At the Barack Obama/Tammy Baldwin party downtown Tuesday night, the crush of people was so thick, it was sometimes impossible to move through the crowd. Hundreds of people jammed themselves inside Monona Terrace, watching election results on several big screens.
The usual Democratic bigwigs were there, including state Sen. Jon Erpenbach (the evening's emcee) and state Rep. Mark Pocan (who announced to the crowd that it appeared Democrats now had a "trifecta" in the state: governor, Senate and Assembly.)
The party officially began at 9 p.m. -- an hour after Wisconsin had already been declared for Obama. Gov. Jim Doyle took the stage to make a short speech thanking Wisconsin voters.
"I am so proud of Wisconsin," he said, adding that he'd spoken to Obama several days earlier. "He appreciates so much what we've done."
Doyle noted that Wisconsin has long been considered a swing state and had been spoiled in the past with visits by presidential candidates. But this year, the state was so firmly in Obama's column, both candidates ignored it in the weeks leading up to the election.
"Yeah!" someone in the crowd shouted.
"That's exactly right," beamed Doyle. "We made it safe for Barack Obama to go to Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio." Those were all states Obama eventually won.
U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin appeared next, to give her victory speech. She handily defeated Republican Peter Theron, garnering 70% of the vote.
It was hard to hear Baldwin, over the buzz of the crowd, still gathered intently around TV screens. NBC and CNN were calling more states for Obama. The local news was scrolling results of the state Assembly races. Few people listened as Baldwin rattled off a list of people to thank.
Baldwin closed her speech with a plea for people to stay engaged, adding that Wisconsin has another Supreme Court race on the ballot next spring. "We cannot allow fear to buy our court. We must re-elect Shirley Abrahamson. We must show up!"
A band began playing and a few people started to dance. A little while later, CNN declared Obama had won Virginia. A cheer went up; one man in a brown corduroy jacket leaped into another's arms, tears in his eyes. Virginia had long been a Republican stronghold. Winning there could only mean one thing.
When CNN flashed its logo on the screen, people knew what was coming next. As one, the crowd began to count down: "5! 4! 3! 2! 1!"
CNN made the announcement: Barack Obama had been elected 44th president of the United States.
An ecstatic roar shook the walls of Monona Terrace and lasted for several minutes. People cried and hugged. A man wearing donkey ears passionately kissed a woman. People pulled out their cell phones to text their friends. Then the band's drummer started a beat and the crowd chanted to the rhythm: "Yes! We! Can!"
The jubilation lasted until Sen. John McCain appeared on screen to give a dignified concession speech. The crowd at Monona Terrace listened in respectful silence, only booing when Sarah Palin joined him.
Dane County Supv. Brett Hulsey said Obama's challenge as president would be to solve the financial crisis -- something he could only do if he focused on environmental issues at the same time. "He's smart enough to know the best way to create jobs in America is not to buy oil from the Middle East."
When Obama finally gave his acceptance speech, a new roar from the crowd at first threatened to drown out his words. People cried as they listened, but most were grinning.
As Obama mentioned that he'd promised his two young daughters a puppy after the campaign, Hulsey leaned over and joked, "Everybody gets a new puppy!"
It felt like that kind of night.