Wednesday, November 7, 2012

President Obama Looks to the Future

Taliban in Karachi

In its interim order on the Karachi law and order situation, the Supreme Court directed the Sindh government to take immediate action against all armed groups, including the Taliban, and to take seriously the issue of the Taliban presence in the city. The advice about 'seriousness' is particularly important given that the two alliance partners in the provincial government, the MQM and the ANP, have been at loggerheads over the issue, with the former insisting the Taliban were active in Karachi and the latter reacting angrily, refuting the assertion as an indirect attack on its fellow Pashtuns. The nation's commercial capital, Karachi has attracted a large number of people from all over the country. Hence, even though the Taliban's home base is Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and parts of Punjab, it is hardly surprising if some of them have found their way into Karachi - needless to say, not all Pashtuns or Punjabis sympathise with them. Also inviting for the Taliban has been the environment created by turf battles among Sindh government's coalition partners: the PPP, MQM, and ANP. These insurgents are known to have had a nexus with al Qaeda. How these links worked has come to light several times with the arrest of al Qaeda leaders and operatives who took refuge in Karachi. In May of last year, for instance, the security agencies announced nabbing a senior al Qaeda operative, Mohammad Ali Qasim Yaqub, a.k.a. Abu Abu Shohaib al Makki, from the city. In June this year, Karachi police said they had arrested seven suspects belonging to an al Qaeda affiliate, and recovered seven explosives-laden jackets, rockets and detonators from them. These people obviously had local connections. Instead of squabbling, all political players need to rise above ethnic/political affiliations to face the common enemy. More importantly, the government has to act decisively. In its last year's verdict on the Karachi situation, the Supreme Court had noted that all members of the ruling coalition were responsible for endless violence and lawlessness, and made several recommendations to restore normality to the city. Due to reasons of political expedience, the government paid little heed to those recommendations, prompting the court to revisit the same issue this year. Meanwhile, the conditions have worsened, becoming ideal for the insurgents and all sorts of criminal elements to operate in. Interior Minister Rehman Malik has promised compliance with the court order this time, saying that Karachi has turned into a Taliban stronghold, and that the government would act in accordance with the SC interim order and go after the Taliban. He also claimed that some Taliban-specific measures had already been initiated. Any such measure in isolation from the other factors causing relentless violence in Karachi will be unhelpful.

Pakistan: Now another institutional clash?
Speeches the other day by COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry had much in common and much to commend them. However, they did also contain some things implicitly that have aroused concern. On the face of it, the COAS in his speech to officers at GHQ seemed to be responding to recent criticism of some retired Generals charged with interfering in the political process (the Asghar Khan case, in which a former COAS and former head of the ISI have been squarely put in the dock), and corruption (in the NLC and now Fauji Fertilizers cases). The COAS’ take on this was that individuals’ mistakes in the past should be left to the judicial (due) process and guilt or innocence should not be presumed before that. Additionally, and perhaps more ominously, the COAS hinted at judicial berating and a media trial of the institution itself, which the COAS believes was undermining the public’s confidence in the military, creating rifts amongst the high command (perhaps mere speculation) and between the high command and the rank and file of the military. Obviously, any such development that impacts on the internal cohesiveness and discipline of the military is bound to arouse the concern of the top commanders. At the hands of the judiciary too, apart from the Asghar Khan case, the missing persons and law and order cases in Balochistan have seen the judiciary criticising the policies and actions of the military and its intelligence arms in unprecedented fashion. It has been a rough two years for the hitherto unassailable and immune reputation of the armed forces, starting with the Abbottabad raid and winding its way through other embarrassing revelations and open criticism. This has naturally rattled an institution and its top command, accustomed as they are to a culture of unquestioning impunity inherited from our past of being a security state. The CJP hit the nail on the head when he said in his speech to civil servants that national security is no longer measured in terms of military hardware, but rather whether a state is answering to the needs of its citizens. Were that not the case, a superpower such as the Soviet Union would not have been banished into oblivion. But where there is room for concern is the reiteration by the CJP of the “ultimate jurisdiction” of the Supreme Court (SC) in matters constitutional and legal. The letter of the law certainly conforms to the CJP’s formulation. However, in its zeal to correct “past wrongs” and set ‘everything’ right, the SC stands accused of intervening in matters beyond its turf. This activism, arguably unfettered by the time honoured juridical principle of restraint, has caused the court to become increasingly controversial, having brought it into conflict incrementally with the executive, parliament, and now potentially the military. Rights and wrongs embedded in the system inherited from a chequered past cannot be transformed to the ideal overnight with the wave of a magical judicial wand. Without in any way disrespecting the good intentions of the court, it must be reiterated, as we have consistently done in this space, that the respect and dignity of the judicial institution is too precious to allow even the shadow of doubt or accusation to fall upon it. In this regard, where there is much to commend in the SC’s judgements over the past almost three years, there are also rising concerns about conflict and clashes between state institutions, which is neither the intent of the court, nor welcome, yet seem to be the inevitable and logical outcome of the court’s well intentioned but arguably overzealous interventions in matters of great and even small import. It is not without interest to examine the process of evolution of the democratic system in the last five years. State institutions seem to be jockeying for turf and space, a process known to have been part of the evolution of mature democracies. President Zardari the other day characterised this process as the “dying kicks of the old order”, implying the certainties of the past on which state institutions may have rested so far, were yielding to new realities in which each institution had to re-examine its powers, boundaries and limitations. It is no surprise therefore that every time a powerful head of one or the other state institution speaks publicly, the common point of reference tends to be a recognition of, and respect for, the legitimate purview of each institution, and appeals for restraint as far as straying into the turf of other institutions is concerned. May this democratic evolution finally arrive at an agreed delineation of these matters that proves mutually acceptable to all institutions. There lies hope and confidence of a better future.

