President Barack Obama won re-election Tuesday night, overcoming a woeful economy to win crucial Rust Belt states and earn four more years to fulfill his agenda.

Obama defeated Republican Mitt Romney, who couldn't sustain a popularity surge in early October that drew him even with the president in most polls. The 51-year-old, Hawaii-born, Illinois-raised Obama became the third consecutive president to win two terms.

The nail-biting election went late into the night, until The Associated Press and major news networks called Ohio for Obama, giving him more than the necessary 270 electoral votes to win the election.

In his victory speech, Obama said, "Tonight in this election, you, the American people, remind 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. We know in our hearts that for the United States of America the best is yet to come."

He also praised the efforts of those who are rebuilding in New York and New Jersey after superstorm Sandy.

Romney telephoned the president, then, in a graceful concession, he said, "This is a time for great challenges for America, and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation."

With most of the South, Midwest and Rockies committed to a Republican before the race even started, and most of the Northeast and Far West solidly behind Obama, the campaign came down to, at most, nine states -- with Florida and Ohio the most crucial.

As the night drew on, Obama captured New Hampshire, Iowa, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania -- northern states crucial to the Democrat's chances.

Late tallies showed Obama winning Virginia and slightly ahead in Florida.

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Obama also was winning the popular vote.

This year's election came down to, by and large, the question of which candidate could spark turnout among his party's base supporters after months of malaise.

Romney, who had a moderate record as Massachusetts governor and implemented a state health care plan, never seemed to be fully embraced by the Republicans' conservative base. The venture capitalist also fought hard through the campaign to change his low likability ratings to appeal to undecided and independent voters. And he had to counteract criticism that he was a millionaire who was out of touch with most Americans.

Obama fought mediocre approval ratings and struggled to fire up the alliance of voters who gave him a historic win in 2008, making him the nation's first African-American chief executive.

Despite eliminating Osama bin Laden on his watch and removing American troops from Iraq, Obama was saddled primarily by stumbling economy and high unemployment. He also faced critical Democrats who were disappointed that he never fully achieved his agenda or did so slowly and only in pieces, and seldom took the fight to a Republican-led Congress.

It was also a campaign that -- like virtually every presidential election since 2000 -- featured a deeply divided nation and few political battlegrounds. It also was a contest in which neither candidate pledged any big initiatives.

Romney primarily argued that Obama had his chance to help Americans financially and blew it. Obama noted he inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression and that it would take more than four years to repair.

In a race with many ups and downs, Obama seized momentum just after Labor Day, following a Democratic National Convention at which former President Bill Clinton was widely seen as rousing the party from its slumber and rekindling its Obama enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, Romney faced criticism from national conservative pundits who said his campaign had lost its way during the summer and was failing to appeal to a broad spectrum of voters.

Romney also took heat after he was captured on video telling wealthy donors that "47 percent" of Americans would never support him because they were people "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it."

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But the course changed swiftly and dramatically after the initial candidates' debate in Colorado. Romney thumped Obama in the minds of pundits and voters who responded to polls, rejuvenating his supporters. Even Democrats chided Obama for being too placid, missing chances to challenge.

Obama's rebound came two weeks later -- in Nassau County. Hosted by Hofstra University, the second debate was a town-hall-style forum in which Obama aggressively attacked his foe. Polls showed Obama winning the debate, helping him stem the Republican's momentum.