By Caitlin Doermer
President Barack Obama won a second four-year term Tuesday night after sweeping the electoral votes in several key states.
Major news organizations had called the bitterly contested race for the president shortly before 11:20 p.m., while the popular vote was still close but appeared to be breaking Obama’s way in Florida, Virginia and Ohio. But his challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, waited until just before 1 a.m. to concede.
“This is a time of great challenges for America, and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation,” Romney told supporters gathered in Boston. He congratulated Obama and his campaign staff, and called for an end to partisan bickering.
Many election observers in both parties had predicted that Virginia would be crucial to both Obama’s and Romney’s bids for the White House. But as the hour grew later and vote counts lagged because of long voting lines in the Commonwealth, the president built leads in other key states that gave him a second term.
Rockbridge area residents learned earlier in the evening that Romney had carried the county and Buena Vista, but the president carried Lexington.
The vote count in Lexington showed the president secured 55 percent of the vote, and Romney captured 58 percent in the county and 62 percent in Buena Vista. Obama’s win in Lexington was 7 percentage points narrower than in 2008, when he prevailed over John McCain. Obama lost in Buena Vista by 10 more percentage points than in 2008, while Romney surpassed McCain’s win by 9 percentage points.
Romney’s share of the county vote was 2 percentage points better than McCain’s 56 percent in 2008.
Nationwide, the popular vote was close, with less than a percentage point still separating the two men at midnight. But Florida, which packed 29 electoral votes and which Republicans had expected to carry, appeared turning for Obama.
The president carried almost all of the states he had won in 2008, while Romney was unable to make inroads where he most needed them.
What was true for the nation in the campaign was true in the Rockbridge area as well – voters appeared to pay the most attention to jobs and the economy.
That was one of the few things the local Republican and Democratic party chairs agreed on before voting began. But when it came to prescriptions, they echoed the themes of Obama and Romney.
“This is not the time to be switching horses in mid-stream,” said Rockbridge County Democratic Chair Joe Skovira, borrowing a reelection slogan used by Abraham Lincoln. “This is the time to go with the guy who has learned a lot through the school of hard knocks.”
Not surprisingly, the area’s Republican Committee Chair, Cher McCoy, had seen a big opportunity for Romney.
“I expect a tremendous amount of change,” McCoy said. “[Obama] is a good speaker, but not a good president.”
Election watchers in Virginia often pay close attention to Buena Vista in presidential elections. If the Democrat does well there, it is often seen as a good sign of his chances nationally. But in 2008, Obama lost the city to McCain by more than 5 percentage points and still won the election.
Lexington is more reliably Democratic. In 2008 the city gave Obama more than a 25-point margin over McCain.
This year, with unemployment figures varying sharply from one area to another, making predictions was tougher. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, Lexington’s September jobless rate was 10.6 percent, far above a nationwide figure that hovered around 8 percent for months.
Buena Vista’s rate was sharply lower than Lexington’s, at around 6.1 percent, and well below the national average. Rockbridge County, where Obama had relatively little support in 2008, saw its unemployment rate drop to 5.7 percent in September, also well below the national figure and Lexington’s.
Skovira acknowledged that the greater number of voters in Rockbridge County more than offset Obama’s support in Lexington. But he said the party put a lot of focus on Buena Vista.
“We spend a lot of time knocking on doors, calling people in Buena Vista,” he said. “It is a tight-knit community and you want to reach them, and you want to get them to come out and vote.”
McCoy blamed Obama for failing to create jobs in the area, and across the country. She predicted that local voters would see it that way, too.
“We are getting, not only the Republicans that voted for McCain, but we’re getting a lot of the Democrats and independents that voted for Obama,” she said.
On Obama’s website, his campaign credited the president with “32 consecutive months of job growth.” The site says the president has made plans to bring jobs back to the United States by ending tax breaks for companies that manufacture overseas. The Obama camp also credits some economic growth to restrictions placed on Wall Street during his administration. Those restrictions were designed to insure that taxpayers would never again have to foot the bill for big bank bailouts.
But Romney’s campaign said government programs are what are slowing the United States economy. According to his website, Romney supported taking advantage of open markets by foraging new partnerships with Pacific countries. His campaign estimated those partnerships would create about 5.4 million new jobs. Romney also promised to establish a system that would put unemployed people into positions with on-the-job training.
In early 2009, Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – better known as the stimulus — totaling more than $800 billion. Many economists credited the program with preventing the United States from falling into another Depression. But McCoy said Obama didn’t follow through. She said the people of Rockbridge County could not take four more years of failed policies.
Nationally, both parties claimed that the country’s future – and its prevailing vision of government – were at stake in the election. Their efforts reflected that. Together, the campaigns spent $883 million on advertising, according to NBC News. Nearly $400 million of that was spent by outside groups including so-called super PACs and other advocacy organizations not officially connected to the campaigns.
Teams of lawyers were already preparing for potential legal challenges over voter eligibility and vote counts in eight to 10 battleground states – tight races that could affect the tally in the Electoral College, no matter what the popular vote showed. Many states with Republican-dominated legislatures had passed laws mandating stricter voter identification procedures at the polls and tightening regulations on early voting. Supporters said the laws were intended to attack voter fraud. Critics – including most Democrats – said they were a thinly disguised attempt to limit participation by likely Democratic voters.
At least one group, called True the Vote, loosely affiliated with the tea party, planned to show up at polling places in some areas of the country to monitor voter eligibility. But at the Ben Salem precinct in Rockbridge County near Buena Vista, one poll worker said it was a Democratic volunteer who showed up Tuesday morning to monitor the voting.
Whatever was to happen in the Rockbridge area, local Democratic Chair Skovira said the president should be given a chance to finish the work he started. Obama’s experiences during his first term will make him the better leader for the next four years, Skovira said.
“Four years ago [then-] Sen. Obama — he didn’t have the experience,” he said. “But he has learned, and you always learn on the job.”