Chicago, Illinois: President Obama took the stage at McCormick Place with the First Family to celebrate his reelection as America's 44th chief executive on Wednesday morning at 12:38 AM local time, with 303 electoral votes and 50% of the popular vote in his pocket. Joined by his family, the President entered to deafening screams from thousands of supporters as Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed and Delivered, I'm Yours" blasted on the sound system. From Boston, Mitt Romney had conceded the hard-fought race at 12:55 PM ET, and the two spoke by phone ahead of President Obama taking the podium. (Above: The President and First Family wave to the crowd as they take the stage).
The President's long, stirring speech was the culmination of months on the campaign trail through an America confused by the sharply different visions of the two candidates, and he laid out his hopes for a more bipartisan future. He is the first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt to win a majority of the popular vote twice; Romney got 48%. The President had a decisive sweep of most of the highly contested battleground states as he made his victory 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," President Obama said. "We know in our hearts that for the United States of America, the best is yet to come."
"The task of perfecting our union moves forward. It moves forward because of you. It moves forward because you reaffirmed the spirit that has triumphed over war and depression, the spirit that has lifted this country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope."
The President ticked off the names of those to whom he owes a debt of gratitude, from First Lady Michelle Obama--"the love of my life"--and his daughters to Vice President Joe Biden--"America's happy warrior"--to his tireless volunteers and staff and every voter--including those who stood in line for hours--who had ensured he would be in the White House for four more years. There were kind words for Romney after a bitter campaign that was filled with what Obama aides and surrogates had flatly characterized as lies.
"We may have fought fiercly, but it is only because we love this nation," President Obama said. "In the weeks ahead I look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney."
The President will return to Washington on Wednesday with a House that is still dominated by Republicans, and a Senate that has a thin majority of Democrats. A majority of the states will now be run by Republican governors.
"Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated," President Obama said. "But despite all our differences, most of us share certain hopes for America’s future."
"We will disagree, sometimes fiercely, about how to get there. As it has for more than two centuries, progress will come in fits and starts. It's not always a straight line. It's not always a smooth path. By itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end all the gridlock, or solve all our problems, or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus, and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward. But that common bond is where we must begin."
The President closed by reaffirming the idea he ran on in his 2008 campaign: Hope.
"Tonight, despite all the hardship we’ve been through, despite all the frustrations of Washington, I've never been more hopeful about our future," he said to wild applause.
"I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope."
Confetti rained down as the President was joined onstage by the First Family and the Bidens.
Read the full transcript of the President's victory speech here.
The McCormick Place party...
The President and First Lady--clad in a dress by American designer Michael Kors--partied into the wee hours of the morning, attending receptions for campaign supporters and staff. Democratic politicians and celebrity supporters milled through the thrilled, exhausted crowd at the lakefront convention center, including Stevie Wonder, Melanie Griffith, Alfre Woodard, Vivica A. Fox, Will.i.am, Ashley Judd, Zachary Quinto, Mary J. Blige, BD Wong, Justin Long, Adewale Ogunleye, and of course Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. (Above: Confetti rains down as the Obamas and Bidens celebrate after the President's remarks)
President Obama finally returned to his home in the Kenwood neighborhood at 2:36 AM.
Earlier on Tuesday, the President visited a campaign field office, then played his traditional good luck basketball game with staff, aides--and some Chicago Bull. He had dinner with his extended family before awaiting election results with his family and the Bidens from a suite at the Fairmont hotel.
President Obama has not been in Washington, DC, since Sunday, Nov. 4, when he embarked on a final battleground-state blitzkrieg. He returns to the White House with the First Family on Wednesday, Nov. 7 at 5:20 PM. Above, the White House on late on Tuesday night released this photo of the First Couple and the Bidens at the Fairmont hotel, embracing "moments after" the TV networks called the election for the President.
*Pool photos; embrace photo by Pete Souza/White House; C-SPAN video