2012 United States presidential election
2012 United States presidential election
Obama defeated Romney, winning a majority of both the Electoral College
and the popular vote
. Obama won 332 electoral votes and 51.1% of the popular vote compared to Romney's 206 electoral votes and 47.2%. Obama was the first incumbent since Franklin D. Roosevelt
to win reelection with fewer electoral votes and a smaller popular vote margin than had been won in the previous election, and was also the first two-term president since Ronald Reagan
to win both his presidential bids with a majority of the nationwide popular vote (50% or more), and the first Democrat to do so since Franklin D. Roosevelt. This was also the first presidential election since 1944 in which neither candidate had military experience.
Obama did not hold onto Indiana
, North Carolina
, or Nebraska's 2nd congressional district
, but crucially won all 18 "blue wall
" states and defeated Romney in other swing states
the Republicans had won in 2000
, most notably Colorado
, and Virginia
. Ultimately, of the nine swing states identified by The Washington Post
in the 2012 election, Obama won eight, losing only North Carolina. As of 2021, this is the most recent presidential election in which an incumbent president was re-elected to a second term. This is also the most recent presidential election when the Democratic candidate won the states of Iowa
, and Florida
, along with Maine's 2nd congressional district
All four major candidates for president and vice president went on to hold significant public office after this election. Obama served his second term as president and was succeeded by Donald Trump
. Biden also served his second term as vice president and was succeeded by Trump's running mate, Mike Pence
, but was elected president by defeating Trump four years later in 2020
. Romney initially retired from politics and moved to Utah
in 2014 but was later elected to the Senate there in 2018
, succeeding Orrin Hatch
, while Ryan served three more terms in the House and eventually became Speaker
until his retirement from politics in 2019.
This was the first election in which a major party nominee lost his home state since Al Gore
lost Tennessee in 2000
, as Mitt Romney
lost his home state of Massachusetts.
State changes to voter registration and electoral rules
In 2011, several state legislatures passed new voting laws, especially pertaining to voter identification, with the stated purpose of combating voter fraud
; the laws were attacked, however, by the Democratic Party as attempts to suppress voting among its supporters and to improve the Republican Party's presidential prospects. Florida
, and West Virginia
's state legislatures approved measures to shorten early voting periods. Florida and Iowa barred all felons from voting. Kansas
, South Carolina
state legislatures passed laws requiring voters to have government-issued IDs
before they could cast their ballots. This meant, typically, that people without driver's licenses
had to gain new forms of ID. Obama, the NAACP
, and the Democratic Party fought against many of the new state laws.
Former President Bill Clinton
denounced them, saying, "There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax
and all the Jim Crow burdens
on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today".
He was referring to Jim Crow laws
passed in southern states near the turn of the twentieth century that disenfranchised
most blacks from voting and excluded them from the political process for more than six decades. Clinton said the moves would effectively disenfranchise core voter blocs that trend liberal, including college students, Blacks
, and Latinos
. Rolling Stone
magazine criticized the American Legislative Exchange Council
(ALEC) for lobbying in states to bring about these laws, to "solve" a problem that does not exist.
The Obama campaign fought against the Ohio law
, pushing for a petition and statewide referendum to repeal it in time for the 2012 election.
In addition, the Pennsylvania
legislature proposed a plan to change its representation in the electoral college from the traditional winner-take-all model to a district-by-district model. As the governorship and both houses of its legislature were Republican-controlled, the move was viewed by some as an attempt to reduce Democratic chances.
Ultimately they did not do it, leaving their winner take all format intact as of 2020.
Democratic Party nomination
With no incumbent president running for re-election against token opposition
, the race for the Democratic nomination was largely uneventful. The nomination process consisted of primaries and caucuses
, held by the 50 states, as well as Guam
, Puerto Rico
, Washington, D.C.
, U.S. Virgin Islands
, American Samoa
, and Democrats Abroad
. Additionally, high-ranking party members known as superdelegates
each received one vote in the convention. A few of the primary challengers surpassed the president's vote total in individual counties in several of the seven contested primaries, though none made a significant impact in the delegate count. Running unopposed everywhere else, Obama cemented his status as the Democratic presumptive nominee
on April 3, 2012, by securing the minimum number of pledged delegates needed to obtain the nomination.
