An uncertain and thorny four years could await President Barack Obama if, under one possible outcome of Tuesday's election, he clings to power despite losing the popular vote to Republican Mitt Romney.
Never before in American history has a sitting president won a second term without winning the popular vote. This year, it's within the realm of possibility. A very tight race seems to favor Obama in the most competitive states that will decide the winner, even if growing Republican enthusiasm means more voters overall go for Romney.
If that happens, Obama would face mounting problems — stubbornly high unemployment, Mideast unrest, the "fiscal cliff" of tax increases and spending cuts in January — with little ability to claim Americans support his way forward, political analysts say.
"If there's any room in these results for Republicans to say the public doesn't support what he's doing, it would make an already toxic, incredibly difficult situation that much worse," Princeton University historian Julian Zelizer said.
Call it Al Gore's revenge. Who could forget the grating 2000 election, when the vice president was denied a turn in the Oval Office despite winning more votes than President George W. Bush? Even after the Supreme Court settled the race, allegations of a "bloodless coup" deprived Bush of the clear mandate needed to unite a divided nation, until the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks united Americans against a terrorist threat.
Text and Images: AP
Image: A poll worker, far right, give instructions to voters arriving from a relocated polling site that closed after flooding from superstorm Sandy, on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 at P.S. 188 on Manhattan's lower east side, New York. After a grinding presidential campaign, Americans are heading into polling places across the country.