In the end, Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney without having to win the biggest swing states of Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, three states where both campaigns spent huge amounts of money.
The Obama team used a campaign ground game and its experience to win a chess match by taking Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin, in a tactical move that took potential recounts in those three bigger states out of the picture.
In the end, the Obama campaign may also win Florida, Ohio, and Virginia. But its success in smaller states has put the conventional wisdom about targeting big swing states on its head.
Both candidates raised more than $1 billion each after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. But it was old-fashioned political grassroots campaigning that made the difference in a tightly contested election.
Based on reports, the Obama campaign was able to mobilize younger voters and minority voters, despite doubts in the mainstream press.
Romney was able to unite different sectors of the Republican Party, in what may turn out to be one of the closest elections in U.S. history in terms of the popular vote.
What’s left after Election Day is a deeply divided electorate and a president who faces a divided Congress.
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The makeup of the House and Senate isn’t radically different. So the congressional races in 2014 will be hugely important as a prelude to the 2016 election.
Another huge question will be the future of the Republican Party.
Romney and John McCain were both considered moderate candidates. The party has two wings, and which wing gets to nominate the 2016 candidate will be a much-discussed topic.