It came after a more expensive and negative campaign against a more formidable opponent.
But, for the supporters who had gathered at McCormick Place, there was first a visceral eruption of joy when the CNN projection naming Obama as the president flashed on the screen at about 10:20 p.m. Central Time.
Gone were the slightly anxious expressions on the guests’ faces as they walked through a fenced off pathway flanked on one side by journalists on this night’s version of red carpet.
The mood in the room had lightened dramatically when the projections showing California, Hawaii and Washington state in the president’s column.
Hugging, dancing, high fiving, flag waving, holding up four fingers and impossibly loud cheering filled the room after the network’s announcement.
But if there was visceral joy, so too was there profound vindication about confirming the historic decision and breakthrough American voters made four years ago to elect the nation’s first black president.
“This proves that all the energy was for something that had staying power,” declared Sam, a young volunteer with straw colored hair wearing a red tweed jacket and standing arm-in-arm with his girlfriend Hannah and wearing a red tweed jacket.
The couple who were among the thousands and thousands of volunteers around the country of all different races, ethnicities, ages, sexual orientations and disabilities. Their contributions took many different forms, but were united in their common purpose.
For Susan Sorano and her husband it was some it was opening their pair of natural bakeries to be used for a phone bank in the four weeks leading up to the election and taking their children Enzo and Emilia to Milwaukee to go door to door for Obama.
For Peter Tortorello it was making phone calls and inputting data.
And for SEIU worker Ben Capellupo it was helping to coordinate close to 100,000 direct voter contacts in Wisconsin. “We were the ground game,” he said.
It was a ground game based on a pragmatic assessment of what needed to be done to gain the coveted 270 electoral votes and then executing that plan, according to Glenn Richards, a South Side native who also traveled to Milwaukee to rally support for Obama.
“We expected to win this time,” Richards said, explaining that Obama’s performance in his first term convinced people to re-elect him. “The job that was done was more than enough to earn his re-election.”
Obama’s re-election was less about its symbolic importance than about the sharply contrasting agendas and national directions articulated by Romney and him, according to social worker Kenneth Wilson
“In 2008 it was important because of the first black president,” said Wilson in the early afternoon. “Now it’s more about the agenda and direction of the country. In a way, it’s more important.”
Physician Arnie Kiten, 83 and a lifelong Chicago resident, echoed that sentiment.
“This is the most important election of my lifetime,” he said.
The expectations of a second Obama term are steep.
Among the top items on the list: to bring meaningful and comprehensive change to the nation’s broken immigration system, according to U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez. He said he was very happy that millions of undocumented people will be able to move out from the shadows.
Obama had promised to tackle the issue of immigration reform in the first year of his administration, but instead deported record numbers of people throughout his presidency.
Nevertheless, Gutierrez and other Latinos interviewed expressed their confidence that this time would be different in large part because of the message delivered by the electorate.
“The country is very clear,” Gutierrez said.
Immigration reform is just one of many expectations Obama will face as he prepares for his next and final four years as president.
That period began with his victory speech. He delivered it after a lengthier stay with a visibly relaxed First Lady and markedly taller and more mature daughters Sasha and Malia.
In the address, Obama acknowledged the difficulties that lie ahead, the steep challenges and fractious disputes that he knows he and the nation will encounter.
But he also returned to the theme of hope that he had first introduced in his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in July 2004, eight years and a lifetime ago in the same Boston where his vanquished rival had just addressed his followers:
“And tonight, despite all the hardship we’ve been through, despite all the frustrations of Washington, I’ve never been more hopeful about our future. I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope. I’m not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. I’m not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight.
I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.”
The president returned again to the central theme of that initial address that out of many people come one before concluding that, “We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.”
The president thanked the crowd, red, white and blue confetti descended from the ceiling and enveloped the Obamas and the Bidens, who joined them on the stage.
They hugged and talked as the audience behind them waved flags and the audience in front of them cheered before the families left the stage and people began to file out of the massive auditorium.
As he walked out, the Rev. Marshall Hatch said the victory, not unlike Harold Washington’s re-election in 1987, came from a basic source.
“People knew the president was on their side,” he said