PI Reporter Bob Skolnik scored a coveted ticket to Obama's election night event at McCormick Place. He paints a picture of what it was like to be in the crowd for the historical night.
What was it like at President Barack Obama's victory party last night at McCormick Place? Well it was tiring, standing for hours on a hard concrete floor shoulder to shoulder with about 10,000 of your closest friends. But for just about everyone who was there it was an experience not to be missed.
By 8:30 p.m. the large exhibition space was packed. It took nearly an hour just to get from the entrance of McCormick Place to the cavernous space where the celebration took place. Young Obama staff members guided attendees in a serpentine line just to approach the hall.
To get into the celebration you needed a ticket that was earned by volunteering for the campaign in the final weeks. Others had helped the campaign in other ways. Many wore their tickets, which were designed like an invitation in a plastic cover, around their necks proudly displaying their credentials.
Some attendees were more equal than others. There were “guests” “special guests” and “honored guests.” The latter two categories were reserved for those who had made sizable contributions to the campaign or were important in other ways.
The special guests and honored guests did not have to wait in the long lines. They had a line of their own which moved quite a bit faster. The honored guests got coveted seats behind the podium.
On the route to the hall where you had to go up a level, the “honored guests” and “special guests” rode an escalator while the “guests” climbed the stairs.
The main crowd was a cross section of the Obama coalition: whites, blacks and a smattering of Hispanics and Asians. Even Chicago Cub fan Ronnie Woo Woo Wickers was there wearing a Cub uniform with Obama on the back of the jersey. It didn’t matter to Ronnie that the president is a White Sox fan.
For most of the night, people stared at large screens suspended high above the floor. The screens were divided into six windows each turned to a different network. Many could not even see the podium as the huge room filled up. They relied on the video screens.
As the state projections continued to come in, the crowd was optimistic. Obama seemed to be winning all the states he needed to win, but many were too close to call. Florida, Ohio and Virginia were especially close with margins of only about one percentage point late into the evening.
By about 9:00 p.m., no one with regular guest passes could even get into the area in front of the podium.
Two people passed out said one Obama volunteer.
Whenever a state was projected for Obama, the crowd roared. When a state was called for Romney, a chorus of boos went up. Music was blaring most of the night: it was primarily a combination of Motown and contemporary urban music. Some sang along or chatted with friends. Most kept their eyes glued on the screens, watching the results come in.
At 10:00 p.m., when polls on the West Coast closed and California, Washington and Hawaii’s electoral votes were added to the Obama column, the buzz grew as the President's total climbed close to the winning number of 270 electoral votes.
Oregon was soon added to the Obama total. Iowa was called for Obama at 10:09 p.m.; it was so close.
Then at 10:13 p.m. MSNBC called Ohio for Obama. The screen flashed that Obama was re-elected as president. CNN followed five minutes later.
'Twist and Shout' blared through the sound system.
For at least five minutes people screamed, danced, jumped in the air and hugged.
Janae LeFlore, one of the more restrained celebrants said that she was “overjoyed.”
“There were moments of doubt, but overall I had faith that he would pull it out,” LeFlore said.
For Carol Foreman, a 60 year-old woman from Oak Lawn, it meant that her seven trips to Iowa this fall to knock on doors for Obama was time well spent.
Why did she come and stand for hours when she could have watched the results at home while comfortably seated on her couch?
“To be part of the group,” said Forman who like many in the crowd had also volunteered in the 2008 campaign.
Forman said she decided to volunteer for Obama back in 2007 after listening to his speech announcing his candidacy for president.
“I thought his vision for the country was one that we needed,” said Foreman who had never worked on campaigns other than local school board races before. Obama’s message of inclusion is what appealed to her.
Then came an agonizing, literally for many, wait for Romney to concede.
Backs and legs ached. Some people sat down against the wall. Others did deep knee bends.
Obama staff people, many looking like they had walked straight out of a graduate school classroom, started arriving and were allowed through the aisle to get to the main viewing area.
Romney conceded at about midnight. Some in the crowd booed their vanquished opponent when he appeared on the screen.
“You lie,” one man yelled.
But others applauded Romney’s generous concession speech.
Then an Obama video played.
And still we waited.
“I wish he would hurry up and come out here,” LeFlore said.
Then he appeared on stage with his family. One more giant eruption of joy and, for a moment, the pain in the legs and back went away.
Then Obama delivered his victory speech full of the soaring words that he is known for, speaking of unity and opportunity and sacrifice.
Before he was finished speaking, some people had already started leaving hoping to beat the traffic. It was the first time all night that people were leaving the viewing area instead of trying to get into it.
After the speech, the crowd thinned out but in the area outside the room, people lined up to have photos taken of themselves in front the blue Election Night November 6, 2012 banners on a wall.
They wanted another momento to remember the night.
Top Image: AP Photo/M. Spencer Green; Second Image: AP Photo/M. Spencer Green; Third Image: AP Photo/Matt Rourke, Fourth Image: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais