CHICAGO — There was hope. There was a bit of dancing. There was a steady outburst of cheers and encouraging signs. But then there was that word, flashed on a massive television screen.
With that, the Obama victory party, the Obama team, the scores of eager aides and supporters gathered in a Chicago conference hall let out a collective cry of relief. He would have four more years.
"Tonight, in this election, you the American people reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back," Obama said in an emotional victory speech.
The call that officially started the party -- flashed by CNN -- came earlier than expected. President Obama had hardly settled into the Chicago hotel room where he, his family and his closest aides had planned to spend at least a couple of hours to watch returns.
But on this night, the anxious waiting wouldn't be necessary. This night was going their way.
Obama's team had said it would, with confidence oozing from their remarks on the final days of the campaign. Republican nominee Mitt Romney just didn't have enough votes in states where he needed them.
Obama's campaign operation would overpower the GOP effort, they predicted. The president himself said early in the day that he was feeling good.
The campaign, a superstitious bunch, would be taking no chances.
The president spent his final election day as a candidate immersed in the established rituals and habits of his rise to the White House.
He woke up in his bed in his Kenwood neighborhood home. He conducted a dozen interviews with television stations in the battleground states, just as in 2008, and worked the phones with Obama for America volunteers like the community organizer he once was.
He played basketball with his buddies -- a ritual left over from his epic battle for the Democratic nomination. He ate dinner with his wife, two daughters and his mother-in-law. He waited, but not for long.
As the victory was announced, supporters screamed and hugged, waving flags and snapping photos.
The actress Vivica A. Fox, walking away from cameras after an interview, froze in her tracks and began to cry. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel strode past her, grinning, on his way backstage. Reporters jumped onto tables to get a better look at it all.
Moments before the race was called, two Chicago friends stood clutching each other's hands and anxiously watching the screen. When it flashed the word "elected," both erupted in jubilant yells, pulling nearby strangers into hugs.
"That one time, I went to sleep thinking one thing and woke up to learn that George Bush had won," said Laverne Parker, a substitute teacher from southwest suburban Lisle. "I was going to stay up all night to make sure.... But this is better."
Obama started the day with an email to supporters .
"Once you vote today, keep going," Obama wrote in the note. "Get on the phone, get online -- all day long, there will be something you can do to help."
Then he followed his own advice, heading to the Hyde Park office of Obama for America, whipping off his suit jacket and picking up a flip-style cellphone.
Obama made several calls to volunteers in Wisconsin, where the reelection campaign made a heavy push in the final days of the campaign. As the home state of Rep. Paul D. Ryan, Romney's running mate, Wisconsin presented an especially tantalizing electoral prize for the president.
Obama told volunteers and paid staffers that the election rested in their hands -- an assessment that may be a key take-away of the 2012 election. The Obama for America network had been gearing up for two years and organizers considered it their secret weapon in a close race.
Obama then decided that this was not the time to mess with good-luck rituals, so he went to play basketball with aides and friends -- including former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen.
Obama friend Alexi Giannoulias said the president's team won -- by about 20 points.