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CHICAGO — President Obama won a resounding electoral college victory over Republican Mitt Romney on Tuesday as the nation opted for the status quo in wake of a bitter two-year, $1.85 billion campaign.

Obama, a Democrat, surpassed the required 270 electoral votes required for victory at about 11:13 p.m. when several networks proclaimed him the winner in the key swing state of Ohio.

With Virginia and every other swing state save for North Carolina and Florida called for the president, Obama had 303 electoral votes to 203 for Romney. And Obama could build to his margin by another 29 electoral if he manages to cling to a narrow lead in Florida, which remained too close to call early Wednesday morning.

Despite Obama’s big electoral win, the national popular vote remained very close. Obama had a lead of about 281,000 out of the first 102.7 million ballots counted.

Four years after winning election as the nation’s first African-American president and celebrating with an exuberant outdoor rally at Chicago’s Grant Park, Obama addressed supporters at a much smaller event at McCormick Place, a sprawling convention center near the lakefront of the president’s political home town.

After taking the stage accompanied by his wife and two daughters, Obama then stood alone and savored the moment as the crowd cheered “Four more years!”

Alluding to the tough economic times he inherited and presided over for four years, the president said: “We have picked ourselves up and fought our way back. And we know in our hearts that for the United States of America, the best is yet to come.”

Obama said he would like to meet with Romney soon to discuss how they can work together to address the nation’s problems.

And some of the issues that Obama mentioned in a soaring, lyrical victory speech were largely forgotten during the campaign. For example, Obama suggested a need for election reform and said global warming must be addressed, while calling for immigration reform.

“I return to the White House more inspired and more determined than ever about the work that there is to do,” Obama said.

Obama’s speech came about a half hour after Romney conceded.

Shortly before 1 a.m., Romney arrived at Boston Convention Center to give his concession speech, minutes after calling Obama to congratulate him.

In brief remarks, Romney, standing alone, called on both parties to work together. He remained steadfast that the principles he ran on are the only “sure guide” to bring economic renewal to the country.

“This election is over, but our principles endure,” he said.

But Romney said he wishes Obama well on a second term.

“This is a time of great challenge for America and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation,” Romney told supporters.

“I believe in America. I believe in the people of America,” Romney said, pausing to applause, and added, “And I ran for office because I’m concerned about America.”

Obama, 51, will return to the White House to work with a new Congress that will look much like the old one. Democrats clung to their narrow hold on the Senate, and while Republicans lost seats in the House, they maintained control.

Early in the evening at Obama’s Election Night headquarters, one of Obama’s earliest supporters, Sen. Richard Durbin, said the results could well hinge on the president’s campaign efforts to lure voters to the polls.

Whereas Republican Mitt Romney waged a big-media ad campaign, “we focused more on direct voter contact,” said Durbin, D-Ill. “If we turn our voters out, it could mean a victory for the president.”

Indeed, the Obama campaign focused like a laser on turning out its voters, opening dozens of campaign offices in swing states along with smaller satellite operations in beauty salons and barber shops. Even late into the evening, as long lines prompted Virginia to keep its polls open late, the Obama campaign was tweeting supporters, urging them to stay in line and vote.

Later in the evening, though, the mood at Obama headquarters changed. The crowd grew raucous as one state after another fell for the president, and a deafening roar erupted when the networks called Ohio — and the election for the president.

Meanwhile, the mood by the GOP faithful at Romney’s campaign ballroom at a convention center in Boston became a metaphor, of sorts, for his two-year bid for the presidency: a series of highs and lows, as results from the different states beamed into the cavernous hall. Media reports didn’t provide much relief: CNN at one point had Obama ahead in Florida; mid-sentence, the anchor corrected himself when new results showed each candidate with 50 percent of the vote shortly after 9 p.m.

Earlier in the day, Romney told reporters he has prepared only one speech — accepting victory — topping more than 1,000 words. Through the evening, after a day of an unusual election-day trek to two battleground states, Romney and his family were watching the returns from a hotel attached to the Boston convention center.

