As for Obama, the wrestling quickly began over the breadth of his victory and whether he is now better positioned to impose his will on a divided Washington. He spent the night with his family in Kenwood, but also found time to make those calls to congressional leaders before boarding Air Force One to return to a divided Washington in the afternoon.
When George W. Bush won re-election in 2004, GOP pundits such as syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer were quick to declare his victory a mandate, especially in light of the results four years earlier, when Bush lost the popular vote but narrowly won the electoral college. Bush seemed to agree, declaring soon after the 2004 vote: "I earned capital in the campaign, political capital," he said, "and now I intend to spend it."
Obama was not so bold in the first hours following his re-election. Upon arriving back at the White House, the president was greeted by a question shouted by a reporter: "Do you feel you have a mandate?"
He did not answer.
Vice President Joe Biden, however, did invoke a nuanced version of the "M" word while talking to reporters on Air Force Two as he returned from Chicago to his home in Delaware.
Biden said there appeared to be a "clear sort of mandate" from voters about how to deal with tax policy, with the American people "coming much closer to our view." But he said he and the president are open to compromise and are eager to move quickly on a deal.
Obama's edge over Romney in the electoral college will clearly be larger than the one Bush enjoyed over Democrat John Kerry in 2004. Some votes were still being tallied Wednesday, but Obama's unofficial lead in the popular vote — about 50 percent versus 48 percent for Romney — was comparable in size to the one Bush amassed eight years ago.
Before leaping to a conclusion about what that might mean, it may be important to consider this. Bush's party controlled both houses of Congress after the 2004 elections, an asset Obama does not enjoy.
Even with that advantage, Bush was unable to gain traction on his priority: the partial privatization of Social Security, a change many Republicans still advocate but Obama opposes.
Tribune Washington Bureau's Christi Parsons contributed.