Zardari warmly congratulates Obama on his re-election

President Asif Ali Zardari
has warmly felicitated President Barack Obama on his re-election as the President of the United States of Ameirca. In a message to President Obama, President Zardari described his election to a second term as a clear reaffirmation of the American people of their confidence in his leadership and a powerful endorsement of Mr Obama’s vision for his country. The President expressed the hope that relationship between Pakistan and the US would continue to prosper during President Obama’s new term in office. He stated that he was confident that the leadership of the two countries would be able to further deepen and broaden bilateral relations on the basis of mutual respect and mutual interests. The President said that he looked forward to working closely with President Obama towards the shared objectives of peace, security, stability and prosperity in the region.

Pakistan: Terrorists creating panic

Reacting over the suicide blast that killed as many as six people, including a senior police officer in Peshawar on Wednesday morning, Senior Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bashir Ahmed Bilour said that terrorist were creating panic ahead of Muharram, Geo News reported. Speaking to media, Bilour said that the terrorists wanted to cause terror among people days before Muharram but “entire nation is united”. “We are not scared of suicide blasts,” he added. The minister said that a meeting had been convened on November, 11 to chalk out a security plan in connection with Muharram.

Peshawar suicide blast kills top Pakistan police officer

A suicide bomber in north-western Pakistan has killed a senior police officer and at least four other people in the city of Peshawar, officials say. They say that the bomber, who was on foot, targeted the car of Assistant Superintendent of Police Hilal Haider in a congested part of the city. Pakistani newspapers said that police bodyguards were among the dead. Peshawar is near Pakistan's tribal belt on the Afghan border - a stronghold of Taliban and al-Qaeda militants. Violence from the tribal regions has in recent years spilled over into the city. There were at least three bombings in Peshawar in September. Militants have in recent months specifically targeted senior police officials in and near the city. A senior bomb disposal officer was among those killed in September. 'Deafening blast' Police say that at least 30 people, including passers-by, were injured in the latest incident. A Pakistani Taliban spokesman told the AP news agency that the group carried out the latest attack. "We killed him today in Peshawar because he was behind the arrest of some of our fighters," spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said from an undisclosed location. The Pakistani Taliban have been fighting a bloody insurgency for several years against the Pakistani army as part of their campaign to enforce their austere version of Islamic law in the country and in protest against the government's alliance with the US. Witness Amin Khan told the AFP news agency that the bomber struck when he was in a rickshaw, going to the local market. "Suddenly a deafening blast shook the area. My rickshaw was overturned. When I came out I saw smoke and dust had covered the blast site," he said. Other witnesses described blood and body parts on the street. The attack came as US President Barack Obama was re-elected - Washington is the main focus of the anger of militants in Pakistan. During his first term as president, Mr Obama increased the number of drone strikes in north-west Pakistan against militants who he argues are planning attacks against America and its Nato allies in Afghanistan. Militant attacks, drone strikes and army offensives have killed thousands of people in north-west Pakistan in recent years.

