CHICAGO—The news that Barack Obama had won enough electoral college votes to secure reelection took a few seconds to spread through the crowds packed into McCormick Place Tuesday night. Chicagoans and visitors from around the world were still cheering the projected win in Iowa when CNN called the race in the former Illinois Senator's favor.
"I feel like these next four years are going to be amazing," Jorge Zamora, 18, a first-time voter and a senior in the first graduating class at Chicago Bulls College Prep, told DNAinfo Chicago. A self-described low-income student, he said education affordability is one of his primary concerns, and said he's confident Obama's reelection will expand his options for postsecondary schooling. "Now I feel like since he sees his people are behind him, I feel like he's going to be unstoppable."
While thousands of Chicago residents and visitors from across the country and the world crowded the public viewing area when the doors opened at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, preferred seating and standing room at the center of the event space was reserved for "special guests," comprised largely of volunteers from the reelection campaign.
"I made calls to Wisconsin, I made calls to Iowa, I made calls to West Virginia, and just to know that we won in Iowa, and to know that we won Wisconsin, is something miraculous and magical," said Ben Rios, an 18-year-old Obama for America volunteer and student at DePaul University. "I was able to be part of something, I was able to help the big man, I was able to take my words and turn them into action."
Rios said he's optimistic about the President's next term, highlighting his personal stake in the immigration debate. As the son of a Mexican immigrant, Rios said he is proud "that I can stand up for other people who in Arizona might be darker than me and might be deported just because of the color of their skin is just unbelievable, being able to stand up for those people."
Notable Illinois officials also filed into the event space as polling numbers were dissected on van-sized screens broadcasting CNN and other newscasts. Illinois State Rep. Deb Mell (40th) was in attendance with her wife, Christin Baker, who told DNAinfo Chicago that the result of Tuesday's election would carry significant meaning for her personally.
"[Obama] came out for gay marriage, which is unprecedented," Baker said. "For us, that's huge."
In the hours between the raucous cheering that met the earliest announcement of Obama's victory and the uproars that punctuated his acceptance speech, the crowd at McCormick place was alternately celebratory and quietly reflective. Viewers embraced, cheered and cried as highlights from this year's campaign efforts and from the 2008 election played on giant screens flanking the stage.
"This is a great day for America," said Nolan Williams Jr., who flew to Chicago from Washington, D.C. Tuesday to attend the Obama campaign event. "We're thrilled that the President will continue this work to take us forward."