After a long and bitter campaign, President Barack Obama won re-election with 303 electoral votes to Mitt Romney’s 206 on Tuesday largely due to the grassroots get-out-to-vote campaign in the African-American community.
“From Florida to Virginia to Ohio to Pennsylvania, the Black vote was the deciding force in the most important states in this election,” says Ben Jealous, President/CEO of the NAACP in a brief interview following the Obama win. On election eve, the NAACP issued a statement saying it would have turned out more than 1.2 million voters by the time polls closed on Election Day. The NAACP called it the largest get out to vote success in the organization’s 103-year history.
The effort was partially in response to an apparent rogue campaign by Republicans to change voting laws to make it more difficult for African-Americans to vote. Most of the new laws were struck down in court challenges while an army of African-Americans registered themselves and others to assure victory on Nov. 6.
“My heroes are our members who stood up to voter intimidation, who turned back voter suppression, who set records for voter registration and turnout,” Jealous said. “We were successful in mobilizing our community through an incredible storm of voter repression because we planned our work and we worked our plan.”
Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., who spent the final days before the election getting out the vote in the battleground of Ohio rather than in his Chicago hometown, noted Obama’s uphill battle against racism.
“The personal attacks on the president : ‘You’re a liar, you’re not an American, you’re not a Christian, you’re a retard’,” he recalled the hateful statements made by some Romney supporters during the campaign. “People took those hits as personal aimed at them. He was bearing the cross for us. Those are the things they call us every day …And it made him a martyr for all practical purposes. He had to take that stuff. He had to take those insults. They’d never treated the president that way before.”
Obama seemed keenly aware of the grassroots efforts. Even before his public concession speech shortly before 2 a.m., his campaign sent an email with a targeted message of thanks.
“I’m about to go speak to the crowd here in Chicago, but I wanted to thank you first,” said the message that hit inboxes minutes before the President, First Lady Michelle, and daughters Malia and Sasha took to the stage before a roaring crowd of more than 10,000 in Chicago. “I want you to know that this wasn’t fate, and it wasn’t an accident. You made this happen. You organized yourselves block by block. You took ownership of this campaign five and ten dollars at a time. And when it wasn’t easy, you pressed forward.”
The win comes at the end of a long and cantankerous battle against challenger Romney, a millionaire businessman and former governor of Massachusetts. Romney’s taunting campaign style appeared to have riled voters. Obama, maintaining his trademark style of focus and passion, exuded grace in his acceptance speech.
“Tonight, in this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back, and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America the best is yet to come,” he said to thunderous applause. “I want to thank every American who participated in this election … whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time. By the way, we have to fix that,” he said in obvious reference to the extremely long lines experienced by thousands across the nation. Some voters stood in lines for up to five hours to assure that they would vote.
Despite a clearly divided country with the re-election of a Republican-majority House of Representatives and a Democratically-led U. S. Senate, the President used his campaign speech to call for unity.
“I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America,” he said. The familiar theme resonated with the cheering crowd and the millions watching on television who recall it from his debut in national politics as a U. S. Senator during the Democratic National Convention of 2004.
Romney, in Boston with thousands of somber campaign supporters, at first did not concede as he awaited the results from Ohio. When he finally conceded around 1:30 a.m., his usual hard edge had softened as he gave his concession speech.
“I have just called President Obama to congratulate him on his victory. His supporters and his campaign also deserve congratulations. The nation, as you know, is at a critical point,” Romney said. “At a time like this, we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work. And we citizens also have to rise to the occasion.”
Moving “forward” as was his campaign slogan, President Obama returned words of grace, setting aside the bitter words of just a few days ago.
“I just spoke with Governor Romney and I congratulated him and [vice presidential candidate] Paul Ryan on a hard-fought campaign,” he said in his speech. “We may have battled fiercely, but it’s only because we love this country deeply and we care so strongly about its future…In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward.”