Cleveland woke up on November 7 to a stillness it had not experienced for months. Gone were the robo-calls, the door-to-door campaigners, the pollsters and the media circus preceding the tight presidential race between incumbent Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
The only evidence that a heated contest had rested on the shoulders of the state of Ohio – with 18 crucial electoral votes – and more specifically, Cuyahoga County, the largest in the state, were campaign lawn signs and posters still hanging in shop windows.
Although Obama’s lead in the state was wafer-thin, his victory in the state came in before midnight, and with Ohio and Colorado, another battleground state on his side, Obama’s re-election was confirmed less than five hours after the polls had closed.
“I wasn’t surprised,” said Karla Wiggins, 30, a Cuyahoga County voter.
“He did a lot in his first four years – with the economy, with everything.”
The Obama campaign had made a great push for early voting, something that gave his supporters in the state a measure of confidence in his chances of winning. Roughly 1.8 million Ohioans voted before election day.
“It was the early voting that tipped the scales,” said local filmmaker Laura Paglin, whose short documentary on the issues facing a polling station in one of Cleveland’s low-income neighbourhoods in 2004 drew national attention.
“We didn’t have early voting in ‘04.”
In “No Umbrella” Paglin filmed voting in the Hough neighbourhood, where the polling station was not given enough voting stations, staff nor ballots. Councilwoman Fannie Lewis, who passed away in 2008, is seen juggling phones, informing every electoral official, observer and politician of the disaster unfolding in her precinct.
The memory of that problematic election resulted in a considerable amount of anxiety in low-income precincts on Tuesday’s election, with people concerned about their votes not being counted.
“It was just really gratifying. The paranoia was good. They cared about having the proper ID and whether their votes would be counted,” said Paglin, adding that the level of concern and enthusiasm for early voting countered the narrative that the community is apathetic or indifferent.
“While the pundits and polls had us convinced that this election would be a nail-biter, the American people already had their minds made up,” said Ohio Senator Nina Turner.
“This decisive victory for President Obama reaffirmed their support for his vision of what our nation can achieve, and repudiated the extreme elements of the Republican Party that are seeking to turn back the clock on everything from voting rights to reproductive liberties,” said Turner.
Having been part of a massive state campaign encouraging people to turn out for the vote, Turner also took pride in her state’s part for the victory.
“Hardworking Americans - Ohioans especially - know that President Obama is in their corner. Yesterday’s results prove that they want to continue to stand behind him for the next four years.”
Still, not everyone was convinced that Ohio would back Obama.
“I definitely thought that the results were expected, but I thought that Mitt Romney would win Ohio,” said Ben Horvat, 20.
The first-time voter cast his ballot for Romney because he feels that Obama is mishandling the economy.
Even some of Obama’s supporters aren’t convinced that he’ll be able put the economy on the path to recovery.
“If he can’t do it, maybe the next president can,” said Elizabeth Lawrence, 55.
She voted for Obama because, “He’s not for me, he’s not for you, black, white, gay, Chinese, Russians or Jews. He’s for everyone,” said the home health care worker.
“But we need Congress to come together, work together and try to fix things,” said Lawrence, who was waiting for a bus in the University Circle District, a wish-bone junction between the blighted East Cleveland District, where the only political signs were for Obama, and Little Italy a traditionally Catholic enclave.
There, only signs for a Republican judge decorated windows and locals did not want to speak about the election on the record.
“They’re all crumbs,” said a salesman at a tobacco store.
“I’m a disabled veteran and they all treat veterans like junk…250,000 veterans are living in boxes on the streets,” said the man.
Another woman’s response was decidedly more hostile.
“Honey, you don’t want to know what I think,” she said. “I’d go to jail if I told you.”
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