President Barack Obama was easily re-elected to a second term Tuesday, with a victory in the hard-fought battleground of Ohio pushing him over the margin around 11 p.m. Obama had 303 electoral votes, needing 270 to win, while Republican Mitt Romney won 203 electoral votes as of early Wednesday.
Obama garnered 69 percent of the Jewish vote, according to exit polls. Such polls in 2008 showed Obama getting 78 percent of the Jewish vote. That figure was subsequently adjusted to 74 percent after an analysis of national and exit polls.
"For the United States of America, the best is yet to come," Obama said in his victory speech, adding, "We need to go forward, but progress isn’t always a straight line or a smooth path.”
Obama held on to his states from the 2008 election, losing only North Carolina and Indiana. In addition to Ohio, he won important battlegrounds in Iowa, Virginia, Nevada, and Colorado. As of Wednesday morning, several news organizations were still saying Florida was too close to call, although the New York Times said Obama won by half a percentage point.
"This is a time of great challenges for America, and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation," Romney said in his concession speech, which began close to 1 am. Wednesday. "This election is over, but our principles endure … Paul Ryan and I left everything on the field. We gave it our all."
The victory brings to a close a bitter campaign which, for many American Jews, revolved around Obama's Middle East policy, framed early in his first term when he stated that Israeli settlements were a key impediment to the peace process with Palestinians and called for a return to the pre-1967 borders.
Romney repeatedly positioned himself as stronger on Israel, promising a more stalwart defense of the Jewish state against the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb, promising to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and blasting the Obama White House for creating "daylight" in policy differences with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Defenders of the president insisted that he ardently opposes an Iranian nuclear weapon and has increased funding for Israel's defense againts Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza.
At local polling places, Jewish voters displayed passion about their choices, with many citing Israel as a top concern.
“No-bama,” shouted attorney Stephan J. Siegel, as he stepped out of the polling place at P.S. 175 in Forest Hills, Queens.
“He hates America, he hates Jews, he hates Israel –he’s not a friend of Israel,” Siegel said of the incumbent. Obama, adding, “has no idea how to run a country."
But in Long Island's West Hempstead, Jason Finegold, 47, a social worker, said he opposed Romney because “to me he represents the big corporation mentality that I have come to despise. Obama isn't a perfect choice but he's not Romney."
Major TV networks called the race for Obama at around 11:15 PM, after he was named the projected winner in Ohio. The Buckeye State became a must-win for Republican challenger Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, after Obama won several other battleground states. Both campaigns focused campaigning on Jewish communities in Florida and Ohio — states seen as critical to Romney's path to the presidency.
The National Jewish Democratic Council wasted no time congratulating the president.
"[W]e are thrilled that President Barack Obama has won reelection and will serve as President of the United States for four more years," said the organization in a message in its web site shortly after the victory was announced.
"In his first term, President Obama signed historic legislation into law, appointed outstanding Supreme Court justices and reflected Jewish values at every turn — all while being Israel’s most important friend and most persistent advocate in the world. We know that he will continue to build on his outstanding foreign and domestic record in his second term, and that he will continue moving our country forward."
The Republican Jewish Coalition added its statement on Wednesday morning. "The Republican Jewish Coalition congratulates President Barack Obama," said RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks. "There are challenging times ahead for America’s leaders, who must address the stagnant economy, the need to create more jobs, and the threat of a nuclear Iran. All of us must come together to craft real solutions to the very serious problems our country faces today.
But Brooks noted the substantial drop in Jewish support as seen in exit polls. "The trend in the Jewish community is unmistakeable," he said. "In five of the last six national elections, Republicans have increased their support among Jewish voters and they continue to make inroads in the Jewish community."
With Obama's victory, the Senate remaining in the hands of Democrats and the U.S. House of Representatives staying Republican, that means more of the same, said William Daroff, who directs the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America.
"What's amazing from a political point of view is that it's hundreds of millions dollars being spent and it's still the status quo," he said.
Netanyahu offered the president best wishes on his victory Wednesday. "I congratulate US President Barack Obama on his victory in the elections," he said in a statement, which was posted on his Facebook page, beneath a photo of himself and Obama smiling together at the White House.
"The strategic alliance between Israel and the United States is stronger than ever. I will continue to work with President Obama to guarantee the interests that are vital for the security of Israel's citizens."
JTA contributed to this report.