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November 7, 2012

Same president faced with reshaping new landscape

After a long and arduous campaign, a newly reelected President Barack Obama confronts his next challenge: binding together a deeply divided nation and turning from campaigning to governing.

The irony is that the most expensive election in American history produced a status-quo outcome. Now the question is whether it will change the status quo that has governed Washington not just during Obama's presidency but for most of the past decade.

Obama will confront a daunting agenda, from an economy that is still far less robust than he had promised it would be to the looming problem of debt, deficits and the growth of federal entitlement programs that produced an ugly battle during his first term. The "fiscal cliff" looms in December, which either will force action and agreement or define a new landscape of disagreement.

Tuesday's election produced an uncertain mandate, although Obama will attempt to claim one. Obama offered a plan for the future, but not one that deals directly with some of the problems he will have to confront immediately. His campaign was geared more to defining and attacking opponent Mitt Romney than creating a mandate for a second term.

It will now be left to him to create a true mandate for his agenda and then through leadership that combines compromise with conviction, produce a political consensus in Congress and the country to put that agenda into place. There was enough in the exit polls to suggest that voters remain in sharp disagreement over the way forward, and in many cases the voters hold contradictory views about how to get there.

Obama found the coalitions he needed, almost state by state, to win reelection. In Ohio, he was aided by the auto bailout and some extra votes from working-class white voters. In other states, Latinos helped power him to victory. Elsewhere, it was women who played a critical role. But while Obama won a series of closely contested battleground states, the campaign was ending with Americans as polarized as they were when it began nearly two years ago.

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