(MCT) — A cavernous hall at McCormick Place filled with deafening cheers late Tuesday night as President Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term, launching a wild celebration among thousands of his supporters.
"The task of improving our union moves forward," Obama told cheering supporters.
"We are an American family and we rise or fall together as a union," the president said.
The nervous anticipation that marked much of the evening quickly melted as Obama’s victory became clear. People in the crowd danced, hugged and high-fived as election results streamed in over huge television screens flanking the stage where Obama would speak. “Twist and Shout” blared over the loudspeakers, and Julie Lawrenz, 42, twisted nearly to the ground.
“I'm just really happy,” said Lawrenz, of Chicago. “And I'm happy it's over quickly.”
The timing of the announcement came as a surprise, with many in the crowd having been prepared to wait all night without a declaration of victory. As the win was announced, supporters screamed and hugged one another, waving American flags and snapping cell photos of the jumbo TV screens.
The actress Vivica A. Fox, walking away after finishing a television interview, froze in her tracks and began to cry. Mayor Rahm Emanuel strode past her, grinning, on his way toward the backstage. Reporters jumped on tables to get a better look at it all.
Just moments before the race was called, two Chicago friends stood clutching one another's hands and anxiously watching the screen. When it flashed the word “elected,” both erupted in jubilant yells, pulling nearby strangers into hugs.
“That one time, I went to sleep thinking one thing and woke up to learn that George Bush had won,” said Laverne Parker, a substitute teacher from southwest suburban Lisle. “I was going to stay up all night to make sure. ... But this is better.”
While the venue for Obama’s Tuesday night election results watch party lacked the spectacle of 2008’s sprawling event in Grant Park, revelers made the most of it. Many said they wanted to be part of history. Personally invested in the campaign, Sylvia Williams, 80, and Mary Austin, 82, missed their usual night with the Classy Divas bowling league for an opportunity to hear the president speak at McCormick Place.
“I'm on top of the world,” said Williams, of Markham, who spent weeks working to get out the vote for Obama.
“This is history all over again,” said Austin, who lives in Harvey.
Planners never expected the rally to equal what took place in 2008, when an estimated 240,000 people streamed into Grant Park to see a victorious Obama speak. The president’s campaign chose to remain indoors this year, where the crowd was limited to a few thousand supporters. For Obama supporters who got a ticket, the change in venue mattered only a little.
“I miss the skyline and ambience of the city,” said Craig Porter, a union official who attended the Grant Park rally in 2008 and is the union president for local 1537. “But here, I guess it's OK. I like it because we are here all together.”
Shortly before Obama’s win was official, Emanuel said the results showed the breadth of Obama's support.
“Everybody talks about the president's coalition, heavily in the sense of minorities and women,” Emanuel said. “Iowa, heavily white, heavily old, and yet he's going to, it looks like, if trends continue, win Iowa. I think everybody should step back with what they think about, what they're saying, and take a look at really what's going on.”
When the doors opened at around 7:30 p.m., people rushed into the hall, snapping pictures of themselves and the Obama campaign signs that covered the walls.
Janice Haywood, who was in Grant Park in 2008, arrived at McCormick Place with her five-year-old daughter more than six hours before supporters were allowed to enter.
“My heart didn't start pumping until all the people started coming in,” said Haywood, clutching toys and a laptop that she had used to entertain her daughter in the hours before the doors opened.
Having a black president has been important for both of her children, said Haywood who also is African-American and has an 8-year-old son.
“It is so important for my kids to see the president,” said Haywood, 43, of Bolingbrook. “(They) look through the presidents at school and now (they) can see someone who looks like them.”
Bridget Turner, 41, of Homewood said she and her children attended Obama's election night rally at Grant Park in 2008, and they all volunteered for his 2012 campaign. She donated money to the campaign, made phone calls and canvassed neighborhoods on the president’s behalf.
“I can say I had a hand in history,” she said. “I'm very excited about that.”
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn described Obama's re-election campaign as distinctly different from the 2008 “movement campaign” four years ago: “The president inspired, literally, hundreds of thousands of volunteers all across America to take on the super PACS and show what grass roots democracy is all about.”
Quinn added that another four years of Obama – who he described as a supporter of the middle class – would be good for Illinois.
“The president has been very good to Illinois from day one,” Quinn said. “The president rode to our rescue.”
Earlier in the evening, uniformed Secret Service agents assembled scanning machines to screen people as they enter the hall. Crews readied a makeshift store in the lobby to sell Obama-themed merchandise ranging from pins and stickers to T-shirts and basketball jerseys.
Genise Smith-Watkins of Matteson said she began her day shortly after sunrise, loading volunteers on a bus to canvass Iowa and arranging phone calls in the president's south suburban campaign office.
She left around 1 p.m. to head to McCormick Place, confident she had done all she could to help her candidate win.
“I feel good,” she said. “I feel good about the president winning and I feel good about my contribution.”
Tribune reporters John Byrne, David Heinzmann, Christi Parsons, Kathleen Hennessey and Michael A. Memoli contributed.