Among Virginia Democrats, joy and relief at Obama win
As Obama was declared the winner of a bruising election battle against Mitt Romney, Democrats in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, let out cries of joy and sighs of relief. France24.com reports from the ground.
Obama supporters trickling in to Arena, a spacious bar in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, on Tuesday night expected to be biting their nails into the wee hours of the morning.
But well before midnight, most US news outlets were already projecting a resounding victory for the president. Though Obama’s popular vote advantage looked relatively slim as of early Wednesday (50%-48%), his sweep of the majority of crucial “swing states” allowed him to easily surpass the 270 electoral votes he needed to stay in the White House.
The reaction in Charlottesville, a progressive city that is home to the University of Virginia, was rapturous. Deafening whoops and cheers erupted inside the bar, as customers watched news reports and big-screen TVs, beers in hand. Many of them exchanged hugs and high-fives. And outside, groups of students ran through the street shouting “Four more years!”.
Later in the night, when Obama won Virginia, a traditionally conservative-leaning state that the president snagged in 2008, there was more celebrating – and some tears. He had already won re-election, but the state’s Democrats wanted to know if they were part of his victory.
‘It was about the soul of America’
Kristin Szakos, the vice-mayor of Charlottesville, stopped by the bar to greet fellow Democrats. She said she was thrilled for Obama, thrilled for Virginia, and thrilled for American politics. “Something that makes me really happy is that tonight shows you can’t buy an American election,” she said, her voice trembling with pride. “The Republicans poured huge piles of cash and donations from billionaires into this race. But people win elections, not money. I’m committed to Obama, but this was even bigger than that. It was about the soul of America.”
Obama was able to win by holding together the same coalition of voters that carried him to his history-making election in 2008: women, minorities (African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Jewish voters), young people, and Midwesterners.
In his speech on Tuesday night, Obama singled out volunteers who devoted hours of their time to knock on doors and make phone calls for his re-election effort. Several of those volunteers were at Arena to celebrate the news of the night. “I am beyond ecstatic,” gushed April Atyward. “It’s beyond words. I want to hug everyone.”
She added that she hoped to see Obama’s base “stick with him and support his policies” in a second term – especially since Congress remains divided and probably wouldn’t “cooperate”, as she said.
Mixed in with the joy was a heavy dose of relief, as well. Dell Erwin, an elderly Virginian who logged many hours volunteering for the Obama campaign the past few weeks, said that “the stakes were bigger this time” than four years ago.
“Romney was so bad he made Bush look good,” she quipped.
Erwin explained she had been scared that if Romney won, he would replace Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, widely expected to step down in the next few years, with a conservative – swinging the court to the right.
“We can rest easy now,” she said, with a deep sigh, adding that she was also thrilled that there would be no repeal of Obamacare, as Romney had promised if elected. “That is Obama’s single greatest accomplishment. Presidents have been trying to do it for decades and decades, and he finally got it done.”
Dallas Pitt, a libertarian who cast a ballot for Obama mainly out of disdain for Romney, said that he was more reassured than genuinely excited. “I voted for Obama in 2008, and when he won, I really believed in him,” Pitt said. “This time it was more a vote against the other guy. I honestly think the next four years will be pretty blah. But at least the chances of us punching Iran have decreased greatly.”
‘Confident’ about the next four years – and beyond
When Obama took to the podium to speak, however, even those whose reactions to the president’s victory were more subdued watched the big screens raptly, visibly moved.
“I’ve learned from you, and you have made me a better president,” Obama said, drawing hearty applause and shouts of ‘We love you!’ from the back of the bar.
When the speech was over and the music started up again, many people picked up their drinks and began dancing. Soon, talk turned to where the after-party was.
Others were more reflective. Richard Johnson, a former Democratic official in Charlottesville, smoked a cigarette outside, as passers-by let out jubilant cries of “Obama!” and “We did it!”.
“Some of my Republican and Independent friends said we’d see a total rejection of Obama and the left-wing agenda tonight,” he said. “But look at what happened. You cannot tell women what to do with their bodies and expect to win. You cannot tell General Motors to shut down and start from scratch and expect to win. You can’t tell lies and then expect Americans to vote for you.”
Johnson said he was proud of Obama and of the Americans who went to the polls to hand him another term. “People have seen the economy getting better, the housing situation getting better and they wanted this president to stay in the White House and continue,” he said. “Tonight was a sound defeat of the Republicans and the Tea Party. And Obama doesn’t have to run again, so he’s going to push hard for everything. I’m very confident for the next four years.”
Before going home, Johnson offered one prediction for the future. “Hillary Clinton will step down from Secretary of State, take a break, maybe write a book, and then come back and run in 2016,” he said. “She’ll win it. And Bill will be more than happy to be the first First Man.”