Republican Party nomination
The first debate took place on May 5, 2011, in Greenville, South Carolina
, with businessman Herman Cain
, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson
, Ron Paul
, Tim Pawlenty
, and former Pennsylvania
Senator Rick Santorum
participating. Another debate took place a month later, with Newt Gingrich
, Mitt Romney
, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman
, and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann
participating, and Gary Johnson excluded. A total of thirteen debates
were held before the Iowa caucuses.
The first major event of the campaign was the Ames Straw Poll
, which took place in Iowa on August 13, 2011. Michele Bachmann won the straw poll (this ultimately proved to be the acme of her campaign).
Pawlenty withdrew from the race after a poor showing in the straw poll, as did Thaddeus McCotter
, the only candidate among those who qualified for the ballot who was refused entrance into the debate.
It became clear at around this point in the nomination process that while Romney was considered to be the likely nominee by the Republican establishment, a large segment of the conservative
primary electorate found him to be too moderate
for their political views. As a result, a number of potential "anti-Romney" candidates were put forward,
including future President Donald Trump
former Alaska Governor and 2008 vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
and Texas Governor Rick Perry
the last of whom decided to run in August 2011. Perry did poorly in the debates, however, and Herman Cain
and then Newt Gingrich
came into the fore in October and November.
Due to a number of scandals, Cain withdrew just before the end of the year, after having gotten on the ballot in several states.
Around the same time, Johnson, who had been able to get into only one other debate, withdrew to seek the Libertarian Party
For the first time in modern Republican Party
history, three different candidates won the first three state contests in January (the Iowa caucuses, the New Hampshire primary, and the South Carolina primary).
Although Romney had been expected to win in at least Iowa and New Hampshire, Rick Santorum won the non-binding poll at caucus sites in Iowa by 34 votes, as near as can be determined from the incomplete tally, earning him a declaration as winner by state party leaders, although vote totals were missing from eight precincts.
The election of county delegates at the caucuses would eventually lead to Ron Paul earning 22 of the 28 Iowa delegates to the Republican National Convention. Newt Gingrich
won South Carolina by a surprisingly large margin,
and Romney won only in New Hampshire.
A number of candidates dropped out at this point in the nomination process. Bachmann withdrew after finishing sixth in the Iowa caucuses,
Huntsman withdrew after coming in third in New Hampshire, and Perry withdrew when polls showed him drawing low numbers in South Carolina.
Santorum, who had previously run an essentially one-state campaign in Iowa, was able to organize a national campaign after his surprising victory there. He unexpectedly carried three states in a row on February 7 and overtook Romney in nationwide opinion polls, becoming the only candidate in the race to effectively challenge the notion that Romney was the inevitable nominee.
However, Romney won all of the other contests between South Carolina and the Super Tuesday primaries
, and regained his first-place status in nationwide opinion polls by the end of February.
The Super Tuesday primaries
took place on March 6. Romney carried six states, Santorum carried three, and Gingrich won only in his home state of Georgia.
Throughout the rest of March, 266 delegates were allocated in 12 events, including the territorial contests and the first local conventions that allocated delegates (Wyoming's county conventions). Santorum won Kansas and three Southern primaries, but he was unable to make any substantial gain on Romney, who became a formidable frontrunner after securing more than half of the delegates allocated in March.
On April 10, Santorum suspended his campaign due to a variety of reasons, such as a low delegate count, unfavorable polls in his home state of Pennsylvania, and his daughter's health, leaving Mitt Romney as the undisputed front-runner for the presidential nomination and allowing Gingrich to claim that he was "the last conservative standing" in the campaign for the nomination.
After disappointing results in the April 24 primaries (finishing second in one state, third in three, and fourth in one), Gingrich dropped out on May 2 in a move that was seen as an effective end to the nomination contest.
After Gingrich's spokesman announced his upcoming withdrawal, the Republican National Committee
declared Romney the party's presumptive nominee
Ron Paul officially remained in the race, but he stopped campaigning on May 14 to focus on state conventions.
