HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — President Barack Obama fought off a tougher political environment and the loss of some voters who had supported him in 2008 to hang on to Pennsylvania, a crucial battleground state, thanks to staunch support from Democrats and strong support from a growing number of Latino voters.
His support in Tuesday's election from many major voting groups had eroded since 2008: independents and Republicans voted against him in higher proportions, as did older voters and whites, according to an exit poll conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks.
But Democrats stuck with him, showing no sign of drifting to Republican Mitt Romney, and his popularity thrived with possibly the biggest Latino turnout yet in Pennsylvania.
Steadfast backing from Democrats was important because they outnumber Republicans four to three in Pennsylvania and showed the same level of support as they did in 2008.
Democrat after Democrat interviewed in Pennsylvania defended Obama, saying he had fought hard for his goals, run up against an uncooperative House GOP majority and dealt with a devastating economic blow to the nation.
"They make the same argument: well what has he done in four years?" said Maryanne Aday, 55, a personal chef and assistant from Philadelphia. "But look what he's had to work with."
At the same time, Romney seemed to have little appeal to Democrats. They worried about his stance against abortion rights, a perceived favoritism of the wealthy and his intention to repeal Obama's signature health care law to expand the number of people with insurance.
"It means he don't give a hoot in the wind for poor people," said 93-year-old Mary Smith, whose son pushed her in a wheelchair to her Pittsburgh polling place so she could vote.
Democrats also did a better job than Republicans of signing up new voters. In 2012, 426,000 new Democrats registered, compared with nearly 290,000 Republicans and 246,000 independents or third-party members.
Obama beat Romney, 52 percent to 47 percent in the traditional battleground of Pennsylvania, despite high unemployment, growing national debt and a sluggish economy. He beat Republican John McCain in 2008 by a wider margin, 55 percent to 44 percent.
Before the election, Republican strategists had said Romney, to win Pennsylvania, would need to keep his vote deficit in the Democratic bastion of Philadelphia to fewer than 400,000, lose Allegheny County by no worse than 10 percentage points and fight to a draw in Philadelphia's heavily populated suburban counties, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery.
Instead, Obama won Philadelphia by about 465,000 votes, beat Romney 57 percent to 42 percent in Allegheny County and took Philadelphia's suburbs by about 120,000 votes, according to near-complete, preliminary returns. All told, about 66 percent of the state's nearly 8.5 million voters cast a vote in the presidential race, a little below 2008's 68 percent turnout. In Philadelphia, the state's largest city, about 61 percent of nearly 1.1 million registered voters cast ballots.
A strong Latino vote for Obama helped, too.
While Latino voters were a small slice of the voters on Tuesday — about 6 percent, according to the exit polls — Obama's strong support from Latinos was important because they are a growing part of the Pennsylvania electorate.
Miguel Concepcion of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Congress of Puerto Rican Rights said Latinos voted in "unprecedented numbers" in Pennsylvania on Tuesday. Younger Latinos, he said, are becoming increasingly engaged in voting and Obama connected with them better than Romney.
"I tell you, from morning until the end, the traditional polling sites of Latinos were packed with Latinos," said Concepcion, who toured polling places in six traditional Latino wards in north and lower north Philadelphia. "They were waiting in lines."
Associated Press reporter Joe Mandak in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.