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Originally published November 5, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 5, 2008 at 9:14 AM

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Obama backers throng Chicago

Yes, they did. After 21 months of full-throated response to Barack Obama's "Yes We Can" campaign, hundreds of thousands of his supporters...

Cox News Service

Yes, they did.

After 21 months of full-throated response to Barack Obama's "Yes We Can" campaign, hundreds of thousands of his supporters celebrated in the streets of Chicago on Tuesday night as election returns from swing state after swing state moved a not-too-long-ago state senator to president-elect.

They roared for Pennsylvania. They roared for Ohio. They roared for Iowa. They roared for Virginia. They roared for Florida. They roared when a CNN correspondent, on a giant screen, reported that McCain aides told her they saw no way to victory for their man.

"We have overcome," said a homemade banner waved by one man as he ran in to claim a spot in Grant Park for the historic night on an unseasonably warm autumn night in Obama's hometown.

Some 70,000 ticketed guests packed the site and awaited Obama's speech. Thousands more waited in another area of the park, and hundreds of thousands more gathered in the downtown streets near Grant Park, an urban green space named for another president from Illinois who took office in time of national turmoil.

The park also has been the scene of papal visits, sports-championship celebrations and ugly rioting that broke out during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

When the gates were opened, the Obama faithful dashed in to claim a spot as close as possible to the star of the show.

While Democrats celebrated in one of the great U.S. public parks, Republicans consoled each other at one of the nation's great private resorts.

Republican John McCain chose the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa in Phoenix for his Election Night event. In stark contrast to the hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Chicago, a sign in the Biltmore's Frank Lloyd Wright Ballroom, where McCain backers gathered to watch the returns, said "Maximum Capacity 895."

A woman stood near a box of T-shirts that said "McCain Palin Victory. Tuesday November 4, 2008. Phoenix, Az." She said, "Optimistic, aren't we?"

Yes, they were. But not for long.

The optimism faded as McCain supporters drank beer and wine as their celebration grew less celebratory as the evening progressed.

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In Phoenix, it was suits and ties, dresses and heels. In Chicago, the attire was decidedly informal, appropriate for a party in the park.

Obama backers began lining up to enter the park more than 12 hours before the gates opened. It was a meaningful day for the broad spectrum of people united behind a relative political newcomer now headed to the nation's most famous address.

"I think this is arguably one of the most important events in our lifetime," said Molly Lister, 21, a Northwestern University student who brought food, friends and a deck of cards to pass the hours as she waited.

Thousands of people packed the Chicago subway to get to the Grant Park party. Aboard a train, Stewart Jefferson tried to sell Obama shirts and buttons to fellow passengers — most of whom already had all they needed.

On this night, there was more at stake than profit, Jefferson said.

"As a black person, we vote for everybody else but we get the short end of the stick," he said, praising Obama as somebody who understands that. "We've cried the same cries. We have the same heartbeat."

"As a black person, we vote

for everybody else but we get

the short end of the stick. We've cried the same cries. We have

the same heartbeat."

Stewart Jefferson

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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