Crossposted on Real Clear Politics

Barack Obama’s re-election to another four-year term as the 44th president of the United States was no surprise, at least to Democrats and denizens of liberal news organizations. But for a solid month — both nationally and in the highly contested battleground states — the race was virtually tied.

It didn’t end in a tie, however. Despite the closeness of the national popular vote, Obama and Joe Biden eked out victories over Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in the hotly contested states of New Hampshire, Virginia, Ohio, Iowa, Colorado and (though not yet officially) Florida, giving Democrats a 100-vote cushion in the Electoral College. In the end, after both sides waged the most expensive campaign in U.S. history, all Romney did was flip two states, Indiana and North Carolina, from Obama’s 2008 column into his own.

It wasn’t nearly enough, but the Republican ticket’s razor-thin losses in those battleground states indicate that this outcome was not foreordained. And as Al Gore and George W. Bush learned in 2000, if you win — or lose — a race this close, there are a hundred pivot points that explain the result.

Here are 21 of them:

1. “Waiting on the World to Change” — Still. It was February 2007, but it seemed like the 1960s at George Mason University’s Johnson Center, where students swayed to John Mayer’s generational anthem and students called out “I love you!” to freshman Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

Five-and-a-half years later, Mitt Romney visited same Northern Virginia campus, drawing a large and enthusiastic crowd. Yet when the votes were counted Tuesday night, the Democratic ticket of Barack Obama and Joe Biden again piled up historically large majorities among under-30 voters. The margin among millennials wasn’t as large as in 2008, but his edge of 60-36 percent, according to exit polls, was big enough to put the president over the top. It also bodes well for Democrats — and poorly for Republicans – in the future.

2. Amigos de Obama: Early in the Republican primary season, Romney proffered “self-deportation” as a partial policy prescription for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in this country. Romney’s rhetoric was aimed at Rick Perry, who had signed legislation granting in-state college tuition to young people brought to Texas as children.

This line of argumentation hurt Perry, but Newt Gingrich criticized Romney for it, as did the president. Obama, by contrast, embraced the DREAM Act, which would grant a path to citizenship for young immigrants, even those in the country illegally, who enlisted in the armed forces or attended college.

After Romney was nominated, the president signed an executive order barring the deportation of illegal minors. It was mostly symbolic (and perhaps not even legal), but it was politically savvy, and Latino voters noticed. Nationally, Obama received a whopping 69 percent of the Hispanic vote — an even higher percentage than in 2008 — and, with it, the swing states of Florida, Colorado, and Nevada.

Even more ominous for Republicans: George W. Bush won 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004; McCain won 31 percent in 2008; Romney garnered only 27 percent this year, even as their share of the electorate has grown from 8 to 10 percent.

3. The Auto Bailout: The Obama administration’s move to bolster Chrysler and General Motors with multibillion-dollar government loans and guarantees set several things in motion. For starters, it made carrying Michigan, Romney’s home state, problematic for Republicans.

In the end, it also provided a layer of asbestos to Obama’s firewall in Ohio, which held up against Romney and Ryan’s desperate charge in the Buckeye State over the final weeks of the campaign.

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