We went to McCormick Place, because we could. We went to Grant Park to see if anyone else would (no one did). We went to the Chicago Republicans soiree at the Wit, which was about as well attended as Grant Park. And we made pit stops at Wiener’s Circle and a homeless shelter. Throughout it all, we held our breath. This wouldn’t be like last time. We’re all a little more tired, a lot more unsure. We readied ourselves for coming face to face with a city that felt far less like the one Obama graced four years ago. Whatever the outcome, this would not be a massive step forward. In a best-case scenario, the most we could hope for, it seemed, was relief. Yet as we and the rest of Chicago settled in for Obama’s acceptance speech, we woke up to the enormity of what just happened, less exhilarating the second time around, perhaps, but no less inspiring.
I SPOKE TO DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE communications director Brad Woodhouse earlier in the night, as he celebrated Iowa’s victory (maybe ten minutes before Obama won outright). He was very proud of his candidate and feeling great about the election, hitting all the right notes on what needs to be done next. But I was interested to hear what he said about the future of Chicago politicians. I asked who would be the next big players, and he mentioned Rahm Emanuel and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. No huge names, no surprises; could be a while till there’s another Obama. —Asher Klein
“IT’S 51 FOR OBAMA TO 49 FOR ROMNEY WITH 60% REPORTING,” my friend in Ohio texted me. “We’re getting a little giddy here.”
Not long afterward, I hurried through the door at the Heartland Cafe just in time to hear the cheers as Ohio pushed Obama’s electoral college votes over the threshold to victory. There were smiles all around the two packed rooms. But instead of joy, the emotion for some seemed to be relief.
“I was scared,” Claire, a 49th Ward resident and volunteer for the nonpartisan electoral watchdog group Common Cause, told me. “I couldn’t sleep last night.” But now that Obama had won a second term, “I think he should go for gold,” she said. “Particularly with the environment in mind. It comes down to the planet’s survival.”
Lakeview residents Beth McGeorge and Katie Wadsworth were more carefree. In fact, they were triumphant. “We came here for the likemindedness,” Wadsworth told me.
Topher Cochrane, on the other hand, considers himself “a moderate guy.” So much so that, as he told his friend Laurie, “This place is a little liberal for me.” But in 2008 he’d volunteered for Obama, canvassing in Indiana, as a result of which he’d landed in Grant Park for the election night celebration, “a magical event,” he said. This time around, he told me, “I feel great. I’m not a crier, but I got a little teary eyed.”
What does he see for the future? “Hopefully something better than the status quo. Hopefully a second term where people are no longer so worried about partisan politics.”
My Ohio friend and I are perhaps not quite so sanguine. The red state/blue state divide is alive and well. But he was elated (and proud) enough to recall a quotation from Lincoln: “Glory to God in the highest! Ohio has saved the Union.” —Kate Schmidt
WILLIAM WOODS, A 57-YEAR-OLD SOUTH-SIDE NATIVE, has been staying at the Pacific Garden Mission homeless shelter in East Pilsen for ten months. Why’d he land there? “The usual—couldn’t find a job, couldn’t pay the rent.” Woods voted for Obama, though others in the shelter cast a vote for Romney. “I do not like the way Mitt Romney talks about things,” Woods says. “He wants to do things for the rich people. He talks about the 47 percent, binders full of women, and all that nonsense—oh, c’mon. I think Obama did a damn good job considering the mess Junior left us with.” As for Woods’s hope for Obama’s second term: “I hope like hell he takes the gloves off and stops negotiating so much.” —Steve Bogira
I TREKKED DOWN TO THE WIENER’S CIRCLE expecting to run into drunks celebrating over a char dog or drowning their sorrows in cheese fries, but I arrived to find the place nearly deserted. Fortunately two of the three people milling about turned out to be quite interesting. Emily Nelson spoke to me at length about her thoughts on judges’ terms and their roles as public servants, while Zach Taylor told me about his “stop robbing me” write-in campaign. The pair were at the Libertarian Party of Chicago’s monthly meetup at Lincoln Restaurant in North Center when they decided to head to Wiener’s Circle; Taylor moved to Chicago from Cincinnati several years ago, but hadn’t been to the infamous Lincoln Park institution. “Fucking you have to have a char dog from the Wiener Circle,” Nelson says. —Leor Galil
DAN RUTHERFORD, THE STATE TREASURER and the Illinois chair of Romney for President, hosted a party on Tuesday night at the Wit Hotel—of the kind that campaigns sometimes bill beforehand as “victory” parties, though in Chicago it’s understandable for Republicans to want to manage expectations. This one was just an “election night party.” By the time Romney gave his concession speech there were about a dozen people left at the Wit, most if not all journalists.
It had been a fairly sparse, and relatively subdued, crowd. I approached a young pair who looked to be college students and it turned out that neither of them had voted for Mitt Romney, nominally the man of the hour. Randy Vollrath, a 19-year-old DePaul sophomore from Gurnee, said that he voted for “almost all Republicans.” Was there a Democrat somewhere on the ticket that had appealed to him? Nope—for president Vollrath voted for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate. “I’m pretty frustrated with the two-party system,” he said. He was inspired by reading Atlas Shrugged.
Fox News called the election for Obama. While we waited for Rutherford to address the crowd—his speech was short and gracious—I asked Randy Kantner, who owns a landscaping business in Berwyn, what went wrong.
He said Mitt Romney didn’t do a good enough job of reaching women and minorities, and that the demographics of the electorate are shifting—the Republican Party will need to do better. “I think that the Republican Party is gonna have to revise its strategies to reflect the new realities,” Kantner says.
Will they do that? I ask.
“I think they’ll start talking about it tomorrow morning.” —Sam Worley
AS SOON AS OBAMA WAS DECLARED THE WINNER, the soulful dance jams kicked in. I didn’t see much dancing or a lot of flag waving. This election was a marathon, but the room had the feel of the weariness that sets in following a good warm-up run, not the elation that comes after the real-deal race. A campaign staffer nearby said, “I’m exhausted. I’m so happy.”
Me, I kept an eye on the door from which I thought the President would be emerging. There’s a metal barricade in front of the passage, and a curtain fluttered a bit when the breeze came in. Nearby stood 12 water coolers that were visited by wave after wave of very thirsty looking supporters of the President.
And then he arrived. —Asher Klein