On May 29, after winning the Texas primary, Romney had received a sufficient number of delegates to clinch the party's nomination with the inclusion of unpledged delegates. After winning the June 5 primaries in California and several other states, Romney had received more than enough pledged delegates to clinch the nomination without counting unpledged delegates, making the June 26 Utah Primary, the last contest of the cycle, purely symbolic. CNN's final delegate estimate, released on July 27, 2012, put Romney at 1,462 pledged delegates and 62 unpledged delegates, for a total estimate of 1,524 delegates. No other candidate had unpledged delegates. The delegate estimates for the other candidates were Santorum at 261 delegates, Paul at 154, Gingrich at 142, Bachmann at 1, Huntsman at 1, and all others at 0.
On August 28, 2012, delegates at the Republican National Convention
officially named Romney the party's presidential nominee.
Romney formally accepted the delegates' nomination on August 30, 2012.
Third party and other nominations
Four other parties nominated candidates that had ballot access or write-in
access to at least 270 electoral votes, the minimum number of votes needed in the 2012 election to win the presidency through a majority of the electoral college.
, former Representative from Virginia.
Vice-presidential nominee: Jim Clymer
Candidates in bold were on ballots representing 270 electoral votes.
All other candidates were on the ballots of fewer than 10 states, 100 electors, and less than 20% of voters nationwide.
Financing and advertising
The United States presidential election of 2012 broke new records in financing, fundraising, and negative campaigning
. Through grassroots
campaign contributions, online donations, and Super PACs
, Obama and Romney raised a combined total of more than $2 billion.
Super PACs constituted nearly one-fourth of the total financing, with most coming from pro-Romney PACs.
Obama raised $690 million through online channels, beating his record of $500 million in 2008.
Most of the advertising in the 2012 presidential campaign was decidedly negative—80% of Obama's ads and 84% of Romney's ads were negative.
The tax-exempt non-profit Americans for Prosperity
, a so-called "outside group", that is, a political advocacy group that is not a political action committee
or super-PAC, ran a television advertising campaign opposing Obama described by The Washington Post
as "early and relentless".
Americans for Prosperity spent $8.4 million in swing states
on television advertisements denouncing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
loan guarantee to Solyndra
, a manufacturer of solar panels that went bankrupt,
an advertising campaign described by The Wall Street Journal
in November 2011 as "perhaps the biggest attack on Mr. Obama so far".
Sites of the 2012 national party conventions.
- April 18–21, 2012: 2012 Constitution Party National Convention held in Nashville, Tennessee; Virgil Goode won the nomination.
- May 3–6, 2012: 2012 Libertarian National Convention held in Las Vegas, Nevada;Gary Johnson won the nomination.
- July 13–15, 2012: 2012 Green National Convention held in Baltimore, Maryland; Jill Stein won the nomination.
- August 27–30, 2012: 2012 Republican National Convention held in Tampa, Florida; Mitt Romney won the nomination.
- September 3–6, 2012: 2012 Democratic National Convention held in Charlotte, North Carolina; Barack Obama won the nomination.
The Commission on Presidential Debates
held four debates during the last weeks of the campaign: three presidential and one vice-presidential. The major issues debated were the economy and jobs, the federal budget deficit, taxation and spending, the future of Social Security
, and Medicaid
, healthcare reform
, education, social issues, immigration, and foreign policy.
Debates among candidates for the 2012 U.S. presidential election
President Obama talks with Ron Klain
during presidential debate preparations. Senator John Kerry
, at podium, played the role of Mitt Romney during the preparatory sessions.
Notable expressions, phrases, and statements
- Severely conservative – In a speech he made at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February 2012, Romney claimed that he had been a "severely conservative Republican governor". Romney's description of his record as "severely conservative" was widely criticized by political commentators as both rhetorically clumsy and factually inaccurate. Later, the phrase "severely conservative" was frequently brought up by Democrats to make fun of Romney's willingness to associate himself with the far-right of the Republican Party as well as his apparent lack of sincerity while doing so. Conservative radio hostRush Limbaugh, who played the clip on his radio show, said: "I have never heard anybody say, 'I'm severely conservative.' "
- You didn't build that – A portion of a statement that Obama made in a July 2012 campaign speech in Roanoke, Virginia. Obama said that businesses depend on government-provided infrastructure to succeed, but critics of his remarks argued that he was underplaying the work of entrepreneurs and giving the government credit for individuals' success. The Romney campaign immediately used the statement in an effort to contrast Romney's economic policies with Obama's and to appeal to small business owners/employees. A major theme of the 2012 Republican National Convention was "We Built It".
