His reach for the presidency thwarted, Mitt Romney stayed out of sight late Tuesday as news organizations including The Associated Press announced that President Barack Obama had won a second term.
Dejected Romney supporters milled around a hotel ballroom where the Republican hopeful had planned to declare victory and groaned as key battlegrounds moved Obama's way.
Obama's victory in closely fought Ohio narrowed Romney's path to the 270 electoral vote. The Democrat also was declared the winner in other swing states including New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Colorado and Iowa. Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Republicans hoped to put in play, stayed in Obama's camp as well. Florida and Virginia remained too close to call.
Romney supporters cheered a win in North Carolina, which Obama captured four years ago. But it was a rare prize in an evening that broadly favoured the presidency.
Romney staffers almost all expressed shock or surprise that so many states had voted for Obama. Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan was watching returns with family in the same hotel where Romney and his family watched results.
The Republican nominee had already written a 1,118-word victory speech that he thought would conclude his year long quest for the presidency. Earlier Tuesday, Romney said he had no regrets no matter the outcome.
"I feel like we put it all on the field. We left nothing in the locker room. We fought to the very end, and I think that's why we'll be successful," Romney told reporters aboard his plane as he flew from Pittsburgh to Boston, where preparations were underway for a big election night event at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel.
On his campaign plane in between flights, he worked on his speech. He said he hadn't written a concession speech, though he acknowledged the results might not come out in his favour. "Nothing is certain in politics," he said.
Ryan followed a similar strategy for courting voters on Election Day. After voting in his Wisconsin hometown, the GOP vice-presidential hopeful joined Romney in Ohio before a scheduled solo visit to Richmond, Va.
Asked about the hectic schedule in recent days, Ryan said of Romney: "He's kind of operating on fumes."
Romney's focus on Ohio is not a surprise. He has spent more time campaigning there over the last year than any other state. And no Republican has won the presidency without carrying the Midwestern battleground.