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Analysis: For Obama, a Mandate Only if He Now Earns One

The stage is set for President Obama to lead.

ByABC News
November 7, 2012, 3:42 AM

Nov. 7, 2012— -- A divided nation did not hand President Obama a mandate in his re-election victory.

He'll have to earn that -- making the next stretch of his presidency as critical as anything he did to earn a second term.

In 2008, the nation's deep divisions were healed for a moment that proved fleeting. Within weeks of Obama's soaring inaugural address, the nation was back into its divergent political grooves. The 2009 stimulus law passed on the power of Democratic votes and at the expense of Republican ones.

Click HERE to watch President Obama's full acceptance speech.

The president's re-election is a portrait of division -- men voted differently than women, white than black and Hispanic, young differently than old, urban America supporting a different candidate than rural portions of the United States.

Yet the election knitted together a coalition that was remarkably broad, given the national circumstances. It marked a resurgence of the middle that Barack Obama himself sought to speak to during his long-ago 2004 entrance to the national stage, with its rejection of red and blue divisions.

Now, President Obama will only succeed in a second term if he governs as the president he promised to be in 2008. This year's candidate Obama -- with a campaign that sought to tear down Mitt Romney more than build upon the vision of his first four years -- needs to fall away with the last counted votes of 2012.

The same political paralysis that has failed to answer the nation's big challenges has actually presented a big opportunity to the president.

The "fiscal cliff," with its potent mix of tax hikes and spending cuts, has created the potential for a leadership moment, complete with a year-end deadline to force action.

It will fall to the president to fashion a grand compromise on taxing and spending. He'll be facing an obstinate Congress, with House Speaker John Boehner painting his red lines even before most votes were cast.

The stage is set for President Obama to lead, if he uses the presidency he has learned to wield. He gets to start afresh with much of the public, and a nation that is looking for leadership, as well as success.