US confirms Malala attack mastermind hiding in Afghanistan

The Taliban leader who sparked international outrage by ordering the attack on a Pakistani schoolgirl last month has escaped retribution by hiding in a section of eastern Afghanistan where U.S. forces are already spread thin and focused on other targets, according to U.S. officials. U.S. military and intelligence officials said that Mullah Fazlullah, the mastermind of the attack on 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, operates out a region adjoining Pakistan where several hundred U.S. troops are stationed. But they said finding Fazlullah is not a priority because he is not affiliated with al-Qaeda or with insurgents targeting U.S. and Afghan interests. “Our guys just aren’t tracking him,” a senior Special Operations official said. “He is viewed as an ‘other-side-of-the-border’ problem.” When asked if Fazlullah was a priority, a senior intelligence official responded, “Not with so many other potential targets” in Afghanistan. Fazlullah’s relative safety reflects a larger trend in the difficult terrain along both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border. Plenty of attention has been focused on militants attacking U.S. and Afghan troops from havens inside Pakistan. But officials said extremists from Pakistan also have managed to evade the Pakistani army and CIA drones by finding sanctuary in remote parts of Afghanistan. “The FATA is difficult [for insurgents] because there are drone strikes,” said a congressional staffer, using the acronym for semi-autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas on the Pakistan side of the border. “It’s easier to be in eastern Afghanistan where there’s no real presence” of U.S. troops. All three people spoke on condition they not be named because they were not authorized to speak for attribution. Tom Collins, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, said: “ISAF is maintaining steady pressure on insurgents throughout Afghanistan. Mullah Fazlullah, like many insurgents who are transitory, remains a person of interest. If we receive actionable intelligence that he is in Afghanistan, we will attempt to take him off the battlefield.” Collecting accurate intelligence is the most difficult step in locating and attacking enemy forces. In Konar and Nuristan, the two provinces where Fazlullah is believed to be hiding, the problem is tougher because ISAF advisers believe the Afghan army is allowing the Pakistani Taliban to operate in retribution for Pakistan not doing enough to stop cross-border rocket attacks and armed infiltrators using Pakistan as a haven. Not all Pakistani militants escape attack inside Afghanistan. On Aug. 25, one of the group’s senior leaders was killed in a NATO air strike. ISAF said the leader, Mullah Dadullah, was helping fighters who had attacked Afghan and coalition forces and had close ties with al-Qaeda. Fazlullah, on the other hand, remains focused on Pakistan and he is not believed to have ties to al-Qaeda or attacks on coalition or Afghan forces. The Pakistan government has criticized both the United States and Afghanistan for not trying harder to capture or kill Pakistani Taliban in Afghanistan. Washington, for its part, has long accused Pakistan of refusing to take on the Haqqani network, which uses northwestern Pakistan as its base for attacks against coalition forces in Afghanistan. More aggressively targeting the Pakistan Taliban would divert military resources, particularly drones and other surveillance capacity, to the region at a time when personnel and assets are being reduced in anticipation of the end of combat operations in 2014. But some experts say that reducing the threat to Pakistan’s stability from its homegrown extremists should be a vital goal. “I think it is in the U.S. interest to go after the threats to Pakistan because our policy and long-term interests are to have a stable Pakistan,” said Wendy Chamberlin, a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and now president of the Middle East Institute, a Washington think tank. The senior intelligence official said U.S. offers of additional training and intelligence support have been turned down by Islamabad, where suspicions of U.S. motives run deep. “We could share more,” the senior intelligence official said. “They actually aren’t opening up as much as we would like them to.” The existence of a haven for Pakistani militants inside Afghanistan feeds the distrust that has developed between the United States and Pakistan since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, said Moeed Yusuf, who heads the Pakistan program at the United States Institute of Peace. “Both sides have really been caught up for a long time in the blame game,” he said. The number of insurgents taking refuge in the border region has increased in recent years, particularly on the Afghan side, according to the congressional staffer, who follows the region closely. Besides small numbers of al-Qaeda fighters, the militant population includes the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and a growing number of Punjabi extremists involved in the Kashmir border conflict with India, according to U.S. officials and outside experts. “It’s a jihadi soup,” said the congressional staffer. Fazlullah, also known as Mullah Radio because he uses a mobile clandestine radio transmitter to broadcast didactic speeches denouncing girls’ education, music and all things Western, sought safety in Afghanistan sometime in 2009. He fled Paksitan after leading a gruesome campaign in Swat Valley, seeking to impose his extreme interpretation of Sharia law through beheadings, floggings, bombing girls’ schools and killing hundreds of civilians, Pakistani police and soldiers. A U.S. defense official familiar with the tribal structure of the region said Fazlullah has found sanctuary in Konar and Nuristan through personal ties with tribal leaders. His fighters have launched numerous attacks across the border that U.S. defense officials say are intended to raise Fazlullah’s profile and make the Pakistani army look weak. In June, about 100 of Fazlullah’s fighters crossed the border into Pakistan and beheaded 17 soldiers. A year earlier, they had captured 16 Pakistani policemen and executed them by firing squad. But it was the attempt to assassinate 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai on Oct. 9 that pushed Fazlullah into the international limelight. Since she was 11, Malala had been an outspoken champion of the right of girls to attend school. Last month, she was on her school van when gunmen boarded the bus and shot her twice at close range. Two classmates were also wounded. All three survived and Malala is recuperating in Britain. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and U.S. intelligence officials say evidence points to Fazlullah as the person who ordered it. The shooting galvanized Pakistan and many other Muslim countries. Muslim clerics in Pakistan denounced the violence and thousands protested in Pakistan. Perhaps feeling pressure from a worldwide condemnation, the Pakistani Taliban released a seven-page justification for the shooting. But condemnation from Washington has been purposefully muted. Although Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton criticized the attackers, others have not done so for fear of a backlash from Pakistan, where conspiracies about U.S. involvement in the country are rife and anti-American sentiment high. Pakistani authorities have arrested at least 30 people for questioning, but say they have not yet found the shooters or their leader, Fazlullah.

