US Election: The burning questions

By Herald online staff

Americans went to the polls to determine whether Democrat Barack Obama would retain his role as the 44th President of the United States, or lose the White House to his Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

According to numerous media outlets, Obama had secured re-election after 5pm NZT. Over the course of the afternoon, we answered questions about the election - some serious, some light-hearted.

For state-by-state results, see our US election results map.

When was the last time a presidential challenger failed to win their own state?


There was little love at home for Mitt Romney.

The Republican presidential nominee failed to convince voters in Michigan, his home state and also where his father served as Governor. He now makes his home in Massachusetts, which also went Obama's way.

The last major challenger to lose separate birth and residential states was Democrat Adlai Stevenson II, who failed to carry California and Illinois against
Republican Dwight D.

Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956. He did not return for the 1960 election, with Democrats preferring Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy.

In 1972, Democrat George McGovern lost South Dakota to incumbent Richard Nixon.

Only one candidate has secured the presidency despite being unable to carry neither his state of origin, nor his state of residence. Democrat James K Polk won in 1844 after losing both North Carolina and Tennessee.


What are some of the other things we need to know about the polls?


For starters, reports indicate victory in Wisconsin for Tammy Baldwin, who would become the first openly gay Senator in American history.

In Colorado, moves to legalise marijuana look likely to succeed.

Remember Todd Akin? The Republican challenger for Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill's Senate seat created a storm of controversy when he claimed that women's bodies could shut down pregnancies caused by "legitimate rape."

It appears voters in Missouri have shut him down.


It's 4.30pm NZT and some pundits are already calling it for Obama. Are they on the mark?

The numbers favour the incumbent at this point. Shortly before 4pm Obama had 143 electoral votes to Romney's 152 (according to CNN estimates) and the vote-heavy west coast is expected to deliver big-time for him.

Nik Dirga, our resident American expat, explains the situation:

The west coast is all Obama territory - it's almost certain he'd pick up California, Oregon, Hawaii and Washington with a total of 78 electoral votes, which would push him up to 220 electoral votes without a sweat.

Toss in Minnesota and Wisconsin (which several networks have called for Obama) and you have 240. Add Ohio's 18 votes - Obama is 5 points ahead in current totals - to that pile and Barack Obama gets 258 electoral votes and all he needs is another state or two to pick up - even without Florida.

Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada are all likely to go Obama's way - and at this point, it sure seems like the election has to as well.


We're in New Zealand, so why does this election matter to us?


Victoria University political scientist Jon Johansson spoke to Radio New Zealand about how a Romney victory might affect the country's relationship with America.

He said New Zealand has "bent over backwards" for the Obama administration, and he expressed concerns about what the Government might do to appease America under Romney.

"In the US they've had President Obama who, in my view, the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders embrace," said Dr Johansson.

"We know that [Romney] believes in American exceptionalism - the notion that America and the world are better off when America leads.

"If Romney's team ultimately gets dominated by the neo-conservatives and they want to jump back on the horse of pre-emption and strike against Iran, what does New Zealand do in those circumstances?"

Let's not forget that it also matters to us because New Zealand seems to be the destination of choice for disaffected US voters. Is a population boom on the cards?


Has Donald Trump taken a break on election day from asking Obama to release personal information?


The Dude may abide, but The Donald persists.


What is Trump trying to achieve?


Trump wants Obama to release documents proving he is in fact a born US citizen. "Birther" theorists claim the President has lied about being born in the state of Hawaii, was actually born outside the USA, and therefore has occupied the White House illegally.

Last week, while officials were working in response to Hurricane Sandy's damage on the US east coast, Trump repeated an offer to Obama to release his university and passport records in exchange for a US$5 million donation to a charity of the President's choice.

The offer has since been increased to US$50m, says Trump.


The president of your dreams


This morning on the nzherald.co.nz Facebook page, we asked readers to elect their favourite fictional US President. Controversial president George W Bush made the list, but nominations have been treated as invalid on account of his actual existence.

He was a long way behind the people's choice: Martin Sheen's Jed Bartlett from the TV drama, The West Wing.

Over at the BBC, you can elect your celebrity president from a range of options.



Who else is running for the presidency - the real presidency?


In addition to Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, there are four candidates who are mathematically eligible to win the election by a majority of the electoral college.

They are Libertarian Gary Johnson, Jill Stein of the Greens, Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party, and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party.

Johnson is a former two-term Governor of New Mexico, and is campaigning to attract five per cent of the popular vote. A tweet posted in his official Twitter feed said crossing the threshold would end the "two-party" abuse and allow ballot access to Libertarian candidates.

Stein is a physician who has twice run for the office of Governor in the state of Massachusetts. She can count prominent philosopher and activist Noam Chomsky among her supporters.

Goode served for 12 years in the US House of Representatives, most of them as a Republican after switching from the Democrats in 2000, before losing his seat in the last election.

Anderson is a former two-term mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah. In a letter to his former party's Congressional Campaign Committee, the ex-Democrat wrote: ""It is a gutless, unprincipled party, bought and paid for by the same interests that buy and pay for the Republican Party."


Hold on - how the does the electoral college work?


Basically every state votes, and the numbers are tallied up to determine who wins what state. But each state has a seat in the Electoral College, which actually elects the candidates based on the state results.

Each state has a certain number of electors based on population (California 55, Montana 3 for example). In all but one or two states the candidate who "wins" that state gets all the electoral votes (even if it's a 50-49 split). The candidates need 270 electoral votes to "win" the election. The electors in the college are meant to abide by the popular vote although they are not legally bound to.

Some say it is an archaic institution from 200 years ago that needs sacking, but there's arguments to keep it from those who say it gives smaller states a say. Note, for instance, that almost no time has been spent in California or Texas by the candidates because they are "steady" Democrat or Republican states, whereas tiny states like Nevada with six votes become important because they're balanced between the candidates closely.

However, generally the candidate who gets the popular vote also wins the electoral college. There have only been four times that a candidate has won more votes but failed to be chosen president - Andrew Jackson in 1824, Samuel Tilden in 1876, Grover Cleveland in 1888 and of course Al Gore in 2000.


You're using tweets in this story - what's the best hashtag to follow?


Now would not be the time to point out that the USA isn't the only country to hold an election this year, but since it's the home of Twitter we can cut American tweeps some slack for encouraging the use of the generic #ElectionDay2012.

Twitter users may have noticed tweets pouring from candidates' accounts - something not seen in New Zealand during last year's election because of Electoral Commission rules around social media use.

You can track tweets from the Obama and Romney campaigns here.


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