Mitt Romney was never expected to win in Illinois, but supporters who crowded into a third-floor room at the Wit Hotel in downtown Chicago on Tuesday began their evening excited over the Republican presidential candidate's chances nationally.
As the evening wore on, however, key states tilted toward President Barack Obama and the crowd thinned. "At this point, it seems like (the results) are moving toward the Democratic narrative," said Stephen Feyer, a product manager from Chicago, he said, shortly before several television networks projected Obama's victory.
Earlier, several hundred people cheered as early unofficial results were shown indicating Romney as the winner in a handful of southern states, including Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama and Arkansas, as well as in Indiana. With early unofficial results putting Illinois in Obama's column, Romney's Illinois campaign chairman, state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, told the crowd that this is "a very unique time" for the state.
"To be candid, I'm honored that Illinois can be the home state of the president of the United States," Rutherford said.
The crowd reacted largely with silence to that, but Rutherford was quick to follow up by saying, "But it's time to change that," drawing thunderous applause.
In addressing the crowd after Obama's win was projected, Rutherford said that if those projections prove correct, "I'm going to congratulate him."
"I'm going to work with him and I hope that each and everyone of us get behind the president of the United States to make this the best country on the planet."
Rutherford talked about what went wrong nationally for Romney. "I think Barack Obama did a good job of reaching out to communities in different states, and I think there was a stoic impression of Mitt Romney that is not a realistic portrayal of his persona," he said.
Linda Ahrens, of Chicago, suggested that long lines at polling places indicated voter fraud by Democrats. She said lower enthusiasm for Obama this election and long lines high turnout may have demonstrated that Democratic election judges were deliberately delaying voters casting their ballots.
She remained ardent in her support for Romney.
"I believe that he actually believes in the Constitution," she said.
Peggy Sabados and Edgardo Villanueva, both of Chicago, watched with glum resolution when the networks called the race for Obama. "I'm really worried about our country," Sabados said. "I think we're on a downward spiral economically. Four more years of Barack Obama as a lame duck president to me is a real concern."
Sabados said the megastorm Sandy on the East Coast allowed Obama "to act presidential," and may have tipped the balance of the election.
Before the election, Romney's poll numbers in Illinois reflected Obama's home-court advantage. A Tribune/WGN-TV poll released in October showed that Obama scored 55 percent to Romney's 36 percent, nearly the same margin in a similar poll taken in February.
But Obama's vulnerability nationally may have been reflected in the Downstate numbers, where polls showed Romney with a lead.
While not favored to win in Illinois, Romney was successful at raising money here. Last Friday at the Gold Coast home of businessman Ron Gidwitz, the Republican candidate was expected to raise at least $1 million. In September, Romney was in Lake Forest where, Rutherford said at the time, he was expected to raise $4 million at a fundraiser at the home of Reeve Waud, founder of a private equity firm.
That money came in addition to an estimated $6¿million Romney already had raised in the Chicago area.