Malala Yousufzai status updates 07 November 2012

The nursing staff caring for Malala at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham said she remained in a stable and comfortable condition today.

Barack Obama's victory: A big night for Democrats and liberals
To appreciate the magnitude of the victory Barack Obama and Democrats won tonight, think back to what the political landscape looked like in the spring. The Supreme Court appeared ready to strike down Obamacare, the President’s signature domestic achievement. The recovery was stalling; Republicans were preparing to unleash $1 billion in super PAC ads; Obama’s reelection seemed perilous; and Dem control of the Senate was in doubt. It looked perfectly possible that the congressional GOP’s strategy of obstruction at every turn could be rewarded by voters, possibly with a return of one party rule to the GOP. The Obama experiment appeared headed for failure, and the prospects for the future of progressive reform were teetering on the brink. Instead, Obamacare survived. Obama has been reelected with a resounding victory in the electoral college (the popular vote is outstanding). Democrats have routed Republicans in the Senate races. A progressive champion has been sent to the Upper Chamber in the person of Elizabeth Warren. The first openly gay Senator — Tammy Baldwin, another solid liberal — joins her. The Dem majority will be more progressive and energetic. In Maryland, gay marriage has been ratified by popular vote for the first time. The story of this election will be all about demographics. As Chuck Todd noted earlier today, the fact that it remained unexpectedly close in GOP-leaning southern states shows that the GOP is not keeping pace with the changing face of America. Meanwhile, Obama’s support proved unexpectedly strong among workers in the industrial midwest, thanks partly to his willingness to pursue aggressive government action to save a major American industry. Obama’s team made the right bet on the true nature of the American electorate. Rather than reverting to the older, whiter, more male version Republicans had hoped for, it continues to be defined by what Ron Brownstein has called the “coalition of the ascendant” — minorities, young voters, and college educated whites, particularly women. Obamacare will survive. It will continue to be implemented, and provided that it works, it will grow in popularity as its benefits kick in. The health law will slowly get woven into the fabric of American life, just as the major progressive reforms of the 20th Century did over time. The economy is likely to continue to recover. If Mitt Romney had won, he and his ideas (tax cuts, deregulation, unshackling the free market) might have been associated with the recovery, leaving Keynesianism and stimulus spending thoroughly discredited. Instead, Obama and Democrats will hopefully gain more credit for the ongoing recovery, and perhaps the idea that government can act to fix the economy will get rehabilitated. Warren’s victory is important here, too: The most vocal advocate of progressive taxation in the country was sent to the Senate, at a time when the argument over whether to raise taxes on the rich to help fix our fiscal problems is about to climax. The GOP held the House, and the road ahead remains very difficult. A lot will turn on how Republicans handle this defeat and how they interpret it. GOP operative Steve Schmidt said on MSNBC today that this will require “soul searching” by the party. But there will be tremendous pressure on GOP leaders from the GOP base and conservative opinionmakers — angry about tonight’s results — to continue to obstruct Obama at every turn. However, the President will have leverage. He will be able to point to the fact that Republicans lost resoundingly after adopting a four-year strategy of scorched earth obstructionism to argue that it’s time the GOP sees the writing on the wall and cooperates with Democrats to move the country forward.

