(USA TODAY) -- Throughout the election season, President Obama looked vulnerable. The unemployment rate hung above 8%, the White House and Congress had been unable to resolve the nation's looming fiscal crisis, and the nation seemed weary of big government proposals such as the Obama-backed health care law and stimulus spending.
Mitt Romney seemed to be in good position to capitalize - a successful businessman, a Republican who was elected governor of a Democratic state, a man not tarred by scandal or extreme rhetoric.
And yet, after six years of running for the White House, he fell short.
While books will be written about how the campaign failed to reach the summit, a handful of hurdles stand out.
The economy. The nascent signs of a recovering economy seemed to have given the public just enough confidence in Obama to give him a second term, and deny Romney his chance to try his plan. Several key swing states including Ohio, Virginia, Iowa and Colorado all have seen their unemployment numbers drop below the national average; nationwide, the jobs report released at the beginning of October showed unemployment dropping below 8% for the first time in four years, stealing a key line from Romney's standard stump speech.
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Several Republican governors - such as John Kasich in Ohio, where the unemployment rate has dropped to 7% - argued that the progress was the result of state-level decisons, not presidential action. But ultimately it appears Romney failed to convince enough voters that the recovery was stalled.
Romney is not the first multi-millionaire to run for the White House, and his wealth alone may not have been a fatal flaw. After all, it's possible Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts is richer than Romney, and his wealth was not a major factor in his defeat by George W. Bush in 2004.
But Romney kept saying things that reinforced a distance from the average American. During an interview with CNN after winning the Florida primary in February, he said he is "not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it."
A videotape surfaced of Romney saying at a May fundraiser that 47% of Americans were "victims" who paid no taxes, expected government handouts and would vote for Obama regardless.
And he steadfastly refused to release his tax returns for past years, providing only summaries that raised as many questions as they did answers.
The net result is that Romney gave Democrats plenty of material to paint him as an out-of-touch rich guy.
Despite ad campaigns, targeted messages and polls that showed women were warming to Romney in the final days, he still lost the female vote to Obama, 55% to 43%, according to exit polls.
The loss wasn't entirely his fault. Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin in Missouri discussed how women's bodies could prevent pregancies in cases of "legitimate rape," launching a firestorm of protest. A few months later, Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, for whom Romney had just released an endorsement ad, said he opposed abortion even in cases of rape because God intended those pregnancies.
Romney tried to distance himself from both remarks, but they gave Democrats plenty of ammunition to argue that Republicans just don't like women.
As Romney was closing in on the GOP nomination in March by highlighting his conservative credentials, adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said on CNN that the themes of the general election campaign may be different. "It's almost like an Etch-a-Sketch," Fehrnstrom said. "You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again."
The remark itself may have had little impact, but it underscored a lingering weakness in Romney that Democrats (and his Republican primary opponents) exploited at every turn - that his positions on such issues as abortion, health care and climate change have shifted over the years. Conservatives ultimately embraced him despite his background as a moderate governor of a New England state, but it may have left doubts among voters about exactly where he stands.
In the nation's fastest growing demographic, Romney was crushed, 69% to 29% the exit polls showed, a performance that was worse than of Sen. John McCain four years earlier. This would seem to pose long-term concerns for Republicans who want to make inroads with Hispanic voters.