The margins are small, but the critical swing states one by one are falling for President Obama, as the networks call the race for Obama.

The Democrats made good on their promise to turn out a heavily Democratic electorate ( D + 6), making most of those pollsters at the state level generally close to the mark. Polls can be within the margin of error, but the win is clear.

Plainly Romney team officials overestimated their strength in Colorado, Iowa and Florida, which they had expected would narrowly go their way. Ohio was in their minds a dead heat that could be won on the ground. It wasn’t. The auto bailout and the improved economic condition in the state spelled defeat for Mitt Romney.

Romney proved to be a better candidate than many expected, but he was not able to shake the conviction of enough voters that things were getting minimally better. There will be plenty of discussion about the low percentage of Hispanic votes garnered by Romney, but it was not the decisive factor. Some conservatives will insist that a more stringent conservative would have made better use of the Romneycare issue. But that didn’t seem to be the decisive issue, either. If Romney had made more hay out of Obama’s foreign policy failings, would that have made a difference? Unlikely.

Part of the explanation is certainly the war that Obama waged during the summer. And although stunningly effective debate performances reenergized Republicans, it was not enough to dislodge Obama from the presidency.

Before Republicans conclude that they had an insufficiently conservative candidate, they should consider what happened in the Senate — a near wipeout. If the party goes hard right, selecting candidates even less appealing to women, minorities and an increasingly secularized society, it is hard to see how they will improve their standing.

Republicans now will need to develop a strategy for addressing our fiscal problems with only one house of Congress in their possession. They will need to look at what the voters are telling them and who the voters are in the 21st century — fewer marrieds, more secular, more ethnically diverse.

Conservatives are certainly glum. But politics is the ever-evolving debate of a diverse people about how they wish to conduct their affairs. It doesn’t end with one election.

As for President Obama he’ll need to do what he didn’t in the first term: address our fiscal mess, reform entitlements and the tax code and deal with foreign threats in a responsible manner. As Americans we should hope he’s learned something and will surprise us with newfound moderation and courage. If not, we’re in for a very rocky time.