After a long and contentious election season, President Barack Obama won a second term Tuesday night, earning 303 electoral votes to Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s 206.

Many national polls leading up to Election Day predicted a tight race that would hinge largely on battleground states including Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Colorado.  The president won in almost all of these crucial swing states and eked out a smaller, 50 percent to 48 percent victory in the popular vote.

Television networks began projecting Obama’s reelection as early as 11:20 p.m. EST, but Romney did not officially concede until shortly before 1 a.m. In his subsequent victory speech at Chicago’s McCormick Place, Obama offered an exuberant crowd of supporters a hopeful vision of the future.

“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,” he said.

In a brief concession speech, Mitt Romney congratulated President Obama and urged both parties to work together to resolve political differences.

“At a time like this, we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing,” Romney said. “Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work. And we citizens also have to rise to the occasion.”

Reaching political consensus might be easier said than done, however. The make-up of the House and the Senate stayed essentially the same following Tuesday’s election, likely setting up continued political sparring over controversial issues such as health care, immigration and the fiscal cliff.

On the health care front, employers finally have some degree of certainty on the future of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Republicans had vowed to overhaul or repeal the health care reform measure if they won control of the White House and Congress, but with Obama’s victory it seems likely that the law’s employer mandate will take effect, as intended, on Jan. 1, 2014.

Immigration law is still unsettled, as lawmakers have yet to institute comprehensive legislation on the issue. Earlier this year, President Obama announced his support for the DREAM Act, a proposed piece of legislation that would allow certain undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as minors to gain permanent residency status. Still, many experts say current immigration policies are stymieing economic growth by instituting restrictive visa caps and quotas, sometimes for highly skilled workers.

Perhaps the most pressing issue facing Washington, however, is the looming “fiscal cliff.” Unless President Obama and Congress can reach a budget agreement by January, a combination of tax increases and mandated spending cuts will take effect, which some experts fear could plunge the country back into a recession. The U.S. is also projected to hit its debt ceiling this year, which could force the Treasury Department to take “extraordinary measures.”

Read more about the election results at Reuters.

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