walker. President Obama won the state, even though Mitt Romney chose Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate. Plus Wisconsin voters elected Democrat Tammy Baldwin to be the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate.
Winning matters. Having earned a second term, President Obama will attempt to build on and expand the agenda from his first, launching new initiatives on tax policy, education and immigration.
But having won the popular vote by a bare majority — and still facing a divided Congress — Obama may find it difficult to gather momentum for his policies.
Despite the close result in the popular vote nationwide, Obama wasted no time claiming vindication for his ideas. In his victory speech early Wednesday in Chicago, he tied his re-election to two centuries of American progress.
With President Obama's defeat of Mitt Romney, the Republican Party finds itself in the same place it was four years ago — once again coming up short in its attempt to win the most powerful office in American democracy.
It faces the inevitable soul-searching the losing party undergoes, to greater or lesser degrees, after every contest for the one office whose occupant represents the entire nation.
And how the GOP reacts could help determine its fortunes in 2016.
Imagine a ballot Tuesday that confronted you not with a choice between candidates named OBAMA and ROMNEY, but that looked more like this:
How much do you support the REPUBLICAN?
Pick only one.
More than that ____
For much of Election Day, that was what viewers encountered in watching Fox News' coverage. President Obama was, in the words of Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy at the outset of the day, a guy who "promised hope and change — a lot of stuff — and he didn't deliver."
In a highly polarized electorate, there's not a lot of room for third-party candidates to make a strong showing. Still, minor parties did see some bright spots on Tuesday.
Maine elected an independent to the Senate, former Gov. Angus King, while Vermont re-elected its independent senator, Bernard Sanders.
Both those victories may have been "idiosyncratic," says Cary Covington, a University of Iowa political scientist, having more to do with the personal popularity of the candidates than pointing to any wider desire for independent candidates.
Voters in North Carolina put a Republican in their governor's office for the first time in two decades, and New Hampshire elected a new female Democratic governor.
But the closely watched tossup races in Montana and Washington, where Democrats currently serve as governors, remained too close to call late Tuesday.
Eight of the gubernatorial seats up for grabs are now held by Democrats; three are in Republican hands. Republicans currently hold 29 governorships, Democrats have 20, and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee is an independent.