As the 2012 presidential race drew to a close, the country — and the world — looked to Chicago and President Barack Obama.
After more than a month of early voting, which began Oct. 2 in Ohio, Obama pulled ahead of Romney Tuesday by securing California’s 55 electoral votes. At 11:18 p.m., just minutes after Obama claimed victory in Ohio, CNN announced Obama would win the 2012 presidential election.
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Early Tuesday inside Lakeside Center, signs and banners filled otherwise empty hallways, giving false preview as to how the building would look just several hours later.
It was Election Day 2012 — and although Obama for America campaign workers were confident of the president’s chance at reelection, a hindrance of doubt lingered in the air.
“We do believe that we’re in a very strong position going into tonight,” said Rachel Racusen, deputy national communications director for OFA. “We also know it’s going to be very, very close. We’ve been saying that all along despite the swings in the polls one way or the other. So we could be looking at a long night.”
Beginning at 4 a.m., media from around the world piled into rows of tables covered in electric outlets and press boxes. They carried cameras, tripods, laptops and heaps of wires — their only lifeline to the outside world from within the walls of Lakeside Center.
For them, this was the Super Bowl: a fight to be the first in the world to announce the future president of the United States. There was friendly camaraderie among journalists, despite the competitive nature of the media sporting event. People from opposite ends of the globe loaned chargers, shared latest news updates and helped each other frame live shots.
A crowd of 15,000 people began to fill the center at 7 p.m. As they entered, a renewed sense of excitement and urgency washed over the room of journalists.
The crowd’s energy was contagious. As poll results began to appear on giant screens near the main stage, the crowd’s reaction fluctuated. When Obama won a state, it was a touchdown; when Romney won, a fumble.
Romney was maintaining a steady lead, but there were key battleground and projected Democratic states up in the air.
The ending result came in a whirlwind. Obama pulled ahead with a win in California. Then, he claimed Ohio. A few minutes later, the crowd erupted in its loudest ovation yet: CNN projected Obama to win the election.
Twitter exploded in a stream of victory tweets. Other news organizations followed CNN’s suit, declaring Obama victorious.
Audience members waved flags and embraced, snapping photos of the historic announcement. Standing in the room was a once-in-a-lifetime moment — one they’ll share with their future grandchildren.
“It feels wonderful, wonderful, wonderful to be here tonight!” a young woman yelled from the crowd. “I was here in 2008, and I’m here in 2012!”
Other crowd members called their congratulations to cameras. Some sang and danced, and OFA staffers joined while waiting for Obama to take the stage.
“This is a once in [a] lifetime opportunity, and I’m so happy to be here tonight,” said Jasmine Martinez, another young woman in the crowd. “Congratulations to President Obama! The next four years are going to be the most important years of your life.”
At 12:56 a.m., Romney delivered his concession speech from Boston, which streamed throughout Lakeside Center. The crowd applauded Romney’s praise of the president’s win.
Chants of “Four more years!” “Fired up! Ready to go!” and “U-S-A!” boomed from the crowd at the end of Romney’s speech. Anxiety grew as people waited for Obama to appear.
Finally, the moment for which all had been waiting: Obama took the stage, his wife and daughters grinning by his side. He waved to the crowd — a crowd that helped secure his victory yet again.
“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy — tonight is your answer,” Obama said.
Obama congratulated Romney on a hard-fought campaign and implored Americans to remember they are Americans, first and foremost.
“It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled — Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of red states and blue states; we are, and always will be, the United States of America,” Obama said.
With unemployment at 7.9 percent — an estimated 12.3 million people, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — and 68,000 troops still in Afghanistan, Obama’s leadership during the next four years will be important in the future of the United States.
“Our economy is recovering,” he said. “A decade of war is ending. Our long campaign is now over. And whether I earned your vote or not, I have listened to you, and I have learned from you, and you have made me a better president.”
Contact Leighann McGivern at [email protected] .