The mood at McCormick Place: Jubilation, relief
In 2008, Barack Obama's election night rally under clear skies on an unseasonably warm night in Chicago's Grant Park turned into an emotion-packed jubilation with more than 200,000 supporters hugging, crying and soaking up the history of America's first black president.
Tuesday night's rally for several thousand of President Obama's invited guests and volunteers packed into a steel–and-concrete hall of Chicago's massive McCormick Place starts out in a nerve-racked hesitation while supporters wait for results in a race at first too tight to call.
It ends with a jubilation tinged by relief.
As the clock ticks past midnight with the crowd still waiting for the president to appear, Obama volunteer Ellen Carter, 54, of Mount Prospect reflects on what this campaign has meant for her.
"The president talks about everyone having a place at the table, a voice," she sayd. "It meant a lot to me to participate in this campaign and get a sense that my one small voice, joining with other small voices made a difference."
Earlier 25-year-old Stephanie Renno , a social worker who grew up in Elk Grove Village and sports an Amnesty International T-shirt reading, "Health care is a human right," was waiting anxiously for the chance to cheer.
"I think there's a little more tension, but I feel ready to celebrate," she says, smiling.
By 10:15 p.m., when the TV networks start calling the race for Obama, Renno and boyfriend Peter Hirshberg, 26, simply wait for their president to show up on stage and make his re-election victory official.
"Four more years!" echoes through the crowd until it is drowned out by a recording of Aretha Franklin asking for "Respect." Earlier, the crowd sings along to Bruce Springsteen's "We take care of our own," before erupting in even louder cheers as Obama wins Pennsylvania.
That early-evening underlying confidence gets a boost from Charles Celander, 56, whose wife, Melani Davis, is a graphic artist who met Obama years ago while working for political campaigns.
"My wife doesn't like crowds," says Celander, who came to the rally from his home in Homewood with his daughter, Jenny Celander, 25. When the TV screen shows Pennsylvania going for Obama, Celander gives a thumbs-up and concludes, "He's got it."
In 2008, supporters buoyed each other throughout Election Day during an impromptu street carnival near Grant Park. The 2012 crowd allowed into McCormick Place after passing through metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs arrives after 7 p.m. on a cold and misty night and doesn't have the time or the environment to build a party atmosphere. Much of the crowd is still trickling in when victory appears certain.
With slow and tenuous results coming in from the swing states expected to decide the contest, the camps of President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney express confidence on giant TV monitors, while voters on social media voice mostly fear and loathing.
The McCormick crowd cheers when Ohio exit polls show Obama with a lead or a county in Florida goes for Obama. But then TV monitors show Romney with an early lead in New Jersey or a 4 percent advantage in the popular vote and that enthusiasm goes out as suddenly as if it were a flame on a birthday candle.
By 10 p.m., the mood elevates when Obama's victory seems likely. Members of the crowd, many shooting photographs of themselves and the swarm of media at their back, find spots near the stage or on nearby bleachers. They wait for official word and the appearance of the president.
The President Obama products stand, assured this was Obama's last election no matter what the results, discount a variety of items as the night wears on. Buttons and shirts with messages such as "Nurses For Obama," "LGBT For Obama" and "Estamos Unidos Hispanics For Obama" evolve from campaign items to keepsake souvenirs.
While 2008 signaled a historic shift in U.S. elections, 2012 makes its mark as "more of a challenge," suggests Lexi Hoffman, who was an 18-year-old college freshman from Vernon Hills when she joined the crowd at Grant Park for Obama's first presidential victory party.
"There was a lot more excitement in 2008 because it was my first election," says Hoffman, who is 22 now and works as a freelance web designer and art director in addition to being a student at Columbia College. She voted in Vernon Hills Tuesday afternoon and took the train into the city after the polls closed, but she wasn't going to join the Obama supporters this year.
"I'm still on the same page," Hoffman says, "and my vote was the same."
She's got plenty of company.
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