(CNN) -- Finally, the results are in, and contributors to CNN Opinion weigh in on what they mean:
Julian Zelizer: Challenges of second term will be immense
President Barack Obama comes away with a victory, but it won't allow him to rest easy. He pulled off the Electoral College votes that he needed, securing wins in states that Republicans once thought to be secure and preserving Democratic strength in other areas.
Mitt Romney failed to carry most of the key battleground states that were essential to his victory. The Republican failure to appeal to key constituencies, such as Latinos, has proven to be more costly with each election.
But the challenges of Obama's second term will be immense. Polls show that the electorate is unhappy. The House will remain under the control of Republicans, and Romney ran a competitive race. This is not what any incumbent hopes for, especially with a Washington that is so gridlocked. Presidents want a commanding victory, hoping for another 1936, 1964 or 1984.
Obama will quickly need to find areas of possible compromise on issues such as deficit reduction and immigration reform, where Republicans may see an incentive to negotiate. This is what Ronald Reagan did with tax reform in 1986.
Such breakthroughs have the potential to steal some of the thunder from the GOP, even if they anger members of the president's own party, allowing him to enjoy some policy victories that will strengthen his historical legacy.
Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" and the new book "Governing America."
Paul Begala: Obama overcomes the odds
It is hard in the moment to find the proper perspective for President Barack Obama's re-election. Political strategists like me fall back on the strategic and the tactical: This ad worked, that debate performance soared, that state's get-out-the-vote effort failed. Such analysis is inadequate to the task.
Obama's 2012 re-election was infinitely more difficult than his first historic election. With a stagnant economy, a bitterly determined and zealous opposition, and the risk of sagging enthusiasm among his true believers, the odds against the president were nearly insurmountable. The economy alone would have sunk nearly any other politician. But Obama has always beaten the odds.
The president kept his party united and avoided a primary challenge, Job One for any incumbent. He assembled a remarkable team, from the high command in Chicago to the farms of Iowa and the factories of Ohio. He even reached out to his golden-tongued predecessor and a raspy-voiced rocker: Elvis and the Boss. His funny, feisty, fiery vice president was an underrated asset. And so was first lady who never stooped to the level of the critics and awes all of us who struggle to raise good kids in tough times.
The Republicans have a lot of soul-searching to do. But for now, let me congratulate our president and his brilliant team for a victory that was as hard-fought as it is well-deserved.
Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, is senior adviser to Priorities USA Action, the biggest super PAC favoring President Barack Obama's re-election. Begala was a political consultant for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992 and was counselor to Clinton in the White House.
Anne-Marie Slaughter: Good news for rest of world
Obama's re-election was good news for the world. And judging by the congratulations and jubilation coming in on my Twitter feed from all over the globe, the world knows it. Aziz, my Moroccan hairdresser, told me Wednesday morning that his entire family (proud new members of Morocco's emerging middle class) was as jubilant as his neighbors in New Jersey.
The most important implication of Obama's victory, at least in the short term, is continuity. Given the fragility of the global economy and the number of ongoing crises and conflicts, this is no time for a sharp change in America's course.
Change is coming in China, Japan and undoubtedly a number of European countries as part of the fallout from the euro crisis; governments are new or in transition across the Middle East and North Africa; speculation continues about the health of Russia's Vladimir Putin and Turkey's Recep Erdogan. A steady hand at the helm in the White House will be more important than ever over the next four years.
Equally important, a newly elected Obama will be in a position to do a number of things that the world badly needs.
First is to get serious about the U.S. approach to climate change. The combination of his re-election, the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Sandy and the dawning awareness among even very resistant Americans that weather patterns really are matching climate scientists' predictions, and the possibility of raising much needed revenue from a carbon tax or cap-and-trade schemes all augur well for serious federal legislation at last.
Next is immigration reform, which was on Obama's 2008 agenda but now must come to a head. Republicans staring at U.S. demographic changes over the coming decades, changes that were already visible in this election, would be suicidal to block it.
Finally, the president will return to his global zero agenda, working decisively to put the world onto a clear path toward a future without nuclear weapons.
Countless additional issues, crises and conflicts await the president and his new foreign policy team. But for today, Obama's campaign slogan has actually won the day -- forward.
Anne-Marie Slaughter is a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University. She curates foreign policy on Twitter at: @slaughteram
William Bennett: Four more years of the status quo
The American people have chosen, and they chose, rather than change, four more years of the status quo -- Barack Obama as president, a Democrat-controlled Senate and a Republican-led House.
