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Obama Supporters Gather in Chicago on Election Night

November 4, 2008 at 6:10 PM EDT
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Tends of thousands of supporters of Barack Obama gathered in Chicago's Grant Park Tuesday night to wait out election night. Judy Woodruff reports from the scene.

JIM LEHRER: All right, Judy is in Grant Park in Chicago, home base for the Obama campaign tonight. Judy?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jim, listening to David and Mark just now talk about this long campaign, I guess you could say what’s happening in Grant Park, it’s the peace before the — either the mourning or the celebration later tonight. And in a way, it’s a metaphor for this campaign.

We are expecting a huge crowd here, 70,000 people inside the fence, maybe many, many more outside. We are on the shores, as you said, Grant Park, the shores of Lake Michigan, in the heart of downtown Chicago, the home town of Barack Obama.

It’s a metaphor for the campaign because they have worked so hard to get to this time. And when you talk to them, they say, at this point, we can simply wait to see what happened.

They are exhausted from the long campaign. They are cautiously optimistic, based on what they’ve seen come in, in the early voting. And they are taking no chances.

They were working the phones today, phone banks all over the country, knocking on doors. Senator Obama and his wife were giving interviews, urging people to go vote. So this is an effort that doesn’t stop.

JIM LEHRER: Judy, what kinds of things are going to happen on that stage? I mean, are they — when this thing is finally over, when will it be — what time — what kind of timeframe are we working toward?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we have been told, Jim, that Sen. Obama will not be here before 11 o’clock Eastern time. That’s when the polls close, the last polls close in the state of California in the Pacific coast. In other words, they’re going to wait for most of the polls to close. They won’t have closed in Alaska.

But at that point, their view is that that’s the earliest that this race could be called one way or another, and Sen. Obama will not appear before that.

Up until then, there will be some entertainment, but he’s going to be watching the returns here in a hotel in Chicago, moving from his home in Hyde Park to the Hyatt Hotel here, along with his senior advisers. They’re going to stay there, basically stay out of sight until the race can be safely called one way or another.

Large crowds in Chicago

JIM LEHRER: Is the crowd that you anticipate -- what's the number there? And is there a prediction of how many people are going to come?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, they don't let people in until 8:30 Eastern time. But they are saying that as many as 70,000 will fit inside the fences here. And they've very carefully fenced it off.

What you can't see on either side of me are tents. There are actually two fenced-in areas here.

But beyond that, out in the streets, they say there could be up to 100,000. There was one very optimistic projection by Mayor Daley, Richard Daley here in Chicago a few days ago. He said up to a million people.

Some people are saying that's probably a little bit overdrawn, but it'll be a big crowd. This is history. Everywhere you go in the city of Chicago today, Jim, people are talking about this election. You know, they're on the edge of their seat, their taxi, wherever you see them.

JIM LEHRER: You have the feeling, Judy, that these folks are mostly from the Chicago area or is it a national event? People came from miles around and states around to be here tonight.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I think it's mostly Illinois, mostly Chicago. But I ran into people in the hotel where we're staying not far from here who were from New Hampshire, from Texas. I ran into somebody from Minnesota.

So I think there are going to be people from all around, but basically a Midwestern crowd.

JIM LEHRER: OK, Judy, thank you very much. We'll be talking to you throughout the evening. Thank you.

McCain supporters gather

JIM LEHRER: Ray Suarez is at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix where the McCain campaign will be watching tonight's results.


RAY SUAREZ: Jim, a lot of the McCain campaign staff is already here at the famed Biltmore Hotel. And the senior staff is converging on this storied hostelry here in Phoenix.

I spent the day going to polling places around Phoenix, Arizona, and the stories that emerged from those polling places were pretty consistent: heavy crowds early, and then steady business through the day, with a little pick-up at lunchtime.

Many of the poll workers I spoke to said there were lines out the door of people anticipating the polls opening before they did.

But in one particularly empty polling place, I asked, "Well, gee, it seems like nobody is here." And the guy who was managing the polling site said, "Well, we had a line from the door through the parking lot and out to the street before opening time today."

And I said, "Well, have you ever had anything like that before?" And he said, "Well, I think people got so scared from turning on the television and seeing on the news lines around the block, multi-hour lines of early voters from around the country, that they wanted to make sure they had their votes in early. And we haven't been busy since."

But in many of the places I did visit, they said that they had already seen as many voters as they did for the midterm elections in 2006.

And that brings up an interesting fact about Arizona. Both the Univision-Reuters-Zogby poll and the site have moved Arizona out of solid McCain to either toss-up or leaning McCain.

So while the McCain campaign is focused heavily on battleground states in the Midwest and the East, in fact, his backyard of Arizona may have been, well, softening a little bit. And that may have to do with the Latino vote, which in many states is coming out and way overperforming for the Democrats, far surpassing what John Kerry and Al Gore were able to capture in 2000 and 2004.

Country anticipates speeches

JIM LEHRER: Ray, give us a feel for what's going to happen here tonight at the hotel and the whole event.

RAY SUAREZ: Gov. Sarah Palin voted this morning in Alaska and then is on her way here to Phoenix to spend the evening with her running mate, Sen. McCain.

And Sen. McCain will be coming to Phoenix to spend this evening at the Biltmore after having a final rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico, right next door to Arizona.

And people have started to trickle in, supporters, donors, volunteers, the kind of early people that you see at a gathering of this kind, and watching very closely the exit polling, the rumors that have started to trickle out about what national exit polling shows.

JIM LEHRER: Well, Ray, Judy said that Barack Obama is not going to speak in Chicago until 11 o'clock Eastern time. Same kind of a rule apply for John McCain, as far as you know?

RAY SUAREZ: We don't know exactly what McCain is going to be up to. He has a little different schedule tonight. Often on a night like this, the candidate, win or lose, will come to a ballroom like this one and speak directly to the supporters about the outcome of the race.

What John McCain has planned is a separate venue out on the grounds of the Arizona Biltmore, where he will talk to the national press that's been following him throughout the campaign and make his victory or concession announcement there before perhaps coming back here.

JIM LEHRER: OK. Well, Ray, thanks a lot. And we'll be talking to you throughout the evening. Thank you.