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Obama awaits vote with basketball, steak dinner
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By NEDRA PICKLER
Associated Press Writer
CHICAGO (AP) — Barack Obama unwound by playing basketball and eating a steak dinner with extended family Tuesday as he awaited Election Day results that he hoped would send him to the White House with support from red and blue America.
The Democratic presidential nominee watched early returns in a downtown Chicago hotel room with staff, then went home for dinner with his wife, daughters and in-laws. He returned to the hotel after the 90-minute respite at home, with a suite designated for adults and another for children to gather while awaiting the race’s outcome.
Sensing a historic victory, a massive crowd of supporters that included celebrities Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt gathered in Grant Park to hear Obama speak later in the night, a fitting final event for a campaign that has drawn eye-popping audiences across the country. Evening temperatures were in the 60s — rare for Chicago in November.
The Chicago skyline glimmered in the background, with the lights in one prominent building spelling out U-S-A and red, white and blue lights glowing atop the John Hancock building. Vendors outside sold commemorative T-shirts, buttons and lighted batons to wave in the dark.
Obama and his wife, Michelle, were among the first people to vote early Tuesday when their Hyde Park neighborhood polling place opened. They cast ballots in side-by-side booths, with their two young daughters looking on.
"The journey ends, but voting with my daughters, that was a big deal," Obama told reporters.
Later, Obama spent two hours at the Attack Athletic Center on the city’s west side to play basketball with friends and staff. He made the game a voting-day ritual early in the primary campaign after he won in Iowa and South Carolina on days when he’d played basketball. He’d lost in New Hampshire and Nevada, on days when he didn’t play.
As Obama played basketball, a crowd of about 75 people gathered in a park across the street in hopes of catching a glimpse when he emerged. Among them was Sean Rollins, who stuck around after picking up her 6-year-old daughter from a nearby school.
"I hope he gives our younger generation the outlook that you have to change yourself," said Rollins, a 33-year-old supervisor at Lowe’s Home Improvement.
The Illinois senator focused the final days of his campaign on the "red states" that voted Republican for president in 2004 and in some cases hadn’t voted Democratic in decades. His final campaign stop Tuesday was at a union hall in neighboring Indiana, which has only supported one Democratic candidate in the last 72 years, Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
"It’s going to be tight as a tick here in Indiana," Obama told volunteers in Indianapolis with only seven hours of voting left. "So the question is who wants it more."
Obama was targeting other swing states in the final hours by conducting satellite television interviews from the same Hyatt hotel where he watched returns — reaching out to voters in Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, Nevada and Missouri.
It was a symbolic ending of a campaign for a candidate who first made his name with an address to the Democratic National Convention four years ago in which he decried efforts to "slice and dice our country into red states and blue states."
Obama voted at Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School. The family was ushered inside ahead of a line of their neighbors that wrapped around the block and cheered the Obamas’ arrival. Fellow voters inside watched in silence and snapped cell-phone pictures. The crowd broke into applause when a smiling Obama held up his validation slip and said, "I voted."
Obama voted a few minutes after William Ayers, the 1960s radical who lives in the neighborhood and whom Republicans tried to link to Obama in the campaign. Ayers did not answer a question about how he voted from reporters awaiting Obama’s arrival.
Associated Press writer Caryn Rousseau contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Obama campaign: http://www.barackobama.com