Age, race play key roles in senator's decisive Election Day victory
Sentiments of "yes, we did" replaced chants of "yes, we can" last night as Sen. Barack Obama won the race for the White House, signifying for many a departure from an unpopular regime to the reception of the new president elect's promise for change.
For many voters, the country's historic decision represented a battle between age and race, eliciting an almost riotous reaction from supporters in Chicago who demonstrated their support for Obama with tears, chants and cheers.
"My God, it's like Christmas," shouted Joe Ngu, a 27-year-old from Chicago, after the decision was announced.
Like many Obama supporters, Ngu sees Obama's victory as an open door of opportunity for himself and future generations.
"Right now, I'm thinking that my kid's got a really good future," Ngu said. "He ain't gotta be a basketball player no more to be successful or a rapper. His goal can be as big as being the president. And not just for African-Americans, not just for whites, not just for Latinos, but every single race."
Not coincidentally, race played a role in this election's outcome, as minorities overwhelmingly supported Obama's campaign. According to exit polls, black voters tallied 96 percent Obama to 3 percent McCain. Meanwhile, Latinos tallied 67 percent Obama to 30 percent McCain, and Asians 63 percent Obama to 34 percent McCain. Overall, those who said race was an important factor voted in favor of Obama 55 percent to 44 percent.
But while race is said to have played an important role, twice as many of those polled yesterday said age was an important factor in their vote as those who said race was.
"It wouldn't have mattered to me if he had not been black," said Lynn Stevenson, 57, of Chicago. "If he had come with the same energy and experience and ideas and ideals that this young man came with, I would have voted for him. But he happens to be black, and that puts the icing on the cake."
Stevenson, who worked on Obama's campaign phone banking, said she thinks the way people vote depends on what generation they are from. She said for many people under 40, race doesn't even matter because she said Obama is such a brilliant and bright man.
But for those over 40, Stevenson said people understand the context in which the elections are happening.
Stevenson has campaigned for an election before in the 1960s during Fanny Lou Hamer's initiative to register black voters. She said at the time, she ditched college and traveled to Mississippi to register voters during a time when black people who registered to vote in the South faced serious hardships due to racism.
Stevenson said she was at the rally for one reason: history.
"I've been crying all morning," Stevenson said. "I woke up, and I saw the people in line and I started crying. I called my aunt down in Mississippi, she was crying on the phone. You know, it just makes us proud."
Pride was a common denominator in Chicago yesterday — pride in a historical outcome, and pride in a country that may regain its clout after eight years of popular disapproval.
"The world as a whole doesn't look at the United States the way they did 15 to 20 years ago," said Chris Caldwell, 34, of Chicago. "You know, we're no longer the super power that we once were, and the respect that we got from other countries was dwindling."
Gabriel Szatan might agree on one part: the world does look at the United States as an influential world power, which led the 17-year-old Londoner to travel to the states to work on Obama's campaign.
Szatan said no matter what country you live in, the election of the United States' next president will be felt around the world. He said Obama's cool temper worked on his behalf in this election, while McCain gave off the air of a short-tempered man.
"[McCain's] hasty," Szatan said. "When he said, ‘I'm suspending my campaign to help with the bailout,' and a day later he was like, ‘Actually, you know what, I won't.' It was hasty. You could say that his decision with [Gov. Sarah] Palin was rash. He thought it would energize the conservative base, but he didn't really give much thought to the fact that pretty much the independent vote is now swung to Obama because of Palin."
Szatan referenced the elections from four years ago as a lesson for the Democrats. He said when the Bush campaign attacked Sen. John Kerry with "swift vote" tactics, claiming Kerry dodged the war, he never responded, leaving him defenseless against Bush's assails. Szatan said Obama learned a lesson from the last election and responded to claims of Obama palling around with terrorists well.
"You know Obama is not this evil, Muslim antichrist, just like so many adverts try to say he is," Szatan said.
Szatan said for many people, voting for Obama is taking a risk. He said the last president as intelligent as Obama was Jimmy Carter, a president who Szatan considered to have failed at his job. But Szatan also said the last person with as little national experience to run the country was Abraham Lincoln, whom Szatan considered to be a strong leader.
"[Obama] has the best personality," he said. "Wherever he goes, the sun follows him. I wouldn't be that surprised if he parted Lake Michigan and walked across it to the podium … He's a great man, and he's fascinating."
Szatan said where Obama lacks experience, he makes up for it with his choice of vice president, Sen. Joe Biden. He said choosing a man who has been in the Senate for 35 years leveled out many problems Obama may have had in the White House.
That's not to say Obama does not realize the hardships he faces in the years ahead. During his acceptance speech, Obama noted two wars — a planet in peril and the worst financial crisis in a century — acknowledging the road ahead may not be a simple one, but that it will be worth traveling it all the while.
"But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face," Obama said. "I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it's been done in America for 221 years — block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand."