x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Obama takes command

Thousands flock to Chicago's Grant Park for Barack Obama's election party as the Democrat beats John McCain in Ohio.

Supporters at Chicago's Grant Park react as election results are projected on television monitors at the election night party for the Democratic presidential Barack Obama on Nov 4 2008.
Supporters at Chicago's Grant Park react as election results are projected on television monitors at the election night party for the Democratic presidential Barack Obama on Nov 4 2008.

The Democrat Barack Obama has seized command of the race for the White House. The Illinois senator has beaten John McCain in Ohio and is building a near insurmountable Electoral College advantage as he bids to become the first black president. Fellow Democrats are gaining strength in both houses of Congress. Mr Obama's Ohio victory denied Mr McCain particularly precious territory. No Republican has ever won the presidency without the state. Thousands of people began pouring in to Chicago's Grant Park on Tuesday for Mr Obama's election night party, sprinting to the front to get a ringside seat as history unfolds. A total of 65,000 supporters received coveted tickets to attend the party, passing through lengthy security checks to gain access to the event site where six searchlights arced into an unusually balmy autumn night above the stage.

The festivities were to officially kick off at 8.30pm EST (6.30am UAE) in the sprawling lakefront space for an event that locals are calling "Obama-rama." One million people are expected in the surrounding area. The Illinois senator, 47, who scored a huge early blow against his Republican rival, John McCain, by taking the battleground state of Pennsylvania, was not expected to speak before voting finishes on the west coast at 10pm local time.

Police were taking no chances, setting up tight security around the park, shutting down streets, setting up barricades and patrolling the skies with police helicopters and the shores with harbour patrol boats. "I didn't think it would happen in my lifetime," said Mitchell Rashada, as he waited in the park with other supporters of Mr Obama. "I definitely think this is history in the making," said the black truck driver who did not get an official ticket but camped out in Grant Park from early Tuesday morning in the hopes of being close to his candidate.

"But I'm enjoying every bit of it, I'm sucking it all in," he said, adding that he would have got to the park even earlier if he had not had to work the night before. Eight hours before the gates opened for Mr Obama's election night celebration, more than 200 fans had already lined the sidewalks outside the park. They were excited, conscious of the significance of the moment. "It's probably the most important thing that has happened in my lifetime, like, historically, hopefully," said Gwendolyn Rogers, 22, who is studying to be a pastry chef.

Ms Rogers was also unwilling to let the lack of a ticket keep her away from the party. "I really, really wanted to be here for it. The 'I Was There' thing." The slogan, I Was There, adorned the buttons and T-shirts being hawked outside the entrance to the park, where supporters basked in sunny skies and unusually warm weather under the stunning Chicago skyline. "It's not only historic" because people are voting for the first black candidate for the presidency, said Gus Michalopoulos, 36, an internet technology consultant who was wearing a Barack the Vote, T-shirt.

"For the first time in a very long time, people are voting for a candidate rather than against somebody," said Mr Michalopoulos, who also queued up early even though he also did not have a ticket to the party. "For me, it doesn't matter what colour he is. He is inspirational, intelligent, it's about time that we have someone like that back into the White House. The fact that he is the first African-American is just the bonus on top of that."

Despite the optimistic attitude, security was very tight. Every entrance was blocked off and guarded by a heavy phalanx of police, some wearing flak jackets. The media was restricted to an entrance at the far southern entrance of the park where the Secret Service was leaving nothing to chance. The entrance looked like the massive road blocks of the Middle East with narrowly stacked concrete slabs and metal fences creating a 200 metre long security corridor.

Every bag was hand-searched by an agent and examined by a bomb-sniffing dog and every person had to be cleared through a metal detector. *AFP