I wrote this story for the front page of the University Daily Kansan after Barack Obama won the presidency. I was sent to cover the Democratic watch party in Lawrence, Kan., while another reporter was sent to cover the Republican watch party in Topeka, Kan. Political affiliations aside, it was an honor to write the front page story of America electing its first black president, and I thank the Kansan management at the time for giving me the tremendous opportunity.
“Yes we did!” was the chant that erupted from Abe & Jake’s Landing after Barack Obama sealed his name in history as the first black president of the United States.
The packed room of students and Lawrence residents jumped, screamed, cheered and cried. A woman carried a life-sized cardboard Obama cutout through the sea of waving arms and Obama-Biden signs.
Gina Burrows, vice president of KU Young Democrats, said Tuesday night would be the proudest moment she would live to tell her children about.
“People remember where they were when Kennedy was shot; where they were during Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech; and I get to remember the night America took a new direction,” the Salt Lake City junior said shortly after Sen. John McCain gave his speech commending Obama’s victory.
“Call it! Call it!” was shouted by eager Obama supporters throughout the night as a giant projector featured CNN’s exit polls and vote counts. The crowd stood up in unanimous praise whenever CNN anchorman Wolf Blitzer called a state in Obama’s favor.
The intensity of those celebrations never came close to the outburst that followed Blitzer’s announcement that Obama had won Colorado, picking up the final electoral votes that would send him to the White House.
Andrew Toth, president of KU Young Democrats, said he was confident from the start that his candidate would pull out a decisive victory.
Toth said his organization set up tables, handed out fliers and traveled door-to-door, registering every potential student voter they could find.
Burrows said her organization and the Student Legislative Awareness Board worked together to register more than 3,000 student voters on campus.
“It proves that younger people aren’t as apathetic about politics as everyone thinks,” Burrows said.
Students flocked to the 67 voting stations scattered around Lawrence Tuesday to vote for the candidate they believed would best govern their country. Many students, such as Kristen Sheahen, Chicago senior, voted for the first time.
She said she wasn’t sure who she’d vote for moments before she entered the voting booth. She said she was apprehensive about voting for Obama because she didn’t want him to raise taxes on her father.
“My family’s business has been in business for 100 years and now they’re going to get taxed even more while struggling to work through an economy that isn’t doing well,” she said. “People are going to have to get laid off if large companies have to cut back on costs to afford higher taxes.”
Max McGraw, Shawnee sophomore, said he voted for Obama mainly because of his economic policy.
“The money has to come from somewhere,” he said. “Someone will have to make a sacrifice — especially the corporate giants making enormous amounts of money — they can afford to give a little more.”
Jonathan Earle, associate professor of political history and an Obama supporter, said change over continuity was the dominant theme this election.
“Obama really seems to be a symbol of change – not just in our country, but around the world,” he said. “He represents a complete break from the Bush policies… and he is the first person of color to be elected president.”
Bill Lacy, director of the Dole Institute of Politics and a McCain supporter, described Obama as a “tough, intelligent, cool cat,” who “will undoubtedly serve with the best intentions for this country.”
He described McCain’s loss as “extraordinarily healthy” for the Republican Party, which he said “has lost its way and is being punished by the electorate — deservingly.”
“It basically reminds us that we haven’t done what we said we would do, and we need to look to new leaders to do the job we ask,” Lacy said.
The underlying challenge Obama now faces, Lacy said, is governing in a pragmatic fashion without pushing too far to the left.
“Clearly, conservatives are disappointed with what’s going on, but we still live in a right-center nation,” Lacy said. “I think Obama will govern like he ran his campaign. The question is: Will he push too far to the left too fast?”
— Edited by Brieun Scott