President Obama easily won re-election Tuesday, overcoming Mitt Romney and economic headwinds to recapture a series of battleground states after winning over a polarized electorate.

Obama carried nearly every state he won four years ago, fending off Romney's challenges on Democratic turf in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and not only capturing Virginia for a second time but appearing to have narrowly won Florida, a state that many had already written off as Romney's.

Addressing his supporters in Chicago in the wee hours of the morning, Obama sought to open his second term with an appeal to warring political leaders in Washington to close the door on a nasty presidential campaign, a byproduct of a "noisy and messy" democracy.

"I've never been more hopeful about our future. I've never been more hopeful about America," he said. "Together with your help and God's grace, we will continue this journey forward."

And Obama, who spent recent months pushing a highly partisan agenda, vowed to work with Republicans to solve the litany of problems already demanding his attention. The president said he would call Romney, his vanquished foe, in coming weeks to identify common ground for the duo.

Romney struck a gracious tone in a late-night concession speech in Boston, urging Americans to unite behind the president.

"The nation chose another leader and so Ann and I join with you to pray for him and this great nation," he said.

The president's pathway to Election Day was not without its challenges, nor was his margin of victory as convincing as it was in 2008. But Obama prevailed where it mattered most, convincing a diverse coalition of women, African-Americans and Hispanics that he'd made steady, if frustratingly slow, progress.

And the president immediately sought to lay the groundwork for his second-term agenda, promising Americans -- nearly half of whom backed Romney -- better days ahead.

"We're all in this together," the president said on his Twitter account before addressing supporters in Chicago. "That's how we campaigned, and that's who we are. Thank you."

Obama's blueprint for victory was dramatically different than four years ago. Instead of inspiring with a message of hope and change, the president was saddled with a mixed first-term record and a partisan divide in Washington that he pledged to bridge but ultimately didn't.

His campaign immediately sought to disqualify Romney, battering him with an avalanche of negative ads that undercut the Republican's chief argument -- that he was a savvy businessman capable of engineering an economic turnaround.

Republicans had hoped a strong debate showing from Romney was a game-changing moment. And Romney banked that making the election a referendum on the president's handling of the economy would convince voters to change direction. But ultimately, Obama's advantages with women, minority and younger voters were too much for the former Massachusetts governor to overcome.

The president's campaign adeptly steered the national conversation away from the economy whenever possible. Obama kept a heavy focus on women's health care, student loan rates and social issues -- topics that played well with the voters he needed to offset his lack of support among white men.

Many were bracing for a late night of vote counting in swing states, but the major news networks called the race before 11:30 p.m.

Despite the president's victory, the dynamics in Washington will remain the same. Democrats expanded their majority in the Senate, and Republicans maintained control of the House. And the president will face an immediate test in finding a solution to the looming fiscal cliff that could initiate a slate of tax increases and deep spending cuts some fear could send the economy reeling back into a recession.

From a historical perspective, Obama's victory defied the odds. No president had won re-election amid such stubbornly high unemployment since Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Republicans will be left to pick up the pieces from another losing presidential campaign, as they look to create a message that appeals to voters in a broader coalition of tossup states.