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The happy ending came sooner than Obama’s team expected

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012 2:14 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — CHICAGO — There was hope. There was a bit of dancing. There was a steady outburst of cheers and encouraging signs. But then there was that word, flashed on a massive television screen.

“Elected.”

With that, the Obama victory party, the Obama team, the scores of eager aides and supporters gathered in a Chicago conference hall let out a collective cry of relief. He would have four more years.

The call that officially started the party came earlier than expected. President Barack Obama had hardly settled into the Chicago hotel room where he, his family and his closest aides had planned to spend at least a couple of hours to watch returns.

But on this night, the anxious watching and waiting wouldn’t be necessary. This night was going their way.

Obama’s team had said it would, with confidence oozing from their remarks on the final days of the campaign trail. Republican nominee Mitt Romney just didn’t have enough votes in states where he needed them.

Obama’s campaign operation would overpower the GOP effort, they predicted. The president himself said early in the day that he was feeling good.

The campaign, a superstitious bunch, would be taking no chances.

The president spent his final election day as a candidate immersed in the established rituals and habits of his rise to the White House.

He woke up in his bed in his Kenwood neighborhood home. He conducted a dozen interviews with television stations in the battleground states, just as in 2008, and worked the phones with Obama for America volunteers like the community organizer he once was.

He played basketball with his buddies — a ritual left over from his epic battle for the Democratic nomination. He ate dinner with his wife, two daughters and his mother in-law. He waited — but not for long.

The timing of the announcement came as a surprise to the crowd at the Obama party, where many had been prepared to wait all night without a resolution.

As the win was announced, supporters screamed and hugged one another, waving American flags and snapping cell photos of the jumbo TV screens.

The actress Vivica A. Fox, walking away from a bank of television cameras after an interview, froze in her tracks and began to cry. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel strode past her, grinning, on his way backstage. Reporters jumped on tables to get a better look at it all.

Moments before the race was called, two Chicago friends stood clutching each other’s hands and anxiously watching the screen. When it flashed the word “elected,” both erupted in jubilant yells, pulling nearby strangers into hugs.

“That one time, I went to sleep thinking one thing and woke up to learn that George Bush had won,” said Laverne Parker, a substitute teacher from southwest suburban Lisle. “I was going to stay up all night to make sure.... But this is better.”

The crowd erupted again when Romney came on the screen, his words of concession drowned out by the cheers.

As Romney offered his prayers on behalf of the president, the crowd in the convention center cheered again — most enthusiastically when Romney said, “I believe in the people of America.”

For Obama, the day started with an email to supporters — one last missive from the organizer in chief about how a turnout operation works on the big day.

“Once you vote today, keep going,” Obama wrote in the note. “Get on the phone, get online — all day long, there will be something you can do to help.”

He included links to help people find their polling places and also to work a volunteer shift, all under a subject line that read, “Go vote — and forward this.”

Then he followed his own advice, heading to the Hyde Park office of Obama for America, whipping off his suit jacket and picking up a flip-style cellphone.

“Let’s get busy,” he told the campaign staffers around him, “we’ve got to round up some votes.”

In his shirt sleeves, Obama made several phone calls to volunteers in Wisconsin, a key state where the reelection campaign made a heavy push in the final days of the campaign.

As the home state of Rep. Paul D. Ryan, architect of the House Republican budget and Romney’s running mate, Wisconsin presented an especially tantalizing electoral prize for the president.

Obama told volunteers and paid staffers that the election rested in their hands — an assessment that, in the final analysis, may be a key take-away of the 2012 election.

The Obama for America network had been gearing up for two years for the task of turning out voters on election day. Organizers considered it their secret weapon in a close race.

“The great thing about these campaigns is, after all the TV ads and all the fundraising and all the debates and all the electioneering, it comes down to this,” Obama said after he placed his sixth call. “One day, and these incredible folks who are working so hard, making phone calls, making sure that people go out to vote.”

As he departed, he told the staffers he was proud of them for “just tearing it up” out there.

Obama apparently decided that Tuesday was not the time to mess with good-luck rituals. He played basketball with aides and friends — including former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen — sticking to his election day tradition.

Four years ago, Obama played ball before watching returns throughout his hunt for the Democratic nomination. The notable exception was a painful one for Obama’s team: the New Hampshire primary, which he lost.

“We made the mistake of not playing basketball once,” said Obama adviser and former presseSecretary Robert Gibbs. “I can assure you we’ll not repeat that.”

Obama friend Alexi Giannoulias tweeted some details after the game, reporting that the president “coached us to victory!”

Friends hoped the election would end the way the game reportedly did.

Giannoulias said the president’s team won by about 20 points.

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