By Michael Kranish, Matt Viser and Brian MacQuarrie Globe Staff
President Obama has won a second term, beating back a formidable challenge by Republican Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.
Obama clinched reelection with narrow victories in key battlegrounds like Ohio and Iowa. He captured the momentum early by winning the swing state of New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, a Democrat-leaning state that late-campaign polls revealed to be closer than expected. Romney made a last-minute attempt to pull off an upset in the Keystone State, even campaigning on Election Day in Pittsburgh, but fell short.
As Pennsylvania and New Hampshire swung to Obama, the crowd of thousands inside the McCormick Place, the president’s election night headquarters in Chicago, filled the vast hall with a crescendo of noise. One of the campaign anthems, “We Take Care of Our Own” by Bruce Springsteen, provided a thumping backdrop to the growing excitement.
Supporters pressed toward a grand, deep stage with blue flooring and flowing red curtains. Two huge, flanking television screens continued to spread encouraging news.
Between updates from battlegrounds across the nation, video of the president’s campaign rallies over the last two months was played to swelling applause, reprising the familiar themes of Obama’s stump speech.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff, said the president faces tough challenges.
“We have a big battle ahead,” Emanuel said to reporters, citing big-ticket programs such as Social Security and Medicare that could become prime targets for cuts or changes.
Steve Lockwood of McHenry, Ill., walked into the event with his wife, Shelley, after a day of canvassing and phone-banking. He was carrying a tray of nachos and a lot of optimism.
“We stood in our family room and hugged each other in ‘08, and we’re going to do it again tonight.’’
Another spectator, Christian Hines, 23, of Chicago, said he is conservative but has been impressed by what Obama has been able to achieve in a contentious first term, particularly in foreign affairs and the war on terror.
“I think he’s been able to accomplish legislatively what few presidents, Democrat or Republican, have been able to accomplish in their first term,” said Hines, who once worked for former senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, a Republican who was defeated in this year’s primary by a Tea Party favorite, Richard Mourdock.
Obama left his home at 9:30 p.m. and headed by motorcade to the Fairmont Hotel to speak with senior staff before continuing to McCormick Place.
Mitt Romney also was confident earlier on Election Day, telling reporters aboard his campaign plane en route to Boston Tuesday evening that he “put it all on the field” and expects to celebrate a victory.
“We left nothing in the locker room,” the Republican presidential nominee said after wrapping up his campaigning in Pittsburgh. “We fought to the very end, and I think that’s why we’ll be successful.”
Romney returned to Massachusetts, where he began Election Day by voting in his hometown of Belmont.
At Romney’s election night party at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, a live band began playing light jazz music at 6 p.m., with supporters filing into a ballroom that had a stage filled with 16 American flags. The backdrop included Boston-centric scenes, with the USS Constitution, the Old State House, and the Zakim Bridge.
Right at 7 p.m., as soon as the first polls closed, the music died down and the large television screens were tuned to Fox News.
Romney made last-minute campaign stops on Tuesday in Ohio and Pennsylvania. President Obama campaigned via satellite from Chicago as he urged voters to support him.
Obama, who had taken advantage of early voting to cast a ballot for himself on Oct. 25 in Illinois, began Election Day by traveling to a small campaign office on the South Side of Chicago, where volunteers greeted him with applause. He immediately sat down to make some telephone calls to campaign workers in the neighboring swing state of Wisconsin.
Dressed in a blue suit, white shirt, and striped tie, Obama took off his jacket, placed it on a chair, and said, “Let’s get busy. We’ve got to round up some votes.”
This was the most expensive general election campaign in history, marked by its persistent tightness, with neither candidate able to retain a lead of statistical significance. Obama seemed to develop a lead just after the Democratic National Convention, but then slumped in the first debate. Romney capitalized, and appeared to have momentum carry him back into contention. But that seemed to stall, in part because of Hurricane Sandy.
Obama played his traditional Election Day pickup basketball game, which included former Bulls star Scottie Pippen, a Hall of Fame inductee. Obama ate lunch at home and enjoyed dinner on Election Night with his wife, Michelle, and daughters Malia and Sasha, who flew after school from Washington to Chicago with their maternal grandmother, Marian Robinson.
They were joined at the Obama home in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood by Michelle’s brother, Craig Robinson, and his family; the president’s sister, Maya, and her family; and nieces and nephews.
In Columbus, Ohio, volunteers from True the Vote, a group affiliated with the Tea Party, were rejected as poll watchers at 30 locations by Franklin County officials. The county’s elections director, William A. Anthony Jr., told the Columbus Dispatch that the group may be investigated for possibly falsifying poll observation applications.
A voter in Pennsylvania filmed an electronic voting machine that recorded a vote for Romney, even when the voter selected Obama. The voter, who described himself as a software developer, posted the video on YouTube and wrote that the touch screen appeared to be miscalibrated; only a small sliver of Obama’s field worked properly.
NBC News reported that the faulty machine was taken offline.
Elsewhere in the Keystone State, an Allegheny County judge ordered people standing outside of polling places to stop interrogating voters, after county officials received a complaint that Republicans were halting people and asking for identification.
Pennsylvania has a voter ID law, but it is not being enforced this year. When it is, only official poll workers will be permitted to request identification.
The GOP told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review through an attorney that the questioners were not affiliated with the party.
At two polling places in Rhode Island, voting was delayed for about an hour because the wrong ballots had been delivered. Voting resumed after correct ballots were printed and delivered, but some would-be voters left without casting ballots, and voting hours were not extended.Globe correspondent Callum Borchers contributed reporting. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Michael Kranish can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKranish. Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; Brian MacQuarrie at email@example.com.