With anxious times, the Romney campaign brought out surrogates to keep the party faithful optimistic – including via internet chat. “We remain very optimistic about our chances to win here in Virginia,” Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell told Romney backers in a live message beamed to the Boston ballroom shortly after 9 p.m. “We are really excited about the momentum we have going in this campaign,” he said.

But the crowd in Boston grew silent as the networks called one swing state after another for Obama. And when the networks called the race for Obama, a steady stream of Romney supporters began filing out of the Boston ballroom into the cold night air.

In swing states, even tiny ones like New Hampshire with only four electoral college votes, turnout was reported as brisk at many polling sites.

In the New Hampshire town of Pelham, a town of 13,000 where independents nearly equal the number of registered Democrats and Republicans combined, voters Tuesday expressed the sharply diverse views that have defined the 2012 race.

Marie Mayotte, who owns a screen printing shop in town, admits to having a Romney photograph – she met the candidate during one of his stops here the past two years – on her office desk. But she voted for Obama. “I’m disappointed in what Mitt Romney stands for other than the issue of the economy,” said Mayotte, a registered Democrat, citing what she said were concerns over such positions as his stance on gay marriage rights and some women’s rights matters.

But Steve Doherty, a Republican heading into vote in the Pelham High School gymnasium on a crisp fall day with clear skies, said he had enough with Obama in the White House and economic promises unfulfilled. A small construction company owner, Doherty said the president’s health care insurance law is going to cost his firm too much money. “And he’s not been willing to work both sides of the aisle in Congress,” he said.

Obama will return to Washington to face a series of daunting deadlines. Together with Congress, Obama will strive to avoid a Jan. 1, 2013, “fiscal cliff” that, according to numerous economists, could push the nation back into recession.

That’s the day — nearly three weeks before the Jan. 20, 2013 inauguration — when a series of tax cuts dating back more than a decade will expire, setting the stage for a tax hike that will take $494 billion out of the economy in one year.

And it’s when $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, spread evenly between domestic and defense programs over the course of a decade, are set to take effect.

The debate over avoiding the fiscal cliff is likely, in some ways, to be a rerun of the presidential campaign, in which Obama insisted on tax increases for upper-income wage earners and Romney stuck by a Republican plan to cut taxes by $5 billion over a decade while deeply cutting spending.

That tax debate was just one of many defining elements of an 18-month campaign that started with nine major Republican candidates vying for the right to challenge an incumbent made vulnerable by a sluggish economic recovery.

Obama argued for re-election by noting that he had pulled the economy out of the deepest recession since the Great Depression, authorized the attack that led to the death of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and won passage of a decades-old Democratic goal: health care reform.

Romney countered by citing the weak jobs growth during the Obama years, and argued that low-tax Republican policies would get the economy going again.

The candidates fought a particularly tough battle in Ohio, the state that most reliably predicts the national winner. There, in a state where one in eight jobs is tied to the auto industry, Obama argued that his decision to bail out the nation’s auto makers had saved tens of thousands of jobs and given Detroit’s “Big Three” a new lease on life.

In the meantime, Romney tried to distance himself from his early opposition to the bailout and ran a much-criticized ad that inaccurately implied that Jeep was about to move manufacturing jobs to China.

As expected, Obama swept to victory in the heavily Democratic state of New York. With 99 percent of precincts reporting in Erie County, Obama led Romney by a 57 percent to 41 percent margin, with vote totals of 219,446 for Obama and 159,601 for Romney.

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., also won an overwhelming re-election victory over Republican Wendy Long as the Democrats — once thought to be in danger of losing their Senate majority — instead picked up enough key victories to remain in control.

While some races remained to be officially decided, the Democrats appeared to be on the cusp of a narrow majority in the new Senate, as once-threatened incumbent Democrats such as Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida and Sherrod Brown of Ohio their re-election bids.

New faces in the Senate will include Elizabeth Warren, who defeated Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts, and Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin who will be the nation’s first openly gay senator.

Those victories brought huge cheers from the crowd in Chicago, but they paled compared to the cheers that greeted Obama.

Obama called his campaign team, including thousands of volunteers, the best ever.

“You lifted me up the whole way, and I will always be grateful,” Obama said.

Zremski reported from Chicago and Precious reported from Boston.

Email: jzremski@buffnews.com and tprecious@buffnews.com.