President Obama, the nation’s first African-American commander-in-chief, won
re-election on Nov. 6 from an electorate that had been battered by one of the most contentious presidential campaigns in recent history.
As he stood before a crowd of 10,000 at Chicago’s McCormick Place Lakeside Center, Obama spoke confidently and proudly about the nation and its people.
“Tonight, more than 200 years after a former colony won the right to determine its own destiny, the task of perfecting our union moves forward,” the president said,. “It moves forward because of you. It moves forward because you reaffirmed the spirit that has triumphed over war and depression, the spirit that has lifted this country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope, the belief that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.”
The Obama who thanked the nation for giving him a second term contrasted
starkly with the man who stood before a microphone 48 hours earlier in Iowa
and delivered an emotional thank you for the part the state played in his
ascendance to the presidency four years ago. The Nov. 6 speech was more
reminiscent of his appearance at the Democratic National Convention in 2004,
when many first became aware of the junior senator from Illinois who was
expected to do great things. On Nov. 4, the rock star in him was more difficult to see.
Four years into a presidency that was marked by successes–passing health
care reform, revitalizing the auto industry, reforming Wall Street, spurring an economic recovery, withdrawing the troops from Iraq, beginning a drawdown of troops from Afghanistan and eliminating the threat of Osama Bin Laden, he still faced constant criticism, much of it from Republicans who had pledged to prevent him from being re-elected. Once a media darling, many reporters seemed focused on what he had not been able to accomplish, instead of his victories.
As Obama appeared at what is likely to be the last campaign event of his career, he seemed resolute, near the point of exhaustion with the process of trying to convince the nation to give him another chance to complete the work he pledged to do when he appeared before a Des Moines audience as a presidential candidate in 2008.
“I came back to ask you to help us finish what we started because this is where our movement for change began,” Obama said. “To all of you who¹ve lived and breathed the hard work of change, I want to thank you. You took this campaign and made it your own … starting a movement that spread across the country. When the cynics said we couldn’t, you said ‘Yes, we can,’ …and we did. Against all odds, we did.”
Tears filled his eyes. Some he wiped away, a few rolled down his cheeks. He told a story about Edith Childs, the South Carolina volunteer whose words inspired the phrase that became the 2008 campaign rallying cry, “Fired Up! Ready to Go!” Edith Childs couldn’t be with him in Iowa, he told the Des Moines crowd. She was pretty sure he had won there. She was busy working where voters still needed to be convinced.
As he spoke, the Obama campaign seemed stripped bare of the glamour, the
hype, the imminent success of the 2008 effort. There was a feeling of uncertainty. There had been setbacks, even in Iowa, like the Des Moines Register endorsing Republican contender, Mitt Romney, the first time the newspaper had backed a Republican since Richard Nixon in 1972.
“I¹ve come back to Iowa one more time to ask for your vote,” Obama asked. “Help us finish what we started because this is where our movement of change began.”
The next day, Nov. 5, the day before the election, Obama took his request for help to the airwaves, conducting interviews with air personalities from urban radio sensation Steve Harvey to sportscaster Chris Berman. Polls showed the race was in a dead heat. Romney, once unpopular among many Republicans because of his moderate stand on many issues, was drawing crowds as large as 30,000 people.
In an interview with deejay Ryan Seacrest, Obama said he was anxious about
the race. But there comes a time when a candidate just has to let go, knowing they had done everything they could, he said. It was unclear if he was discussing his presidency or the campaign for a second.
Then the people spoke and the nation’s 44th president seemed to regain the
magic that got him elected the first time. In an eloquent and elegant speech, he worked to salve the wounds that the tough election had wrought and directed the nation forward.
“Tonight, in this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back, and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America, the best is yet to come,” Obama said.