Adopted hometown delivers for Obama
Before they moved to the White House, Barack Obama and his wife and daughters lived in a large old house in Hyde Park, on the city’s south side. Their street was blocked off by police yesterday while they prepared for last night’s election party at the McCormick Place convention centre.
About a mile away, hundreds of the Obamas’ neighbours queued in a polling station on the ground floor of the Regency Park apartment building. Experts had predicted turnout would be lower than in 2008, but local residents said they couldn’t remember longer queues. Some waited two hours to cast their ballot.
Hyde Park is perhaps the most mixed neighbourhood of Chicago, in terms of race, wealth, education and social class. But I had a hard time finding a Romney voter.
Knowing that ageing white men are Romney’s staunchest supporters, I approached balding, grey-haired Gary Rayl (66), and joked that I was desperately seeking a Romney voter.
“There are only three Republicans in all of Hyde Park!” Rayl said, laughing. “I was a teacher and union official, so I’m not one of them. I believe strongly in public, progressive education.”
During the campaign, Romney suggested that students who could not afford college should “shop around” for cheaper institutions, or borrow money from their parents.
“The right has moved to exclusionary practices, while Obama is making higher education more accessible,” Rayl continued.
“The average college student ends up with $60,000 in debt; the average medical student $178,000. That eliminates the possibility of higher education for 35 per cent of the population.” The slightly built, pretty young woman behind Rayl in the queue plucked up her courage. “I’m a Romney voter,” Suzanne Tanner (26) volunteered. “I’m from Utah. I’m a Mormon,” she added, as if she felt it necessary to explain.
Tanner is a self-described stay-at-home mom. When her first child Josh was born 10 months ago she almost named him Mitt. Her husband is a law student at the nearby University of Chicago where, Tanner assured me, there are many conservatives in the law and economics faculties.
By yesterday, Obama’s slight lead in the swing states had convinced most people he would be re-elected.
“Romney has a chance,” Tanner said wistfully. “But it’s probably not likely.”
She said she didn’t agree with “the extreme opinion that the country is in a horrible place and it’s all Obama’s fault. I don’t think he screwed things up that badly.”
Jamel Brown (32) feels a special kinship for Obama. The African American administrative assistant for an insurance company grew up in Roseland, the south Chicago slum where Obama worked as a community organiser in the 1980s. Now, like Obama, he has moved upmarket to Hyde Park. “I’m proud that someone from the south side was able to elevate himself to president,” Brown said.
“My parents sheltered me from the drug dealers and gangs in Roseland. We had food stamps. I got grants to go to college, and that was the best experience of my life. If Romney wins, families like mine will not be helped.” Asked for whom she would vote, Phoebe Rice (48) from the faculty of biochemistry at the University of Chicago said: “My neighbour.” Obama “is not as liberal as I would like, but he’s done the best he could,” Rice said. She worried that Romney might win last night “and that he’ll start another stupid war”.
Madeleine Boucher (25), a fashionable graduate student in art history, voted for Obama because “I still believe in everything he stands for, even if the last four years have not been perfect. Right now, the Democratic party is the only one thinking of more than the interests of rich white men.”