How, and What, Obama Won

Karl Rove
Karl Rove; drawing by John Springs


Columbus, Ohio

Clamorous and overpowering, campaign images are vivid as dreams and vanish as quickly. Was it real, that huge white aircraft hangar in Columbus, Ohio, the night before the election? I’d raced there from downtown Columbus’s Nationwide Arena, where President Obama, introduced by Bruce Springsteen and Jay-Z, his voice hoarse and his face worn, had addressed fifteen thousand or so enthusiastic, mostly young supporters. From the moment Springsteen had begun singing (“No retreat, baby, no surrender…”), they had risen to their feet, cheered, shouted and stomped, and, on hearing Romney’s name, lustily booed. (“Don’t boo—vote!” Obama had answered. “Folks can’t hear you boo, but they can hear you vote!”)

But the sound at Nationwide Arena, though the crowd was larger, had been nothing compared to the volcano of noise erupting in that aircraft hangar. Its white metal walls seemed to reverberate back the shouts and cheers (“One More Day! One More Day!”) of thousands of sweating partisans, packed cheek by jowl, hip to hip, the press of bodies becoming almost unbearable beneath the country music whining over the tinny sound system—until finally, blessedly, a bit of breeze seeped in and the realization swept visibly through the throng that the great hangar doors were slowly clattering open to reveal an enormous blue and white airliner—his plane!—rumbling directly into the crowd. Or trying to rumble in, for as the cheers rose to an almost unendurable pitch, the pilot managed to miss the door, backed up, revved his engines, and on a second try barely nosed his way in. And then the stairway is wheeled up and the door opens and, waving and beaming to the whining, deafening strains of “Born Free,” out comes…the next president of the United States!

Mitt Romney is a handsome man and, in a slightly exaggerated, Senator Forehead kind of way, truly does look like he was born to be president. What strikes one, though, at this impossibly sound-drenched moment in a Columbus aircraft hangar on the evening before the election, is that along with this crowd of deliriously certain supporters, the candidate himself, in his benevolent, confident gaze over the crowd, appears completely convinced that he will indeed be elected president the next day.

On this election eve I receive incredulous, faintly hostile stares when I ask supporters whether they think Romney will be elected tomorrow. “What do you mean?” a young blond woman in her thirties asks me in turn, stopping in her tracks, her pretty face crunching into perplexity. “How do you…just what are you asking?” She’d been friendly as we’d chatted but in the chill half-light outside the hangar I see her face darken, as she realizes I really am one of them—one of the heathen, unbelieving press, who have been penned inside a little holding area in the midst of the crush, crouching over laptops or perching behind cameras under uniformly unforgiving stares.

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