The reason is that voters wanted the president they knew. They believed convincingly that Obama, not Romney, understood their woes of college costs and insurance bills and sleepless nights. Exit polls shows that voters thought far more of them viewed Obama as the voice of the poor and the middle class, and Romney the guy tilting toward the rich.
The suspense was over early because Obama won all over the battleground map, and most crucially in Ohio. That's where he rode his bailout support for the auto industry to a victory that crushed Romney's chances.
The voice of the voter came through from 42-year-old Bernadette Hatcher in Indianapolis, who voted after finishing an overnight shift at a warehouse.
"It's all about what he's doing," she said. "No one can correct everything in four years. Especially the economy."
Formidable and seasoned by life, Romney had in his pocket corporate success and a Massachusetts governor's term and the lessons of a first failed presidential bid.
But he never broke through as the man who would secure people's security and their dreams. He was close the whole time.
"I mean, I looked," said Tamara Johnson of Apex, N.C., a 35-year-old mother of two young children. "I didn't feel I got the answers I wanted or needed to hear. And that's why I didn't sway that way."
The election was never enthralling, and it was fought for far too long in the shallow moments of negative ads and silly comments.
It seemed like the whole country endured it until the end, when the crowds grew and the candidates reached for their most inspiring words.
"Americans don't settle. We build, we aspire, we listen to that voice inside that says 'We can do better," Romney pleaded toward that end.
Americans agreed. They just wanted Obama to take them there.
Incumbents get no transition, so Obama will be tested immediately.
A "fiscal cliff" of expiring tax cuts and budget cuts looms on Jan 1.
If they kick in, economists warn the economy will tank, again. Obama, at least, won the right to fight the fight on his terms.
"If I've won, then I believe that's a mandate for doing it in a balanced way," he said before the election — that is, fixing the budget problem by raising taxes on people instead of just cutting spending. Obama is adamant that he will not agree to extend tax cuts for people making above $200,000 or couples with incomes above $250,000.
He had not even been declared the winner before Boehner offered a warning that the House was still in Republican hands.
"With this vote," Boehner said, "the American people have also made clear that there is no mandate for raising tax rates."
Obama, never one to lack from confidence, is ready to take that fight to Congress.
In his eyes, he just won it, thanks to the voters.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Ben Feller has covered the presidencies of Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
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An AP News Analysis