RALEIGH - Deafening applause and raw emotion greeted the election of the nation's first black president at the N.C. Democratic Election Night Victory Party at Raleigh Marriott City Center Tuesday.
Immediately following the announcement that President-elect Barack Obama had taken California's 55 electoral votes, pushing his tally above the 270 required for the win, many broke down, visibly moved by the historic moment. One man fell to his knees, sobbing, and had to be helped to his feet.
"All I want to say to all the naive non-believers, 'Eat your hearts out. I told you so,'" attendee B.M. Marcus said. "I started campaigning for Barack Obama when he announced his candidacy and people looked at me like I was crazy.... But I knew Barack Obama would be our next president. This is our day. The dream will continue."
Perhaps the biggest surprise came after the party had ended when unofficial results compiled by the North Carolina State Board of Elections indicated that Obama had taken the state's 15 electoral votes late into the night by a slim margin of .27 percent. It was a feat no one would have suspected possible four years ago in the once-solid red state that has been listed in the GOP column since former president Jimmy Carter's victory over Gerald Ford in 1976.
"It's just been red for so long. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined it," said partygoer Sejal Mehta of the possibility the state could swing. "The best [campaign] I've ever seen."
After Obama's grueling two-year bid for the presidency, approximately 500 supporters of all stripes came together at the public event in a jubilant-if cautious-mood as wine and champagne flowed freely. Those in business suits mingled with those in oversized Obama shirts, veteran Democratic insiders with those who had canvassed off-and-on in the waning days of the campaign. Everyone's attention, however, was fixated on the big race.
"If he doesn't win, I'm going to cry enough to fill up any reservoir," said retiree Elethea Watson, dressed head-to-toe in Obama gear and sporting a flamboyant, oversized red hat.
In an unexpected display of confidence early in the night, Jim Long, commissioner of the N.C. Department of Insurance, addressed the crowd with a projection.
"Tomorrow morning, do me a favor," he said. "Write a thank-you note to George W. Bush."
Nonetheless, until the last swing states were called, supporters were glued to the big screens with bated breath. Raucous applause filled the room each time a state was projected blue.
It was not until Virginia was called in the middle of Attorney General Roy Cooper's victory speech that the restless crowd exploded into applause and supporters allowed a collective sigh of relief.
"It is a great day in America," said Randy Conrad, a member of the sizable Teamsters for Obama delegation. "We have been able to look past the color of someone's skin and look at simply what he can do."
Supporters numbering a few hundred poured into the streets of downtown Raleigh, bringing traffic to a halt on the intersection of East Hargett and South Wilmington streets after the victory was announced. Even motorists got out of their cars to join in the spontaneous celebrations.
"Blow your horns, honey. Blow your horns," cried Obama supporter Tony Hall joyously as he ran up and down the street. "Ain't nobody gonna stop him now."
Even in the chaos, others reflected on the importance of the historic outcome.
"A lot of people died to have this moment. I hope we as a people embrace it humbly," Ralph Dujour said. "I'm glad I'm alive and my kids are alive to see this.... This is what it's about"