Pope Benedict congratulated a reelected President Barack Obama by telegram Wednesday. The pope said he is praying that the ideals of freedom and justice that guided America's founders might continue to flourish.
In remarks to reporters, a Vatican spokesman said the pope hopes Obama will promote "a culture of life and religious freedom." Obama has been at odds with the U.S. Catholic bishops over his support for legal abortion and plans to require Catholic employer health plans to cover sterilization and artificial birth control.
The president was reelected Tuesday in a close popular vote, but one that saw him win comfortably in the electoral college — 303 to 206 at last count.
"Tonight, in this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, 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 told a cheering crowd in his home town, Chicago.
"We will disagree, sometimes fiercely," the president said, adding that "progress will come in fits and starts." He predicted that his victory will not end gridlock.
The Republicans retained their majority in the U.S. House, and Democrats held their lead in the Senate.
Republican challenger Mitt Romney did not fare well in contested states like Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and perhaps Florida, where votes were still being tallied.
"This is a time of great challenges for America and I pray the president will be successful in leading our nation," Romney said in a gracious concession speech. “We can’t risk partisan bickering . . . We citizens have to rise to the occasion.”
Catholics as a whole were evenly divided — 50 percent voted for Obama and 48 percent supported Romney. White Catholics moved strongly in the Republican direction relative to 2008. Hispanic voters — most of them Catholic — broke heavily for Obama by a 39-point margin.
Catholics represent more than a quarter of the electorate and have voted for the winner of the popular vote in every presidential election since at least 1972. Both campaigns conducted intense outreach to Catholic voters and had Catholic vice presidential nominees.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, offered congratulations and prayers. The cardinal added that the bishops are praying that Obama will "pursue the common good, especially in care of the most vulnerable among us, including the unborn, the poor, and the immigrant."
Exit polls Tuesday noted that the economy was a top issue and voters were evenly split over which man would do better at fixing it. But the president was seen by voters as more empathetic, some polls said.
It's close, but Washington state voters appear to have approved same sex marriage in their state. Voters in Maryland and Maine made the same choice. That breaks a string of 32 losses in various states, including Oregon.
In all three states, the electorate countered an effort by Catholic bishops, who argued that marriage must abide by natural law. Baltimore Archbishop William Lori had priests read a letter in defense of traditional marriage from the pulpit.
Minnesota voters rejected a measure that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman.
Massachusetts voters narrowly defeated a "death with dignity" measure, rejecting attempts to legalize assisted suicide.
In California, an initiative to end the use of the death penalty was defeated as well in another close vote.
The Massachusetts initiative, known as Question 2, was defeated by fewer than 39,000 votes — 1,395,227 to 1,356,899 — with the largest opposition rising in counties in the center of the state and those north and south of Boston.
Washington state approved recreational marijuana use, which sets up a showdown with federal law, which prohibits the practice. Oregon voters rejected a similar marijuana measure.