CHICAGO Two hours after President-elect Barack Obama left the stage claiming victory, the Democrat held an impromptu rally in a private tent with members of the National Finance Committee that helped him raise historic sums for his White House bid. Reporters were not aware of the event, and a pool to capture Mr. Obama’s remarks was not arranged. Members of the press attempting to get into the tent, not far from the stage where he had given his speech earlier, were turned away. His comments were not audible from outside of the tent.
After he spoke to the packed tent of some staffers, high-level donors and stars, including Will.i.am, Mr. Obama worked a small ropeline that had formed outside.
One man who knows Mr. Obama, a senator from Illinos, shook his son awake who had been sleeping on his shoulder. “Can you wake up, he’s almost here,” the man told his son.
Mr. Obama offered the man a warm smile, greeted his sleepy son and asked everyone in the line how they were doing. Most patted him on the arm. Michelle Obama was close behind greeting supporters as well.
Prominent Obama supporters such as talk-show billionaire Oprah Winfrey and Rep. Rahm Emanuel - who may be asked to be White House chief of staff - were allowed inside a smaller buffer at the event in Chicago’s Grant Park, which drew more than 240,000 people.
Several longtime Obama volunteers wept with joy.
Robert Howard, 70, brought his 20-year-old granddaughter to witness the historic moment.
“Forty years ago college students were burning the flag and now they are waving the flag,” said Mr. Howard, who wore a tag labeling him a “special guest.”
“I never thought I would see an African American president,” he said, beaming at his grandaughter Briana Jones, a Columbia College journalsm student.
She said she found her first election “surreal.”
“When I was voting I couldn’t stop smiling,” she said.
Deborah Engle, a longtime Obama supporter and part-time ESL teacher in Chicago, said she had not volunteered or participated in an election in this way since the 1960s. “This is one of the greatest days I’ve ever experienced in America,” she said. “This is a victory for the people, the people who gave their $5 and $10 to be a part of something monumental.”