The result is surprising. Many, including me, thought the country was tired of the last four years of partisan gridlock, economic malaise and mounting debt and would pitch back to the right.
That did not happen. However, fewer Americans supported the president this election than in 2008. According to the latest tallies, Mitt Romney was behind in Florida, and lost Ohio, Virginia and Colorado by fewer than 400,000 votes for the four states combined.
But a narrow loss is still a loss, and the results tell us several things. First, it is incredibly difficult to beat an incumbent, especially after a brutal and costly primary fight. Second, it appears that Obama's negative advertisement blitzkrieg over the summer defined Romney in a way he could not overcome. Third, if the economy was the key issue in the election, which the exit polls indicate, then clearly voters blame Republicans and George W. Bush for the state of the economy more than Obama.
But perhaps the biggest takeaway from this election is the state of American culture. A majority of Americans reaffirmed Obamacare, Obama's foreign policy, high unemployment, bigger government and more dependency on government services. There is an alternative, but people must learn what it is.
For this we can point only to the education system and character-forming institutions. So while Republicans must broaden their coalition to include minorities and young adults, which they can do with future leaders such as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, it is more important and consequential that they fight to take back schools, families, communities and the culture because those institutions cross all demographic barriers.
Republicans can no longer be the party of only business and individualism. Otherwise, they will be grasping for a shrinking, narrowing electorate and coming up short again in future elections.
William J. Bennett, a CNN contributor, is the author of "The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood." He was U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush.
Donna Brazile: A mandate to move America forward
Does President Barack Obama's impressive victory give him a "mandate?" That he won re-election itself seems to be a sufficient answer; how he won doesn't matter. Those who say, "yes, but..." are carping. An election victory is what you make of it.
Overwhelming results occur only once in a presidency: FDR's second term, LBJ in '64, Reagan's second term. One could argue that Obama '08 was such a landslide. Landslides require three elements: an extraordinarily charismatic leader on one side, a non-consequential candidate on the other and historical circumstances that overshadow the common political dialogue.
Besides, the last three "mandates" -- or "landslides" -- happened before the advent of the Internet, the unfettering of corporate money in politics and the removal of the Fairness Doctrine, which required a measure of real balance in reporting.
What constitutes a "mandate," anyway? By any standard, Obama's re-election was not only convincing, but also significant. This election was a test of the truth as no other -- keeping track of Mitt Romney's misleading statements was head-spinning. It was also a test of patience and investment -- hallmarks of Obama's first four years. There will be much more to say about the nature of the president's leadership, his style, in the weeks to come.
After all, Obama's campaign went negative, too. But a look at how Obama won tells us he indeed has a mandate. Obama won Latinos, blacks, the young, and especially single women (unmarried, divorced or widowed) by overwhelming, historic proportions. He lost the white male vote, but not by a degree greater than one should have expected, given the candidates and the electorate.
His mandate, then, is to continue -- to "forward" -- the policies that support diversity, inclusiveness, empowerment, choice and opportunity (we are the "land of opportunity"). His mandate is also to find a way through the right-wing noise machine and reach the middle-aged and elderly whites who see an economy shifting and a country growing in unfamiliar ways and are scared they will be left behind or lose out.
Obama indeed has a mandate: to move our country once again toward that "more perfect union." That is the best way forward.
Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking With Grease." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.
Bob Greene: As one campaign ends, others begin
And so begins campaign 2016.
Those words are intended not as satire or as whimsy. The purported finish line represented by Tuesday's re-election of Barack Obama is someone else's starting line. The phrase "permanent campaign" has evolved from winking hyperbole to irrefutable reality. Presidents come and presidents go; the never-ending campaign endures.
The demise of the long 2012 presidential race is replaced by the instantaneous birth of new ambitions in each major party, even as the candidate who came up short (Mitt Romney, this year) is beginning to grieve for what might have been.
There are people and entities -- partisan websites all along the ideological continuum, news-oriented television channels, radio talk shows, campaign strategists-for-hire, political consultants, pollsters -- whose livelihoods depend on the presidential contest that never ceases. To them, Election Day itself is little more than a signpost along the road and certainly no reason to slow down.
The public may have grown weary of this year's politics, but the professionals are already picking sides and players for the next one. Governing can be dreary; campaigning always promises exhilaration. Legislators doing their jobs seldom hear the cheers that are the soundtrack of the campaign trail. And there will forever be an audience; people, whatever their protestations, like to watch a fight.
