WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Barack Obama rode a wave of broad support from moderates, women and minorities to win re-election Tuesday by defeating Republican challenger Mitt Romney in Democratic strongholds and key battleground states.
According to CNN projections, Obama surpassed the decisive 270-vote threshold in the Electoral College with victory in Ohio. That and a later projected victory in another swing state -- Virginia -- gave him 303 electoral votes to 206 for Romney, according to the CNN call based on unofficial returns.
Joyful supporters danced and cheered at Obama's victory party in Chicago, and the president thanked them for ensuring the nation will continue to move forward while warning the battle for change they seek will continue to be difficult.
"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 said to prolonged cheers.
He emphasized his main campaign theme of fighting for equal opportunity for all, saying the political arguments that come with democracy in America were a necessary part of the process.
"We will disagree, sometimes fiercely," Obama said, noting that "progress will come in fits and starts" and the victory Tuesday night "won't end all the gridlock."
Foreshadowing hard decisions ahead, the president said blind optimism and wishful idealism "can't substitute for the need to make difficult compromises to move forward."
When he finished, the first family and Vice President Joe Biden and his family joined him onstage in a celebration of waves, hugs amid a blizzard of confetti.
In Boston, Romney supporters hugged and wept in a somber vigil while waiting for their candidate to concede.
In a brief speech he delivered alone, Romney congratulated and said his prayers would be with the president at such a challenging time for the country.
"At a time like this we can't risk partisan bickering and political posturing," Romney said, later adding that he wished he had "fulfilled your wishes to lead this great country in a different direction."
Romney's wife, Ann, and most of his family, as well as running mate Rep. Paul Ryan and his family then came on the stage for a few minutes in what was a subdued farewell.