To the victor an emotional hometown celebration
The party:President Barack Obama rewarded his legions of campaign workers by reserving his election night party just for them. They had flown in from around the country, arriving in cold, drizzling rain.
As they filed through the gamut of magnetometers and sniffer dogs on Tuesday evening, they steeled themselves for an all-night cliff-hanger.
For days before the election, the polls showed Mitt Romney’s tiny lag behind Obama as well within the margin of error.
The multitude at McCormick Place was a microcosm of the white, black, brown, Asian, young, old, rich and poor coalition that elected him. The guests bought pizza and hot dogs and exchanged speculations while they waited.
These unconditional Obama supporters seemed to hover between relief that the seemingly interminable battle was almost over, and anxiety that the victory for which they had worked might somehow escape them.
Dick Morris, a Fox News pundit, was propounding a model that gave the Republican challenger 325 electoral college votes to 213 for Obama – about the opposite of what happened.
There was apprehension about legal challenges in Ohio and Florida, irregularities at a few polling stations, queues so long that voting had to be extended long after closing time.
The Republicans had so trumpeted an alleged “enthusiasm gap” in their favour that even some Democrats believed it.
Turnout, turnout, turnout, Obama’s officers repeated. On Tuesday evening their foot soldiers weren’t entirely certain whose advantage the tide of voters worked to.
Explosion of joy
These worries dropped away with each state announced for Obama. Romney long posted a lead in the electoral college, until California, the most populous state, reversed the balance.
There was an explosion of joy at 11.18 pm, when CNN predicted Obama had won Ohio, and with it a second term. The all-night vigil did not materialise: Obama’s victory landed 18 minutes later than in 2008.
The spectre of a long, drawn-out court battle à la Bush-Gore 2000 returned via CNN. On the big screen, the Chicago party-goers watched an anchor in Boston say the Romney campaign might contest Ohio.
By 1am it was over. Romney conceded. Oh to have listened in on his phone call to Obama.
The Obamas left home in Hyde Park in what was described as the longest presidential motorcade ever. The first family walked onstage, the embodiment of the new America that had almost slipped away. The depleted, careworn leader who had been near tears at his last rally in Iowa on Monday night was near tears again, but with a different emotion.
In his dark suit, white shirt and Democrat-blue tie, Obama looked fresh and rejuvenated.
He made them laugh: “By the way, we have to fix that,” he said of the long voting queues.
And in the midst of his profession of love for Michelle, Malia and Sasha: “But I will say that for now one dog’s probably enough.”
He made them cry, with his talk of unity and shared endeavour. The radiant, tear-washed faces went far beyond Chicago.
As the first family hugged well-wishers in a blizzard of red, white and blue confetti, Bruce Springsteen’s We Take Care of Our Own became a global anthem; and Barack Obama was the re-elected president of the world.