So, even as the newspapers Wednesday morning, with their banner headlines, declare that President Obama is heading back to the White House for the next four years, other men and women are hearing a proclamation that, although literally silent, is to their ears as distinct and loud as a blaring announcement over the public-address system in some vast sports stadium:
"Will the runners please report to the starting blocks. . . ."
CNN Contributor Bob Greene is a best-selling author whose 25 books include "Late Edition: A Love Story;" "Fraternity: A Journey in Search of Five Presidents;" and "Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen."
Ruben Navarrette Jr.: Obama should thank Latinos
If President Barack Obama wants to thank one group of voters for holding the line -- especially in the critical battleground states of Colorado, Florida and Nevada -- he should say "muchas gracias."
According to exit polls, Obama won an impressive 71% of the Latino vote. In many states, the percentage was higher.
Romney couldn't keep up. Having joked at a campaign fund-raiser that he should have been born Latino so he'd have a smoother path to the White House, even that kind of transformation might not have been enough to have done the trick.
Now Latinos have a marker. And Latino activists were quick to make clear how they expect to have it paid. They want Obama to do what he didn't try very hard to do in his first term: deliver immigration reform.
Eliseo Medina, a Latino union leader, cut to the chase. "As we congratulate President Obama for winning re-election," Medina said in a statement, "we also send him and the new Congress a message: 'We expect passage of comprehensive immigration reform next year. We don't want promises; we don't want debates. We expect action.' "
Good luck with that.
The presidency didn't change hands in this election. Nor was there any change in the political reality that has kept immigration reform on the back burner all these years.
Latinos need to keep the heat on and demand what they have coming.
Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.
LZ Granderson: Romney, in the end, had no anchor
Some Republicans are going to try to sum up President Barack Obama's re-election this way: black people. Mitt Romney lost because all of the black people voted for Obama. I heard it in 2008 and heard it repeatedly this year. I sum up the president's victory this way: Michigan, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Just as I felt Al Gore was undone by not winning his home state of Tennessee, Romney was defeated because the man didn't win three states to which he is supposedly connected. Not the state where he was born and raised. Not the state where he's lived and served as governor. Not even the state where he kicked off his campaign.
There is something to be said about a politician who has no place to call his political home, no core constituency. And when you think about it, Romney being defeated in this fashion makes all the sense in the world. With his cynically shifting positions, he'd been accused of having no moral anchor, and he lost every state that was supposed to be his physical anchor. Adding insult to injury, his running mate, Paul Ryan, didn't win his home state either.
Republicans of the bitter variety -- the kind who like to deface Obama campaign signs with racial epithets -- can say Romney lost because of blacks. But the truth is, when the voters who know you best don't support you, it should come as no surprise when strangers don't either.
LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and is a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs
Maria Cardona: GOP must turn attention to Latinos
America makes history yet again by re-electing the first African-American president after a hard-fought and often nasty campaign. So much will be debated from here on out about what happened to Mitt Romney, where he went wrong, and where he goes from here. Now will be a time for soul-searching for my Republican friends about the direction of their party and how they talk to women, young people and minorities. Especially Latinos. And for President Barack Obama, it will be a time to map a path to deliver on the promises he made to the coalition of voters who gave him a second term. Especially Latinos.
I have written many times about the power of the Latino vote and how it would be decisive in this election. And the question I would always get is: Will they come out to vote? They did. In fact, I suspect that the Latino demographic will be central in many Republican conversations about where they are going wrong as a party.
It is not as though Mitt Romney didn't know the challenge that faced him with Latinos: Some very smart people in his own party continually said that the GOP and Romney needed to take a different path when it came to Latinos. Romney showed no interest in doing so, and it seemed clear that he had written off the Latino vote early on. Instead, this would have been the time and place to employ his shape-shifting ways to woo them.
The numbers don't lie. Neither do demographics. The country has changed, and Republicans had better change with it or risk being in the minority for their own lack of minorities.
Obama, for his part, will need to work with and for the coalition of Latinos, women, young people and African-Americans that held together for him. He must deliver on the issues they care about, which are the issues he has talked about throughout the campaign and that will be a big part of his second term.
He will also need to find willing Republicans interested in working with him to solve the nation's greatest problems, among them, the need for comprehensive immigration reform. This moment of necessary GOP introspection and attention from Obama to solve the immigration issue may present the perfect storm needed to actually get something done.
Maria Cardona is a Democratic strategist, a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton and former communications director for the Democratic National Committee.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.