It was just 8:30 p.m., half an hour after the polls closed, but organizers at the Barack Obama party were already turning people away. The small room they had reserved at the Great Dane downtown only held 120 people -- and 20 or 30 more people were crowded at the door, hoping to get in.
Amid the grumbling about the need for a bigger room -- hope, in this case, was not enough -- one stoic supporter observed, "It's good to see people so excited about a political race."
Gov. Jim Doyle and his entourage, arriving a few minutes later, were allowed to slip into the overcrowded room. The governor had spent the past four days with Obama touring Wisconsin. He assured the crowd that Obama is not just a good speechmaker, he's a genuinely good person: "I personally kind of miss him."
So did the crowd, which had to settle for Doyle's bland speech, instead of Obama's energizing rhetoric. Almost as a tease, a television screen showing Obama on CNN, giving a speech in Texas, was hung behind Doyle's head -- but the sound was on mute.
Doyle delivered the usual platitudes about how Obama drew young voters to the election, how Obama is the JFK of our time, how people are finally excited about politics again. It was all stuff you've heard countless times before and will again in the next few months.
But Doyle did have one nice moment, when he related a story of meeting an African American man in his 80s who finally got to vote for a black man making a credible bid for the presidency. "His life had come to a moment of such poignant importance," said Doyle. "That story tells us of what we did in this state."
The crowd at the party was truly a mix of young and old, black and white, and nearly every person there was a passionate believer in Obama. Prominent Madison attorney Lester Pines reflected on Obama's decisive win over Clinton: "Obama is like Joe Namath and the Jets in the 1969 Superbowl. The Colts came to the game expecting they would win. Joe Namath and the Jets came in and blew them out."
Pines noted that after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, the country's progressives were dispirited and disorganized. "That had such a profound influence, it's hard to express. There's a whole generation of baby boomers who have been waiting for someone like this." He smiled. "Now, we're back."
Lavilla Capener was one of the college students who helped put Obama over the top in Wisconsin. The 19-year-old UW-Madison student skipped all her of classes to spend Election Day canvassing. The student ward in which she worked voted overwhelmingly for Obama -- 623 to 167.
Capener says Obama is the only candidate who speaks to people her age. "I think it helps there's someone closer to our generation," she says. "He talks about politics in a unique way. He makes it about people."
Then she buttoned up her coat and, with a pack of fellow students, headed out the door for an after-party at Brocach, where it was quieter.