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Obama wins, but has anything changed?

All major media outlets have called the presidential election for Barack Obama. The vote leaves Washington exactly where it was before the election – and the GOP with deep questions.

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And Obama has an even stronger edge with Hispanics and young people – both key constituencies for any political party looking to the future. Exit polls at one point in the evening showed Hispanics going for Obama 69 percent to 30 percent. And it was the growth of non-Cuban Hispanics in Florida who may be to thank for delivering that state to Obama (with returns suggesting Obama could take the state).

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“Mr. Obama had a two-thirds advantage with non-Cuban Hispanics in the exit poll,” wrote The New York Times’s polling expert Nate Silver during his liveblog of the results. “And they made up 10 percent of the voting population, compared with 6 percent for Cuban-Americans…. If Mr. Obama ekes out a win in Florida, this will have a lot to do with it.”

Voters under 30 preferred Obama to Romney 59 percent to 37 percent, while voters over age 65 preferred Romney 56 percent to 43 percent.

White voters, on the other hand – whose percentage of the electorate is dwindling – voted for Romney over Obama by a wide margin, 59 percent to 39 percent.

It all adds up to a problem for the GOP as it looks to the future. Early in the evening, even before the race was called, Bill O’Reilly was bemoaning the new demographics, saying that “the white establishment is now the minority.”

Obama, too, faces challenges, and will have little time to savor his victory.

“He’s got a tough road, because people in Congress don’t really owe him very much,” says Professor Pitney. “Republicans in the House certainly aren’t intimidated by him, and Democrats in the House are probably a little angry at him for not giving them more help. Democrats in the Senate are winning mostly because of Republican fumbles. This squeaker is not much of a mandate.”

Most immediately, Obama will face the challenge of dealing with the nation’s so-called “fiscal cliff” – the combination of tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to take effect in January – in which he’ll face off with Republicans in Congress at the end of this year and almost certainly into the coming year as well.

With House Speaker John Boehner leading a continued Republican House – and firm in his opinion that Obama lacks a strong mandate – the nation is likely to see Round 2 of the Obama-Boehner standoff it witnessed last year.

But, at least for one night, Obama supporters had a victory to savor after a brutal and agonizingly close election season, as they watched the nation give America’s first African-American president a second term.

Keevin Woods, a former deputy campaign manager for the Obama campaign in 2008, was at Grant Park four years ago and is at the Obama rally at McCormick Place Tuesday night.

Grant Park was historic, he says, but this one “is even more significant now.”

“The first four years he had to stabilize things from the previous administration,” says Mr. Woods. “He now needs to finish the job and move forward.” 

• Staff writer Mark Guarino contributed to this report from Chicago.

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