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Obama supporters gather in Chicago

Election-night rally held in Grant Park

CHICAGO (AP) — Barack Obama supporters in the senator’s hometown began gathering near Grant Park for a huge election-night rally they hoped would be a historic victory celebration.

Many were hoping to be a part of something that will be remembered for generations.

“I want her to be able to tell her children when history was made, she was there,” said Alnita Tillman, 50, who kept her 16-year-old daughter, Raven, out of school so they could be at the park by 8 a.m., more than 12 hours before the gates were to open. A South Sider like Obama, Tillman had a coveted ticket to the rally in hand and high expectations for the man who was seeking to become the nation’s first black president.

“The hope I have for Obama … it’s in the African-American males being able to see what they can be, what they can do,” she said.

The downtown Chicago park – where police fought antiwar protesters during the turbulent 1968 Democratic convention – was transformed by white tents and a stage lined with American flags and adorned with red, white and blue bunting.

Chicago authorities said earlier this week they were bracing for as many as a million people.

Mayor Richard Daley predicted a giddy night.

“I think everybody will be like a kid,” he said. “Everyone wants to be part of American history.”

That sense of history was palpable across the city, particularly in the poorest neighborhoods, where people streamed into polling places Tuesday to cast their votes for the man who once walked their streets as a community organizer.

At Grant Park, the hopeful waited in long lines – one for ticketholders who would get a glimpse of the candidate on stage, the other for those in a spillover section of the park who could watch him on a giant screen.

Stephanie Smith, 27, and her husband flew in from Nashville, Tenn., and staked out a spot on the sidewalk with folding chairs and a box of doughnuts early in the morning.

Even without tickets, Smith said it would be worth it to be standing in the park to hear the words: “Our next President of the United States is Barack Obama.”

“That’s what I’m hoping for,” she said.

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