CHICAGO — They came to party here in President Obama’s hometown, and with each state that turned blue Tuesday night they bounced and boogied a little harder.
Delaware. New Hampshire. Pennsylvania. Louder and heartier the cheers came inside the cavernous exhibition space in McCormick Place Lakeside Center, decked out in red and blue drapes, bunting and two huge American flags. Giant television screens hung from the rafters, beaming the results live and breaking as they came in on CNN.
Obama’s faithful say they never lost faith, not when their man was down a month ago after the first presidential debate disaster against Republican nominee Mitt Romney, not when Obama misspoke on the campaign trail, not when Romney seemed to have all the momentum. Not ever.
“Big win. Obama’s got it all the way,” predicted Vickie Brown, 55, of Gurnee, Ill., decked out in a beaded Obama T-shirt and matching knit cap. She had 10 Obama buttons pinned to her shirt.
It was 8:45 p.m. at the president’s election party and still a long way from victory. The night was still young. But Brown and the crowd were feeling confident, their anticipation building.
“We need a man in the house, not a mouse,” Brown declared. Asked about her glittery outfit, she professed to be “bling blinging since 2008!”
The president had come home to the Windy City after a long, tough slog on the campaign trail. Obama has based his reelection campaign here in the towering Prudential Building along Lake Michigan, a decision that was quickly second-guessed by Washington insiders who looked for signs that the Chicago brain-trust was clashing with the president’s circle of White House advisers.
But the president never wavered in his decision, loyal to the place that launched his political career and that grounds him. This week, he traveled aboard Air Force One with longtime friend Martin Nesbitt, whose home is just down the street from Obama’s Hyde Park residence.
The Windy City faithful came out for him again Tuesday, streaming into the Lakeside Center hours before the president would show up to give his remarks.
Teri McClain, 45, of Seattle, arrived shortly after 4 p.m., clutching her small Obama figurine of the president dressed in a suit. She has had it for years and carries it around the country, following him to various events, including the Democratic National Convention and his second-to-last campaign rally in Columbus, Ohio, on Monday afternoon.
McClain, an airline employee, was accompanied by a co-worker and a Japanese woman whom they had met in the Chicago youth hostel where they were staying.
“I do what I can to support him on my own,” McClain said. At the convention, in Charlotte, she secured a ticket to the president’s speech at the Bank of America Stadium, only to be bumped after Obama’s campaign moved the event inside to the smaller basketball arena because of bad weather.
But campaign staffers felt bad for her and promised her tickets for the election party in Chicago. So she arrived wearing a homemade felt cap adorned with the letters O-B-A-M-A stitched to the brim in rainbow colors. She also was adorned in Obama pins.
“All my money’s on Obama,” she said, perhaps meaning it literally.
“Everybody is involved in this election,” McClain said, “whether it’s getting 15 to 20 e-mails to send money or going to a rally or standing up to the negativity of the other side.”
Across town, Obama was at his home with first lady Michelle and their daughters, Sasha and Malia, and Michelle’s mother, Marian Robinson. Soon they were on the move, the presidential motorcade moving to the Fairmont Hotel where his senior staff members were staying.
Inside the Lakeside Center, the crowd continued to grow. They cheered again as television announcers called California for Obama. Then Wisconsin, a swing state that was home to Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan.
The bleachers filled with supporters holding little American flags. They stood and waved them wildly as CNN projected Obama to win Iowa, where the night before he had held his final rally in Des Moines.
When the declarations of the winner began to roll in, Obama-land exploded again and again.
Even before then, however, McClain had moved on to planning her next trip. “I’m already ready for the inauguration,” she said.