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Obama campaign plans modest gathering on election night

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 9:00 a.m. CDT
(Pool photo by Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Abaca Press/MCT)
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about preparations for Hurricane Sandy during a briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Monday, October 29, 2012.

(MCT) — CHICAGO — Whoever wins the campaign for president a week from Tuesday, this election night is not likely to resemble 2008 on the streets of Chicago.

Four years ago, Chicago police blanketed the streets of downtown as streams of jubilant Barack Obama supporters — a crowd estimated at a quarter-million — flowed into Grant Park to mark the election of America’s first African-American president.

This year, Obama’s campaign calls the gathering a “watch party.” And it will be set against a backdrop of convention-center walls instead of the glittering skyline ringing the park.

The campaign is headed to the McCormick Place convention center, a smaller, less-accessible —albeit more traditional — venue.

Admission will be limited to supporters willing to volunteer for Obama’s final campaign push, either by going to Wisconsin to knock on doors for two days or by spending three days making phone calls to swing-state voters. Obama campaign officials did not say how many people they plan to accommodate.

There are indications the city is preparing for issues beyond securing McCormick Place, whether it’s informal gatherings in downtown parks or incidents in neighborhoods. The Chicago Police Department has canceled days off for officers, ordered plainclothes officers into uniform and scheduled 12-hour shifts for Election Day, police sources said.

Those moves mirror arrangements for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization meetings in May, an event that should have prepared all levels of law enforcement to handle Tuesday, said Jeff Cramer, a former federal prosecutor who heads the Chicago office of Kroll Advisory Solutions, a security consulting firm.

“If President Obama wins there’s going to be some revelry,” Cramer said. “There’s always a risk when you have people in a concentrated area of some property damage but there wasn’t that much during NATO, and those protesters were angry. That’s not this ... police are going to take appropriate measures to allow celebration to happen or, if there’s protests, for that to happen, too.”

McCormick Place is more easily controlled by campaign planners as well as the U.S. Secret Service, which was in charge of security at the convention center during the NATO conference attended by dozens of leaders from around the world.

“For the purposes of selecting a secure venue, it’s probably a good choice,” Cramer said.

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