President Obama won a second term by marrying the new Democratic coalition with just enough of the old to overcome enduring economic disenchantment and a cavernous racial divide.
In many places, particularly across the Sun Belt, Obama mobilized the Democrats' new "coalition of the ascendant," winning enough support among young people, minorities and college-educated whites, especially women, to overcome very weak numbers among blue-collar whites and college-educated men. But in the upper Midwest, where there are not enough of those voters to win, Obama attracted just enough working-class whites to hold the critical battlegrounds of Wisconsin, Iowa, and above all Ohio against Mitt Romney's forceful challenge.
Navigating those two tightropes, Obama held enough states to win a comfortable margin in the Electoral College, despite the headwind of the frustratingly slow economic recovery.
Yet while Obama's victory was emphatic from some angles, it was tenuously equivocal from others.
On the one hand, Obama's success underscored the demographic and geographic advantages that Democrats have developed over the past quarter-century in the race for the White House. With the victory, Democrats have now won the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections--matching the Republican record from 1968-1988 (if not the massive margins the GOP frequently racked up during those years). Obama also held all 18 "blue wall" states that have voted Democratic in each election since 1992. By doing so he set a new milestone: that is the most states Democrats have won that often since the formation of the modern party system in 1828.