** US ELECTION SPECIAL ** The top ten things you need to know on Wednesday 7 November 2012...
1) FOUR MORE YEARS
The $2bn presidential election is over - and the results are in. Obama 1. Romney 0. For Obama, four more years. For Romney, more than five wasted years chasing after the White House.
Obama is America's third consecutive two-term president, having avoided the fate of Democrat Jimmy Carter and Republican George Bush Snr. The president secured his second term in office shortly after 11:15pm Eastern Time (ET), having won the swing states of Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada and Colorado. "This happened because of you," tweeted Obama to his 22.4m followers. "Thank you." (Incidentally, the picture Obama tweeted, of him hugging Michelle, quickly became the most re-tweeted tweet in the history of Twitter...)
One other battleground state, Florida, is still too close to call - with residents of the Sunshine State continuing to wait in line to vote after Obama had been declared the winner late last night. At the time of writing, however, Obama is ahead in the popular vote and, if he's confirmed the winner in Florida, Indiana and North Carolina will be the only two states Obama won in 2008 and then lost in 2012.
The president gave a barnstorming victory speech at a rally in Chicago, proclaiming:
"We have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America the best is yet to come."
Obama said he'd be returning to the White House "more determined, and more inspired than ever about the work there is to do, and the future that lies ahead".
But he needs to do much, much more to save his second term from the drift, division and disappointment of the first. The fact is that the United States remains a divided, polarised country and Obama, in the coming years, will continue to face a hostile, intransigent Republican-controlled House of Representatives [see below].
The president needs to hold a press conference as soon as possible and repeat, word for word, George W. Bush's self-confident message to the American people after his (very narrow) win over John Kerry in November 2004: "Let me put it to you this way: I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it."
2) BARACK'S 'THINGS TO DO' LIST
The president's Oval Office in-tray is pretty full: on the home front, there's the so-called 'fiscal cliff' - journalistic shorthand for $607bn (£379bn) worth of tax rises and spending cuts automatically due in January 2013, unless Obama and House Republicans can do a more sensible and pragmatic deal on deficit reduction. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says such mass austerity could tip the US economy - and the world economy, for that matter - back into recession.
On the foreign affairs front, there's the unfinished war in Afghanistan, the unresolved nuclear confrontation with Iran and the ongoing civil war in Syria to deal with. Oh, and the rise of China and the resurgence of Russia. And a European debt crisis. Oh, and did I mention, by the way, that Guantanamo Bay is still open four years after the president first promised to shut it down?
A recent Reuters article noted: "The international arena is where second-term presidents often focus more of their attention, especially when a divided Congress stymies their legislative ambitions." If he feels a need to prioritise, Obama should probably focus on securing a 'Grand Bargain' at home (with the House Republicans) and a 'Grand Bargain' abroad (with the Iranian mullahs) in order to try and have a quiet, productive and conflict-free second term.
(On a side note, I wrote this piece yesterday, ahead of the result: "Ten Things That Won't Change No Matter Who Wins Tonight".)
3) SENATE TURNS LEFT
Americans didn't just elect a president last night; they also elected a new House of Representatives and a third of the Senate. Republicans have held on to control of the House while Democrats retained their majority in the Senate - and bolstered the liberal-left presence in the upper house in the process.
In Massachusetts, Harvard law professor and champion of the Occupy Wall Street movement Elizabeth Warren beat Republican incumbent Scott Brown and recaptured Ted Kennedy's old seat for the Democrats.
In Wisconsin, self-professed progressive Tammy Baldwin - who has been consistently ranked as one of the most liberal members of the House of Representatives - defeated former state governor Tommy Thompson, to become the first ever openly gay US senator.
In Ohio, liberal Democratic senator Sherrod Brown was re-elected - despite his Republican opponent being able to draw on over $36 million in donations from outside the state.
4) BALLOT VICTORIES FOR GAY MARRIAGE AND MARIJUANA
Oh, and they didn't just cast votes for the president and for members of the upper and lower houses of Congress. There were a handful of pretty important state ballot measures too.
Maine and Maryland became the first states to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote, while Washington state and Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana.
@DaliaEzzat_ And same sex marriage passes in Maryland! Pot, gay sex and a win for BO : republicans be trippin' tonight.
@DeborahJaneOrr Wow. #Obama's in. Dope's in. Same sex marriage is in. An openly gay senator's in. It's like the US forgot "liberal" is a sweary word.
5) FOX NEWS MELTDOWN
The set of Fox News, the media wing of the Republican Party, went awfully quiet last night as it became clear that the Kenyan-socialist-communist-Muslim incumbent had been re-elected for four more years.
Actually, I lie. There were some pretty loud bits too - for example, when long-time Fox contributor, former Bush aide and current Romney supporter/fundraiser Karl Rove angrily refused to accept the Fox News projection of a win for Obama in Ohio.