President Obama’s full victory speech

President Barack Obama delivered remarks in Chicago after winning the 2012 presidential election.

Election 2012: Mitt Romney Concedes

Obama wins 2nd term

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.Obama withstood a late push by Romney in Pennsylvania and won battleground states of Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada and Colorado, according to CNN projections. One other battleground, Florida, remained too close to call early on Wednesday. He also easily won traditional Democratic strongholds of California, New York and other populous states such as Michigan, the state where Romney was born and his father served as governor. Exit polls showed Obama received strong support, as expected, from women voters as well as overwhelming support from African Americans and strong backing from Hispanic voters, similar to the coalition that carried him to victory four years earlier to make him the nation's first African American president. Meanwhile, CNN projected that Democrats will retain their majority in the Senate, ensuring another divided Congress after Republicans earlier were projected to hold their majority in the U.S. House.The result showed Republicans need to recalibrate their approach to broaden their appeal to a nation of changing demographics, analysts said. Exit polls indicated that white voters made up 72% of the electorate, with African Americans, Latinos and other minorities comprising a growing share. "It's not about geography anymore with the Republican Party," said Margaret Hoover, a Republican strategist and CNN contributor. "It's about demographics, and we've got to start thinking about growing the party." David Gergen, CNN's senior political analyst, said the Grand Old Party must move its foundation back toward the political center from the increasingly right-wing positions pushed by tea party conservatives. "It seems to me that the lesson has to be clear to Republicans that they have to adjust," Gergen said. "They've gotten too far out." Race was dead even in final polls Obama and Romney ran dead even in final polls that hinted at a result rivaling some of the closest presidential elections in history, reflecting the deep political chasm in the country. A heavy turnout was reported in much of the nation, and both campaigns expressed confidence that they would prevail in what was expected to be a long night awaiting results from the eight states still up for grabs that will determine the victor.As predicted, the election was decided in the battleground states, and as the returns emerged, it became clear that Romney was failing to win them. Overall, Obama led by more than one million votes in the popular tally. The president won his home state of Illinois as well as Romney' s home state of Massachusetts -- where the Republican previously served as governor. He also won Romney's birth state of Michigan, along with Colorado, Nevada, California, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Maine, Rhode Island, Hawaii and the District of Columbia, according to the CNN projections. Romney won North Carolina, Idaho, Montana, Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Wyoming, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, Missouri and Georgia, CNN projects. According to early exit polls, 60% of voters said the economy was the most important issue, 59% thought abortion should be legal and 50% wanted Obama's health care reform law repealed while 43% wanted it to remain in place or be expanded. The breakdown of voters, according to the early exit polls, was 73% white, 13% African American, 10% Latino and 3% Asian. Pre-election polls showed Romney holding an advantage among white men while Obama had the edge with white women, and Obama receiving overwhelming support among minorities. With the victory, Obama will face the challenge of leading a country facing chronic federal deficits and debt as well as sluggish economic growth in the wake of a devastating recession and financial industry collapse that confronted Obama when he took office in January 2009. Around the country, voters formed long lines at polling places after record numbers participated in early balloting, indicating a strong turnout. Sporadic reports of irregularities included malfunctioning voting machines and other problems, including electoral hardships for some struggling to recover from the devastation of Superstorm Sandy in states in the country's northeast. A judge in Philadelphia, a heavily Democratic city, ordered election officials to cover a mural of Obama at one school used as a polling location after Republicans complained the painting violated election laws. Elsewhere in the city, GOP poll monitors were being escorted into precincts by sheriff's deputies after some observers had been denied access earlier in the day, said Tasha Jamerson, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office. In New Jersey, which permitted electronic balloting in the aftermath of last week's storm, the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union headed to court on Tuesday on behalf of voters who said their requests for an electronic ballot weren't being acknowledged. Candidates usually take Election Day off, but both sides continued to make public appearances even as voting was under way. Obama visited a local Democratic election center in the Chicago area, while Vice President Joe Biden made "an unannounced but long-scheduled" stop in the key battleground state of Ohio. Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, also arrived separately in Ohio, with Romney's campaign plane and Air Force Two, which carries the vice president, crossing paths at Cleveland's airport. Earlier Tuesday, Romney cast his ballot outside of Boston on Tuesday, while Obama previously became the first sitting president to vote early when he did so in Chicago last month. New pressure for deficit deal With the election over, the White House and Congress will face fresh pressure to legislate a comprehensive deficit reduction deal that has been stymied so far by intransigence on the issue of tax reform, with Republicans refusing to consider any kind of tax increase while Obama and Democrats insist on at least the wealthy paying a higher income tax rate. Despite the building drama toward Election Day in the campaign expected to cost $2.6 billion, much of the outcome already was known.Only a handful of states were considered up for grabs and both candidates and their campaigns concluded an exhausting final sprint through them over the weekend and on Monday. The barnstorming amounted to a montage of Americana electioneering, with Obama and Romney shouting themselves hoarse before boisterous crowds, joined by top surrogates and star power such as Bruce Springsteen singing for Obama and Kid Rock for Romney. In their final speeches, the candidates and their running mates blended inspirational visions for a better future with well-honed attacks in hopes of ensuring their committed supporters actually cast ballots while trying to coax votes from anyone still undecided. Obama briefly waxed nostalgic at his first event on Monday in Madison, Wisconsin, referring to Springsteen when he said: "I get to fly around with him on the last day that I will ever campaign, so that's not a bad way to end things." He cited accomplishments of his first term, including ending the war in Iraq, winding down the war in Afghanistan, passing health insurance and Wall Street reforms, and ending the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that banned openly gay and lesbian personnel from the military. Emotion overtook the president at the end of the day. His eyes welled with tears as he thanked the people "who've given so much to this campaign over the years," during a stop in Des Moines, Iowa -- a place where his first campaign gained an early foothold in his first run for the White House. Republicans pick up key seat in governors' races For his part, Romney called Obama's record one of underachievement and failure, telling a cheering Virginia crowd at his second stop of the day that "almost every measure he took hurt the economy, hurt fellow Americans." At an earlier event in Florida, Romney asked if people wanted four more years like the last four, raising the specter of continuing gridlock in Washington and adding that "unless we change course, we may be looking at another recession." He had promised to repeal the health care and Wall Street reforms of the Obama presidency and to "limit government rather than limiting the dreams" of Americans. As the challenger, Romney sought to frame the election as a referendum on Obama's presidency and to capitalize on his own background as multimillionaire businessman by depicting himself as better able to handle economic issues identified by voters as their biggest concern. His campaign stump speech hammered Obama over high unemployment and what he called excessive taxes and regulations that Romney said stifled faster growth. Obama and his team attacked Romney's politics and his background as a venture capitalist, saying he would back policies favoring the wealthy over the middle class and exacerbate the already widening income and opportunity disparity in the country. The president wanted the race to come down to competing visions for the future and his oft-repeated goal of restoring the promise of the American dream of equal opportunity for all. In particular, Obama repeatedly noted he backed a taxpayer bailout that helped restore General Motors and Chrysler while Romney opposed it. The issue resonated in auto industry states like Michigan and Ohio, which was considered the most significant of the battlegrounds in the final days of the race. Opinion: Obama will get little time to celebrate Campaign chess match Aside from the policy differences, the election amounted to a campaign chess match targeting specific states and demographic groups as part of plan to create