- 47 percent – An expression Romney used at a private campaign fundraising event, which was secretly recorded and publicly released. At the private event, Romney said that 47 percent of the people would vote for Barack Obama no matter what Romney said or did because those people "...are dependent upon government... I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives." Ironically, Romney received almost exactly 47% of the vote.
- Binders full of women – A phrase that Romney used in the second presidential debate to refer to the long list of female candidates that he considered when choosing his cabinet members as Governor of Massachusetts.
- Horses and bayonets – After Romney said in the third presidential debate that the U.S. Navy was smaller than at any time since 1917, Obama replied, "We have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed."
- Shovel-ready jobs – a phrase used to describe some stimulus projects promoted by the administration. During the debate on September 23, 2011, Gary Johnson quipped, "My next-door neighbor's two dogs have created more shovel-ready jobs than this president."
- Romnesia – A term coined by a blogger in April 2011 and used by Obama late in the campaign to describe Romney's alleged inability to take responsibility for his past statements.
- $10,000 bet – During a Republican debate, Romney facetiously bet Texas governor Rick Perry $10,000 that he (Perry) was wrong about Romney's position on the individual mandate under the Affordable Healthcare Act. The statement was vilified by Democrats as exemplary of Romney being out of touch with working-class and middle-class Americans.
- Romneyshambles – a phrase used by the British press after Romney criticized British preparations for the 2012 Summer Olympics, which was a play on omnishambles. The phrase became a popular hashtag on Twitter and was later chosen as one of Collins English Dictionary's words of the year.
On the day of the election, spread betting firm Spreadex
were offering an Obama Electoral College Votes spread of 296–300 to Romney's 239–243.
In reality Obama's victory over Romney was far greater, winning 332 electoral votes to Romney's 206. Romney lost all but one of nine battleground states
and received 47 percent of the nationwide popular vote to Obama's 51 percent.
President Obama casts his ballot at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in Chicago
Results by state
The table below displays the official vote tallies by each state's Electoral College voting method. The source for the results of all states, except those that amended their official results, is the official Federal Election Commission report.
The column labeled "Margin" shows Obama's margin of victory over Romney (the margin is negative for every state that Romney won).
Maine and Nebraska each allow for their election results votes to be split between candidates. The winner within each congressional district gets one electoral vote for the district. The winner of the statewide vote gets two additional electoral votes. In the 2012 election, all four of Maine's electoral votes were won by Obama and all five of Nebraska's electoral votes were won by Romney.
Swing from 2008
to 2012 in each state. Only six states swung more Democratic in 2012: Alaska, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, and New York. The arrows to the right represent how many places up or down on the list the state moved since 2008. States are listed by (increasing) percentage of Democratic votes.
Red denotes states (or congressional districts that contribute an electoral vote) won by Republican Mitt Romney; blue denotes those won by Democrat Barack Obama.
State where the margin of victory was under 1% (29 electoral votes):
Florida, 0.88% (74,309 votes)
States where the margin of victory was under 5% (46 electoral votes):
- North Carolina, 2.04% (92,004 votes)
- Ohio, 2.98% (166,272 votes)
- Virginia, 3.87% (149,298 votes)
States/districts where the margin of victory was between 5% and 10% (120 electoral votes):
- Colorado, 5.37% (137,858 votes) (tipping point state)
- Pennsylvania, 5.39% (309,840 votes)
- New Hampshire, 5.58% (39,643 votes)
- Iowa, 5.81% (91,927 votes)
- Nevada, 6.68% (67,806 votes)
- Wisconsin, 6.94% (213,019 votes)
- Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District, 7.16% (19,087 votes)
- Minnesota, 7.69% (225,942 votes)
- Georgia, 7.82% (304,861 votes)
- Maine's 2nd Congressional District, 8.56% (28,783 votes)
- Arizona, 9.06% (208,422 votes)
- Missouri, 9.38% (258,644 votes)
- Michigan, 9.50% (449,313 votes)
Counties with Highest Percent of Vote (Democratic)
- Shannon County, South Dakota 93.39%
- Kalawao County, Hawaii 92.59%
- Bronx County, New York 91.45%
- Washington, D.C. 90.91%
- Petersburg, Virginia 89.79%
Counties with Highest Percent of Vote (Republican)
- King County, Texas 95.86%
- Madison County, Idaho 93.29%
- Sterling County, Texas 92.91%
- Franklin County, Idaho 92.77%
- Roberts County, Texas 92.13%
Obama takes a phone call from Romney conceding the election early Wednesday morning in Chicago.
After the networks called Ohio (the state that was arguably the most critical for Romney, as no Republican has ever won the Presidency without carrying it) for Obama at around 11:15 PM EST
on Election Day, Romney was ready to concede the race, but hesitated when Karl Rove
strenuously objected on Fox News to the network's decision to make that call.
However, after Colorado and Nevada were called for the President (giving Obama enough electoral votes to win even if Ohio were to leave his column), in tandem with Obama's apparent lead in Florida and Virginia (both were eventually called for Obama), Romney acknowledged that he had lost and conceded at around 1:00 AM EST
on November 7.
Despite public polling showing Romney behind Obama in the swing states of Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, and New Hampshire, tied with Obama in Virginia, and just barely ahead of Obama in Florida, the Romney campaign said they were genuinely surprised by the loss, having believed that public polling was oversampling Democrats.
The Romney campaign had already set up a transition website, and had scheduled and purchased a fireworks display to celebrate in case he won the election.
On November 30, 2012, it was revealed that shortly before the election, internal polling done by the Romney campaign had shown Romney ahead in Colorado and New Hampshire, tied in Iowa, and within a few points of Obama in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Ohio.
In addition, the Romney campaign had assumed that they would win Florida, North Carolina and Virginia.
The polls had made Romney and his campaign team so confident of their victory that Romney did not write a concession speech
until Obama's victory was announced.
Foreign leaders reacted with both positive and mixed messages. Most world leaders congratulated and praised Barack Obama on his re-election victory. However, Venezuela and some other states had tempered reactions. Pakistan commented that Romney's defeat had made Pakistan-United States relations
safer. Stock markets fell noticeably after Obama's re-election, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average
, and the S&P 500
each declining over two percent the day after the election.
The United States has a population of 50 million Hispanic and Latino Americans
, 27 million of whom are citizens eligible to vote (13% of total eligible voters). Traditionally, only half of eligible Hispanic voters vote (around 7% of voters); of them, 71% voted for Barack Obama (increasing his percentage
of the vote by 5%); therefore, the Hispanic vote was an important factor in Obama's re-election, since the vote difference between the two main parties was only 3.9%
Exit polls were conducted by Edison Research of Somerville, New Jersey
, for the National Election Pool, a consortium of ABC News, Associated Press, CBS News, CNN,
and NBC News.
Combined with the re-elections of Bill Clinton
and George W. Bush
, Obama's victory in the 2012 election marked only the second time in American history that three consecutive presidents were each elected to two or more full terms (the first time being the consecutive two-term presidencies of Thomas Jefferson
, James Madison
, and James Monroe
This was also the first election since 1944
in which neither of the major candidates had any military experience.
The 2012 election marked the first time since Franklin D. Roosevelt
's last two re-elections in 1940
that a Democratic presidential candidate won a majority of the popular vote in two consecutive elections.
Obama was also the first president of either party to secure at least 51% of the popular vote in two elections since Dwight Eisenhower
in 1952 and 1956.
Obama is the third Democratic president to secure at least 51% of the vote twice, after Andrew Jackson
and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Romney won the popular vote in 226 congressional districts making this the first time since 1960 that the winner of the election did not win the popular vote in a majority of the congressional districts.