From the Daily Beast website:
"Karl Rove doesn’t believe it. Megyn Kelly walks it off. Bill O’Reilly plays the race card. Watch five incredible moments from Fox News’ funeral for the presidency."
The Rove meltdown has gone viral already...
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Forget Obama v Romney: watch this video clip of monkeys diving into a pool 'cannonball-style'. Yes, 'cannonball-style'.
6) MEET THE REAL WINNER OF THIS ELECTION...
...Nathaniel Read "Nate" Silver, the New York Times' poll wizard and founder of the FiveThirtyEight blog.
In 2008, Silver came to national attention after he correctly predicted the winner of 49 of the 50 states. This time round, he became the subject of a vicious Republican campaign to try and discredit his methodology and his models after he pointed out that the US media consensus was wrong - the election wasn't too close to call. The polls, both at the national and state levels, showed Obama had a strong chance of victory - and, that too, a comfortable victory over his Republican challenger.
On Monday night, with pundits still regurgitating the 'too close to call' line, Silver proclaimed that Obama had a 92% chance of winning re-election.
Look out for Silver - he'll be all over US television screens from now on. Oh, and he's got a new book out too. Nice.
7) DEMOGRAPHICS, DEMOGRAPHICS, DEMOGRAPHICS!
"The story of this election is demographics," declared NBC's political director Chuck Todd. Yep, a diverse Democratic Party which looks like modern America beat an all-white, all-male Republican Party which looks like 1950s America. Obama, after all, managed to keep his winning 2008 coalition together: women, minorities and young people.
A decade ago, in the New Republic, John Judis and Ruy Texeira outlined their thesis of the 'emerging Democratic majority', arguing that the Democratic Party "and not Bush's GOP, will oversee America's postindustrial transition because it, and not Bush's GOP, embodies the demographic and cultural changes that this new America will bring." They do seem to have been vindicated this morning.
8) SECRETARY OF STATE KERRY?
Obama now has 77 days till his inauguration and the start of his second term. He'll have a fair few top jobs to fill, including Treasury Secretary and Secretary of State. Hillary Clinton is standing down and the hot favourite to replace her is the former Democratic presidential candidate, and current Senate foreign relations committee chair, John Kerry.
9) RAPE AND THE REPUBLICANS
Remember Todd Akin? The Republican candidate for the Missouri Senate seat who said women's bodies had ways of avoiding pregnancy in what he referred to as "legtimate rape"? Yeah, that guy? He lost to Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill.
And remember Richard Mourdoch? The Republican/Tea Party candidate for the Senate seat in Indiana who said that pregnancy resulting from rape was "something God intended"? He got beat by Democratic candidate Joe Donnelly.
Guess what? Making crass, stupid and insensitive remarks about rape don't win you votes. Shock. Horror.
@guyadams Todd "legitimate rape" Akin loses. I guess women found a way to shut him down.
10) BRING ON 2016!
Tired and bored of non-stop presidential campaigning over the past year or so? Well, get ready, because the 2016 campaign starts...now, basically. Leading Repubicans are queuing up to have a crack at it. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush (Dubya's little brother) has a book out later this week. Florida senator Marco Rubio is being touted as the Republicans' 'minority' answer to Obama (he is from Cuba and aged just 41) - as is the Indian-born governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal. New Jersey governor Chris Christie has bucketloads of charisma and authenticity, as well as a reputation for competence and fiscal discipline, and won plaudits earlier this month for his measured, non-partisan response to Superstorm Sandy and his praise for President Obama.
Then there's Paul Ryan, the "intellectual leader" of the Republican Party and MItt's 2012 running mate. He has impeccable social-conservative credentials and is most famous for being a fiscal hawk (austerity junkie?). Grassroots Republicans love him. The problem is that he couldn't even manage to win his own state (Wisconsin) for his party's presidential ticket this time round - even the hapless Sarah Palin managed to win Alaska in 2008!
But which Democrat will step up to succeed Obama and take on the Republicans in 2016? Surely it has to be Hillary Clinton? A black man has now been elected to the White House not once but twice; come 2016, won't it finally be time for Americans to elect a female president?
“The demographics race we’re losing badly. We’re not generating enough angry..white guys to stay in business for the long term.” - Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, August 2012
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@WilliamJHague Congratulations to President @BarackObama and his team. I look forward to working with them on shared #foreignpolicy goals
@BorowitzReport BREAKING: Man Who Told Half the Nation to Fuck Themselves Somehow Loses Election
900 WORDS OR MORE
Greg Sargent, writing in the Washington Post, says: "A big night for Democrats and liberals"
Howard Fineman, writing in the Huffington Post, says: "Barack Obama Reelection Signals Rise Of New America"
Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (email@example.com) or Ned Simons (firstname.lastname@example.org). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol