Local party leaders react to Obama's re-election, divided country, tone of campaign

To the victor belongs the turmoil.

The United States remains a deeply divided country, Georgia state Sen. Josh McKoon noted Tuesday night as President Barack Obama headed toward re-election with a majority of the Electoral College vote.

His victory was hardly overwhelming, McKoon said, so, “from a political standpoint, you have to ask yourself, ‘What kind of mandate does he have to govern?’”

The U.S. House of Representatives retains its Republican majority, he added: “We’re certainly looking at a divided government going into the future, and I think a continued strong resistance to a lot of the signature policies of the president.”

Had Mitt Romney won, he would have faced a similar challenge, having earned a “bare majority” of the vote with a Democratic Senate, and like Obama, “faced with this problem of how do you bring the clearly divided country together on these issues that I think everybody agrees are critical issues, like the debt, entitlement reform and some of these other issues.”

So the victor still has to deal with the other party, and with a significant portion of the electorate that’s dead-set against him.

Of Obama, McKoon said: “It will be interesting to see if he tries to bring Republicans to the table to include them, perhaps to shape a second-term agenda on ground where he might be able to find common cause with the Republicans.”

The public wants its leaders to find ways to work together, said Democratic state Rep. Calvin Smyre, who lamented the occasionally vicious tone of the campaign.

“I think the public is trying to send us a message that we've got to do better in terms of civility and working together," Smyre said. "I think the public is saying there needs to be better conduct, better civility and more cooperation."

Still the mood at Columbus’ Democratic Party headquarters on Midtown Drive was jubilant Tuesday night as national media declared Obama the likely winner.

"It was sheer pandemonium and joy," said county Democratic Party Chair John Van Doorn. "The place was packed, there was singing and dancing, everybody was hugging each other."

Said Smyre: "It was very electric, very excited, very emotional. People are really excited about the president. A lot was at stake here. It's an emotional thing.

Van Doorn and Smyre agreed in their assessment of how the recent bruising campaign went. Both said there were times, particularly after Obama's first debate with GOP challenger Mitt Romney, when they experienced some doubt about Obama's prospects.

Both said the sometimes biting and personal nature of the later parts of the campaign might have done as much to energize the Democratic base as the Republican Party's.

"The campaign got a little ugly, a little distasteful," Smyre said. "I think a lot of the campaigning backfired. I think when they went after Obama in the manner they did, it got the (Democratic) base motivated."

"That's well said," Van Doorn said. "From the pick of (Paul) Ryan as the vice president, which really galvanized a lot of people who might have been fence-sitters, to some of the more personal, cutting insults, they really galvanized a lot of Democrats."

As usual, the Democratic presidential nominee swept Muscogee County. Obama got 40,500 votes, or 61 percent, to Romney's 25,301, or 38 percent.