Romney also became the first Republican since Gerald Ford's narrow defeat to Jimmy Carter, in 1976, to fail to win a presidential election while earning a minimum of 200 electoral votes. The same feat would also later repeat itself when Donald Trump
lost the 2020 Presidential Election to Joe Biden
with earning at least that number of electoral votes.
Romney lost his home state of Massachusetts
, becoming the first major party presidential candidate to lose his home state since Democrat Al Gore
lost his home state of Tennessee
to Republican George W. Bush in the 2000 election
Romney lost his home state by more than 23%, the worst losing margin for a major party candidate since John Frémont
Even worse than Frémont, Romney failed to win a single county in his home state.
In addition, since Obama carried Ryan's home state of Wisconsin
, the Romney–Ryan ticket was the first major party ticket since the 1972 election
to have both of its nominees lose their home states.
Romney won the popular vote in every county
of three states: Utah, Oklahoma, and West Virginia; Obama did so in four states: Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Hawaii.
Romney's loss prompted the Republican National Committee
to try to appeal to the American Latino population by concentrating on different approaches to immigration. These were short-lived due to activity and anger from the Republican base and may have contributed to the selection of Donald Trump
as their presidential candidate four years later.
Obama's vote total was the fourth most votes received in the history of presidential elections (behind Obama's 2008 victory and both major candidates in 2020) and the most ever for a reelected president. However, Obama also became the first president in American history to be reelected to a second term by smaller margins in every way possible: Compared to his victory in 2008, he won fewer states (28 to 26), fewer electoral votes (365 to 332), fewer popular votes (69.5 million to 65.9 million), a smaller percentage of the popular vote (52.9% to 51.1%), and fewer congressional districts (242 to 209).
Woodrow Wilson is the only other two-term president in United States history to win with less electoral votes in their second election (Franklin D. Roosevelt won with less in his third election than in his second).
The 2012 election marked the first time since 1988
in which no state was won by a candidate with a plurality
of the state's popular vote. All states were won with over 50% of the vote.
So far, this is the only presidential election in history where both the Republican and Democratic vice presidential candidates are practicing Roman Catholics. It is also the only presidential election where there are no white Protestants on either major party ticket.
Results by state, shaded according to winning candidate's percentage of the vote.
Results by county. Blue denotes counties that went to Obama; red denotes counties that went to Romney. Hawaii, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont had all counties go to Obama. Oklahoma, Utah, and West Virginia had all counties go to Romney.
Results by county, shaded according to winning candidate's percentage of the vote.
Popular vote by county shaded on a scale from red/Republican to blue/Democratic.
Results by state and the District of Columbia, scaled by number of Electors per state.
of popular vote by county shaded on a scale from red/Republican to blue/Democratic where each county has been rescaled in proportion to its population.
Cartogram of the electoral vote results, with each square representing one electoral vote.
Results by congressional district.
Change in popular vote margins at the county level from the 2008 election to the 2012 election. Blue denotes counties that voted more Democratic. Red denotes counties that voted more Republican. Romney's strongest improvements over McCain were in Utah and Appalachia, while Obama's strongest gains were in Alaska, the New York area, and the Gulf states.
of the popular vote by county, state, and locally predominant recipient
The Obamas and the Bidens embrace following the television announcement of their victory.
The Obamas and the Bidens walk on stage at the election night victory celebration at McCormick Place
Former Governor Mitt Romney meets with President Barack Obama at the White House after the 2012 presidential election.
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- Miller, William J., ed. The 2012 Nomination and the Future of the Republican Party: The Internal Battle (Lexington Books; 2013) 265 pages; essays by experts on Romney and each of his main rivals
- Nelson, Michael, ed. The Elections of 2012 (2013) excerpt and text search; topical essays by experts
- Sides, John, and Lynn Vavreck. The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election (Princeton U.P. 2013) excerpt and text search
- Stempel III, Guido H. and Thomas K. Hargrove, eds. The 21st-Century Voter: Who Votes, How They Vote, and Why They Vote (2 vol. 2015).
- Media from Wikimedia Commons
- News from Wikinews
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