a path to electoral success. Polling portrayed a race that hinged on the social and democratic divides in American society, with Obama supported most strongly by women, minorities and young respondents, while Romney did better among wealthy and middle class white men, from senior citizens down to 30-year-olds. In response, Obama emphasized the anti-choice positions of Romney and conservatives on abortion, their stance against gay rights and their opposition to providing a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants. Re-election offered Obama, 51, the chance to secure a two-term legacy and seek further reforms he promised in his historic campaign of 2008 but was unable to deliver in the first four years. In particular, he has made comprehensive immigration reform a top target, as well as a deficit reduction plan that ends tax breaks for income over $250,000. However, the wave of optimism that carried to him to victory four years ago seemed muted during the campaign this time, with former supporters angered by the failure to achieve the kind of change in Washington they believed Obama had promised but failed to deliver. For Romney, a multimillionaire businessman who sought to become the nation's first Mormon president, the election concluded a six-year quest for the White House. Romney also failed in his first bid for the Republican nomination in 2008, then spent the next two years preparing for a second run that began in 2011 with a grueling primary campaign featuring a record 20 debates. Romney, 65, shifted to the right for the primary race to overcome a broad field. Romney declared himself "severely" conservative and adopted stances against abortion, gay marriage and a path to legal residency for undocumented immigrants while also opposing higher tax rates as part of a deficit reduction plan. His support remained steady -- though well below a majority -- throughout the primary campaign while opponents dropped out one by one until Romney emerged as the winner and claimed the nomination at the GOP convention in late August. However, his campaign endured a tough September, due in part to some unforced errors. A secretly recorded video from a May fundraiser became public, showing Romney referring to 47% of the country as dependent on government handouts and therefore unreachable to him as a candidate. When U.S. diplomatic compounds came under attack on September 11, including an assault that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya, Romney quickly issued a statement that was criticized for mistaken information and seeking to politicize a sensitive national security issue. Then, in the first presidential debate on October 3, Romney began an energetic shift back to the political center and scored a clear victory over Obama by presenting himself as more moderate than the right-wing zealot portrayed by the president. Obama's lackluster showing in the first debate contributed to an overwhelming consensus among analysts and poll results that Romney carried the night, and he began rising in the polls to erase what had been a consistent Obama lead since the conventions a month earlier. Stronger performances by Obama in the second and third debates began to slow Romney's momentum, though the Romney team claimed a surge put states like Michigan and Pennsylvania back in play. They were previously thought safe for the president. With polls tightening in the final weeks, Romney or his surrogates heightened their attacks on key issues, including a campaign ad that implied the auto bailout led to shifting the production of iconic Chrysler Jeeps to China. The automaker joined the Obama campaign in complaining that the ad was misleading, and the president said it was intended to scare workers for political gain. 21 moments that defined the campaign and America Superstorm Sandy However, the biggest impact on the end of the campaign was Superstorm Sandy, which blasted the East Coast from Maryland to Connecticut just over a week before Election Day. Obama and Romney canceled campaign events, and the president shifted to full emergency response mode as the storm and its devastation dominated the national focus for much of the final full week of campaigning. On the ground, record numbers of voters cast early ballots as both sides boasted of ramped-up organizations to identify and contact supporters. Overall, the total cost of the election for president and Congress could top a record-breaking $6 billion, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. The figure covers spending from January 2011 through whatever totals emerge after Tuesday's election. Outside groups accounted for the biggest boost in spending, with independent organizations dropping more than $970 million. The increase was largely related to the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that paved the way for super PACs to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money as long as they did not coordinate with the campaigns.